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Progress For members in the PCS Land Registry Group

Issue No. 33 Winter 2008

see pages 6–7

Inside this issue: The Alternative Vision | Facing the crunch | PCS in the media


Editorial CONTENTS Editorial....................................2 Alternative vision.....................3 News in brief............................4 President’s column..................5 Facing the crunch............... 6–7 PCS in the media................ 8–9 Group training event..............10 Messages to the Editor......... 11

Progress Editor Emily Kelly Land Registry Lancashire Office emily.kelly@landregistry.gsi.gov.uk Deputy Editor Elenor Haven LIF elenor.haven@landregistry.gsi.gov.uk Design and distribution PCS Communications

The papermill that produces the paper for this magazine states that it uses 75% wood pulp from sustainable sources.

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Editor’s column Emily Kelly Since the last edition of progress we seem to have slipped further into the gloom of the credit crunch or lets give its real name, recession. Whilst there have been small glimmers of hope, for instance the election of Barrack Obama as president of the united states and Lewis Hamilton becoming Formula 1 world champion, for most of us life has got much (and not just up north) grimmer. In the Land Registry the news continues to fluctuate, which offices will close, which grades will be targeted next? It’s become one big guessing game. The only certainty is that the 50 million pounds from our reserves, agreed by the treasury to reduce staff headcount, will be spent and whilst the government sits by and knits, the guillotine will fall indiscriminately. Of course we also have the double disadvantage of our jobs not only being affected like all civil service departments by the governments relentless efficiency savings but also by the downturn in the property market. Some of us, who once believed that our steady civil service land registry job was for life, may well be facing the sharp reality of becoming part of the projected 3 million unemployed by 2010. Now is the time for a strong union like PCS to galvanize its members to continue to fight the fatalistic view that we can’t do anything about this bombardment of attacks. We should remember that those who caused this crisis want working people to pay for it through lost jobs and pay cuts. Time will tell whether Mr Darling’s ‘Fiscal Stimulus’ will stimulate the economy or just sedate it for a while until we go Cold Turkey. Meanwhile, rest assured that PCS will always have its members’ interests at heart and sustain a force of opposition to any danger that presents itself. In this edition of progress Linda Cartwright (assistant group secretary) explains the Alternative Vision; Michael Kavanagh (vice president) reports on headcount reduction. There is an article on PCS in the media and Chris Carree (group committee member) from our Swansea office reports on our group learning event that was held in Sheffield in October.


Alternative Vision

Our alternative vision Linda Cartwright, group assistant secretary, writes Building on the success of ‘The case for civil and public services: an alternative Linda Cartwright vision’ published and launched in 2005, PCS are now looking to develop an ‘Alternative vision for land registration’. An ‘alternative vision’ for Land Registry will serve as a bargaining and campaigning tool for the LR group and PCS as a whole, by providing a thorough, reasoned analysis to underpin our demands on jobs, pay and conditions in the Registry. It will also complement the important ongoing organising, bargaining and campaigning activities of the group. Broadly, the ‘Vision for land registration’ will: State the case for a reliable, open and accurate state guarantee of ownership of land and property by: • Promoting the public interest in the current debates about the conveyancing process of land and buildings; • Examining arguments for comprehensive registration – the creation of a 21st Century Domesday Book • Identifying and collaborating

with organisations with a common agenda • Exploring the scope for a joined up approach across Government to information about land with the Land Registry taking a lead role. The work is being co-ordinated by the PCS assistant general secretary’s office with a core project team including two representatives from the Land Registry group executive, Jonathan Harwood and Linda Cartwright and two academics, Professors Roger Seifert and Mike Ironside. Other broader groups of campaigners, practitioners, academics, MPs and representatives of organisations with a common agenda have also been identified and approached e.g. Kevin Cahill, author of ‘Who owns Britain?’, The campaigning group The Land is Ours, The Ramblers Association, The Town and Country Planning Association and a representative of the Labour Land Campaign. The alternative vision will have a broad focus on how the system of land registration can be developed and widened to encompass a more comprehensive approach to the creation, storage, updating and retrieval of land information for the benefit of the citizen and

society in 21st century Britain. A leaflet is being produced by the two academics, which is aligned with the work being undertaken by PCS in relation to the future of the civil service as a whole. This leaflet will become a resource, which can then be used for political campaigning and lobbying and is expected to be ready in the new year. It is not intended to be a substitute for the development of policy within the Land Registry group, nor an alternative to the organisation’s blueprint document, but given the current state of the housing market and its impact on Land Registry intakes, an alternative vision for the organisation is of timely importance. We will continue to keep members informed of any progress.

