Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Newham Full Council Meeting 18 June 2018 - 3 minute update on Housing Services

Picture from the new style Newham Full Council meeting at East Ham Town Hall yesterday evening. The most people I have ever seen at a normal Council meeting I think?

As the Cabinet member of Housing Services I gave a 3 minute report on what I had been doing (see below) and answered 4 written questions from the public. 

"Chair, Like my cabinet colleagues, I have had a busy few weeks going walkabout around Newham estates, blocks, housing schemes and projects; talking to residents, service users, management, officers from the GLA, other councils, the local voluntary sector and front line housing staff about the good and the bad in Newham Housing.

Nearly everyone recognises we have a housing crisis and it is not only a crisis in London but a national crisis up and down the land. 

Yet, in Newham, We have our own challenges and opportunities, including having the longest Council waiting list in London with 26000 households chasing around 570 vacent properties every year. For every single social rent home that comes available, there are 44 households who want a move. 

We also have the highest number of homeless in London and we have thousands of residents in social housing, in the private rented sector and in owner owner occupation, who suffer from overcrowding and poor quality homes.

I have had children taking exams contact me because they have no where to go at home to study and revise. We have grown up children in their 30s and 40s, still living with their parents, not through choice, but because they cannot afford to move out and find their own homes. 

We will continue to campaign and press the Government to work with us to eliminate slum landlords, overcrowding and homelessness, while looking to transform how we deliver housing services in Newham. Residents will be at the heart of this.

In the Autumn, we will start a review from top to bottom of the borough allocations policy and then look at a rebirth of Tenant and Residents representation and participation in our borough 

Following on from the first anniversary of Grenfell disaster, today, I agreed in consultation with the Mayor, to spend £10 million on essential fire safety contracts and to spend a further £10 million on fire safety by end of the financial year. Details to be published. 

We expect the Government to live up to its promises to fully fund these essential fire safety works. Even though the money that they have promised councils so far appears to be inadequate. If we don’t get our money we may have another fight on our hands. 

Thank you Chair. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Essex Way: Epping to Chipping Ongar

Off message. Last year Gill and I finally finished the London Loop walk (which took us 3 years to complete in stages) but on 10 June we started our next long distance walking challenge, the 82 mile (130 km) Essex Way. Which starts in Epping and finishes in Harwich. There are 10 stages, first is  Epping to Chipping Ongar.

We took the 58 bus to Leyton Station then the Central Line to Epping. Went the wrong way out of Epping station but soon found our way on the well signposted route. Lovely rolling countryside but some noise at first from M11. Crossed over M11 on footbridge and then soon found ourselves in timeless beautiful rural essex.

There are a couple of nice looking pubs on the way but to me the best part of the walk was stopping off at the ancient Saxon Greensted Church (see collage above) which is believed to be the oldest wooden church in the world.

After their pardon and return from transportation in Australia, the trade union Tolpuddle Martyrs, settled in this area and were given land to farm. Two of the Martyrs married in this church but the local vicar is blamed for forcing them to leave and most of them later emigrated to Canada.

Stage one finished at Chipping Ongar (8 miles). We got 410 bus back to Epping then Central Line to Leyton and 58 bus back to Forest Gate.

A lovely and quiet country walk. Recommended. I am also thinking of whether we can enter a Newham Labour team into the relay race on Sunday 2 September when teams will complete the entire 82 miles in one day.

Watch this space. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

120k kids in B&Bs, Grenfell Tower; 200k Tenants abused; NHHG Fashion, Rutting Stags, Tackling Fuel Poverty - Labour Housing Group AGM 2018

This morning I went to the AGM of the Labour Housing Group which took place at Camden Town Hall. The LHG is a socialist society affiliated to the Labour Party, which as the name suggests, is a forum concerned with the political development of Labour housing policies and issues.

The Chair, Paul Eastwood, gave a powerful introduction stressing the national housing crisis we face with 120,000 children living in bed and breakfast, Councils spending £500 million on temporary accommodation, 200,000 private sector tenants reporting being abused or harassed by their landlords and tenants being described as "vermin" by so called "eviction services".  I can only agree with his comments with regard to Grenfell that "the sad fact is that it seems people have to die before housing gets the attention it deserves".

Treasurer Ross Houston reported that the LHG is setting up a new website where members will be able to join online.

I asked the officers how we can set up at Newham Branch of the LHG and was very encouraged by the positive reaction. I will email the secretary to start this off.

Our first guest speaker was Alastair Mcintosh, Chief Executive of the Housing Quality Network who is always a provocative but entertaining speaker. His beef is with the dismal and sectarian nature of English housing players which are dominated by "rutting stags" compared with the more collaborative approach of for example Welsh housing professionals. He (like me) wondered what is going on with Notting Hill Housing Trust holding a fashion launch on the same day as the first anniversary of Grenfell?

