Monday, March 31, 2008

Prioritising UNISON Conference

Where could you go on the internet if you wanted an overlong description of how the agenda for UNISON National Delegate Conference is put together?

Wellthinking back

In spite of the large number of motions (and Amendments to Rule) which have been ruled out of order by the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) this year in the run up to UNISON’s National Delegate Conference, there remain more items on the Preliminary Agenda than it will be possible to debate during Conference week. Whether any particular motion will be debated will depend upon where it is in the order of business.

The order of business is set by the SOC (who have discretion under Rule to do this) but in setting the order of business have regard to the outcome of a prioritisation process. UNISON’s Regions, Self-Organised Groups, Service Groups and the NEC itself express preferences, in order of priority for which motions should be debated.

A Region, for example, can prioritise twelve motions in order. How the Region does this is a matter for the Region. It could be done by the Regional Committee for example. In the Greater London Region it is traditionally done by a straw poll of branches in which the preferences of each branch have equal weight regardless of membership. Regional Self-Organised Groups also get a “vote” in this process.

The top priority of a Region is awarded twelve “points” all the way down to the twelfth priority which gets one “point”. SOC aggregate the scores from all the Regions and other bodies which express preferences and use these to structure the agenda in two ways.

First, only “prioritised motions” (i.e. those which obtain a minimum of one “point” in the process) have any chance at all of being debated at Conference. Non-prioritised motions are not debated, and in general SOC will not allow non-prioritised motions to be part of Composites with prioritised motions.

Secondly, those with the most points generally get debated first. This works in two ways. Some of the highest prioritised motions are timetabled for debate at a specific point in the week. Others sit at the top of the “remaining order of business” also known as the snake.

Where more than one motion on the same topic is prioritised the lower priority motions may be moved up the agenda so that Conference only debates each topic once, and SOC clearly do exercise some judgement about the order of business so that the “points” are not necessarily adhered to too rigidly.

All prioritised motions, no matter how far down the order of business, are available for reprioritisation in the brief period on Friday afternoon when Conference delegates decide by ballot which motions to deal with. Equally, not all prioritised motions (other than those timetabled or very high up the “snake”) are guaranteed to be debated.

Any motions, prioritised or not, which are not debated at Conference (or withdrawn from the agenda by the proposers) are referred at the close of Conference to the National Executive Council (NEC) who determine UNISON policy on the motion (generally by reaffirming existing policy).

Therefore in determining which motions to try to prioritise the following points need to be borne in mind;
Are there important motions which no one else may prioritise but which it may be possible to get some priority in the hope that they can be reprioritised for the Friday afternoon?
Are there important motions which may not attract sufficient support to be guaranteed debate (as has recently happened with motions from the National Black Members self-organised group)?
Are the NEC likely to support or oppose the motion? (bearing in mind that it may be particularly important to prioritise debate on motions opposed by the NEC since Conference is the only opportunity for a debate on such motions)

An alternative approach would simply be to pick what seem to be the twelve most important topics, but since Regions, the NEC and Self-Organised Groups are all likely to prioritise the motions which they themselves are moving (and since these are likely to reflect the key priorities for the Union) this approach risks leaving other issues completely off the agenda.

All of which begs the question of what to actually prioritise…

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