Trade Unions have been allocated seats on 8 lower-level committees alongside employers’ representatives. But while employers also sit on the top-level committees where the strategic decisions are made, the unions are excluded.
The WMCA is now officially launched and its governance structures and composition have been published. The table below is from the WMCA Strategic Economic Plan, page 37 (https://westmidlandscombinedauthority.org.uk/about/strategic-economic-plan/).There are 8 bodies which have places for representatives of Trade Unions and Employees. The function of these bodies concerns “Policy Development and Delivery”. It does not include “Strategic Leadership” or “Strategic Development”. On those bodies there are no places for representatives of Trade Unions and Employees. Nor do the 3 Commissions include representatives of Trade Unions and Employees.
This is in contrast with the places for representatives of employers. The 8 “Policy Development and Delivery” bodies also have representatives of the 3 Local Enterprise Partnerships. But the 3 chairs of the LEPs also sit on the WMCA Board, exercising “Strategic Leadership”, and there are representatives of the LEPs on the Strategic Economic Plan Board and the Public Service Reform Board, responsible for “Strategic Development”.
In addition – and omitted from the SEP table above – there is a LEP representative seated alongside the councillors who comprise the Scrutiny Committee, but no trade union representative. (See minutes of July 15 meeting.) The Scrutiny Committee is the key body responsible for holding the WMCA to account. To ensure independence councillors on it cannot be on any other CA body (AGM pack p57). But how can the LEP representative possibly be independent when he or she is employed by one of the businesses in the LEPs?
It is clear that the trade unions have major interests at stake in the remits of the various CA bodies. It is vital that the gross imbalance between the participation and influence of employers and those of employees and their unions is urgently redressed, for two reasons. First, it should be the democratic right of employees and their unions to be represented in the decision-making processes of the WMCA, since they will be affected by them. It is their jobs, their pay and conditions, which are at stake, for better or worse. The CA should not be an “employers’ club”. Second, the WMCA and its bodies would greatly benefit from the knowledge and experience that the trade unions can bring.
The trade union movement should also press for representation from users of services and from local communities, for similar reasons, and because it will go some way towards redressing the domination of the WMCA by white men.
Labour’s candidate for Mayor, Sion Simon, makes no mention of the WMCA’s glaring lack of democracy but these are policies he should give his support to loud and clear.
The task now is firstly to ensure that those places allocated to trade union and employee representatives are taken up, and secondly to press for trade union representatives on the key strategic bodies including the WMCA Board itself, the Strategic Economic Plan Board, the Public Service Reform Board and the Scrutiny Committee, and the 3 Commissions – Productivity, Mental Health and Land.
The WMTUC and the various local Trades Union Councils should be represented, but sectoral committees should also have representatives of those unions most involved. So for example the Health and Wellbeing and Mental Health Working Group should have representatives from social workers, nurses, nurse assistants and doctors, and from service users.
The WMCA is making decisions that affect us all and it is urgent that the unions take their seats and make their voices heard.