Ministers have been accused of launching a pre-election attack on trade unions by making it harder to collect union dues from Government employees.
North East MPs said the change could hit thousands of workers at the Benton Park View complex in Newcastle, known as Longbenton, where Whitehall departments have offices.
MP Nick Brown challenged ministers to justify the decision in the House of Commons, while Blaydon MP David Anderson claimed the Government wanted to create “another Arthur Scargill” to drum up anti-union feeling.
It follows the announcement that Government departments are to stop paying trade union subscriptions directly from the payroll on behalf of staff, a practice known as “checking off”.
Francis Maude, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, told MPs:
“I believe that this change will enable unions to build a much more direct relationship with their members, without the need for the relationship to be intermediated by the employer.”
But the change could affect 5,500 people working at Longbenton the Treasury, Department for Work and Pensions and outsourced service providers, according to Mr Brown, MP for Newcastle East.
He pointed out that departments routinely helped staff pay a range of fees and subscriptions – but the Government was only targeting unions.
Speaking in the Commons, the MP said:
“Government Departments offer a range of check-off services to their employees, including deductions for membership fees, for private sporting clubs, for private clubs more generally and even for private medical schemes.
“What is it that makes the payments of trade union dues exceptional? Why would any employer want to withdraw this from its own employees?”
Mr Anderon said the Government was attacking unions as a political stunt in the run up to the election.
“The truth is that this is nothing more than another attempt to find the bogeyman whom the Conservatives have tried to find for the last five years.
“They want another Arthur Scargill so that they can try to rattle a can in the next few weeks. That is what this is all about.”
And the move was also condemned by Bishop Auckland Labour MP Helen Goodman, who said ministers wanted to weaken unions in advance of spending cuts.
“Why has the Minister chosen this moment to crack down on check-off? Has he done so because the Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast a one million reduction in the number of public servants, and he wants to weaken the unions before that happens?”
Mr Maude told her:
“We have looked at this in a perfectly sensible, straightforward way. We want trade unions in the civil service – and in this context I am talking only about the civil service – to engage in a sensible, modern fashion, and we want public money to be deployed in the delivery of public services rather than the delivery of trade union officials’ salaries.”
“Many unions have sought to withdraw from check-off arrangements themselves, because they take the view that a modern union in a modern workplace should have a direct relationship with their members, not intermediated by the employer.
“Check-off dates from an era when many people did not have bank accounts and direct debit did not exist. It exists now, and many unions take the view, and indeed the Public and Commercial Services Union has said, that the easiest way to collect their dues is through direct debit.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Mar 2015
Bus services are better in council hands, MPs have said ahead of a vote that could dramatically change the future of public transport in the North East.
Twelve Tyne and Wear MPs have written to the North East Combined Authority leadership board ahead of their meeting this afternoon to decide whether to establish the first council regulated network of buses outside of London since 1986.
They believe the proposed Quality Contracts Scheme run by Metro operator Nexus will deliver £272m in economic benefit to the North East.
However the plans have been bitterly-opposed by bus companies Go North East, Stagecoach and Arriva, who instead want to run the network under a Voluntary Partnership Agreement called the North East Bus Operators’ Association.
They believe handing back control of buses to councils would create new risks for ‘cash-strapped’ local authorities.
Bridget Phillipson MP, who has been leading the campaign in favour of the Quality Contracts scheme, said:
“The members of the Combined Authority have a clear choice when they meet today. They can either maintain the status quo where bus operators funnel profits out of our region or support real and lasting change with a Quality Contract Scheme.
“If a regulated transport system is good enough for our capital city then it’s good enough for the people of Tyne and Wear.”
She added in her letter that the present deregulated system allowed operators to cut routes and an investigation in 2011 by the Competition Commission was critical of the service in Tyne and Wear.
Tom Dodds, secretary of the North East Bus Operators’ Association, said:
“Ms Phillipson misunderstands the partnership agreement. There are 17 successful partnerships around the country. The partnership for Tyne and Wear would be the most comprehensive of all, offering cheaper fares for 16-18 year olds, new ‘Bus2Bus’ tickets for people who use the buses of more than one company but don’t need to use Metro, and up to 50 extra buses on new services. The contract scheme promises none of that, and allows politicians to increase fares and reduce services at will to balance their books.
“If the bus network is inadequate, then the contract scheme does nothing to improve it – in fact, it freezes the bus network until 2018.”
He added that there was no action taken by the Competition Commission following their report in 2011.
Nexus claims their system would see £8m saved or re-invested into the service, reducing the profits going to bus company shareholders from £20m to £12m a year.
The letter has been signed by the following MPs
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South), Nick Brown (Newcastle East), Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle North), Alan Campbell (Tynemouth), Mary Glindon (North Tyneside), Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow), Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields), Chi Onwurah (Newcastle Central), Ian Mearns (Gateshead), David Anderson (Blaydon), Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) and Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West).
The North East Combined Authority’s leadership board, which is made up of the leaders of seven local authorities, will take a vote today at the Civic Centre in Newcastle whether to proceed with the Quality Contracts Scheme after it was endorsed by its transport committee earlier this month.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 21 Oct 2014