Tuesday, August 14, 2018

If a Police Officer can have his pension scammed then is anyone safe under Tory "Pension freedoms" ?

Check out this BBC report about a serving Police Officer who was cheated out of his pension but managed to win £135,000 compensation from the Ombudsman for his fund's failure to properly warn him about risks.  The Police Officer had been "persuaded" by his financial advisor to transfer his very safe and secure government backed Police pension into a completely dodgy scheme which it appears was then "lost or misappropriated".

While some may argue that a Police officer should know better, to me this shows that if a Police Officer can be conned out of their pension, then anyone can and that the Tory (and Lib Dem coalition) so called "Pension freedoms" have enabled con merchants to pray on ordinary peoples lifelong savings.

Since I used to work in financial services I know first hand how convincing and sophisticated these fraudsters are and also how extensive institutional corruption can be. I think that my personal views on institutional LOBO and LIBOR rips offs are well known.

Today there was also reports about the average loss is £91,000 for such pension scam victims and that
  • The Financial Conduct Authority's Financial Lives report suggested that 107,000 people aged 55 to 64 could potentially have been victims of pension scams last year

What a complete and utter mess. No wonder ordinary working people have little confidence in our financial services and its regulation.

I am appalled that Sir Steve Webb, the former Penision Minister, who introduced "Pension Freedoms" and now works for the industry is also quoted as blaming pension schemes for these cons and not apparently taking any responsibility himself for the "Pensions freedoms" policy which is facilitating even more cons to happen. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Being Scrutinised at Scrunty

Recently as Cabinet member for Housing Services I was called to answer questions by the Newham Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

This is a statutory committee of Newham Councillors whose role is to hold the Councils Executive members to account and make recommendations. 

As a backbencher Councillor for the previous 8 years, I had been a member of various scrunities (some longer than others) but this was the first time I had appeared as a member of the Executive. 

The Chair asked me to first give an outline of my housing brief for the benefit of the Committee. 

I explained that the present housing structure in Newham had been drawn up by the previous administration who had intended that all Councils services should be "outsourced". The new Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, has put a stop to all "outsourcing" and ordered a rethink and corporate redesign.  So things will change.

My housing brief is currently in 3 parts:- 

1. Traditional Council social housing management of our stock: repairs, rents, voids, allocations, residents engagement, Anti social behaviour (ASB), fire safety, right to buy, tenancy and leasehold enforcement. The Mayor has reserved the regeneration, planning and strategic delivery portfolio.

2. Homelessness and temporary accommodation (although not rough sleepers. The published minutes need correcting slightly on this), assessment, advice, support and prevention.

3. Private sector rental licensing and enforcement, including houses of multiple occupation (HMOs), advice and support. We really want to work with and support landlords but we won’t hesitate to drive bad and criminal landlords out of Newham and into the Courts. 

There are still a few grey areas (pardon the pun) about the scope of my brief due to the fragmented nature of the current structure.

Some Key issues

Number one is fire safety in our blocks including the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding. This is costing us a huge amount of money (waking watches) and it would appear that the Government will not reimburse anything like our total costs.

Review our entire allocation policy including the suitability of the offer for homeless temporary accommodation in light of the new Mayoral priorities and also changing Government policy. We have nearly 27,00 households on our waiting list and nearly 5,000 households in temporary accommodation. I suspect due to "sofa surfers", homes with grown up children who cannot afford to find a place of their own as well as all those private sector tenants, who have to spend most of their income on rent that the real figure of those in housing need is far higher.

Reform RMS repairs: (our in house repairs maintenance service). We have a number of good staff but the repair service is currently not good enough. RMS also has a limited new build module housing capacity which could be used more to build new homes on unused areas in estates.

Reduce Homelessness: Prevention is key. We spend far less than other boroughs which may be the reason why we have such high levels of homelessness. We need to educate residents about the scale and the real reasons for the housing crisis. We need more "joined up" thinking between housing and social services on these homeless issues which might result in financial savings to the Council and a better service for the people in Newham

Anti-social behaviour (ASB): While enforcement is not the only tool it is important. Too many residents live in fear of a tiny number of violent and abusive residents.

