UNISON’s branch resource review is progressing, despite the pandemic, with the aim of delivering a set of proposals to the national delegate conference in June 2021.
This is where we are so far.
Following a motion passed at the 2019 conference, a review group of UNISON members was tasked with reviewing the branch funding regime and how resources are allocated to help branches.
In February 2020, an online survey to all UNISON branches was issued to branch secretaries. The questions reflected the existing priorities laid out in the code of good branch practice. In total, 357 branches responded – over 42%.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, response rates varied. Of the regions, the response was highest in Northern Ireland, closely followed by Northern Region; of the service groups, local government and health provided the highest response.
Despite a decade of austerity, on the whole branches still felt that they had received the support they required to fulfil the main priorities of the union, but this was now under threat. There were three distinct areas where senior branch officers felt they needed improved support to do more. These were:
- more time including facility time;
- more support from the regions;
- more financial support.
Finding out more
Wishing to dig deeper, the union then commissioned an independent body, BritainThinks, to help review members conduct in-depth research with branch officers – to explore and understand the challenges their branches face and what kind of support and resources would be most helpful to them.
Interviews were conducted with 15 branches – mostly with branch secretaries. The interviews highlighted a number of key challenges affecting a large proportion of branches:
- activists feel that they and their senior stewards spend most of their time on casework, with little opportunity to focus on organising, developing new activists and longer-term planning;
- processes can be slow and inefficient, which has been thrown further into the spotlight by the pandemic and the need to adapt to these new circumstances;
- branches have unique needs, which they feel aren’t always considered – this is particularly the case for branches with members employed in the private and voluntary sectors.
Branch representatives did not feel that increased levels of financial resources at the branch level were the solution to all their problems.
Instead, they share a vision for a modern union with centralised processes alongside a greater amount of region-level lay decision-making and partnership to give them tailored support.
UNISON president and review group chair Josie Bird said: “The review is making good progress and we will be coming to regional meetings around the country to meet members and hear what their branches want.
“The pandemic is not stopping this work and we want to deliver a report for our annual conference to consider.”
There will be more updates in the coming months, prior to the NDC in June.