Aberdeenshire UNISON

Local Government Service Group Conference
15th - 16th June Bournemouth

Conference Report

Branch well represented in conference debate as emergency motion on fuel costs is heard

Kate Ramsden, Branch Chair and conference delegate took part in three debates at Local Government Conference including the debate on rising fuel costs and the impact on our members, heard as a result of our emergency motion on this issue.

The pay ballots across the UK dominated Conference but issues like privatisation, shared services, Housing and Social Care all took centre stage too as did the Emergency composite from our branch (among others) demanding action on mileage rates to reflect the huge increase in costs for essential staff.

Call for urgent action on 'devastating impact' of petrol rises on mileage rates
As a result of our emergency motion, UNISON will take urgent action to address the devastating impact that soaring fuel costs is having on members who use their cars for work. Huge increases in the cost of petrol and diesel mean that many members are now subsidising their employers.

Delegates heard how branches were receiving distress calls on a daily basis from members who were in despair at the situation - members who were already hard hit by the knock-on effect of rising fuel prices on food and other goods.

The Local Government Service Group Conference gave its overwhelming backing to an emergency composite from a number of local government branches and fully supported a range of measures aimed at securing fair car rates, including starting discussions about withdrawing the use of vehicles and industrial action.

Kate RamsdenOur emergency motion ensured that the unique Scottish position was reflected in the debate. Kate Ramsden told conference that we are seeing the steepest rises in petrol and diesel costs for more than a century with diesel now costing almost £1.30 a litre. "For our colleagues on the Scottish Islands you can add 15p to that cost," she said.

"In Scotland, there is no longer national bargaining on mileage rates and the mileage allowance paid by most Scottish local authorities is the Inland Revenue rate of 40p per mile. "It is a disgrace that this has not been increased since 2002. Running a car for work now eats into our members' incomes and is fast becoming a pay cut," she said, adding that this hits low paid members the hardest.

She told conference, "Our members, especially those in rural areas like Aberdeenshire, need their cars to do their jobs. They donít have a choice. They need their cars to make sure that vital services are provided to the most vulnerable in our society. Services like home care for the elderly and disabled Ė a lifeline in rural communities, but provided by some of our lowest paid members. Services like social work services to protect vulnerable children and to support families in need.

"We need action as a matter of urgency," she said, calling on the Service Group Executive to redouble its efforts to campaign for an increase in the Inland Revenue rate, and to put pressure on the government to address the fuel crisis and to check the spiral of rising costs.


Welfare of all children must be paramount, regardless of immigration status
UNISON's local government conference built on a motion from Scotland last year, and agreed overwhelmingly to keep up the campaign for children to be seen as children first with their immigration status second.

The law intended all children's interests to be 'paramount'. UNISON will continue to campaign for that, it will support members trying to work within that principle and will continue to challenge policy and practice which does not comply.

It will press for properly funded services for asylum seeker children who are unaccompanied and will support campaigns against their enforced removal.

Supporting the motion, Kate Ramsden. Branch Chair, spoke of her concerns about the Home Office guidance on unaccompanied asylum seeker children.
"Although it purports to have a child welfare focus, it is not based on the principle that care planning for these children should be based on an assessment of their needs as with any otherchild. Rather it creates a significant move away from this by requiring social work and other staff to take account of immigration processes in the care planning for these children. This discriminates against these young people who are amongst our most vulnerable."

Kate praised UNISON's stance on asylum issues, especially our clear position that the child's welfare is paramount, regardless of immigration status.
"We need to ensure that our members who work with these vulnerable children are properly supported to make sure that our progressive domestic laws, whether in Scotland or across the UK, apply equally to these children and that this informs our practice.

"Let's challenge an immigration system that would further undermine their rights."


Two conference plan rejected as Scotland teamwork wins debate
Finally, Kate had a key role as Scotland led opposition to a plan to split Local Government Conference from National Conference and won a surprise victory.

Scotland's teamwork and old-fashioned debating skills combined to win the shock rejection of a motion to detach Local Government Conference from National Conference and move it to April alongside the Health Conference.

It looked like there was a huge majority of England and Wales branches supporting the motion until the last minute when many changed their view in light of arguments made by Scotland in the debate.

