AGM 2021 General Secretary Address - Ian Lawrence

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Good morning Conference, I’m Ian Lawrence General Secretary. Proud and privileged to be here with you all in person and to  welcome those joining us remotely.

Two things I need to get out of the way early on, first my hair; which has attracted a good deal of interest and has caused a number of people to walk past me as if we had never met before.

So in answer to your questions its real; its not a transplant and its not a hair piece but I am glad that you wont get a chance to vote on whether you believe me or not!

Secondly, wherever you are I expect you are as fed up as I am reading about how people have overindulged on food and drink during the last 19 months. So take my advice and straight after Conference please make a new resolution to give up .... reading!

First some thanks to those former employees who have served our members so diligently since the last AGM

  • Sarah Friday who was appointed to Napo in 2012 and had responsibility for Health and Safety and as Lead Official for Women in Napo, and whom we are delighted to welcome here today. Sarah has moved on to a new career with the Rail Maritime and Transport union.

 

  • Jermaine Ngobeh, who became the Administrator to the General Secretary after first being appointed as an Administrator to Napo’s membership section. Unfortunately for us Jermaine decided to pursue an alternative career opportunity but I very much hope that he will return to the trade union movement one day and fulfil his exceptional potential.  

 

  • Fiona Swarbrick who joined us in February. And who has moved to a new opportunity with Prospect. Fiona took very little time to familiarise herself with the challenges in the former Interserve CRC estate, immediately establishing an excellent working relationship with Branch activists and seeing the measures activities through until reunification in June.

 

  • And Mike Hines  whose expertise in Health and Safety and as a qualified academic tutor in his field has been incredibly useful in his work with employers, activists and the Officers and Officials team. Understandably Mike was keen to secure a full time opportunity at this stage of his career and joins UNISON in a similar role. We have invited Mike to join us for a short speaking slot a bit later if possible, subject to his commitments, where we will have an opportunity to thank him personally for his work.

 

And congratulations to Ranjit Singh and Annoesjka Valent for making the successful transition to Assistant General Secretary and National Official respectively since our last AGM

Dear friends, our work this year on behalf of our members employed in the former CRC's, National Probation Service, Probation in Northern Ireland and Cafcass are documented in our Annual Report. As is customary, your National Officials and myself look forward to responding to your questions in this accountability session.

Another AGM and another series of crises confront us, last week we saw the Tory Party Conference, an exercise in self-aggrandisement, hypocrisy and self-denial that might as well have been beamed live and direct from Planet Zog in some galaxy far, far away.

But back here on Earth there is an

  • HGV driver crisis causing chaos at the petrol pumps and threats to the wider supply chain and Rotting fruit and vegetables in our fields because immigrant workers do not feel welcome in the UK any more
  • And an energy crisis – where many people will have to choose this winter  between staying warm and getting enough to eat.  And
  • A reduction in Universal Credit of £20 a week

£20 a week which can be a lifeline for families on the poverty line facing a huge hike in energy prices who may have lost both or one of their sources of income through no fault of their own during the pandemic;

£20 a week for people with a disability who may be in need of extra support to cope with their particular situation that may have worsened since last year,

and £20 a week less for families whose business may have gone bust and low income working families including some of our members, who deliver vital public services and those who rely on foodbanks.
 

So welcome to 2021 Britain... where we saw a Prime Minister clowning around on his bike at the Tory Party conference and proclaiming that his ‘ levelling up’ project is making spectacular progress, and his Minister’s acting as if none of the above mattered, the real truth being that he is actually leading a bike race to the bottom.

Of course we can’t solve all of societies problems but Napo can and will work in partnership with our sister trade unions, the TUC and GFTU and the Trade Union Co-ordinating Group to ensure that our voice is heard in the campaign to bring politicians to account for their ineptitude whoever they are.

Firstly, the Covid Crisis, where one year on from the shocking mortality list that stood at 49k deaths we have now reached a current total of over 130k and rising, and attrition rates (despite the relative initial success of the vaccination programme) averaging 100 deaths and 30k infections a day (the third highest in the world?). Just think, if the equivalent of 2 Airbus 320’s were to crash every week there would rightly be a National outcry.

Crisis ridden Britain, presided over by a government whose management of the pandemic can at best can be described as shambolic, but at worse complacent, cynical and uncaring.

