This week, we learned that our General Secretary, Dave Prentis, will be retiring at the end of this year. I want to take this opportunity on behalf of the South East Region and personally to thank him for 47 years of selfless service to the union and its members. I have been in the fortunate position of working with Dave, back when I was an activist and UNISON was first created in 1993, and then again when I became a member of UNISON staff. During his time as General Secretary, under his watch he has guided the union to a place of real strength, as the biggest and best trade union. He has just overseen one of our biggest challenges to date through the Covid-19 crisis. We wish him all the very best for his retirement at the end of the year.
Confusion reigns once again throughout the country with the latest announcements from the Government. Wear a mask, don’t wear a mask, wear a mask in shops, but not in the office or the pub? The lack of clarity will lead to mayhem for retailers, and after a decade of cuts to the police and public services, makes this policy impossible to enforce. The onus is very much on the public to fall into line and comply and may well decrease already low footfall in already struggling town centres. Struggling retailers will not be able to continue trading much longer on the vastly reduced footfall of customers.
While the official unemployment rate remains mostly unchanged, mainly because many employers have furloughed staff, there are serious concerns that will rise significantly at the end of October when the scheme ends. The news of 650,000 jobs lost from UK payroll between March and June is an indication of things to come.
None of this is good news for the economy. Whilst we can only hope that the worst of the pandemic has passed, the economic fallout has just begun. The Government has said nothing at all on the £10bn shortfall in local Government finances, highlighted by UNISON’s campaign. The Government must fund local councils adequately to keep communities safe and rebuild the country.
Some positive news this week, as UNISONdirect re-opened on Monday. Following strict safety precautions, the opening hours have changed slightly, but it’s great to be able to offer this vital service to members again. The same stringent safety precautions have enabled some staff to return to our Guildford office this week, although the majority of staff continue to work remotely. The safety of staff, while being able to support branches and members remains the driving force behind our regional operations. We will continue to monitor and review developments in light of the latest advice and mindful of the potential risks of a second wave later in the year. Information has been sent to branches from national UNISON for them when they are considering re-opening local branch offices.
This week saw our first ever online Regional Committee meeting. I’m pleased to report that we were able to facilitate the meeting in ‘the new normal’ – virtually – and the meeting was well received. The meeting also sent a message of support to the UNISON members currently taking industrial action in Tower Hamlets, over cuts and changes to their contracts.
And finally, a huge thank you, to those branches who have donated to ‘There For You’ Covid-19 response fund. All funds received will go directly to members in need across the union. If your Branch has not already done so, I would encourage you to donate to this fund, so they can continue their vital work, supporting members in times of need.
Thank you for all that you continue to do.
Stay safe and well.