Blackburn and District Trades Union Council

News

Updated:26/05/2020




Campaign to defend Trade Union Education at Blackburn College

College

It has been a difficult summer for the Trades Council. At a time when many key delegates have been busy with workplace issues arising from the pandemic we have also been obliged to devote considerable time and effort to the campaign to defend the provision of Trade Union Education at Blackburn College.

We had intended the next action of this campaign to be a “socially distanced” protest in Blackburn Town Centre. We believed that we would have been able to do this in a safe fashion by restricting the numbers involved. The Borough Council’s community safety team were, however, alarmed at the prospect given the local COVID-19 concerns. We decided that this was not the time to get into an argument on the point, and that we would have to put the protest on the back burner to show community solidarity.

We were also worried that it would look inconsistent if we were creating COVID-19 concerns at the same time as we were being critical of the College for going against the public interest on the very same issue. The protest was planned to highlight the announcement by the Health and Safety Executive that it was to go ”out and about talking to businesses in Blackburn and the surrounding area to ensure they are COVID-19 secure”. The Health and Safety Executive stressed the need for COVID-19 Risk Assessments. Whilst Trade Union workplace Health and Safety Representatives are responsible for contributing towards, rather than conducting, these, it is a fact of life that their presence and confidence is a key factor in ensuring that employers do the work necessary and to an appropriate standard.

Rather than cutting its training of Trade Union workplace Health and Safety Representatives Blackburn College should, even before now, have been looking at how its Trade Union Education Centre could support the public in this regard.

Unfortunately, being responsive to the local community seems to be a matter of little concern to the College Board. Despite appeals from the local MP, Council Leaders and Trade Unions they have refused to change their mind.

In July, the Trades Council wrote to the College Principal to ask him to receive a deputation of Lancashire Trade Unionists - a request he rebuffed.

It is estimated there are 180,000 Trade Union members in Lancashire, a number that is growing as a proportion of the workforce. Having well trained workplace representatives is fundamental to the welfare not just of these members, but to a wider penumbra of employees also. As Mathew Walters and Laurence Mishel argued in their 2003 paper for the “Economic Policy Institute”, “How Unions Help all Workers”: “Unions have a substantial impact on the compensation and work lives of both unionised and non-unionised workers”.

Whilst we would not, and should not, seek to take on a negotiating role in relation to the College we do feel that as citizens and representative stakeholders we are entitled to raise our concerns. What, for instance, is the net “saving” the College expects to make from closing the Trade Union Education Centre? It has less than 1.5 staff, so the total “savings” must be tiny in comparison with its overall budget. Why, when it has over £9m in reserve, does the College feel that it cannot give the Centre time to benefit from the enhanced support promised by Regional Trade Unions?

The current composition and conduct of the College Board shows it to be yet another public body that has become remote from the community it is supposed to serve. That is why we have thought it important to encourage supporters to contact the College with their concerns. The College website has a contact portal here that you can send a message through. Something short and simple would do, like “I am writing to record my opposition to your decision to close the Blackburn Trade Union Education Centre. It has a long record of delivering high quality courses, which we are in particular need of now. Please support the local community and change your decision”.






May 2020 Trades Council meeting: Redundancies at Blackburn College and closure of Trade Union Education Centre

WMD

May’s Trades Council meeting was held “online”. It was preoccupied with the breaking news that Blackburn College was expected to announce yet another round of redundancies, and that this time the damage would include the closure of the Trade Union/ Health and Safety Education Centre.

The College subsequently confirmed this: 29 members of staff were declared to be at risk of redundancy because of plans to reduce headcount by 11 (7 full-time equivalent jobs). Trade Union Education would be closed.

Although the College is a public body, and publishes the minutes of its Board meetings, it has a history of being less than transparent. When, for instance, it last declared a tranche of redundancies in December 2018 we noted that one would have been hard pressed to guess this from looking at the minutes of its meetings. The same observation applies this time round. It was, for instance, noted that the “Policy and Resources” committee on the 2nd March received an “explanation of the reasons for the current deficit position being worse than expected” - but these reasons are not explained in the minutes, nor has any explanation been given for the College’s actions other than the very generic ”difficult decisions to maintain the sustainability of the College”.

We might not have much confidence in the College Board, but we would hardly expect them to say anything different.

We appreciate that Government has been undermining Further Education over several years. The IPPR 2018 Report on education spending in England said that spending per student in Further Education had been the big looser over the last 25 years and that it was one of the few educational areas to see real cuts since 2010.

The question that must be raised, however, is one of whether the position at Blackburn can be explained by this alone. Just over a decade ago, Blackburn College was a booming establishment, being rated “outstanding” by OFSTED and with new buildings going up left, right and centre. Now it looks like an organisation in nosedive. It has fallen into, and is struggling to get out of, an OFSTED “requires improvement” rating and staff losses have become an almost annual ritual.

During the 18/19 term the Trades Council secured figures through a Freedom of Information request that showed a 17.8% reduction in the FTE establishment from 14/15 to 18/19. A part of the problem the appeared to be recruitment difficulties in the “University” centre – but we never could pin down if the rest of the College was effectively paying to keep this dream alive.

Did the College expand beyond what it could sustain, or are there other forces at work? Whatever the reasons, being perceived as a failing organisation will not help resolve adverse enrolment trends. The College needs, before anything else can be achieved, to regain the trust and engagement of its staff and to work with them to turn around its fortunes.

This is the demand of the UCU Petition, which we urge everybody to sign.

The attack upon Trade Union Education also has roots in Government policy.

From the academic year 2016-17 the Skills Funding Agency made Further Education money for Trade Union learning aims subject to the same eligibility rules as applied to other Adult Skills Budget provision. This was a step undoubtedly designed to make Trade Union Education fail, since the very nature of its “market” is that it cannot depend on a steady and predictable volume of throughput. Its educational ecology is niche and one in which there is bound to be variation. It generally operates on such a low resource level that it needs a guaranteed minimum of support to survive – and this can only be calculated on pragmatic, experiential grounds. In Blackburn, we are talking about a couple of tutors, a couple of rooms and relevant technical and administrative support.

The ACAS Guidance on “Rights and Responsibilities at Work” recognises that an employee who is an official of an independent trade union which is recognised by an employer, must be allowed reasonable time off with pay during working hours to undergo training for union duties (as approved by the union or by the Trades Union Congress). That right is meaningless, however, if there is not an accessible provision of Trade Union Education to back it up.

we are TUED

There is already a gross disparity between the support given by Blackburn College to employers and that given to Trade Unions, despite the claim in its Strategic Plan that it is “committed to ensuring the best quality education for all” and aims to be “renowned for partnership work and collaboration that increases the opportunities for different groups of students and helps communities grow and thrive”. We do not think it unreasonable of us to expect some support from our local College for what is a substantial portion of our local community.

Trade Union organisation is fundamentally based on self-reliance. Union representatives and workers traditionally come together to talk about problems and find solutions. This simple activity is the basis for solidarity and unity within a union. But that is not the whole picture. Part of our mission must be for us to be accepted as having a social benefit and for the contribution of our local Trade Union representatives to be considered something respectable and admirable and worth a modicum of public encouragement. And that, essentially, is what is at stake here. We claim our place in the public space.

Trade Union education is not impartial. It is aimed resolutely at the strengthening of workers as they struggle for better working and living conditions. It is education for social and workplace action with its aims set by members or affiliates.

Trade Union education contributes by building involvement and confidence through the development of skills and knowledge, and by providing local representatives with the opportunity to share ideas and experiences in support of policy development and implementation. Unions can use education as a tool to assist in strengthening negotiation, representation, and campaigns.

As Harry Lees put it, in a memorial pamphlet published in 2015 to celebrate the life of Blackburn Trade Union Centre’s founder, Clive Edwards: ”..we were all so much more confident and competent in representing our members, whether this was as Full Time Officers, Works Convenors, Shop Stewards, Health and Safety Stewards and Branch Officers” .

It is particularly inappropriate for Blackburn College to shut the Trade Union/ Health and Safety Education Centre at a time when the knowledge and expertise of trained safety reps has never been so crucial. According to the TUC, “evidence shows that workplaces with union safety reps and joint union-management safety committees have major injury rates less than half of those without” . Unions across sectors have been pressing both government and employers to make maximum use of the skills of safety reps in addressing the issues presented by the current pandemic.

The Trades Council asks supporters of Trade Union Education to write letters of protest to the College Principal, Dr Fazal Dad. His address is:

Dr F Dad
Principal
Blackburn College
Feilden Street
Blackburn
Lancashire
BB2 1LH







Summer Term 2020 TUC courses in Blackburn to start online

fusion award

From Monday the 11th of May Blackburn TU & H&S Education Centre will be running their TUC courses for Trade Union reps online, until they can get back in the classroom.

They think they may be able to get back in towards the end of May or early June.

The centre in Blackburn is now also covering Burnley and Pendle.

If any reps want to apply for a course, they can still contact the office number - 01254 292262 - and leave a message. Alternatively, they can ring Alan McShane on his mobile number - 07963 468771 - or email him on a.mcshane@blackburn.ac.uk or amcshane055@gmail.com.

