The main discussion was around the finances of the union. Having a packed agenda and a long discussion on the finances meant that some agenda items such as proposed changes to branch and regional standing orders and rules were not reached and will be picked up at the next NEC meeting on 3rd May.
UCU has been advised by its bankers to put a 3 year recovery plan in place to mitigate a growing financial deficit caused by loss of members over the past year or so. The membership loss is around 7,000 from the peak of about 123,000. Around 1100 new members have joined since the recruitment campaign launched before Xmas.
It is proposed that there is likely to be a £2m shortfall in revenue by 2015 and that this gap needs to be bridged by savings or other means within 2 years. NEC members were shown a letter from Unity Trust Bank suggesting that UCU’s staffing costs were high compared to other unions. UCU Left supporters have argued that this is not necessarily a bad thing as it indicates that a large proportion of members’ subs are spent on staff providing member support.
Considerable disagreement was expressed on the NEC about whether these cuts are too deep and too fast and will undermine member representation and union democracy. If all the savings were to be applied to staffing costs this would entail a reduction of up to 27%. UCU Left supporters have argued for an alternative strategy based on modest subs increases, recruitment and growth, and savings which don’t undermine representation or our ability to campaign.
A number of specific proposals for cuts/savings/and an indicative budget were put before the NEC that included issues which had been raised at the Special NEC meeting in January. These included:
- Cutting staffing costs
- Reducing annual congress down to 2 days (savings of £150-185k) (a temporary measure)
- Reducing the size and workings of the NEC and its sub committees by 25% (savings of £70k)
- Cutting affiliations to other bodies
- Raising subscriptions in line with inflation by 3.2%
- Explore options on renting out one or two floors at Carlow Street
It is hard to reach a decision on many of these until a full discussion at Congress, following suggestions/motions from branches, the Democracy Commission and other groups, but a series of points were put in front of the NEC to vote on.
It seems, following the extraordinary meeting in January, where a majority agreed to focus on staff costs and other savings, that staffing cost reductions are one of the preferred options for the national officers and Independent Broad Left supporters. NEC was told that a VS scheme will be negotiated with the staff union, Unite. The GS informed NEC that a VS scheme would not be implemented until after Congress.
NEC did not discuss any details of this scheme or the costs involved, but were informed that up to 40 wte staff could be affected. We were also told that for every £50,000 of savings made from other sources, this would equate to 1 wte post. As the recovery plan timeframe was over a 3 three year period and we do not know until Congress exactly how much savings we could make – it seemed premature to many NEC members to announce a VS scheme. There are many alternatives still to explore in detail before any cuts are made and any decisions made at Congress. At the January meeting a motion had been proposed by UCU Left supporters to consider a recruitment strategy, reduce some spending and increase subscriptions without the need to cut democratic functions and staffing levels, but this was not carried.
We had a long discussion on the potential and desirability of raising subscription rates. The national treasurer and national officers claimed that any rise to members above inflation would lose us members, but no hard evidence to support that assertion was put. Jane Hardy gave a very convincing argument that a modest rise for all and a slighter higher rise for the highest earners would be sufficient to raise enough subs revenue to offset the need for cuts.
UCU property was discussed. Any sale from property, however, would go into the union’s assets and would not be counted as savings in the revenue budget.
It was agreed to look at cheaper leases in the future for accommodation and the possibility of renting out part of Carlow Street and selling or renting the union’s presidential flat in London.
The NEC then voted on the recommendations put forward by the unions Strategy and Finance Committee. These were voted on separately;
- Increase subscriptions by 3.2% in line with inflation.
- Maintain Congress as an annual conference but reduce to two days.
- Reduce the cost of the NEC, sub-committees, standing order committees and working groups.
- Suspend four affiliations and renegotiate five affiliations.
- Explore options for renting out a floor at Carlow St.
All of the above were agreed by the NEC. UCU Left supporters on the NEC supported the first and last recommendations and voted against or abstained on the rest.
A motion was also passed that all the potential reductions in committees would be only on a temporary basis.
