At the end of 2017, with the proposed closure of our largest site, Cobalt, DWP Northumbria and Tyneside branch started discussing with reps in neighbouring branches how we might reorganise to give the best service to members.
Our Cobalt members were all due to move into Tyneview Park, so our choices were to either run a stand-alone jobcentre branch or to consider merging.
At the same time, the majority of DWP Longbenton members were also moving to Tyneview Park, leaving behind a relatively small number of Corporate Centre members, alongside our then unrecognised colleagues in BPDTS. Most of the Longbenton reps were also due to transfer to Tyneview Park.
After much deliberation and bouncing around ideas of just how a branch that big could work, the three branches started to think seriously about merging and what to call ourselves. We settled on DWP Tyneside & Northumbria – not a massive departure for former DWP Northumbria & Tyneside members!
We held our usual three branch AGMs in February, by which time tranches of our members had started to move across. All three branch AGMs carried the same enabling motion, supporting a merger in principle, and we agreed not to elect branch officers until an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) in June.
We spent the next period getting to know how each branch operated and supporting all of our members with the moves that they were undertaking. As you might expect, the thorny issue of car-parking was high on everyone’s agenda!
In early May we put out identical calling notices for all branch officer positions and advertised our inaugural EGM for 8th June.
By the closing date for nominations, lots of people had been nominated, many were elected unopposed and four posts were contested, including that of branch secretary.
We agreed we would not run these elections during the pay ballot as nothing should be allowed to detract from that.
The inaugural AGM was a successful meeting where about 50 members attended.
Three nominations were accepted from the floor for additional BEC members and these were agreed. A Q&A took place around the pay campaign with lots of lively contributions over the DWP’s decision not to pay at the end of July.
It was agreed that the new branch gives us lots of opportunities to campaign and organise, and plans were put in place to build up contact lists for better engagement.
We elected many site reps and over 40 ordinary BEC members, in addition to a big team of branch officers.
A successful evening social took place where a raffle was run, a great local band, the Pedantics, entertained us and a large contribution was made to the NUFC food bank of groceries and toiletries. After all costs were deducted a profit of £400 was donated to the PCS fighting fund, further donations totalling £50 were collected from those unable to attend on the night.
All of our branch activity and meetings were then focused on the pay ballot where our reps worked well together to encourage members to vote.
After the pay ballot closed, we immediately ran the elections via PCS HQ, using electronic voting for all those who registered an email address with PCS. This led to an improved email sign up rate too. The results have now been announced and we look forward to our first full BEC with all new officers in place.
There are clearly challenges about where to hold meetings and how we can adapt the ways that we have always worked to better suit the membership across a range of different business units – constituency meetings and sub branch structures are becoming more important.
We have exciting plans for equality, organising and recruitment events and sub-committees that the size of the new branch affords us, and we are now concentrating on building and strengthening our rep and advocate networks.