THE Scottish Trades Union Congress is facing questions about its independence after the scale of its reliance on SNP Government funding was revealed.

Leaked documents show that the STUC, which speaks for nearly 500,000 workers, received around 60 per cent of its income from Nicola Sturgeon’s Government last year.

The £2.6 million in public funding far exceeds the sum paid to the STUC in fees from its own members.

Meanwhile, the GMB union, one of the umbrella group’s biggest members, said in a statement that they had raised concerns about “transparency and accountability in the running of the STUC”.

Founded in 1897, the Glasgow-based STUC acts as the voice of the trade union movement and lobbies Government for policy changes. It represents the interests of members in 39 unions and 20 trades union councils, and is financed by affiliation fees.

Although the STUC is not aligned to a political party, the body had a high-profile role promoting devolution in the 1980s and 1990s.

However, senior trade union figures told this newspaper that the STUC, led by general secretary Grahame Smith, was too reliant on the Scottish Government and had lost its way.

The STUC is now facing questions about its relationship with the Government and the financial model on which the organisation is based.

Unlike the TUC – its UK sister organisation – the STUC is under no obligation to make its annual financial statements available outwith affiliated unions.

A spin-off firm, STUC Training Ltd, publishes accounts, but a detailed picture of the income of the body is not in the public domain.

According to documents presented to the annual congress in Aviemore this year, the STUC and its training arm had a combined income of around £4.3m in 2017. Of this sum, less than 25 per cent came in the form of affiliation fees from trade unionists.

The biggest chunk of cash, £2.3m, was given to STUC Training Ltd by the SNP Government for the “Scottish Union Learning” initiative, which promotes skills and lifelong learning. Funds through the scheme are provided to the STUC, which distributes resources for different projects to help union members.

Another budget line also shows that the STUC received £324,440 from the Government for the “Union Modernisation Fund”.

This new pot was announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as a way of mitigating what she described as Tory legislation that “threatens” the unions. For every pound received by the STUC in 2017, around 60p came from the SNP Government, whose policies the civic body attempts to influence.

One critic of Smith’s leadership said the STUC had offered occasional criticism of the SNP Government, such as questioning rates relief for small business.

However, Smith is a member of the First Minister’s Standing Council on Europe and he backed the SNP Government position in the row over a Brexit “power grab” of Holyrood powers. The STUC also provided a mild quote in response to the findings of the SNP Growth Commission, a report that was widely criticised by figures on the political Left.

Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The trade union movement is a vital part of public life and the defence of workers’ rights. They should always be utterly independent both of management and of Government. So to learn that the STUC gets the majority of funding from the Scottish Government puts that independence into question.

“They should be a champion for trade unions and of working people above all things, but many have been concerned that they have seemed to have pulled their punches recently over criticising the SNP Government on things like the austerity proposed by the Growth Commission.”

Scottish Tory MSP Bill Bowman said: “The STUC is curiously quiet when it comes to criticising the Scottish Government.

"Perhaps it’s a case of not biting the hand that feeds you.

“If the SNP Government is bankrolling the STUC, that explains why the organisation is so reluctant to question SNP decisions. No such problem seems to exist in relation to the UK Government.

“There’s a blatant conflict of interest here, and one which raises serious questions about the STUC’s ability to function transparently and responsibly.”

A senior trade union figure said: “This is a serious situation for the STUC. Relying on external funding from the Scottish Government not only undermines the future sustainability of the organisation, it places a significant question mark over their ability to scrutinise and challenge Scottish Government policy making.”

Separately, the STUC also faced criticism after an employment tribunal ruled that a staff member had been victimised by selecting him for redundancy.

The STUC failed to have the ruling overturned in an appeal and is in line for a hefty legal bill.

The Sunday Herald asked some of the STUC’s biggest affiliates for a comment on the tribunal case, but most did not provide a comment.

However, a spokesperson for GMB Scotland, one of the country’s biggest unions, said: “The judgment is troubling – victimisation in the workplace isn’t acceptable.

The statement added: “On numerous occasions we have raised our concerns about transparency and accountability in the running of the STUC, to defend the jobs and conditions of the staff we represent within the STUC and for the organisation’s ability to campaign effectively on behalf of all its affiliate members in future.

“GMB Scotland will continue to seek to address those concerns through the internal processes of the STUC.”

An STUC spokesperson said: “The funds received by the STUC from the Scottish Government are to fund learning and development projects run by our affiliated unions that provide learning opportunities for over 9,000 trade union members every year.

“These projects make a significant contribution to upskilling and reskilling the workforce and to our shared objective with the Scottish Government of achieving a more inclusive economy.

“The STUC is not dependent on Scottish Government funding. If this funding was not provided, thousands of low-paid, low-skilled workers would be deprived of the opportunity for personal and professional development.”

On the GMB criticism, the spokesperson said: “There are multiple opportunities available to all of our affiliates to ensure we remain transparent and accountable, principally our Annual Congress which elects and holds to account our General Council on which members of the GMB serve.

“Concerns raised by the GMB, which align with the specific issues mentioned above, have already been addressed directly with its Scottish secretary.”