The latest salvo in the attack on trade union facility time – promoted eagerly by the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) – is an overlong and rhetoric-heavy tirade by self-promoting MP Priti Patel (read it HERE [.pdf]). And it has to be admitted at the outset that Ms Patel has unearthed two examples of improper behaviour by union representatives, but sadly this is lost in the tide of pejorative language.
The latter is evident from the start: “Britain’s trade unions have threatened to unleash waves of industrial action and trade union barons are relishing their generation’s opportunity to engage in an ideologically driven and dogmatic attack on the Government and the wider British public” followed by “misguided attempts by a minority to hold the country to ransom”.
It gets worse: “trade unions pillage the pockets of hard-pressed British taxpayers”, “Deals done by Labour ... have the stench of corruption about them”, “undue influence being exerted and bribery laws being breached”. No citation is given for any of this, or the increasingly popular “Facility time is now five times higher in the Civil Service than in the private sector”.
Ms Patel sets great store by her discovery that a computer owned by the DWP was used inappropriately, but that does not invalidate the case for facility time. The matter was, quite correctly, reported and an individual was disciplined. The Patel proposition is a false equivalence. And her discovery of some monies from the Union Learning Fund (ULF) being misused is similarly treated.
The amounts concerned – around one tenth of one per cent of the annual ULF budget – echo a figure familiar to TPA watchers: 0.1% is the proportion of taxpayers that the TPA actually represents. Moreover, Ms Patel’s characterisation of the ULF as providing training only to union representatives and only on campaigning related subjects is way off the mark (case studies can be seen at the ULF website).
And the Patel recommendations do not always make sense. For instance, we are told “In their dealings with trade unions and on matters relating to industrial relations, the Government must remember to also engage with the three-quarters of the total workforce that are not trade union members”. So how does this engagement take place? Who represents these people? Are we talking one-one-one for them all?
But enough of this: there are elements in this “report” where Ms Patel makes the beginnings of useful arguments, and highlights areas of potential concern. Her problem is that she is unable to discuss them without going Over The Top, and in so doing, the froth of her ranting clouds the issue and negates much of the progress she might have made.
I would, however, recommend union reps take time out to read it. There’ll be more.