Sunday, December 13, 2009

UNISON NEC report to London branches

This is the report which I have sent to UNISON Branches in Greater London, now that I feel better after a few days ill health. I will amplify on one or two of the points covered (or not covered) below over the next couple of days;

This is a personal report of the meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council(NEC) meeting which took place on Wednesday 9 December 2009. An official report is available online at http://www.unison.org.uk/activists/pages_view.asp?did=10240 – in addition to the matters discussed at the meeting I took the opportunity to ask a number of questions about reports and Committee Minutes on the agenda and will report on these questions and their answers on my personal blog (http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.com) except where they are relevant to aspect of this report.

UNISON Objectives and Priorities for 2010

The NEC agreed revised objectives and priorities for UNISON in 2010. These commit the Union to a target of 1.5 Million members by 2013, emphasise our objective of avoiding redundancies, and write into our overall objectives the Million Voices campaign.

The NEC also received a summary report on financial planning for 2010. We have a break even budget for 2010 with a commitment to find £1.5 Million of as yet unidentified savings in order to add to our reserves. I asked about £300,000 of capital expenditure in the Manchester Branch in 2009 and was promised sight of the reports which go to our Finance Committee on such financial support for UNISON Branches.

Recruiting, Organising, Representing and Retaining Members

The regular report on organising, which was debated briefly, confirmed that we are now on target to exceed the original target of 1.5% net membership growth for 2009 and that online recruitment is contributing significantly to this. I had asked about the commitment given at the previous meeting to map where online joiners are employed, in the light of comments and observations from branches within the Greater London Region.

I was advised that a detailed analysis will be carried out in the new year but that preliminary analysis suggests that some 40% of online recruits are in schools and hospitals.

There was some discussion of whether, in the light of the NEC’s objective of devolving bargaining responsibilities from Service Groups to Sectors we should now analyse recruitment performance by Sector rather than Service Group, and I understand that this might mean the production of 53 tables of data for each meeting.

Negotiating and Bargaining

The NEC received a table setting out the current state of play in relation to pay negotiations across UNISON, with comparative data on other pay settlements, claims and offers. A seminar for UNISON pay negotiators will take place on 13 January, and national representatives of Service Groups and Sectors can expect to have been invited.

The Head of Education also gave a report on the School Support Staff Negotiating Body (SSSNB) which will be set up under the Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Act, which received Royal Assent (and therefore became law) on 12 November. The SSSNB will be a statutory negotiating body (imagine a cross between a Pay Review Body and a voluntary negotiating body like the Local Government National Joint Council) and will cover non-teaching staff in maintained schools (excluding Academies). UNISON will have a majority over all other trade unions on the trade union side (8 seats, to 4 for the GMB and 3 for UNITE).

I had asked a couple of questions about this which were helpfully answered at the meeting. First, I had asked about the provisions of the Act which permit the Secretary of State to refuse to implement an Agreement reached by the SSSNB. This power, which is not expected to be used, was described to me as the “price” of ensuring that in general Agreements reached in the SSSNB will become Orders of the Secretary of State (meaning that – unlike Further Education Colleges for example – Schools will have no choice but to implement such Agreements.

I also asked about what would happen if UNISON members were to vote against the proposed body in the ballot which Local Government Conference has agreed must take place. I was advised that were this to happen UNISON, having a majority of the trade union side, would simply refuse to come to any agreement of the SSSNB. The timing of any ballot will be a matter for the Local Government Service Group.

The NEC also received a verbal update on Equal Pay. Although many of the claims being brought against UNISON have been withdrawn “no win no fee” solicitors remain active, and the Union is also engaged in considerable litigation on behalf of our members as claimants.

Campaigning and Promoting Unison

The NEC received a verbal report on planning for next year’s National Delegate Conference. There is concern at the small number of branches submitting motions to Conference, and the NEC intends to promote the idea that next year’s Conference should have a “theme” around the Million Voices campaign, with branches encouraged to submit motions around the campaign. Branch in the Greater London Region may wish to take note of this encouragement to submit motions to what will be our first Conference after the next General Election.

