Taxpayer subsidies to trade unions are higher than ever before

The proportion of 'pilgrims' (public sector staff working for trade unions) may be rising says the TPA

by Natalie Glanvill on 30 October 2012 18:20

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Trade unions received a staggering £113 million in subsidies from taxpayers in 2011-12, according to a new survey published today.

The most extensive survey of national and local government ever to be carried out by the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) shows that at least 3,041 full-time equivalent public sector staff worked on trade union activities or duties at taxpayers’ expense in 2011-2012.

Taxpayer subsidies to trade unions are higher than ever before. According to the TPA’s research, unions received an estimated £92 million in paid staff time plus £21 million in direct payments. 

Out of the 1,296 surveyed, 480 public sector organisations either did not formally record facility time or did not provide a clear response for a least one union, therefore the TPA suggests that the 3,041 staff is “almost certainly an underestimate”.

Matthew Sinclair, the TPA’s Chief Executive has criticised what he refers to as “scandalous subsidies” and the way taxpayers’ money is being used to prop up and support the establishment of trade unions in this country.

“It is simply wrong that taxpayers are seeing their money used to pay thousands of trade union activists who organise strikes which disrupt the services they rely on and pay for handsomely. Thousands of staff who should be working for public services are working for trade unions instead”.

A key finding in the TPA research suggests that the proportion of public sector staff working for trade unions ‘may be rising’ based on ‘a less than three percent fall’ in the number of full-time equivalent staff working on duties in union bodies, in comparison to total public sector unemployment which fell by 6.5 percent from 2011 Q2 to 2012 Q2. 

Research was compiled using Freedom of Information (FoI) requests, submitted to 1,269 public bodies. Here is a list of key findings from the breakdown of organisations, quango’s, local authorities and NHS trusts with members of staff working for trade unions.

-          The Department for Work and Pensions had the highest number of staff working for trade unions with 272 full-time equivalent staff.

-          Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) was second with 169 full-time equivalent staff.

-          The local authority with the highest number of staff working for trade unions was Birmingham City Council (70 full-time) followed by Nottingham City Council (27).

-          Transport for London and the Scottish Prison Service were the two quango’s with the highest number of staff (34 full-time) joined by Remploy with 30 full-time equivalent staff.

-          In Wales, the Welsh government had the highest number of staff working for trade union with 14 full-time equivalent staff and in Northern Ireland, 17 full-time equivalent staff at Belfast Health and Social Care Trust worked for trade unions.

-          The Metropolitan Police (not including the Police Federation) was the police force with the highest number of staff (16) working for Trade Unions and the fire service with the highest number of full-time equivalent staff working for trade unions was East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service.

In total, there were 45 public bodies including major government departments with more than 10 full-time equivalent staff providing facility time to trade unions in 2011-2012.

The highest contribution in the form of a direct payment to a trade union was made by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS). In 2010-2011/2011-2012, the DBIS made a direct payment of £15,500,000 for each year to the Union Learning Fund. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) received a direct payment of £1.2 million in 2010-2011 from the Department for International Development.

Direct payments worth tens of thousands of pounds were made to trade unions between 2010 and 2012 by various organisations, such as; the BBC Group, Department for Education, Skills Funding Agency, Calderdale Council and PCT, Cumbria Constabulary, South Wales Constabulary, Worcestershire council and Lincolnshire. 

A key finding in the TPA research suggests that the proportion of public sector staff working for trade unions ‘may be rising’ based on ‘a less than three percent fall’ in the number of full-time equivalent staff working on duties in union bodies, in comparison to total public sector unemployment which fell by 6.5 percent from 2011 Q2 to 2012 Q2. 

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude announced this month that the Government will introduce new limits on the amount of taxpayer-funded time that civil servants can spend on trade union activities or duties.

In response to the Trade Union Reform Campaign (TURC) which was launched to highlight the controversial issue of using subsidised taxpayers’ money to fund trade union activity, David Cameron said:

“I strongly believe the current level of public subsidy to the trade unions cannot be sustained, either morally or economically”. 

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