THREE of Southampton’s top union chiefs have quit after a row over plans to close two city care homes.

Unison’s Southampton branch chair and two senior officials claim members were threatened with disciplinary action if they publicly protested at Labour’s regional conference in the city.

The branch agreed to protest over plans by Labour-run Southampton City Council to shut two authority-run care homes – Glen Lee and Holcroft House.

But members claim regional chiefs stepped in and told city branch bosses that a demonstration could “damage the union’s special relationship” with the Labour party.

In a letter, sent to almost 3,000 Unison members, branch secretary Hayley Garner said she, the branch chair and the deputy branch chair had quit over the decision.

Daily Echo:

The letter, signed by Ms Garner, said: “As you may be aware the branch has been running a high-profile campaign with regards to the two care home closures proposed by Southampton City Council.

“As part of the campaign, we received a mandate from our branch committee to hold a demonstration outside the South East Labour Party conference.

“Despite receiving this mandate, a paid Unison staff member in the regional office threatened the deputy branch secretary with disciplinary action if we were seen to support the demonstration as a branch and didn’t want to damage to damage the ‘special relationship’ with the local Labour party.”

In the letter, Ms Garner added that members did attend the protest, outside Southampton Solent University’s Spark building in November, in a personal capacity.

Daily Echo:

She also accused regional Unison chiefs of holding a “secret meeting” with city Labour bosses without branch representatives present.

Ms Garner added: “This is simply unacceptable.

"Paid Unison officers cannot override the decision of lay members and threaten representatives with disciplinary action if they support members farther than the local political party.”

She later accused Unison chiefs of a “lack of support” both regionally and nationally and said the branch had become “increasingly concerned” over the direction of the union.

Ms Garner said she, the branch chair and the deputy branch chair had decided to join rival union Unite.

A Unison spokesperson said: “There have been a few resignations from the branch, but while we seek to clarify the position, it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment further at this point.

“We’d like to reassure all Unison members in Southampton that they continue to benefit from the union’s full support.”

As previously reported in the Echo, Southampton City Council announced plans last year to shut authority-run care homes Glen Lee, in Bitterne, and Holcroft House, in Thornhill.

Daily Echo:

The move, which the council claimed would save more than £1.3m a year, sparked a backlash from grass-roots Labour members, who raised fears that up to 80 jobs could be lost.

Members of both Unison and Unite threatened strike action if the city council pushed through the plans.

Unite also organised a demonstration, attended by more than 100 protesters, outside Labour South East’s regional conference at Solent University’s Spark building in November.

The protest was not publicly backed by Unison members, although a number attended in a personal capacity.

Following a 12-week consultation, which ended in February, civic chiefs announced Holcroft House would remain open.

However, Glen Lee will be axed, though the council say residents on the site will be given the option to move to Holcroft House. The council has yet to decide on a closure date.