Branch resources review – update

Work continues on the branch resources review, seeking a fairer allocation of resources to branches in line with a 2011 decision at national delegate conference.

This work is being overseen by an implementation group, involving branches and following discussions at last year’s NDC, with plans for practical proposals to be presented to the 2016 NDC, following a pilot between now and the end of this year.

The implementation group

The implementation group arises from a motion submitted to the 2014 NDC by the Scottish region, which called for such a group to be set up to oversee the delivery of changes to branch financing arrangements.

The Scottish motion was not debated, but rather was remitted for consideration by the NEC, which in turn referred it to the NEC finance and resource management committee.

This body set up the implementation group, which has met four times since the 2014 NDC.

It has decided to continue with the work undertaken under the original 2011 motion, while taking on board the implementation proposals of the 2014 Scottish motion.

Review objectives

The review has a number of overall objectives.

  • To ensure a fairer distribution of resources to branches;
  • To make sure that branches have enough resources to meet their operational and policy obligations;
  • To set up processes and protocols are fit for purpose, now and in the future;
  • To ensure the financial stability and viability of the union;
  • To integrate seamlessly with the wider financial and organisational strategy of the union.

Consultation around the union has also endorsed the view that any new resourcing scheme:

  • must be flexible and adaptable;
  • must guarantee the longer-term financial stability of the union;
  • must link branch expenditure and resources with the wider objectives of the union;
  • must be overseen by a lay governance group;
  • must enable branches to campaign, organise, represent, service and negotiate on behalf of all members;
  • must allow all members to have equal access to services and facilities;
  • must manage and minimise financial and operational risk exposure.

To achieve this, the review has identified a number of areas to look at, including: accommodation; branch-employed staff; budgeting as part of the joint branch assessment; using the OLBA online branch accounting system as an organising tool; standard banking arrangements via Unity Trust Bank; shared resources; maximising returns on investments.

Work has progressed in a number of these areas, including changes to the rule book to facilitate budgeting, online branch accounting and standard banking arrangements.

Pilot project

But to make significant progress with proposals to be presented to the 2016 Conference, a practical model needs to be developed and tested by the end of 2015.

So, in consultation with regional convenors and regional secretaries, the implementation group decided to launch a pilot initiative. This will be run in conjunction with the Scottish region in the first instance.

This pilot will be voluntary, with branches invited take part without any compulsion.

Existing funding arrangements will stay in place, and a ‘virtual’ budget will be set up with the branch, using the ‘activity-based budgeting technique’.

Branches that choose to take part in the pilot will record their virtual budget in OLBA and use it to manage and report on their activity-based budgets.

How it will work

In practice, this means that the pilot will be built around the existing joint branch assessment process.

Branches taking part in the pilot will be invited to produce a 12-month work plan for the current year. This plan will be costed and an activity-based budget produced. At the end of the 2015 financial year, the actual outturn will then be compared against the notional activity-based budget.

During the fourth quarter of 2015, the intention is to replicate the process so that an activity-based budget for 2016 is produced.

Branches that demonstrate that they do not have enough resources to meet their budgeted activities, will be able to bid for additional resources from a funding pool.

A regional lay body will assess all bids and manage the operation, and any allocations out of the funding pool. This body will also be able to consider non-financial resource issues.

Similarly, if a budget surplus is identified, consideration will be given to an agreed process for pooling of resources with contribution being made to the regional pool for reallocation and funding for branches without enough resources, or reinvestment in providing other shared resources and furthering branch development.

The format for the pilot will be developed in partnership between the region and the implementation group. It will be supported by UNISON’s senior finance officers, the head of change management and LAOS.

What next?

A template will be developed to run the pilot in the remaining 11 regions and branches will be written to by regions when this is ready, together with proposed dates.

All pilots will be concluded by 31 December 2015 and the outcomes reviewed and evaluated in January 2016.

In particular, they will be evaluated against the areas identified above – accommodation; branch-employed staff; budgeting and the joint branch assessment; using OLBA; standard banking arrangements via Unity Trust Bank; and sharing resources.

After the appraisal and evaluation, recommendations and any associated rule changes will be consulted upon with branches, through regional council structures.

They will then be submitted to NDC 2016 for approval. If approved, the earliest date for implementation will then be 1 January 2017.

But whatever the outcome of the review, the implementation group recognises that setting and agreeing budgets as part of the joint branch assessments, along with reviewing and monitoring finances, must be undertaken on an ongoing basis.