[Update at end of post]
The recent agitation by the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) and its friends in the right leaning part of the media against trade union facility time – which the TPA alleges is “taxpayer funded trade unionism” – has been supported with almost Pavlovian slavering by the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his pet gofer Henry Cole, the Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere.
And the slavering was on display today as details of Fat Eric’s speech to the Tory Party conference were trailed on the Guido Fawkes blog. Pickles claimed that £250 million – a suspiciously round sum, which even the routinely clueless Staines could see was by happy coincidence identical to the amount being thrown at the reintroduction of weekly bin collections – was being paid out for facility time.
But it is Francis Maude whose words have been quoted with such delight by Staines and Cole: the Cabinet Office minister has told that he is launching a consultation [my emphasis] on limiting the amount of time that civil servants can spend on trade union work, with a view to [ditto] stopping people being paid full-time by the taxpayer to work for their union.
“Frankie says they’re scrapped” was the conclusion of the Fawkes blog, seemingly unaware that “launching a consultation” and “with a view to” leave Maude and Pickles with one heck of a lot of wriggle room, even before the possible need to blame any Lib Dems they can find when the exercise has to be kicked into the long grass. Because that’s a very strong possibility.
For starters, significantly amending or removing the right to facility time would not just be done by standing before conference and grandstanding: that right was enshrined by primary legislation back in 1992 – coincidentally during the last Tory majority Government – and if Young Dave’s jolly good chaps want to revoke the right, they’ll have to get amending legislation through the Commons.
And getting that passed will entail scrutiny of the whole concept of “taxpayer funded trade unionism”, not something that usually happens to the TPA’s output. Demands will be made for the whole raft of allegations – such as asserting that facility time is being used to organise strike action – to be stood up. The costs of facility time will be weighed not just against TPA propaganda, but also its benefits.
At this point, those who pen the Fawkes blog will be noticeable by their absence. Declaring victory before the battle is inevitably dicey, as our modern day Stan and Ollie are about to discover. Another fine mess.
[UPDATE October 7, 1920 hours: it now appears that Francis Maude was told in a briefing note that "There is no published data on how much facilities time costs the Civil Service". He therefore relied on information provided by the TPA. That's an Astroturf lobby group that has been responsible for a string of briefing notes and reports that have earned a place in infamy as they represent a litany of "dodgy dossiers" presented as "empirical research". The problem for the TPA if the Government decides to proceed is that its "research" will be put under the microscope, and as this blog has pointed out on several occasions, it doesn't stand serious examination]