The next speaker was Michael Ware from a corporate finance practice on the role of the public sector tackling fuel poverty by micro generation and energy storage. This presentation was very powerful but completely new to me so I think I need to get advice from our officers on this but it seems something that all of us in the public sector need to think very seriously about it.

I had to leave early to go on a visit to a resident so missed the after lunch sessions (guest speaker Nicky Gavron from London Assembly) but have stolen the pictures from Cllr Ross Houston on his facebook. I have also added pictures to the above college from Stratford Town Hall being Green for Grenfell and the UNISON campaign against violence at work.

Friday, June 15, 2018

"Councils face replacement property drought"

"Two-thirds of councils will be unable to replace all the homes sold under Right to Buy without significant reform of the system, according to the Local Government Association.

The LGA this week released research it commissioned from property consultancy Savills which showed that more than 60,000 homes have been sold off in the last six years at, on average, half the market rate. The sales leave councils with enough funding to build, or buy, just 14,000 replacement homes. The LGA is calling on the government to allow all councils to borrow for building new homes, keep 100% of all sales receipts, and have the power to set Right to Buy discounts locally. Martin Tett, LGA housing spokesman, said councils needed “urgent” support to replace the homes sold off under the Right to Buy scheme. “Without a pipeline of new homes, future generations cannot benefit from the scheme,” said Tett.


I thought the tories promised "like for like" replacement of Right to buy properties sold?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Why Pensions are so important and organising to defend the Local Government Pension Scheme

Today I had a record breaking 3 meetings on Pensions. First I chaired a meeting of Greater London UNISON reps who sit on local Council Pension Boards (see group picture of Forum members above).

UNISON has cross service group national and regional forums on the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). The overriding purpose of these forums is to defend and improve the LGPS which 4 million UK workers depend upon and has £250 billion in assets.

We discussed:-

  • Support appropriate take up of the 50/50 option, especially for low paid workers who would otherwise leave the LGPS. Point out you still get full life insurance cover with 50/50
  • Recruiting and training for new reps; 
  • LGPS fund manager Baillie Gifford refusal to talk to trade unions about manufacturer Tesla's appalling  health & safety record.
  • Indemnity insurance for Pension board members. The saga continues. Why do some funds have it but others say it is not necessary? 
  • How to challenge inaccurate calculations of pensions (a rep reported that there has been some awful big mistakes made); 
  • Poor governance arrangements on some London Pension boards; 
  • Member representation on the London Pension Fund Authority
  • Access to UNISONs financial advice partner Lighthouse; 
  • Carbon divestment campaign. Branches and Climate campaigners need to work together. 
  • Carbon Neutral investment; 
  • New Minister for Local Government Pensions (who knows his stuff); 
  • 2018 LGPS PLSA conference; 
  • Millions of pounds of savings already made by London Pension funds due to UNISON's work on exposing excessive fees:
  • Problems with the London Collective Investment Vehicle (especially with Governance and ESG)
  • Disaster. The government wins legal appeal that they can force LGPS to invest in line with the whims of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. What could possibly go wrong?  
  • We finished with a minutes silence for the victims of Grenfell. 

Green For Grenfell

"Lighting up the Old Stratford Town Hall & East Ham Town Hall at @NewhamLondon to mark our respects to the victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy one year on. And our enduring condolences to their loved ones. #greenforgrenfell" Hat Tip Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Magpie Project

I spent some time this morning at the Magpie Project in Forest Gate talking to families using the centre & volunteers. I was so impressed. A fantastic respite & haven for mums and children living in temporary accommodation in and around Newham London

Check out :-

Welcome to the Magpie Project

We can’t solve the housing crisis, but we believe in making children’s lives better during their time in temporary accommodation.
We provide practical support and advice to mothers and children under five in temporary or insecure accommodation in Newham.
We believe all children have a right to a secure, safe place to play, healthy food, engaged parents, and access support no matter what their family circumstances

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

"What it's like to be on the receiving end of a violent attack..." Lynn's Story and UNISON Charter on Violence at Work

Yesterday there was a Parliamentary launch of the UNISON Violence at Work Charter for the 3rd Sector (Housing Associations & Charities). There was a number of MPs and employers who turned up to support the launch. The contribution by UNISON Member, Lynn Gillespie, at this event about her violent assault at work will be unforgettable to anyone who heard it. 

"Hi. My name is Lynn Gillespie. I work for WM Housing and I’m a proud UNISON member and workplace rep. I’m here today to tell you what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a violent attack as a result of my work.

It is an accepted fact that those of us in public service have to, on occasion, deliver bad news or do something that may not be liked by our clients or customers . Sadly, this means there are occasions when people react in a violent or aggressive manner.

When I was a homeless officer I had a telephone, a chair and other miscellaneous objects thrown at me. I’ve also had a punch thrown at my face.

