A review of 2019, and lessons for the coming year

NUJ members sitting around a large table having a discussion.

Branch members discuss the challenges of working in publishing with Book Branch rep Anna Herve.

2019 was a busy year for our branch. Branch secretary Anna Wagstaff seeks to draw some conclusions to guide our direction in 2020.

From active campaigning to behind-the-scenes support, we’ve been working to be a voice for journalists and journalism in Oxford: campaigning for transparency in public services and better-resourced local media, raising the profile of the publishing sector within the NUJ, and supporting members struggling with overwork and stress.

What worked well, what didn’t and what should we follow up in 2020? Continue reading

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We’re talking about why we work excessive hours and how to stop

Head and shoulders photo of Eleanor Connor.Many people working in publishing find themselves doing excessive overtime on a regular basis. And because Oxford is a publishing hub, this is an issue that affects many of our members. Branch member Eleanor Connor explains how we have started to tackle the problem.

Overwork is a major issue in publishing, but few of us actually talk about it. We thought we should. We wanted to create a space in which we could share experiences with colleagues across the sizeable publishing industry in this area, as a first step to working out ways to address the problem.

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We’ve turned whistleblower!

Adrian Harris 2

Professor Adrian Harris, consultant medical oncologist at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, addressing the meeting. © Peter McIntyre

The Oxford NUJ branch is blowing the whistle on NHS England for its lack of transparency and its attempts to frustrate efforts to hold it to account for its decision relating to the future of Oxfordshire’s diagnostic cancer scanning services.

The question we are asking is this:

Why is NHS England being so secretive about the basis for its decision regarding the future of Oxfordshire’s PET-CT diagnostic imaging services? What is the basis for its decision to take this service away from the world-class radiology team at the Churchill hospital, where it operates as an integrated part of a world-class cancer care service? Why has NHS England awarded preferred bidder status to a private company that operates from mobile units, and has no-one with a licence to administer the radioactive substances used in PET-CT?

This are questions that should normally be posed by reporters, and our local journalists are certainly doing their best to get answers. It is a question also for Oxfordshire’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which is empowered to ‘call-in’ questionable decisions made by our public healthcare services, and they too have been doing their best to get answers.

Our NUJ branch got involved because we are alarmed at the lengths to which NHS England seems to be prepared to go to avoid being scrutinised and held to account for this decision. It has not addressed questions of substance relating to the impact the change to the service will have on the quality and safety of patient care. It seems intent on stifling those who seek to voice their concerns, and withholding information that the public has a right to know.

The Oxford NUJ branch is saying that it is not OK for public bodies to hide behind legal threats, to seek to silence critics or to create a climate of fear in public bodies.

We took the unusual step of calling a public meeting in Oxford Town Hall to try to build up a picture of what is going on. We posted the speakers’ presentation on our YouTube channel. You can view the full playlist here. Video recordings are courtesy of Peter McIntyre.

What they said

We invited Professor Adrian Harris, a consultant medical oncologist at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, to tell us the story so far from the perspective of those currently running the service at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust (OUHT).

Adrian explained that the quality of PET-CT scans matters because they change treatment decision in up 40% of cases. Referring to correspondence from NHS England, he argue they had built their case on “incorrect data to force the issue to allow InHealth to come in and disrupt an outstanding service,” and that they were blocking access to key information by claiming there were “discussions” and a “legal review” that do not exist.

“NHS England have not told the truth, they have put legal pressure on doctors, they don’t reply to emails, when corrected in things they don’t respond and the role of Bruno [Dr Bruno Holthof is Chief Executive Officer of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust] in not taking us through what the doctors say, what the Trust wants to do, passing on messages very worrying to me. We have to have an open access. How can we have an explanation, not only just from NHS England but the local Trust leaders as to why they are behaving like that?”

You can see his full presentation here (11 mins)

We also invited Tamsin Allen, a partner at Bindmans law firm who specialises in defamation law and has long experience representing whistleblowers, to comment on the legal issues.

