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Thursday 1 December 2011

TPA – Facility Time Dishonesty

[Update at end of post]

Clearly emboldened by getting their “campaign” name-checked by Young Dave, the assorted non-job holders at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) have formed the belief that their attack on trade union “facility time” is succeeding, so much so that their latest recruit, former ConHome man Jonathan Isaby, has penned another post of dubious veracity on the subject.

Isaby references the latest TPA “report” on facility time, which builds on last year’s initial effort, another “dodgy dossier” in the long line of pungently aromatic product (you can read my analysis of it HERE). But he then sells the pass by telling that “at least £113 million of taxpayers’ money was last year given to trade unions either in direct grants or ... in taxpayer-subsidised “facility time”.

This sounds momentarily plausible, until one considers how the concept of facility time works. This is paid time away from the representative’s job, and so no other payment is made than that representative’s normal remuneration. Think about that: the TPA is asserting that “taxpayers’ money was ... given to trade unions”. But this amount, which the TPA asserts was £80 million last year, was not.

Moreover, the TPA is painting facility time as some kind of zero sum game: that each and every payment enables the union concerned to save an equivalent amount, which is then generally held to be used to foment industrial action, which in turn is held to be against the interests of “ordinary hard working taxpayers”, whose interests the TPA claims erroneously to champion.

And the TPA has yet to provide one example of the activity for which they have called out the trade union movement. Nor will they: the TPA is incapable of engaging with the organisations concerned, and conducts its “research” from a distance, by means of Freedom of Information (FoI) act fishing expeditions. Nor will the TPA provide any analysis of the benefits, or otherwise, of facility time.

That this exercise has gained traction with elected politicians who ought to know better is down to two factors: the TPA has succeeded in getting its message across and its former staff into the Westminster village, and there are some in the Coalition desperate enough to pull the rabbit of good news out of the hat that they will take this highly questionable document on trust.

Ministers would be best served making themselves properly knowledgeable about the issues concerned, and listening to those who can provide a proper analysis, before engaging in what will almost certainly be a singularly rash act. And that means they have to stop listening to the TPA.

After all, it’s no more than a jumped-up Astroturf lobby group. Call it for what it is and do the job properly.

[UPDATE December 2 1810 hours: Channel 4 FactCheck has examined facility time, and considered its costs as well as benefits (the latter being ignored by the TPA). Its verdict is that the TPA has "only told one half of the story", and suggests "Perhaps it's time for an independent study". That would, of course, be a properly independent study, considering the organisations and issues involved, and not just FoI fishing expeditions]

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