Delegates reveal that it’s not all doom and gloom

Conference hears of successful insourcing campaigns – and agrees to learn new ways of getting messages out to members and the public

As UNISON’s local government service group met in the flesh for the first time since 2019, delegates were keen to not only talk about the damage being inflicted on services by the UK government – but also to look at ways of improving the union’s impact.

And there was time too for the vital job of emphasising that, no matter how difficult things have been in recent years – and remain – UNISON does make a positive difference.

For instance, in a motion on the need for a national insourcing strategy for the sector, Lianne Dallimore from Cymru/Wales said that she was “proud to bring some light” to conference, as she called on her fellow delegates to applaud Neath Port Talbot for its “resounding campaign to bring leisure back in house”, which was achieved on 1 February this year.

It was, she explained, an “incredible, lay member campaign” that had mixed the “traditional with the digital” and also included “lobbying politicians of different colours” and commissioning the Association for Public Service Excellence and Thompson’s solicitors to rebut every claim made about the situation.

Agreeing the motion, conference said that the committee should develop a national, public-facing campaign to help explain to the public why insourcing services are better.

In terms of learning to do things differently to find what can work better, it was a motion that tallied with comments earlier from service group chair Glen Williams, who, moving a motion on new ways of working, specifically noted that the union was “having to learn about digital platforms”.

While 40% of local government members worked from home during the pandemic, “we accept there have been positives”, he said, but “flexible working means more than simply working at home”.

Among a range of measures, conference instructed the committee to “conduct a survey to gather intelligence on what flexible working options are being offered … and determine what ‘best practice’ looks like”.

For the Scottish joint council committee, Arthur Nicholl said that members “face a brutal and weakened – and in many places, despised, government.” Yet it is one that continues to cut services and enforce “systemic wage suppression”.

Conference agreed the need to work tactically, including around the issue of thresholds on ballots, with communication with members being vital.

Delegates and set dressing at local government conference

April Ashley from the Southwark branch welcomed the motion “to really seriously look at our strategy” to get better turnouts, and she voiced the hope that “the TUC 18 of June demo can be a springboard” for building for action.

Illustrating again that the union can win, Jim Board of Doncaster UNISON told delegates that, in 2014, Doncaster outsourced children’s services. It then ploughed money into it to get an Ofsted rating of ‘good’. “But then the money was turned off” with the inevitable results.

On 1 September 2022, after hard campaigning by UNISON, “Doncaster will take the first outsourced children’s services trust – and bring it back in-house”.

On funding and pay, Liz Brennan for the NJC local government committee told delegates that: “When low-paid care staff can’t afford to fill up their cars to travel to work, they need that pay rise. It’s simply not good enough and it has to change.

“Let’s get our members on the streets on Saturday,” she said, reiterating a call that was made time and again throughout the day’s business.

And referring to one of the banners decorating the hall she said she’d like to alter it slightly to say: “We need to rise so that our pay will!”