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A winter of discontent - TaxPayers' Alliance - 11.12.22

There is a chill in the air this December, as militant unions prepare to ramp up strike action over Christmas; maximising disruption for hardworking taxpayers at a time when many look forward to a well-deserved break. Rail and postal strikes will prove unpleasant enough, but planned walk-outs in the health service have escalated things further. The fact that unions receive indirect taxpayer funding - as our research revealed - only adds insult to injury. Trade union facility time in the NHS, which sees employees paid to undertake union duties during their working hours, cost taxpayers almost £29 million in 2019-20 - that’s the equivalent of 1,035 new nurses! Our findings paved the way for the government to announce a new cap to facility time in the public sector earlier this year.

Leaving aside the politics and interests of well-heeled union bosses, it’s understandable that nurses, firefighters, ambulance drivers and other public sector workers would want to see pay increases as they face soaring inflation and a 70-year high tax burden. But how could this be achieved without compounding the already bloated public sector pay bill?

As our chief executive, John O’Connell has suggested, one option could be to offer public sector workers the option to trade in pension accrual for greater immediate take-home pay. As John argues, “by giving public sector employees the freedom to claim a larger salary and opt out of pension contributions, the government could save taxpayers money in the long term while easing the cost of living for public sector employees on the lowest incomes.” Well said!

Here is what the Tax Payer's Alliance said in a report dated Jun 19 2022:

24,000 public sector workers moonlighting as trade union reps

  • Cabinet minister Rt Hon Jacob Rees Mogg MP endorses TaxPayers’ Alliance report exposing the £100 million cost of trade union facility time.

  • Report recommends capping the time spent on union duties and limiting the cost of facility time to no more than the current Whitehall average.

  • TPA first uncovered the cost of facility time and the existence of trade union ‘pilgrims’ in groundbreaking research in 2010.

As transport unions prepare for the ‘biggest rail strike in modern history’, the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) can reveal that 23,545 public sector workers cost taxpayers nearly £100 million in trade union facility time in 2020-21, the latest year for which full data is available.

With Cabinet Office ministers admitting ongoing taxpayer support for unions is “difficult to understand”, the TaxPayers’ Alliance is calling for a cap on the amount of time and the total cost of facility time.

Facility time is paid time-off taken by trade union officials to carry out union duties. At a total cost of £98.1 million in 2020-21, this was a 31 per cent increase on the year before. The research shows over 1,000 public sector workers spent all of their working time on union duties, with more than half employed by local authorities and another quarter by the NHS.

Local authorities were the taxpayer-funded sector with the largest facility time bill, with 5,216 trade union representatives costing over £29 million in total, the same as 16,088 average English band D council tax bills. Transport for London (TfL) had the second-largest single facility time bill, with their 880 representatives costing £6.4 million, while the 145 trade union officials at the Department for Transport (DfT) cost £120,000. Combined, this is roughly equivalent to almost 2,000 typical season tickets.

With GPs also threatening to strike, the paper shows that the NHS had the most trade union representatives of any taxpayer-funded sector during the pandemic with 5,876. This was a 30 per cent increase from 2019-20 and cost almost £29 million in total – the same as 1,035 new nurses.

To limit the cost to taxpayers, the TaxPayers’ Alliance is calling on the government to restrict trade union officials from spending more than 50 per cent of their time carrying out union duties and activities and reduce the spending cap to the current civil service average of 0.05 per cent of their total pay bill.

Key findings:

  • Public sector trade union facility time cost £98,126,371 in 2020-21, the highest value since the Cabinet Office began publishing the data. This is a £23.5 million or 31 per cent increase on the 2019-20 figure.

  • The average cost of facility time per public sector organisation increased by almost 28 per cent between 2018-19 and 2020-21. In cash terms, this is a rise of £17,461 from £62,839 to £80,300.

  • There were a total of 23,545 public sector trade union representatives in 2020-21, an increase of almost 2,000 or 8.7 per cent on the 2019-20 total. Of these, 1,012 spent 100 per cent of their working hours on facility time, with 52 per cent of these working for local authorities and 25 per cent for the NHS.

  • There were 246 public sector organisations which had a percentage of pay spent on facility time above 0.1 per cent and 1,509 trade union representatives spending more than 50 per cent of their working hours on facility time.

  • Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust had the largest facility time bill, with their 17 trade union representatives costing £6,721,600 in 2020-21.

  • Transport for London (TfL) had the second largest facility time bill: their 880 representatives cost £6,400,000 in 2020-21.

  • The Department for Work and Pensions had the greatest number of trade union representatives with 1,227, and a cost of £552,593 in 2020-21. All of these spent between one and 50 per cent of their working hours on facility time.

  • NHS Lothian had 40 trade union representatives who spent 100 per cent of their working hours on facility time, the most of any public sector organisation in 2020-21.


Responding to the research, Rt Hon Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, Minister of State, and Heather Wheeler MP, Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office, said:

"Trades unions receive subscriptions from their members to pay for their activities. It is difficult to understand why unions are also supported by the taxpayer."

John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said:

“Brits will be furious that thousands of staff who should be providing public services are moonlighting for the trade unions instead.

“Most taxpayers are not aware of these subsidies they are paying to public sector trade unions, which organise strikes intended to disrupt the vital services that they pay handsomely for.

“Ministers are right to question the scale of facility time, and must reform the rules to stop taxpayers being taken for a ride.”

For this report in pdf, please click here:

A winter of discontent - TaxPayers' Alliance - 11.12.22
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TPA spokespeople are available for live and pre-recorded broadcast interviews via 07795 084 113 (no texts)

Media contact:

Danielle Boxall Media Campaign Manager, TaxPayers' Alliance 24-hour media hotline: 07795 084 113 (no texts)

Notes to editors:

1. Founded in 2004 by Matthew Elliott and Andrew Allum, the TaxPayers' Alliance (TPA) campaigns to reform taxes and public services, cut waste and speak up for British taxpayers. Find out more at

2. TaxPayers' Alliance's advisory council.

3. The TaxPayers’ Alliance first uncovered the cost of facility time and the existence of trade union ‘pilgrims’ in groundbreaking research in 2010.

4. The TaxPayers’ Alliance publish their annual Trade Union Rich List every year. Last year’s release found the average remuneration of the top 30 public sector union bosses was £150,755 in 2020.

5. The TaxPayers’ Alliance have launched a petition to ‘Stop Subsidising the Strikes’.

Please support our efforts to stand up for hardworking taxpayers!

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