Matt Hancock caught by the ghost of Danny Alexander. Photos by Cabinet Office and James Gourley/Liberal Democrats (both under creative commons)
The ghost of check-off past – Danny Alexander returns to haunt Matt Hancock
Cabinet Office Minster Matt Hancock MP took everyone by surprise with today’s last-minute addition to the Trade Union Bill. In revealing plans to abolish check-off (the process by which employers deduct union subscriptions directly from wages) arrangements for union members in the public sector, he set out a bullish case:
“Public resources should not be used to support the collection of trade union subscriptions. It’s time to get rid of this outdated practice and modernise the relationship between trade unions and their members. By ending check-off we are bringing greater transparency to employees, making it easier for them to choose whether or not to pay subscriptions and which union to join.”
We’ve had something to say about this attempt to undermine public service workers’ unions of course, which he probably expected, but he may be rather surprised himself after the Guardian unearthed a letter from beyond the political grave.
Danny Alexander, former Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury, wrote it just over a year ago. In the letter, Mr Alexander suggests to all Whitehall departments that trying to abolish check-off is not only unjustified, but also likely to backfire.
“Departments should be aware that there is no fiscal case for doing this, as the Unions have offered to pay any costs associated with check-off, which are in any case minimal. In addition, the experience of DCLG suggests that any attempt may ultimately fail as a result of legal action being brought by the unions, at considerable cost to the public purse.”
“I am therefore writing to Secretaries of State and Permanent Secretaries in their role as Accounting Officers to make it clear that there is no public policy case to do this in any department across Whitehall. As such I want to make it clear that any department that pursues this policy is doing so at their own legal risk…”
Did Matt Hancock not get the memo last year then?
UPDATE 13/05/2016: Don’t say he didn’t warn you! PCS win in the High Court against DWP withdrawing check-off.