What does it mean to be National Black Rep?

Taking forward the work of the TUC’s Anti-Racism Taskforce
Why I became an ARO

What does it mean to be National Black Rep?

Napo is a member led union which prides itself on its democratic structures.

The overall management responsibility for the union rests with the NEC, and the NEC is responsible for making sure that Napo policies are implemented.  That is why we ensure that we reserve two places on the NEC for those who identify as Black.

Maureen Vernon, an NEC Black Reps, speaks about her role on the NEC.


Attempting to convey the role of the National Black Rep has always been an issue for me. This despite my extensive years in the Probation service and experience as an activist in the union.

After the position was adopted by the NEC, it left the position without an obvious remit or defined role. It has no obvious consistency as other members of the NEC have who are sent by a branch or section. Successive constitutional changes has failed to address this anomaly and left the role with something of a vacuum to fill.

Consequently, there is a distinct impression that as with so many concerns around diversity, this was a tokenistic gesture that has become tolerated rather than embraced for the contribution it can make to the policies and procedures of Napo.

While I can vote have a say and as I have done join the sub committees of the NEC, my capacity to bring motions or send communications to be debated depends on having time to consult with my fellow rep. Before the advent of technology this was almost impossible and even now, given the pressure of our respective workloads it’s not so easy. Especially without the support of a recognised constituency as other NEC reps have.

If Napo is serious about pursing the agenda of meeting its newly adopted policy of anti-racism and action plan it is imperative that it provides a role for the National Black Rep as part of the Implementation of the Policy. Where black members feel confident that they have a voice through the rep where ideas and concerns are shared as part of an agenda item on the NEC.

While the development of this has been neglected for some time the capacity to achieve anywhere near the work or provide the voice needed for my black colleagues it requires more than the status of a title. It needs the recognition of a role that can be an advocate for the promotion of the black agenda which has been rightly identified by the HMI report on the service failings around addressing the needs and concerns of black staff.

In my time as NEC black rep I have in some ways been able to ensure the voice of black members have been represented in a way that I believe has advanced the equality agenda.  However it has been based on my personal experience and in isolation of members across England, Cymru and Northern Ireland. The role needs to have the support necessary to allow black staff to communicate with the rep. To do so it needs facility time and if the employer was serious about meeting the concerns highlighted by the HMI report, this would be an easy win to prove its sincerity.

Making it a union duty would also send a signal to staff of its relevance to those facing challenges in the workplace as a result of racism. By doing so, it can become a rallying point and one more reason for staff to join the union.

So many times we have seen the swing of fashionable responses to a particular event that captures the imagination. George Floyd was the latest in a succession of tragedies for Black people that like Stephen Lawrence brought a temporary momentum with some policy changes that were designed to bring about change. Even with such recommendations made by the likes of Scarman and McPherson the establishment has over time sought to undermine these. Like the Racial Commission report which sought to suggest that there was no such thing as racism.

“We no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities. The impediments and disparities do exist, they are varied, and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism. Too often ‘racism’ is the catch-all explanation, and can be simply implicitly accepted rather than explicitly examined.”

Against such a background Napo faces a number of challenges to ensure the role of the National Black Rep meets the aspirations of the policy it signed up to.

Therefor my vision for the role is to see the aspirations I have outlined to form the basis for a role description that can be enshrined into the constitution. Where the terms of reference encompasses the recognition of the position as the members champion for the pursuit of race equality


Maureen Vernon National Black Rep

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