Members of the Royal College of Nursing have voted against a proposal to review the joint nature of the chief executive and general secretary roles.
The RCN currently has one post to lead both the professional body and trade union arms of the college. The position is held at present by Dame Donna Kinnair.
“If we separate the roles we are treading on very dangerous ground”
A resolution was put before the RCN congress today proposing a review of the joint role, with a view of introducing an elected general secretary.
The motion was rejected with 205 voting in favour and 338 against. A further 38 members abstained from the vote and five spoiling their ballot.
It was made clear during the debate that the proposal was not about individuals with members stating their respect for Dame Donna.
RCN trade union representative Mike Travis, who presented the resolution, said: “It could easily be construed the wrong way – this is not about the role of Donna, this is about something we need to think about in the future. We need to think about how we are going to modernise the RCN.”
He noted how in recent years the RCN had reviewed branches, boards, forums and council but it had looked at the senior management structure.
Supporting the resolution, Danielle Tiplady, from the Inner North East London branch, highlighted how currently the general secretary was chosen by around six people to represent 450,000 members.
Jeremy Benton, from the Oxfordshire branch, said: “We will never be taken seriously nor will our interests and priorities as members be properly represented until we have an elected, paid, full-time general secretary in charge of our RCN.”
Opposing the resolution, Lindsay Scott, from the RCN Nurses in Management and Leadership Forum steering committee, said the chief executive and general secretary required specific skills that could not be ensured through an election process.
Dougie Lockhart, from the Dumfries and Galloway branch, warmed members to be “very, very careful” when voting on the resolution and consider the consequences.
He highlighted how the RCN typically saw a low turn-out on key votes by members.
“We will never be taken seriously until we have an elected, paid, full-time general secretary”
South Staffordshire branch member Liz Longstaff said one of the reasons behind the RCN’s success was its integration of employment relations and professional issues.
“If we separate the roles we are treading on very dangerous ground because when you separate them then things will slip through the net and that’s how mistakes happen,” she added.
The general secretary should be appointed on competence not popularity, Ms Longstaff urged.
Celia Manson, from the West Kent and Medway branch, said it would be “healthy” to have a review of the joint role in light on the row that erupted last year, which led to members passing a vote of no confidence in the RCN Council.
She said any review should involve an analysis of the cost benefit of having both a general secretary and chief executive on the payroll.