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General Council Report 2020

TUC Congress 2020
Report type
Research and reports
Issue date
TUC Administration
TUC staff
TUC staff

7.1 Developing the TUC

The TUC has great staff and robust systems, put in place following significant internal developments in our digital infrastructure over recent years. During the coronavirus crisis, we’ve continued to deliver on unions’ behalf – just in a different way.

Our people, learning and development

Our people are at the heart of everything we do. We are an Investor in People, reflecting our high standards of people management, and this year we also achieved the Good Work Standard.

As the coronavirus pandemic took hold, some of our staff were sick, some lost loved ones and everyone had to adapt to the unprecedented pressures of lockdown. Most TUC staff worked from home. We took advantage of the government’s job retention scheme to furlough some staff whose jobs were directly affected, for example in our Congress Centre function.

We introduced new ways of communicating to ensure we stayed in touch with all our staff. Conscious of the difficult personal conditions and heavy workload placed on many staff, we were careful to monitor and consider mental as well as physical health during the crisis. We introduced a number of additional flexibilities to help our staff remain productive.

We introduced some new internal communications methods to ensure that our staff stayed up to date with the TUC’s programme and how the unfolding situation affected their work. Although some training courses were put on hold due to lockdown, we’ve made good use of online sessions.

Before supporting staff to start returning to workplaces, and working with our health and safety reps, we carried out a risk assessment of each workplace and considered staff’s personal risks.

We continue to look carefully at vacancies as they arise, with a number of posts being re-shaped to ensure they best meet the demands on the TUC. In June and September 2020, joint Heads of Equality and Strategy, Alice Hood and Nicola Smith, left the TUC, both for new posts at the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Alice had over 10 years’ experience, and Nicola spent 13 years at the TUC, leading the Economic and Social Affairs Department as well as equalities and strategy. Their judgement, skills, wisdom and commitment to the TUC and our values will be missed.

IT strategy and information services

In January 2020, we completed our programme to move to a new suite of tools to help us work cross-departmentally and improve our security and data protection compliance. Because the system uses cloud technology, it has become progressively easier for all staff to work remotely, with the final team being enabled in January. A major project for 2020 has been a new, faster intranet, which we launched in summer 2020. This was a significant achievement given nearly all our staff were working remotely at this time.

The information line supported nearly 7,500 public enquiries in 2020, of which 65 per cent were from people who wanted to know how to join a trade union. That’s an increase of 11 per cent who were looking to join a union. Because of worries about safety and job security, the signs during lockdown are that 2020 will drive even more people to find out about union membership.

Congress House improvements

Following our strategy to make the best possible use of Congress House, we continued to let new space in our refurbished office space, The Rookery. We are still assessing the impact of coronavirus on our lettings.

Congress Centre – a valued venue

The TUC and its affiliates have enjoyed the wide range of meetings, conferences and events facilities hosted by Congress Centre. These facilities are under increasing demand and 2019 was a bumper year for us. We delivered events from conferences to fashion shows.

We broke our targets in Q1 of 2020 but were delivered a heavy blow by the coronavirus lockdown. We are well placed to take advantage of any upturn as we are experienced in hosting hybrid online/physical events and we have worked through social distancing plans. We continue to monitor the market closely and explore new promotional methods to maximise value from the facilities.

7.2 Affiliations and mergers

There were no affiliations or mergers to the TUC in 2019–20.

7.3 Congress awards

Congress awards have been suspended this year. Very few nominations were received as unions have understandably been occupied in dealing with the challenges of the pandemic.

7.4 Congress

The 2019 Congress was held in Brighton. The Congress carried 49 resolutions, 17 composites and three emergency resolutions. It also agreed statements on Brexit and the TUC Campaign Plan 2019–20.

7.5 General Council

At the time of writing, the General Council has held seven meetings during the Congress year. At the first meeting, held jointly with the outgoing General Council of the 2019 Congress, Ged Nichols was elected as chair and he will preside at the 2020 Congress. It was agreed that the Executive Committee should be composed of the existing members, with the addition of Tony Dale and Claire Sullivan.

In December 2020, Isabelle Gutierrez and Jane Loftus joined the General Council, following a byelection in Section D. In April 2020, Tim Roache left the General Council and Executive Committee. In May 2020, Seán McGovern sadly passed away.

During the course of the year, key themes in the General Council’s work have been coronavirus, the December 2019 general election, Brexit, and the campaign for a new deal for working people.

