Trade Unions: Conferences

Communities and Local Government written question – answered on 13th September 2013.

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Photo of Aidan Burley Aidan Burley Conservative, Cannock Chase

To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

(1) what estimate his Department has made of the aggregate cost over the last five years of (a) facility time staffing, (b) travel and hotel expenses of facility time users, (c) hospitality by facility time users and (d) paid time off for facility time users to go to trade union conferences; and whether he has taken steps to reduce such expenditure;

(2) what estimate his Department has made of the aggregate cost for its arm's length bodies over the last five years of (a) facility time staffing, (b) travel and hotel expenses of facility time users, (c) hospitality by facility time users and (d) paid time off for facility time users to go to trade union conferences; and whether he has taken steps to reduce such expenditure;

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what the cost to his Department of trade union subscription check-off arrangements was in the last 12 months;

Photo of Andy Sawford Andy Sawford Labour, Corby

To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government for what reasons he took the decision to end the check-off system of payment of union subscriptions direct from wages.

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government

Ministers in this Department believe that the current subsidies and support given to the trade unions by the public sector are poor value for money and represent an unhealthy relationship between the state and voluntary sector.

Trade union activities and campaigning in local government, and indeed our Department, should be funded by members' subscriptions, not bankrolled by the taxpayer. Greater freedom from state dependency will help ensure that trade union bosses better reflect and respond to the wishes and views of the grassroots members who pay the bill.

The following tables give a breakdown of the assorted costs to taxpayers.

Facility time staffing costs
£
  2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13
Department for Communities and Local Government(1) 245,644 177,100 160,725 140,687 153,814
The Planning Inspectorate(2) 117,365 154,093 170,907 119,889 142,456
Homes and Communities Agency(3) 23,139 14,972 21,778 38,038 23,143
The Valuation Tribunal 4,909 3,547 2,499 1,332 827
(1 )The increase in 2012-13 was not due to an increase in the number of trade union representatives, but rather a combination of higher staff salaries, following the annual pay changes and since trade union representatives in higher grades used more facility time than in the previous years. (2) The costs are based on average salaries across grades. The increase in 2012-13 was due to trade union representatives in higher grades using more facility time than in the previous year. (3 )These costs are based on calendar years—i.e. 2008 through to 2012.

For the five years requested, the estimated spend on facility time in the Audit Commission is £116,984 per year. However, the majority of facility time staff users have now left the organisation and the residual body no longer has the time sheet records to allow a more detailed analysis.

The Local Government Ombudsman and the Housing Ombudsman do not collect comparative facility time or cost information on their trade union representatives.

The following Arms Length Bodies do not have any trade union representatives: Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Leasehold Advisory Service, the West Northamptonshire Development Corporation, Building Regulations Advisory Committee and the Architects Registration Board.

Figures are not held for the quangos which we have abolished, such as the Government Offices for the Regions, Tenant Services Authority and Standards Board. However, taxpayer savings will have been made as a consequence of their abolition.

Travel and hotel expenses of facility time users
£
  2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13
Department for Communities and Local Government 1,386 673 1,356 399 0
The Planning Inspectorate(1) 19,889 15,918 14,240 2— 2—
Homes and Communities Agency 0 0 0 0 0
The Valuation Tribunal 636 3,163 2,520 890 949
(1) Owing to the change over to a new finance system, the Planning Inspectorate do not hold the information concerning travel and hotel costs relating to facility time for 2011-12 and 2012-13. (2 )Spending not available.

Hospitality by facility time users

This is a nil return, based on information centrally held.

Paid time off for facility time users to 20 to trade union conferences
  £
Department for Communities and Local Government (1)
The Planning Inspectorate (2)
Homes and Communities Agency 0
The Valuation Tribunal 0
(1 )Prior to April 2013, the Department allowed trade union representatives to attend their conferences from within their facility time allocation, and. we did not collect separate information for this. No paid facility time has since been given to attend the 2013 conferences. (2) Prior to April 2013. the Planning Inspectorate allowed trade union representatives to attend their conferences and it was recorded through their HR systems. In total 46 days were recorded costing £8,007 (salary).

Further cost savings

Following the Cabinet Office review of the use of facility time and facilities in the civil service, the Department for Communities and Local Government has made further changes to its facility time arrangements. With effect from 1 April 2013, the overall facility allocation has been reduced to 0.04% of the pay bill and all trade union representatives will spend the majority of their time in civil service roles.

The number of full-time trade union representatives has reduced to zero. We have also taken broader steps to prevent what Ministers in this Department consider to be inappropriate use of departmental facilities for campaigning purposes.

The Department has also strongly encouraged its Arms Length Bodies to make changes to their facility time arrangements and has started to collect facility time cost information from the 1 April 2013. The following table shows the estimated costs for 2013-14.

  Cost
Department for Communities and Local Government Actual cost for April 2013—June 2013: £9,997 Estimated cost for year (2013-14): £40,000
The Planning Inspectorate Actual cost for April 2013—June 2013: £7,958 Estimated cost for year: £17,250
Homes and Communities Agency(1) Actual cost for April 2013—June 2013: £11,572 Estimated cost for year: £46,300
Valuation Tribunal Service Actual cost for April 2013—June 2013: £109 Estimated cost for year: £800
Audit Commission Actual cost for April 2013—June 2013: £320 Estimated cost for year: £2,000
(1 )The increase from 2012-13 was a consequence of the transfer of the Tenant Service Authority's regulatory functions into the Homes and Communities Agency; future consolidation of facility time is currently being negotiated.

Check-off arrangements

The cost to the core Department of administering the debits from payroll for ‘check-off are currently included in the total overall cost of the managed payroll service we receive from Logica and are not billed as a separate cost. The additional cost of transferring credits to the three recognised unions currently amounts to £329 per annum. In this context, given the total cost will be higher and bundled within the managed payroll service, there is a hidden subsidy to the unions. These figures do not include our Arms Length Bodies.

As indicated above, this is not an issue of money, but also of the broader principle of taxpayer-funding of trade unions. Ministers in this Department do not believe it is appropriate for public resources to be used to support the collection and administration of membership subscriptions and believe is an outdated and unnecessary 20th Century practice. It is also unsatisfactory that trade unions like PCS collect the political levy via check-off, but make no attempt to inform would-be members that the political levy is optional or even mention the right to opt out on their membership forms. It is the view of Ministers in this Department that this is a misleading and dubious marketing practice through omission.

Despite a legal challenge by PCS, based on a technical point of law stemming from the wording of the staff handbook introduced during the last Labour Government, it remains Ministers' intention to take the necessary steps to end the check-off arrangements.

In relation to the costs from that legal case, I would also observe that PCS has a larger unpaid bill from two years ago for costs awarded to the Government after PCS's failed judicial review of the Civil Service Compensation scheme reforms.

Conclusion

In total, we estimate that the ongoing savings to facility time may in due course represent up to £400,000 a year of taxpayers' money, as well as delivering a clearer and healthier separation between trade unions and the state.

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