Other funding to trade unions needs to be cut

We blogged earlier about the Cabinet Office’s quango document. Included in the abolished bodies list is the Union Modernisation Fund Supervisory Board, which oversees the administration of the Union Modernisation Fund (UMF) – something that we called to scrap in our recent ‘Taxpayer Funding of the Trade Unions’ paper.

The supervisory board was made up of former and current union executives. Scrapping the board means that vested interests will no longer determine how taxpayers’ money is divvied up among the unions. Even better news is that there will be no more rounds of the UMF itself, meaning taxpayers’ money will no longer be spent on things that any other independent organisation would be expected to pay for themselves. 

In 2009-10 £1.1 million was given to numerous trade unions (including Unison, Unite and PCS) through the UMF. Union projects funded were, in the main, geared towards expanding union membership. For example, in 2009 the UMF awarded money to a GMB ‘engaging communities and building social capital’ project. According to the BIS website:

“The project seeks to reach out beyond the union’s usual boundaries into vulnerable communities, breaking down barriers to employment rights knowledge, developing relationships with community leaders and providing training to build capacity and leadership amongst vulnerable workers” 

Most independent organisations would expect to pay for expanding membership and business development themselves. Trade unions aren’t short of money – they receive significant membership subscription fees yet they still received considerable direct funding from Government to help them achieve this.

However unions also receive significantly more taxpayer funding through the Union Learning Fund (ULF). Funding from the ULF was £13.7 million in 2009-10 and again went to the largest unions in the country including the RMT who have plagued the Underground with strikes recently.

The ULF also operates under the guise of workplace improvements and according to the ULF website “It enables unions to develop their capacity in learning to benefit members and the union team at work.”

Funding for training should be spent where it is most effective, not through a special fund for trade unions that will push their own agenda. Unlike the UMF the ULF is not administered through a supervisory board but rather administered through UnionLearn, an organisation run by the TUC. So it did not appear in the today’s round of quango cuts. 

The coalition government can still cut the ULF however so keep a look out for it in the Comprehensive Spending Review next week.

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