Delegate’s Report – Labour East Regional Conference 2017

By David Flack

Held at the Marriott Hotel, Huntingdon, 17-19 November 

Prior to the conference – The organisation was not good our CLP and a number of others did not receive adequate notice of the submission deadlines for delegates, elections and resolution submission. The regional director insisted that notices were sent out by email to secretaries but many delegates from Essex were reporting the same issues. This probably explains why the elections to the regional board were not contested!

Conference began on the Friday night with a reception with Ian McNichol and Andrew Gwynne MP the labour Party national campaign co-ordinator. Andrew Gwynne made a very good speech and set a positive tone for the conference.

Conference opened at on the Saturday morning with a welcome speech from the Chair of the Huntingdon CLP followed by a brief speech from Cameron Scott the Regional Director. This was followed by the conference arrangements committee report.

Iain McNicol, Labour Party General Secretary and Andrew Gwynne, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government/National Campaign Co-ordinator both gave a general Election report congratulating the three new Labour MPs elected from the eastern region.

There was a limited choice of workshops for the rest of the morning, these were –

  • Promote Labour’s Digital Campaign
  • Print Running an effective print campaign
  • Local government session with Andrew Gwynne

I attended the ‘Print running an effective print campaign’ which proved to be of little utility to our CLP as apparently in order to run an effective election campaign around £12,000 is needed (we have less than £500 in total).

11:45 am There was a debate on resolutions 1 – 3 printed below. As these resolutions printed below were universally accepted by all delegates present the debate was short and Nall resolutions were passed ‘Nem Com’

Mail has paid out over £620m in dividends to private shareholders, just under £500,000 every day. Last year alone Royal Mail’s CEO saw her pay packet increase by 23%

Conference believes Royal Mail is an important public service and part of our national infrastructure that should be re-nationalised by a Labour government and brought back together with the Post Office in public ownership at the earliest opportunity.

Conference therefore:

  • Expresses solidarity with and gives full backing to postal workers and the CWU in their dispute with Royal Mail;
  • Calls upon all Eastern Region CLPs to mobilise support for future picket lines and contact local CWU branches to express solidarity in the dispute; and
  • Asks all Eastern Region Labour MPs, MEPs and councillors to make clear statements in support of CWU members in Royal Mail.

Resolution 2

Fire and Rescue Cuts in the Eastern Region- FBU

This conference moved a motion last year which highlighted the devastating loss of over 800 emergency firefighters & control staff along with fire engines and fire stations in the Eastern Region as a result of an ideologically driven austerity led by the Conservative Party. The motion called on conference to instruct all Labour MPs and Councillors across the region to campaign against and make efforts to reverse these cuts, and we are very pleased to see that many did. In particular, conference congratulates those local branches that included the opposition to fire service cuts in their manifestos, as did the national party for the first time since the 1940s. Sadly despite the efforts of local Labour politicians, CLPs and members the viciousness of the Tory attacks on our fire service, and the men and women who deliver it, has only got worse both nationally and locally.

Over the period of the coalition government and the subsequent Conservative administration over 11,000 frontline firefighter jobs were cut nationally, equating to almost one-in-five (19%) of the total firefighting force being lost during this period. Nearly 8,000 of those cut were whole-time firefighters, while nearly 3,000 on-call firefighters were also lost.

More than a quarter of control staff (who handle emergency calls and mobilise fire crews, along with giving lifesaving advice to those in need) have also been cut. Every brigade has suffered in all parts of the UK and the East of England has been no exception, we have now witnessed the loss of over 900 emergency firefighters and control staff in our region. This is all against the back drop of 7 years of pay restraint and pension attacks leaving firefighters more than £2000 a year worse off in real terms than they were in 2010 if we use the government’s measuring stick of CPI. The amount rises to almost £5000 worse off if we use RPI.

As a result of these cuts the Fire Services in the East of England have witnessed emergency response times to fires and other incidents steadily increase. We simply do not have the resources or capacity to respond to incidents such as the recent Grenfell tower tragedy in the way that our colleagues so bravely did in London.