Telling people it’s OK to remove your masks in public places and failing to protect our schoolchildren before any serious analysis has taken place on the efficacy of the Vaccine programme which is already showing signs of weakness with the increase in variants of concern, is not just negligent but criminal. Goodness knows what we will face this winter and that doesn’t take into account the oncoming flu epidemic – employers…please take note.

It’s been an abject example of the most disgraceful incompetence from any government that most of us will ever see in our lifetimes, and I wrote these words long before this weeks Cross Parliamentary report which has laid bare these facts.

And it’s also a national disgrace to hear of allegations (yet to be denied)    about taxpayers money being used on government contracts for friends and donors to the Conservative Party, including

  • £90m to a business who had donated £400k to the Tory party… Shame!
     
  • £150m to a financial services company to produce 50 million useless face masks - SHAME
     
  • £350m to a company employing a sitting Tory Member of Parliament for test kits that had to be recalled…Shame; and... bizarrely
     
  • £30 million to Matt Hancocks Pub Landlord (according to the Shadow Chancellor). The mind boggles as surely nobody, not even Michael Gove, can drink that much in one year!

This abject catalogue of shame and those responsible for it must be held to account and that’s why we need a public inquiry and why we need it now, not next year.

And one thing I can promise to all Napo members, that when it comes  your union will join the clarion call for justice at each and every opportunity; We will join together to demand justice for the victims of Covid and justice for their families who have been so let down by this Government . But let me just add, I also want to see the official opposition to show some teeth in that direction and stop appearing complicit in this folly.

All of this is why Napo and our sister unions have worked hard to do all we can to protect our members and the service users you work with.

  • But that work in seeking to mitigate risk and remind the employer of their obligations would not have been possible without the incredible efforts of our cadre of Napo Health and Safety Representatives across all those employers where we have been and are now represented. Conference, please join me in applauding their efforts to keep us and your clients safe.

 

Another key area of Napo’s work has been our contribution to the fight against Racism here in our society and across the globe

Everyone here would have breathed a sigh of relief last November when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris vanquished Donald Trump in the American Presidential Election.

But it’s a sad fact that the evil Genie is merely back in his fetid bottle.

Our trade union colleagues in America tell us that beyond the disgusting armed assault on the Capitol Building in January there are other sinister tactics which are not so well publicised

  • The harassment and bullying of known democrat voters in Republican leaning communities.
  • The dismissal of election officials who dared to defy the Al Capone style intimidation that was heaped upon them to lie about the ballot returns
  • The legislation passed by an increasing number of Republican states to make postal voting nigh on impossible

So why does this matter to us?

Because the Alt Right movement in America sets benchmarks for right wing governments in Latin America and Europe and gives succour to Facists and Racists everywhere

And how we know this, from the shocking increase in Racist incidents in the UK, and across Europe and the continuing trend of deaths in custody among mainly Black and Asian and Minority communities and latterly, the sickening abuse of footballers Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka following England’s heroic defeat in the European Football Championship.

and just last week the vicious trolling of Rosie Jones which took us to a new low.

You see, it’s a fact that the vast majority of White people in the UK are not racist but need to be encouraged to be anti-racist;

But its sadly also a fact that the vast majority of White people live within a culture of White privilege that they cannot and should not be held personally responsible for, but its a culture that has pervaded British society through the generations that have followed the shameful  colonialism of the past.

Despite being a young child at the time I well remember hearing people in the street in late 1950’s South London, shouting at my Dad to ‘go home to his own country and stop stealing our jobs’; sounds sickeningly familiar today does it not?

How long before we again see tatty signs in the windows of housing to let, saying no blacks, no asians, no jews as I witnessed all those years ago?

Yes, things have changed over the decades since, but make no mistake, Racism in Britain is still here; and whilst not as visible as it once was it has become insidious and embedded in all too many of our public institutions.

Personified by the shameful attitude to refugees by the government who seem more focused on pandering to bigotry and turning dinghies around in the English Channel (and lets have a shout out for the RNLI and the volunteers whom we have seen being clung on to by terrified children as they try to save people from drowning) rather than exploring cross-party solutions to create a fair and dignified asylum system where people can be afforded respect, empathy and dignity as they seek safe haven from Regional conflicts in the developing world where the Arms for the protaganists are often supplied by Western countries.

