TUC Congress 2017: FDA urges Theresa May to put public sector staff on boards

11 September 2017


Theresa May has been urged to turn “vague intentions into meaningful action”, as the TUC Congress backed the FDA's call to put workers on the boards of public sector organisations.

Outlining her plans for reform of corporate governance last year, the Prime Minister said that the people scrutinising business decisions were too often “drawn from the same narrow social and professional circles” - a situation she described as “just not good enough”.

The FDA - which represents managers and professionals working right across the public sector - is now calling on ministers to put their own houses in order by giving public sector staff, through their recognised trade unions, a proper say in the running of their organisations.

An FDA motion at this year’s TUC Congress - which was carried after a lively debate among delegates - says the Government must ensure “that all public bodies act now to ensure worker representation on decision-making boards, or equivalents, through their recognised trade unions”.

Addressing the TUC Congress in Brighton, FDA General Secretary Dave Penman said: “As in the private sector, workers at all levels of the organisations they serve have a unique insight into its functioning.

“They understand what helps deliver those vital services and what gets in the way. They can see the inefficiencies and bureaucracy that drain scarce resources from front line services, and, of course, they have a wealth of ideas to help improve those services.”

Penman told the TUC Congress that genuine boardroom reform could “help put a brake on the constant change for change’s sake” that often takes places in the public sector, and ensure proper scrutiny of decisions before they are enacted.

He added: “Whether-well intentioned or more malevolent, ask any public servant about the ‘reform agenda’ and they will tell you a tale of reorganisation, disruption and inefficiency.

“My union represents some of the most senior public servants in the land, including many of those who sit on those boards. This is not about pitching one group of public servants against another.

“Senior managers and professionals are committed public servants and many have dedicated their entire working life to public service. What this is about is better decision making and giving public servants - at all levels - an opportunity to influence the services they deliver.

“I know this is no panacea, but what it would do, with representatives drawn from and supported by, the recognised trade unions, is provide transparency and scrutiny to decision making that is currently absent.

“So conference, whilst the battle for corporate boardroom reform continues, this motion calls on the government, without the distraction of vested interest getting in the way, to immediately reform the thousands of decision making boards across the public sector to include worker representation.”

Later this week, the FDA will urge TUC Congress to back a “new settlement” for the civil service, recognising the “crisis of resourcing” facing those tasked with keeping Britain’s vital public services running at a time of political uncertainty.

The full FDA motion to TUC Congress is available to read below:

“Worker representation on public sector boards Congress notes the prime minister’s statements that workers’ voices should be heard in the boardrooms of Britain. Congress recognises that workers in any organisation can provide unique insights into its operation and have a shared interest in its success. Whilst this cannot replace meaningful engagement with trades unions, worker representation on decision-making boards would be a welcome development.

"Congress further recognises that trade unions are the only democratic organisations that are truly representative of the workers’ voice and can provide the full support that a board representative would require in order to carry out their responsibilities properly. Any development on boardroom representation therefore must ensure that trade unions form an integral part of the process.

"Congress calls on the General Council to challenge the government to take action now to turn these vague intentions into meaningful action and bring forward legislation to require worker representation on boards. Congress further calls on the General Council to hold government to account for its claims on worker engagement by demanding it immediately ensures that all public bodies act now to ensure worker representation on decision-making boards, or equivalents, through their recognised trade unions."