Professors Roger Seifert and Mike Ironside

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News in brief

New TUC course for equality reps There has been a flurry of new legislation covering equality issues since the beginning of this millennium. Union reps need to be able to keep up to date with equality legislation and handle issues such as flexible working, reasonable adjustments and discrimination. The TUC has now set up an online course to help existing union reps, new or potential reps keep up to date with equality legislation and handle issues such as flexible working, reasonable adjustments and discrimination. The course starts on 19th January 2009, and will take around 30 hours, to be delivered over a period of 10 weeks The role of the equality rep is important for highlighting the equality agenda and possible discrimination issues in branches. The union has campaigned hard to get the law changed and equality issues properly addressed and it is our job to monitor its correct implementation into the workplace. For more information, visit: http://www.tuc.org. uk/equality/tuc-15452-f0. cfm#learn-2435-1

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Jonathan Harwood (group president) and Chris Baugh (PCS assistant general secretary )at Tony Colwells farewell gathering

Farewell to Tony Colwell The 24th September 2008 marked a sad but momentous day for the trade union side in the Land Registry when Tony Colwell, departmental trade union side secretary (DTUS) attended his last meeting as a union representative. To mark the occasion, reps and members from virtually every Land Registry branch signed a magnificent card, hand-made by Louise Woodward (group treasurer). The card contained many personal comments remembering things Tony had said or done over the past 23 years as a PCS (and previously CPSA) representative, as well as a variety of pictures of Tony, showing that his questionable fashion sense had not changed over the years. Branches also contributed to Tony’s collection raising a huge amount of money, which Tony spent on a new laptop. PCS national assistant

general secretary (previously PCS LR group president) Chris Baugh attended the DTUS meeting to pass on his best wishes to Tony, and also to give Tony a personal letter from Mark Serwotka (PCS general secretary) recognising his hard work on behalf of the union. As well as being a member of the PCS group executive committee and the DTUS secretary, Tony had also held numerous other posts over the years – PCS LR vice chair, local PCS branch secretary, and a member of the PCS national standing orders committee whose job it is to take over 1000 motions submitted by branches and put them together in some kind of coherent order for the national conference. Tony was overwhelmed with the generosity and kind thoughts that had been shown to him and reminisced about his time as a union


representative, starting in Nottingham and ending up in Durham. During that time he had seen Land Registry chief executives come and go, the legendary wider issues dispute in the 1980s and the national PCS leadership change from right to left. Tony is now in the DIT/QIF team at Durham where he has learnt many new skills and is enjoying the social interaction with other members. I am sure all members would want to pass on thanks to Tony for all his hard work for PCS and CPSA over 23 years and wish him well in his new role.

President’s column When I looked out of the window on Monday morning (10th November) at the curtains of rain sweeping across my garden I was mightily relieved not to be standing outside the entrance of my office, defying the elements, on the picket line. The decision taken by our national executive committee to suspend the national strike and the overtime ban in order to give negotiations with the government more time is encouraging and we must hope that it will lead to tangible improvements in our pay this year and fairer arrangements

Temporary promotions Following a management memo from the director of finance, certain restrictions were put in place regarding the authorisation of recruitment of staff, promotions, use of casuals, agency and contract staff. This was to try and control staff related costs. In terms of temporary promotions, a review of all existing temporary promotions was undertaken to assure that these were necessary. In the case of local offices, the director of operations was to contact all

area managers. In the interim, members are reminded of the damage that out of grade working can do. Without formal paid recognition for carrying out the work of a higher grade, you are potentially damaging yours and others promotion and progression prospects. Your group executive committee are currently ascertaining the impact of this directive and will report back to branches on our findings as soon as possible.

