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Friday 25 November 2011

TPA – The Thanksgiving Turkey

[Updates, two so far, at end of post]

The assembled non-job holders at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) have today brought forth a hot and steaming turkey in the guise of a “research note” on one of their favourite subjects, facility time for Trade Union representatives. To produce this “research”, at least 1,300 Freedom of Information (FoI) requests were made, wasting £715,000 of taxpayers’ money.

Added to the gratuitous waste of public funds is the lamentable standard of the “research”: two references are made (Page 7) to the Guido Fawkes blog, domain of the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his tame gofer Henry Cole, the Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere, suggesting that this is an authoritative source. No credible researcher would cite the Fawkes blog as evidence.

Talking Turkey in Tufton Street

But where the TPA sell the pass is in acknowledging that facility time is not solely a public sector feature: they concede that it occurs in the private sector, and that cannot be labelled as “taxpayer funded”. Moreover, their assertion that facility time “is more widespread in the public sector” is based on a Parliamentary answer prefixed by “Estimates have suggested”.

Also, no figures are provided to show comparisons between HR costs in typical public and private organisations: some of the activities undertaken by union representatives using facility time may influence HR spend. To ignore this aspect merely reinforces the thought that the TPA is looking to promote an agenda, rather than engage in informed debate.

So the assertion that trade unions are paid £80 million in staff time shows the TPA being selective with the facts. A cost benefit analysis showing HR costs would serve their case better, but of course this might not fit the conclusions already written, as well as needing the TPA to actively engage with the organisations concerned, rather than passing judgment using FoI fishing expeditions.

Nor at any point does the TPA bring forward any evidence to back their assertion that facility time is a way for trade unions to divert more resources to political activity (the wording is “[unions conduct strikes] with significant funding from taxpayers at their disposal”). The suggestion is constantly made that this is some kind of zero sum game, yet no proof of any kind is offered.

None of this will concern the TPA, which will continue to spread its misinformation in its attempt to demonise Government, along with public service and public works. But those in the Coalition who have been listening to the TPA would do well to pause and obtain a second opinion before acting. Those in power act in the interests of the people: the TPA does not.

[Last year’s TPA “research note” on the same subject has been analysed HERE]

[UPDATE1 1545 hours: NewsFrames has suggested an explanatory note on where the £715,000 figure comes from. I'm happy to provide it.

Estimates vary, but the cost of servicing a single FoI request is reckoned to be between £500 and £600 in staff time and other resources. The TPA made requests to 1,300 bodies, so there were at least 1,300 FoI requests (the TPA have been asked for the actual figure, but have not answered). Taking £550 as the average cost per FoI and multiplying by 1,300 gives 715,000.

And that is how this Astroturf lobby group, filled with unelected non-job holders, has wasted at least £715,000 of taxpayers' money. The TPA then claims to represent taxpayers. As Littlejohn might have said, you couldn't make it up]

[UPDATE2 26 November: no comment has yet come from the TPA on the £715,000 figure, and in the absence of any, the only conclusion that can be reached is that the amount of taxpayers' money wasted in this latest FoI fishing expedition is at least of that magnitude.

However, the TPA's chief non-job holder Matthew Sinclair has declared that trade unions are "getting a £113 million backdoor subsidy". I hate to disagree once more, but this is total bullpucky. Payments for facility time are part of the salary of the representative concerned, and no payment is made to their union in this case. Sinclair has not shown - and nor will he - what work is done during this time, and why unions should be liable for it. Unless he can do so, the inference that this is some kind of zero sum game, and that "more facility time means more money going into union coffers" cannot stand.

Nor will he, or anyone else at the TPA, perform a cost benefit analysis to show the effectiveness - or otherwise - of current arrangements. And nor will he provide any independent figures (rather than estimates) to back up the assertion that public sector union reps have three and a half times the facility time of their private sector counterparts.

So far, all that there is to stand up the TPA argument is their own report from last year, filled with the usual logic leaps and unproven assertions, and a few blogposts of dubious veracity. Once the Government gets a second opinion, this campaign will be going nowhere]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice job! Might be worth adding a note for 'casual' readers about the £715,000 cost of the FOIs. When I first read that paragraph it didn't quite hit me that you meant the TaxPayers' Alliance has wasted £715,000 of taxpayers' money on this Mickey Mouse "research". -- Eg a brief note on how the FoI requests to 1,300 public authorties end up costing the public £715,000.