Saturday, 19 April 2014

NUT Annual Conference 2014 Report- Friday 18th April

I am proud to be representing Kent, East Sussex, Brighton and Hove and Medway at Annual Conference as their Executive Member for the last time- especially as Conference is at the heart of my area, in the City of Brighton and Hove.

Friday's business is largely ceremonial- with the inauguration of the new President, Max Hyde, who takes over from Beth Davies. Beth was praised on her service to the union in a Vote of Thanks moved by Jerry Glazier- National Executive member for Essex.

The Conference welcomed a range of guests- those from our sister teacher trade unions at home and abroad, and from other kindred organisations. We heard from comedian Kate Smurthwaite- representing the campaigning organisation The People's Assembly against Austerity, from Australian Teachers' Union leader Angelo Gavrielatos (who pointed out the frightening similarities between the Gove agenda and the policies being pursued by the new right-wing Government in Australia) and Larry Flanagan of the Educational Institute of Scotland (our partner union in Scotland)

The reception of Annual Reports from the Union's partner organisations (Teachers' Assurance, Teachers' Building Society, Teachers Housing Association, and the Teacher Support Network) is usually a formality- a presentation from the organisations updating Conference on their past year's work. However, this year, there was a difference.

I had expected to be called on the debate on the motion to accept (or not- I was speaking against !)  the report of Teachers Support Network. However, after the report was moved by the Chief Executive and seconded by Christine Blower (who gave Conference a welcome warning about her reservations about the direction the charity appears to be taking); only one speaker was allowed against- a member of theTSN National Council, who spoke ofher concerns about the  processes within the organisation. I was intending to explainmy wider concerns, however, in an extraordinary decision, the President ruled that she felt there had been a "balanced debate" (what ???) and I would not be called.

I was hoping to make the following points:

TSN is reviewing its governance structures, which includes the "refocusing" and possible/probably renaming of the charity. Given the impact of such changes, these should be scrutinised carefully.

NUT members and associations support TSN generously, both due to the excellent work it does for teachers, but also because it is/was an organisation which had a long history with our Union, and appeared to be proud of its relationship with the NUT. If the TSN is now embarrassed by its formal links to our Trade Union, then many of us would reconsider where we give our money !

The governance review appears to be proposing that the NUT loses all of its rights to nominate members to serve as trustees or management members of the Charity. This would relegate us from being an integral part of the organisation to a purely passive source of money (treated a bit like a wealthy elderly relative- they don't want to listen to us, but they'd still like to get our money !)

The report to Conference contains a highly disingenuous financial table, showing the (still very healthy) level of donations to TSN from NUT sources, but juxtaposed against the "cost" of services TSN provides to NUT members: this was created to show a supposed "shortfall" of over £100,000.  My belief is that this was done to further the political agenda of the current chief executive to downplay the NUT's importance to the Charity, and thus justify marginalising the Union. 

The figures, however, only included donations directly from NUT Associations, or from NUT members who make a donation as part of their membership sub.  It did not recognise A SINGLE PENNY of the money donated by NUT members or retired NUT members as regular Direct Debit subscribers to the Charity, nor did it recognise a penny of legacies left to the Charity by departed NUT members. Why not ? Because this would not suit the agenda of the current TSN leadership.  Who says the figures can't lie ?!

I want the TSN to continue as a successful charity supporting all teachers. The NUT has been at the heart of the Charity's work for over 130 years- from the days of the Benevolent and Orphans' "bob", to its days as the Teachers' Benevolent Fund, and now as TSN.  I want to fight to ensure we are still an active and engaged partner long after the current leadership is gone and forgotten.

In an almost unprecedented move- despite the debate being cut short (and several delegates noticed my slightly theatrical-sorry- reaction at being blocked from speaking) the Conference voted very clearly NOT to formally receive the Annual Report of the TSN.   This is largely a gesture, but it sends a clear message to the TSN and to the NUT members who are on the National Council, that our Union is not going to sit quietly while the leadership of the Charity seek to remove us as partners in the organisation we have supported for so long !

Conference also agreed to suspend standing orders (ie. change the agenda) to allow two debates on priority motions- these must relate to events that have occurred or changed since the deadline for normal motions and amendments.  Conference agreed to us debating the Stand up for Education and trade dispute campaign, and the situation around Sixth Form funding.

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