New research: Taxpayers fund trade unions to the tune of £108 million

September 08, 2014 12:00 PM

The TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) today reveals that trade unions received at least £108 million in subsidies from taxpayers in 2012-13, just £5 million less than in 2011-12. Our comprehensive survey shows shows that trade unions received an estimated £85 million in paid staff time (facility time) plus £23 million in direct payments in 2012-13. The research also demonstrates 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 made strides to eliminate facility time, but far more must be done. This report demonstrates why these reforms must go further to include all of the public sector rather than just Whitehall and its quangos. In 2012, the TPA 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 even to record the extent of facility time.
The key findings of this report are:
  • Trade unions received a subsidy of at least £108 million at taxpayers’ expense in 2011-12. This is made up of an estimated £85 million in paid staff time, plus£23 million in direct payments.
  • At least 2,841 full-time equivalent public sector staff worked on trade union activities or duties at taxpayers’ expense in 2012-13, down from 3,041 in 2011-12.
  • The number of full-time equivalent staff provided to trade unions is more than 2.5 times as large as the entire workforce of HM Treasury.
  • 344 of the public sector organisations (out of the 1,074 surveyed) did not formally record facility time in 2012-13. This means the estimate of 2,841 staff is almost certainly an underestimate.
  • 972 public sector organisations deduct membership subscriptions for trade unions. Of those, only 22 per cent, or 213 bodies, charged the unions for that service
  • The organisation with the highest number of staff working for trade unions, as was the case last year, was the Department for Work and Pensions with 248 full-time equivalent staff. HMRC had the second highest number with 172 full-time equivalent staff, an increase of 3 from last year.
  • Birmingham City Council was the local authority with the highest number of staff working for trade unions with 69 full-time equivalent staff working on trade union business. The second-placed local authority was North Ayrshire Council with45 full-time equivalent staff.
  • 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 Policewith 57 full-time equivalent staff.
  • The fire service with the highest number of full-time equivalent staff working for the trade unions is the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service with 78 full-time equivalent staff.
  • The other public bodies with the highest number of staff working for trade unions were Transport for London with 35 full-time equivalent staff, the Scottish Prison Service with 35 full-time equivalent staff and HM Land Registry with 19.1 full-time equivalent staff.

Jonathan Isaby, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said:
"It is simply wrong that taxpayers continue to see their money used to pay thousands of trade union activists who organise strikes which disrupt the services that they rely on and pay for handsomely. Thousands of staff who should be working for the taxpayer are working for the trade unions instead. It's welcome that the number has fallen, but far more must be done.

"Tens of millions of pounds are being wasted and supporting aggressive political campaigns. The Government must crack down on this scandalous subsidy."
TPA spokesmen are available for live and pre-recorded broadcast interviews via 07795 084 113 (no texts)

Media contacts

For broadcast interviews or further enquiries, please contact:

Andy Silvester
Campaign Manager
24-hour media line: 07795 084113

Or for more information about this research, please contact:
Alex Wild
Policy Analyst
07776 205823

Notes to editors

1. Established in 2004 and now with 80,000 supporters, the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) is Britain’s independent, grassroots campaign for lower taxes and better government. Find out more about the TaxPayers' Alliance at

2. The full report can be downloaded here -- and the full data here
3. The TPA legal briefing "Limitations of the right to time off for union responsibilities" can be found here
4. Facility time is time off, granted by an employer, to enable a representative to carry out union work.

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