The General Council lead responsibilities for the year 2019–20 have been as follows:

Overall responsibility as lead spokesperson for the TUC

The general secretary,
Frances O’Grady

Senior representative throughout the Congress year

The president, Ged Nichols

Specific areas of responsibility

Mary Bousted and
Kevin Courtney

Disabled workers
Seán McGovern (until May 2020), current vacancy

Employment rights
Tony Burke

Environment and sustainable development
Sue Ferns

Steve Turner

Health and safety
Liz Snape MBE

International development
Gail Cartmail

International relations
Tim Roache (until April 2020), Kevin Courtney (from July 2020)

Learning and skills
Mary Bousted

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights
Maria Exall

Public services
Dave Prentis

Race equality
Gloria Mills CBE

Trade union councils
Steve Gillan

Philipa Harvey

Young workers
Charlie Gray

Following consultation with affiliates, the General Council continued to make improvements to the TUC’s strategic governance, agreeing changes to the equality committees and the Young Workers’ Forum and conferences, and the Trades Union Councils Joint Consultative Committee (TUCJCC). The General Council has decided, from 2020–21 onwards, to bring together the statutory conferences on a tighter timetable to align more closely with the Congress year. The General Council also agreed changes including new statements of purpose and standing orders for the advisory committees, seeking to improve the reporting relationship between the committees and General Council, increase clarity around their role and remit, improve conferences and ensure more and better input into TUC campaigns.


7.6 Conferences

Women’s conference

This year’s Women’s Conference was held from 4 to 6 March at Congress House. The conference, chaired by Susan Matthews of Unite, debated a wide range of motions covering menopause and menstrual equality in the workplace, ending gender-based violence and harassment in the world of work, and winning a new deal for women workers. Conference heard international speakers reflect on the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and from journalist Samira Ahmed on her historic equal pay win.

Young Workers, Black Workers, Disabled Workers, and LGBT+ Workers conferences

All these scheduled conferences were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Interim arrangements for the election of new committee members and for the submission of a motion to TUC Congress 2020 were agreed by the TUC Executive Committee. The committees also agreed positions on all union motions that had been put forward to conferences.

Trades Councils Conference

As with other statutory committees, the Trades Councils Conference was unable to go ahead. The TUCJCC agreed interim measures to select a motion for the Congress agenda, to select a trades councils delegate to Congress and to cover TUCJCC elections. All motions were remitted to the committee to establish a trades councils programme of work for 2020–21.

7.7 TUC finances

The annual statement of accounts and balance sheet as at 31 December 2019 is set out in Appendix 3. It shows a total surplus across all funds of £2.566 million, including asset revaluations and FRS 102 pension accounting adjustments. The operating surplus on ordinary activities of £662,000 comprises a deficit of £223,000 on the unionlearn fund and surpluses of £460,000, £181,000 and £244,000 on the administration, development and Congress House dilapidations funds respectively.

Following a tender process, we changed auditor this year. Our new auditor, Crowe, has advised us to make a number of adjustments to our accounts. These are explained in note 17 to the accounts.

Development fund

In 2019, 10 per cent of the affiliation fee was allocated to the development fund, alongside some external funding, and was used to promote new work and General Council initiatives. This was used to support a variety of projects, with the main initiatives being:

  • winning for more workers
  • a new deal for working people
  • rebuilding a UK that works for working people after Brexit.

The development fund, representing all non-unionlearn externally funded projects together with projects funded by the affiliation fee, showed an operating surplus of £181,000.

Statement of accounts

The administration fund (covering day-to-day office running expenses and staff costs) produced a surplus on ordinary activities of £460,000, while unionlearn funds produced a deficit of £223,000. The development fund is shown above, while the dilapidations fund showed that £536,000 was spent on the upkeep of Congress House during the year and £780,000 was transferred to the dilapidations fund from the administration fund.

During 2019, our calculated FRS102 pension scheme position moved from a £10,674,000 surplus to £10,297,000. This negative movement of £377,000, together with the operating surplus of £662,000, the gain of £220,000 on sale of investments, net revaluation and deferred tax gain of £2,061,000, has increased the funds of the TUC from £82,386,000 to £84,952,000.

Prospects and developments

A budget for the 2020 administration fund has been agreed by the General Council. This showed a projected surplus of £629 but, as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown measures, at the time of writing this no longer appears achievable. The General Council approved a nine pence (3.13 per cent) increase in the affiliation fee to £2.97 for 2020. The Executive Committee agreed to set up a working group to look at the formula for the TUC affiliation fee in the context of wider trade union finances. This work was suspended by agreement until later in the year in the light of the Covid-19 emergency.

The TUC has retained its Fair Tax accreditation.

7.8 TUC Library

Located at London Metropolitan University, we attract a wide range of researchers interested in both the history and the current activities of trade unions, industrial relations, labour history and adult education.

We have five pop-up exhibitions available for loan. The latest is on the history of young workers and trade unions. The other four are: 150 years of the TUC; the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike; the Impact of the Russian Revolution on the Left; and the relationship between American and British labour movements.

Our educational history websites – The Union Makes Us Strong; Workers’ War; Winning Equal Pay; and Britain at Work – contain image archives and oral history and can all be accessed

TUC Library can be found on social media at:


Contact TUC Librarian Jeff Howarth to arrange visits and inductions at:
London Metropolitan University
The Wash Houses
Old Castle Street
London E1 7NT
020 7320 3516


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