Tuesday, March 18, 2008

UNISON Regional Committee and the standing orders for the Regional Council

I knew the title of this post would grab your attention...

I shall be sorry to miss tomorrow’s meeting of the UNISON Greater London Regional Committee (honestly! I enjoy Regional Committees) and shall invite other comrades to let us know here what excitement takes place.

One topic which is covered in the report from the Regional Convenor and Secretary to tomorrow’s meeting is the vexed question of the arrangements for the Standing Orders Committee function for the Regional Council (i.e. who decides what gets admitted to the agenda and what does not).

For those with long memories you may recall reading about this here before.

Long ago when UNISON was young there was a Standing Orders Committee for the Regional Council, a body so engaged by its function that it recommended that it cease to exist and that its functions pass to the Regional Committee.

Eventually, perhaps because the Regional Committee was often admirably liberal in what it would permit to be debated at the Regional Council, officers felt that it was inappropriate that the Regional Committee should fulfil this function, citing a “conflict of interest.”

And, although there are other Regions where such an approach appears not to be a problem, most of those interested in this debate could see the point. The Regional Secretary identified two options for the carrying out of the Standing Orders function – both of them consisting of small sub groups of the Regional Committee (either the Regional Finance Team or the Regional Council Officers Group).

More than a year ago at the Regional Committee a third option was suggested – an elected Standing Orders Committee independent of the Regional Committee. There followed a process of “consultation” with branches which covered only the two options identified by the Regional Secretary and not the third proposed by an experienced and respected Regional Committee member.

A small minority of branches responded and a fair few backed the option which had not even been included in the consultation, but slightly fewer backed one of the other options (giving the job to the Regional Council Officers team) and this was then imposed without any sanction of either the Regional Council or Regional Committee.

To date the Regional Council has not agreed to this change. At the Annual General Meeting last month both options were put to the vote and neither commanded the two thirds majority required to change the rules. Votes were counted but the results were not announced (though it was pretty clear that the option of an elected Standing Orders Committee, for which the case was put more convincingly, commanded the greater support).

In the light of this decision I was hoping to see a compromise suggestion from the Regional leadership, taking seriously their responsibility for unifying the Union in Greater London. Instead I was disappointed to read a proposal that an option which had specifically not been approved by the Regional Council should continue and that the Regional Council Officers should continue to provide the Standing Orders function for the Regional Council.

Whilst technically the Regional Committee may decide to delegate this responsibility in this way, to do so in the face of the Regional Council decision seems bizarre.

I have suggested a possible compromise to the Regional Convenor and Secretary. I hope that the Regional Committee will reflect on this and will try to reach out and unite our Union. We face something of a crisis of activism and engagement in the Region (as evidenced by the disappearance of branch bids to the Regional Pool over the recent period) and this will only change if we all try to reach out and work constructively together.

I wish good luck to all those who go to tomorrow’s Regional Committee hoping to build and strengthen UNISON.

Update on Wednesday 19 May - news from Mabels is that the Regional Committee did agree, by a majority, to delegate its standing orders functions in respect of the Regional Council to the Regional Council Officers group, although the Regional Council itself had not agreed this.


DM Andy said...

The headline was captivating enough for me Jon :-)

On the subject of electing Standing Orders Committee, that works well at National Delegate Conference and Service Group Conferences (though Glenn might not agree). In other regions elected SOCs quietly work well in sorting out motions for Regional Councils. I've never been to London Regional Council, but I can't imagine it needs a radically different Standing Orders set-up to any other part of the union.

At the very least, freeing that task from a team of full-time officers allows them more time to support activists in our core work of recruiting, representing and organising. That's got to be a good thing.

Anonymous said...

What was your compromise suggestion?
And hasn't DM Andy got the wrong end of the stick? It's not full-time officers who you are talking about in the SOC is it? I thought it was regional lay officers (who I suspect probably aren't 'full-time' as in having full release from their employers to do the work?)
Just looking for some clarification here, although I recognise I might have the wrong end of the stick - which has been known!