Thankfully, my husband was nearby and was able to protect me. As a result he received severe bruising to his back. I dread to think what might have happened had we not been rescued by two off duty firemen who saw the attack and shouted and as a result the assailants ran off.

That was in 1999, I was a tenancy enforcement officer by that time taking action against perpetrators of serious anti social behaviour. The impact on my family was more hurtful that my injuries as I could not see my daughters aged 5 and 7 for nearly a week as my face was so horribly bruised with a broken nose and cheekbone. They were spun a tale of mummy having ate something that did not agree with her that had given her an allergic reaction. They cried when they eventually saw me and that hurt even more.

What did help, was that I was totally supported at work by my manager who came to see me at home on the Monday as I had been due in Court and he took my court case from me and went to court himself. He was also armed with the largest bunch of flowers I had ever seen which as he pointed out would not take away the horror of the attack but hopefully would cheer me up.

My employers have always taken assaults on staff very seriously and we have an excellent internal reporting system in place for all assaults be they near misses, verbal abuse or threats or actual physical harm which thankfully does not happen too often. We do not hesitate to take action against the perpetrators and if they are our tenants we take action against their tenancy.

I am also proud to say that my employer, WM Housing, was the first organisation to sign up to the Violence at Work Charter having already put in place everything on the list.

Sadly, the stories from UNISON members in the Third Sector is that nowhere near enough employers take this responsible approach. Too many workers in the sector are being expected to put up with violent and aggressive behaviour, being told that it is part of the job. The Violence at work charter is my union’s attempt to draw a line in the sand. We say enough is enough. Committed charity and housing association workers, in fact, no workers, should be assaulted as a result of their public service.

Please go back to your employers and encourage them to sign if they have not already as we have to take a stand against this unfortunate fact of working life that affects far too many of us working in our sector.

Thank you for listening".

Monday, June 11, 2018

Doing business the right way benefits everyone

"I don't always agree with Conservative ministers, but I did at the launch of a report last month on the Workforce Disclosure Initiative (WDI), where minister for international development (who funds the WDI in partnership with Oxfam) Harriet Baldwin MP said: "If we want to eliminate poverty in all its forms then the world needs to create jobs and that creation happens by investment. 

But those jobs must be good jobs without labour rights abuses. Too many people in the world are physically and mentally impacted negatively by work. Doing business the right way benefits everyone." 

What the WDI has done in its pilot year is to ask 75 global companies how they manage their workers and, by this disclosure, it hopes to mobilise institutional investors to push companies for better jobs. One of its recommendations was that there should be as much reporting by companies on how they treat their workforce (including their supply chain) as on climate change.

The launch was not only about treatment but also the future of work itself. The opportunities from technology but also the dangers. I enjoyed the ‘tale' by the WDI executive chair, Richard Dickinson, who in his opening remarks said: "A Ford motor manager shows a union leader around a new car assembly line made up of robots. The Ford manager says he would be interested to know how the union will get union dues from robots. The union leader replies by saying he would be interested to know how robots will buy cars."

The initiative seems to be gaining momentum. In July 2017 the campaign had the backing of 79 investors with $7.9trn of AuM. In April 2018, 96 investors with $10trn AuM were backing the WDI. I am a trustee of a pension fund that has backed the initiative. The companies that responded to the initiative are commended in the report for their efforts and providing examples of good practice.

Despite the perceived success of those who did participate, only 34 out of the 75 global companies agreed to take part, which as an asset owner makes me wonder why? There could well be legitimate reasons but, for the life of me, I can't understand why they would not support an initiative funded by the British government, supported by respected international organisations and backed in many cases by their own shareholders?

At the meeting, Janet Williamson from the Trades Union Congress (who is also a pension trustee) said: "There is a high road to profitability and a low road. In the short term you can make profits from treating your workers badly. The high road is better. Sustainable profitability is via the high road."

If, going forward companies, still refuse to participate in the WDI then you need to question whether or not they are suitable for your fund to invest in. Obviously, you will have to take professional advice, but if they don't want transparency with regard to the way they treat workers then you have to consider are they equally keen to avoid scrutiny on other important governance issues such as boardroom pay or environmental impact?

One thing that I did point out at the launch is that while the UK is clearly not as bad as many developing countries in the way companies treat workers, we must get our own house in order as well.

In my daytime job as a trade unionist, I represent workers in the UK who live in poverty, have insecure employment, awful housing and feel hopeless and betrayed. Unless we clean our own house, concern for those overseas may be seen as crocodile tears.
Finally, I assume it was not coincidentally that the launch was on May 1 - otherwise known as International Workers' Day.
 John Gray is a pension trustee and chair of a local authority pension committee. He is writing in a personal capacity only.

Hat tip Professional Pensions (and Eve for stealing from her excellent notes of the meeting)