Branch reports 2021

OFFICERS of London Freelance Branch presented reports to the Annual General Meeting in January. More may follow later.

The Chair

It's been different!

We had to cancel the April 2020 meeting due to the sudden announcement of Lockdown 1.0 - and since then we've had our monthly Branch meetings on Zoom every month since April, as well as our regular New Members' Meetings and, earlier in the pandemic, LFB Live sessions signposting members in need to where they can get help and support.

Our monthly Zoom meetings have usually had around 70 members attending. Many who wouldn't be able to make it all the way to Central London have joined us from wherever they live - and with some excellent themes and excellent speakers that we normally wouldn't have been able to get together in the same room.

These meeting demand a lot of behind the scenes work and preparation and wouldn't have been possible with my co-hosts Nicci Talbot, Nick Reynard Komiya and Pierre Alozie.

I took on the role of Chair last year on the understanding that I would have a co-chair as co-pilot. He has regrettably had to resign due to having more paid work, which leaves me flying solo again. I've enjoyed every minute of it but I'd really appreciate somebody coming forward as a co-chair to support me in chairing what is after all the biggest NUJ Branch by a long way.

It wouldn't have been possible without the hard work and general excellence of all the LFB Committee, the NUJ Freelance Office and all the staff at Headland House. I'd like to thank in particular Nick Reynard Komiya who has stood down as co-chair, as well as Tim Gopsill and Tony Levene who stand down as Branch Secretaries and Elizabeth Ingrams who was all keyed up to work on a Freelance Salon as a Member Without Portfolio when the plague struck.

I encountered LFB's Duncan Campbell outside the Old Bailey for the Assange judgment the other day. I later realised that apart from a socially distanced walk around Walthamstow with our Treasurer Jenny Vaughan in the summer, between lockdowns, and regular outdoor meetings with an LFB colleague who lives in my neighbourhood, it was the only time I'd met an LFB colleague in three-dimensional space since the end of March.

Looking back on the last year, it has felt like an honour and a privilege to do my bit to help out members in need in any way I can during the pandemic. I look forward to the time, hopefully sometime this year, when we have meetings - and an annual Branch party face-to-face, all in the same room, again... or possibly in some immediately post-Covid hybrid when some of us are there in person and some of us are there virtually on the big screen.

The Freelance

DURING this year of plague and rupture the Freelance has provided on its website a veritable avalanche of advice for members, filtering out the points most significant to freelance journalists. What can you claim if your business as a “pure freelance” has been damaged by the covid-19 pandemic? Where do you claim? What (if anything) can your union do for you if you were freelance but paid PAYE or “Pay As You Earn” like an employee?

And what on earth does Brexit mean for freelances in the UK and Freelance Branch members living and working in the EU?

Both crises have involved government by proclamation in the UK, with token scrutiny by Parliament if any. One of our editors has the website www.legislation.gov.uk/secondary constantly open on his phone. Frequently, the moment we update our advice a new entry appears on that website. Do we detect a pattern of updates at 17:10 on a Friday? Well, now they'll appear over the weekend. So we have not tempted fate by summarising the current state of the advice in a printable page. Instead we direct you to the frequently-updated online pages.

What cash help can you get from the government? Our current advice on getting payments as a freelance or trying to persuade your clients that pay you PAYE to support you - and much else - is at www.londonfreelance.org/fl/2011help.html and, in case that fails details of how to ask for help from the union's charity NUJ Extra are at www.londonfreelance.org/fl/2012nuje.html - do keep checking both for updates.

Throughout the year we have reported on what freelance journalists need to do to maintain legal residency and the right to work in the UK or in an EU member state: a summary is at www.londonfreelance.org/fl/2101brex.html

But what if you are based in London and just want to pop over to Milan to cover a story - or vice versa? At the time of writing, we confess, we don't know whether you'll need a work permit. But what we do know - for example that when we last looked you weren't going to need one to cover a scientific conference in France - is at www.londonfreelance.org/fl/2101visa.html and we'll update that as we find out.