Tamsin talked about the letter NHS England’s lawyers had sent to the OUHT, warning them that any statement that suggests that the result of awarding the contract to InHealth puts patient safety at risk or compromises the provision of cancer care and research in the health system “would be defamatory if repeated to any third party”.

“That’s an incredibly broad and sweeping claim, and it’s also legally wrong,” said Tamsin. She questioned a later clarification from NHS England that the letter had been intended as helpful advice regarding possible defamation suits from others, rather than a direct threat. “Lawyers are used to using language precisely particularly when talking about the law. That was a deliberate sentence. It’s an intimidating statement.”

You can view her presentation here (14 mins)

We also invited Seamus Dooley, the Assistant General Secretary of the NUJ, to talk about the role of a strong local press in championing the public interest by scrutinising the behaviour of those in charge of our public services.

“This is not about the law. This is about bullying and unacceptable behaviour. From the NUJ’s perspective, we are under no doubt that what this is intended is to have a chilling effect which inhibits debate and inhibits questions. It is about the use of law to close down debate. Does it mean journalists will stop asking questions? I hope not.”

You can view his presentation here (5 mins).

The meeting was chaired by Anna Wagstaff, Secretary of the Oxford and District NUJ branch. In her opening remarks she said, “This is behaviour you could maybe expect from a tobacco company but not from our health service. We’d like this to be a practical meeting focused on how we can bring some accountability and transparency to this process to ensure decision are made in the best interests of the public that the NHS is meant to serve.”

You can view her presentation here (2 mins)

You can see the Banbury Guardian’s report (26 June 2019) on their battle to get access to the relevant correspondence between NHS England and the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust here.

You can see the Oxford Mail report of the meeting here

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We’re having a pop-up Xmas party!

Xmas party 2018

Worried that print journalism is going down the tubes?

Concerned that the BBC may become an arm of the welfare state?

Upset that publishers have still not learnt the lessons from more than a decade of disastrous off-shoring?

Or just fancy spending an evening with other media workers?

We’re on it! 

Join us  for the Oxford NUJ Christmas pop up party! Meet colleagues and potential future colleagues, and help us set the media industry to rights over a pint or two…

Where? King’s Arms, opposite the Bodleian, top of Broad St, Oxford

When? Thursday 13th December, 7.15 onwards

Who? If you work in the media, you’re welcome

See you there



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Ideas for strengthening NUJ organisation in books and journals

bill mackeithHow can NUJ activists and organisers strengthen union organisation in  book & journal publishing, and achieve a stronger profile within the NUJ?

The following notes represent the results of conversations between members of the Oxford branch committee and the Taylor & Francis chapel committee. They formed the basis of a talk given by Bill MacKeith at the London Book Branch meeting, 11 October 2018. We encourage members working in the sector to take a look and to comment. We see greater collaboration as key, and hope this contribution can help open up an inclusive discussion.

You can leave a comment at the end, or contact us directly at oxfordnuj@gmail.com

NUJ Book Branch talk on Organising in Books, notes, 11 October 2018

Need for the best resources

Need for updated resources/campaign and tailored templates aimed at the books/journals sector on key issues:

  • recruitment,
  • improving pay
  • improving pensions
  • equality
  • gender pay gap
  • stress and workload/staffing levels
  • health and safety
  • maternity/paternity
  • mental health awareness

Find a collaborative way of addressing that, by at least having a central resource centre where campaign/recruitment materials that chapels have already prepared (e.g. the T&F leaflet on the gender pay gap) can be uploaded and accessed by others

Possibility of doing a cheap and cheerful recruitment video aimed at this sector – could be just people from different book/journal chapel saying why they joined, why they are glad they did etc.

A profile for academic publishing

Academic publishing should have much more of a profile within the NUJ, so it looks as if ‘the NUJ knows know academic publishing and the current issues’ in the way that we clearly know journalism. The content of this would need chapel input, particularly in terms of defining the big current professional issues and how they feed in to industrial issues (e.g. working out how the digitalisation of every aspect of publishing impacts on old recruitment divisions and also gender pay/status gaps; earlier examples include impact of Open Access on investment in editorial quality, and also impact of contracting out and race to the bottom on quality). Chapels need to define the issue, but it is up to the leadership and The Journalist (!) to give more visibility to them.

