UCU congress faces executive decision

Cut on cards as union looks to live within its means

May 2, 2013

Radical plans to more than halve the size of the University and College Union’s executive committee could be approved this month alongside proposals to slash the union’s spending in the face of falling membership.

More than 500 delegates will debate a series of measures at the UCU’s annual congress, to be held in Brighton from 29 to 31 May, which are likely to lead to sweeping changes to the union’s governance and day-to- day activities.

Branch representatives will be presented with five models on the size and make-up of the UCU’s national executive committee, which is responsible for deciding the union’s business between congresses.

The most drastic proposal is to reduce the 72-strong committee to 30 members by removing allocated seats for pre-1992 and post-1992 institutions, adult community education staff and teachers working in prisons.

Each region would have only two dedicated members - one for higher education and one for further education - in addition to eight equality officers and five national officers.

The remaining alternative models posit 44 NEC seats while abandoning the regional structure for higher education representation; 63 seats with one regional seat per 5,000 members; 71 seats with a reorganisation of the committee’s structure; and the status quo.

The proposals have been put forward by a commission on union democracy that was established at last year’s congress in Manchester.

Its formation follows delegates’ rejection of plans by Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary, to reduce the NEC’s size.

The proposals had been supported by more than 80 per cent of the 23,000 members who voted last spring in an e-ballot on the issue before June’s congress.

However, delegates argued that the national poll should not override the union’s decision-making process via individual branch representatives attending congress.

Some maintained that reducing the NEC numbers was a move by Ms Hunt to weaken UCU Left, whose members dominated the executive until last year’s elections. Losses in successive ballots reversed a six-seat UCU Left majority in 2011 and resulted in a 16-seat majority for moderates this year.

Since the 2012 congress, the issue of the UCU’s perilous financial state has also come to the fore, with the union losing 5,500 members in 2011-12 amid job cuts in the sector - a decline set to continue.

Delegates will be asked to vote on plans to cut the UCU’s annual expenditure by £2 million by 2015, while subscription rates are also set to rise by 3.2 per cent in line with inflation.

Figures released by the UCU show that £1 million has been earmarked for voluntary severance payments from its £18.1 million budget for 2012-13, indicating that job losses are already under way.

Reducing the size of the NEC, which costs about £250,000 a year to run, is unlikely to secure significant savings, but is seen by reformers as crucial for improving the union’s governance.

Proposals to hold the congress, which costs £500,000 a year, on a biannual basis are not currently on the agenda.

A spokesman for the union said that the budget plans would address the financial shortfall caused by lower membership and secure the UCU’s future as an independent trade union. “The NEC’s recovery plan, which will now be considered by congress, is designed to enable us to live within our means while continuing to organise effectively and support members when they need us,” he said.


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