The last year has been the busiest in the history of Greater London Branch
Re-reading my report to last year’s AGM it is hard to believe that there was so much to report back about the consequences of the selling off of Community Payback to SERCO, and other re-structuring exercises in London Probation Trust, that the Transforming Rehabilitation Plans did not get a mention until over half way through the report.
To state the obvious the work of the branch since the last AGM has been dominated by TR.
The initial consultation had already been concluded and in May Chris Grayling announced his plans to dissolve the trusts. Already Greater London Branch had set up a “War Cabinet” which met regularly throughout the early part of the summer to devise a campaign plan.
With agreement from the Senior Management Team, we participated in as many of the office based briefing sessions as we could. Together with the other Branch Officers I personally attended over a dozen office meetings during the months of September and October, trying to make members aware of the potential consequences of these proposed changes. Usually the managers charged with conducting these briefing sessions were very grateful for our input and, as a consequence of our presence, we gained many new members.
I made a promise to members that wherever Grayling went I would try to be there too and, throughout the latter part of last year, I have been outside the MOJ on many occasions. With other Branch Officers and activists I have been to the Houses of Parliament to meet sympathetic MP’s such as Jenny Chapman. I have been to meetings where Nick Clegg and Chris Grayling have been speaking and left them in no doubt of the views of this branch. With David Masterson and David Raho, I went to Brighton for the Labour Party Conference where we joined members from other branches in making sure that Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Kahn knew exactly what NAPO thought.
Unfortunately the nationally organised Lobby of Parliament on 9th October took place on the same day as my mother’s 100th Birthday Party. But I know that Greater London Branch was, as always, well represented at an event that was one of the largest lobbies, by a trade union, seen in recent times.
The National AGM in October was attended by over seventy members from this branch. GLB members spoke in a variety of debates from both sides and other branches commented favorably on the diversity of opinions that can, and do, exist within London.
At the National AGM Ian Lawrence announced that NAPO would be calling for Strike action the following month. As soon as we got back from Llandudno the other Branch officers and I set about devising a plan of action to organise for the strike. We made it our priority to set up office meetings and attend local briefings to rally support. We provided support to local activists and advice on how to organise picket lines. David Raho drew up a model Press Statement which we distributed widely and, using the experience gained as a Branch Press Officer when we were last on strike over twenty five years ago, I advised members on how best to get media attention.
The response was fantastic. Over 50% of members joined the action and I don’t think there was a local paper that did not cover the Strike. I saw photographs of striking branch members everywhere.
We also organised an open topped “Battle Bus” which went through Central London stopping at the MOJ, the Houses of Parliament, the RCJ and the Old Bailey and we made sure our voices were heard. We were joined on this bus by journalists, members working in NOMS and also the National Chair of NAPO.
The rest of the year saw us continuing our campaigning activity in parliament and the press with some degree of success. Certainly one of my highlights was when I was interviewed by The Artist Taxi Driver which was subsequently posted on YouTube. I am advised that it has had over four thousand “hits”. Another first for me was being invited on to “Colourful Radio” which is one of the most popular community radio stations in London.
Although I personally am a bit old fashioned when it comes to matters technological, I soon realised how important social media is to any modern campaigning activity. Our consistently high social media presence has contributed to NAPO entering the top 5 position as one of the ‘most mentioned’ social media users in the UK trade union movement. To put this achievement in context, NAPO are ahead of some much larger trade unions that employ full time staff solely tasked with maintaining their social media profile.
NAPO’s campaigning activities, both nationally and locally, continued into the New Year. I have written numerous letters on behalf of the branch to MP’s and the press. Letters to The Guardian and The Evening Standard were even published. I know I am not the only one doing this and it is a particular source of pride when I see other letters published from members of this branch. On this score Mike Guilfoyle deserves a special mention.
NAPO had a visible presence this year at London Pride and I am proud to have been able to offer LAGIP and others financial assistance to facilitate this.