The NEC also received an update on the Million Voices campaign which led to a somewhat unproductive debate about the wisdom of seeking the endorsement of Cabinet Ministers for our campaign. The official line on this is that, by putting their name to our campaign, politicians are expressing opposition to cuts and privatisation and that we shall aim in future to hold politicians to the commitment which they have made in signing up. I understand the reservations expressed by a minority of NEC colleagues. The proof of this particular pudding will clearly be in the eating.

Developing an Effective and Efficient Organisation

The NEC received the Union’s accounts for the first 9 months of 2009. I asked about the unbudgeted expenditure on the “Three Companies Project” and was advised that this had not been in the budget as it had not been thought of when the budget was put together, but had been funded this year from savings elsewhere.

I also asked about the writing off of large sums of money in respect of debts owed to UNISON by Care Connect Learning (CCL) and was advised that a report will be made to the Finance and Resource Management Committee in the New Year to learn the lessons from the CCL experience (in which UNISON set up a company which seems to have been a fairly expensive mistake).

General Secretary’s Report

The General Secretary commenced his regular report to the NEC by inviting NEC member for Local Government, Paul Holmes, to give a detailed report on the successful conclusion of the strike in Leeds by refuse collectors and street cleaners. Paul’s Kirklees branch is collecting funds to buy toys as Xmas presents for the children of members who lost pay over thirteen weeks.

The report then ranged around a number of issues. I had asked about UNISON’s work in response to the Government’s “Total Place” initiative (in which pilot projects in 13 local authority areas have sought to identify service improvements – and cost efficiencies – from bringing together the management of different public services).

The Head of Local Government confirmed that following initial briefings to the Service Group Liaison and Policy, Development and Campaign Committees a group of officers from various Service Groups have been meeting to monitor developments, and that in addition to briefings sent to Regions and Branches, the Union is following up a request to meet relevant civil servants. A cross-service group branch seminar is planned for the end of February.

Other Key Issues

The NEC received the regular report upon “Rule I” disciplinary matters. I asked a couple of questions and received confidential replies. I intend to ask some questions openly so that I can report to branches in the Region about matters of concern which have recently come to light affecting our Region.

For the first time the NEC received a written report from the Staffing Committee, a welcome innovation which I had requested at the previous meeting, and which provided the opportunity to report to the NEC that members of the Staff Pension Scheme have voted overwhelmingly for a recovery plan which will permit the Union to retain a high quality final salary pension scheme for existing and future staff whilst addressing the current deficit. It was agreed to publicise this positive outcome given adverse publicity which arose at the time of the ballot of members of the scheme,

Matters arising from Committee Minutes

Unusually there was considerable debate around an item from Committee Minutes. This was raised by both Roger Bannister (North West Region) and Alison Shepherd (Higher Education Service Group). Both challenged the decision of the November meeting of the Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee to impose upon Service Group Conferences the Scheme of Representation agreed by the NEC for National Delegate Conference.

It was reported to the NEC that both the Higher Education and Local Government Service Group Executives (SGEs) were opposed to this, believing that the Rule Book gives the responsibility for agreeing the representation at Service Group Conferences to SGEs. Paul Holmes (Local Government) stated that this was the first occasion he could remember the Local Government SGE being unanimous.

Following a debate in which the Vice President, implementing policy agreed at the previous meeting, refused to allow Glenn Kelly (representing Local Government on the NEC) to speak in support of the position of the Local Government SGE because he is a member of the D&O Committee which had agreed a contrary view, the NEC voted to support the position of the D&O Committee. I did not and do not support this decision which I believe to be in breach of UNISON Rule D 3.4.5. (The position of the Presidential Team, supported by the NEC is that the decision of the D&O Committee is permitted by Rule D 2.12.1).

If any UNISON Branches in the Greater London Region would like sight of any of the non-confidential papers considered at the meeting, or details of any of the other questions which I asked (and of the answers to those questions) please get in touch at j.rogers@unison.co.uk.

Best wishes for the coming holidays, and good luck for 2010 (we will all need it!)

Jon Rogers
UNISON NEC member for Greater London

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