Lucy Powell brands Francis Maude reform update a 'pre-election union-bashing exercise'

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude hails £26m-a-year facility-time savings, but Labour's Lucy Powell goes on the attack

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

By Matt Foster

10 Mar 2015

The government's reforms to trade union activity in the civil service have saved £26m a year, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has announced, but Labour branded his latest update a "pre-election union-bashing exercise".

Ministers have moved to reduce the amount of paid time off that reps working in departments spend on union activity, arguing they "cannot be exempt from the current cross-government drive for efficiency".

They have also vowed to end the automatic deduction of union dues from civil servant's salaries, known as 'check-off'.

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Updating MPs today, Maude hailed progress in reducing the number of officials in the public sector working on union matters.

"Today I can tell the House that the cost of trade union facility time has dropped by nearly 75% from £36m in 2011 to just over £10m now, saving taxpayers £26m a year," Maude told the House.

He added: "The cost has fallen from 0.26% of the pay bill to just 0.07% for the latest rolling year to date, well below the benchmark we set of 0.1%. I can also reveal that the number of full-time trade union officials on the public's payroll has fallen from 200 to just eight today. 

"The civil service is now over a fifth smaller like-for-like than it was in 2010, and I expect the overall number of representatives to continue to fall over the coming years."

Maude revealed that Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood had written to the permanent secretaries of government departments to "remind them" of their obligation to end payroll check-off.

And he said eight departments - including HMRC and the Ministry of Defence - had "served notice to the trade unions" that they plan to stop the practice.

But his statement was criticised by Labour's Lucy Powell, who said the government's reform attempts were politically motivated.

"There is absolutely nothing new in this statement today and one wonders what his motives are," the shadow minister for the Cabinet Office said.

Maude rejected the charge, saying the government recognised that the presence of trade union officials in department was "helpful" in the "resolution of disputes and grievances".

"What we're concerned with here is the abuse of it,” he said. “And the abuse of paid time-off in facility time for people, large numbers of civil servants, at the public expense to attend union conferences with the expenses paid, that is not acceptable. And that is what we have called time on."



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