Union funding in Leeds

September 28, 2011 12:02 PM

On 7 September, councillors met in Leeds to debate the following motion, placed before them by Cllr Alan Lamb:

‘This Council understands and recognises the valuable role played by Trades Unions in ensuring effective industrial relations and reaffirms the principle of providing reasonable support to Trades Unions including time off for stewards for this purpose.


However, this council believes that given the current state of the public finances taxpayer subsidy of full time Trade Union officials should now be brought to an end. The £417,000 annual cost to taxpayers in Leeds for 15 full time convenors is now unjustifiable both in terms of the massive budget pressure faced by Leeds City Council and the programme of cuts to frontline services currently being undertaken by the Labour administration.


This Council also notes the wider context of the huge donations that Trade Unions are able to offer to the Labour Party.’


The motion was defeated by 56 votes to 31, with 4 abstentions. A total of 56 councillors had to declare an interest before this motion was debated, because they were either a member of a trade union or were married to a member. It was correct they should declare an interest, but should some of them have declared a prejudicial interest because they either work for a union or they received funding from unions for their election campaigns?

Take Cllr Javaid Akhtar. He works for the GMB as a branch secretary. Cllr Judith Blake, also a member of the GMB, received £250 for election materials from her union, and an additional £200 from UNISON. Both were sent from the London offices of those unions.

Cllr David Congreve is a retired member of UNISON, and he received £220 from his union for mailing. Cllr Jack Dunn is a life member of the TGWU, and received £138 from UNISON for direct mailing. Cllr Adam Ogilvie is a member of UNITE, and has received contributions towards his expenses not only from his union, but also from UNISON, AMICUS, and CWU. The list goes on.

The question I have is: how can councillors who either work for or have received funding from trade unions be allowed to vote on the motion placed before the full council? If you were a member of a planning committee, and a company you had a financial interest in was asking for planning permission, you would recuse yourself from the meeting for that item on the agenda. There would be such an obvious conflict of interest, as there was in this meeting, yet councillors who financially benefit from their membership of a union were allowed to vote.

With so many councillors dependent on the unions for funding, it wouldn’t really be practical for all of them to recuse themselves. But that doesn’t make the backdoor subsidy of their own expenses any more legitimate. If they won’t put the wider community’s interests first, and ask unions to pay for their own staff instead of handing the bill to taxpayers, then taxpayers should keep that in mind at the next election.

Time off to occasionally represent your members – at your own expense or the union’s, is not the same as working full-time for the union at taxpayers’ expense. Unions know this. Those councillors voted against the motion in Leeds also know it. It is unclear whether those councillors who receive financial aid from unions technically should have declared a prejudicial interest, but it is clearly a serious conflict.

If councils keep protecting taxpayer funding of trade unions at the expense of frontline services, if they keep indulging special interests many of them are part of, the Government have to step in. This kind of political funding distorts democracy at the local and national level and is completely illegitimate.

[iframe https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?hl=en_US&hl=en_US&key=0AvIqgbZxQot0dHFPeGJERU1FRDIwMGdsVkItQ2hyRGc&single=true&gid=0&output=html&widget=true 500 600]On 7 September, councillors met in Leeds to debate the following motion, placed before them by Cllr Alan Lamb:

‘This Council understands and recognises the valuable role played by Trades Unions in ensuring effective industrial relations and reaffirms the principle of providing reasonable support to Trades Unions including time off for stewards for this purpose.


However, this council believes that given the current state of the public finances taxpayer subsidy of full time Trade Union officials should now be brought to an end. The £417,000 annual cost to taxpayers in Leeds for 15 full time convenors is now unjustifiable both in terms of the massive budget pressure faced by Leeds City Council and the programme of cuts to frontline services currently being undertaken by the Labour administration.


This Council also notes the wider context of the huge donations that Trade Unions are able to offer to the Labour Party.’


The motion was defeated by 56 votes to 31, with 4 abstentions. A total of 56 councillors had to declare an interest before this motion was debated, because they were either a member of a trade union or were married to a member. It was correct they should declare an interest, but should some of them have declared a prejudicial interest because they either work for a union or they received funding from unions for their election campaigns?

Take Cllr Javaid Akhtar. He works for the GMB as a branch secretary. Cllr Judith Blake, also a member of the GMB, received £250 for election materials from her union, and an additional £200 from UNISON. Both were sent from the London offices of those unions.

Cllr David Congreve is a retired member of UNISON, and he received £220 from his union for mailing. Cllr Jack Dunn is a life member of the TGWU, and received £138 from UNISON for direct mailing. Cllr Adam Ogilvie is a member of UNITE, and has received contributions towards his expenses not only from his union, but also from UNISON, AMICUS, and CWU. The list goes on.

The question I have is: how can councillors who either work for or have received funding from trade unions be allowed to vote on the motion placed before the full council? If you were a member of a planning committee, and a company you had a financial interest in was asking for planning permission, you would recuse yourself from the meeting for that item on the agenda. There would be such an obvious conflict of interest, as there was in this meeting, yet councillors who financially benefit from their membership of a union were allowed to vote.

With so many councillors dependent on the unions for funding, it wouldn’t really be practical for all of them to recuse themselves. But that doesn’t make the backdoor subsidy of their own expenses any more legitimate. If they won’t put the wider community’s interests first, and ask unions to pay for their own staff instead of handing the bill to taxpayers, then taxpayers should keep that in mind at the next election.

Time off to occasionally represent your members – at your own expense or the union’s, is not the same as working full-time for the union at taxpayers’ expense. Unions know this. Those councillors voted against the motion in Leeds also know it. It is unclear whether those councillors who receive financial aid from unions technically should have declared a prejudicial interest, but it is clearly a serious conflict.

If councils keep protecting taxpayer funding of trade unions at the expense of frontline services, if they keep indulging special interests many of them are part of, the Government have to step in. This kind of political funding distorts democracy at the local and national level and is completely illegitimate.

[iframe https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?hl=en_US&hl=en_US&key=0AvIqgbZxQot0dHFPeGJERU1FRDIwMGdsVkItQ2hyRGc&single=true&gid=0&output=html&widget=true 500 600]

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