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Consideration of an elected RCN general secretary voted down by Congress

The RCN Council will not consider introducing an elected RCN general secretary after a motion to review the current joint role of chief executive and general secretary was voted down at RCN Congress.

The resolution, submitted by the RCN Greater Liverpool and Knowsley Branch, called for a review into the joint chief executive and general secretary role, currently held by Dame Donna Kinnair.

The review, which would have been conducted by the RCN Council with the possible intention of introducing an elected general secretary role, would have also considered the organisational and governance impacts of the change.

For example, it would have questioned whether a chief executive needs to be appointed alongside an elected general secretary and what the relationship would be between the two roles.

Whether the general secretary would be an employee and whether they would be a voting member of the RCN Council would also have been be evaluated. 

The resolution was debated by voting and non-voting RCN members, but ultimately lost 338 votes against to 205 for, after chair of Congress BJ Waltho called for voting cards to be used, as opposed to delegates simply holding up their voting books.

The position of chief executive and general secretary of the RCN is currently combined, with the post holder appointed by RCN Council.

Lindsey Scott, a voting member, said the challenges are much wider than those presented in the motion. She said: ‘The chief executive and the general secretary require very specific skills, knowledge and experience, which you could not assure are in place through an election process.’

Nykoma Hamilton, a voting member, said she was going to vote against the resolution because she wanted to see evidence-gathering first. She said: ‘Let’s work on the evidence, not just what we think is going to happen as a reaction.’

To a big laugh, she added: ‘An election isn’t always a guarantee of experience or knowledge. I mean, after all, look at America.’

Jeremy Benton, a non-voting member from Oxfordshire, earlier backed the idea of an elected general secretary. He said: ‘We will not be taken seriously, nor do I believe will our interests and priorities as members be properly represented until we have an elected, paid, full-time general secretary.’

A shortlist instead of a staged election was suggested by voting member Michael Lawton.  

The possibility of an elected general secretary was raised at the RCN Extraordinary General Meeting in September last year, which was called in response to the widespread anger surrounding the RCN’s communication of the 2018 NHS Pay Deal.

Most trade unions are required by law for all members to directly elect their general secretaries. But This does not apply to the RCN and the other 12 Special Register Bodies - though of these bodies, all but the BMA appoint their general secretary, which falls under the chair of council role. The BMA also have an appointed chief executive.