Thursday, June 22, 2017

Court tells Government they cannot make Council Pensions funds be dependent on Boris Johnson Whims

In a victory for common sense the Courts have apparently thrown out the requirement that Council Pension funds have to invest according to the political whims of the UK Foreign office.

Who on earth  would want their pension being dependent on the judgement  of Boris Johnson?

Well done to Palestine Solidarity for funding this judicial review. This case also supports the view of UNISON that the existing EU law already requires Council pension funds should be invested in interests of beneficiaries and legally separate from employers and the government.

Professional Pensions The government has suffered a major defeat in the High Court after its rules on Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) investments were deemed unlawful.
The investment guidance, issued last September, requires LGPS funds to have policies on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues but also added they could not pursue policies contrary to central government foreign and defence policy.
The guidance said "pension policies to pursue boycotts, divestment and sanctions [BDS] against foreign nations and UK defence industries are inappropriate, other than where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the government" and funds could not "pursue policies that are contrary to UK foreign policy or UK defence policy".
The policy was particularly contentious as LGPS funds and campaigners said this limited their ability to take up ethical investment, particularly BDS action against companies operating in Israeli settlements in Palestine.
A bid was launched in the courts by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) to overturn the regulations via a judicial review, where it argued the government had acted outside of its powers, and it was "lacking in certainty".
It also cited Article 18.4 of the EU's directive on the Activities and Supervision of Institutions for Occupational Pension Provision (IORP), which states "member states shall not subject the investment decisions of an institution… to any kind of prior approval or systematic notification requirements".
However, in his judgment, issued today, the judge Sir Ross Cranston only agreed with the first argument, stating the minister for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Sajid Javid had "acted for an unauthorised purpose and therefore unlawfully".
His reasoning was the "guidance has singled out certain types of non-financial factors, concerned with foreign/defence… and stated that administering authorities cannot base investment decisions upon them. In doing this, I cannot see how the secretary of state has acted for a pensions' purpose".
He stated specifically that this guidance could preclude LGPS funds taking ESG factors into account even if there no "significant risk" of financial detriment or "no good reason" to believe members would object.
Cranston therefore granted a judicial review, meaning the government may have to rethink its approach to the rules if it wishes them to take effect.
PSC chair Hugh Lanning welcomed the ruling, and said local councils would be happy to be able to invest funds as they see fit.
"Today is a victory for Palestine, for local democracy, and for the rule of law," he said.
He added: "This ruling upholds the right of local councils and their pension funds to invest ethically without political interference from the government of the day."
A spokesperson for DCLG said the government would consider whether to appeal: "It is an important principle that foreign policy matters are for the UK Government to decide. We will consider the judgement and next steps."
Unison national officer for capital stewardship Colin Meech also welcomed the judgment, and called on the government to replace the guidance with the IORP directive.
"It was always preposterous to us that the LGPS funds had to invest in the best interests of UK foreign and defence policy," he said. 
"We have been telling various governments since 2007 that they must implement the EU IORP directive into the LGPS. The judge did not say that the directive did not apply to the LGPS and therefore we now hope that the current government dismantles the 2016 regulations and replaces it with article 18 of the directive.
"This will mean that the LGPS funds must invest in the best interests of scheme members, as all other pension schemes in the UK must do. The best interests of scheme members are aligned with all sponsoring employers in seeing that their pensions are delivered in the most efficient manner. For 10 years LGPS scheme members have been denied their statutory rights, this must be rectified."

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Grenfell Tower Fire - London Hazards Centre

Hat tip Phil Lewis Chair of London Hazards & in today's UNISON NDC regional newsletter "London Calling".

"Here is some information I was able to get hold of

2009 – Lakanal House tower block catches fire killing 6 people. The local authority is prosecuted for lapses in fire safety. A review is promised by the Labour government after pressure from the Fire Protection Association (FPA).

2010 – Building Regulations Act is published, including provisions for fire safety. Conservatives win election, a review is promised by the new government after more pressure from the FPA and warnings that the BR act does not go far enough.

2013 – Boris Johnson overrules the ruling body of the London Fire Brigade and uses legal action to inflict £29m in cuts. Closing 10 fire stations, cutting firefighters by 552, losing 14 fire engines and cutting minimum staffing levels from 5 to 4. By the time he steps down as Mayor of London he inflicts a further £100m in cuts to £130m total and the loss of 7000 firefighters. Fire prevention measures carried out by the service drop by over 25%. When challenged by a committee on fire safety on how cutting the fire service would not increase deaths, Boris replies “get stuffed”.

2013 – All Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety and Rescue produces a report strongly recommending installation of fire suppression systems and sprinklers in 4000 tower blocks throughout Britain. The Grenfell residents action group publishes a report warning that their landlord is putting their safety at risk by restricting the access ways to their car park. They are ignored by their landlord.

2013 – 2016 Conservative housing ministers sit on All Party report without action, promising they are “looking at it”, including housing minister Gavin Barwell.

