Key items at this meeting were:
Funding and Further and Adult education cuts
Union budget and subscriptions
Review of committee meetings
Report on work with black members
Criteria for requisitioning special sector conferences
Branch model rules and regional standing orders
** At lunchtime many NEC members took part in a photo opportunity outside Carlow Street to support the PCS members on strike over contracts at the National Gallery. The strike is also in solidarity with PCS rep Candy Udwin who was suspended on the eve of the strike. The photo can be found on the UCU and UCU Left websites.
1. Political campaigning
Head office has produced a campaigning toolkit for branches in the run up to the general election. Branches should set up meetings with election candidates where possible to press the case for Adult, Further and Higher education. Branches have the opportunity to raise the profile of post-16 education, for example FE colleges can hold local meetings to promote the FE Charter.
2. Budget cuts in FE – SFA cuts
The major item here, which will hit college finances and jobs hard, is the recent announcement of 24% cuts in non-apprenticeship adult skills budget by the Skills Funding Agency. This has rightly been described as ‘a wilful act of vandalism’ by the union.
The significance of this had been discussed the previous week at the FEC. The union has launched a petition, supported by all the other unions and the 157 group and the AoC, which had reached about 10,000 in the first week. The London region meeting on 7th March had agreed to organise a lobby of parliament, which will take place on 18th March from 1pm, and a demonstration on Wednesday 25th March at 6pm.
You can download all the materials and fliers for these, as well as model letters to Cameron and Miliband, from the UCU Left website, www.uculeft.org
In the discussion UCU Left supporters urged all branches to respond to these cuts, to get delegations to the lobby (and to approach local managements to support this) and to ensure that this issue is seen as both national, and cross-sectoral, since it will hit HE recruitment and Access as well.
3. UCU budget and subs
The proposed budget was approved, including the decision not to increase subscription rates this year. The budget shows the union’s finances are under control though still under some potential threat due to continued falls in membership (in FE for the most part). The better state of finances is in no small measure due to the adoption at Congress 2013 of the UCU Left alternative budget proposals.
4. Review of committee meetings
Two years ago, for a period of two years, NEC voted for a range of cost-saving reductions in the size and frequency of NEC and various sub-committee meetings. These are now up for review.
A series of recommendations were put to the NEC and agreed, such as not changing the current number of equality standing committee meetings (unless requested by the particular committee) but restoring the half day NEC/FEC/HEC meetings to full days. A suggestion that there should be an additional NEC meeting because of long gaps between meetings was made by a UCU Left supporter but not voted on.
5. Report on work with Black members
A report on the union’s work with Black members, which had been agreed after the walkout of some Black members at the Equality conferences in November 2014, was presented to the NEC. This detailed some of the work that was ongoing but recognised that more needed to be done to address underrepresentation in both the union and the institutions in which we work. The Chair of the Black Members Standing Committee, and another Black member, responded to this report reinforcing these conclusions and calling for greater commitment by the union.
6. Criteria for requisitioning special sector conferences
Obviously unhappy at members having opportunities to try and hold officials and lay leaderships to account in recent special sector conferences in HE, a proposal was put to the NEC to change the rules on requisitioning special sector conferences.
It was suggested that the criteria should change from 20 institutions in the relevant sector to securing support from 20 percent of institutions. This would make achieving such requisitions very difficult and was clearly an attack on internal union democracy and accountability. The voting on this was both complicated and close.
– A vote to make ‘some change’ to the Rule (ie to draft an enabling motion to go from the NEC to Congress) was passed by 23 votes to 20.
– A vote to change to ‘20% of institutions’ was lost by 21 votes to 22.
– A vote to bring in a two month limit to call a special conference was passed by 22 votes to 21.
In addition, an outrageous attempt to overturn the decision by the previous week’s FEC to call a special FESC on 18th April was made during the NEC meeting by some IBL delegates, who had not raised this at the FEC meeting, who now said it would clash with Northern Region’s and Yorkshire and Humberside’s AGMs.
The vote on this was tied (23/23), so the President declared the motion was not carried and the status quo ante would prevail.
7. Branch Model Rules and regional standing orders
Changes to these had been adopted by the previous NEC, put to Congress 2014 and rejected by a majority of delegates, who supported UCU Left’s objections. The IBL majority on the NEC had still been keen to pursue changes, however, and they had gone back to the union’s Standing Orders and Rules Group (SORG) for consideration.
In light of the responses from delegates to Congress 2014 these modified proposals had removed much of the most contentious issues to do with the size of quorums and the extensive use of e-ballots. However, UCU Left delegates still raised objections to unnecessary restrictions and some inconsistencies. Nevertheless, both documents were agreed by majority and will go forward to Congress for approval, or not.
8. Congress motions
While all the proposed motions from the various NEC sub-committees were approved by the meeting, none of the motions from members (apart from the one on the size of the anti-casualisation committee which had been taken and approved earlier on the agenda) were moved due to lack of time, and the business could not be dealt with.
Laura Miles, LGBT FE rep NEC