In the first of a few brief blog posts extracted from the report which I am preparing of yesterday's meeting of UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) I am very happy to confirm the accuracy of the news posted by our Manchester branch in the link above.
The threshold for calling a Special Service Group Conference, that it should be requisitioned by branches representing in excess of 25% of the relevant membership, having been passed, the NEC formally agreed that the Conference be convened.
As the General Secretary explained, this was only a formality, since it is a Rule Book requirement that a Special Conference be convened in these circumstances.
Since no venue has yet been identified, the NEC delegated practical details of this nature to the Presidential Team, in consultation with the Chair of the Local Government Service Group Executive.
The timetable for the Conference will be agreed by the Standing Orders Committee for Local Government Conference at a meeting today. The General Secretary pointed out that, since the requisition specifically provided for the submission of motions from branches and Regions, which would then need to be open to amendment, a sixteen week timetable would be likely.
This puts the Conference in late March or early April, depending upon the availability of a venue.
The NEC also noted that, although this was not specifically mentioned in the requisition, Self-Organised Groups and the Service Group Executive would be able to submit motions and amendments in accordance with Rule.
There was some discussion of the anomaly whereby concerns in relation to a dispute in one sector (albeit the largest) had given rise to the requisitioning of a Conference of the entire Service Group, and also of the position of Scottish branches - however neither of these red herrings swam far.
Our National Delegate Conference specifically rejected delegating responsibility for collective bargaining from Service Groups to sectors some years ago (and not least because there are no "sector Conferences" which could meet the need for which this Special Conference has been requisitioned). As for Scottish branches, our Rule Book gives our Standing Orders Committee the power to determine who may vote on what in relation to devolved issues.
It was also reported to the NEC that the Conference should be a closed Conference (i.e. not open to the public). Although this is a decision for the SOC to report to the Conference itself, there was no disagreement at the NEC.
This is not so much because of the need for a full and frank exchange of views (for which we might not want Eric Pickles to have sent someone to sit and watch) as for fear that some random reactionary might seek to use the largely untested provisions of the Lobbying Act to argue that our expenditure on any public Conference in the run up to the General Election might count against our spending for the election campaign.
This could be overly cautious, but what is important about the Special Conference is that it should enable us to analyse the reasons for our catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Government and employers, and consider how we rebuild our trade union so that we can raise the living standards of local government workers in future. A closed Conference does not impair this - and the precedent set a few years ago in the closed session debate on Equal Pay at National Delegate Conference is that visitors who are UNISON members should be able to be present.
I will blog separately about the substantive issues for debate at the Conference, concerning which there were a number of considered and thoughtful contributions yesterday (as well as some others).
For now, congratulations to Manchester UNISON for having taken the initiative which means that local government branches can have a positive focus in the immediate aftermath of catastrophe.
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.