Building collaboration between our chapels

It’s all about building an effective collaboration around these issues between chapel committees in the sector (particularly within academic publishing). The new Books NEC members could be important in helping this happen. Also, important to build direct links with the Springer Nature chapel, and other active academic publishing chapels (like Lexis Nexis maybe?)

Publishing Alliance 

We should look into setting up some sort of (working title) ‘Publishing Alliance’ where all the active NUJ and also Unite book/journal chapels can campaign publicly on chosen issues (also with Society of Young Publishers/ Society of Freelance Editors and Proofreaders), maybe starting with the gender pay gap. Could be one way of building a profile for the NUJ in academic publishing.

Who can we recruit?

Who can and cannot join? This is a source of much friction and people see it as arbitrary, because a lot of sales and IT work involves making editorial-type judgements and understanding things from an editorial perspective. You cannot separate them. When commissioning editors attend book fairs, they are sales persons. We need to be more flexible with the interpretation of NUJ eligibility criteria. Would be good for book/journal chapels to suggest guidelines and see if they do or do not fit within the current rulebook. Alternatively propose a rule change.

A more secure and up to date way of handling membership information
[GDPR issues have since been addressed]

Present system is not GDPR compliant.

More important, an M/FoC should be able to welcome each new member in the Chapel into the NUJ community.

T&F Chapel has submitted evidence to Michelle Stanistreet on this.


Absolutely essential to have a programme of NUJ education. Such a programme, according to the T&F MoC, has transformed the chapel, it has been inspirational, building confidence and boldness in the chapel and its officers and representatives.

T&F Chapel speak very highly of NUJ trainer Caroline Holmes, who has delivered training to some 8-11 NUJ reps at T&F.

Book Branch could organise a series of NUJ training sessions for book reps and M/FoCs in the London area.

Training courses could include courses on:

  • Running a Chapel
  • Running campaigns in your Chapel
  • representing members
  • negotiating
  • pensions etc.

Chapel organisation

  • T&F have monthly meetings
  • Training of reps central (see Training above).
  • Have appointed NUJ reps department by department.
  • T&F, in addition to the annual round of pay negotiations, organise around issues which they raise with management. They have task forces of members working on the following:
    • Equality and diversity
    • Stress and workload
    • Recruitment and communications
    • Pensions

Branch meetings

Locate for convenience of important groups of members
Time/day ditto
Time agenda to fit with Chapel reps/members not staying for whole meeting
Take Chapel reports early in agenda.

Magazine and Book Industrial Council

Responsible according to the NUJ rulebook for:

  • Overseeing industrial matters in the 2 sectors
  • Training
  • Oversight of the work of the servicing officers.

Big victory for Springer/Nature recognition.

Note some MABIC activities in the past: recruitment and bullying leaflets, pay and conditions Broadsheet with agreements in at least 30 Chapels, full oversight of claims and agreements

One way forward is closer working between workplace, Branch, MABIC and NEC members, and the full-time officials Fiona Swarbrick and a.n.other (replacement for second organiser in Magazine and Books needed).


Among leaflets needed is one for potential student members that is books-specific that says Why You Should Join the NUJ/What’s in it for you?

Working with Unite

  • Experience varied: Penguin, Macmillan, Pearson, OUP experiences
  • Lessons from Penguin? Generally very good experience.