You can download a copy of the course programme here:

TUC Training Courses at Blackburn







March 2020 Trades Council meeting: Shrewsbury 24, Schedule 7 and BCC consultation

Shrewsbury pickets

The March meeting of Blackburn and District Trades Union Council had a packed and varied Agenda.

Harry Chadwick, from the Shrewsbury 24 Campaign, came along to tell us about recent significant developments.

The Campaign relates to the clear abuses of state power that followed the first ever national construction workers’ strike in 1972 – a dispute pursuing a pay claim to the National Federation of Building Trades Employers for £30 per week and a basic 35-hour week for all trades.

Five months after the strike ended 24 workers were charged with over 200 offences, including unlawful assembly, intimidation, affray and conspiracy to intimidate – this despite the fact that no one had actually been arrested at the time and the police who had been at the building sites affected had not levelled any complaints against any of the pickets.

Six men ended up being sent to jail, including Des Warren - who wrote a powerful account of his experiences, “The Key to my Cell”. We then also began to see the blacklisting and active anti-unionism that has blighted parts of the industry ever since.

Over many years, the convicted pickets and their supporters have continued to argue the injustice of their convictions with unbelievable perseverance and determination.

This has now led to a Judicial Review overturning a decision of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) not to refer their case to the Court of Appeal. Success at the Court of Appeal is, of course, not guaranteed – but the information uncovered during the course of the campaign (such as police destruction of original witness statements) means that we can begin to hope that there is a fighting chance.

Ahmed Makda, from the UNITE Local Government Branch, also attended the meeting to speak about the work he has been doing to highlight concerns about Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act.

Schedule 7 gives a police, immigration or customs officer the power to stop, question, detain for up to six hours and search anyone at a port/border area where that officer is concerned they could be engaged in terrorist activities. Detainees have no right to silence, must surrender their phones, computers and passwords and provide fingerprints and DNA on request. It is, in addition, a criminal offence, punishable by up to 3 months’ imprisonment and/or a £2,500 fine, if a detained person wilfully fails to comply or seeks to “frustrate” a search or examination (such as by, for instance, not disclosing a ‘phone password).

Officers may intercept a person “whether or not” they have any actual grounds for suspicion. Their power is not supposed to be “arbitrary”, but its exercise can be justified by intangibles such as “observation of an individual’s behaviour”. Max Hill QC, the Government’s “Independent Reviewer” of Counter-Terrorist legislation, recommended that officers should at least have to show “reasonable grounds” to support the exercise of Schedule 7 powers, but the Government declined to introduce this.

Ahmed argued that Schedule 7 powers were not a “necessary evil”. It was difficult to get precise information about the outcome of their implementation, but what information was available suggested that where schedule 7 searches have uncovered useful material, the persons in question were already suspects and could have been the subject of a reasonable suspicion arrest and search. Efforts to combat terrorism should not compromise human rights. The burden of inconvenience appeared to fall upon Muslim travellers and the demeanour of enforcement was suggestive of a view that there was a link between devout Muslims and terrorism. According to the “Guardian” in August 2019: “Muslims stopped say that questions frequently focus on their religious beliefs, and they are asked if they pray frequently, if they fast and if they have been to Mecca. The whole thing is done in such a way as to make you feel that you are doing something wrong for simply practising Islam,” said a filmmaker who had previously worked for aid organisations in Syria but on this occasion was travelling to Amsterdam via Dover”.

There was, moreover, only a patchy system for compensating people stopped for the inconvenience caused. Those suffering a detriment must make a claim against their travel insurance, and don’t always get the paperwork needed to do this.

The Trades Council agreed to look at the possibility of raising these issues through the annual Trades Councils Conference.



Following on from previous discussions about what could be done locally to encourage “decent work” standards, the March Trades Council meeting also considered a draft for a local “Employment Charter”. Work producing and promoting this has been put on hold in light of the pandemic, but we shall publish a further web-site article about it shortly.

Barbara Statue The meeting also considered a response to the Government’s consultation on decriminalising TV licence evasion.

Whilst the Trades Council has concerns about the TV licence as a “regressive” tax, and would be willing to consider some alternative form of national funding for the BBC, it saw the Government’s current initiative as being inspired more by hostility towards the idea of our having a nationalised broadcaster than by concern at the ability of the poorest to pay.

Growth in public acceptance of subscription TV services has led to some people seeing the BBC simply as one amongst many providers, and one that they don’t particularly watch or listen to. Many on the left have become even more reluctant to support it because of how it has reported on Mr Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party and the imbalance in the range of “pundits” invited onto current affairs programmes.

The most significant opposition, however, still comes from those pressing what may be called the “Rupert Murdoch Agenda”. This is the belief that the BBC “crowds out” commercial alternatives and that weakening it would be to their advantage – and give more space for “Fox News” type influencing. As we should have learnt from the Brexit debate, it is important to know where things are coming from and what they are leading to.

We have, therefore, made our response to this consultation an affirming of our commitment to the BBC as a public asset. We have said that we want our national broadcaster to be big and strong and to offer a comprehensive and diverse service across a whole range of genres and media. We want this offer to be “free to air”. And we want these things because we believe they are the best way for us to continue to receive the range and quality of programmes to which we have become accustomed. A full copy of our argument is available below.

The Trades Council also agreed to donate to the Barbara Castle “statue” appeal. Whilst Barbara’s “In Place of Strife” proposals generated a critical Trade Union response at the time, there is no doubting her stature and significance as one of the major figures in the history of the C20th Labour Movement. She was also a key figure in our local history.

Initial arrangements were agreed for the 2020 Workers Memorial Day commemoration on April 28th. Understandably, there must now be something of a question mark over these.

You can download a full copy of our response to the Consultation on Decriminalising TV licence Evasion here:

Consultation on decriminalising TV licence evasion







January 2020 Trades Council meeting: a discussion on Proportional Representation

Make Votes Matter

January’s Trades Council meeting was addressed by Tony Taylor, from ”Labour for Proportional Representation” - one of the component parts of the “Make Votes Matter” campaign.

Tony said that Britain’s “First Past the Post” voting system had made most sense when the electorate faced only two clear alternatives. It was, however, not suited to a more “volatile” situation and it had the demerit of distorting the connection between public opinion and political authority. The most obvious consequence of this was the political dominance of the Conservative Party, which had “won” elections even when the general mood of the country could be described as “anti-Tory”.

This flaw in the political system was exacerbated by the lopsided geographical distribution of votes for the main parties, with a “electoral mountains” that were habitually either Labour or Conservative. 54 Conservative seats had never changed hands. This had negative consequences. It meant, for instance, that policy debate could become fixated on what might appeal to an essentially unrepresentative group of swing voters in marginal constituencies. It also meant that many voters – by one estimate 30% - found themselves voting “tactically”, their real preferences thereby becoming disguised even in terms of the national total votes for each party.

Tony felt that “First Past the Post” was a structural detriment to the cause of the Labour Party in particular and of progressive policies in general. It worked against progressive policies gaining traction over time, as they had done in some countries that deployed proportional representation.

Delegates contributing to the debate all said that they had sympathy with the principle of proportional representation but raised issues about specifics. It was felt, for instance, that the introduction of the D'Hondt method in elections to the European Parliament had had a negative impact on local engagement with MEPs and hence even with the EU itself. There were possible reasons other than “First Past the Post” to explain why the Labour Party had struggled to win consistent and clear majorities in Parliament.

The general feeling was that we would prefer to have solid proposals to chew over. Tony said that a constitutional convention would probably be needed to decide an alternative system.

For most of the rest of the meeting delegates discussed what projects we might undertake during 2020 to take forward the “TUC Trades Councils: 2019-2020 Programme of Work”. Ideas included:

1) Screening the Ken Loach film “Sorry we missed you”
2) Work around a local “Employment Charter”, including a “launch” event
3) Holding a public meeting in Autumn with speakers on in-work poverty and welfare reform
4) Inviting a speaker from the “Wish Centre” to one of our meetings
5) Working with TU Education on a “Greening the Workplace” day, and
6) Maintaining our Facebook Page and this Website.

Time will tell as to whether, as a volunteer organisation, we will have to capacity to do all of these. Along with UNISON Local Government Branch, however, we have already organised the screening of “Sorry We Missed You” for Thursday 13th February at 5.30pm in the Ground Floor Theatre in Blackburn College University Centre. And on Wednesday 12th February we will be joining with the LATUC to have a TUC “Heart Unions Week” promotional stall in Blackburn town centre.

Among workplace Reports, delegates heard about the Industrial Action ballot by GMB members at the Crown Paints, Darwen, Distribution Centre. A long-service award ceremony at the Dunkenhalgh had been quickly followed by the news that over 70 jobs in the Distribution Centre were to be transferred to a company called CEVA Logistics on 1st February 2020.

A lack of meaningful consultation by Crown naturally led to speculation about the company’s motives. Union-busting is an obvious conclusion, since the move will split the Crown workforce and CEVA do not recognise GMB. The members involved were also worried about how well TUPE would protect their terms and conditions and company agreements, about job security, about potential severance terms and about the extent to which the move would prove a further step towards the increased deployment of casual and precarious labour within the business.

