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More consultation on democratic changes

29 March 2012

The Council has decided on a further period of consultation, including a discussion at this year’s Annual Representative Conference, before making any final decision of the future structure of Equity’s democracy.

Committees, branches and individual members have been responding to a discussion paper which outlined a committee structure with industrial organisation as its first priority with representation of crafts built in.

At its meeting in March the Council received nearly 100 pages of feedback from the previous two months of discussion, much of which supported the need for change, but with questions on the detail and a view that members needed more time to consider the new structures.

The proposals for change have been altered significantly as a result of the consultation and new plans were presented to the Council in March and a dedicated e-mail address has been set up to receive responses: fswpconsultation@equity.org.uk.

The Council has decided to encourage all branches, committees and members to comment on the new plans in a process which will include a discussion at this year’s ARC.

The new plans include:

  • a fourteen-strong elected Screen Committee made up of ten actors, three walk-ons and one choreographer;
  • a fourteen-strong elected Stage Committee with guaranteed seats for actors, stage managers, theatre directors,  theatre designers and choreographers;
  • a directly elected variety committee;
  • nine-strong elected sub-committees representing singers and audio artists;
  • nine-strong elected committees for young members; members with disabilities; minority ethnic members; women and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender members;
  • elected committees for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales of either nine or 12 members;
  • an elected stunt skills accreditation committee;
  • deputies’ committees for the West End and opera.

In order to give a voice for the English areas at Equity’s Annual Representative Conference it is proposed that the five English area Annual General Meetings elect two Conference reps.

Also going out for further consultation is a proposal for a slimmed-down Equity Council with 15 general list seats; four Variety, Circus and Entertainers seats; one seat each for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Northern England, the Midlands, South West England, South East England, Members with Disabilities, Minority Ethnic Members and Young Members. This would give a Council of 29 members plus the President.

The Council started this process of consulting on a major overhaul and modernisation of Equity’s democratic structures in January. A discussion document produced by Equity’s Financial Stability Working Party proposed a streamlining of Equity’s elected committees combined with an expansion of the role of branches and an increase in informal on-line networks. The review of committees and the Council was set up after the Council expressed a fear that costs of meetings were spiralling out of control. In her introduction to the discussion document General Secretary Christine Payne wrote: “The primary purpose of the committees and Council is to bring the democratic authority of the members to the actions of the union. They also provide an opportunity for members to participate in, and influence, their union on matters which are of concern and relevant to their working lives.  The working lives of members have changed very significantly over the past 20 years and indeed continue to change.”

During its nine-month review the FSWP asked itself some key questions: are the union’s limited financial and staffing resources being used in the best way to meet the needs of members? Does the union’s democracy reflect the needs and working lives of members? Does the current committee and Council structure help towards organising members to campaign? Does the low participation of members in elections reveal a growing democratic deficit?

The cost of electing and running the union’s committees and Council over their two-year life is very significant, yet member engagement with them is very low. In the 2011 Equity elections only half the committees had sufficient members standing to trigger an election and just 7 per cent of members decided to vote. In 2010, turn out in one election dropped to an appalling 4 per cent. The FSWP asked how far this could really be called democracy.

Committee changes can be made by the Council, but changes to the Council require a referendum of the members.

Members can download the latest proposals from: https://www.equity.org.uk/documents/fswp-second-report-to-council/ and can e-mail their views to fswpconsultation@equity.org.uk.

Click here to see how The Stage has reported Equity's review of its democracy.

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