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Civil Service (Union Facility Time)

Volume 572: debated on Wednesday 11 December 2013

1. What steps he is taking to control the amount of trade union facility time in the civil service. (901548)

4. What steps he is taking to control the amount of trade unions facility time in the civil service. (901551)

At the time of the last general election, there was no proper monitoring of trade union facility time in government. That has now changed, and paid time off for any trade union activities and full-time union officials now requires the specific consent of a senior Minister. We expect the cost to the taxpayer for paid time off for trade union duties to fall by 60% from the level we inherited.

I am very reassured by the Minister’s response, but will he outline to the House how much money has been saved as a result of those reforms?

So far, by reducing significantly the number of full-time union officials who are paid by the taxpayer as civil servants, we have saved more than £2.3 million just from that element of the reforms. Overall, we are on course to meet our benchmark of spending no more than 0.1% of the civil service pay bill on facility time.

Further to the kind answers that my right hon. Friend has given, will he tell the House how many civil servants were given paid time off to attend the Public and Commercial Services Union conference this year and last year?

In May this year, 651 PCS reps had paid time off to attend the PCS conference—fewer than half the number of the previous year. Next year, paid time off to attend the conference will be entirely at the discretion of the Secretary of State or the Minister in charge of that civil servant’s Department.

This issue is a significant cost to the public purse. Will the Minister please advise the House how many taxpayer-funded trade union representatives there were in May 2010, and how many there are now?

It has taken some time to establish the facts about that because there was no proper monitoring. We believe, however, that in May 2010 in the region of 250 civil servants were full-time officers of their trade union and doing no work on behalf of the taxpayer. Several of them had been promoted in post while doing no work as a civil servant—and one of them had been promoted twice, which seems remarkable.

It is clear that the Minister has planted these questions in order to union-bash again, which seems to be something he relishes. Is he man enough at this point to say how beneficial trade unions are in the workplace in terms of the economy, the taxpayer and the employer?

I have always been at pains to say that there is benefit to the employer in having union representatives in the workplace. What is not acceptable, however, is having those representatives uncontrolled, unmonitored and growing like Topsy, to the extent that they were costing the taxpayer £36 million a year at a time of financial stringency caused by the grotesque budget deficit we inherited from the Labour party. That is completely unacceptable.

The Minister knows that I have a lot of time for him, and I congratulate him on winning a famous design award for his Department recently. However, I am a proud trade unionist and member of Unite, and I am a proud Co-operator. In a democratic society in which unions have an important part to play—as does the co-operative movement—why is there a feeling coming from the Government Benches that they are out to get us?

I am certainly not out to get the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have—if I may return the compliment—a great deal of respect. I have never said that there is no role for trade unions or for trade union representatives having paid time off in the workplace. I have always stressed that there is value for the employer in the ability to have disputes resolved quickly, effectively and at local level. What was going on in the civil service, however, was way out of line with any other workplace, even in the public sector. The taxpayer is entitled to expect that the Government will grip that issue, which, for the first time, is being done.