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Union faces revolt over plans to axe training unit

The National Union of Journalists is facing an internal rebellion over plans to close its training department.

A group of 17 prominent union members are calling for a halt to plans to close the department and outsource training to another organisation.

The proposals, which have put two jobs at risk, are part of a bid to save £400,000 from the union’s budget which could also see a rise in member subscriptions.

The NUJ’s training department has operated for more than a decade, providing professional training to journalists and training to union representatives.

The rebellion is being led by Financial Times chapel officials Steve Bird and Dave Crouch, who submitted an alternative recovery plan to the NUJ’s National Executive Committee meeting last month, backed by members from other branches.

Steve, who is the Father of Chapel, said: “Our members feel very strongly that it is wrong. We rely on the training department and it is one of the core strengths of the union.

“We are concerned that this is being done without any costing of alternatives so it could end up costing the union more.”

He added there had been no consultation with the membership over plans to close the department.

Other members opposed to the closure include Diana Peasey, chair of the Nottingham NUJ; Stalingrad O’Neil, NEC member representing the Midlands; Chris Wheal, chair of ProfCom and member of Lewisham NUJ branch; and Kath Grant, branch secretary representing the Manchester and Salford branch committee.

They said in a statement: “The proposal 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 proposal 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.

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

In a statement issued in response, the union said it was “unfortunate” that the rebels had gone public with their views rather than working through the union’s “democratic” structures.

It said:  “Of course training is a vital service the union makes available to members – that will continue to be the case. All training courses delivered by the NUJ are carried out by freelance trainers and paid for on a freelance basis – this will continue to be the case.

“Trade union training and professional training will still be available to members – only the method of administering the work will change.

“The reality is that the training department has incurred deficits over successive years. External funding has been generated, but this is for specific projects and is not income that can be spent on other union activities.

“It is of course unfortunate that the signatories of this report have chosen to seek to publicise their views, without first coming to the union for a formal response or going through the appropriate democratic structures.

“The Finance Committee will consider the alternative paper in detail at its September meeting, and members of the NEC, including the signatories to the statement, had the opportunity to express their views at the NEC’s meeting last month.”


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  • August 3, 2012 at 10:08 am

    Di Peasey, the chair of Nottingham NUJ branch, and someone who I think can be regarded as a bedrock, steadfast, non-controversial NUJ member; who is experienced on the National Executive Committee, Professional Training Council, Broadcasting Industrial Council, and numerous other councils, etc., as well as being an ex-Mother of Chapel at BBC Nottingham, is someone who NUJ members, especially those who know her or who have met her, respect.

    When a member like that – not someone prone to causing upset, questions the things that the leadership of the union is doing, it makes common-sense to stop and re-examine what is being done.

    Apparently not.

    To suggest that these views have not been expressed within the internal structure of the NUJ is disingenuous and simply untrue.

    Sometimes when (internally) the wood cannot be seen for the trees, one has to take the argument to a wider audience in the hope that greater exposure can obtain a more balanced and common-sense solution.

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  • August 3, 2012 at 10:33 am

    Unfortunately, the NUJ response is misleading.

    The chair of ProfCom spoke at the first NEC meeting where the Recovery Plan was presented; a delegation of opponents outlined their arguments at the recent Finance Committee and there was a special meeting with the General Secretary, Michelle Stanistreet and the chair of Finance John Barsby, a couple of weeks ago to discuss alternatives to the closure of the training department. Sadly, twenty minutes later, both the staff within training received letters from the GS confirming the closure of the training department and offering them redundancy or redeployment.

    Meanwhile, the group led by the FT chapel is continuing to look at the union’s finances and how the money is spent. The training department has become a scapegoat for the union’s ills whereas a closer examination of the books suggests the problems are self-inflicted – early repayment of loans, cost of consultants and expenses.

