2016 briefing for trades union councils:
Midlands TUC Combined Authorities meeting for West Midlands Trades Union Councils.
There was no agenda published for the meeting. It was chaired by George Hickman as President of West Mids Catuc. There were no introductions at the start of the meeting and I did not know everyone in the room. George announced that every West Midlands trades council was represented. Aprox 25-30 people attended.
At the start of the meeting George spoke at length about the importance of the Catuc and that it was not going away. He stated that it was in the rules that all trades councils get on board with it and that he would work to bring all elements into the fold. Eventually I interrupted the chair and asked if we were here to talk about WMCatuc Or about the combined authority. He wound up and handed over to Cllr Darren Cooper
Cllr Cooper introduced himself. A working class lad from Smethwick and a committed trade unionist. He then went on to talk about the dilemma of forming a joint authority. The main points were as follows:
Local jealousies had prevented joint working in the past but all were now working hard to overcome this. He felt that authorities had never really been able to get their act together. He said Parochialism never allowed us to come together with one voice. Last labour government allowed Labour Authorities to work together in a more collabourative way. The combined authority Sets down a legal framework for this. He stressed that ‘We will not be amalgamating councils’. He felt it important for each area to still have their own identity but work together collaboratively. ‘Efficiencies required can't be achieved in isolation’.
They had no choice but to set up a joint authority in order to draw down much needed resources. Combined authority had to be set up as a dictate from central govt.
In order to obtain combined authority status a Mayor was being imposed by the government. Cllr Cooper said Mayoral role needed and we need to ensure it is someone who will have the power to bang on Cameron's door.
He took questions from the floor.
Daryl from Coventry TUC
He questioned whether it was Devolution of powers or implementing the governments cuts agenda. He felt that the Torres were very cleverly shifting the blame for the cuts to a Regional level blaming LA’s rather than Govt.
There was a small debate about the integrity of combined authorities and mayor, obtaining much needed resources versus it being a charade for implimenting Tory cuts and privatisation of public services including the NHS which was facing a shift to regionalisation on route to privatisation as part of the break up of NHS.
Trade Union Representation
The other issue discussed was representatives on the combined authority. Apparently there is provision for three trade union representatives with non-voting rights to sit on the board. It was explained that this followed the northern power house(Manchester) model and the non-voting rights was about protecting board reps from having to vote for cuts. George and WMCATUC were advocating that these representatives should be lay members and not full time officials. Cllr Cooper explainedthe Governance model with the leaders having portfolios based on current local govt structure. There are current scrutiny commissions set up for Transport and Jobs.
Cllr cooper claimed Democracy runs back to authorities and the electorate. Scrutiny meant accountability along the scrutiny model.
He was seeking an Inclusive combined authority with representation from vol and trade Union sector.He insisted he was ‘driving agenda on T U representation’.
I asked about the cllrs on the combined authority who as well as trade union representatives could be standing up for labour movement principles as they were elected to do. Will they ensure policy adheres to agreed principles such as national collective bargaining for instance? Cllr Cooper replied that the would never agree to the fragmentation of national bargaining and was appalled by the disgraceful attacks from this government.
I also asked about the current position, timescales and process involved in string up the combine authority. Cllr Cooper explained that theSeven met authorities all need to formally agree to join a combined authority by 1st June 2016. Next stage is the devolution deal, when it will introduce the concept of Mayor. He wanted it enshrined in the deal as part of the governance model outlined earlier and explained due diligence is required. He felt there was a need to ensure things are not slipped in that come back and bite us. If all authorities agree, it would be tabled before parliament in Nov. Mayor elections would be held in May 2017.
Cllr cooper then had to leave the meeting.
Lee Baron regional secretary
Notes of his contribution to the meeting:
Chair of combined authority is Tory. Daren is the vice chair. This was a strategic decision at this stage. Half an eye on possible outcome of May local elections.
Some in TUC see trades council as part of the problem. Not in west Mids and that position is changing under Francis o Grady. She is very clear that as an activist you get involved in union and then go to trades councils. We need to bring back this intrinsic link. Part and parcel of this.
Spread the debate not stifle it.
Devolution and decentralisation - regionalisation and imposition.
If we stand back it might just pass us by. Use our influence where best we can. Use this to engage and get resources for our people. Elections in May could result in four Tory and three lab Authorities. Want things in place prior to this in case. Seeking three non-voting right. Three ‘Leps’ and we want like for like. Met with all five leaders and had the discussion with them.
Derby city council employment charter.
Standards input to avoid the race to the bottom.
Charter used. Meeting with Dudley. In six weeks could be a change in administration. Use the areas of influence.
Meet like this on a fairly regular basis. Bring people together to discuss.
Trades council play a critical role.
Regional TUC. National TUC of a mind. Devolution and decentralisation should work for people. Make most of the opportunities.
Need for recognition agreements with companies the combined authorities use.
Questions for Lee. Three Nonvoting seats.
Demand voting seats?
Need to know what the local Councils are thinking because they will hide behind the combined authority.
Non-voting done deliberately. View taken that we don't want to put people in position of voting for cuts for example. Collectively responsibility. Non-voting as in Manchester power house.
Who will be blamed for cuts. Can now blame combined authority instead of govt.
Combined conference labour and TUC’s. See what the structure looks like after May.
LepS don't have voting rights either.
Immediate issue nature of economic strategy. Max private profit. Nothing about economic growth to meet social needs nothing about equality nothing about green economy.
Hs2 massively hyped. Need to press for evidence they claim. Combined authority pressing productivity. Who does it blame for low rate. workers skills deficit.
Manchester combined authority skills underutilised. Real problem lack of investment. Corbyns demand of setting up a national investment bank crucial.
Birmingham TUC rep Richard spoke at Manchester TUC and learnt from them develop an network for sharing ideas.
Regional reps feedback to local TUCs and clear protocols. And accountability needed.
The meeting broke up with an indication of the intention for further meetings.
M. Taylor WB&DTUC delegate April 2016