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Friday 13 July 2012

TPA – Union Bashing Dishonesty

As the Cabinet Office consultation on Trade Union facility time within the Civil Service begins, there has been the inevitable intervention from the dubiously talented array of non-job holders at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), and watchers of this Astroturf lobby group which dishonestly pretends to represent taxpayers’ interests have been treated to an appearance by the director himself.

More guff from Tufton Street

Yes, head non-job holder Matthew Sinclair has personally leant his voice to the consultation, but, sadly and predictably, has been unable to prevent himself straying into the realms of yet more dishonesty in doing so. The TPA post asserts that “Trade Unions received at least £113 million from taxpayers in 2010-11. That is an estimated £80 million in paid staff time plus £33 million in direct payments”.

Let’s take that “£80 million in paid staff time”. To whom is that money paid? To the unions? No. It’s paid to employees of the organisations concerned. None of that money is paid to unions. So the assertion that “Trade Unions received ... £113 million” is dishonest. It is blatantly untrue. Moreover, it is not the only such assertion that the TPA’s “director” makes.

Sinclair seeks to justify his blatant whopper by suggesting that this is some kind of zero sum game, that even if the payments are not made to Trade Unions, the payments enable those Unions to avoid paying out money which they can then divert into political activity. That angle also fails: those who are not members of Trade Unions are also entitled to the services paid for by facility time.

As one of my regular commenters has succinctly put it, “either way – the time is given up – whether to a union rep like me, who will work within the policies, procedures and the law, or an ordinary employee who fancies himself as Perry Mason”. Dare one say it, for sickness, grievance and disciplinary matters, having a trained workplace Union representative involved might be better for all concerned.

So there is no zero sum game. This is not an activity that is in the exclusive purview of Trade Unions. Nor is that of employee training, so any grants made by Government for that purpose cannot be called as a subsidy to Unions: the training could be procured elsewhere, but the Unions generally have the expertise to provide the most effective solution – and best value for the taxpayer.

And what of Sinclair’s assertion that “in the public sector 0.14% of the annual pay bill is spent on facility time compared to 0.04% in the private sector”? These figures come from a Parliamentary answer which was prefixed “Estimates have suggested”. No figures were actually provided. As with the rest of the TPA case, it turns out to be an edifice built on sand.

That’s not good enough. But there will no doubt be more of the same to come.

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