An update was also given on the moves taken by Royal Mail to legally frustrate the CWU’s overwhelming and obvious mandate for Industrial Action. CWU are confident that, in the long run, they will be able to press the dispute with even greater vigour if the employer refuses to change tack.






November Trades Council meeting: CWU dispute, International Racism Conference and local Employment Charter

Imperial Mill

November’s Trades Council meeting received a report from Tony Windle, delegate from CWU East Lancs Amal Branch, on his Union’s national dispute with Royal Mail.

Disquiet had been expressed in the Press that strike action recently agreed by the members would affect the General Election, but the dispute had been ongoing since May and balloting started prior to the Election being declared.

There were several points of contention with the company.

Plans to separate Parcelforce workers into a new limited company and rip up agreements with the CWU have rightly angered the whole workforce. Added to this, many postal workers were experiencing harassment and bullying as more pressure was heaped upon their deliveries.

The CWU 'Four Pillars' agreement, that was signed up to by Royal Mail management in 2017, is now under review, with a real threat to jobs and services, leading to an accelerated 'race to the bottom' on working conditions.

And Royal Mail was pleading poverty when it comes to reducing the working week by one hour under the agreement - despite the size of payments made to top management and shareholders since privatisation.

The meeting also received a detailed Report from Steve Thomas and John Murphy, who had, in October, attended the International Conference Against Racism in London on behalf of the Trades Council. A copy of their Report can be downloaded below.

It concludes: “While we live in an unequal, uncaring, alienating world of misused resources, racism will exist - encouraged and used by those in power to divide us. Trade Unions are all about uniting working-class people, so, in our struggle for a fairer society, it is not enough for us to be nonracist. We have to be anti-racists and develop the culture and skills that we need to be effective” .

Following the publication of the IPPR North publication “Decent Work: Harnessing the Power of Local Government” the Trades Council had written to the Borough Council urging it to adopt a local “Employment Charter”.


The idea was to encourage local employers to:
1. Obtain accreditation as a “Living Wage” and “Living Hours” employer from the Living Wage Foundation;
2. Recognise and engage with an appropriate Trade Union;
3. Guarantee a minimum number of hours per week in employment contracts and a minimum period of notice for work/shift allocation;
4. Establish an active Health and Safety Committee; and,
5. Provide staff with progression and/or learning opportunities.

We also asked the Council to endorse UNISON’s “Ethical Care Charter”.

We urged the Council to make it part of any contracting process that companies delivering services for or to it should adhere to the “Employment Charter”.

The Council’s reply served to emphasise the scale of the local low pay problem:
“….if the definition is to include staff working in supported living accommodation, which would not be unreasonable, then the cost of meeting the Foundation Living Wage would be significantly increased, to an estimated £1.2 M. This would then increase again significantly if the wage element of the charter were to be applied to care homes and the voluntary sector”

So – we were not able to persuade the Council to go all the way with our proposal, though they are not unsympathetic. It is something we shall continue to push ourselves.

You can download a full copy of the International Conference Report here:

International Conference Report




Report of July 2019 Trades Council meeting

fusion award

Our July Trades Council meeting received a presentation by Amanda Bailey-Coll, USDAW’s North West Deputy Divisional Officer, on the campaign for Trade Union recognition at Boohoo.

Boohoo is an online fashion retailer that maintains its main distribution centre in Burnley. The site is one of the biggest locations of private sector employment in East Lancashire, drawing in workers from all around the valley.

USDAW had been initially approached in late 2016 by Boohoo employees who had heard of its success in organising B+M. Amanda said that attempts by the Union to work with the employer had since been rebuffed at every turn. Whilst to company was telling outsiders that it would be happy to have a Union, staff were being told “that we should not speak to anyone and if given any leaflets we are just to put them in the bin”.

The company now finds itself defying a specific recommendation by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, who have said that its should ”engage with USDAW as a priority and recognise unions for its workers”(“Fixing Fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability” p.22).

Burnley Borough Council are set to discuss a motion on 10th July that urges Boohoo to recognise the Union. Tabled by Cllr Mark Townsend, Labour group leader, the motion states:
“This Council calls on Boohoo, Burnley's largest private sector employer, to respond positively to the recommendation of the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee report into fashion industry sustainability that they 'engage with Usdaw as a priority and recognise unions for its workers'.”

Supporters are welcome to join USDAW campaigners outside the full council meeting, asking councillors to support the motion. Gather 6.30pm, outside Burnley Town Hall - and, earlier the same day, at 4.30pm, outside the BooHoo distribution centre: Widow Hill Road, Heasandford Industrial Estate, Burnley BB10 2BQ.

Other business at our meeting, in addition to reports about developments in various workplaces, included a Report from our retired President, John Murphy, on the North West “Stand Up To Racism” conference held in Manchester this June, which had been attended by three delegates from the Trades Council. Speakers had included Heather Fletcher, a councillor and activist in the Muslim-Jewish Forum, Julie Ward MEP and three North West MPs – Bill Esterton, Afzal Khan and Kate Green. STUR, along with “Unite Against Fascism”, had won “Campaign of the Year” award at this year’s “Fusion” event (see photo), but John said we still had much to do to build and sustain local anti-racist movements strong enough to deter people from turning to scapegoat solutions. A copy of his Report is available below.

The meeting also discussed the recent IPPR North Report “Decent Work: Harnessing the Power of Local Government””.

This publication adds to the growing awareness that quality of employment is as significant as its gross availability, as measured by employment rates. It notes that “real weekly pay has fallen by £21 since 2008 in the North – more than the national average” and it says that “Poor job quality and low pay has a profound effect on people in terms of in-work poverty, personal well-being and income inequality”.

It then draws together examples of what some Local Authorities have already done to try and assess the extent to which it is possible for them to implement what it calls “decent work policies”.

Taking on board the ideas looked at in the Report the Trades Council decided to write to the Borough Council to recommend it and to suggest a number of measures the Borough could consider adopting, such a promulgation of a basic “Employment Charter”.

Here is the copy of John’s STUR Report:

North West STUR Conference 2019







Report of June 2019 Trades Council meeting

WMD

Presumably, caricature “working class lad” “Tommy Robinson” had hoped that participating in the recent EU Parliament elections would boost brand recognition for his hysterical claims about the “Islamification” of Britain. If so, his political judgement was as far out as his paranoia. Even the most fuming “nationalists” were, overall, greatly more preoccupied with Brexit than with anything he had to say, and his campaign remained a somewhat rowdy side-show from start to finish. As he went off to Portugal, to watch the England football team and to sucker punch a fellow fan who had upset him, the Trades Council, at its June meeting, attempted to evaluate feedback from the campaign mounted to ensure that he was kept firmly in his box. This was, on the whole, encouraging, but there was an awareness that some of the views he promulgated do have a wider traction than the votes for him would suggest and that they might still prove in the future to be fertile soil for extremism. Delegates committed, therefore, to exploring the possibility, through BADUAR or Stand Up to Racism, of doing more to counter misapprehensions and prejudice on an ongoing basis.

The North West, meanwhile, had showed its cosmopolitan side by electing 3 “Brexit” MEPs, none of whom appear to have any current links with our Region. One – David Bull – says on his website that he “lives in Los Angeles and London” and as of 10th June he had yet to update his biography with any mention of becoming our MEP. We are left to guess how chuffed he is about it.

Our June meeting received a moving presentation on “The Right to Die with Dignity UK” by Alex Pandolfo, a colleague who has been a Trade Union activist for most of his career and who now faces a bleak future following a diagnosis of “Alzheimer’s Disease”. “The Right to Die with Dignity UK” is a campaigning organisation that believes new legislation should be introduced in the UK to allow for the practice of “voluntary assisted dying” as practiced in Switzerland. More details can be found in the downloadable file below.

The Trades Council meeting further agreed to submit a response to the Lancashire County Council consultation on proposals to radically reduce the scope of its Welfare Rights Service . Whilst only a part of our geographical area of responsibility is coterminous with the County Council, we felt that this represented a serious “cut” that should attract considered opposition. The consultation allowed for an online response only, but the file below gives the details of our response.

Also available to download you will find a copy of a Report received by the Trades Council on the question of the development of a “Local Economic Strategy” by the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership. Following on from the White Paper published by the Government in November 2017, this is expected to be a far more modest affair than what is being proposed by the Labour Party and there is subsequently a question mark over how much difference it will make. Still, a modicum of commitment may be better than none at all and, as the Report indicates, the Strategy could influence what is spent where if and when Government support become available. The Trades Council has always been prepared to engage with such local strategy debates whilst trying to keep their significance in perspective.

Here is the “Right to Die” paper:

The Right to Die with Dignity UK



Here is our response to the Lancashire County Council Welfare Rights proposals:

Response to Welfare Rights consultation



And here is the Report received on the Local Industrial Strategy:

Report on development of Local Industrial Strategy







Trades Council elects new President at 2019 AGM

Vikki Dugdale

The following were elected as the Officers of the Trades Council for 2019-2020 at our Annual General Meeting in April:

PRESIDENT – Vikki Dugdale, UNISON

VICE PRESIDENTS – Bob Welham GMB and John Murphy UCU

SECRETARY – Karen Narramore, UNISON

ASSISTANT SECRETARIES – Alan McShane UCU and Andy Knowles PCS

TREASURER – Peter Dales, UNISON

PRESS AND PUBLICITY OFFICER – John Murphy UCU

AUDITORS – Alan McShane UCU and Steve Dawson UCU

LATUC DELEGATES – Stephen Thomas GMB, Matthew Stobbs UNITE, Vikki Dugdale UNISON and Rubina Khan UNISON.