Do you need to do anything differently regarding data protection as a result of Brexit? The short answer is: certainly not yet; and a long answer is at www.londonfreelance.org/fl/2101gdpr.html

Will anything change regarding your copyright? The short answer is: not for some considerable time and in fact probably not at all, unless some future UK government decides to walk away from any agreement with the EU - see details at www.londonfreelance.org/fl/2101copy.html And do keep checking the index page at www.londonfreelance.org/fl for further updates and, we fear, responses to new challenges.

The NUJ's Emergency Committee has decided that the Journalist will not be printed until at least October. Usually, the printed Freelance is posted with the Journalist. Posting it directly and separately to Branch members, as we did in June, would rapidly exhaust Branch funds. So we won't. The slog of updating our avalanche of advice has distracted us from producing printable selections like this.

Please keep checking our online output at www.londonfreelance.org/fl

Treasurer

The Union's financial year runs from October to September, so most of this report is based on that year.

Income We received just under £30,000 from Head Office between October 2019 and September 2020, plus a few other small payments, for example for ads in the Freelance.

Expenses Over that year, our expenses were over £33,000.

Of this, our biggest expenses were: just over £3000 for meeting rooms, while we had those (remember, we are going back to the October before last here); nearly £10,000 on the Freelance (printing) and roughly the same for editorial. Communications other than the Freelance (twitter account and web/email costs) came to around £4500.

By summer, we had moved over to Zoom meetings (we paid for a year's subscription as the free Zoom allowance did not allow us enough time for meetings), and obviously there were no more meeting costs, but we decided to donate what we would have spent on a physical meeting room to NUJ Extra which, along with a standing order for £100 a month agreed earlier, meant that we had donated around £2000 by October and, since then, we have made further donations of around £1500 as of last month. In November this year, we also donated £450 to the George Viner fund. Because of the donations to NUJ Extra, we have of course made no savings in meeting rooms apart from the relatively small costs of committee and new members' meetings.

The big saving recently has been in not printing the Freelance. When in spring the Journalist went online-only we ceased to print the Freelance (see note below), after one last huzzah in March, for which we had to pay postage to send out to our members only (all freelances get it, but in this case, it was sent online only to other branches). This came to £2750. Production costs thus dropped dramatically. So in a sense, we have benefitted financially from the restrictions around covid-19, though in hardly any other way.

In summary Our total outgoings that year October 2019 to September 2020 were £33,389, and we spent around £2400 more than we got in. In the first quarter of this NUJ year (October to December), we spent around £1600 less than our income, despite the payments to NUJ Extra - mostly because of the lack or printing costs.

The Freelance This brings me to a thought to ponder over the next month or so, but not for too long. That is, the payment we make to the editors of the Freelance. The rate at which they are paid now (£750 a month) has not changed since February 2015, though the workload, one way and another, has increased. My own feeling is that this is not acceptable, and we must look into raising the rate.

However, it's clear from the 2019/2020 accounts, that if we do pay more, we should probably cut costs elsewhere, and the obvious place is printing, as the accounts since October clearly show. This is a problem as there has always been a strong feeling in the Branch that people prefer, and are more likely to read, a printed issue. If we ever get back to normal, with a printed Journalist and a printed Freelance posted along with it, any rise in editorial costs will eat into our currently fairly healthy surplus of £18,500 (at the end of December 2020). We could sustain this for a few years or so, but not for ever, obviously, and it seems unwise to commit ourselves to consistently overspending.

So we do have to think about what we do about this. Two suggestions: one, reluctantly, is that we should, even when things return to normal (whatever that is), probably print fewer issues. And the other is that we must pay the editors of the Freelance more, and use savings on printing to do this. (That doesn't mean never printing - we could look into cutting back.)

How much more the editors should be paid is the next question.

Matt Salusbury, currently chair, has suggested a remuneration sub-committee, which seems to me to be a lot more sensible than the previous ‘system" of just plucking a sum out of the air. So I propose that we elect such a committee - either from the new Branch committee or from the membership as a whole - and ask them to come up with something very soon.