It has been a long time since a debate created such a shift and the motion was beaten by 6,000 in a card vote.

While there are good arguments for closer working between Local Government and Health, especially with shared services, the motion dwelt more on specious arguments that the change would suit people with caring responsibilities and give the conference a higher profile.

John StevensonJohn Stevenson, City if Edinburgh, exploding one argument for change said, "It is not WHEN local government conference is held that gives it a profile - it is HOW it is held. It is about the profile WE give it and it is about the issues WE bring to it. "If we do want a better profile, why are we piggy-backing on the health conference? Surely we don't need a conference so we can talk and work with our health colleagues?"

John added that although the motion mentions, not once but twice, the benefits for those with caring responsibilities, this is a bit of a smokescreen for most delegates. For many, two separate conferences will mean 10 not 7 days away from home.

"Add to that the fact that we have a host of public holidays in April across Scotland, as well as our annual Regional and Local Government Conferences and we have the Scottish Trades Union Congress. Another Conference in April won't help when it comes to care arrangements."

"We also need to wake up to the reality of devolution in our countries and the reality of a devolution agenda in our own union," warned John. "With the key service conditions decisions being taken in devolved bargaining and legal structures, you could see why delegates may not see a UK wide conference separated from Delegate Conference as all that relevant and that could affect attendance."

Kate spoke of the additional demands of travel for branches at a distance from conference venues.
"A two day conference for those of us in remote parts of Scotland will become four days away from home," she said, adding that if this motion is passed there is a real risk that branches in Scotland will find it harder to find delegates willing and able to come - especially smaller branches with a smaller pool of activists.

And responding to a previous speaker who referred to a motion passed earlier, that pay claims in England and Wales should be timetabled to ensure that any industrial action will start no later than April, Kate challenged, "Why would you want to be trotting down to a conference in April anyway? Shouldn't you be in your branches co-ordinating and supporting the industrial action?"

The themes of travel and the impact of that on care arrangements for those with dependants was further emphasised by Sandra Kennie of East Lothian branch, herself a carer for an adult dependant.
"My main concern is to make sure there is as little possible disruption to the dependant I have left at home," she told delegates, adding that her current absence of 7 days would increase to 10 days of disruption.

She also spoke of her concerns that if smaller branches find themselves unable to send delegates to two separate conferences, their funding will be reduced because they haven't attended their national service group conference.

All the Scottish speakers called on the Service Group executive to think again and on a card vote, conference sent them to do just that!


Other key issues
DelegationSchool meals: Scotland's Carol Ball spoke on the effects of staff due to school meals changes.

Housing: Conference has pledged to continue to defend council housing, and to carry on fighting for decent housing for all. Delegates welcomed the government's commitment to building new houses, but determined to make sure they were council-owned - because "housing belongs in local authorities."

Social Care: Conference tackled the issue of Home Care privatisation and the possible hiving off of Looked After Children services in England.

Click here for UNISON Scotland Local Government Conference reports.


National service group executives and conferences

Service group conferences bring together members across the country doing similar kinds of jobs or working for the same kinds of employers. This branch's service group is local government. It has its conference at the start of the National Conference.

Branches, along with Regions, self organised groups and the Service Group Executive (SGE) can put forward motions to be debated at conference or can amend motions which have been submitted. As delegates we will vote on the motions in line with branch policy, where we have that in place. We can also speak for or against the motions and amendments and branch delegates have a good record of participating in debates at this conference. (See the 2006/07 conference reports.)

This year our branch has submitted an emergency motion to Local Government Conference on rising fuel costs and the impact on our members who need to use their cars on council business.

This motion was approved at a Branch Committee on 5th June and is in line with our branch policy to campaign for an increase in the mileage rate. We believe this is even more critical at a time when the cost of diesel and petrol has been rising alarmingly over the past month.

To see the motion click here.

This branch's delegates for this year's conference are:

Ian McDonald Kate Ramsden Tricia Morrison Maureen Grady
Ian McDonald
Kate Ramsden
Tricia Morrison
Maureen Grady

Branch members can stand for election to the local government service group executive (the elected body which runs the service group in UNISON). Bob Revie, Branch Secretary is a member of the service group executive, elected by the Scottish Local Government Committee.