Decision day for RCN members as ruling council faces potential no-confidence vote

Review criticises college’s governance as members prepare for confidence vote at RCN EGM
Birmingham Rep

EGM takes place in Birmingham as RCN continues to deal with fallout from NHS pay deal row

  • The then general secretary Janet Davies blocked questioning of pay proposal, review states
  • RCN lead pay negotiator's role in communicating the deal was a 'conflict of interest'
  • College's member relations director Chris Cox resigns

Birmingham Repertory Theatre, where the meeting will take place. Picture: iStock

Today the leadership of the RCN faces the prospect of a vote of no confidence, as a damning report calls for major changes in the college's governance.

The vote takes place following last night's publication of the second report of an independent review of the college's handling of the NHS pay deal in England.

'Inaccurate information'

It finds the college's council, its governance committees and members did not have the information they needed to make a balanced decision on the proposed pay deal. The review said scrutiny of the figures at a crucial meeting was 'closed down' by the then general secretary Janet Davies.

Former general secretary Janet Davies.
Picture: John Houlihan

The report by the Electoral Reforms Service (ERS) also finds presentation of the three-year pay deal to the college council and committees was 'biased towards acceptance' and members were given some factually incorrect information.

Today, the RCN's director of member relations Chris Cox, who was accountable for the college's trade union strategy and its communications lead, resigned.

The ERS found 'weakness in the rigour of testing and checking details' rested with Mr Cox, to whom the lead pay negotiator reported. Ms Davies stepped down in August.

Chris Cox has resigned as director of
member relations. Picture: Jay Williams

Responding to the report, RCN council said last night: 'This conclusion does not absolve the college of fault, and indicates that the processes around the pay deal and its communication were not sufficiently robust.

'The RCN council agrees with the findings of the review, and has committed to addressing ERS’s recommendations in full.  Work has already commenced to ensure that the college is stronger for our members.'

Executives’ questioning was ‘closed down’

The report states that neither Ms Davies nor executive team were suitably informed of the impact of the deal yet there was a 'evidence of closing down scrutiny and questioning' by the then general secretary.

It highlights a key meeting of the executive team in March, which took place just five days before the trade union committee agreed the pay proposal in principle. At this executive meeting, which took the form of a teleconference, RCN lead pay negotiator Josie Irwin was given just an hour to present detailed pay tables. Attempts to question the figures were blocked by Ms Davies, the review states.

At least one executive team member told the ERS review they felt they were unable to scrutinise facts and figures because of the limited time allotted. In addition, Ms Irwin had to make her presentation using slides because the general secretary had banned the use of papers at such meetings 'in the hope this would lead to more discussion rather than following prescribed text', the report states.

'Clear and succinct comparison of the proposed deal versus the current system was lacking'

Electoral Reforms Service review

Following the teleconference, the executive team 'understood the proposed deal to mean a minimum 3% rise for all members in 2018/19 but did not know the specifics of how this would be achieved in terms of the split between pay uplift and incremental step increase', the ERS says.

Josie Irwin 'was given an hour' to present
the pay deal. Picture: Barney Newman

On the communication of the deal to members, the ERS concludes: 'Clear and succinct comparison of the proposed deal versus the current system was lacking and this hindered informed balanced judgement amongst members and prevented clear context being applied to headline figures such as ‘6.5% over 3 years’ and ‘up to 29%’ figures used during the campaign.'

'Insufficient fact-checking'

The ERS also believes there was a conflict of interest with Ms Irwin's role covering 'presenting and aiding communication of the deal'.

'There did not appear to be sufficient checks and balances in place for this role, or fact-checking of the detail to ensure accurate and objective information,' the report says.

Review recommendations

The Electoral Reforms Service calls for the RCN to:

  • Always consider a 'risk-based approach' to negotiations, including providing additional information for individuals to mitigate the complexity of deals
  • Ensure independent analysis and fact-checking and high-level sign-off
  • Establish earlier involvement of the wider membership in developing a negotiated position
  • Have a clear communications lead 


College members are currently meeting in Birmingham for an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) before taking the no confidence vote.

The EGM was prompted by a petition, signed by more than 1,000 members, in response to controversy over the college's communication of the NHS pay deal in England.

The motion to be voted on is: ‘We have no confidence in the current leadership of the RCN and call on council to stand down.’

The RCN council sets the strategic direction of the college and holds the executive team to account.

The vote is expected by 4pm – and Nursing Standard will update the story as the event unfolds.

Read the ERS report here 

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