Despite widespread austerity cuts, local authorities still spend millions of pounds subsidising the education unions - but some cash-strapped councils are reducing their funding by as much as 50 per cent, it can be revealed.
As a result of last year's industrial action over pensions, facility time - in which local authorities pay for union representatives to carry out work on behalf of their members - has become a controversial subject.
Prime Minister David Cameron has publicly argued that "the current level of public subsidy to the trade unions cannot be sustained, either morally or economically".
New research by TES has revealed that local authorities spent more than #163;8.5 million on facility time for the education unions in 2011-12. But many of the 90 local authorities who responded, out of a total of 152, revealed significant cuts to their facility time budgets.
Rotherham has, for example, cut its funding by almost half, from #163;112,000 in 2010-11 to #163;57,000 the following year. Oldham Council cut its facility time budget by #163;23,000 in the same period, amounting to a 29 per cent reduction. Other authorities reporting considerable cuts included Buckinghamshire (15 per cent), Hertfordshire (14 per cent) and Bolton (13 per cent).
Ivan Ould, chairman of the f40 group of the lowest-funded local authorities and lead councillor for children and young people in Leicestershire, said that some councils were keen to reduce their spending as a result of the expansion of the academies programme.
"If schools are becoming academies and taking funding with them, that is going to affect local authorities' decisions on whether to fund facility time," he said. "I'm not sure local authorities can afford to pay for facility time in the way they have done in the past."
Magnus Gorham, head of democracy and governance at the NAHT heads' union, said that he was aware of only about 10 local authorities looking to renegotiate facility time arrangements. "There is still quite a lot of concern out there, but the reality is that not much has changed," he said. "Local authorities generally realise help in dealing with issues is useful to them, and reps are able to aid the flow of information to staff."
However, NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said that it was "only right" that employers paid for facilities time. "It is in their best interests and saves them money to have good industrial relations," she added.
Feature, pages 30-34.