Saturday, March 17, 2018

The role of pensions in building Community Wealth

Professional Pensions: John Gray says we should think about investing more locally, but there are a number of serious practical investment problems to overcome

As austerity bites and local authorities up and down the country struggle to provide services following cuts in central government expenditure and grants, communities are looking for alternative sources of investment.
The £250bn Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) is being eyed as one possible source. In the recent past it was the Conservative chancellor, George Osborne, who wanted to turn the LGPS into a "British sovereign wealth fund" and direct it to invest in local infrastructure projects. That big idea fell away due to opposition from councils, which dislike being told what to do and also demanded that the government guarantee the money if it all goes horribly wrong.
This time, the interest in the LGPS (and other pension funds) is from the Left. The community wealth movement championed in the UK by Preston City Council wants the LGPS and banks to provide local financing for investment. The idea that workers should invest their savings to not only secure their retirement but also to improve their local economy is on the face of things attractive. Who wouldn't want to help provide jobs for their children and better local infrastructure?
On a wider point, finance activist Joel Benjamin has noted that 30 years ago 60% of the LGPS was invested in the UK while now it is only 30%. He argues that this makes pension funds vulnerable to currency speculation and political risk.
However, there is the inevitable 'but'. The primary purpose of all pension funds is to pay pensions and by law a pension fund must be run solely in the interests of its beneficiaries. The LGPS is a statutory scheme but there is no Crown Promise and no Pension Protection Fund. While on one level it is unthinkable that pensions would not be paid, we now have a number of large councils showing signs of financial stress, and in February Northamptonshire County Council declared effective bankruptcy. The history of direct council investment in local projects has not been great, with too much money wasted on ill-thought-out 'vanity' projects.
The Carillion and Capita private finance initiative disasters also remind us that it is far cheaper and safer in the long run for government to borrow money and invest, but all this doesn't mean  there is no role for pension funds to invest locally.
On the positive side, the LGPS is being effectively merged and scaled up in size into large £25bn plus 'pools'. This should mean  they can widen their asset allocation, spread risk and acquire greater investment expertise.
There is also a possible window of opportunity with the growth of the campaign to divest in fossil fuels and reinvest in new 'low carbon' green industries. There is currently around £14bn in the LGPS invested in fossil fuels. Some councils have already decided to disinvest within five years.
So we should be thinking about investing more 'locally' as long as we deal with a number of serious practical investment problems to overcome such as the lack of accountability to beneficiaries (hardly any of the pools have employee representation) costs, risk, volatility, conflicts etc.
Meanwhile, there is nothing stopping pension funds actively engaging with the companies they own and getting them to support other community wealth building measures, such as making sure  they are responsible lenders or pay all their workers (including agency) the real national living wage, decent sickness and pension benefits; insource services; use local suppliers (especially mutual and other co-operatives); train and upskill their workers. In a landmark report by the Law Commission last year, it said: "There are no legal or regulatory barriers to pension schemes making social investments." Hopefully the time has come for pensions to play its part in community wealth building. 
John Gray is a member of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets Pension Board, and is speaking in a personal capacity

Friday, March 16, 2018

Rokhsana Fiaz Wins - She is the Newham Directly Elected Labour Mayoral Candidate 2018

Fantastic news. Rokhsana beats Robin Wales by a staggering 861 to 503 votes in huge turnout. Will blog further when I can stop the uncontrollable laughing and smiling. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Just 12 hours to go - Vote Rokhsana as your Labour Mayor candidate #NewhamRokhs

"It's time. Just under 24 hrs to go before voting ends at 12 noon tomorrow (Friday 16/3/18), Labour members can still vote for me as their #NewhamMayor candidate.

If elected in May, I will put people at the heart of everything we do as a council & show what Labour can achieve for the many at local level.You can read more about my vision and plans for Newham via

Elect me to be your Mayoral candidate and I give you my word that I will deliver for you and all our residents if elected as the Mayor of Newham". #VoteRokhs

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

It's time for a fresh start. Vote Rokhsana Fiaz as your Labour candidate for Mayor of Newham

It's time. To vote Rokhsana as your Labour candidate for Newham Mayor

Dear Member,

With less than 2 days to go there’s not much time left to vote for me as your Labour candidate for Mayor of Newham. Voting closes at 12:00 noon this coming Friday, 16th March.

