Next week, millions of public sector workers will go on strike over proposed changes to
their pensions. And yet, even after the reforms, those pensions will still be far more generous than most taxpayers working in the private sector — who will pick up the bill — can
expect. It’s going to be hard to convince people of the ‘fairness’ of paying more into public sector pensions than they do into their own.
The unions will do their best though. And the real irony is in how their campaigns are funded. Guess who is paying for unions to organise strikes that will disrupt the public services that
taxpayers pay for? Yep — taxpayers.
The unions enjoy £32.9 million in funding under programmes like the Union Learning Fund, which they use to provide training courses for their members. But the main subsidy is facility time:
staff working for the unions but with their salary and other costs still paid as if they worked in the public services.
The numbers are staggering: over 1,000 full-time equivalent staff at local authorities; 645 at various government agencies; over 400 in Government Departments (mostly the Department of Work and
Pensions); and over 500 in the NHS. Facility time is equivalent to 2,840 full-time staff in total and worth over £80 million.
The unions will claim all that time is spent productively, improving relations between their members and management. But many organisations don’t even monitor the amount of facility time,
which doesn’t suggest they have a very good handle on how that time is spent. And investigations by Guido Fawkes and "http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/8080893/Unions-told-members-to-lie-to-employees-so-they-could-attend-protests.html">Priti Patel have looked at more specific examples of what full-time
trade unionists are up to. And even if taxpayers paid for all the legitimate work of unions, that still frees up resources for political campaigns.
These arrangements are a completely undemocratic subsidy to unions that are fighting vital cuts in public spending. The least the Government can do is insist that facility time is kept to the kind
of level seen in the private sector, which would return over 2,000 staff to work in public services. But they should really scrap them entirely and insist that unions pay their own staff.
Matthew Sinclair is director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance.Tags: Public finances, Public sector, Strikes, Taxpayers' Alliance, UK politics, Unions, Whitehall