Membership

Numbers of new members elected to London Freelance Branch in 2020, with figures for 2019 in brackets for comparison:

Month Full Temporary Student Total
Jan 8 (10) 3 (4) 7 (5) 18 (19)
Feb 5 (14) 1 (5) 9 (9) 15 (28)
Mar 15 (17) 2 (9) 8 (6) 25 (32)
Apr 30 (28) 4 (20) 9 (17) 43 (65)
May 30 (17) 18 (10) 11 (4) 59 (31)
Jun 15 (15) 8 (10) 10 (7) 33 (32)
Jul 14 (8) 8 (7) 11 (5) 33 (20)
Aug-Sep 7 (17) 3 (9) 6 (13) 16 (39)
Oct 12 (6) 3 (3) 30 (70) 45 (79)
Nov 12 (21) 4 (4) 20 (21) 36 (46)
Dec 12 (11) 3 (10) 0 (22) 15 (43)
Total 160 (164) 57 (91) 121 (179) 348 (434)

Transfers into LFB from other branches: Jan 2 full, June 1 full, Sept 1 full, Dec 1 full. New asylum seeker members: Oct 1.

I have asked the Membership Department for numbers of branch members lapsed during the year and also for our Dec 31, 2020, total members, but not yet received those figures.

Equalities

The Equality survey run by the LFB's Equality Officers in Q4 2020 aimed to identify best strategies to support London Freelance Branch members facing and/or tackling equality related issues. The survey, shared on social media and LFB's website, took 2-3 minutes to complete.

The first part of the survey uses demographic questions and results show how female participants, which represent 52 per cent of all respondents, slightly outnumbered their male counterparts.

Most members who took part to the survey are "white British" (43 per cent), followed by 29 per cent who identify with the "white other" group, while only 9.5 per cent are "black non British". None of the respondents ticked the box "Asian".

Age-wise, almost half of the respondents (43 per cent) falls into the 51-65 age group, followed by members aged 36-50 (29 per cent) and the over 65 (24 per cent). While a small percentage of the younger members took part to the survey, perhaps surprisingly nobody aged 26-35 decided to have a say on equality.

When asked how they view the LFB in terms of equality, 52 per cent of the sample agreed on "A good mix of professional journalists" statement, followed by "It is an equality conscious organisation but lacks interest in promoting it", chosen in 29 per cent of the cases.

What do members suggest the LFB committee should do to boost equality in the branch?

Most participants (43 per cent) would like to see more speakers tackling equality-related issues during the LFB monthly meetings.

When the survey asked "Regarding reports that say a disproportionate number of BAME medics have died in fight against Covid19 at the NHS, how should the LFB respond?", most members (52 per cent), believe that LFB should stay in solidarity with the TUC and other union who are dealing with the case.

The question on BLM and the way the LFB should respond, saw most participants agreeing on the fact the LFB should express solidarity with the campaign (48 per cent), while a slimmer 28 per cent would like to see the LFB actually joining the campaign.

What factors are the LFB members most discriminated against? Apparently social class and race, followed by age and gender. As the question instructed participants to tick four factors out of eight, we are not including the exact percentages here.

The final survey question was a "free text" field seeking comments. No many were received, and the most relevant are as follows:

"The LFB has a pretty good record on equality, but there's something of a failure, as in the country in general, to recognise that women suffer from more discrimination than any other group."

"I am not worried about inequality within the LFB, but through my own experience of illness and disability in the past few years, I feel that no one at all will back up the victims of inequality, by believing their stories, through social media, or just listening."

And the survey ends on a positive note with: "I think the LFB does a pretty good job on promoting equality."

If re-elected in 2021, Equality Officers Federica Tedeschi and Safiullah Tazib will draw a strategic plan to meet LFB members' requests and expectations.

Welfare Officer

The rôle of a branch Welfare Officer, as defined in the Rule Book, is to provide an interface between the branch and NUJ Extra, our union's welfare charity. Unsurprisingly, this year has been significantly busier than previous periods. On a rough tally, I have helped three times more members this year than last.