Vikki Dugdale


You will see that John Murphy has, on retirement from his job at Blackburn College, also now stepped down from his position as President, which he began in 2002 following the untimely death of John Tobera. Delegates thanked John warmly for his many years of service to the Trade Union movement, both as Trades Council President, UCU rep and Trade Union education tutor. He will continue to assist the Trades Council as a Vice President and Press liaison officer - though he himself has been one of the first to encourage younger activists to step forward and be accepted into leading roles.

Our new President Vikki Dugdale has worked for Blackburn Council for 20 years. She has finance and payroll experience, but is currently an Intelligence Officer in Children’s Services and Education, managing systems and providing data analysis and reports. She has been a UNISON member for many years, more recently taking a more active role in her Branch where she is currently the Branch Treasurer.

We think that this is the first time since its foundation, in its current form, in 1889 that both the President and the Secretary have both been women. As our Secretary, Karen Narramore, observed in her Annual Report the Trades Council does, nevertheless, still face a major problem in respect of diversity in general: "We have this year had a few more females attending the meetings which is welcome. We do need to continue to strive to widen the diversity of the Trades Council and to renew our efforts to encourage more black and young members to participate. It is fair to say that the majority of our delegates are past their first flush of youth and we need to confident that there are people to succeed us and continue our work for years to come."

Trade union members who are interested to learn more about the Trades Council are invited to attend a meeting as observers, and we are always willing also to send a representative to address local Trade Union meetings (our contact details are on the "home" page).







Workers Memorial Day in Blackburn 2019

WMD

As the TUC publication “The UNION Effect” makes clear, trade union involvement in Health and Safety helps to reduce injuries at work, leads to reductions in the levels of ill-health caused by work, encourages greater reporting of injuries and near-misses, makes workers more confident about confronting poor working conditions and creates a more positive safety culture.

By his painful memory of an horrific accident within the Georgia Pacific group, however, retired UNITE Convenor George Davies reminded those attending this year’s Workers Memorial Day ceremony in Blackburn that there were no absolute guarantees. Things can go wrong even in the best organised and most conscientious workplaces. It was a reminder that we should not take things for granted or think that Heath and Safety was ever “job done”. What happened next, however, was also important. Managers and Health and Safety reps were immediately organised across a large and complex organisation to understand what had happened and, hopefully, prevent it from ever happening again.

Julie Rigby, Unison Joint Health and Safety Officer for East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust spoke about the benefit to workers when the Union was able to work with a receptive and responsible employer, but also emphasised that it was important to resist the temptation to see Health and Safety rules as being petty or too fussy. What motivated her most of all was the way that Health and Safety was a way in which people looked after each other. Those who speak up about Health and Safety issues do so because they are looking out for their work colleagues, not just for themselves.

Janet Newsham, from the Greater Manchester Hazards Centre and “Families Against Corporate Killers” (FACK), reminded us that too many workers did not have the benefits of Trade Union membership or mindful employers. Reading out a FACK statement she said: “our plea is that what we also need to get out of the workplace are dangerous, substandard management, substandard supervision, substandard risk assessments and method statements, substandard equipment, substandard inspections”.

“2019 is the TUC’s year of the young worker and for far too many FACK families, they live in the knowledge that their young worker will remain forever young, lives cut heart-wrenchingly short by workplace failures.

“Consider 17-year-old apprentice Daniel, who had been working for less than a week, when he was allowed to go up onto the roof of a store without proper supervision, and who died when he fell through a skylight.

Only earlier this month his mum Anthea wrote:
“16 years today…Dan lost his life and we too lost a huge chunk of ours. Our job. Our future. Whilst Roy Clark did a few months [for manslaughter] and returned running his company with no penalties. Ironically, we’ve passed him this morning on our way to get flowers for Dan. He was driving, whilst using his phone…nothing changes.”

The full FACK statement can be found here .

And here is a copy of Julie Rigby's speech:

Julie Rigby's speech







Trades Council responds to Borough consultation on Local Plan Review

Imperial Mill

The March Trades Council meeting considered responding to a consultation by Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council on its “Local Plan Review”.

The consultation was part of a review of the Council’s current adopted local plans, specifically, the Core Strategy (adopted 2011) and the Site Allocations and Development Management Policies (adopted 2015). It was intended that this Review would lead to a new Local Plan to replace the existing adopted plans, covering the period 2018 to 2036.

The “Local Plan” is quite a complicated group of interconnected documents that sets out preferred options for future developments within the Borough, concentrating on where new housing and commercial developments might occur and how things like environmental standards should be maintained.

Whilst the Trades Council broadly approves the efforts made by the Borough Council to support local economic development, it agreed a response to this consultation that emphasised those points where there is some difference in strategy or where it felt that aspirations could be more ambitious – appreciating, of course, that these bigger ambitions would require a level of resource unlikely within the current political climate. Still, they give some form to the idea of what not being “left behind” might look like.

The Trades Council response is critical of the Borough’s strategic definition of Darwen as a “market town”, saying that this risks “failing to identify appropriate local economic development needs” . It argues against the insistence on “maintaining a visual break” between Blackburn and Darwen, and says it would be willing to see consideration of the area south of M65 Jct5 becoming a potential employment site. It suggests that Imperial Mill in Blackburn could be the location for an East Lancashire “Catapult Centre” and that the redundant Thwaites brewery site in Blackburn town centre could be a location for “high rise offices”.

The Trades Council urged support for the project to restore the Cotton Exchange and open it as a flexible performance and arts destination. It also suggested that the Council needed to look at the quality, as much as the volume, of local housing stock and that accommodation for single males and the general level of social rented accommodation were issues that needed looking at.

You can download a full copy of the Trades Council Response here:

Response to Local Plan Review







Trades Council supports AGE UK petition to “save free TV for older people”

televisions

January’s Trades Council meeting agreed to support and advertise an AGE UK petition demanding that the Government takes back responsibility for funding free TV licences for everyone over 75.

The Government currently provides the BBC with an annual amount of money to compensate for the fact that persons over the age of 75 are exempt from paying for a TV Licence.

According to its Annual Report for 2017-2018, the BBC in that financial year received £655.3m from the DWP in relation to this provision. This formed a part of its £3,830m annual income from licence fees. In addition, it attracted an income of £1,283m from commercial activities. .

In 2015 the Government announced that it would cease funding the free TV licence for people over 75 from 2020 onwards. The BBC was told by the Government that it could continue to support this benefit, but that it would have to absorb the financial consequences itself.

According to the BBC “it is expected the cost of free licence fees to the over-75s will total £745m – a fifth of the BBCs annual budget by 2021/22” . .

This appears at first sight to be a little misleading, insofar as the payments from the DWP represent about a fifth of licence fee income rather than a fifth of total income. The loss of the DWP money will, nonetheless, be hugely significant. .

The BBC says: “We think this reduction in the BBC’s budget would fundamentally change the BBC. We think this level of cuts to services would not be consistent with sustaining the BBC’s mission and purposes for all audiences and it would reduce our ability to reinvent the BBC for younger audiences” .

In handing “responsibility” for this tax exemption to the BBC the Government has behaved like it thought no one would notice if either the exemption or the funding to the BBC disappeared. It has hardly even put forward any arguments to support its policy. The Conservative Party manifesto for the 2017 General Election presented a sort of “half-truth” swerve around the issue: “We will maintain all other pensioner benefits, including free bus passes, eye tests, prescriptions and TV licences, for the duration of this parliament” . In 2015 the then Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale drew particular attention to the “universal” character of the exemption: “I still think, for exactly the same reason as the winter fuel allowance and a free bus pass, it is very difficult to justify why my mother doesn’t have to pay a licence fee. Means testing it would be administratively more complicated but nevertheless in the present climate I can see no real reason why it remains a universal benefit.

It is no doubt true that a number of over-75s who benefit from the exemption could afford to pay for a Licence with no great difficulty, just as there are no doubt also households which benefit because they actually contain a mix of working and non-working age residents. .

The reality remains, however, that the exemption is a real help to a good proportion of those to whom it applies. Gordon Brown, who introduced it in 2000, wrote in the “Guardian” on 02.01.2019 that: “pensioner poverty, which was halved between 1997 and 2010, is now on the rise again – from 1.6 million three years ago to 1.9 million now – and forecast to pass 2 million by 2022. In the BBC’s statements, there is a complacency about today’s pensioner poverty that I find distressing and alarming, especially when over-75s are almost 50% more likely to be in poverty than the 65-75 age group. In fact, one in every four of the over-75s is eligible for pension credit because their income is so low”.

Posing the licence fee exemption as a universal benefit makes sense in several ways. It avoids costs to “policing” what is quite a small benefit at the level of the individual and it means that those elderly who could claim pension credit but don’t are covered (two in five of all the pensioners who are on such low incomes that they would qualify for pension credit fail to get it). It is also a way for the country to show some small token of regard for all those who have reached a certain age.

