The big society is us, says professional union

The big society is us, says professional union

Seven million members of the trade union movement are far and away the biggest part of any vision for a ‘big society’, the UK’s leading union for professionals and specialists will hear at its biennial national conference.

Paul Noon, General Secretary of Prospect, will say the government needs to listen to ‘the voice of the professional’, democratically expressed at the workplace through trade unions, in his keynote address.

His message will be backed by calls to defend public services and public servants, which dominate the agenda at the BT Convention Centre in Liverpool. More than 500 delegates from 350 branches will hear Noon call on employers to heed the views of engineers, scientists, managers and other professionals on how their organisations should be run more effectively.

“Trade unions have been doing the big society for 200 years,” Noon will say. “If the Prime Minister is serious when he talks about encouraging volunteering and involvement in social action, then he must work with trade unions, not against them.”

With membership up by 20% in the last year, Prospect is the fastest-growing union in the UK. It has 122,000 members in major companies like British Aerospace, Serco, EDF and BT, and public bodies like the Met Office, English Heritage, research councils and government departments.

Noon will stress: “We have already made it clear we seek engagement not confrontation. The government has its programme but we have a legitimate right to speak and act on behalf of members and in defence of the services they provide.”

Commenting on the Prime Minister’s vision of a ‘big society’ with more involvement by people in public services and more support for mutuals, co-operatives and social enterprises, Noon will say: “Let’s take him at his word. With seven million members the trade union movement is easily the biggest mutual in the country.

“On public services, ministers have a choice. They can either listen to the views of their staff constructively expressed through their unions, and be flexible. Or, if they are foolish, they will seek to impose top-down, unacceptable arrangements which will deserve and attract our outright opposition.”

Delegates will hear that the public sector cuts threatened by the new coalition government will lead not only to the loss of vital services but also damage business for contractors in the private sector.

Also on the Prospect agenda will be calls for:

  • the UK government to keep its shareholding in air traffic services provider NATS, to preserve its safety-critical role from market instability
  • the Scottish government to agree to new nuclear power stations to prevent it becoming a ‘technological desert’ and importing most of its electricity from England
  • government to be lobbied for adequate investment and regulation so that high-speed broadband is provided on a fair and equitable basis
  • a public inquiry into the mismanagement of publicly-funded research institutes
  • unions to work with pension funds to press companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • a campaign for the Defence Industrial Strategy to be updated and implemented so that Britain’s armed forces have the equipment they need
  • opposition to any sell-off of the Forensic Science Service.