HL Deb 10 February 2004 vol 656 cc46-8WS
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Gerry Sutcliffe) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today, I tabled an amendment to the Employment Relations Bill concerning the provision of a new funding scheme. The amendment inserts a new section into the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 which would create a power for the Secretary of State to make funds available to independent trade unions and federations of trade unions to modernise their operations.

I envisage that the size of the fund would be in the region of £5 million to £10 million in total, with expenditure spread over several years, probably beginning in 2005–06. The funding scheme would be used to support innovative projects in such areas as:

  • training union representatives (for example in the area of business and people management) in order to help to promote the development of high performance workplaces;
  • reviewing internal union structures and organisation and to support more efficient management systems within unions;
  • enabling unions to broaden their dialogue with members by greater use of the Internet and other new technologies and to develop innovative and user-friendly voting mechanisms; and
  • making union systems more accessible to young people and other underrepresented groups within unions.

The case for establishing a fund is compelling. Unions, just like businesses, need targeted support to speed their adaptation to changing labour market trends and to new ways of working. Unions have done much to modernise themselves and several, often supported by the TUC, have made significant progress in that direction. However, as a number of representations from unions have confirmed, without assistance the pace of change will be slow. By encouraging unions to adapt more quickly, we will ensure that they play their full and considerable part in building productive relations at work. That will benefit union members, other workers, their employers and the economy more generally.

The fund will not therefore be used to support the day-to-day work of unions, and it will not impact directly on collective bargaining. It will not be used to support projects which could be funded from other government programmes.

Subject to parliamentary approval of this new provision, the Government will publish for full public consultation the draft rules and procedures of the fund after Royal Assent. It is likely that these rules and procedures will draw on the example of the Partnership at Work Fund, involving an independent advisory board who will make recommendations to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State on the acceptability of union bids for fund money.