Eric Pickles faces his second High Court skirmish over his union-busting tactics today. The Brentwood MP’s department is the subject of legal action over his attempts to reduce his number of organised staff in DCLG.
Pickles wants to abolish the “check off” system which is used to collect membership subscriptions directly from pay packets — even if unions pay the small administration fee. With DCLG failing to have the case — brought by the PCS union – dismissed out of hand at a hearing last month, the matter is likely to be decided today or tomorrow.
While the check off system costs £30 per month to administer, Pickles’ legal bill could run to £50,000 if he loses.
SEE ALSO: Pickles served by PCS
Communities secretary Eric Pickles has a hot date on Thursday … at the High Court. As Scrapbook revealed last week, PCS are taking him to court over his union-busting attempts to drive down the number of organised staff in his department.
Pickles has shunned the opportunity to reach a money-saving deal for the “check-off” system used to collect union subscriptions from wages by following the advice of his own department and having unions pick up admin costs. Instead, Pickles has pressed ahead by, errr, hiring lawyer James Eadie – at god knows what cost to the taxpayer.
The claimed basis for these changes is saving £9.40 per month … so he hires a QC.
Communities secretary Eric Pickles is the subject of legal action in the High Court after he refused to back down in a confrontation over union busting, Political Scrapbook can reveal. As this blog reported last week, Pickles plans to clamp down on union membership by abolishing the “check off” system used to collect subscriptions — even if the unions pay the small administration costs.
Flying in the face of DCLG’s own advice that local authorities should charge unions rather than scrap the programme, the move makes a mockery of claims that anti-union reforms are merely aimed at cost saving. And while the move will save no money whatsoever, the legal bill for defending Pickles’ ruse will likely run into thousands of pounds.
A source familiar with the situation told Scrapbook:
“Senior DCLG officials have confirmed check off costs just £9.40 a month to administer for each of the three unions represented in the department – a total of £28.20 a month.”
With mooted plans to abolish check off across government, it may be no coincidence that Pickles’ department’s top civil servant Bob Kerslake is also the head of the civil service.
You can read the legal letter from PCS’ lawyers below.
More: Read the legal letter below »
UPDATE: PCS say they will sue Pickles over the changes unless he backs down, saying the changes are a breach of contract for staff: “Hopefully he will now see sense and not waste any taxpayers’ money trying to defend a legal case that we believe is cut and dried.”
While the government has been careful to frame many attacks on trade unions as cost-saving, Eric Pickles’ new flank against his own employees has been exposed as a right-wing attack which does not save a penny.
Earlier this year, Pickles announced plans to reform the “check off” system, in which employees who want to sign up to a trade union can have their monthly subscription deducted directly from their pay packet.
In guidance issued to councils, the department said:
“Councils can exercise existing legal rights to charge trade unions for the collection of trade union subscription fees via the municipal payroll (so-called ‘check off’ arrangements).”
While local authorities manage their own relationships with unions, Scrapbook can confirm that the option of charging was never on the table for PCS members employed directly from Whitehall — contrary to the department’s own guidance that unions should be given the option of covering administrative costs.
This isn’t slashing costs — it’s slashing the number of organised employees.
Our Pickles photoshop from yesterday.
From Channel 4 News last night to the Daily Mail this morning.
The two cabinet members with primary responsibility for local government cuts have some of the highest numbers of “fat cats”on their own Tory-dominated councils. Chancellor George Osborne and local government secretary Eric Pickles have slammed local authorities over excessive pay packets — but perhaps they should be looking a bit closer to home.
While Eric Pickles demanded that councils vet all salaries over £100,000 and asked officials how they could “look themselves in the mirror each morning”, his own Essex County Council has 36 such officers — the second highest in the UK.
And George Osborne’s Cheshire West and Chester council is arguably worse. With 27 employees earning over £100,000, the authority ranks at number six for pay of top staff — on par with London boroughs and whole cities despite being a sleepy unitary authority with borough status. Self-described “dynamic and inspirational” Chief executive Steve Robinson trousered £266,000 in 2011/12 — the third highest council pay packet in the country.
Strangely, the connection of these councils with Westminster policymaking doesn’t bear mention in the TaxPayers’ Alliance spin accompanying its so-called Town Hall Rich List.
The Conservatives are really honing their inverse Midas touch down in Eastleigh:
They really can’t get anything right.
In the meantime, the Liberal Democrats — who outnumber the Tories ten to one on the council and have much better voter ID — will be hoovering up votes.
Well fed communities secretary Eric Pickles has lifted the lid on how he achieves his “rhinoceros-like” physique:
“Cheese. Shropshire Blue — it’s so high in calorific content you need only rub against it and that’s enough.”
This seems worthy of Peter Serafinowicz’s Butterfield Diet Plan.