Starmer thanks Prentis for “oustanding leadership” as UNISON head retires

Sienna Rodgers

Labour leader Keir Starmer has thanked Dave Prentis for his “many years of outstanding leadership” following the news that the UNISON general secretary will retire at the end of the year.

In a message to staff members, Prentis said: “I’ve been so proud to serve as UNISON general secretary for 20 years. It has been the honour and privilege of my life to be able to represent our incredible public service workers from across our four nations, and never more so than in the last few difficult months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Today I have advised the President that I will retire on 31 December 2020 when my current period of office comes to an end. In order to comply with trade union law, our NEC development and organisation committee will meet this week to discuss a timetable to elect my successor and full details will be published once that is agreed. But I wanted you, the staff who do so much for our union, to hear the news directly from me.

“We have been through some tough times together. We’ve brought our union through the long years of austerity where we saw our public services decimated with hundreds of thousands of jobs lost. But we stayed strong and we built the union.

“We are now the largest union in the UK and the fastest-growing union in Europe. We have a vibrant lay democracy, our finances are strong and our staff are second to none in the trade union movement.

“Every day for the past 47 years, I have been proud to serve this union and I have always been driven by a belief in fairness and justice for all our members. Never more so than in the past five months when I have seen our staff, our members and our public services rise to the challenge of the pandemic. In the worst of all circumstances, I have seen our union at its very best. 

“New members are joining our union faster than ever before because they value what a strong union can provide – support when they need it, strength to fight for change and a community that means that even in the most worrying times, you are never alone. Our enduring values of caring and solidarity will be more important than ever in the coming years.

“As the health crisis turns to an economic crisis, we will face more challenges. I will be here to continue to lead this union until the end of this year – we still have a great deal of work to do together. It has been my pleasure, my honour and an absolute privilege to lead our union, UNISON.”

Responding to the announcement, Starmer – whose leadership bid was backed by UNISON earlier this year – tweeted: “I want to thank you for your many years of outstanding leadership and for admirably representing our heroic frontline workers during the coronavirus crisis. I know you will always contribute to our movement and that we will continue to campaign together.”

Deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted: “I wish @DavePrentis a long and happy retirement, Dave has led our union for many years and has been an outstanding general secretary. Always encouraging activists like me in the early days in the union, always so supportive, thanks for everything Dave.”

It is understood that executive members of UNISON were informed of the timing of the retirement this morning, and that the timetable for the election will be agreed by the union’s NEC by the end of the month.

Prentis first took up the general secretary post in 2001, and was re-elected in 2005 with 77% of the vote and in 2015 with 49% of the vote.

When the new leadership team was elected in April, Prentis wrote for LabourList that UNISON backed Starmer and Rayner “because they were the right people for the job” and “have all the ingredients for a winning team”.

GMB is currently led by an acting general secretary and the affiliated union is choosing a new head. At Unite, Howard Beckett, Steve Turner and Sharon Graham have all declared bids to succeed Len McCluskey.

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