Fragmented caretaking service: This has been hived off the control of housing management. This has made it difficult to do anything about these services, particularly those services in estates, as I have no authority to manage these services.

Tackling housing poverty by supporting residents getting advice about benefits and support into decently paid work. We need to make sure "that work pays". This will reduce evictions and homelessness.

The need for Culture change and Resident Representation: There had to be a culture change on the part of both Members and officers in the way in which they interacted with residents, if residents were to be "at the heart of everything we do". There are practically no tenant and/or resident representation in Newham and while an annual citizens assembly on housing would be a good thing, it would not be a substitute for a proper democratic and accountable TRA. While we did not want to return to the “bad old days” when in some cases a small number of tenants had dominated the Tenants’ and Residents’ Associations (TRA’s) for their own ends. We need to carry out a review of tenants’ and residents’ representative structures as soon as possible.

Private Sector Housing Licensing - Enforcement: There will be an increase in the number of housing inspections undertaken to ensure that landlords were complying with the terms and conditions of their licences. Inspections and enforcement action are key to ensuring compliance and making landlords aware that non-compliance would not be tolerated. I am not at all opposed to properly managed private rented sector accommodation and I would expect any Councillor who rents property to be an exemplary landlord.

Planned Maintenance: We need to have planned maintenance and refurbishment programmes for Council properties. They are much cheaper than carrying out emergency repairs and better for residents. The “Decent Homes” programme ended eight or nine years ago. Therefore, there was a need for a properly planned programme. A housing stock survey is about to take place which will guide this.

Housing Associations: My own casework had shown me that the management performance of a number of housing associations within the borough had been abysmal. Therefore, if housing associations wished to work in partnership with the local authority, and I welcomed partnership working, it was necessary for poorly performing housing associations to improve.
In the Q&A with Councillors afterwards

In response to a question about the high cost and poor quality of some temporary accommodation I explained long-term lease agreements with decent landlords may provide an alternative form of accommodation and would do away with the requirement to pay a expensive “nightly” rate for private sector temporary accommodation.  Landlords want long term security of income. There are now a greater number of Council inspections of such accommodation. We are also thinking of buying and leasing properties.

Regarding the adverse effects that bad landlords had on their tenants, neighbours and good landlords, I hoped to see an increase in the number of prosecutions of bad landlords and an increased number of costs orders in the Council’s favour. Also, in the case of illegal evictions, I would want to see if necessary, custodial sentences for landlords to change their behaviours.

(picture college of some of the housing visits and inspections I have undertaken in last week). 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Go Get Him Girls!

Boris Johnson's worse nightmare. This is a great piece of contemporary political art in Southend, Essex. Hat tip Colin Nickless. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

“Why Labour must adopt the full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism”

I agree with UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, in this article published yesterday in the NewStatesman where he calls for the Labour Party to adopt the "full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism including all the examples" 

As an experienced trade union rep who has been defending members accused of breaching discipline procedures and codes of conduct for many years I cannot see a problem with the “examples”. As an elected lay member of the UNISON National Labour Link committee, I voted with colleagues to support the definition and include the examples. 

I understand that many members do not have confidence in the internal Labour Party discipline process but that is a very different (but still important) issue.  This lack of confidence is being tackled by the NEC and the new General Secretary, Jennie Formby. 

Time for us to move on and unite around attacking the Tories and not giving our enemies sticks to beat us with.

"The language of priorities is the religion of socialism”. Seventy years on from the establishment of our NHS, those words resonate just as loudly today as when the great Nye Bevan first said them.

Public services are in crisis. Our NHS faces year-round crises, not just a winter crisis. Local government has been cut to the bone and beyond, with the mismanaged mess of Northamptonshire Council emblematic of austerity’s logical end point.

Police staff, care workers and teaching assistants are under incredible pressure – continually forced to do more with less. Global challenges abound such as climate change, conflict, the refugee crisis and the rise of far-right populism.

Meanwhile, our departure from the EU looms on the horizon, just over six-months away. Yet this bungling government still can’t guarantee your rights at work or the security of your pension. Whether medicines will still be available in our hospitals, or whether food will be available in supermarkets.