It recognises that television can be important to older people whatever their material circumstances. In 2014 a TNS survey for Age UK found that over one million people aged 65 plus in the UK described themselves as always or often feeling lonely and that two in five (41%) said that their TV or pet was now their main form of company.

When the Government passed future responsibility for the licence fee exemption to the BBC the Trades Council said that: “if the Government wants to abolish or modify such a concession it should be identified as being the responsible body”.

This surely still applies today. The TV Licence fee is essentially an hypothecated tax to enable us to enjoy the benefits of a having a public broadcasting service. We have argued in the past that, whilst nothing is perfect, the BBC on balance represents a public good and that it would harm the quality of our public life to have it weakened or commercialised. Whether or not individuals, on grounds of age, or of income or of savings, are to be exempt from a tax should be a decision to be taken by Government alone. As should be the matter of how much money we give as income to the public broadcaster from the public purse.







“The Politics of Fabric” art project – Trade Union traditions and Blackburn’s “Acid House” party

Live the Dream

A crowd of people in colourful outfits march through Preston behind what, at first sight, appears to be a Trade Union banner. Look closer, though, and you see that the banner is dominated by a painting of the inside of an abandoned old mill – and alongside this are images relating to the 1989 Acid House dance scene. “Live the Dream” says the banner’s headline slogan – the title of a rave held on the 16th September 1989 in a field of marquees off Gib Lane in Blackburn.

Is this some sort of parody? After all, a common caricature of Trade Unions is that they are yesterday’s story; stale, boring and dead on their feet – particularly in the eyes of those born after 1970. Yet here a manifestation particularly associated with them is married to the reminiscence of what Drew Hamment (“DiY Culture: Part and Protest in Nineties Britain”) called “some of the most intense and sustained disco debauchery in the history of house….”.

“At the vortex of the storm” , he also wrote, “was Blackburn” .

The banner and the parade form part of an art project co-ordinated by Jamie Holman, a Blackburn based artist, writer and lecturer, who has been commissioned to make work exploring "The Politics of Fabric”. It will culminate with a display at “Fabrications 2019”, the British Textile Biennial, next Autumn.

Jamie attended our December 2018 Trades Council meeting to show us the banner and talk about the project, which has also involved students from Blackburn College. He said that his ideas for the project first formed when he saw some old banners in the Blackburn and Harris (Preston) museum collections and realised that the model of people marching behind a banner was a working-class community behaviour that once crossed a wide range of differing affiliations. The Trade Union banner remains the most potent example, but there had also been processions behind church banners, temperance banners and suffrage banners. As the project progressed it would reference these other elements alongside Trade Unionism.

The “Live the Dream” banner is painted silk, made in the traditional way by Durham Banner Makers. Jamie had wanted, however, to do something more than simply replicate tradition. He wanted to use it to contain and reflect upon more recent memories. In this case, what had come to mind was “the thirtieth anniversary of Acid House – significant gatherings of people and community in empty mills and warehouses" ; something that was part of his own experience.

Bruce Wilkinson, in his book on Blackburn’s 1960s poetic bohemia (“Hidden Cultures, Forgotten History”), suggests, in a sort of postscript, that Blackburn’s Acid House days indeed had about them something that linked to radicalism in the past:

“…in the…. documentary film “High on Hope”, Smith and Hemment develop the idea that they were reclaiming ownership of the very same mills where their forefathers were exploited during the industrial revolution. They reinterpreted the way spaces within warehouses and factories could be used and, by plotting new routes within urban landscapes, asked locals to look again at what had seemed an over-familiar environment. What is incontrovertible is that working-class people, inspired by the liberty to celebrate unfettered by the authorities’ restrictions and outside the control of big business, developed their own, entirely autonomous counterculture….” .

The raves were certainly effervescent. But they were also evanescent. Whilst they undoubtedly tapped into the Blackburn proletarian tradition of “playing hard”, is it possible that they had a wider cultural impact comparable, say, to the underground rock of the late 1960s or to “Rock Against Racism” in 1978? Maybe that question itself is just another trick of the generational light.

The juxtaposition of Acid House with Trade Union paraphernalia proves to be a poignant reminder that it was about this time that the labour movement began to feel a sense of unease that young workers were no longer replenishing the Trade Union ranks. A generation had gone through its formative years under Thatcherism and then found itself allocated to “new” sectors of employment, where there was little in the way of Trade Union organisation. The failure of the Unions to organise these sectors became a growing cause for concern – whilst the “cut off” age for being a “young member” went on rising.

Today it raises our spirits somewhat to see young workers take the lead in actions to improve conditions in areas such as fast-foods, internet warehouses, call-centres and the “gig economy”. And Jamie hopes that his project will capture something of the abiding resilience of working-class communities. “This commission” , he writes in his Blog, “has made me realise that despite the challenges of the times we find ourselves in, and the past and future we are trying to make sense of in this confusing present – our mills still empty, our people still struggling as the industrial world shifts around them – that we are still proud communities, still united and still full of hope, joy and pride” .



Trades Council responds to NHS England consultation on "Draft Integrated Care Provider Contract"

Top Table



















"Can't we get some sort of American company to take it over?". Of course, one must be circumspect about an anonymous report of what was said in a private meeting. But the comment attributed by Kevin Maguire to Conservative MP Boris Johnson, during a meeting about Hillingdon Hospital, neatly fuels the suspicion that there are forces working to ensure that the Britain "open to business" after Brexit will include large chunks of the NHS ("New Statesman" 26.10.18 p.14).

Despite Government denials, the latest proposal for a structural reform of the NHS and social care has been seen by some as further constructing a framework that will one day enable American companies in particular to secure large NHS contracts.

What is proposed is that combinations of Health Care Commissioners and Local Authorities will be able to jointly engage an "Integrated Care Provider" (ICP) to run both health and social care services over a large geopraphical "footprint". In our neck of the woods this "footprint" would be "Pennine Lancashire". The ICP idea is apparently based on an American model and current procurement rules would mean that commissioning combinations will be obliged to allow "any qualified provider" to "bid" for a contract.

The potential for more privatisation is not, however, the only aspect of the ICP project we should worry about.

In its response to the NHS England consultation document, Blackburn and District Trades Union Council also argues that:
* The Government is putting the cart before the horse in introducing this system before there has been the long promissed review of social care,
* The proposed design of ICPs will further undermine the public accountability of local NHS administration, and
* The proposed funding mechanism, particularly in combination with a "commissioning" and "tendering" model, poses risks to the quality and availability of care.

The Trades Council says that if ICPs are introduced they should be statutory Health and Social Care Boards, modelled on the old "Health Authorities" and working to a "public service" rather than a "commissioning" model.

You can read/download a full copy of our Response here:

Response to NHS consultation on ICP contract











Trades Council receives Reports from "Hazards” conference 2018

Top Table

















The October Trades Council meeting recived detailed Reports from two delegates - John Southwell (CWU) and Stephen Thomas (GMB) - who had attended this year's national Hazards Conference, held at Keele University in July.

A wide range of topics was covered, including Fire Risk Inspections, the impact of work conditions on mental health, asbestos, driving for a living and blacklisting.

Copies of the full Reports from John and Stephen are available to download here:

John's Report





Stephen's Report




Trades Council Responds to “Taylor Review” on “modern working practices”

StopPW2

May’s Trades Council meeting discussed the “Taylor Review” into “modern working practices” and the subsequent Government “consultation” on how “employment status” might be defined.

“Precarious Employment” has been a matter of growing public concern in recent years. It can take several different forms. For instance:

> The Office for National Statistics said in April that in 2017 over 900,000 workers were primarily employed on zero-hours contracts;
> A recent TUC Report concluded that increasing numbers of people were being employed “arm’s length” – 1 million through recruitment agencies or “umbrella companies”;
> The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development estimates 1.3 million people are working as “self-employed” in the “gig economy”;
> Self-employment reached a high of 15% of employment during 2016. Many instances are known to be “bogus” – i.e. that the “self-employment” status is forced upon the worker by the employer;
> Estimates of the numbers of agency workers range from 800,000 to 1.3 million.

Whilst the proportion of workers classed as “permanent” has not dropped dramatically, it has fallen to some degree whilst in some sectors and areas it seems to be more difficult for unskilled workers in particular to find any other choice than “precarious” work. Examples of the insecurity and levels of exploitation associated with “precarious” work have been publicised on a regular basis. At the April Trades Council meeting, for instance, BFAW President Ian Hodson gave several examples of how insecurity affected “McDonald’s” workers. One man had gone from 40 hours a week to less than 8 because there had been a change of boss and the new boss did not like him.

StopPW

The Government responded to growing public concern by asking Matthew Taylor, the Chief Executive of RSA and a former adviser to Tony Blair, to conduct a Review of “modern employment practices”. He and his team published this in June 2017.

Unfortunately, this proved to be a major disappointment. The Review gave the opinion that Britain’s “flexible” and low-regulation labour market – what it called “the British Way” – was a positive thing and that little was required to change it other than some detailed amendments around the exercise of what little was given to those in “precarious” work by way of statutory rights.

