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Mark Clarke: Francis Maude’s union crackdown is a good start but a concerted push across government is needed

Mark Clarke

Mark Clarke is the Chief Executive of the Trade Union Reform Campaign. He was previously the candidate in Tooting, during which campaign he exposed full-time trade unionist Jane Pilgrim, who gave her name to the trade union “Pilgrims”. Follow Mark on Twitter.

Francis Maude’s long-awaited clampdown on the abuse of taxpayers’ money by trade unions is underway. To be fair, he has made a formidable start. Firstly, he has forensically uncovered the scale of abuse across the civil service. Not content with the first answer he received, he asked again and again what was going on. Every time he asked, he uncovered a larger and larger number of civil servants moonlighting from their jobs as trade union activists. He also uncovered scandals beyond even the worse ruminations of Conservative activists, such as the fact that some full time trade union activists had been promoted in the civil service pay grade while doing nothing more that trade union activity.

The fact that Labour entered into a faustian pact with the unions and allowed, even encouraged, this abuse should be hung around their neck each and every time we talk about the wasteful years of their rule.

The even more remarkable part of Francis Maude’s achievement is that he had to achieve this from a standing start. The Conservatives were caught on the hop by this issue and were largely unaware of the spread of the union movement during the years we were in opposition. As a result, we had nothing in our manifesto and no clear point of view. It is testament to the campaigning of the broader conservative movement in the form of the TaxPayers' Alliance, the Trade Union Reform Campaign, ConservativeHome, Guido Fawkes and many backbench MPs that this issue has been fully exposed and forced onto the agenda.

However, that still means that many areas remain untouched. Firstly, the changes that Francis Maude is making essentially relate to HR practices. They can easily be reversed by a Labour government unless we change the flawed legislation which underpins them – something called for by Jesse Norman and Aidan Burley in Parliament and supported by the majority of backbench MPs. Secondly, the broader range of support given to trade unions remains untouched – the free offices, noticeboards and subscriptions being deducted at source by the government payroll department. These hidden subsidies must end. Thirdly, the reforms are not yet extended into those arms of government beyond the civil service. We will still have teachers not teaching and nurses not nursing on the same scale without further reforms. Remember, for all the good of today, nothing in the Maude announcement would have had any effect on the eponymous Jane Pilgrim.

Francis Maude’s diligence has uncovered scandalous abuses and he has made progress in ending them. Michael Gove has made a start and Eric Pickles has been beating the drum on this issue for some time. We now need a concerted push across the public sector on this issue – especially from the Department of Health. The next Conservative Party manifesto must contain detailed proposals for comprehensive reform across the public sector.  


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