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Monday, 22 November 2010

Local Government SGE & Policy Seminar 18-20 November - Report‏

SGE and minority distraction on Pensions: The November LGSGE began before any real business had even started with an attempt by a minority of delegates to get the SGE to agree to debate a motion on Pensions given the recent announcements of the NUT Executive. It was clear that this was an attempt to hijack informed debate and move to a premature position on industrial action.

On the basis of the following, the request, and the multiple and monotonous, distracting, subsequent requests were overwhelmingly and consistently defeated:

• UNISON members and Branches are overwhelmed with potential job cuts at present. As demonstrated over issues of Pay, the membership are not yet sufficiently angry about Pensions and the inevitable attacks that will arrive.

• The SGE agreed that LGPS attacks would need to be one of the unifying strands to opposition to public sector cuts.

• Evidence from numerous regions about inquorate, or poorly attended meetings and scarce industrial action in response to job cuts, identified the size of the challenge ahead. It was clear that Pensions would play a key part in this, and SGE agreed that co-ordinated action with other public sector unions should be considered whilst acknowledging the different elements that exist between some pension schemes. Timing and legality are clearly crucial and simply to ‘piggyback’ the NUT, whose scheme is radically different to the LGPS, was not thought, at this stage, to best represent where our members are up to

• This SGE had not yet had sufficient debate on the Hutton Report, or received one of the three scheduled presentations on Pensions that should inform our response and enable us to better advise our members

• The actual final Hutton report on Pensions is not published until March 2011 and the key issues of any dispute, whilst we can guess what they may be, have not actually been announced yet.

• UNISON is about to submit its response to Hutton’s first report imminently and so to adopt a position before we even know what that submission is (one of the scheduled presentations to the SGE) puts the proverbial cart before the horse. The deadline for that submission to Hutton report is 17th December ahead of second report due in same month as budget of 23rd March.

• For an individual to move such a motion is outside of the SGE procedures anyway!

Local Government Conference 2011

SGE then moved on to agree a list of topics for motions for Service Group Conference – these included such as CSR/Cuts; LGPS/Hutton Review; Schools; Crisis in Social Work, Libraries and Two-Tier Workforce. Branches were urged to increase the 20% of motions submitted last year as this reflects poorly on the democracy of the union. Help and guidance from Regional Heads is available for any Branch Members wishing to avoid falling foul of the rules. Online registration for Conference this year is a new development and the inevitable extension of the on line submission of motions that happened last year – Branch Secretaries should have been written to with ID and passwords.

LGPS - Presentations on the LGPS Fund Mergers were debated and the SGE agreed a position on the move from 101 Funds to 4 (1 in each nation) required still further exploration. Whilst not doubting the financial benefits of significantly reducing the funds, real concern exists that the Con/Dem government will simply take the massive savings for themselves!

Social Care – more evidence of broken false promises about protection of (so-called) frontline services by the coalition is to be compounded by the extension of the personalisation agenda, imposition in adult social care of privatisation quotas, reduced spending on social care and the cessation of the General Social Care Council in England to be replaced by the Health Professions Council.

The SGE agreed the request to support Regional Social Care Forums and the Social Work Contract campaign.

Recruitment – LGSGE heard that ongoing strategies to recruit are being developed and noted we will exceed the expected national growth target by 1.75% at the year end. Most Regions are growing with particular reference being made to the NW (5.1% above turnover).

Ben Page from Ipsos MORI gave a provocative presentation on The Challenging Times ahead and the following are some of the hundreds of salient points made:

• There is more satisfaction and less complaints than ever before about the NHS

• Having peaked in 1980 at over 75%, the members of the public who believe trade unions are a problem has dropped to less than 2% and yet paradoxically...

• Doctors, teachers, judges and even the clergy are trusted by 92- 71% BUT Trade Union Officials are only trusted by 38% of the population – above only Business Leaders and politicians with Journalists being at the very bottom!

• A majority of trade unionists agree with the need for public sector cuts

• Only 16% of Pensioners have access to the intranet

• The person who may live to 1,000 has probably already been born and

• Most people get involved in a campaign to stop something happening.

Ben’s extremely interesting PowerPoint is available through your LGSGE delegate and underlines the point that UNISON needs to continue to develop new ways of campaigning.

Other Business - The reports on such as Schools, Housing, Finance, FE Colleges, Food Standards Agency and the full range of Local Government were all underpinned by the Financial report provided on Local Government Public Sector funding – namely that extremely dramatic cuts are being made throughout.

The paperwork that accompanies the LGSGE is massive and reports like this never do justice to their quantity and quality – whilst the brief sheet referred to above will outline the key issues and decisions made, accurate and consistent feedback remains problematic for SGE delegates.

The workshops that followed until Saturday afternoon covered the main areas – The LGPS, Privatisation, Fighting back against the Cuts and Campaigning with Local Communities.

Democratic Deficit

A personal view is that the SGE is now beginning to develop its leadership role. My concern is one of a democratic deficit – SGE Members are elected and should achieve a mandate from their respective constituencies, not see ‘leadership’ as deciding what the agenda is and then seeking to persuade those constituents to adopt this position.

Calls for ‘mass industrial action’ in response to Pensions, Pay and Cuts immediately, do not accord with a majority of members from my Region or Branch yet. That is not to say when reporting back some of the excellent material provided at the SGE, an increasing number of members will adopt this view. At that stage, and only then will I be able to accurately represent the views of those who elected me and the silent majority of ordinary who rarely vote in any internal UNISON elections.

Our Region fits its LGSGC meetings around the diary of the SGE meetings to ensure the democratic deficit is addressed. Whilst the organisation of other Service Group SGE’s and the relationship with the NEC and SGLC are complicated and make the interplay between them difficult, I believe we are at least able to ask what our members actually think before reporting this to the SGE. Sometimes, this means we have to report decisions or views that do not sit comfortably with our own – democracy can sometimes be a pain!

Massive threats need a massive response aiming to involve a mass of members across the movement and within communities. The SGE made great progress in seeking to develop a strategy with local government workers and campaign groups at the very heart of the activity. Establishing common goals will be vital; distraction to areas of disagreement will only be to the detriment of the majority.

Better Communication by LGSGE

In order to improve the way in which the LGSGE communicates its existence, objectives and status, it was agreed at the October SGE Leadership training that a single A4 summary sheet would be distributed shortly after each SGE to all Regions identifying key issues and decisions made. This was the first SGE to enact that decision so regions should look out for this SGE synopsis arriving at an email address near them very soon! Watch out for the briefing and the fuller report going to your Regional LGSGC

Glen Williams
North West Region