The Government has followed up on the Review with a number of public consultations, generally of rather limited scope. The Trades Council identified one of these – on the question of “Employment Status” – as giving, nonetheless, some room for civic organisations to respond to some of the broader issues involved. It consequently agreed to submit a formal response. Amongst other things it argued in this that:

> The Review was wrong in accepting the case put to it by the CBI that the “flexibility” of the British labour market is a positive feature;
> “Precarious” should be seen as a social evil, leading to poverty, insecurity and employment practices that disadvantage workers;
> All but the genuinely self employed should have access to the full suite of statutory rights and protections at work;
> The law needs to be firmer in defining self-employment and protecting workers’ rights; and
> A range of other measures was required to give workers adequate protection, including an end to the use of benefit rules to force workers to take “precarious” employment.

You can download a full copy of the Trades Council Response here:

Response to Taylor Review







March Trades Council receives presentation on “Bittersweet Brexit”

Speaker

Many local Trade Union representatives will know Charlie Clutterbuck from his days as a TUC course tutor at Blackburn College.

He is also, however, an agricultural scientist who across his career has combined academic accomplishment with practical farming experience and a lifetime of work as a Health and Safety and Trade Union activist. His involvement with British farmworkers’ Unions goes back to the days of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, which became part of the TGWU and thence UNITE. He was the North West representative on UNITE’s National Committee for the Rural and Agricultural Sector, until it merged with the Food Sector. He has represented farmworkers on the HSE and has had, through the World Health Organisation, practical contact with Trade Unions representing farmworkers around the globe.

One of Charlie’s strengths has been his ability to see the links between different aspects of the food chain – how the way that food is produced relates to the conditions of farmworkers, the quality of the product, healthy nutrition, sustainability, health and safety and the quality of social life.

Charlie attended the March meeting of Blackburn and District Trades Union Council to talk to delegates about his latest project – the publication of a book (by Unite Education and Pluto Press) “Bittersweet Brexit: The Future of Food, Farming, Land and Labour” and of a website www.bittersweetbrexit.co.uk to encourage continuing dialogue.

He packed a lot into the time available. He began by outlining how the Labour government, following World War 2, had looked to maintain a level of forward planning and state support for agriculture. Farmers were given forward price guarantees and supported by a network of agricultural colleges and research institutions.

Much of this infrastructure was lost after Britain joined what was then the “Common Market”. The driving force, however, was not so much the Common Market itself as the determination of Mrs Thatcher’s Conservative government of the 1980s to let “market forces” determine the shape and future of British farming.

These “market forces” amounted principally to the domination of the food retail sector by a small number of big supermarket chains.

BDTUC


























Several consequences emerged. From producing 70% of its own food in the 1980s Britain is now 50% dependent on imports. We have a Food Trade Deficit in cash terms, importing $66bn food products a year whilst exporting $33bn. Leading agricultural research stations have been sold off to the private sector. The East of England has become dominated by a “plantation” model of agriculture – large monoculture farms run with high levels of casual and migrant labour to the long-term detriment of land quality and employment conditions. Subsidies under the current Common Agricultural Policy were most beneficial to those possessed of large land holdings.

Charlie argued it was noticeable that the referendum vote to leave the EU had been particularly strong in areas where the plantation model was prevalent. He saw this as a sign not just of hostility to migrant workers but of a sense of dislocation between this model and the local populations.

“Brexit”, however, would not necessarily make the situation any better.

The “Free Trade” wing of the movement to leave the EU had argued that “Brexit” would allow the British government to strike trade deals outside of the Union that would allow for the import of cheaper food (and clothing). 50% of our current food imports come from the EU. Depending on what new arrangement we eventually reach with the Union these could become subject to the existing tariff regime facing most non-EU countries. Meanwhile, trade outside of the EU would need to be on existing WTO schedules, which rarely amounted to “free trade” – unless and until Britain made alternative deals with individual countries. The only country that appeared to be actively in the market for such a deal was the USA – whose own agricultural sector was prone to overproduction but riddled with potential “standards” issues; such as “hormone beef”, “chlorinated chicken” and the use of ractopamine to produce leaner pigs.

Charlie felt that the Labour Movement needed to be advocating a much deeper revision of agricultural and food policy – one which sought to subsidise labour and “good jobs” rather than land ownership, which promoted diversification and mixed land use, which prioritised local supply chains and food quality, which reduced our dependence on ultra-processed food, which contributed more to maintaining sustainable rural communities and which better protected the health of land workers, of consumers and of the soil itself.

The issues raised by “Bittersweet Brexit” were clearly too complex to be fully covered in one meeting. The Trades Council, however, felt that it had been given a thought-provoking insight into serious matters that are often side-lined or ignored. How we work, how we eat and how we manage the earth’s natural resources are all matters of profound importance to our welfare. “Bittersweet Brexit” shows how they are often also profoundly interconnected.

BDTUC








Trades Council Statement on General Election 2017

Labour 2017

Only a vote for Labour makes sense for workers in the coming General Election. As the wage share of GDP continues to fall whilst income inequality widens, as insecure work proliferates whilst the welfare benefit system is poisoned by malign policies, as “austerity" takes away our public services whilst contractors line their pockets through privatisation – only a vote for Labour stands any chance of “turning the tide”.

Presiding over a society that does not work for everyone it is the Conservatives who, meanwhile, continue to make a pig’s ear of our relations with the European Union.

In light of the declaration of a “snap” General Election, the officers of Blackburn and District Trades Union Council have issued a Statement which you can download here:


Trades Council Statement on General Election 2017









Lessons From “I, Daniel Blake”

IDB

Ken Loach’s film “I, Daniel Blake” has received critical acclaim both home and abroad. It has received the BAFTA Outstanding British Film of the Year award and the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Many people, nevertheless, will have seen it not at their local cinema but at a “pop up” screening organised by local volunteers.

One such event took place in Blackburn on Wednesday 22nd February, thanks to Blackburn with Darwen Branch of UNISON (with the support of the Trades Council).

In the film Daniel Blake is a man whose doctors have advised that he needs to stop work following a heart attack. He makes a claim for sickness benefit, “Employment and Support Allowance” (ESA), but he is told after a “Work Capability Assessment” (WCA) that he is fit for work. He is consequently forced to claim “Jobseekers Allowance” (JSA) at the same time as he tries to make an Appeal against the ESA disallowance. He then faces absurd levels of “conditionality” relating to his JSA claim, whilst reaching a point where his ESA Appeal is accepted into the system becomes a bureaucratic nightmare.

Through an encounter at the Jobcentre Daniel befriends Katie, a single mother who has been moved to Newcastle because she could not get social housing in her native London. It is not clear what benefit Katie is claiming, but she is struggling because she has incurred a sanction on it. The help and kindness Daniel and Katie show each other contrast with the largely unsympathetic face of the welfare state.

Close followers of welfare procedures will see that some of the technical scenarios in the film are questionable. You would have expected, for instance, that when Daniel was disallowed ESA he would have been offered an “ESA to JSA Transition” (if moving from ESA(C) to JSA(C)), which would have spared him the confusion of making a JSA claim “online”. And larger Jobcentres do now have PCs available on which you can make a claim, along with staff to help you.

These are, however, but nitpicking issues when placed alongside the film’s success in evoking how many people feel about making a claim and being forced into a position where they have to be “on benefits”. A number of people at the Blackburn screening said that the film powerfully reflected their own experience. As one woman tearfully put it, “I am Daniel Blake”.

The March 2017 meeting of the Trades Council discussed the film and agreed a number of policy issues that seemed to flow directly from the issues it raised. These are:

1)
In demonstrating incapacity for work, we should be able to rely on the opinion of a GP or hospital doctor who knows about our illness and how it affects us. Much of the public debate over ESA criticises the failings of the “Work Capability Assessment” process, but then goes no further. When ESA was introduced, however, (by a Labour Government) it was the devaluing of the opinion of the claimants own medical advisers that was central to the whole exercise. Peter Hain, the Secretary of State who set the ball rolling, spoke of putting an end to “sick-note Britain”. It seems fundamental to us that the state should have in these matters no rights different to those we would expect of an employer. If we are sick from work, we expect that a sick-note is enough to “cover” us. Why should claimants be any different?

2)
It is not unreasonable for the benefits Appeal journey to involve a preliminary “mandatory reconsideration” stage. What is unreasonable, however, was the decision made by the Government that the decision being challenged should be the “status quo” whilst this part of the review process takes place. In the case of ESA, for instance, it used to be the case that if a claimant was disallowed ESA following a WCA the benefit would remain in payment whilst their Appeal was considered. It is still the case that ESA can continue to be paid once an Appeal has been accepted into the system. But it is not paid during the “mandatory reconsideration” stage. This is not only perverse, it makes the whole experience even more complicated and confusing for the claimant.