Therefore conference reiterates its instruction of last year to all Labour MPs, Councillors and candidates across the region to highlight and oppose the cuts to the fire service at every opportunity. We ask that they take positive steps in addressing the funding and resourcing of Fire and Rescue Services in the East of England. In addition to this, conference notes that local elections are fast approaching in many boroughs and districts across the region and calls upon all local branches to align with the direction of the national party and include the opposition to fire service cuts in all local manifestos.

Resolution 3

End the public sector pay cap- Unison/GMB

This Conference notes that:

  • Pay squeezes in the public sector have now been in force for almost a decade, with the real-terms impact on workers running into thousands of pounds of cuts.
  • CPIH inflation stands at 2.6%, according to ONS data and since 2010 the real value of pay (when looking at inflation costs including rent) is nearly a 20% reduction.
  • There is no democratic mandate for this scale of cuts: the policy has gone further than either coalition party promised in their manifestos for the 2010 general election and was not presented as part of the Conservative 2015 manifesto.
  • The squeeze on pay has had a disproportionate impact on women, with women making up two-thirds of the public sector workforce.
  • The likelihood of rising inflation following Brexit will worsen the problem, raising the total real-terms cost of the average full-time public sector worker to £4,073 by 2020.
  • The public supports an end to the pay squeeze. Independent polling carried out by Survation found that 75% of all voters support above-inflation increases in public sector pay, including 69% of Conservative voters.
  • The squeeze on pay has put pressure on staff recruitment and retention. This is likely to be a contributing factor to the massive £2 billion (28%) increase in spending on temporary and contract staff between 2011/12 and 2014/15.
  • That whilst there is widespread public support for public services and those who provide them, the government have failed to end the public sector pay cap and deliver the meaningful pay rise all public service workers need and deserve. Services are already suffering from recruitment and retention problems.
  • The government can afford to end the pay cap early. By reversing its cuts to Corporation Tax rates, the Government could meet the £8.5 billion needed in this parliament to end the pay squeeze across the whole public sector.

This Conference believes that:

  • Pay for public sector workers should not be set by arbitrary government caps, but by collective bargaining and Pay Review Bodies that can better address the complexity of pay decisions.
  • The government needs to take responsibility and fully fund increases in pay; it should not put the burden on public sector employers such as local authorities whose funding has already been cut to the bone.

This Conference supports both GMB’s and UNISONs campaigns to end the public sector pay pinch and to pay up now and calls on the government to commit to:

  • An end to public sector real term pay cuts
  • Proper funding for public services
  • Restoration of independence for the Pay Review Bodies
  • A real Living Wage of at least £10 an hour for all public sector workers
  • That Labour in the East push for Labours national manifesto to commit to a fully-funded, above-inflation pay rise across all public services, reversing the impact of the pay cap and restoring real-terms public sector pay to pre-financial crisis levels over the course of the next Labour parliament.

This Conference calls on all Labour Groups in the Eastern Region to submit motions on Public sector pay for debate at full meetings of their council.
Lunch from 12.50 to 1.50 included the following fringe meetings

  • Alex Mayer MEP – What should Labour’s red lines be on future trade deals?
  • Unite – The challenge of automation
  • FBU – Fire cuts in the Eastern Region.

I attended the FBU presentation which graphically demonstrated how cuts to manpower and equipment due to austerity was extending response times and endangering lives.

After Lunch – Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn 

Jeremy electrified the audience with his powerful and authentic speech painting an alternative vision to the declining wages and growing poverty under the Conservatives. He gave everyone in the hall a clear vision of how the next Labour Government would repair the fabric of society, fix the supply of housing and heal the NHS

Following Jeremy’s speech there were the following workshops

  • Print 101 – what makes good print, delivering your message
  • Promote – Labour’s Digital Campaign
  • Campaign Planning – running a successful campaign

Rounding off the afternoon there were debates on two further resolutions which were unanimously supported.

