Francis Maude attacks unions but later concedes he ignored official government statistics in favour of unverified details from Taxpayers’ Alliance

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Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude has admitted there is no official information on how much facilities time costs the Civil Service.

But he used his speech at the Tory conference to call for an end to facility time, relying on data from the right-wing Taxpayers’ Alliance.

Maude said: “We can’t go on like this. That’s why I’m announcing today that we’re consulting on limiting the time civil servants can spend on trade union work, and on ending the employment of full-time union officials at the taxpayer’s expense.”

But a briefing note revealed: “There is no published data on how much facilities time costs the Civil Service.”

Instead Maude relied on a 2009-10 report from the Taxpayers’ Alliance to make his case, rather than research commissioned by the Business Department in 2007 that suggested effective union representation actually saves the public money.

Yet the Minister negotiating with unions over public sector reforms claimed: “The support they get from the taxpayer has got way out of hand.”

He said people in the public sector would have to draw their pensions “a bit later” and pay more towards them, and they were in discussions with the unions and hoped to reach agreement.

“But let there be no doubt. These reforms are essential. And we are utterly determined to see them through, because it’s the right thing for Britain’s long-term future.”

Maude reportedly met TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber in Manchester for what sources described as “impromptu private talks” at the conference, but little if any progress was made.

The week saw a series of hostile speeches about unions, led by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, who said: “If unions want to raise money for Labour – do it in your own time, not on the rates. We’re going to call time on this last closed shop.”

David Cameron had a message for the unions in his closing speech: “What is not fair, what is not right, is going on strikes that will hurt the very people who help pay for your pensions.”

Chancellor George Osborne went further saying striking “in economic times like this” would hit growth and cost jobs, and was “totally irresponsible”.

The Tories’ arch strategist included in his keynote speech new measures he said would “support business and help rebalance the economy”.

This turned out to be introducing fees for employment tribunals, and doubling the qualification period for unfair dismissal tribunals.

“So we’re now going to make it much less risky for businesses to hire people,” he said, adding: “We’re ending the one-way bet against small business.”

The Prime Minister declared the Tories to be a “one-nation party” in his speech, but that was not reflected in his text, and events outside the conference ring of steel told a different story.

He hardly mentioned Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or the North of England, as he appeared to be retreating to the Home Counties comfort zone.

And the traditional praise for the host city was conspicuous by its absence, after a week when 35,000 people showed up to protest against him, while just 4,000 signed-up Tories attended the conference.

And outside the heavy security there was real animosity shown by some locals to those they suspected were Tories, including verbal abuse, jostling and beer throwing.

It was quite different from when the party was previously in Manchester, while still in opposition, and suggested the cuts may have rather less popular support than the PM seems to think.

 


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