Gordon Brown outlined the Government’s strategy for confronting the economic crises. He said he was determined that the London Conference in early April of the leaders of the major industrial countries would agree a united response that involved much tighter international regulation. He emphasised that there was no contradiction between economic growth on the one hand, and protecting the environment on the other. The creation of ‘green’ jobs could help us get out of the recession through a low-carbon recovery. In relation to Royal Mail, Gordon argued that private investment was needed to maintain a six-day service, at a single price. In response NPF reps made several important points. It was highlighted that the Post Office closures are massively unpopular and that the amount of financial support required by Royal Mail was peanuts compared to the shed loads of money the Government is shovelling out to the failed banks. The Royal Mail pension deficit has arisen because the Government allowed the employers to take many years ‘holiday’ in relation to making contributions into the pension fund.
NPF reps from the Unions called for urgent action to protect temporary/agency workers. NPF reps, who are local councillors reported rising repossessions and stressed the important role of councils in building homes and creating jobs.
Before the Leader’s speech the CWU circulated a document to all NPF reps setting out the reasons for their opposition to Peter Mandelson’s latest proposals in relation to Royal Mail. The CWU pointed out that the Minister is breaking the Warwick II agreement, signed with the Unions only last July. This agreement stated – “we have set out a vision of a wholly publicly – owned, integrated Royal Mail Group in good health, providing customers with an excellent service and its employees with rewarding employment.” In response to the CWU Ministers circulated a Briefing setting out their argument in support of the par privatisation of Royal Mail.
• Progress re Contemporary Issues (remitted at 2008 Annual Conference)
Last year, at Manchester, five Contemporary Issues (CIs) were remitted to the NPF/Policy Commissions.
CI on Employment Rights
An employment Rights sub-group has been set up to look at the CI. The sub group includes members from the Prosperity and Work Policy Commission and the Crime, Justice, Citizenship and Equalities Policy Commissions. This sub group has held three meetings so far. It is now awaiting the outcome of the Government’s consultation into how best to respond to the Law Lords’ judgement on Pleural Plaques.
CI on Energy Regulation
The movers and seconders of the CI (GMB and Sedgefield CLP) have participated in the Policy Commission deliberations and will continue to do so.
CI on Housing
The specially-formed Housing sub group of the Creating Sustainable Communities Policy Commission, which had looked at a previous Contemporary Motion on the 4th option, has been wound down. In future the full Policy Commission will deliberate on the broader subject of affordable housing supply.
CI on tackling fuel poverty (including a windfall tax)
The movers and seconders of the CI have given evidence to the Prosperity and work Policy Commission.
CI on workers in the global economy
The movers and seconders of the CI have been invited to give evidence to the Prosperity and Work Policy Commission. Discussion has focussed on recent European Court of Justice judgements which have created uncertainty about workers’ rights and collective agreements. In response to the recent industrial action the government has argued that workers should “respect and guarantee” the principle of free movement of workers in the European Union. But, as the Unions pointed out at the NPF, this fails to acknowledge that these disputes are not about freedom of movement, but about undermining collective agreements.
• Looking back on the third cycle of Partnership in Power
The NPF members discussed the implications of the new amendment process, which was undertaken in 2008 for the first time and which involved CLPs and Unions (See “The Saga of Warwick II” for more information). It was argued that this had put a lot of extra pressure on staff. Nevertheless, a significant number of NPF members felt there should be no going back on this small step forward for party democracy, and that, as necessary, extra staff should be provided (the Unions would always help here). Democracy costs money, but that should never be an excuse for not having it.
The Unions are pressing for a second stage to Warwick II in order to finally agree the policy framework for the next General Election Manifesto. They believe they have been given assurances that there will be a proper second stage.