Jonathan Harwood for the future. By the time this goes to press we may well know whether we have a deal worth putting to members. If not then, whatever the weather gods have in store, we will be out there on our picket lines standing up for our rights and persuading our government that nothing less than fairness will do. We have already seen that the prospect of the first national strike of civil servants over pay, since the divide and rule tactics of more than 200 separate ‘bargaining units’, has been enough to bring the government to the negotiating table. The ‘force’ is with us and we must not now allow this opportunity to slip through our fingers, even if this does

mean that we have to go out on strike to protect our salaries and pensions. We must stop this in its tracks and this is undoubtedly a crucial year and a crucial campaign. It makes no sense at all to cut our pay and deter us from spending money on the high street that would help keep businesses going and people in work. It is at times like these that it is so important to remember that we belong to something bigger than just the Land Registry. We are all civil servants and members of a union that is fighting to reunify us all in our battles against poor pay, job cuts and working conditions. This is where our true strength and protection lies. Progress Winter 2008 5


Facing the crunch

Facing the crunch or facing th Michael Kavanagh, group vice president reports There is no doubt whatsoever that the ‘credit crunch’ (or in normal persons’ speak – ‘full blown recession’) is having a massive detrimental effect on our intakes. These are uncertain times but Land Registry has pulled through in the past and we can do so again now.

The story thus far September 2008 saw Land Registry management announce that Flexible Early Severance/Retirement (FES/ FER), under the PCSPS civil service compensation scheme, would be made available to RAs and ROs. At the same time, staff at York and Harrow were afforded the option of taking voluntary redundancy (on compulsory terms) earlier than the proposed office closure dates. We were also told that management were suspending the progression scheme to RE2 lower. At the time, we reported that our view was that management had acted hastily and that work could be found to accommodate all RAs and ROs.

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We were, however, unable to recommend opposition to the announcement, as the FES/FER scheme is entirely voluntary and it was clear that some staff (particularly those over 50 with reasonable length of service) would find the offer attractive.

Management’s actions To say that management has handled this situation well would be an outright falsehood. To basically say to RAs and ROs that “we don’t need you anymore” is hugely insulting. RAs and ROs have played a vital role in the success of the Land Registry and frankly deserve a lot better. Staff perception of the way management handle and communicate change has always been poor and the 2007 staff survey results clearly illustrate this. The sooner that management treat staff as people and not just numbers, the sooner we will have more confidence in them to do the right thing. The ‘facing the crunch” sessions, delivered in virtually every office, were an attempt by the Board to be open and honest with staff. To an extent – they were but on the whole, the exercise has provoked more questions and

uncertainty. In addition to this, a recent intranet article, on a senior managers’ change workshop, contained a report (and pictures) of participants (including Board members) hugging each other and making paper aeroplanes. Whilst this in itself does little to inspire confidence, it is positive news that work is being done to improve the way that senior managers deal with major change issues. Only when proper dialogue takes place with your elected representatives, at the formative stages of major change projects, will staff have confidence in the overall process.

The Future? Your representatives are always placed in a difficult position when headcount issues arise. On the one hand, our ultimate task and reason for being is to protect jobs and conditions but, on the other, we recognise that a number of members would welcome the opportunity to leave. We therefore have the tricky balancing act of ensuring that no one is forced to leave and negotiating the best possible voluntary exit packages. The package being offered to RAs and ROs at the moment is not redundancy. Many


g the chop members have already approached us to say how disappointed they are with the size of their estimates. It is impossible to say, with any degree of certainty, what (if any) improved terms may be offered if the take up is insufficient. This would clearly depend on the ongoing work situation and what additional money could be made available to fund any improved terms. The most important thing that we need to be mindful of is that management have indicated that as staff numbers fall, they may revisit the estate review. This could potentially mean anything from selling off bits of offices, relocating to smaller premises, to further proposed office closures. If these scenarios become a reality, we will clearly need to undertake a wide membership

consultation exercise to establish our response. In the meantime, we will continue to apply pressure for the earliest possible reinstatement of the progression scheme to RE2 Lower. This would represent a refreshing episode of foresight on the part of management. We will also soon, hopefully, publish the “alternative vision for the Land Registry” document. This will be a crucial component to our future campaigning strategy and will be aimed at promoting a much wider political debate, with a view to securing sufficient work for our future. It is vital that the key message is hammered home at every opportunity – Land Registry is not merely a “business” – we perform an extremely valuable public service.