Given that the majority of the NEC in January refused to support a motion ruling out compulsory redundancies of the union’s staff, another motion was proposed at this meeting. ‘This NEC resolves that there will be no compulsory redundancies of UCU staff’ was narrowly carried by 24 votes to 22 with 11 abstentions. UCU Left supporters and others voted for the motion. This reversed the position adopted at the previous NEC when a majority of members disappointingly voted against such a guarantee for our own staff.
(NEC had also received some motions from regions supporting no such compulsory redundancies, along with UCU Wales.)
Another motion from a UCU Left supporter was passed which sought to commit the NEC to a strategy which would not undermine the union’s ability to campaign in defence of members or undermine the equality agenda or union democracy.
While not denying the seriousness of the situation many NEC members felt that not enough time has been spent looking at how to mitigate any cuts and that the whole thing is being unnecessarily rushed. Many NEC members felt that the refusal of the national officers to consider any targeted subs increases beyond inflation is also mistaken. Even if the whole of the £2 million shortfall in two years’ time were to be covered by a subs increase this would amount to less than £20 per year, less for the average member than the cost of a cup of coffee per month.
Reports from Commission on Union Democracy and NEC sub-committee on the NEC
An interim report from the Commission on Union Democracy (elected from Congress 2012 delegates) and a second report from the NEC sub-committee on union structure and democracy (a mainly appointed body of national officers and Chairs of national committees) were received by the NEC. These reports are available on the UCU website.
There was no detailed discussion of the seven NEC exemplars presented in these reports but a proposal from the President, Kathy Taylor, about how to handle the debate at Congress 2013 was discussed. This proposed that all the exemplars in the reports should be debated in a Congress session and then a ballot of delegates carried out to determine a ‘favourite’ model. Since implementation of any decision to change the composition or size of NEC would require a Rule change, this would then be brought to Congress 2014.
Despite opposition from UCU Left supporters and others, on the grounds that this was an unnecessary departure from normal Congress procedure (in which we collectively debate motions progressively to reach a majority position) this motion was agreed by 30 to 21 with 2 abstentions.
This vote, and a number of others taken at the NEC, unfortunately reinforces the serious concerns that UCU Left NEC members and others have about the direction which the majority in the current leadership want to take the union, ie away from being a political campaigning member-led union, to one based on a servicing model rather than an organising one. By so doing the current leadership is in danger of reversing the progress made in the last five years as a merged union.
Changes to Model Local Rules and Regional Committee Standing Orders.
Due to lack of time this was not reached and is to be carried over to the next NEC.
Volume of Congress Business
A motion was submitted calling for a reduction of time spent on motions to Congress by not just compositing but prioritising motions. UCU Left supporters spoke against this arguing that it will curtail democracy and that there were other ways of more efficiently using the time available at Congress, such as cutting down on visitors’ speeches etc. The motion was passed, however.
Congress behaviour guidance
A paper was passed outlining expected behaviour. There was no inclusion in this paper of the detailed discussion that took place in the Equality Committee, where concerns were expressed about it being a possible over-reaction.
Members were asked to agree suspension of 2 years to affiliations that have not directly engaged with UCU over the past year. Despite protests from members in respect of two of the disaffiliations – to the Stop the War Coalition, and Health Emergency – this was approved by the NEC majority. Also, where the cost of affiliations were seen to be high, such as Education International, renegotiation of the fee will be attempted.
Veronica Killen asked what has happened following the passage of the motion to remind members that the TPS dispute is still ongoing and progress on remittance of affiliation to the ’68 is too late’ campaign. Apparently information has gone to branches on the TPS (no progress) and discussions are still ongoing with the TU’s signed up to the ’68 is too late’ to reach an agreed position.
Future delegations will be smaller but will have better representation of women and a guaranteed place for 1 black member.
Unite Against Fascism
(a)There was a motion to be put to Congress from the Equality Committee supporting the Unite Against Fascism campaign to get rid of fascists Andrew Brons and Nick Griffin as Euro MPs in 2014 which asked for a donation of £1000. This element was deleted from the motion by majority vote.
Convention for Higher Education
(b) It was agreed to support the ‘Convention for Higher Education’ at Brighton University in May.
(c) A motion critical of a recent speech by Yvette Cooper on immigration policy was not reached through lack of time.
Please get in touch with your NEC representative for more details from the NEC meeting.