Over the course of the year I have sought to ensure that this branch has played its part in meetings and events set up by our National Officers and Officials. I have attended Justice Alliance Rallies, Howard League events and other political demonstrations. Together with David Raho I even attended a NOMS Seminar. We have made particularly good links with the Howard League who have shared with us some of their contacts and media strategies. Indeed if it had not been for us there would not have been any photographs of Frances Crook handing in a dossier on private company contracts to the Serious Fraud Office at New Scotland Yard as her Press Officer forgot to charge his camera battery.
I organised a coach to take members to Birmingham when it was announced that there would be an SGM in March. At this meeting our General Secretary announced that there would be further strike action later that same month. The Branch Officers and I immediately contacted all the local activists from the last strike to encourage them to try to get members to support this latest action.
Regrettably this second strike was not as well supported by members as the first. About 20% of branch members took strike action; a situation that was replicate throughout the country. Nevertheless there was a well supported rally outside the Houses of Parliament at which I was one of the Guest Speakers. We then marched to the MOJ where we sang Happy Birthday to Chris Grayling and presented him with the biggest cake I have ever seen.
At an office meeting last summer members asked if I could communicate with them more regularly as the TR plans started to unfold. Well I think I have certainly done that. I have personally sent out over sixty e-mails to members of this branch and am starting to run out of ideas for catchy titles which are designed to pique your interest and encourage you to open them.
Including the last AGM there have been 6 branch meetings with an average attendance of 58. All but one of our branch meetings have been quorate. We have had some amazing speakers including Lord Ramsbotham, Matt Foot ( Justice Alliance), Frances Crook (Howard League), John McDonnell MP, PJ McParlin (National Chair POA), and Lee Jasper (Co-Chair of BARAC).Indeed the range of speakers at GLB meetings would not be out of place at a national NAPO meeting.
All of this activity notwithstanding, we have tried to carry on with “business as usual” in the branch, just as you all have been doing in your offices. Requests for information from members have increased in these uncertain times and I have done my best to respond to every enquiry as quickly and as thoroughly as I can. Requests for formal representation have continued unabated despite the upheavals and, with the help of the other Branch Officers and our other accredited representatives, I have responded to all such requests speedily and appropriately.
Since the end of last year, together with the Branch Vice-Chairs, I have attended regular weekly meetings with Senior Management to discuss the “measures” that were needed to implement the TR plans. While leaving everyone in no doubt of the strength of our opposition to these plans, it was important that we participated in these meetings to try to ensure that members’ interests were protected as far as possible. I negotiated an agreed appeals procedure for the Sifting Process and a procedure for dealing with the grievances members were asked to submit as part of a nationally agreed plan of action. I did what I could to slow the transfer process down and it gives me a degree of satisfaction that London was one of the last areas to split its staff.
I am now actively engaged in setting up consultative and negotiating structures, with the senior managers of both the London CRC and London NPS, to ensure that there continues to be forums where this trade union can represent the interest of its members.
Members will be aware that, in order to protect the interests of those members who now work for SERCO I recruited Jack Cohen, accredited National Representative, to attend their negotiating committee meetings and represent them individually where necessary. I was responsible for conducting the TUPE negotiations when LPT staff were originally transferred to SERCO and this experience will stand me in good stead when they are transferred back into the CRC. Indeed the whole experience of representing members in SERCO will be useful if the CRC does get sold off.
There have been many changes in the national group of Officers and Officials but this branch has benefited from having a stable group of Branch Officers and Branch Executive members. I know my photograph seems sometimes to be everywhere but believe me I could not possibly do this all on my own. I would like to thank the other Branch Officers and the Executive members for their support and for pulling together in what has undoubtedly been a difficult year.
I cannot complete an annual report without giving thanks to our Branch Administrator Beverley Cole. Many of you will not know of all the work she does but a branch of this size could not possibly function without her.
And finally I want to give thanks to all the members of this branch. Without you there is no union.