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Come clean, ministers

Unite demands explanation on check off ‘savings’ sums
Shaun Noble, Thursday, August 6th, 2015

Ministers should come clean about how stopping public sector union members paying their membership dues though the long-standing payroll ‘check off’ system will achieve a saving of £6.5m to the public purse.


Unite, which has 250,000 members in the public sector, including the NHS, has written to cabinet office minister Matthew Hancock and minister for trade and investment Lord Maude asking for an urgent explanation as to how the cost estimation has been arrived at.


In her letter, Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail asked how the £6.5m figure squared with the advice of former coalition chief secretary to the treasury Danny Alexander, who in a letter to Whitehall departments in July 2014, advised that “there was no fiscal case” for terminating the ‘check off’ arrangements.


“It is a great shame that government decided to announce this decision and bypass unions, which is a discourtesy I would not have expected from your office,” Cartmail said.


“Our members in the public sector will be concerned to understand why, after five years of pay constraint and the additional loss of income that the tax credit changes will cause them and their families and why your government is singling them out once more for harsh treatment.


“Your full explanation of your cost estimation is therefore urgently sought,” Cartmail told Matthew Hancock and Lord Maude. “It would be helpful to know how this figure of £6.5m was arrived at.”


Gail Cartmail asked a series of probing questions of the two ministers, including:


  • has the calculation taken into account employer charges paid by unions that vary from one to five per cent?


  • does government believe the cost of deductions is consistent across all payroll systems and, if so, what is the cost per employee; if inconsistent what is the range of variation?


  • is the saving claimed annual or representative of the lifetime of this government?


“Crucially, if we are able to show there is no cost as current payments to employers cover any incidental administration will employers have the flexibility to retain the existing system of payroll deduction?” she continued.


“The Conservatives have consistently advocated ‘choice’ yet choose to close off choice and interfere in the relationship between hundreds of employers and their recognised trade unions.


“It is bewildering why you persist in denigrating deductions via payroll for trade union contributions when other deductions seem to be efficiently made such as charitable donations,” Cartmail went on to say.


“I believe it is fair and proportionate that my request for details on how the financial justification was arrived at and look forward to your response.”




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