Devolution and Combined Authorities

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2016 Local Government Service Group Conference
1 January 2016

Conference notes the development of the devolution agenda and further notes that:

1)Local government is a devolved matter in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland;

2)The Scotland Bill devolves more powers to the Scottish Parliament from April 2017, the Wales Act 2014 devolves some tax and borrowing powers to the Wales Government National Assembly for Wales and the Fresh Start agreement with the Northern Ireland Executive;

3)‘Devolution’ deals have now been agreed with a significant number of local authorities in England;

4)In England some matters such as ‘responsibility for a devolved and consolidated local transport budget, with a multi-year settlement’, ‘responsibility for franchised bus services, which will support the Combined Authority’s delivery of smart and integrated ticketing across the Combined Authority’, ‘responsibility for chairing an area-based review of 16+ skills provision’, and ’control of an annual funding allocation over 30 years’ are common to each deal;

5)In some ‘devolution deals’ other matters such as integration of health and social care, planning powers to drive housing delivery and the powers of homes and community agency, responsibility for policing are included;

6)The integration of health and social care is described by the Government in Scotland as one of its major packages of reform, is proceeding in Wales and Northern Ireland and forms part of the strategy in England.

Conference within the Northern region it appears that there will be two devolution agreements. As conference is aware the funding to local government continues to decline, and local councils have agreed to sign up to devolution as a way of getting extra funding.

Given that there is no new money, it appears that this enticement will not deliver any real benefits to local government workers and our UNISON members.

Currently there is one combined authority established in our region, with another in the process of being formed. In order for these to bring real benefits to our members they must have real democratic accountability at their heart. In order for regional devolution to deliver for our members, it must have properly funded public services, extra investment powers, and a responsibility to secure good jobs, to deliver real changes.

Conference, it does not appear to be the case that engagement from unions and residents is of key importance when combined authorities are being formed. Most deals for combined authorities in England seem to be through backroom deals with the Treasury, and not through engagement with the unions.

Conference believes that the devolution deals in England create a number of risks to the pay, terms and conditions, pensions and future employment prospects of the members affected and that it is vital to that combined authorities are part of the NJC collective bargaining arrangements.

These changes could mean changes to the jobs people do, their employer, to their pay and terms and conditions, the way they are organised and to their opportunities to gain new skills and future employment opportunities.

Conference, we must ensure that the devolution agenda is not used to weaken our collective bargaining power, attack our terms and conditions, or undermine and fragment public services.

Conference we call on the Service Group Executive to:

a)Campaign for greater trade union involvement in the formation of any combined authorities being formed;

b)Support branches to ensure that the equality agenda should be integral to any devolution agreements;

c)Produce model framework agreements to ensure trade union recognition is at the heart of any devolution agreement;

d)Campaign to ensure that devolution is not a way of developing an outsourcing agenda;

e)Campaign to ensure that devolution deals are not used to reduce terms and conditions for our members or be a vehicle to move away from national pay bargaining;

f)Campaign to retain democratic accountability to the electorate in any combined or devolved authority.

g)Learn the lessons from other devolution agreements in place and share best practice.

Conference also believes that the devolution deals open up an opportunity to develop an agenda for the labour movement that:

i)Sees trade unions in general – and UNISON in particular – as key partners in moving devolution forward;

ii)Enables UNISON to play an active role in influencing changes and providing the framework for recruitment and organising;

iii)Enhances the employment standards that health and social care providers are required to meet, the pay and conditions in health and social care, and training of staff that daily administer medicines and carry out medical procedures;

iv)Enhances the employment standards in the FE sector, pay and conditions and trade union involvement in planning the future skills of the workforce in both the public and private sector;

v)Ensures that spatial planning and transport strategy can address workforce issues.

Conferences call on the Service Group Executive to provide advice and guidance to regions and branches affected, identifying issues and learning lessons from the experience to date in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and established best practice.