Truly, 2018 feels like a year for strict prioritisation of the national to-do list. And yet what is it that fixates the Labour Party? It is – somewhat remarkably – an attempt to rewrite a widely-used, internationally accepted definition of anti-Semitism.

Two years ago I was warning that “a small but significant minority engage in misogyny and anti-Semitism” in the pages of a national newspaper. It’s hard to argue that subsequent events, regardless of their intention, have lessened those concerns. Either in the Jewish community or the country at large.

This issue is already costing Labour votes, as I saw for myself when campaigning in Barnet this year. But worse than that, it's harming Labour's historically close relationship with the Jewish community. And it's costing us the moral high ground from which to oppose all forms of racial hatred and oppression.

Racism is a deep scar on our nation’s soul. Many would like to pretend that it’s in decline, but that’s not the case. Whether whipped up online by often anonymous trolls or marching through our streets, buoyed by the success of Trump and the alt-right, the racists are on the march. Those of us on the left need to meet them head on wherever they appear, but we also need to be beyond reproach when it comes to tackling race hate in all forms.

Instead, when Boris Johnson shed his court jester act this week to engage in flagrant Islamophobic bigotry, too many of his supporters were able to wave away criticism of the former foreign secretary by saying “what about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party?”.

For Labour supporters – the overwhelming majority of whom are lifelong anti-racist campaigners – that response, even when used as a deflection tactic, should be a cause for genuine sorrow. As John McDonnell has said: “how have we got ourselves in this situation?”

Yet it isn’t too late for the party to chart a different course and begin repairing that damage as Jeremy Corbyn is clearly attempting to do. Anti-Semitism in Labour didn’t start under Jeremy, but I am confident that under his leadership it can be dealt with once and for all.

UNISON’s position on this is clear. Our National Executive Council earlier this year spoke with one voice against all forms of racism and, explicitly, anti-Semitism. We have committed ourselves to oppose it in all its forms - all of the smears and tropes that come with it – within our union, our movement, our party and in wider society. Our Labour Link committee, made up of Labour members and activists from across our union, has adopted the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition, with examples, and supported calls for Labour to do the same.

Of course, in this debate, there is always an elephant in the room – the oft-repeated assertion that you can’t criticise Israel without being accused of anti-Semitism. I hear it a lot, but I’m not buying it.

I’m not buying it as a regular critic of the Israeli government, settlements, expansionism and the blockade of Gaza. I’m not buying it as general secretary of a union that has always been committed to the rights of the Palestinian people, proudly supports the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and supports Palestinian trade unionists as they face daily oppression.

I’m not buying it as someone who has repeatedly called out the murder of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli army – including the shooting of unarmed civilians earlier this year. I’m not buying it, because it’s not true. If you’re not capable of criticising Israel without being anti-Semitic, then you’re an anti-Semite – and we should make no special exceptions for you.

The truth is, this should never have become such a divisive issue, an unnecessary schism in a party that on so many issues is genuinely united.

A Labour Party that has so much to prioritise must always make winning the next election our number one goal. It’s the only party which can be trusted to stand up for the many yearning for change against the few who profit from poverty and decline.

Right now, adopting the full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism including all the examples, removing those guilty of racism from our party and putting the issue of Labour and anti-Semitism to bed as quickly as possible is critical to doing so".

Dave Prentis is the general secretary of UNISON

Friday, August 10, 2018

Forest Gate North "Great Get Together" Bank Holiday Monday - 27 Aug

"This looks fun! Forest Gate North are having a Great get Together Summer Social on Bank Holiday 27th Aug on Wansted Flats opposite Golden Fleece pub E12 5DB.

 Bring Food and Drink. Lots of prizes and activities"

Hat Tip Andy Diagram. 

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Suspend Boris Johnson

I usually think that as a Labour Party activist it is a bit pointless for me to sign petitions calling for political opponents to resign over something they have said, no matter how stupid or offensive. However, Boris Johnson's vile racism and islamophobia is beyond the pale and should have no place in modern day democratic British politics.

