Union activists condemn NUJ financial recovery plan

A group of senior National Union of Journalists activists have put their names to open letter condemning the union's cost-saving recovery plan.

General secretary Michelle Stanistreet revealed in May that the union was in a "severe financial crisis" requiring it to cut costs by £400,000. Since then six out of the union's 47-staff have volunteered for redundancy.

The recovery plan also involves raising subscriptions and closing the training department.

The new NUJ budget proposes spending of £4.7m next year, leaving the union with a surplus of £250,000.

Now the group of union activists have put their names to an "Alternative Recovery Plan for the NUJ" drafted by members of the Financial Times union chapel. Its suggestions include a £1,000 a year cap on expenses claimed by union lay officials and making union magazine The Journalist online-only.

They also want to retain the union's in-house training department.

Authors of the open letter said they want to foster debate on the future of the NUJ ahead of the union's annual delegate meeting in Newcastle next month.

Here is the open letter sent to NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet in full:

We are among a growing number of NUJ NEC members, branch officials and chapel officers who support the views and arguments in the “Alternative Recovery Plan for the NUJ” drafted by chapel officers at the Financial Times. It is clear that NUJ subs incomes are not falling significantly and we believe that the decision to use union assets to pay off two loans early has precipitated the present cash flow crisis. We do not think redundancies should be the first, knee-jerk response to this situation.

We are also worried about a lack of transparency in the union’s accounts and want the general secretary to uncover and deal with the real problems of overspending.

The decision to close the training department has no justifiable economic rationale and the political costs will be very high. Making unnecessary redundancies is bad enough, doing so while spending on consultants’ fees and union expenses are unchecked is unacceptable.

The decision to outsource our training department, which consistently wins external grant funding bids because of its proven high standards, will also risk an invaluable asset in recruiting members and training chapel officers, both vital in the present climate.

We also note that the proposed outsourcing has no cost or service level agreement attached to it.

The move to close the training department should be reversed immediately. An outstanding UNIONLEARN funding award, already won but halted, should be accepted and the £270,000 put into use.

It should be for all members to decide the fate of such a crucial part of the union and we call on all chapels and branches to support the Alternative Plan and to file late motions and amendments to this year’s annual conference to oppose the attack on our training department. This statement is supported by the following members:

Steve Bird, FoC FT group chapel

Dave Crouch, FT chapel committee

Hal Austin, FT chapel committee

Diana Peasey, chair of the Nottingham NUJ branch

Pete Jenkins, job share NEC member representing photographers

Becky Branford, joint MoC BBC News Interactive

Tom Davies, London Freelance Branch, NEC member for London

Judith Mora, MoC, London bureau of Agencia EFE

Kath Grant, branch secretary representing the Manchester and Salford branch committee

Claire Heal, MoC Express Chapel

Lizzie Houghton, NUJ student co-ordinator 2011/12

Miles Barter, NUJ PR and Communications branch

Andrew Wiard, job share NEC member representing photographers

Stalingrad O’Neil, NEC member representing the Midlands

Alan Gibson, NEC job share representing the Magazine sector

Chris Wheal, chair of ProfCom, member of Lewisham NUJ branch

Martin Cloake, former NEC member and NUJ trainer member of Lewisham NUJ branch

Rod Malcolm, freelance and member of the Nottingham NUJ branch

Brendan Foley, former NEC member and NUJ trainer

Gary Herman, NUJ trainer and media consultant

Steve Harris, BJTC and ProfCom co-opted member

Frances Dredge, project manager of the FEU training project

Bob Norris, ProfCom member

Bernie Russell, NUJ trainer

In response, Stanistreet offered Bird the chance to address the NEC’s finance committee with his concerns.

Elsewhere, the ‘NUJ Left’ faction announced its closure yesterday. Alan Gibson aent a letter to members on behalf of the steering committee saying:

“It has, over the past few months, become clear that the NUJ Left in its present form cannot survive. Major disagreements over the future of the union, and controversy over the Recovery Plan and alternative proposals, has created huge tensions which cannot be accommodated in one body.

“The steering committee has therefore decided to not convene a meeting before October's DM, and to close down the mailing list.

“We intend to call a meeting at DM, probably on the Thursday evening, to discuss the possibility of establishing a left grouping based on aims that are much more tightly drawn than those we have followed over the past three years.”

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