3)
The terms set for “conditionality” in the “claimant commitment” that is required in claims for JSA and Universal Credit ought to be more tailored to what is reasonable in the case of each individual. The reality would appear to be that a mixture of official guidance, managerial pressure and interview time constraints mean that they too often are seen as being absurd and unrealistic by the very people they are supposed to engage. Ideas like “spending 35 hours a week looking for work” and “being available for jobs within a radius of 90 minutes' travel time from your home” are really more about playing to the public gallery than setting targets that you could really expect most people to achieve. It is no wonder, if you set people up to fail, that they then feel belittled and patronised by the experience. We would rather that Jobcentres were seen as sources of advice and support.

4)
Achieving point 3) would require changes to both guidance and culture. It would also be helpful if the “claimant commitment” were to be less an agreement secured by essentially twisting claimants’ arms up their backs. If a claimant currently refuses to accept the terms of a “claimant commitment” the matter can be appealed – but there is no payment of benefit whilst this is being done. We feel that there should be a proper balance of power between the citizen and the state in such matters. Claimants should be able to refer upwards a “failure to agree” without fear of financial penalty.

5)
A lot of effort goes into forcing claimants to us “digital” channels. It is expected that claims for JSA and Universal Credit will be initiated “online” and that claimants seeking employment will register with “Universal Jobmatch”, a national website advertising vacancies. Both of these requirements can leave claimants feeling flustered and frustrated. The first requirement means that large numbers of claims need extensive repair work. The second gives “Universal Jobmatch” a market position it would be unlikely to achieve if claimants were able to follow their own preferences. There does not really seem to be any justification for any of this or real benefit to be gained from it. 6)

The recent House of Commons Public Accounts Committee Report on “Benefit Sanctions” has reinforced the view that “sanctions” are a feature of our welfare system whose consequences are far more often malign than beneficial. Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, has said :
"Benefit sanctions have been used as a blunt instrument by Government. It is an article of faith for the Department for Work & Pensions that sanctions encourage people into work. The reality is far more complex and the potential consequences severe. Sanctions and exemptions are being applied inconsistently, with little understanding of why. Some people who receive sanctions stop claiming without finding work, adding to pressures on other services. Suspending people’s benefit payments can lead them into debt, rent arrears and homelessness, which can undermine their efforts to find work. A third of people surveyed by the charity Crisis who were claiming Housing Benefit had this stopped in error because of a sanction – an appalling situation to be faced with.”

The contentious question of whether or not sanctions “work” seems to us to be a matter rendered immaterial because of the damage that they undoubtedly do to peoples’ lives. Granted there may be dead-legs and freeloaders in the system. This does not justify a scatter-gun approach to flushing them out.

The Trades Council will write to local MPs to put forward these points.

It is sobering to think that there are other “booby traps” within our welfare system that “I, Daniel Blake” did not cover. Some of the worst ESA cases, for instance, involve those who are too unwell – particularly with a mental illness – to even make it to their WCA. And why is it seen as being fair to deny benefit for a period to people who have already suffered the penalty of being sacked from a job because of misconduct?

One final thought the film provokes is that it is advisable, if faced with a benefit problem, to seek independent advice and support. It seems to be the case that claimants are more likely to “win” an Appeal if they have experienced representation. This may, in part, be because decent advocates will tell people in advance if they on a hiding to nothing! But we think that in general the principle must be, if independent support is available it makes sense to get it.

Blackburn with Darwen Council has partnered with Shelter to provide free confidential welfare and debt advice to residents of the Borough. Help and advice can be obtained by telephone on 0344 515 1831, by email lancashire@shelter.org.uk , or by drop-in at Blackburn library. In the Ribble Valley, advice is provided by the Citizens Advice Bureau - 19/21 Wesleyan Row Parson Lane, CLITHEROE (Tel: 01200 428966).







NHS “Sustainability and Transformation Plan”

NHS Demonstration

Delegates at the February Trades Council meeting received a Report on the NHS “Sustainability and Transformation Plan”.

Sustainability and Transformation plans (STPs) were announced in NHS planning guidance published in December 2015. NHS organisations and local authorities in different parts of England have come together to develop ‘place-based plans’ for the future of health and care services in their area, with the objective of avoiding the deficits that seem inevitable on current projections. Draft plans were produced by June 2016 and 'final' plans were submitted in October.

There are 44 STPs across the country and each is based on a “footprint”. The one for our area is “Lancashire and South Cumbria”.

Much of the early development of the STPs was shrouded in secrecy. Trade Unions and NHS campaigners quickly came to the conclusion that they would involve cuts and/or a drastic reconfiguration of health provision. They also have potential to be the coup de grace in the dismantling of the NHS and handing over its profitable parts in marketable entities to the private sector.

There are fundamental problems with the process being undertaken.

The first of these is the presumption that the growing NHS deficit is a delivery rather than a funding problem. The 2016 “Kings Fund” report “Deficits in the NHS 2016” found, to the contray, that “The principal cause of the deficit is the fact that funding has not kept pace with increasing demand for services” (p 1) – “exacerbated” by the recruitment of additional staff to improve quality of care in hospitals. Whilst there is nothing wrong in seeking continual value-for-money improvement, this is not a guaranteed solution to under-funding and the context is one in which cost-saving measures can easily have an adverse impact on standards.

The second is that the strategy adopted could add to difficulties where the financial situation is already most pressing. The “Lancashire and South Cumbria “STP, for instance, envisages that funding to primary and community services will increase by 20% to 2020/21 in the context of an overall increase of 11%. This can only mean that acute services will, conversely, receive less of an increase than the planned 11%. Yet the pattern identified in the aforementioned “Kings Fund” report was one where the overall NHS deficit was particularly concentrated in the acute sector – there were surpluses in the mental health, ambulance, specialist and community sectors reducing the NHS deficit overall and thus potentially disguising how big the problem was in hospitals in particular (Table 1, p 9).

The third is the possibility that the process will lead to a “re-packaging” of some functions so that they might appeal to private sector providers, whether these be new GP “combined practices” or new “centres” for specific procedures. After all, the NHS Improvement Business Plan says that it is a “priority” to “explore and, where appropriate, facilitate independent sector providers to form NHS partnerships that deliver improvement across the sector” and the “Health Service Journal” has reported that NHS Improvement plans to look at “outsourcing of new, novel or restructured clinical services”.

Finally, the plans rely heavily on a “review” of NHS spending by Lord Carter, which appears to have been uncritically received by Government. Lord Carter has “form” in having been involved in the development of the National Offender Management Service, which has had such a bad impact on Probation services. Our view is that his NHS review is not a sound foundation. He usefully identified that there is a divergence between spending in defined areas between NHS Trusts, but he did not drill down to find out what the reasons for this might be. There was no attempt, for example, to see if there was any correlation between spending and, say, local morbidity or outcomes. He told Ministers that £5bn savings were available, but the figure really appears to have been just plucked from thin air – derived from the fact of variations rather than from any analysis of them.

The “Lancashire and South Cumbria” STP is written in such a way as to make it difficult to know what precisely it is proposing.

The idea behind the plan is that £572m will need to be saved by the 20/21 financial year to stop the NHS being £433m in deficit, and social care £129m in deficit, by that point. It talks about saving £176m in the NHS through “Carter Review” “efficiencies”. It says that use of “all 4 independent primary care contractors” will be “maximised” and of “primary care providers working at scale” – code, possibly, for outfits like “Virgin Care” being given contracts to run new GP “super-practices”. There is reference to “optimal configuration” of acute services – ie. that patients may have to travel “out of district” for some procedures. It also refers to a “review” of A+E and “urgent care” provision.

The Trades Council agreed to write to the STP “leader” to seek more detail on these proposals.

Meanwhile, the threat posed by the STPs has, alongside the many press reports of an NHS stretched almost to breaking point, been a major stimulus behind the national demonstration planned for Saturday 4th March by “Health Campaigns Together”.

Unfortunately, there is no East Lancashire transport for this.

There is a coach from Preston at 7:30. Tickets £20 return.
Contact Hilary Chuter 07817108649 or Deborah Finn 0770954628

There are trains for Unite members from Liverpool, Manchester and Preston. Please contact felicity.taylor@unitetheunion.org

For Greater Manchester coaches contact konpmcr@hotmail.com or Call/Text: 07769 611320.







Trades Council Opposes Darwen Jobcentre Closure

Darwen Jobcentre

February’s Trades Council meeting discussed the proposed closure of Darwen Jobcentre.

Arising from this, we have now responded to the official Department for Work and Pensions “consultation” on the proposal.

Our Response says that:

> The DWP “Consultation Document” “fails to present evidence sufficient to bear the weight of the conclusion it reaches”;
> The population of Darwen is bigger than that of some other towns, like Skipton, that will keep their Jobcentres;
> The DWP proposal does not give sufficient weight to the rank of some areas of Darwen as being amongst the 10% “most deprived” in Britain;
> Caroline Nokes, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Welfare Delivery, gave Parliament a misleading impression of the impact of new claims being made online, because citizens making new claims were still obliged to attend a Jobcentre as part of both the new claim and claim maintenance requirements;
> Some citizens will be forced to spend up to 3.4% of their monthly benefit income on travel if claim maintenance is moved to Blackburn; and
> The DWP has failed to take enough account of the fact that unemployment is cyclical and will inevitably go up again at some points in the future.

It concludes that: “A case has not been made that Darwen citizens should be obliged to go elsewhere for mandatory interviews or to access jobsearch focussed technology”.