Every vote will count in this election so please remember to cast your vote for me if you haven't already to deliver a fresh start, a new vision and a new way of doing things for the residents of Newham. Because it’s time for change. 
  • It’s time for a Labour Mayor that brings our party and our residents together to fight for fairness in tough times.
  • It's time for a determined Labour Newham Mayor to protect local services. Yesterday's Spring Budget won't alleviate pressures on families or our public services which are at breaking point. Ending the financial crisis facing local councils, who are facing a £5.8 billion funding gap, can only be delivered by a Labour government; and with me as your Labour Mayor to protect our most vulnerable and local services for our residents.
  • It’s time to put people at the heart of everything we do as a Labour Council through democratising how we do things for and with our people.
And it’s time to be truly radical again - so that we can show what Labour can achieve for the many at local level.
Read my pledges here which will deliver more homes for social rent, decent jobs, cleaner air and genuine life chances for all our children and young people. You can also read more about my vision and plans for Newham via

I’m delighted to have the support of the two largest trade unions in the county, UNISON and UNITE, as well the CWU union and Lyn Brown MP for West Ham. They believe in my ability to deliver the best for Newham. They know that as your Mayor I will deliver on my promises on genuinely affordable housing, including many at social rent levels; and protect the land we own so that we can build housing for the people of Newham.  

Elect me to be your Mayoral candidate and I give you my word that I will deliver for you and all Newham residents.

Best wishes,

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Statement by Cllr Rokhsana Fiaz on plans by the current Newham Mayor to set up a private development company & give it £3 billion of our assets


My statement on plans by the current Newham Mayor to set up a private development company & then give it our assets, value = £3bn. They could be our libraries, community centres, leisure centres and the council's own office & stop me building homes for our residents

*Alert to Labour Party members in Newham* 

"Earlier this week (on Monday 5th March), I received an email notifying councillors of a new agenda item for inclusion at the Mayoral Proceedings and Cabinet meeting scheduled for Thursday 22nd March. 

The agenda Item was titled: ‘Agreement to Proposed Structure to Hold & Manage Newham’s Property Interests and drive affordable housing delivery’

See attached screen shots of the agenda item, which have now been withdrawn from the Council's website. 

I raised this concerning issue on Tuesday night in my role as a Chair of Scrutiny at a Overview & Scrutiny meeting. I'm extremely alarmed that the current Mayor plans to set up a private development company and then give it our assets, valued at some £3 billion. 

They could be our libraries, community centres, allotments, leisure centres and the council's own office. 

I want to know who would be appointed onto the board of this company and why the current Mayor is trying to do this just weeks before he may no longer be Mayor of Newham. 

There has been no consultation with Cllrs or residents, no democratic oversight and this is all during an ongoing QC's inquiry into how a private company Newham set up lost £52m on the Olympic stadium. 

If this went ahead it would stop a future Mayor of Newham using our own land to build council homes and other facilities for our residents".

(John Gray - The Mayor has repeated that if he is re-selected and then re-elected he will continue to create this private company development company. See my Councillor report on the first we knew about this

Monday, March 12, 2018

"Newham mayoral hopeful calls for vote on scrapping role" Guardian

Rokhsana Fiaz is challenging Sir Robin Wales, the mayor of the London borough since 2002

"A referendum should be held on scrapping the directly elected mayoral system used in the London borough where the Olympics was held, according the woman challenging the capital’s longest-serving council leader for the top job.
Rokhsana Fiaz accused Sir Robin Wales, the mayor of Labour-dominated Newham, of presiding over an administration that makes decisions in a restricted circle and excludes community participation in formal council meetings that in some cases have lasted less than 20 minutes.
Two thousand Labour members in Newham have until Friday to vote on the party’s mayoral candidate for an election in May. Wales has been the mayor since 2002 and was the council leader from 1995 in a borough where Labour has 59 out of 60 council seats.
Fiaz said she would ask residents to vote on whether they wanted to continue with the mayoral system by the end of her first term. “This council is too top-down, too hierarchical. The incumbent to my mind represents the past, a very ossified way of doing things,” she said.
The system of directly elected mayors was created under Tony Blair. It was successfully established first in the capital and more recently in Manchester and the West Midlands, but it has not caught on elsewhere. Newham is one of four London boroughs that use the system. At the last election, in 2014, Wales won with 61% of the vote.
He has a strong grip on Labour’s East Ham constituency and is backed by the area’s MP, Stephen Timms, and he has compared himself to Sir Alex Ferguson. Under Wales’s leadership there has been significant economic investment in the area around the Olympic park, underpinned by the Westfield shopping centre.
He has argued that “things take time to get done”, but Fiaz claimed the regeneration benefits have been uneven, with 24,000 people on the council house waiting list at a time when some newbuild flats near Stratford railway station are on sale for more than £1m. “We have all this development, but residents can’t afford to live in Newham,” she said, addingthat she herself could not easily afford to buy a home in the borough.
She also criticised the council for writing off £52m on a loan intended to develop the Olympic Stadium for use by West Ham United, a deal that soured when hoped-for income was not generated.
Fiaz has been a councillor since 2014. She previously worked as a television producer in public relations and latterly as an adviser on race before running an interfaith charity, the Maimonides Foundation.
She has won support from Momentum, although the grassroots Labour group is not strong in the area, and she has the backing of the West Ham MP, Lyn Brown. Fiaz said she voted for Jeremy Corbyn in both Labour leadership contests, but described herself as “a candidate for everyone, hoping for support from all parts of the party.”

