Gateway to the Future: Stable and Sustainable Branch Resources

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2016 National Delegate Conference
29 February 2016

Conference welcomes the work of the Branch Resources Review and the National Executive Council report, Gateway to the Future: Stable and Sustainable Branch Resources. Conference agrees that the report and recommendations will secure the financial stability of the union, while giving immediate support to branches that are struggling to support members.

Our branches are the lifeblood of the union and UNISON is proud to have a tradition of strong, active branches that support local members, organise and mobilise, campaign for change and participate fully in the democracy of the union.

Since the election of the coalition government in 2010, UNISON has faced major challenges as a result of an intensifying austerity agenda based on deep cuts in public spending. These cuts have focused on a programme of nearly one million job losses in essential local and public services – overwhelmingly in the areas where UNISON organises and represents members. This will be compounded by a raft of new hostile legislation, including the Trade Union Bill.

The National Executive Council fully recognises that the government’s austerity agenda has put huge pressures on our branches. It was with this in mind that in 2010 the General Secretary made a commitment to national delegate conference to introduce a dedicated fund to directly support branches in their struggle against public sector cuts. The National Executive Council approved the creation of the Fighting Fund in December 2010.

In order to create this dedicated pool of money to directly support branches, budget reductions have been made year-on-year at the national centre with resources being focused on maintaining front line posts through regional budgets and the Fighting Fund.

All of this has been done against a background of falling income, from a peak of £173.4 in 2011 to £166.8m in 2015. This has led to national and regional expenditure cuts of £5m, managed through strict budgetary controls.

By the end of 2016, the Fighting Fund will have provided an extra £29.2m to directly support branches, creating some 100 extra posts for each year from 2011 onwards.

The evidence shows that overall, the current percentage of subscription income allocated to branch funding, 23.5 per cent, still delivers sufficient funds to cover all branch activities. Indeed, financial data shows that for those branches with reserves, the total amount held has increased from £37.8m in 2011 to £39.1m in 2014.

However, there is huge variation between branches in the level of funds and resources (including staffing, premises, IT and other support mechanisms), which is in danger of creating a two-tier union.

An across the board percentage increase would be likely to increase the amount of money held in branch reserves and would be unable to meet all the requirements of those branches in most need now.

The Branch Resources Review recognises that the union will continue to face major challenges which will have a changing impact on our branches and our union structures.

The work of the review is focused on the need to:

1)Ensure urgently that local branches are viable and serving the membership as prescribed by the rule book;

2)Develop longer term proposals to address inequalities identified through detailed analysis;

3)Ensure the whole union’s financial strength and sustainability for the future.

To meet these objectives, it was recognised that many branches need assistance now and this required short-term interim measures, but that such assistance must be tailored to branch needs rather than providing a one size fits all solution.

Conference recognises the significant work to develop the tools, training and support infrastructure to introduce the activity-based budgeting model. This enables and supports branch’s campaigning and organising and educational priorities. It has now been piloted with branches across all regions of the union, covering some 41.5% of the membership, and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

The process involves branch committees producing a work plan and a budget which reflects UNISON’s objectives. As a result, the specific needs for resources are identified as part of the joint branch assessment. This allows resources to be channelled to where they required most and where they can be used most effectively for the benefit of not just the branch but the whole union. More importantly, it identifies those branches struggling through lack of funds or in need of additional help, support and resources.

It is proposed that those branches that have insufficient funds to support their agreed work plans will in 2016 receive a top-up from the regional pool, providing immediate support to branches most in need.

In the longer term, the widespread adoption of activity-based budgeting will allow for a fundamental assessment of branch needs and how they can be met.

Conference therefore agrees that activity based budgeting should be rolled out to all branches. This process will be monitored and evaluated with a view to forming the basis of a future scheme for resourcing branches. The arrangements need to be fair and transparent and operate under the governance of lay members to ensure our funds are applied in the most equitable and effective way possible.

Conference agrees the following for resourcing our branches:

a)The following process will apply as from 1 January 2017;

b)All branches will continue to be funded in accordance with the provisions of the current branch funding formula;

c)There are no proposals to change branch reserves;

d)All branches are required to produce annual budgets under Rule G 2.2.9. It is proposed that these should be activity-based budgets, prepared by the branch committee and agreed as part of the regular joint branch assessment process;

e)All annual budgets should be consistent with the branch work plan, include appropriate cost estimates and reflect the union’s objectives and priorities;

f)The annual branch budget will be entered onto the online branch accounting system as part of the joint branch assessment. Training, help and support will be provided as needed;

g)Where a branch has agreed a work plan and budget as part of the joint branch assessment process, but does not have the resources to meet the work plan, there will be a provision for the branch budget to be automatically topped up from the regional pool;

h)Where a branch wants to fund activities that are not agreed as part of the joint branch assessment as meeting the union’s objectives, there will be an appeal process whereby the budget is referred to a joint regional council body for resolution;

i)During 2016, in consultation with regions, the regional pool structure and criteria will be revised to facilitate increased funding for branches whose reserves are insufficient to fund their activity-based budget work plan;

j)The National Executive Council will evaluate and appraise the implementation of activity-based budgeting to ensure that sufficient resources can be made available to meet the proper running, management, activity and other expenses of each branch;

k)Detailed advice, guidance, training and support will be provided to assist branches in maximising their entitlement under the existing formula, taking into account the results of the activity-based budgeting process and levels of reserves.