These are among the reasons why I am especially proud to represent Napo on the TUC Anti-Racism Task Group as you heard from Francis O’Grady last year, created to bring together trade unionists, academics, activists from the Black and Minority Ethnic Communities and people of all creeds and colour to identify practical solutions that will challenge the polemic.

Four working groups covering

Organising

Collective bargaining

Unions as employers

And Public Policy, on which I sit, are exchanging ideas, gathering evidence, conducting surveys, and hearing directly from working people about their experiences of racism

There’s a lot of work to be done to meet the reporting deadline of TUC 2023 but I believe that this report will produce ideas and challenges to society that government’s irrespective of their political hue, must be prepared to embrace.

For all to too many reports, inquiries and investigations from McPherson, to Lammy to Grenfell are gathering dust on a shelf and all governments have failed to act decisively on the various recommendations from them.

There will be opportunities to discuss the landscape ahead of us in more detail in the Professional Session and hear about Napo’s excellent work in developing a race action plan and how we want to encourage and develop Anti-Racism officers into every one of our Branches and Sections, and if all other TUC unions would be prepared to match these initiatives, we would all be working from a better base.

But I guess the key challenge for us is how we to turn intent into action and create the conditions and opportunities for a new generation of activists to emerge within Napo that is more reflective of the rich cultural diversity of our membership.

Essentially, it’s time for Black members and Young members to step forward and help lead this union into the future.

And, just as important is our continuing work in the campaign to eradicate violence against Women be it by way of domestic abuse or assaults on our streets.  

 

This issue has suddenly become the number one priority among some politicians and many might say rightly so

But since March last year, official statistics show 120 deaths of women at the hands of their partner, or ex-partner in the UK, often preceded by incessant stalking. The recent deaths of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa in particular, and not for the first time, gave rise to questions about the media coverage of a White Woman going missing compared to that afforded to victims who were Black. As far as our members are concerned, every women’s life is just as important as another.

 

It’s been the same story for generations, and now because of the crime committed by a serving police officer we see the creation of another review into the Metropolitan Police because Police attitudes leave much to be desired.

 

When Sarah Everard went missing the attendees at a peaceful vigil at Clapham common were subject to a particular kind of policing that was shameful and distressing and in marked contrast to the cowardly approach to the Hooligans and Racists outside and in Wembley during the Euro Championship final shortly afterwards.  Clearly, women presented an easier target, and my personal view is that senior people in the Met police ought to have seriously considered their position.

 

So Conference, we are entitled to ask where have these hand wringing spineless politicians been in the past as they express indignation as the horrendous statistics of violence against women have increased over the tenure of successive governments?

Because it’s not just this government that has failed, it’s those that have gone before, and its the trade union movement and some notable exceptions to the rule such as Jess Phillips MP and Laura Richards among other campaigners who are prepared to call out this litany of shame.

The recent revelation by the Home Secretary that the Police and other institutions have some systemic cultural difficulties on the issues of Race, misogyny and violence is the surely the understatement of this and the last century combined.

So what’s to be done? Plain and simply a change of approach in Education; and the crying need for this Government to step up and institute a fundamental change in what should be taught to young children at the earliest possible age about the sanctity of all life, the need to understand that different racial characteristics are integral to a civilised society, as is religious tolerance, and that people of all genders, are equal sentient beings.

Another important part of our work is that which we undertake in and outside of Parliament, again working with Political cross-party allies and right now we have the threat of the Police Crime and Sentencing Bill and how, if it gets through the Lords unchanged, it will move this nation closer to becoming an even worse police state then it is now.

Because what is on offer fails, it fails our communities and allows even more draconian powers to the police to interfere with lawful trade disputes, and the right to peaceful assembly and given the crises that we have been going through, it threatens to impose restrictions on lawful protest that we have not seen since the Nazi’s in1930’s Germany.

So this Government should have the courage to scrap their Bill and scrap it now.

And instead, enter into cross-party discussions to deal with the real problems being faced by working people but we know that wont happen.

