Facility Time – Here we go again (again)
Priti Patel, the new Conservative MP for Witham clearly has her finger on the nations pulse. How else to explain the 67 Parliamentary questions that she’s submitted on the costs to government departments of trade union facility time – the time away from work duties that union reps get so that they can help their colleagues and negotiate with management.
This is a line of questioning that fits with attempts by some of the more extreme wings of what we’ll call ‘Conservative’ thinking, to use the reaction to the financial crisis and recession as an opportunity to realise long held ideological objectives in respect of the size and role of the state and public services. The questioning and critique of employer provided facilities to union representatives that we’ve seen over recent months in the press and from groups such as the Tax Payers Alliance (which we must of course always remember is NOT actually an alliance of taxpayers) forms part of this,
Anyway, back to Priti Patel’s 67 questions. The answers to most of them will be published in September when Parliament returns from its summer break, however from the answers received so far, if Priti’s concern about facility time is based on the cost to the tax payer then she can relax.
For instance the Department of Energy and Climate Change spent between £35k and £41k on the salary costs of a full time trade union side secretary out of total departmental expenditure of £2.1 billion. Similarly small proportions of total expenditure are spent in Local Government where for example, an authority like Hammersmith and Fulham spent £300K on facility time out of a total expenditure of £198million.
What of course Priti Patel didn’t ask about was the value of the work that union reps do and the benefits that accrue for union members and employers. If she had, she would have discovered that the benefits far outweigh the costs as evidenced in both the TUC’s ‘Recovery from the Recession’ Touchstone Pamphlet and ‘Reps in Action’ a publication highlighting the value of union reps published jointly by the TUC and the CBI.
Finally, the final cost to the tax payer of answering Priti’s 67 questions – which, given that union reps in workplaces were there is a recognised union are legally entitled to facility time, were essentially about how government departments comply with the law – will come out at around £10,000 (nearly £150 a question).
Carl Roper is TUC National Organiser