I hope that fair minded Conservative supporters (yes, they do exist) will also support the call by the respected anti-fascist organisation "Hope Not Hate" for Boris Johnson to be suspended from the Tory Party.


Boris Johnson uses his national profile to spout racist, hateful points of view. We can't let him get away with it any longer.
We’ve had enough of Boris's loud-mouthed, unashamed racism – and we're calling on the Tories to suspend him from the whip.

Agree? Sign our petition now.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Dappled Sunshine Walk in Bush Wood

Off message but on Sunday we were supposed to go on a run around Wanstead Flats and Park but it was so hot that we walked instead for a hour or so.

Picture is from Bush Wood (with a little help from Google photo assistant).

I just love the greenery and the dappled sunshine. You cannot beat natural beauty. 

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

"Decent Life Chances For Everyone" By West Ham MP, Lyn Brown

The Social Mobility Tsar Should Aim To Get Decent Life Chances For Everyone

"Today, we have more families than ever reliant on food banks and charities tell us that holiday hunger for kids is rife

Recently, the Social Mobility Commission chief, Dame Martina Milburn, claimed that the huge cuts we’ve seen to schools, council houses, and support for families haven’t harmed the life chances for people. I don’t think that’s a great start, when the opposite is clearly true.

She doesn’t think that lower pay for women is an issue for her commission, because “it doesn’t just affect people who are socially mobile”.

I’m sorry?

Isn’t the point of the job to aim to get decent life chances for everyone? The cross-party Education Committee has reportedly expressed concern about the role of the social mobility commissioner, and her comments only make things worse.

What a pity.

It’s reported that Dame Martina only applied for the job after the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, phoned her personally to encourage her. It doesn’t give us hope that her new Commission will challenge the Tories, as it should.

Today, we have more families than ever reliant on food banks and charities tell us that holiday hunger for kids is rife.

The Government’s own statistics show 100,000 more children in poverty, just in the last year.

And let’s remember, the vast majority of the 4.1 million children in poverty today have a mum or dad in work.

Things are so bad, and the Government so unresponsive, that last December the Government’s previous Social Mobility Commission resigned, all of them. They had no confidence that the Government was actually listening to them.

The previous Chair, Alan Milburn (no relation), was so disgusted with the empty words and callous actions of the Government that he said: “It’s almost better never to say that you’ll do anything about it.”

We need the Government to be responsible for ensuring we all get the opportunity of decent life chances – with ministerial accountability to drive forward a strategy across every department.

We need to ensure the Government works for all people - from schools and apprenticeships, to affordable trains and buses; to the creation of real jobs with decent pay and a living wage for all.

Most of all, we need someone to knock heads together in the Department for Work and Pensions.

We don’t need Esther McVey to spend £200,000 of our money to discover that Universal Credit has been devastating for thousands and thousands of families. We just need the benefits system fixed.

Labour puts social justice for all at the heart of our plans so we can transform our country for the many not the few".

Hap tip HuffPost

Monday, August 06, 2018

"Fix the Glitch Report"

A new update by Glitch UK on how Social Media can protect freedom of speech and tackle the appalling abuse on their platforms.

The bottom line is that social media companies need to take greater responsibility for the activities that occur on their platform. YouTube and Twitter are no longer small startup tech companies, they are multi-million pound businesses. Running a company in our society means taking corporate social responsibility and taking it seriously. We welcome YouTube and Twitter to each invite us for a private meeting to discuss how to tackle these issues.
Although our five recommendations are aimed specifically at social media companies, policy and decision makers need to close legal loopholes regarding abusive online behaviour. There is also a huge need for digital citizenship provision.
Glitch!UK believes that by working together we can begin to create safer platforms for all users and fix the glitch.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

"Are YOU fond of Cycling? If so WHY NOT CYCLE FOR THE KING...Bad Teeth No Bar"

I have asked London Cycling Campaign on twitter whether a more modern version of this (1915) appeal be something they would support?

One response I got back expressed concern at the lack of concern about cyclists bad teeth.

Hat tip War Art on twitter.