New Research: Taxpayers fund trade unions to the tune of £113 million
Oct 2012 31

We can today reveal that trade unions received at least £113 million in subsidies from taxpayers in 2011-12. The value of this subsidy has been exposed in the most extensive survey of national and local government ever carried out by the TPA. It shows that trade unions received an estimated £92 million in paid staff time (facility time) plus £21 million in direct payments in 2011-12. The research also demonstrates for the first time that public bodies are often deducting trade union subscriptions in the payroll process without charging the unions for that additional administrative support, despite union claims to the contrary.

The Cabinet office has announced that it plans to curb the amount of facility time within the Civil Service. Yet this report demonstrates why these reforms must go further to include all of the public sector rather than just Whitehall and its quangos. Last month we published a legal briefing that made it clear that public sector bodies are failing to control facility time as envisaged by employment law. This latest report reveals that hundreds of public sector bodies are still failing to even record the extent of facility time.

The key findings of this report are:

  • Trade unions received a subsidy of at least £113 million at taxpayers’ expense in 2011-12. This is made up of an estimated £92 million in paid staff time, plus£21 million in direct payments.
  • At least 3,041 full-time equivalent public sector staff worked on trade union activities or duties at taxpayers’ expense in 2011-12.
  • While total public sector employment fell by 6.5 per cent from 2011 Q2 to 2012 Q2,  the number of full-time equivalent staff working on union duties in bodies which provided data in both years declined from 3,065 to 2,977. That is a fall of less than three per cent which suggests the proportion of public sector staff working for trade unions may be rising.
  • The number of full-time equivalent staff provided to trade unions is more than2.5 times as large as the workforce of HM Treasury.
  • 480 public sector organisations (out of the 1,296 surveyed) either did not formally record facility time in 2011-12 or did not provide a clear response for at least one union, which means the estimate of 3,041 staff is almost certainly an underestimate.
  • 1,087 public sector organisations deduct membership subscriptions for trade unions. Of those, only 21 per cent, or 233 bodies, charged the unions for that service. The most common charge was 2.5 per cent, applied by 74 organisations.
  • In response to a parliamentary question, the Government has released an estimate that facility time is equivalent to 0.14 per cent of the total annual pay bill in the public sector, against 0.04 per cent in the private sector. 0.14 per cent of the public sector pay bill was around £240 million in 2011-12.  If the number of public sector staff found in this research to be working for the trade unions in 2011-12 were reduced in line with that estimate of the difference between the public and private sectors, 2,172 full-time equivalent public sector staff could return to work.
  • The organisation with the highest number of staff working for trade unions was the Department for Work and Pensions with 272 full-time equivalent staff. HMRC had the second highest number with 169 full-time equivalent staff.
  • Birmingham City Council was the local authority with the highest number of staff working for trade unions with 70 full-time equivalent staff working on trade union business. The second placed local authority was Nottingham City Council with 27 full-time equivalent staff.
  • The quangos with the highest number of staff working for trade unions were the Scottish Prison Service with 34 full-time equivalent staff, Transport for London also with 34 full-time equivalent staff and Remploy with 30 full-time equivalent staff.
  • In Wales, the Welsh Government had the highest number of full-time equivalent staff working for the trade unions at 14.
  • In Northern IrelandBelfast Health and Social Care Trust had the highest number of full-time equivalent staff working for the trade unions at 17.
  • The police force with the highest number of full-time equivalent staff working for the trade unions (not including the Police Federation) is the Metropolitan Police with 16 full-time equivalent staff.
  • The fire service with the highest number of full-time equivalent staff working for the trade unions is East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service with 4 full-time equivalent staff.

Matthew Sinclair, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:

“It is simply wrong that taxpayers are seeing their money used to pay thousands of trade union activists who organise strikes which disrupt the services they rely on and pay for handsomely. Thousands of staff who should be working for public services are working for the trade unions instead. 

“Managers at too many public sector organisations are completely failing in their responsibility to control these costs and even keep proper records of the subsidies they are providing to the trade unions. Tens of millions of pounds are being wasted and supporting aggressive political campaigns. The Government needs at least to extend the proposed reforms to the entire public sector and cut this scandalous subsidy.”

Britain's independent grassroots campaign for lower taxes



  • teigitur

    I am no fan of unions, but this seems a paltry sum compared to the amount tax-payers have put into the black-hole of the banks.

  • blarg1987

    Fair reporting but why are you avoiding the issue of tax payer subsidies to the tune of billions of pounds to rail companies / utilitities and defence companies, if you are meant to be representing tax payers money surely you should be puttting as much time if not more into the areas that cost the most?

    • Kobi

      Wahey. The prime exponent of ‘whataboutery’ currently typing on the web, strikes again.

      • blarg1987

        In what context do you mean?

  • HHS

    We taxpayers are ejits to put up with this continuing squandering of our hard earned money by useless public servants. Take To the streets

  • http://twitter.com/nicktheowl Nick Drew

    70 union officials for the whole of Birmingham City Council? The largest local authority in Europe with over 50,000 staff? All of whom may need labour relations or employment rights support at some point? Sounds to me like taxpayers are getting a bargain.

    • Kobi

      If the employees are clearly not having to pay for it, it is they who are getting the bargain. If staff need labour relations or employment rights support, let them pay for that in full through their union subscriptions.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/DH7PXSLZV5JPNSG7P4YMWJNC2A David Clarke

      Nick Drew – The unions represent, or claim to represent, their members, why should the public pay. Members pay subs, pay union reps from the subs. Your Golf Club doesn’t expect the public to pay for your golf.

  • http://www.pinoyworld.eu/author/obiabadinas/ @Rakehell_Obi

    How about reporting that the taxpayer subisidises the banks to the tune of £130 Billion.
    Taxpayers are the ones preventing runs on the banks, yet not reported by the taxdodgers alliance.

    • Cerisepink

      And how much has been repaid and will be repaid with interest compared to the Structural Deficit – a multi billion pound gift by Labour that not one bank or banker contributed one penny towards. A little perspective goes a long way.

      • http://www.pinoyworld.eu/author/obiabadinas/ @Rakehell_Obi

        You tell me. Last I heard NEGATIVE. The Finance sector continually destroys value in the economic system.

        You may have noticed that your pound buys less during your holidays.

  • Unbiased

    Smoke and Mirrors

  • william grist

    i am sick and tired of the union bashing,,,,,,no one mentions the employers union the CBI or the toffs union the conservative party,,,both of which CAUSE more disruption than all the unions put together

    • Cerisepink

      Perhaps you need to rethink your membership of the TPA!

  • Linkrider

    BBC4 Thursday 1st November about the ‘cuts’ at Stoke on Trent Council to care of the elderly etc. But, no mention that they could save £1/4M a year by stopping ‘pilgrimage’.

  • tinamac

    Thanks TPA for keeping up the good work!

    I emailed my council about this issue a while back and was told “it is a democratic use of taxpayer’s money”, so I didn’t get anywhere with it.

    The same council squanders money on all kinds of silly things e.g. grants for flower planters etc.to prettify villages, while at the same time the local hospital was closed a couple of years ago and the one the locals have to use now is miles away and has a national record for filthy wards.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/DH7PXSLZV5JPNSG7P4YMWJNC2A David Clarke

      tinamac – Unison spends a huge amount of time on getting people to write letters in support of all sorts of causes, people in foreign countries with problems etc. When members have problems the service is very poor, so not really a trade union, more a political organisation.

  • allan

    well done matthew sinclair for exposing this enormous waste of money!

  • mikegruntfour

    Union funds should fund union business. Once again the general public are being ‘conned’.