To be clear, however, this still represents a very small base number - around fifteen cases. It would be comforting the imagine that this means that a relatively small number of branch members have suffered significant hardship in the past year. The reality, I suspect, is that the help available from NUJ Extra is largely unknown among our membership. I have tried to address this - for example by writing a piece for the Freelance profiling the work of the charity. I am not convinced that this had much effect. Should I be re-elected as your Welfare Officer, however, I commit to exploring fresh ways to explain the work of the charity to members.

Welfare Officers do not have a rôle within the charity itself and consequently, I am not able to formally report on the work of the charity to the branch. I am conscious, however, that over the last year, and for the first time in my memory, London Freelance Branch has made significant contributions to NUJ Extra from its own funds. From informal contact with several of the trustees, I do know that these contributions have been greatly welcomed.

In the event that pandemic-related restrictions are eased at some point in 2021, I wonder if the branch might not find a way to combine raising more funds for NUJ Extra with taking the charity's message to more members? If restrictions do change, I commit to trying to find ways to do so.

Waltham Forest Trades Council

We send two delegates to Waltham Forest Trades Council (WFTC): Jenny Vaughan and Mick Holder. Affiliation costs the branch £30.

Trades Councils are local TUC bodies made up of delegates from a range of unions - over the years this has mostly been pubic service unions, by historical accident rather than design. Our view is that working alongside other unions locally is important and should be supported by the branch: ideally, we should affiliate to more Trades Councils. As freelances, this would mean those operating where we live but, because the NUJ is based in Camden, we are entitled send delegates to that one, too.

WFTC has, as always, acted as an important bridge between the trade unions in the area and the residents as a whole.

Unsurprisingly the year has been dominated by covid-19, and the Council supported health and other key workers. This included the issue of PPE at our local hospital, the ageing, ramshackle but, despite that, excellent Whipps Cross Hospital in Leytonstone, and its dedicated staff, many of whom are migrant workers.

Whipps is due to be rebuilt, and the issue is how and with what capacity. Currently (and, given present circumstances, bizarrely) cutting the number of beds is part of the plan and the trades council is opposed to this and has affiliated to a local Action for Whipps Cross campaign.

The cutback in beds is made even more unacceptable in the light of the various plans to build vastly more housing in the borough, mostly as high-rise, little of which is destined to be "affordable", let alone social housing. Particular concern centres around an ongoing (five years or so now) debate about plans to develop a local shopping mall to increase its size and to build several extremely high-rise blocks (29 storeys) around it.

This would have all kinds of knock-on effects, including potential severe overcrowding at the tube/railway station; the loss of valuable green space; the detrimental effect on a local street market - an invaluable resource for lower paid people in the borough - and the fact that the local infrastructure in terms of schools, medical facilities etc. would be put under severe strain by these developments.

Protests, socially distanced, have continued throughout the year and are likely to go on. The problem always comes back to the lack of local authority finance: the new housing would bring in extra money for it - but the plans do little to solve the need for more housing suitable for current local residents. This of course is very much a trade union matter, as the lack of affordable housing must be one of the chief problems for working people in London, and is not resolved by building highly expensive luxury blocks.

Housing and homelessness, as throughout London, is an issue the Trades Council continues to campaign over, and one member of the Trades Council has done amazing work for homeless people in the borough, including providing food and a clothing collection over Christmas.

Amongst other activities are events on and around May Day, support for climate action such as the Friday climate strikes, local council issues, anti-racist events such as Black Lives Matter etc. all marked by local, socially distanced protests.

Branch member, and fellow delegate to WFTC, Mick Holder acts as PR for the Trades Council issuing press releases etc. and, every year, helps to organise and publicise an event for Workers' Memorial Day (28 April) to remember workers who have died in the course of their work. This was already a particularly poignant online event this year, as the numbers of workers dying of covid-19 was already beginning to rise.

  • 13 January 2012: we corrected a typo in the "51-65 age group".