Conclusion A former chief land registrar once remarked to us that his

greatest achievement was steering the organisation through difficult times, without the need to declare redundancies. Will the present incumbent be able to boast the same? Time will tell. Whatever happens, you can rest assured that your union will look out for your interests and speak up on your behalf, whether collectively or individually. Nationally, as a result of a massive campaign (including industrial action) we have secured an extremely useful ‘protocol’ agreement with the government. This will assist us in our aim of trying to ensure that nobody loses their job against their wishes. Although we all, understandably, have diverse aspirations, it is vital that we stand together as a union when the need arises. If you are sitting in a team/unit with any non-members – please explain the necessity to join now. It really has never been more important.

‘‘

The sooner that management treat staff as people and not just numbers, the sooner we will have more

confidence in them to do the right thing.

’’

Progress Winter 2008 7


PCS in the media

PCS in the media Every PCS dispute brings the expectation of wall-to-wall media coverage but it’s never as straightforward as that. It can be tempting to imagine that because we are a big union with most of our members working for the government that the media will be interested in everything we do, and want to report it. Sadly, it’s not as simple as that and we have to work hard to get our message across. Even though the media set their own agenda, I believe we are able to engage their interest on a regular basis, as we did when the BBC website ran the story of our strike suspension. It’s important as PCS members are often in the glare of the media that we know how the media works in order that we can get our message across. Firstly, with a few exceptions, newspapers – national, regional and local – are owned by a handful of large and powerful organisations. Some, though not all, will either dismiss or suppress stories about unions taking action to defend working conditions. Journalists thrive on conflict,

8 Progress Winter 2008

so we shouldn’t assume that they’ll always report what we tell them without challenge. Broadcasters operate slightly differently because, to varying degrees, they have a public service remit to adhere to, which means they are under more of an obligation to carry a range of news. All unions and other campaigning organisations say they would like more of their actions and disputes covered, but when they’re not, it doesn’t mean that the action is ineffective, poorly planned, or unlikely to have an impact. Take the joint strike with the teachers and lecturers on 24 April this year. Of course, in terms of the media, the teachers being on strike for the first time in 21 years was the big story. Here in the Land Registry we had lots of local cover about the action too. Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary appeared on Newsnight as well as Radio Five Live and Radio 4, including the massively influential

Today programme. We ensured this theme of co-ordinated public sector action over pay was sustained throughout the summer and it was a major feature of the TUC annual congress in September, where we dominated the news for 48 hours. Like any big business, the media is owned and controlled; we have little influence over its content. The task is to continue to effectively and innovatively to make it more difficult for them to ignore us and to develop good media strategies at local level that are relevant to the communities that newspapers serve.


Local media

Extract from The Dorset Echo

Regional and local media – particularly newspapers, but also TV, radio and online outlets – are where we can really play a part in making an impact and building our union’s profile and reputation. Regional and local papers and radio are very much a part of all those organisations that we want to build alliances with, so it will come as no surprise to the local journalists that we want to let them know what’s going on. The trust works both ways – if we show we’re reliable, thorough, available and fighting on local issues (and making the national issues relevant to the local area), local papers/radio will back us – or

at the very least report what we’re up to. When we have a big national dispute, local journalists from for instance the Dorset Echo will be out with their notepads keen to cover such a story on their turf. We never underestimate the importance of making the local news. The Today programme might help set the national news agenda, but more people where we live and work are likely to read their local newspaper than tune in to Today at 7.30am. PCS Land Registry reps try to ensure that a few union representatives from every branch develop good contacts with local newspapers and local radio stations.

Weymouth walkout

The Facts:

readers, viewers and listeners •. There.are.1,300.regional. and.local,.daily.and.weekly. newspapers.in.Britain. •. 83.9%.of.British.adults.read. a.regional.newspaper,.65%. read.a.national.newspaper. •. The.most.popular.online. newspaper.is.guardian.co.uk. with.over.20,000,000.unique. users.a.month. •. Nearly.8,000,000.people. listen.to.‘Wake.up.to.Wogan’. on.Radio.2. •. Over.9,500,000.people.listen. to.Radio.4,.6,260,000.listen. to.the.Today.programme.and. 6,000,000.to.5.Live. •. Commercial.radio.accounts. for.42%.of.all.listeners. •. 4,800,000.people.watch.the. BBC’s.Ten.O’clock.News.and. 2,400,000.people.watch. ITV’s.News.at.Ten. We.believe.in.the.importance. of.keeping.the.communication. fluid.between.us.and.the. media.by.giving.local. journalists.relevant.information. about.the.civil.and.public. servants.in.the.area,.how.we. work.and.benefit.the.local. community.and.also.what. impact.job.cuts,.office.closures. and.low.pay.have.on.local. services. Progress Winter 2008 9


