General Secretary

February 2012 | 15.02.2012



Along with other unions in the public sector, the POA is under attack on a range of fronts.

One of those key issues is facility time and how it is funded. On 30 November 2011, the Prime Minister announced in the House of Commons that a review of the funding for trade union facility time in the public sector would take place. This announcement, pre-dated by similar announcements by both Frances Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, and Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and local Government, at the Conservative Party Conference, appeared to come as a direct result of continued agitation on this issue by the Tax Payers’ Alliance (TPA), a right wing pressure group.

The TPA published ‘Taxpayer funding of trade unions’ on 25 November 2011, and the Prime Minister made his announcement in response to a question which cited figures from the report from Conservative MP, Laurence Robertson. Just a few days after this exchange the Prime Minister wrote to endorse the newly formed Trade Union Reform Campaign (TURC), headed up by Conservative MP, Aidan Burley and whose staff includes former Conservative Future Chairman, Mark Clarke. Again, in their press and publicity work TURC has drawn heavily on the research note published by the TPA.

The headline findings from the Tax Payers Alliance research note were that:

• Trade unions received £113 million of funding from taxpayers in the year 2010-11

• This sum of £113 million was made up by £80 million in paid staff time and £33 million in direct payments; and

• That these sums represented the staff costs of 2,840 full-time equivalent public sector staff.

The overall thrust of the report – subsequently reported by the media – was that £113 million of taxpayer money was being used to support the activity of union representatives in the public sector. In the words of the TPA, this funding represented a ‘scandalous subsidy’.

Crucially, what was missing from the Tax Payers Alliance report was any consideration of the benefits which might accrue to the tax payer and wider public from supporting the work of trade union representatives in the public sector.

In other words, the report made no attempt to undertake a ‘cost-benefit’ analysis of the role of the lay-led union representatives in the public sector. The only calculations in the report concerned costs and these were not balanced out or contextualised by consideration of any benefit which might accrue from these costs.

Seeking redress

Representing the POA on the General Council of the TUC it was agreed by the council that the TUC would commission a report in seeking to redress that imbalance. A report was indeed commissioned by the TUC from the Work and Employment Research Unit at the University of Hertfordshire. The research examines the benefits that accrue from the provision of funding for trade union facility time in the public sector. The two main findings from the study are:

• There are serious errors in the methodology used by the Tax Payers Alliance and the TURC In calculating the cost of facility time in the public sector; and

• There is a considerable return on investment from the work that union lay representatives perform in the workplace and at a National level.

In respect of the accuracy of the figures used by the Tax Payers Alliance and TURC the study found that these included the time for Union Learning Representatives, whose role is supported by the current Government and also included references either to unions that no longer exist or organisations that were either unidentifiable or who are managerial and professional associations and therefore not trade unions for the purposes that satisfy the Certification Officer.

Return on investment

With regards to the return on investment in union representatives, the study found that even based on the disputed cost of facility time claimed by the Tax Payers Alliance of £113 million- for every £1 spent on facility time in the public sector, between £2 and £5 is returned in accrued benefits. Some of those benefits are 100,000 unpaid hours of their own each week. In 2007, the then Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR, now BIS – Department for Business Innovation and Skills) conducted a review of the facilities and facility time available to workplace representatives. The key findings based on 2004 information published as part of the BERR report were that;

• Dismissal rates were lower in unionised workplaces with union representatives. This resulted in savings related to recruitment costs of £107 million - £213 million per annum

• Voluntary exit rates were lower in unionised workplaces with union representatives, which again resulted in savings related to recruitment costs of £72 million - £143 million per annum

• Employment Tribunal cases are fewer in unionised workplaces with union representatives resulting in savings to Government of £22 million - £43 million per annum

• Workplace related injuries were lower in unionised workplaces with union representatives resulting in savings to employers of £126 million - £371 million per annum

• Workplace related illnesses were lower in unionised workplace with union representatives resulting in savings to the employer of £45 million - £207million per annum.

Putting these figures together at 2004 prices means that in the range of £372 million per annum to £977 million per annum in savings were accrued in large measure as a result of the presence and work of lay-led union representatives in the workplace. Bearing in mind these figures cover the public and private sectors, we can estimate the public sector worth is 60 percent of the total, equating to a worth of £223 million to £586 million per annum. When updating these figures to take into account inflation using the Bank of England calculator, the figures for 2010 come out at between £267million per annum to £701 million per annum.

Gratuitously conflated funding

The figures outlined above assume that the Tax Payers Alliance is right in assessing that the taxpayer funds unions to the tune of £113 million. I have already stated within that calculation they have included Union Learning and organisations that are not trade unions. Accredited Union Learning representatives (ULRs) are entitled to paid time off in unionised workplaces in both the public and private sector, to support their colleagues in updating existing and obtaining new skills and qualifications. Some £33 million of the funding identified in the TPA has been wrongly and gratuitously conflated with the funding attributed to trade union facility time. Removing this amount from the total identified by the TPA leaves a significantly lower figure of around £80 million.

However, in order not to quibble too much as to the effect of the inclusion of organisations which are not unions, the round figure of £80 million per annum will be used to make the following calculation. Using a corrected figure of £80 million per annum the return in accrued benefits is not between £2 and £5 for every £1 spent but, in fact between £3 and £9. That is a return on investment which most investors would rate highly, and which most FTSE250 companies would struggle to match.

Good policy making should be grounded in sound, reliable evidence

I would conclude by stating good policy making needs to be grounded in sound and reliable evidence. The Tax Payers Alliance and some right wing Members of Parliament have failed to do the basics in their clamour to undermine the POA along with other public sector unions. The magnificent job that our lay union officials and national officials do should not be under-estimated by Government and the benefits of funding facility time should not be allowed to become clouded.

The benefits are widely recognised by employers in both the public and private sector and also by employer’s organisations.

I close by producing an extract from ‘Reps in Action’ a foreword signed by Brendan Barber TUC, Lord Mandelson, Secretary of State BERR and Richard Lambert, the then Director General of the CBI, IN 2009.

The extract stated the following: ‘Union representatives constitute a major resource: There are approximately 200,000 workers who act as lay union representatives. We believe that modern representatives have a lot to give their fellow employees and to the organisations that employ them’.

I urge Government to deal with trade union facility time for lay representatives for the POA in a timely and constructive fashion, in order that we can then finalise our own internal details on how our union needs to be structured and meet the needs of our membership and respective employers.

Steve Gillan
General Secretary