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House of Commons Hansard
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25 March 2015
Volume 594
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4. What savings have accrued to the public purse from the Government's reforms to trade union facility time. [908310]

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At the time of the last general election, there was no proper monitoring of trade union facility time in government. We now have controls in place that have saved the taxpayer some £26 million in the past year, and we have reduced the number of taxpayer-funded full-time union officials from 200 in May 2010 to just eight today.

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While I generally support the principle of the union movement—[Interruption.] Why is that surprising? I generally support the principle, but it is not for the taxpayer to fund. What was the cost of giving trade union representatives in the civil service taxpayer-funded time off when this Government came to power?

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Part of the problem was that it was not monitored, but the information we put together showed that the cost was £36 million, which we have cut to less than £10 million. There is a perfectly proper role for union officials to be embedded in the workplace, as they can resolve disputes and grievances quickly, but the situation was completely out of control and we have brought it under control.

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Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to thank those civil servants—mainly trade unionists—who have had to implement Government policies, particularly in the Department for Work and Pensions, such as referring people to food banks? Perhaps against their own judgment, they have had to implement austerity, which has done great damage to the people of this country.

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I point out to the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have great respect, that the need for austerity was caused by the huge budget deficit that we inherited from the Government of which he was a part. We would rather have not had to do that, but I give credit to civil servants across the country who have done a huge amount. The civil service is smaller than at any time since the second world war, but it is doing more than it was before and productivity has improved dramatically.

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The Paymaster General has spent the last five years attacking civil servants’ facility time and check-off. We now learn, a week before Dissolution, that he is inserting a gagging clause into the civil service code. Why is it so necessary and urgent to change the civil service code now?

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The change to which the hon. Gentleman refers simply makes clear what was already the case. There will be considerable concern about whistleblowing, and we will do whatever is needed to ensure that we continue to be much more open about things that have gone wrong. Things are much less suppressed than they were when the Labour party was in power.