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  • August 3, 2012 at 11:06 am

    I’m afraid there’s a large element of denial in the FT “big brain” approach to the NUJ’s financial crisis. The NUJ has been haemorrhaging cash through the training department for the past 10 years or so. .When all income and expenditure is taken into account there is an accumulated deficit of £586,000 between 2000 and 2011. Almost half of the deficit was incurred in the four years to 2011 and in the first eight months of the current financial year it is running at £59,000.

    When the guys from the pink paper talk about the “valuable annual
    contribution of around £300,000 from Training Department” they are being at least mildly disingenuous. They also say “[the department] already has a £270,000 funding award waiting to be picked up when the general secretary approves it” and that we should “immediately sign the agreed but still unsigned funding deal giving £270,000 to the Training Department.”

    The NUJ training operation in London costs the union money to receive funding. Once the alternative arrangements are put in place for training in England that £270,000 funding will be drawn down. NUJ training in Scotland runs at little cost to the union centrally as a result of such funding.

    But there’s more wishful thinking in the FT document. I’ve been an NUJ activist over 30 years. When I joined there were three large newspaper chapels in Dublin, each with hundreds of members. One has completely disappeared, the two others have halved their membership in the past decade, and the jobs carnage continues into this year. Look at how membership has declined in the post-Fleet Street era. When the big centres of membership weaken, the whole union is diminished

    Small unions if they are to survive need to make some hard decisions. Fuzzy economics won’t help here.

    Kieran Fagan, NUJ National Executive Council 1988-90, currently chair Dublin Freelance branch, writing in a personal capacity.

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  • August 3, 2012 at 11:48 am

    Best to leave the training to the trainers, and trade unionism / looking after members / pointless strikes /support of dubious left-wing causes / boycott of Israeli goods etc, to the NUJ.

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  • August 3, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    It’s a shame the NUJ leadership’s response is so dismissive and misleading. There’s a genuine attempt to engage and to work on alternatives being made, but that doesn’t seem to be going down well with a leadership that displays increasing irritation at being questioned.

    Objections to a number of aspects of what the leadership called a Recovery Plan have been made through the union’s structures. Unfortunately decisions are being rushed through against a backdrop of all-member emails that present a heavily-spun version of reality to back decisions the leadership seems determined to stick to. I suspect the concern about taking the argument to a wider audience is rooted in the suspicion that the wider membership may disagree with the course the leadership seems set on. And there’s a certain irony in a journalists’ union criticising its members for using the media.

    The root of the issue over training is whether or not training is seen as a core function of the union. The NUJ’s current leadership says it’s not. They are making a fundamental political mistake. Most people are aware that it’s possible to slice and dice a set of accounts to make the case for whatever you want to make the case for. One of the points of contention is that training is not assessed on the same financial basis as other departments.

    In fact, the NUJ’s leadership seems confused by its own spin. We were originally told training was not affordable because it was subsidised by other areas of the union, an assertion that is incorrect. In this morning’s response we are told that training must close because it doesn’t “generate income that can be spent on other union activities”. The justification seems to change by the day.

    Kieran Fagan’s rather patronising dismissal of the “big brain approach” of the “guys from the pink paper” is also a bit wobbly. There’s a rather transparent attempt to set the training function up as special pleading from that London, but that’s a straw man. And there’s also another attempt to lay the blame for the union’s financial troubles at the door of declining membership. The Alternative Plan, which can be seen at, questions the assertions made about membership decline, and I’ve yet to see any of those questions dealt with.

    A wise union leadership recognises it has to take its members with it, rather than blustering, spinning and smearing those who question its decisions and attempt to engage constructively. The NUJ’s current leadership still has time to prove how wise it is.

