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Local Government Service Group Conference 15-16 June 2008

Scotland teamwork dumps two-conference plan

John Stevenson
John Stevenson
Denise McClafferty
Denise McLafferty
Kate Ramsden
Kate Ramsden
Sandra Kennie
Sandra Kennie

Scotland's teamwork and old-fashioned debating skills combined to win the shock rejection of a motion to detach Local Government Conference from National Conference and move it to April alongside the Health Conference.

It looked like there was a huge majority of England and Wales branches supporting the motion until the last minute when many changed their view in light of arguments made by Scotland in the debate. It has been a long time since a debate created such a shift and the motion was beaten by 6,000 in a card vote.

While there are good arguments for closer working between Local Government and Health, especially with shared services, the motion dwelt more on specious arguments that the change would suit people with caring responsibilities and give the conference a higher profile.

John Stevenson, City if Edinburgh, exploding one argument for change said, "It is not WHEN local government conference is held that gives it a profile - it is HOW it is held. It is about the profile WE give it and it is about the issues WE bring to it.

"If we do want a better profile, why are we piggy-backing on the health conference? Surely we don't need a conference so we can talk and work with our health colleagues?"

John added that although the motion mentions, not once but twice, the benefits for those with caring responsibilities, this is a bit of a smokescreen for most delegates. For many, two separate conferences will mean 10 not 7 days away from home.

"Add to that the fact that we have a host of public holidays in April across Scotland, as well as our annual Regional and Local Government Conferences and we have the Scottish Trades Union Congress. Another Conference in April won't help when it comes to care arrangements."

"We also need to wake up to the reality of devolution in our countries and the reality of a devolution agenda in our own union," warned John. "With the key service conditions decisions being taken in devolved bargaining and legal structures, you could see why delegates may not see a UK wide conference separated from Delegate Conference as all that relevant and that could affect attendance."

Denise McLafferty, West Dumbartonshire picked up on the caring argument when she told conference of the impact on one of her two young children of leaving him in the crèche. "Once he gets used to it he settles down and enjoys it, but I would not want him to have to do that at two separate times in the year," she said.

She had also left her 17 year old at home on her own. "At this very moment she has, what in Glasgow we call "an empty," so you can imagine what she'll be doing," she told conference. "I don't know about the rest of you but I can't afford to have my carpet cleaned twice a year!"

Aberdeenshire's Kate Ramsden, spoke of the additional demands of travel for branches at a distance from conference venues. "A two day conference for those of us in remote parts of Scotland will become four days away from home," she said, adding that if this motion is passed there is a real risk that branches in Scotland will find it harder to find delegates willing and able to come - especially smaller branches with a smaller pool of activists.

And responding to a previous speaker who referred to a motion passed earlier, that pay claims in England and Wales should be timetabled to ensure that any industrial action will start no later than April, Kate challenged, "Why would you want to be trotting down to a conference in April anyway? Shouldn't you be in your branches co-ordinating and supporting the industrial action?"

The themes of travel and the impact of that on care arrangements for those with dependants was further emphasised by Sandra Kennie of East Lothian branch, herself a carer for an adult dependant. "My main concern is to make sure there is as little possible disruption to the dependant I have left at home," she told delegates, adding that her current absence of 7 days would increase to 10 days of disruption.

She also spoke of her concerns that if smaller branches find themselves unable to send delegates to two separate conferences, their funding will be reduced because they haven't attended their national service group conference.

All the Scottish speakers called on the Service Group executive to think again and on a card vote, conference sent them to do just that!