The £30 million bill to the tax-payer for so-called trade union pilgrims will be slashed by more than half, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said today.
Mr Maude said it would now be impossible for activists - who represent their members full time while working in the public sector - to be promoted as he promised to introduce rigorous checks on the amount of time they spend on trade union work.
His promise came as he pledged to make the internet the "default" option for accessing many public services, telling the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham of his plans to make Whitehall as efficient as the best-run British businesses.
Mr Maude said: "I mentioned the trade unions. Unions can play an important role in the workplace. At their best they can be part of the Big Society. But in too much of the public sector under Labour things got way out of hand. There is something euphemistically called facility time.
"In central government it costs the taxpayer over £30 million a year. There are 250 people being paid as full time civil servants, even though they do absolutely nothing except trade union work.
"Some have been at this for well over a decade; and - unbelievably - some have even been promoted - one of them twice - while never doing an hour of work to the civil service role, to which they were appointed. Not any longer.
"In future there will be no full-time trade union representatives at the taxpayers' expense without the specific consent of the minister running the department. No more promotions while just doing union work. One thousand trade union reps paid by the taxpayer to spend a week at the union's seaside conference? Forget it.
"We will more than halve the cost of facility time to the taxpayer. Proper control, rigorous monitoring - this is a new world and the old ways have to change.
"This will put the civil service in line with modern practice in business and the wider public sector."
Mr Maude said his review of Whitehall spending was long overdue as he accused Labour of splurging taxpayers' money on vanity projects and advertising.
He said the government's reduction in its property portfolio was already equivalent to 140 Wembley football stadiums.
He added: "It's hard grinding detailed work. It's not glamorous. But we owe it to the public to make sure every pound is spent well because every hard-earned pound of taxpayers' money that we save through efficiency is a pound that can be spent to improve the front line services on which vulnerable people depend.
"So it's not just about saving for the sake of it - it's also about improving the quality of public services.
"These days people expect to be able to get things done quickly and efficiently and at a time of their choice. These days British Airways does everything online that isn't about flying aeroplanes. government should be doing the same - it should be digital by default.
"Phoning up a call centre and waiting for 20 minutes being pushed from pillar to post, or filling out long paper forms in triplicate that then need to be posted off is costly and a waste of time.
"There is no reason why government can't be as efficient as the best of the private business. And if it can't be done efficiently in-house then we'll contract it out to someone who can."