That’s why Napo is affiliated to the Institute of Employment Rights and Why we applaud the Labour Party decision to adopt the IER’s new deal for workers

Because we need

  • An end to Hire and Fire - highlighted by the disgraceful antics of British Gas which led to a hugely costly and unnecessary trade dispute, and more recently Clarks Shoes, where members of our sister union Community are bravely standing up to intimidation and the attacks by the employer on their terms and conditions by way of industrial action, and I believe that a leaflet will be available as you break out for lunch and I urge you to show solidarity in any way that you can.
     
  • And we need to see an end to the lack of social and industrial planning that sees a million job vacancies but millions of British people without the skills or confidence to fill them.

After AGM I intend that we should showcase the brilliant work of the IER and step up our efforts in working with sister unions and allies to campaign for the new deal for workers to be front and centre as a major issue in the next general election.

Lastly, what about the crises being faced by Napo members right now, and that includes the relentless workloads being faced by our members in Cafcass and Probation NI who have common purpose in terms of their pay lagging behind comparable professions and who also need urgent action to redress that imbalance. I will report further to members about the progress in negotiations at the earliest opportunity.

Meanwhile, today I need to address the Broken Promises on Probation Pay.

You all heard the comments by new Minister Malthouse yesterday, and I could see that you were overwhelmingly underwhelmed.

Sadly, it was full of promises but short on commitment; much about the 4 pillars required to help rebuild the Probation service and the money being made available for that, but no mention of the fifth pillar, namely paying staff a decent wage.

I listened carefully to the debate yesterday and I look forward to taking note of the questions that you could not put to the Minister  yesterday. I can assure you that Katie Lomas and I will deliver these in person at our meeting with him in a couple of weeks. I can hardly wait!

Because its time for us to make that stand that speakers in the debates spoke of yesterday

To stand against low pay across all employers obviously, but to build on the confidence that has been generated by way of our recent indicative ballot to reject the pay freeze and to reject the Probation Pay offer that I will be telling Minister Malthouse is an abject disgrace

And we will also ask the Minister why, if other departments can agree multi year pay deals such as the MoJ, HMRC and Crown Prosecution Service, why can’t probation?

And we will also ask why it is that the Treasury has such a downer on Probation Pay. There are many potential answers of course, but  here is one in my opinion; and its that they don’t believe that Probation staff will stand up for themselves, they don’t think that you have the the stomach for that struggle if it should come to it. Well, for those in high places I have a big message, that for the first time in recent history all 3 probation unions have returned indicative ballot results of between 86% and 99%, all 3 unions pointing in the right direction for further direct action if push comes to shove.

Because its pretty straightforward:

Probation workers have had it with low pay,

Have had it being taken for granted

And are not prepared to see workloads and attrition rates remain at  unsustainable levels

And who cannot stand to see promising young PQIPS fold after a week in the job, mentally scarred by their experience and cannot tolerate vacancy rates in probation delivery units reach an all time high, and we will ask the Minister - how can you let this happen and what are you going to do to redress years of hollow promises to address low pay in the profession?

But I have an obligation to point out that we have more work to do to prepare for this new frontier that’s ahead of us; more work in tightening up our contact details for members likely to be involved in a trade dispute if it comes, and more work with our sister unions to build on the indicative ballot results, but Napo’s turnout in the consultative process gives me every confidence that we can meet the challenges set by the pernicious Trade Union Act, for that result was the highest turnout in Napo’s recent history and you can be be proud of where we have got to.

I expect that we will talk more about pay before this AGM is done,  but for now lets send a very clear message to this Government.

Probation staff need a decent pay rise and they need it now; no ifs, no buts, not next year,….. but now!

For If you fail to pay people who do so much to protect our communities and try to help people turn their lives around, they may decide to vote with their feet because they simply cannot take anymore.

We want to avoid that, so - reach a deal with us, show us some good faith and stop taking your loyal, highly committed staff for granted.

This AGM has again demonstrates why this union has such a proud heritage, and again its given you the opportunity to showcase the value of the work done by our members, and why those members need to be afforded the respect and dignity that they deserve.

I will be led by your judgement and your decisions, and in return I pledge to offer every ounce of my energy to this new, urgent campaign on Probation Pay. It’s a struggle that has sadly become necessary but one that you and your leadership group will embrace and pursue to the best of our ability.

 

Thank you conference