New media

Effective use of new media to be explored

BM 11.10.18


Bill’s background

  • Penguin 1970-75
  • Elsevier Publishing Projects/Phaidon/Musterlin 1976-90
  • p/t Macmillan Dictionary of Art, Economist Intelligence Unit 1990-94
  • freelance: OUP, Pearson, Routledge, Minority Rights Unit, etc.1994-

Union positions: ASTMS Publishing 516 Branch committee, ASTMS negotiating team at Penguin, 1971-5. Founding chair Oxford ASTMS Publishing branch 1976-8. Oxford NUJ branch member since 1978, chapel officer EPP and Musterlin 1985-91; MABIC member and sometimes chair 1980- ; Oxford branch or MABIC delegate to national delegate meeting, 1978- ; member and currently chair NUJ Appeals Tribunal 2008-


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DM – an experience of a first-time delegate

Branch member Lynn Degele shares her experience of attending DM for the first time.
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Supporting the UCU strike

Poster for UCU strike.

Our branch, which has many members working in academic publishing, has resolved to support the recent industrial action by the University and College Union (UCU). The NUJ has many other issues in common with UCU, such as the fight to defend academia against marketization, and we are hoping to have a speaker from the UCU at a branch meeting soon. Continue reading

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Council cuts: we’re hacking for Oxfordshire

Journalists at the hack day.

Bureau Local organised a hack day on local government budgets last weekend. There were five hack gatherings across the country. I attended the one in London, along with fellow Oxford branch member Gill Oliver.

Was it worth the sacrifice of a Saturday? Yes, I think it was. These guys are onto something important.

As they say in their blurb about this project, “Councils across the country are planning cuts to vital local services in next year’s budgets ‒ including adult and children’s social care, sexual health support, alcohol and substance rehabilitation and youth groups. With an estimated funding shortfall of £5.8 billion over the next two years, and having already cut back many services they don’t legally have to provide, local authorities in England face an unprecedented challenge. Not just to maintain ‘frontline’ services, but, in some extreme cases, to avoid bankruptcy.”

Bureau Local isn’t offering solutions. It’s doing something better. It is helping promote informed debate about the problems and possible solutions at a local level, by skilling up its growing network of collaborators to research their local data and publish stories based on what they find.

The preparation

In the run up to the Hack Day, Bureau Local had brought together an impressive “local government roundtable” to get ideas about some of the key issues to look for. Included on the 15-strong panel were:

  • leader of Peterborough Council
  • director of corporate resources at Leicestershire County Council
  • public affairs officer, County Councils Network
  • research and policy officer, Women’s Budget Group
  • director of the Local Governance Research Unit at De Montfort
  • director of the Business and Local Government Data Research Unit
  • committee member, Disabled People Against Cuts.

The message coming out of councils themselves is that there is an urgent need for discussions on the state of local government finances, and the implications for the services people rely on, to extend beyond local government circles.

The reasons why that isn’t happening much at present became clear to us when we saw that data. Even leaving aside the fraught heading of housing, local authority spending covers a huge swathe of vital areas. Making sense of it requires factoring in inflation and demographic changes, and remembering that “savings” may mean doing less of something or doing it cheaper, but could also mean charging people more for the service, or securing a grant or ‘viring’ funds that had been allocated to another part of the budget.

This is a job for an army of local government reporters, and where they exist they do a great job. But they don’t exist in large parts of the country, and where they do, their numbers have been slashed – local authority press offices are replete with journalists who used to work holding those same authorities to account.

The panel offered helpful advice about the sort of things we should all be looking for.

  • Children’s services: Lack of local authority homes. Private sector charging too much.
  • Children’s services: “Safely” reducing the number of looked after children. Is this possible given statutory requirements? Perhaps through early help, but early help budgets being cut back; suggestion that councils now keep looked after children arrangements under constant review and some may end earlier (saving money).
  • “Moderate/critical” eligibility for Adult Social Care. (If you’re perceived as having a social network of support then you will not be seen as critical).
  • Moving homelessness ‒ moving people around the country. Single parents losing support networks, disabled people cannot take their care support package with them, pays for their assistants.

The data

We were given access to more data and information than we could process in a month of Saturdays. Key among them was an Excel file compiled by Bureau Local showing the “outturn” (government speak, I’m told, for actual spending) of most local authorities in England over the past five years, broken down into fairly detailed spending categories on which they are obliged to report, and adjusted for inflation.

