Monday, June 13, 2016

Activity based budgets and the future of UNISON

I won't blog about the discussions underway between representatives of our National Executive Council (NEC) and of the branches proposing Motions 123 and 124 at UNISON National Delegate Conference‎ concerning a possible Composite motion on branch funding, other than to express the hope that these discussions lead to such an outcome.

However, in the run up to next week's Conference, as branches and delegates make our final preparations, I do want to express a concern about "activity based budgeting" about which we (or at least those of us who have been paying attention to the branch resources review) hear so much.

Given that a budget is a plan for future expenditure, and that all expenditure arises from activity, there is a sense in which all budgets are, necessarily, activity based. In practice of course many budgets are based on the previous year's budget (sometimes regardless of overspends and underspends). That a budget should ideally reflect a work plan (and therefore be "activity-based") is clearly an advance upon a budget which repeats the past without reference to (or even in anticipation of) massive underspends.

(I would comment further on which Regional lay budgets I am thinking of, but I would not want to say anything, by way of social media, which anyone could think might possibly be a criticism of them, as I wouldn't want to be in any more trouble).

The problem - from the point of view of those of us who believe that branch autonomy is an important element of UNISON's democracy - is that there is an all too thin line between "activity-based budgeting" and "activity-based branch funding."

Our UNISON branches are not branches of a bank, delivering strategies and objectives determined in a distant Head Office. Branches must retain the ability to determine their own objectives (within Rule) and must have freedom to allocate branch resources to the pursuit of those objectives.

That is why branch funding (and budgets) must in no way be tied in to the joint branch assessment process, as this would require the sign off of a Regional official (employed by and accountable - through the General Secretary - to the NEC) for the budget on which funding could come to depend.

There is clearly a legitimate role for officials to ensure that branches comply with the sensible Rule Book requirement that they have a budget. The Centre now has, through the online branch accounting system (OLBA) the ability to scrutinise the detail of the expenditure of every branch in real time. This provides a sound safeguard for members' money.

However, lay activists at branch level, democratically accountable to branch members, must retain the freedom‎ to determine our work plans and spending plans. As things stand, Motion 121 includes text (which the SOC have ruled may not be amended) which presents a clear and present danger to branch autonomy.

I hope that a composite emerges which ‎does not make such threats.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

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