Training event

Union training event Chris Carree, writes

Chris Carree, group executive committee member

This year’s PCS Land Registry group school was once again held in Wortley Hall in Sheffield. As ever, it was a valuable experience for all, allowing PCS reps to share experiences and knowledge from their branches and the building of networks between offices. This year’s subjects included: union involvement in Equality impact assessments – Equality impact assessments (EIAs) are a legal requirement in any new implementation of policies and can be used to “equality-proof” existing policies. EIAs can help highlight and consequently minimise the discriminatory effect that any new or existing policy can have on certain groups of members. This can include measuring the impact that specific policies may 10 Progress Winter 2008

have on gender, age, disability and other vulnerable groups of workers. A day was spent covering this subject in depth; looking at ways to best use these assessments for the benefit of members. Campaigning – A widely misunderstood element of union work, campaigning is often confused with campaigns purely focussed on industrial action. Our first afternoon was spent, with barely a moment to rest after arriving at Wortley, discussing campaigning on local issues. Campaigns can range from anything like problems with the type of toilet paper used in the toilets to the closure of an office. A productive discussion was held on how best to involve union members in local strategies to tackle the diversity of issues that may be faced at branch level. Land Registry Alternative Vision – A lively discussion was held with Keele university academic,

Wortley Hall, Sheffield

Mike Ironside, detailing the research that has been done in preparing the Land Registry alternative vision. For further details please see the article by Linda Cartwright on page 3. PCS like all organisations has had to cut costs particularly on union training events and it should be noted that it was only by careful financial planning by Louise Woodward our group treasurer that the event went ahead with a reduced student quota. A vote of thanks was passed before close of business to signify the gratitude we all shared in saving this important event from being cut altogether due to financial restraints. The Land Registry PCS group school event is invariably a rewarding experience that sends reps back to their branches full of enthusiasm and new ideas and valuable knowledge to help them in dealing with a plethora of problems.


Pay update

Agreement if possible, action if necessary head of the civil service, offered us meaningful talks to address the issues that form the basis of our dispute. His letter to the union agreed to extend by 28 days the period during which we could legally take industrial action. This did not mean we had cancelled the action, or called an end to the dispute, and our demands remained the same: • Inflation proofed basic pay increases • Pay progression to be funded separately from cost of living rises • Fewer separate pay negotiations

• Enough money to address equal pay problems • No link between pay and performance appraisal • An end to pressure for regional pay. Whatever the outcome of the process, we have always maintained that our aim is to resolve the dispute through negotiation. Though we have also made it clear that we stand ready to take industrial action if necessary to address the low and unfair pay that blights the civil service and its related areas.

Official PCS Land Registry banner competition The winning design will be made into the official PCS Land Registry banner. The only stipulations regarding the design are: • The design must contain the PCS logo, and • The design must be based on 1m x 1.5m banner (however the design does not have to be this big as it can be scaled up to the correct size) So let your imagination run wild and win yourself £50 in the process. If you have any questions relating to the banner please call Lyndis Else on 0191 301 5715. Please send paper copies of your design to: Emily Kelly (editor) Land Registry, Lancashire Office, PR4 1TE by the 31 January 2009. The winning design will be chosen by the GEC.

Competition ends 31 January 2009

As we went to press, formal talks with the government aimed at resolving our national pay dispute were at a critical point. Our national executive (NEC) was due to meet to receive an update and take a decision on the way forward. The NEC had been due to meet on Thursday 27 November but this was rescheduled to Monday 1 December to allow the talks to be completed. Members will recall that the decision to suspend the action planned for 10 November was taken after Sir Gus O’Donnell,

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PCS CREDIT UNION (proposed) Your union is actively working to provide an important new benefit for PCS members

A convenient way to save and low cost way to borrow. Owned and run by PCS members for the benefit of PCS members.

Your support will help us to make this a reality

For more information on how you can be involved contact: Molly Moyo Tel: 0207 924 2727 Fax: 0207 801 2675 Email: creditunion@pcs.org.uk Public and Commercial Services Union • www.pcs.org.uk/creditunion

Progress Magazine: Winter 2008  

Magazine for PCS Land Registry

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