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Happy Mothers Day! (& End Maternity Discrimination)

Happy Mother's Day to my lovely Mum, Margaret Gray, and shout out to @rokhsanafiaz #Rokhs4Mayor call to end #maternity discrimination on this #MotheringSunday

Mum is pushing the pram containing my little sister Lucy, aged 3 months, in our home town of Buckley, North Wales in 1968.

As a trade unionist I know that mothers are sacked or forced out of work every day of the week by bigoted employers and managers.

Mums & all carers (including men) need more protection from discrimination at work.

If you love your Mum and don't want other Mums to be exploited then sign the petition below!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

UNISON and Unite have officially endorsed Rokhsana Fiaz as the Labour candidate for Newham Mayor

Both UNISON and Unite have officially endorsed Rokhsana Fiaz as the Labour candidate for Newham Mayor in May.

Unison “Greater London Region UNISON Labour Link is pleased to support our union member, Rokhsana Fiaz, to be the next Labour candidate to be Mayor of Newham. Rokhsana’s manifesto is fresh, innovative and full of policies that Unison supports including building more homes at social rent & insourcing of public services”.
Yvonne Green, Greater London UNISON Convenor 

Unite: “Unite are pleased to support Rokhsana Fiaz in the selection as Labour candidate for Newham Mayor”

Jim Kelly, Chair Unite London & South Eastern Region

It is time to build Newham’s future together: Please get in touch, Rokhsana would like to hear from you

Mail Tweet @rokhsanafiaz Web: Face Book: @Rokshana4Newham 

Promoted by John Gray, on behalf of Rokhsana Fiaz who is seeking to become Labour’s candidate for the Mayor of Newham, at 59a Woodford Road, London E7 0DJ

Friday, March 09, 2018

"I can think of nobody better to be the Mayor of Newham than her" ....Rokhsana Fiaz for Newham Mayor

Great letter of endorsement for Rokhsana Fiaz as Newham Labour Mayoral Candidate by our West Ham MP, Lyn Brown.

After some quite disgusting and frankly vile comments and deliberate untruths by "supporters" of the incumbent, Lyn has obviously felt that she has no choice but to step in and show her support for Rokhsana. 

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Angela Rayner MP to speak at UNISON Housing Association Branch AGM

"This is to confirm that our Branch Annual General Meeting will take place on Tuesday 20 March 2018 at 6pm in Committee Room 5 at the House of Commons in the historic Palace of Westminster. 

This meeting is open to all UNISON Housing Association members. At the meeting you will listen to reports and may question branch officers, elect branch officers and delegates, discuss budgets; affiliations and debate motions on branch policy.

If you wish to bring a guest (who will be able to observe but not vote) please let the office ( know as we will have reserved spaces for visitors.

We also have a fantastic key note speaker Angela Rayner MP. Her story is very inspiring. She was a single mum at 16 and worked as a care assistant. She joined UNISON and was supported in the union, becoming first a steward, then branch officer and finally a Regional Convenor before becoming an MP. She is now Shadow Secretary of State for Education.

Before the meeting there will be a tour of Westminster Hall and the public areas of the Palace including the famous “lobby”. There will also be a free raffle for everyone who attends and after the AGM there will be a free branch social (meal and drink) at a nearby venue in Whitehall.

If you wish to go on the tour meet 4.30pm (sharp) outside Westminster Underground station and the guide will meet you there (look out for UNISON flag). The tour will start after going through security at 5pm for 45 minutes. Ring John on ##### 150 530 if any problems.

For the main meeting you can either make your own way via the Cromwell Green Entrance (please allow at least 30 minutes to get thorough the airport style security – if Police ask where you are going please say you are going to Committee Room 5 to see Angela Rayner MP)

-       Or meet 5.15pm (sharp) just outside Westminster Underground station to meet with branch officer to escort you (look out for UNISON flag).

Ring John on ##### 150 530 if any problems

If you have any access problems please let me know as soon as possible".


John Gray
Branch Secretary