You can download a full copy of the Response here:

Response to DWP Consultation







Industrial Strategy

BDTUC

February’s Trades Council meeting discussed the issue of “Industrial Strategy”.

The Agenda item was prompted by recent national political developments. The former Department of Trade and Industry has been re-named yet again to now become the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and it has recently published a “Green Paper”, “Building Our Industrial Strategy”. Within the Labour Party, meanwhile, the idea that government has a responsibility to intervene to promote economic growth and employment played a prominent role in the recent leadership debates. Labour is holding in its own consultation on “Industrial Strategy”, due to close on February 23rd.

The Trades Council welcomes this renewed interest. From 1979 onwards, British governments have been inclined to let market forces dominate and the rules of the EU were interpreted – perhaps more strongly in the UK than elsewhere – as placing restrictions on the degree to which the state could intervene. The outcome was distorted growth across the economy as a whole – with the City flourishing whilst other parts of the country suffered deindustrialisation and deprivation.

We have now submitted a response to the Labour Party consultation, which you can download to read here:

Industrial Strategy - Response to Labour Party



The ideas we put forward overlap with mainstream views in some respects – often the difference is one of degree; ie. how much is done rather than what is done.

We do, nonetheless, also promote some less widely held goals. These include re-nationalisation of parts of the public infrastructure, wider support for product development, proactive use of nationalised bank assets and a review of British law on insolvency and administration.

We also make the point that “Industrial Strategy” may not be sufficient to meet the goal of full employment on its own.




Trades Council considers Government Green Paper on "Corporate Governance"

Delegates at the January Trades Council meeting discussed a Report on the Green Paper “Corporate Governance Reform”.

The final round of the last Conservative Party leadership election lasted for only a few days, before Andrea Leadsom brought it to an abrupt end by throwing in her towel. It was long enough, however, for the eventual victor, Theresa May, to make some eye-catching commitments as she launched the last phase of her campaign.

One of these was that there would be a reform of how businesses were run and that this would involve having employee representatives on company boards: “So if I’m Prime Minister........we’re going to have not just consumers represented on company boards, but employees as well” .

The current “Green Paper” on “Corporate Governance Reform” (to which responses are invited by 17th February) has gained attention as the follow-up to this commitment. Or rather, as evidence that it has already been watered down.

The “options” actually advanced are comparatively modest:
> Creating “stakeholder advisory panels”;
> Designating existing non-executive directors to ensure that the voices of key interested groups, especially that of employees, is being heard at board level;
> Appointing individual stakeholder representatives to company boards; and/or
> Strengthening reporting requirements related to stakeholder engagement.

Having both consumers and employees on boards has thus become diluted to the point of it being just a voluntary possibility, which might be replaced by speaking with unspecified persons in various informal ways.

The TUC has made its position very much that “workers on boards” was a key point and that the Government should be criticised for the dilution of this. In a press release on the Green Paper, for instance, the TUC said:

‘Commenting on today’s Green Paper on corporate governance, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This is not what Theresa May promised. Today’s proposals are disappointing and will not do enough to shake-up corporate Britain. We need the voice of elected workers in the boardroom, rather than on advisory panels”.’

The Trades Council, it must be said, felt rather more circumspect about this. We are tempted because the employers are clearly so worried by the proposal. But it is not without dangers. Employee board members would be made responsible for management decisions they could ultimately not prevent, their position might be used by an employer as a lever to secure workforce compliance and the Trade Union’s position could be compromised.

John Weeks, in his 2005 United Nations DESA Working Paper “Inequality Trends in Some Developed OECD Countries” reached a conclusion that for us is not very surprising: “statistical evidence supports the view that in countries in which inequality increased, this was primarily the result of the decline in the importance and bargaining power of organized labour, aggravated by unemployment and reductions in government expenditure. In the long run, the three are closely related, because organized labour has historically pressed for full employment policies and a comprehensive welfare state. At the risk of oversimplification, it can be concluded that in the OECD countries, rising inequality results from a growing imbalance in the economic and political power of capital and labour”.

If a Government wanted to reduce income differences and social inequality over time one of the strongest measures it could take would be to actively encourage Trade Union membership and to ensure that the unions’ bargaining position was not weakened by features such as high un- or under-employment or by labour market “flexibilities” and punitive welfare rules.

Given the difference of opinion with the TUC, the Trades Council felt it best on this occasion not to submit a formal response. A copy of the Report received by the Trades Council is available here:

Report on Corporate Governance Green Paper




Trades Council accuses NHS England of “misdirection and sleight of hand” over “Calderstones” closure

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Delegates at the January Trades Council meeting approved a Response to the NHS England consultation on proposals to close the Mersey Care NHS Trust Whalley site, formerly known as Calderstones.

In the “News” section of their website NHS England refers to the site as “England’s last old long-stay learning disability hospital”. The Trades Council response points out that Calderstones “closed as an in-patient residential hospital for people with learning disabilities in 1999”. What is now on site is a specialist NHS Unit, much of which has been purpose built in the 21st century. The Response accuses NHS England of “misdirection and sleight of hand” in how it describes the current situation.

The very title of the NHS England Consultation Document is misleading. “What is particularly at stake here” the Response says, “ is less a “Proposed redesign of learning disability and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) services in the North West” than a question of what medium and low secure facilities should be provided for people with learning disabilities as an alternative to the criminal justice system”.

The Trades Council Response notes that “95% of the 202 people using “Calderstones Partnership NHS Trust” inpatient services at the end of January 2015 were individuals detained under the Mental Health Act”. It says that the context in which the NHS England proposals should be judged is that of the “question of what medium and low secure facilities should be provided for people with learning disabilities as an alternative to the criminal justice system” – and it refers to research that shows “There has....been a recurrent concern that people with learning disabilities were being inappropriately kept in prisons, to their detriment and the detriment of the prisons themselves”.

In their Summer 2016 “Bromley Briefing”, for example, the Prison Reform Trust reported that “Prisoners with learning disabilities or difficulties are more likely than other prisoners to have broken a prison rule; they are five times as likely to have been subject to control and restraint, and around three times as likely to report having spent time in segregation” (Source: Talbot, J. (2008) “Prisoners’ Voices: Experiences of the criminal justice system by prisoners with learning disabilities and difficulties” - London: Prison Reform Trust).

NHS England fails to convince that it has properly addressed the central issues of how people with a learning disability are treated when they encounter the criminal justice system. What NHS England presents as potentially appropriate alternatives are in reality vague plans rather than specific developments.

The Trades Council wants the proposed closure of the Mersey Care NHS Trust Whalley site to be taken off the agenda entirely. It argues that in its Response that:

“We need to see an assessment of the need for low and medium secure facilities for people with learning disabilities that is part of a multi-agency review looking at all stages of the process of potential interaction with the criminal justice system and the Mental Health Act. Such a review should encompass clarification of the circumstances under which care and treatment from health and social care services should take the place of criminal justice system action, how an effective assessment system for people with learning disabilities could be established, what sort of support can be provided for people for whom prison remains the preferred option and how easy it is for people to access and to move between low and medium secure care as and when required. In the absence of such a review, and of any empirical content of equivalent status, the Consultation Document clearly fails to sustain the weight of the policy decisions it seeks to promote”.

The Trades Council is unhappy about the practice adopted by the Consultation, of only inviting responses to a “survey”, as being an unacceptable attempt to shape the outcome of the exercise. The Consultation Document fails to address issues and circumstances fundamental to assessing the course of action proposed and consequently the attempt to restrict participants in the Consultation to questions that ignore these issues looks deeply flawed.

Delegates also felt that there should be an investigation into the management of Calderstones Partnership NHS Foundation Trust in recent years, particularly in respect of 1) how it could justify using public money to set up "Future Directions" as a care provider that took over contracts previously held by the NHS and then drove down staff terms and conditions; and 2) how it conducted itself in respect of the "takeover" by Mersey Care Foundation NHS Trust.

A .pdf copy of the Trades Council Response can be downloaded here:

Response to NHS England Consultation







Trades Council calls for defence of Trade Union Education

Over the last 10 years the TUC National Education Programme has trained and developed over half a million Trade Union Representatives.

In September 2017, as a result of the withdrawal of Government FUNDING, The TUC National Education programme will cease to exist and will be replaced by non-accredited short on-line courses.

Over 127 professionally qualified Trade Union Studies Lecturers with a knowledge, experience, commitment and passion for training Trade Union Reps face losing their jobs. A vital resource that will be lost to the movement.

Individual unions cannot hope to provide the scope or coverage that is currently provided by the national programme, especially at a time when many unions’ resources are hard pressed and stretched. For the Trade Union movement to organise and grow, it is essential that local union representatives and stewards are properly trained. The most effective way of doing this is to maintain the accredited national TUC education programme.

Consequently, Blackburn and District Trades Union Council has called on the Trades Union Congress to:-
- Keep open the existing Trade Union Studies Units
- Protect the jobs and avoid redundancies of Trade Union Studies Lecturers
- Keep the National TUC Education Programme accredited at Level 1 & 2
- Ensure that the TUC continues to fund the full TUC Education Programme until Government funding can be reinstated.







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