News story

Delivering sensible savings in local government

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has today published advice on how local authorities can deliver sensible savings by reviewing taxpayer funding of trade unions.

Each local authority is an individual employer in its own right and as such, it is for councils and fire and rescue authorities to make local decisions on how they manage their workforces.

Town hall workforces amount to nearly half of council spending. Ministers believe councils should be managing workforce costs in order to achieve value for money for local taxpayers. Agreements with trade unions known as ‘facility time’ should not be exempt from this.

The government is reducing facility time in the Civil Service and has introduced a common reporting system and a requirement for civil service departments and agencies to publish annual details of facility time arrangements.

The advice published today highlights how local authorities can make sensible savings in this area and states that they should consider how their reporting arrangements can be improved, including by sharing best practice and information across the sector.

The Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said:

“I believe that trade unions continue to play an important and constructive role in the modern workplace. But for too long in the public sector, trade unions have received taxpayer funding that is poor value for money and inadequately controlled. Reducing such public subsidies to trade unions is a practical way that councils can save money, to keep council tax down and protect frontline services for local residents - including union members themselves.

“Trade union activities and campaigning in local councils should be funded by members’ subscriptions, not bankrolled by the taxpayer. Freedom from state dependency will also mean that trade union bosses will better reflect and respond to the wishes and views of the grassroots members who pay the bill.”

In December the government published ’50 ways to save’ containing practical tips and ideas on how local authorities can deliver sensible savings to support frontline services, help reduce the deficit left by the last administration and keep Council Tax down.

The following points summarise the advice:

  1. councils should save taxpayers’ money by significantly scaling back the cost of trade union facility time
  2. there should be full transparency on the level of facility time given to trade unions
  3. employees should not be spending all or the majority of their working hours on trade union duties
  4. time off for trade union activities should be unpaid
  5. the amount of facility time should be reduced and should be limited to a set percentage of an organisation’s pay bill
  6. councils should adopt private sector levels of facility time
  7. restrictions should be placed on the use of office facilities for trade union representatives
  8. political material, or material which incites industrial action, should not be produced or distributed on or using taxpayer-funded facilities
  9. councils should charge for collecting union subscriptions, or end the practice completely
  10. councillors should declare payments and sponsorship from trade unions and ensure there is no conflict of interest

Further information

For the detailed advice, see: Taxpayer funding of trade unions: Delivering sensible savings in local government.

Facility time is paid time off during working hours for trade union representatives to carry out trade union duties and time off for representatives and members to undertake trade union activities.

In October 2012, the Cabinet Office published the government’s response to a consultation with civil service unions on facility time in the civil service setting out key principles that will form the basis of a Facility Time Framework that civil service and agencies will be encouraged to introduce. The advice for local authorities recommends that councils and fire and rescue authorities undertake their own reviews of their local arrangements with trade unions.

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