Whitehall Sign

Addressing Trade Union Spending in Local Councils

Cabinet Office Minister Esther McVey has reached out to local councils with a significant focus on trade union-related expenses during working hours.

A total of 21 local authorities have been identified for their substantial spending on staff engaged in trade union duties during regular working hours. These councils have allocated 0.2% or more of their pay bill costs to trade union time. In some instances, this expenditure has reached hundreds of thousands of pounds. A large number of staff in these Councils work solely on trade union matters, which is a practice that the Civil Service has stopped. 

Esther McVey

Minister McVey’s letter urges council leaders to consider implementing a cap on such spending. She highlights the Civil Service’s own spending limit as an example. The goal is to ensure that taxpayers receive optimal value for money. In her letter Ms McVey said,

Under transparency laws introduced through the Trade Union Act 2016, public sector organisations now have to report their spending on trade union facility time. The figures you have submitted show that you have a number of trade union representatives currently undertaking both council and union duties, funded by the UK taxpayer.

As the Civil Service has done, I am requesting that you find ways to cap this expenditure. The Government has reduced the level of facility time in the Civil Service from 0.26% of total paybill costs in 2012 to just 0.05% in 2024. The example set by the government shows how it is lawful and possible to achieve this. 

Trade unions can play a constructive role in the modern workplace. But for too long in the public sector, trade unions have received taxpayer funding that is poor value for money and inadequately controlled.

Tackling such public subsidies to trade unions is a practical way that public authorities can save money, to keep taxes down and protect frontline services for local residents – including union members themselves.”

The spending data is meticulously recorded as part of the Trade Union Facility Time annual dataset, which was recently published by the government.

Photo Credit: iStock / UK Government


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