Added to each local authority entry was a link to the relevant minutes of local council draft budgets for 2018/2019, which in turn gave links to a series of pdfs giving details of different aspects of the draft budget – what money is coming in from where, where it’s being spent, “pressures” ‒ additional spend not anticipated in original budget (pretty mega for adult social care and children’s social care), and then the “savings” agreed to help pay for them, impact on resources etc.

Questions about what things mean and why they didn’t add up could be posed and answered using Bureau Local’s Slack chat channel. As luck would have it, however, Gill and I found a dedicated source of information sitting a few seats away in the form of Neil Lawrence, digital development manager at Oxford City Council, a veteran of local authority budgets from his time at Cherwell district council – and a champion of open data.

What did we find?

Here are a few things that stood out for us:

Children’s services

Taking inflation into account, total spending on children’s social care has gone up by more than 57% between 2014/12 and 2017/18, despite a 90% drop in spending on children’s services for asylum seekers from £3,096,000 in 2016/2017 to £309,000 in 2017/2018 and an almost 99% drop in funding for “Other children’s and families services”, from £2,060,000 in 2014/2015 to £39,000 in 2017/2018.

This raises many questions, including: is this down to an increase in kids in care? If so why? Is it down to increased costs in paying for services for looked after children? If so why? Are we reaching the point at which there will be no money to pay for anything that is not a statutory requirement? And if so, what happens next?

Adult care

Total spending on adult social care has stayed relatively stable, rising by around 3% between 2014/2015 and 2017/2018 (from £192.5 million to £198.4 million), which is probably less than the rise in the elderly population over the same time period (those figures were probably somewhere on the Slack channel, if we’d had the time to find them). The draft budget for 2018/2019 reveals “pressures” (additional spend not anticipated in original budget – as explained above) of £10.6 million, and proposes savings of around £1.5 million to be made by changes to charging policy – who has to contribute how much.

This is the mechanism by which more elderly people are being required to pay more for essential services due to the lack of government policy on sustainable adult social care. What will the implications be for whom? And could cuts to support services (or raised charges), imposed to try to make up the shortfall, be fuelling greater costs down the line? Maybe in services like social care activities, down by 54% between 2014/2015 and 2017/2018, or assistive equipment, down by 56%, or support for carers – who are subsidising the whole system often at a big price to themselves – down by 54%. Good to see, however, a tripling of spending on “Information and early intervention”.

Public health

Public health? Who knew that responsibility for public health has been devolved from national to local authority level? There has to be a reason behind the data that shows that Oxfordshire County Council cut spending on helping people quit smoking by 99% between 2014/2015 and 2017/2018, from £1.08 million to a mere £2000.

A hack day for Oxfordshire

More generally, we learned that when it comes to data-led journalism, what matters is less your Excel skills (pretty much guesswork in my case) than knowing what data exist and how to get access, understanding exactly what is being measured, having lots and lots of time to sift through it, look for trends and key indicators, and then having lots and lots more time to line up the data of interest and use it to ask the right questions to the right people to get the story.

We also learned that it is fun and helpful to work collectively on big datasets with people who may be coming at the same data from various perspectives. So at the February branch meeting we intend to propose organising an Oxfordshire hack day.

If you are interested in attending or helping organise the hack day, let us know at oxfordnuj@gmail.com.

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Fifty – a dangerous age for (women) journalists?

And old typewriter and dusty books.Women over 50 are very active in our branch, so two of us went to London last week for a Women in Journalism event called “Fifty – a dangerous age for journalists?”

We’re not going to say which two because we don’t want to “come out” publicly as being over 50, in case it’s detrimental to our careers. But maybe we’re wrong… that was the point of the discussion. Continue reading

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Why are journalists denied access to immigration detention centres?

campsfield pic contrast

Campsfield immigration removal centre, Kidlington, near Oxford

The Oxford and District NUJ Branch is taking up the issue of access for journalists to immigration detention centres. Branch member Bill MacKeith explains why this is important.

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