Resolution 4

Regional Schools Commissioner- Broadland CLP

Labour East Regional Conference is concerned at the role and conduct of the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) for the East of England.

Conference notes that the current post holder was until her appointment on the 1st August a civil servant working in the Department for Education.

She replaced Tim Coulson who had previously been the Director of Education at Essex County Council.

Conference notes that since leaving his post in August 2017 he has become the Chief Executive of the Samuel Ward Academy Trust, which runs schools across Suffolk.

Conference believes that there is a conflict of interest in simultaneously rewarding RSCs for turning schools into academies and at the same time tasking them with identifying schools for academisation.

Furthermore there is a revolving door developing with RSCs drawn from the ranks of academy trusts and often moving on to become the CEO of academy trusts when they leave office.

Conference therefore calls upon the Region’s MPs and Councillors to monitor the role of the RSC East of England and its impact on our local schools and to report back to the Regional Board.

I spoke in support of this resolution and called for the Labour Party to end the fragmentation of Education and establish a fully Comprehensive system where every child has a well-trained and qualified teacher. With no stereotypical ceilings placed upon what a child is able to achieve.

Resolution 5

PCCs Enhanced Responsibility- Hertfordshire LCF 

The Government have recently conferred new responsibilities on the Police & Crime Commissioners to bring under their remit the budgetary and administrative management of the local Fire and Rescue Services.

Given the Tory preference for cutting public services this now puts at risk the very nature of safety in our communities. For a number of years now Tory PCCs have presided over cuts to policing, rising crime and the very real threat of scrapping PCSOs.

Given the record of Hertfordshire’s PCC when in charge of the Fire & Rescue Service at the County Council, where he cut frontline firefighters as well as closing Fire Stations the fear is that this will be replicated across the Region and the Country as well.

This conference calls on the next Labour Government to abolish the posts of PCCs and return the responsibility of Policing, operational & administrative to Chief Constables & the Fire and Rescue Service to Chief Fire Officers In conjunction with local elected authorities.

Rayleigh and Wickford CLP submitted a resolution on Social Care to the conference: Raleigh and Wickford CLP passed the following resolution on 2nd November –

Conference calls upon the next Labour government to ensure the full integration of the NHS and Social Care with adequate funding to provide a seamless first class Health and Welfare Service.  Within this structure the false classification of Alzheimer’s disease as non-medical should be removed so that patients suffering from this disease are treated like all other patients in the NHS. Further conference calls upon the next Labour Government to end the poverty funding conditions in social care and ensure so that those working as carers receive the support and wages needed to provide a high standard of care.

Submitted on behalf of Rayleigh and Wickford CLP

David Flack – Chair

But the CAC did not include it in the agenda, I propose that we submit it to the NEC.

Conference closed at 5.0pm and was followed by repeats of these fringe meetings

  • Alex Mayer MEP – What does Brexit mean for the East of England?
  • Jewish Labour Movement – Confronting anti-Semitism and engaging with Jewish voters
  • Unison – Public Sector Pay

I attended the Gala dinner at 7.30 withSpecial guest, Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Secretary of State for Health.

Sunday 19th November

09:45 am – Brexit and beyond – Emily Thornberry, Shadow Foreign Secretary and Alex Mayer MEP both gave excellent speeches highlighting the chaotic negotiations and the danger of a hard Brexit.

11:00 am – Katy Clark, Chair of Labour Party democracy review introduced the consultation on the internal democracy of the party. I expressed my concern the review workshops seemed to be organised on the lines of the failed Policy forums and that we needed to restore a collective democratic structure that allowed members tohave an effective input into policy through their CLP’s.

11:10 am – Party democracy review workshops took place and their was considerable support for the view that the Policy Forum process was not working.

12:30 pm – Closing remarks – Sandy Martin MP

12:40 pm – Red flag/Jerusalem

12:50 pm – Conference closed

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