The UK's biggest trade union, Unison, has elected a woman as its leader for the first time. 

Christina McAnea, an official who has represented health and social care workers during the Covid-19 crisis, succeeds Dave Prentis, who is retiring after 20 years as general secretary of Unison.

Glasgow-born Ms McAnea won almost half the votes in a ballot of members, beating three other candidates.

In her role as assistant general secretary at Unison, she has been responsible in recent years for collective bargaining, negotiations and equalities strategy, including health and safety, pensions and procurement.

Ms McAnea said: “I’m so grateful to everyone who voted for me and for the trust placed in me. I become general secretary at the most challenging time in recent history – both for our country and our public services.

HeraldScotland: Christina McAnea (2nd left) has succeeded Dave Prentis (left) as Unison general secretaryChristina McAnea (2nd left) has succeeded Dave Prentis (left) as Unison general secretary

“Health, care, council, police, energy, school, college and university staff have worked throughout the pandemic, and it’s their skill and dedication that will see us out the other side.

“Their union will continue to speak up for them and do all it can to protect them in the difficult months ahead.

“Despite the risks, the immense pressures and their sheer exhaustion, the dedication and commitment of our key workers knows no end. I will not let this Government, nor any future one, forget that.

“Supporting public service workers through the pandemic, securing an early pay rise for NHS staff and ensuring the Government backs down on its plans for an ill-judged pay freeze will be my immediate priorities.

“Pushing for the funding and the political will to create a quality, affordable national care service, where staff are respected and paid fairly, comes close behind.”

Outgoing general secretary Mr Prentis said: “This is a historic day for our union, and I am delighted that Christina – a close friend and colleague for over 30 years – has today been elected as general secretary of our great union.

“As an experienced and respected negotiator and passionate campaigner, I can think of no better person to pass the baton to and take our union forward.”