2016 – Conservatives vote against a Labour motion to make sure all landlords and housing associations ensure residences are fit for human occupation, including provisions for fire safety. The motion is denied by 312 votes to 219. 72 of the MP’s voting against are landlords. The Grenfell residents action group publish a report warning people will die in a fire before the landlord takes notice of their poor fire safety provisions. They are ignored by their landlord.

2017 – Ex housing minister Gavin Barwell becomes Prime Minister Theresa May’s chief of staff. He never actions the All Party Parliamentary report recommendations. Grenfell Tower is reduced to rubble with the deaths of at least 79+residents as a fire spreads through the building in 4 minutes. It has no fire suppression system or sprinklers. The stairwell is not adequate for a full building evacuation. The emergency lighting is missing from half of the floors. The fire service struggle to reach the building due to previous car park modifications causing access issues as warned by the resident action group in 2013.

Philip Lewis

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

UNISON National Delegate Conference 2017 - Tuesday

My Conference day started with a short jog up and down the famous Brighton beach. The weather was hot even at 7.30am.

At 8.30am we had our first UNISON NEC meeting to discuss and (hopefully) agree on any outstanding matters or policy positions.

Conference itself starts at 10am on its first day.  Firstly there is the "welcome to conference" speech by the Senior Vice President, Carol Sewell. She introduces all our international guest visitors.

Followed by Standing Order Committee (SOC) reports 1 and 2 (it is a long standing tradition at NDC to play reference back ping pong with SOC).

This is followed by a presentation and vote on our annual report and our year end financial statement. Our first motion of conference was 18 "Stepping up the campaign against bullying and harassment".

During lunch I went to the UNISON "There for You" AGM as a NEC member of the charities board of trustees. After lunch there was another round of ping pong and further motions debated including the 55 "UNISON and the WASPI campaign" about the rip of pensions by this government for many women.

Our General Secretary, Dave Prentis, gave a very powerful speech during which he thanked our emergency workers for all they had done in recent times and talked about the unexpected loss of his comrade, our President Eric Roberts.  After the speech I could see from the NEC platform a number of delegates wiping tears from their eyes and there was a (genuine) standing ovation by Conference.

In the afternoon there were more debates. Conference finished at 5pm. On the way back to my accommodation I was stopped and "persuaded" to go an excellent fringe on "Pensions and climate change".

Monday, June 19, 2017

UNISON National Delegate Conference 2017 - Monday Evening

Comrades together picture from this evening outside the Holiday Inn Hotel in Brighton after the UNISON London Region delegates meetings.

Our ace Regional Conveyor, Yvonne Green, is on my left with Housing Association branch delegate Mitsy on her left and Croydon delegate Kia, on my right.

Conference starts tomorrow morning and although I am here as UNISON NEC, I have been busy supporting my Housing Association Branch delegates with hotel bookings problems and getting ready to speak on our housing motion 36 which is high up on the "snake" (UNISON conference jargon. Don't ask it will blow your mind)

All four of our branch delegates are confidant and articulate black women workers who have spoken at previous conferences and I have no doubt, whatsoever, they will participate fully in the next few days.  

Sunday, June 18, 2017

John Gray's Father's Day

Lovely picture of my Dad, John Gray (left), my big Sister Helen, My little Sister Lucy, Me (John Gray) and our Grandfather, John Gray.

(and top of the head of "Muff" our daft but so loyal family boxer dog)

Great Newham Get Together - In Honour of Jo Cox

This afternoon I went to the Newham Woodcraft Kids Zone and Big Lunch Picnic in Wanstead Flats next to the Golden Fleece pub.

It was simply a fantastic community event. Loads of people from all over Forest Gate and Manor Park had come to participate, share food, meet their neighbours and also honour Jo Cox and all what she stood for.

Many, many thanks to Newham Woodcraft folk for doing all the hard work putting up the tents and organising the entertainment for the kids.

There is indeed more that we have in common that divides us.

Never forget. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Newham Council Response to High Rise Residents following Grenfell Fire

I have asked a UNISON colleague who is a very experienced Housing Surveyor to check on this advice and also asked the Council who is checking Housing Associations & privately managed high rise blocks' fire risk assessments.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Democracy in the Workplace: Newham Compass Tuesday 20 June

Shame this clashes with UNISON National Delegate Conference. I don't think I have met Scott but Janet is a very experienced and thoughtful trade union official and also chairs Trade Union Share Owners

Thursday, June 15, 2017

International Day of Dignity for Cleaners and Security staff #JusticeDay2017

Picture this evening from outside the front entrance of the British Trade Union Congress (TUC) headquarters in London of members of the SERTUC (South East Regional TUC) International Committee.

Today (June 15) is the International Day of Dignity for Cleaners and Security Staff. We were wearing yellow marigold glove on one hand to show solidarity with cleaners and holding keys with the other for security guards.

hat tip thingy to our top SERTUC International Committee Chair, Bob Archer (4th from left)

The Great Get Together Newham

All the events on one poster! Please share widely