Extraordinary twist in FBU ‘hush money’ affair as general secretary REFUSES to provide financial information to executive council member and regional committee

IN JULY 2023, this blog reported that the FBU’s executive council member for London, David Shek, had written to the general secretary, Matt Wrack, to demand full disclosure of all information relating to secret exit payments made to departing members of the union’s staff, including elected national officers.

Vast sums of FBU members’ money were spent on funding these pay-offs (in one case, a national officer received a single payment of well over £100,000), and in all cases the transactions were covered by non-disclosure agreements (‘gagging clauses’).

Shek sent the letter after the union’s London regional committee instructed him to obtain full details of the payments. The committee’s decision came after the revelations had appeared in Private Eye magazine, as well as on this blog. As this blog has also previously reported, the official trade union watchdog is currently undertaking an inquiry into the scandal.

In his letter, Shek informed the general secretary that the London regional committee wished to know how many employees had departed the union with secret termination payments and what the total cost had been to members. (The regional committee did not request that the identities of the employees be disclosed.)

We can now report that, in an extraordinary twist, the general secretary has informed the executive council that he has no intention of providing the requested information to Shek or the London regional committee. The general secretary further stated that he would only provide the information if the executive council passed a resolution demanding he do so.

Wrack’s stance can only be seen as a serious violation of internal union accountability. The executive council is the union’s governing body, and Shek is an elected member of it. As such, Shek is perfectly entitled to seek information on any internal union matter – including finances – and he is also entitled to expect that information to be provided to him, particularly when he is acting on an explicit instruction from his regional committee.

In fact, executive council members – and, indeed, other senior officials throughout the union – regularly seek information about a wide range of matters from the general secretary or other officials based at the union’s head office, whether it be about pensions, legal issues, workplace campaigns, various internal union matters, and so on. In such cases, head office officials know they have a duty to properly respond to such enquiries. They would never usually dream of insisting, as Wrack has done in this case, that a resolution be passed before any information is released. Resolutions are tools which are used to determine union policy; they are not instruments to allow leaders of the union to avoid their basic duty of responding to standard requests for information by members of the executive council.

Under the union’s rule book, the general secretary is answerable to executive council members – not the other way round. He therefore has no business refusing a legitimate request for information from an executive council member. To give a similar scenario, it would be like an elected member of a fire authority writing to the chief fire officer with a request for information relating to the internal affairs of the organisation, and that chief fire officer then refusing, for no good reason, to provide the information – or, at best, telling the elected fire authority member that the information will only be provided if he or she manages to persuade other members of the fire authority to support a resolution demanding it be disclosed! That is not how these things are supposed to work.

The approach of Wrack in this matter is an affront to the principles of democracy, accountability and transparency. Members fund the union through their subscriptions, and those same members should have every right to obtain information relating to how their money is being used. Indeed, this was a principle that the general secretary himself once passionately supported. Before he got the top job, Wrack edited a rank-and-file bulletin which called for membership control over finances and complete transparency in how the union’s accounts were managed. Only Wrack himself can explain why he no longer believes in these things.

Wrack and his fellow leaders are frequently quick to tell members to ‘use the democratic structures of the union’ if they wish to obtain information or influence how the union operates. Yet here is a case where elected representatives on a regional committee took a democratic decision to mandate their executive council member to obtain certain information, and the leadership of the union point-blank refused to entertain the request. What therefore is the point of using the democratic structures of the union if they lead nowhere?

Members and officials throughout the FBU have a duty to oppose the cloak-and-dagger methods of the leadership. It is appalling that the union’s leaders think they have the right to freelance with our money free from scrutiny or accountability.

This blog will continue to highlight wrongdoing at the top. Sadly, there is plenty more to come.

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