Francis Maude was right to describe it as "very, very direct sleaze. That is buying influence and buying taxpayers' money." Guido's graphic sums up the process nicely:
The Government's rationale for this is that the unions increase productivity and this would help them continue to do so. This doesn't fit the historical record, union power led to a dismal productivity record that only improved when Thatcher weakened the unions enough that working practices could be reformed. Even if unions did improve productivity there is little reason to think that giving them money to train their senior officers or produce an elaborate website would strengthen that effect.
On 11 September this year the second round was announced (DOC). The big unions, USDAW, CWU, NASUWT and others, got more taxpayer money. Some unions that don't donate to the Labour party also got funds but that's a pretty thin smokescreen, it only means anything if you assume the Government have some aversion to spraying taxpayers' cash around. It doesn't make this scheme look any less like an elaborate laundering of taxpayers' money to me.
What I didn't know until today was the identity of the head of the Union Modernisation Fund Supervisory Board. Under any honest scheme the UMFSB's chair would be a disinterested sort who could provide an independent perspective on the unions' projects and assess which would best contribute to an efficient workplace. Instead, we have Sir Bill Connor. He left a senior position in the union movement, General Secretary of USDAW, the shop-workers union, and, went straight across to head the agency supervising the distribution of Union Modernisation Fund money. Some of the money even goes to USDAW. The Government doesn't just fund the unions, it allows them to distribute it themselves.