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  • August 3, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Prominent members? Some of these aren’t even famous in their own households. Two things strike me about this feed. Where is the meat to the FT chapel arguments? The very fact they are from the FT isn’t good enough.The Pink Paper hardly enjoys a spotless reputation for uncovering financial failure. Too often I have to read what is truly going on in the WSJ before I have a grasp of a situation. Lets see the details of their arguments before anyone gets carried away with talk of internal rebellion.
    Ms Peasey may be a well-respected member but she also has an axe to grind – she provides training and is thus hardly a disinterested party.
    Are the figures provided by Mr Fagan correct? If so why has the NUJ been losing this amount of money for so long?
    I’m not privvy to the union’s financial details but I am aware that as I look around we are losing members left right and centre and if that isn’t having a financial consequence for the union I don’t know what is.

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  • August 3, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    I find the comment: “The root of the issue over training is whether or not training is seen as a core function of the union. The NUJ’s current leadership says it’s not. They are making a fundamental political mistake.” very insightful. May be I’m being naive but what has training got to do with politics? This all smacks of political factionalism and squabbling between different groups.
    I’m semi-retired and no longer involved in any deep way with the NUJ although I maintain my membership. In the interests of full disclosure I do some training.
    If this is about factional infighting then can I remind people of the dangers of turning inwards on itself and navel gazing at a time when the union needs to be out there fighting vigorously for its members at one of the most difficult times I believe there has been for journalists in this country. The FT chapel must appreciate that more than most – I read elsewhere that an FT member is currently taking the newspaper to a tribunal for unfair dismissal.

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  • August 3, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    The NUJ leadership is losing its way – and beginning to sound like bad managers.
    For “It is of course unfortunate that the signatories of this report have chosen to seek to publicise their views, without first coming to the union for a formal response or going through the appropriate democratic structures” you could just as easily read “it is of course unfortunate that the workers decided to ballot for strike action while negotiations were ongoing”.
    We have approached them – repreatedly – and been left with no option for democratic approaches. This union needs to listen to its members, to start the consultation members want and to remember it is a union representing us, the members.
    If it doesn’t it might see those members walk away, exhausted and demoralised.

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  • August 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    No one is saying the paper put together by the FT must be taken notice of just because it’s from the FT. That’s another straw man. There’s a link to the paper in my post, and people can read it and make up their own minds. There are enough points of substance to address without indulging in snide comments about fame.

    What’s training got to do with politics? Training is about skill, the application of skill, professional standards, the understanding of what we do and how we do it. That’s proper politics rather than the posturing that often passes for it. There’s no factional infighting involved. The growing numbers of signatories to the letter (now 40+) come from various perspectives. I suggest discussing what’s actually been said rather than inventing and ascribing motives may be a productive way forward.

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  • August 3, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    I imagine media barons and the trade press are loving that the NUJ is continuing to air its dirty laundry in public.

    The NEC has debated this issue on several occasions, NEC members have visited branches and chapels to discuss the crisis and the recovery in detail, and all members have been sent a copy of the plan. And yet some members continue to want to raise their own profiles by dragging the crisis out. Many of those arguing against the plan offer no real alternative, they just seem to want to preserve the status quo for the sake of preserving it.

    There appear to have been no compulsory redundancies at the NUJ, members of the training department are not being made compulsorily redundant – as far as I am aware – and there have been promises made that training will continue to be provided by the union. It is worth noting that the FT anti-recovery plan was based on the need to avoid compulsory redundancies. Job done!

    Therefore, I am left to question the motivation of those who push so strongly to keep the current arrangements in place. Are they all freelances who are simply afraid that the training gravy-train is about to come to an end? Or are they the type of people who relish seeing something fail, simply so they can be the ones who proudly stand up and shout “I told you so” from the roof of the crumbling building?

    I am not on the NEC but I have listened to those who represent me on the committee, I have listened to the GS and taken the opportunity to ask her direct questions about the crisis and the Union’s chances of recovery and I have submitted a number of suggestions to cut costs.

    Surely this would be a much better use of members’ time, and one which will have a greater chance of securing the future of the union than proposal after proposal calling for a halt to the cuts simply to provide more time for the same debates. Time the union does not have.

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