union for life

Q&A

Political fund ballot 2013

Questions and anwers

The Q&As will be modified in the light of enquiries received from members as the campaign for a political fund develops.

Questions

  1. What is the political fund?
  2. What are 'political' activities?
  3. Why do we need a fund?
  4. What if we don't have a fund?
  5. The activities the fund protects are in defence of Prospect members, so does it have to be called a political fund?
  6. Do other unions have political funds?
  7. Will the fund allow Prospect to affiliate or donate to a political party?
  8. Will the fund allow Prospect to sponsor MPs?
  9. Do I have to contribute to the fund?
  10. How much will it cost?
  11. If I opt out, will I get a reduced service from the union?
  12. How has the fund been used?
  13. Who decides how the fund is used?
  14. Why should I vote yes?
  15. Why should I vote yes if I don't intend to pay?
  16. When will the ballot be held?
  17. I have not received a ballot paper.
  18. Is there a cut-off date for ballot paper requests?

1. What is the political fund?

Any union involved in 'political' activities – as laid down in the Trade Union Acts of 1913 and 1984 – must finance them from a political fund which is separate from its other income.

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2. What are 'political' activities?

Political activities used to be defined as giving direct support to people in public office – MPs, councillors and candidates. The 1984 Act widened the definition of political activities to include spending on literature, documents or film, 'the main purpose' of which could be interpreted as seeking to persuade anyone to vote for or against a political party or candidate. These activities extend to the provision of 'any service' for use by political parties. What constitutes a service is not defined – whether it be a briefing, reimbursement of expenses or hospitality for an MP.

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3. Why do we need a fund?

Because many important Prospect activities could be held in the courts to be political, and hence unlawful, unless we have a political fund. The wider definition of political activities in the 1984 Trade Union Act could be held to cover:

Opposition to privatisation and contracting outOpposition to national government policies, eg the RPI-CPI switch for the indexation of pensions, rundown of health and safety, tripling of university fees Opposition to policies that lead to threats to members' jobs in the public or private sectors, eg public spending cuts, cancellation of investment programmes and contracts, termination of grant aidLobbying individual MPs in their constituencies over the local impact of national policies, eg opposition to job losses or site closures, even during a general election campaign.

These are all activities that either have been or are being pursued by Prospect. They are also clearly political – though not, it should be stressed, party political. It is the blurring of this clear distinction by the 1984 Act that makes a political fund necessary.

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4. What if we don't have a fund?

So far, Prospect has not faced a legal challenge to its political campaigning. But if there were to be a challenge alleging that Prospect activity is political (see Q2 above), a court could issue an injunction requiring that activity to cease, pending a final ruling by the court. If the court decided the activity was political, it would be unlawful unless Prospect had a political fund. Even if the court rejects the application, a campaign – for instance over a government Bill – could still be seriously damaged by the delay caused by the injunction. It is the NEC's view, and the advice of our legal advisers, that prevention is better than cure. That is why Prospect sought and obtained the assent of members to create a political fund immediately after it was formed in 2001.

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5. The activities the fund protects are in defence of Prospect members, so does it have to be called a political fund?

Yes, the law clearly instructs that it must be called a political fund.

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6. Do other unions have political funds?

Nearly all the unions in the TUC have balloted for and maintain a political fund. Both Prospect and Connect maintained a fund prior to the merger of the two unions in 2010.

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7. Will the fund allow Prospect to affiliate or donate to a political party?

No. That is a separate issue. Under the rules of the fund and of Prospect, affiliations or donations to any party are prohibited unless a full ballot of the members so decides. These rules and this policy were endorsed by decisions at the 2012 Biennial National Conference in Bournemouth.

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8. Will the fund allow Prospect to sponsor MPs?

No, Prospect does not sponsor MPs.

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9. Do I have to contribute to the fund?

No. You can opt out by filling in an exemption form (available from Prospect headquarters or the Certification Officer) or by writing to the General Secretary. By law, every member must be made aware of their right to contract out. There are different regulations in Northern Ireland, where members by default are not in the fund; they need to opt in if they wish to contribute to it.

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10. How much will it cost?

Five pence a month, which will be deducted at source from subscriptions. Any increase must be agreed by Biennial National Conference.

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11. If I am not in, will I get a reduced service from the union?

No. it is an explicit legal requirement that no member shall be discriminated against for contracting out of the fund. The decision to opt out is entirely a matter of personal choice. However the NEC firmly believes that all members benefit from the protection of a political fund.

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12. How has the fund been used?

The fund is separate from Prospect's general funds. It is used to support campaigns that would otherwise be at risk of legal challenge. If Prospect is challenged over any expenditure, for example, in the middle of a campaign on pay or pensions, the fund would ensure that campaign could continue. In recent years it has been used in campaigns on forensic science, broadband investment, indexation of pensions, redundancy compensation, science policy, defence jobs, pensions, etc.

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13. Who decides how the fund is used?

All the union's expenditure and policies are governed by Biennial National Conference. In between conferences the National Executive Committee agrees budgets and ratifies spending and would have to approve any expenditure from the fund.

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14. Why should I vote yes?

All governments take political decisions. To a greater or lesser degree, all our members are affected by those decisions. In speaking out on behalf of members, unions are particularly liable to be accused of engaging in political activity. Because our objectives often seek to change government policy, or where the government is the employer, there is a good risk that activity could be ruled political, in which case it would have to stop. Our legal advisers confirm the risks of ignoring the passage of the 1984 Act and advise us to maintain the fund to protect our campaigning activity.

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15. Why should I vote yes if I don't intend to pay?

To give others a choice. If members vote to maintain a fund, paying into the fund would continue to be optional. However, the fund will defend Prospect's ability to campaign on behalf of every group of members.

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16. When will the ballot be held?

4-27 March 2013.

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17. I have not received a ballot paper.

We have sent a ballot paper by post to all members at the preferred postal address. If you have not received a ballot by Friday 8 March 2013, please contact us by email (politicalfund13@prospect.org.uk) or by phone 020 8971 6000.

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18. Is there a cut-off date for ballot paper requests?

All ballot requests must be made before 12 noon on Friday 22 March 2013. This is to allow time for ballots to be posted out and received back via our independent scrutineers.

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