Mention must be made of the fact that we might have seen the last address from the current General Secretary as the post is up for election early next year. Despite the now routine attempts at rousing and posturing, I thought it was a particularly lack-lustre performance with absolutely nothing new to say about our professional predicament. Am I alone in thinking we could have done without the diversion of a commentary on world affairs and politics and rather more on matters closer to home and directly affecting members and clients alike?
Regular glances along the top table for any hint of reaction confirmed what I can best describe as 'uniform inscrutability'. It must be obvious to all that a new face is required and despite confirmation that the current office holder is willing to serve again, I sincerely hope he can be encouraged to 'read the runes' and an extra miners lamp can be purchased as soon as possible.
The union might well "not been in a good place" when he took over, but it's sure as hell not in a good place now having lost many hundreds of members through redundancies, early retirement and general disillusionment, leading to the inevitable staggering annual deficit of quarter of a million pounds. It must be fairly clear that only a fresh face, combined with a sensible recovery strategy and effective organisational structure can have any hope of reversing the trend and avoid merger or collapse.
The closest conference came to an examination of these issues was when the time came to debate Motion 2 Napo - the future:-
Napo has existed for over a hundred years and is now the only Trade Union and Professional Association representing the industrial and professional interests of Probation and Family Court staff. In the last few years Napo has faced significant threats, from Transforming Rehabilitation devastating the Probation profession in England and Wales, to the cynical cancellation of check off in the NPS. In addition, the nature of the workforces we represent is changing and the proportion of retired members is increasing. We need to be as relevant, engaging and supportive to new entrants to Probation and Family Courts as we are to existing members.
This AGM notes:
- the reports from the Officers, Officials and the NEC of efforts being made to change the way that Napo operates to better respond to the new world of work that exists across all employers;
- endorses the commitment made by the Officers and NEC to work to maintain Napo as an independent Trade Union and Professional Association for Probation and Family Courts;
- instructs Officers, Officials and NEC to prioritise work which contributes to this commitment and to take account of this in their decision making throughout the year.
In my assessment this motion succeeded in flushing out one of the most serious problems Napo has yet to deal with effectively; that of poor communication and ineffective management structures. Contributions from the floor confirmed that many members do not feel involved or engaged with internal decision-making and policy development and are blissfully ignorant regarding the NEC, what it does, how it operates and what decisions it makes. It would seem simple enough to publish the minutes on the Napo website, with suitable redactions for confidential matters.
None of this should be surprising of course because the NEC has been known to be completely dysfunctional for years with most of its meetings still either inquorate or cancelled. All this became embarrassingly clear at last years AGM and despite promises of reforms, the situation obviously hasn't improved much. This can't go on and must be addressed or the oft-quoted mantra of being a 'member-led' union will sound increasingly hollow and do nothing in assisting the aim of reversing membership losses.
In considering the motion, it was clear that members were uneasy about giving 'carte-blanche' support to something that seemed 'wooly' and was not backed-up by appropriate policy papers. There appeared to be widespread lack of knowledge regarding the 'Pride in Napo' initiative, what its status was, but most concerning of all, discussion drew an astonishing admission from the top table of an assumption that "people know what's going on".
Matters were not assisted in my view by the thorny issue of NEC quoracy having been tabled and voted on the day before:-
CA1. Amending the Quorum of the NEC
The purpose of this Constitutional Amendment is to amend the Quorum of the NEC. In Clause 16 (g) National Executive Committee: Delete “2/3 rds of” and replace with “15” So the new clause reads as follows: 16 (g) A quorum of the NEC shall consist of 15 voting members.
Proposer: National Executive Committee
During the course of very limited discussion, the key question of 'what's the current rule regarding quoracy?' met with a hesitant top table response of "two thirds or 17" and that had to be amended the following day to "20 but it's complicated depending on if officials are included or not".
It all leads to the impression of muddle and confusion, a situation compounded by another NEC motion tabled the day before:-
CA2. Diversity and NEC
The purpose of this Constitutional Amendment is to better reflect diversity within Napo on the NEC.
In Clause 16(b) delete ‘two black members’ and replace with ‘three Napo diversity representatives, self-declaring as Black, disabled or LGBT+ ’.
In Clause 16(c) delete and replace with ‘The Association will elect bi-annually by secret ballot three Napo diversity representatives. The diversity representatives’ seats will be reserved in the following categories. One seat for a Black representative, one seat for a disabled representative and one seat for LGBT+ representative. Each seat shall be filled by a member self-declaring from that relevant category. None may hold the post for more than four years in succession. Candidates for election as a diversity representative to the NEC shall be nominated in writing by branches with the consent of the nominee. Nominations shall be delivered to the General Secretary in accordance with the timetable for NEC elections set out in the Napo Calendar.’
In section 16(e) delete ‘black representatives’ and replace with ‘diversity representatives’.
Proposer: National Executive Committee
Again the motion was carried after very limited discussion, but resulted in further embarrassing admissions the following day that misleading answers had been given to questions regarding the effect of the changes on the position of women. As a result the decision was reversed, adding further to the unfortunate impression of systemic dysfunctionality.
I've said it before - several years ago, admittedly - but it's worth repeating I think that the union really would benefit from investing in some expert outside advice concerning its internal organisational and management structures. It's also the point at which to note that I only heard one mention of a very large elephant being present in the room in the shape of staffing costs. Any organisation suffering a catastrophic loss in income for any reason would be expected to look at the payroll as part of cost-cutting exercises. Of course this is only possible if there are effective internal management structures in place, something I suspect many would question.