This is the first of what will be a regular series of updates from me as your Council member and by keeping you as fellow members informed I hope to achieve greater engagement with my colleagues and better communication with members, the historical quality of which has led to concerns over openness and transparency. My experience of my Council members in the past - with one notable exception – was that they were distant figures, not really relevant to me and in fact I usually didn’t even know who my Council member actually was! I intend to change that and at the bottom of this update you will see my contact details, please tell me your suggestions and concerns. I will to reply to every message I receive.
We’ve been through a torrid couple of years – the disastrously managed pay settlement, the subsequent Extraordinary General Meeting and the ERS Report into the pay settlement process which led to the departure of our then Chief Executive/General Secretary (CE/GS) and other members of the Executive Team and the recall of Council for fresh elections. This led to a ‘caretaker’ one year Council pending further elections last autumn and the first meeting of the new Council with a full four year term was on Thursday 9th of January. The next meeting is on 3rd February and will be live streamed and posted on the RCN website.
Although only in post for one year, the last Council did not sit idly and achieved a huge amount. In that short space of time, Council oversaw the appointment of Donna Kinnair as our new CE/GS, the replacement of the Employment Relations Department Chief Negotiator with Josephine Brady who was responsible for organising the junior doctors’ industrial action at the British Medical Association and the reinstatement of the position of Director of Communications with the appointment of Nicole Valentinuzzi, who joins us on 3 February from the Institute for Government where she was Director of Communications and Marketing. Council oversaw the ballot of members which has led to the current industrial action in Northern Ireland, the first in our 103 year history and oversaw the initiation of a similar process in Guernsey. In Jersey, the mere threat of a Council-sanctioned ballot was enough to result in an offer which was approved by members. In addition, significant policy and procedural changes were made to bring about much greater transparency, not least of which is the live streaming of Council meetings.
All that however is in the past and we must now look forward, not backwards. We are in the middle of conducting industrial action in Northern Ireland over dangerously unsafe staffing levels and a pay deficit making nurses in the province the worst paid in the UK. In Guernsey – part of our region - members are currently discussing a ballot for industrial action for pay parity following the rejection of the latest offer by members. In March, the next round of pay negotiations for England get underway for the three year settlement from 2021. We have just started the process of a complete independent, external governance review following the resolution requiring it at Congress last year and the expectation is that it will be completed and ready to be reported on at Congress in June this year.
Our RCN is all of us - members, staff, activists, reps, elected Board, Council and Committee members working together for a common aim - the promotion of nurses and nursing. We have to overcome the issues of the past that have caused division and argument and led to the disenchantment and disengagement of so many of our members. Where our members have encountered adversity - for example in Northern Ireland, Jersey and Guernsey - we have seen massive surges in engagement and new members and we must use the lessons learned to improve engagement and thus the power of the ordinary nurse throughout the UK.
So what has this got to do with you? We cannot achieve anything without communication. Much is being done to address this from the organisation’s side but we must play our part. Talk to your colleagues about what’s happening; talk to your elected representatives and tell us what you think, what issues are facing you and what you want from us. Watch the live streamed Board and Council meetings. I have written to all the Branch Chairs and Secretaries requesting an invitation to visit your branch and learn first hand what these issues are. Come to those meetings and talk to me. In the meantime, email me on Jeremy.Benton@rcn.org.uk or follow me on my RCN Facebook page or my personal page.