A row has blown up between the TaxPayers' Alliance and some of the country's biggest trade unions after a report claimed unions were preparing to fight spending cuts and threaten strikes with "significant" funding at taxpayers' expense.
The group said its research revealed for the first time the "huge" amounts unions have received in direct grants and paid staff time from public sector organisations, departments, quangos, councils, NHS Trusts and fire authorities in the last two financial years.
The report said that unions received £85.8 million from public sector organisations in 2009-10, including £18.3 million in direct payments from public sector organisations and an estimated £67.5 million in paid staff time. The total is up 14% from 2008-09, when trade unions received £76.1 million from public sector organisations, said the report.
Direct payments included £13 million in 2008-09 and £14.9 million in 2009-10 paid by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills through the Union Learning Fund and the Union Modernisation Fund, according to the Alliance.
Matthew Sinclair, director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Trade unions are lining up to fight vital cuts in public spending and threatening strikes that could cause massive disruption for ordinary families. By financing their other work, like representing and recruiting members, taxpayers' money frees up union funds for political contributions and expensive campaigns.
"If big, rich, public sector unions are going to take an active political role, there is no way they should be getting taxpayers' money."
Jennifer Dunn, policy analyst at the TaxPayers' Alliance, added: "Taxpayers expect their money to be spent providing services, not propping up unions fighting for their own interests. Public sector employees should be working for the public and not representing trade unions, whose agenda threatens to jeopardise public services. The unions should not be given special treatment and should pay for their own representatives and programmes."
Brian Strutton, national officer of the GMB union said the report was "right wing axe grinding", adding: "It is an attack on workplace reps who provide a valuable service for workers and employers in workplaces across the land.
"Trade unions do not get taxpayer funding. Workplace reps are allowed paid time off by law for duties that benefit employers as well as workers in negotiations and consultations, in dealing with complaints and representing workers in disciplinary matters. Reports have shown that union reps save employers money by improving the workplace and encouraging workers to improve skills."
Dave Prentis, leader of Unison, said: "The TaxPayers' Alliance is digging up another tired old chestnut. Taxpayers expect their money to be spent providing services, not answering spurious questions from the Alliance to prop up their own political interests. Attacking trade unions who work with employers to create an efficient, more motivated workplace is just plain daft. The reality is they are Conservative funded and are costing taxpayers millions of pounds, and tying up valuable management time, for their own ends."