Special Delegate Conference Reports

UNISON’s Special Virtual Local Government Conference took place on 13th June, with Special Delegate Conference then taking place digitally over two and a half days (15th-17th). The conferences were policy making conferences to replace the normal annual in person Local Government Conference and National Delegate Conference that could not take place in their usual form due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Having digital conferences enabled some important union business to be discussed and decisions to still be made in leu of an in person conference. It is hoped that in 2022 all conferences including National Delegate Conference will resume as normal.

Please see below reports from our delegates to Special Delegate Conference:

Report 1:

I was proud to be elected to represent Birmingham Branch at conference. This year was very different because it was held online over two and a half days.

Conference started with the President, Josie Bird’s speech and a tribute to Dave Prentis. She said that the pandemic has exacerbated structural inequality and that we will continue to fight to end austerity. She also added that Unison activists should be classed as key workers as they fought for PPE, better treatment for our members and continued to protect jobs and pay.

Voting proved to be very slow in the first session and many people complained that they were not getting the links before the vote closed but this was sorted for the afternoon and following sessions. However I am not confident that votes were accurately recorded for the Branch Resources Review motion.

The first motion debated was The Branch Resources Review. The debate had many speakers both for and against. Our delegation agreed to vote against but unfortunately it was carried. All other motions were themed around:

  • The Impact of Covid 19 on Unison members, public services and working life
  • Securing an equal and sustainable post pandemic settlement

Our delegation voting strategy was to vote for all other motions and they were all carried with no card votes required.

Delegates who wished to move and/or speak to motions had to pre register and although I registered to speak I was not sent an invite to do so which was disappointing and I missed the chair hopping and finger crossing that you wouldn’t get ‘point of ordered’ whilst waiting to speak

Our General Secretary, Christina McAnea addressed conference on the second day and urged the Government to bring forward the Covid public enquiry; ditch plans to compel care workers to be jabbed and to invest in the public services that have kept the UK running during the pandemic.

I enjoyed conference but really missed interacting with other delegates, the lunchtime events, fringe meetings and social events particularly the stand up to racism gig. Let’s hope things return to normal for next year’s conference.

– Carol Garfield

Report 2:

‘I have only attended one conference which was the Women’s Conference in February 2020 so I understood the way conferences are done. The National Conference was done over 2.5 days in AM and PM sessions and was confusing at times but due to the WhatsApp group that David set up that helped with any questions and also the Zoom meetings beforehand.

There was a lot covered in the short timescale which didn’t give the chance to really debate the issues and the fact that you had to decide beforehand if you wanted to speak on a Motion and register which was a bit awkward but it was realistically the only way it could be done. 

I did enjoy it, as there was a lot to read and hear about what is happening nationally. I would say to anyone go to conference and it does open your eyes to what is happening across the country not just in Birmingham and West Midlands.’

– Tracey Perry 

Report 3:

I will concentrate on the Local Government Conference that took place on Sunday 13 June. It was the union’s first virtual sectoral conference since the start of the pandemic and was attended by around 400 delegates from across local government in UNISON.

The sector has been decimated by over a decade of Tory cuts. Despite bearing the brunt of the crisis, workers are set to pay again now as the Government looks to make further austerity cuts..

The government recently made a derisory 1.5 percent pay offer to local government workers in England and Wales.

The first motion discussed at the conference was on the future of local government.

It voted to oppose privatisation of services and to campaign to bring services back in house.

It also voted to better coordinate local disputes, to campaign for a proper funding settlement and to develop a clear industrial strategy to fight for better pay.

Conference also pledged its support for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people in the face of government racism and to campaign for employers to develop action plans to be carbon net zero by 2030.

It also backed fully-funded comprehensive education, to equip workers to challenge online sexual harassment and for homeworking as a reasonable adjustment for disabled workers.

Conference also passed a motion condemning the campaign against reforms to the Gender Recognition Act and urging all branches to campaign for trans equality.

National Delegate Conference took place also virtually from Tuesday 15 to Thursday 17 June. The first morning saw the most contentious debate of the week on a new Branch Funding formula. As the Branch Treasurer, I felt the change did not go far enough in changing the balance of funding in the union to reflect the greater pressure on local branches due to the fragmentation of the public sector workforce since UNISON was created. It only increased the overall portion of subscription income going to Branches from 23% to 23.5%. For this reason, and the fact that the review that produced this formula had not looked at over 60% of money spent on Regional and National Staff, our Branch voted against the proposal.

Despite all votes at Local Government being hitch free, the voting system chose this moment to go into glitch mode with many delegates having trouble in voting. We were advised the motion was passed and that they felt the vote was accurate.

The Conference moved at a much slower pace but motions were passed calling for a full enquiry into Government handling of the pandemic, Campaigning on Climate Change, and calling for made changes and improvements in Health and Social Care. This last debate reflected how the pandemic revealed a real crisis in social Care both in provision and and also the pay and conditions of care workers.

– David Hughes

Report 4:

Thanks to the Branch Exec for the opportunity to attend the Special Delegates Conference.

The Local government conference this year was held as normal during the month of June – 13th June for one day,

However, owing to COVID 19 restrictions still being in place it was held virtually online at the weekend on a Sunday only instead of the usual full weekend at a live conference venue.

The set up was very interesting – ‘Virtual Reality’ the Conference Host/Chair and a couple of other staff were in a studio set up representative of a realistic conference venue, with conference style background/layout as much as possible, minus the live studio/venue Audience. The Audience Participation was done from special direct links from home/other venue. It was recorded live for participation and monitoring purposes.

Several varied motions were presented by individuals direct from their homes across the UK and the odd Conference Standing Order report direct from the studio as per normal conference.

Speakers had to be nominated in advance and pre-register as part of the booking process, unlike normal conference where you can just decide to speak on the day.

Voting was electronically co-ordinated using electronic que-cards and an online voting system, which was supported by conference literature as usual.

Taking care of the environment everything was done electronically, very little paper to support, including the conference booklet and motions.

I did find it challenging though, trying to vote as the que cards and voting system to me were slightly out of sync – que card mentioned one motion to vote for by the time I got to the voting screen voting had sometimes closed or they were presenting the next motion ready.

I queried this officially but was told there was not an official problem. However I am aware of at least one other person who seemed to find it out of sync also! It was frustrating.

Motions were voted on and passed as normal – summary records available online.

The presentation of motions was grouped as normal where applicable, sadly not all persons go the opportunity to present etc.

Members were waiting patiently in the wings ‘to go live on stage’ but sadly time was called for one reason or another and their opportunity to speak was cut short before it even began. Timing was fairly strict as per normal conference as there was a full agenda as normal.

Overall conference seemed to go fairly well considering this was the first such live event. Future conference styles to be reviewed in due course.

Thanks to all that made it possible in the branch and behind the scenes.

– Alison Gooden