3. Partnership and austerity
Matter for discussion submitted by the RCN Greater Glasgow Branch
That RCN Congress considers the advantages and shortcomings of working in partnership with employers and governments during this period of financial austerity
Submitted by: Greater Glasgow Branch
Council lead and committee assigned: Michael Brown, Membership and Representation Committee
Committee decision: No work required
Members involved: None
Final summary update at May 2012
The discussion on this item at Congress 2011 reviewed successes and failures in partnership working at UK, national and local levels. Speakers considered the challenges of sustaining partnership during a period of tough financial constraint and the tensions that inevitably occur between employers and trade unions in times of great change and uncertainty.
There were no specific actions to take forward as this was a matter for discussion.
However, activists and officers alike are working extremely hard at all levels to sustain partnership working in difficult and challenging circumstances.
A recent study by Nicolas Bacon and Peter Samuel from the Nottingham University Business School, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, has highlighted the excellent partnership arrangements in Scotland.
Congress delegates debated effective partnerships, and whether they would continue through times of austerity, in a matter of discussion on Monday afternoon.
Proposer Graham Revie from the Greater Glasgow branch felt partnership working worked well in Scotland, but was interested to hear how it worked in the rest of the UK.
Lisa Falconer, from the UK Stewards Committee, said it is vital to be part of partnerships to benefit people who need care as many key strategic decisions are made through partnership working.
Being an RCN member is an effective partnership in itself, according to Paul Ekwuruke who works in South East London. He said: “I believe in partnerships and I believe we all believe in partnerships or we would not be here.
“It is about negotiation and talking with partners. When your partner is not reliable or makes promises without keeping promises, the partnership does not exist.”
The most important partnership must be with patients, he added.
Speaking about partnership arrangements in Wales, Gwynedd branch member Wendy Hughes said partnership work has been actively encouraged, including having a trade union representative on all health boards – many come from the RCN.
According to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), collective bargaining agreements increasingly reflect the notion of ‘partnership’ as opposed to more traditional adversarial approaches. Indeed, partnership has been promoted as a model for working relationships between employers and trade unions since the late 1990s, and indeed the RCN seeks to employ a partnership approach in its relationships with NHS and independent sector employers.
In 2001, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) established the Partnership Institute, a centre for best practice in workplace partnerships, which promotes union involvement in strategic decisions, more effective relationships between managers and union representatives, and greater employee involvement in the NHS for example.
In 2002, the National Social Partnership Forum (England) was revived as the Social Partnership Forum (SPF) to provide a forum for open communications between NHS trades unions and employers during the initial Agenda for Change policy discussions and the finalisation of the 2007 formal agreement.
The SPF has sought to embed partnership working at local and national levels, and following the 2010 general election the new Government ministerial team welcomed the opportunity afforded by the SPF in relation to entering into dialogue with trades unions. The partnership forums in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland negotiate national arrangements where Agenda for Change agreements in the NHS Staff Council provide for local flexibility.
However, tensions have already begun to emerge in relation to partnership working at a national and local level within the NHS in all four UK countries. Some confusion about the UK reach of the NHS Staff Council has arisen, for example, in the discussion of proposals for England, for example, to freeze increments.
The NHS is now under pressure to respond to the challenge of financial constraint and efficiency measures, while trades unions face the prospect of job losses and deteriorating working conditions for members alongside attempts to reduce pay terms and conditions. A key question is whether partnership working can be sustained.
In Scotland partnership working is enshrined in legislation and has embedded additional rights for all NHS staff through development of a Staff Governance Framework. (NHS Scotland, 2011) In addition it provides a number of PIN (Partnership Information Network) policies which set the minimum standard all NHS Boards must adhere to in relation to dealing with their staff. RCN Scotland debated the merits of the partnership model within NHS Scotland at last year’s RCN Scotland fringe event at Congress and the model was widely supported.
In Wales the RCN has participated in some excellent examples of partnership working – for example facilities arrangements, tackling violence against NHS staff, and empowering ward sisters - with local health boards, independent sector employers, and the Welsh Assembly Government to the real benefit of members. Members have also set out a clear policy direction for both employers and government in the Welsh Assembly election campaign manifesto Nursing Matters (Royal College of Nursing Wales, 2011).
In Ireland the Regional Partnership Forum recognises the RCN, along with other trades unions and staff and management, as a key stakeholder in the formulation and implementation of health and social care provision. Issues addressed by the Regional Partnership Forum for Northern Ireland include working time regulations, workforce planning, Agenda for Change, and violence against nurses and other health workers.
References and further reading
NHS Scotland (2011) Staff Governance Standard, Edinburgh: NHS Scotland. Available at: http://www.staffgovernance.scot.nhs.uk/what-is-staff-governance/staff-governance-standard/ (Accessed 07/02/11) (Web)
Royal College of Nursing Wales (2011) Nursing matters: Assembly election 2011, Cardiff: RCN. Available at: http://www.rcn.org.uk/wales/election2011 (Accessed 07/02/11) (Web)