Friday, July 31, 2009
Thursday, July 30, 2009
"It's the same the whole world over,
It's the poor what gets the blame,
It's the rich what gets the pleasure,
Ain’t it all a bleeding shame?"
I’ve been on a fair few pickets, lobbies and protests over the years where (especially in the East End) this music hall ditty was sung heartily by all those present. The tune and chorus have always been the same but the lyrics of the verses - dare I say – were usually somewhat more direct and lively!
I thought of the chorus yesterday when I was on an underground train going to a TUPE/ redundancy meeting in West London. I was reading the pension magazine “Engaged Investment” and a cheerily named article called “How Long is Life?” It was a bit teckie but one statistic did horrify me about the impact of income inequality in this country.
“...the extent to which salary affects life expectancy: an individual between 60 and 65 years old earning less than £15,000 is more than three times as likely to die in the following year than someone earning more than £35,000”.
So we have it - inequality kills - Something must be done...BTW The Tories ain't going to do it.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
This sort of practice was outlawed in the private sector after the Robert Maxwell “Daily Mirror” pension scandal. Private sector pensions schemes now have to have 1/3 representation by beneficiary trustees by law.
Many other Council pension schemes do little better than the single officer schemes since they still have no meaningful representation of scheme members on their investment panels or committees whatsoever.
There are other significant problems with the failure to separate pension and council bank accounts and the issue of co-mingling!
I think that these Councillors and chief officers are taking completely unnecessary and enormous personal risks by allowing such poor governance. Why they do this continues to astonish me?
One day, as sure as eggs is eggs, somewhere - it will all blow up in their faces.
Thankfully my scheme has started to introduce member representation with voting rights.
I have covered this issue just a few times already (here, here and here).
Monday, July 27, 2009
Given the circumstances it was a pretty constructive and positive meeting. Proudly holding our flag is the Local UNISON branch secretary Bob Whiting (back left) and next to him the new steward, Scheme Manager, Frances King.
There is an avalanche of threats to sheltered housing for older people in the coming years. Not only is there cuts in budgets in real terms and a downward pressure on quality, but there is the potential threat from the removal of the ring fencing of funding and the proposed introduction of personal budgets.
Residents, Unions and public housing Landlords need to work together to counter these threats.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
The last living unwilling British participant and witness of trench warfare in the so-called Great War has now died.
Harry was a plumber who was conscripted into the army and fought in the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. After months of combat he was wounded in a shell explosion which killed 3 of his close friends. More than 70,000 British troops died in this one awful battle. By the time that Harry was fully recovered from his wound the war was over.
My Taid (my welsh grandfather, my mum’s dad) also served in the First World War. Like Harry, he was a machine gunner in the trenches. His division (The Fighting 63rd - Royal Naval Division) also fought at Passchendaele where they lost 2,000 men. I am not sure if my Taid was at this battle since he never talked about this or any of his war experiences (he volunteered in 1915). He had won a Military Cross shortly before the battle. Ironically this award which was for risking his life to capture a German machine gun post and sizing forty prisoners may have actually saved him. Since military records show he was given leave for the investiture at Buckingham Palace at the height of the Battle.
I remember my Taid even though he died when I was 7. My memory is of a very gentle man in a wheelchair reading me aloud childish children’s stories with great relish.
His Military Cross and picture of him as a young confident solider held absolute pride of place in the living room of my Nain’s Council flat in Denbigh. It was next to the “Certificate of Honour” from his home town of Abercarn. A copy of which I stare at now.
Goodbye then Harry Patch, if there is an afterlife, (which sadly of course I doubt) then hopefully my Taid, your comrade at arms, Frederick John Matthews, will be there to welcome you with your long lost mates.
Shall we shed a tear or two at the thought of that meeting?
Saturday, July 25, 2009
The other week I attended a business meeting of LAPFF (see report here on the ever so polite M&S revolt). The first guest speaker was an senior executive from a top credit rating agency. He explained (IMO) how Banks and financial institutions credit worthiness are rated primarily on the support that the central Banks will offer if they run into trouble rather than any other factor including their governance arrangements. Banking failure is relatively commonplace but because of their central importance to the national economy they are not allowed to fail. Their bonds therefore are always safe. It is only the rest of us that suffer from their disastrous actions.
Also there is also no moral hazard to act as a brake since the Banks know that the Government will always bail them out.
So there we have it. If the credit reference industry is not bothered about preventing Banking failures then so who is? The Regulators? We also had at the meeting a pretty convincing presentation that showed how the “City” considers “Regulation” as just a set of rules that you need to find ways of getting around. The financial institutions (including the publicly owned ones) are spending huge amounts of our money on “researching” the new and proposed regulatory measures with the simple aim of evading them. Business as usual then.
So unless something radically changes we are doomed to repeat this disaster again and again.
The solution - only when we have truly independent owner/stakeholder representatives elected on the boards of financial institutions will there be a check and challenge to the lemmings.
BTW – Remember the infamous film of lemmings we probably all saw as kids which appeared to show hundreds of Lemmings throwing themselves off cliffs while on pointless migrations? Despite the fact that this was a “Disney” film apparently the film production crew themselves was responsible for flying in crates of lemmings into the cliff area and throwing them over the cliff with the help of a turntable.
There is a modern day metaphor here somewhere?
Friday, July 24, 2009
To be honest, hearing this support again and again on the doorstep and on the telephone did surprise me. After all the “Great British Public” were suppose to be on the warpath and after MPs blood? I think that constituents are actually more knowing about things than the gutter press would have us think.
It is a pity that Labour voters decided to give us a kicking by staying at home. But we came a clear second and I fully expect a Labour MP to be returned after the next General Election. Not least because boundary changes will mean two Tory Wards will be moved out of the constituency.
The Tories and other opposition Parties are still not winning by-elections by the margin they should if they really expect to do well in the next election. The Cameron juggernaut will eventually splutter and come to rest. Events dear boy, events...
Labour is still in a good position to win. IMHO. More red water please! Onwards and Forwards comrades.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
I wanted to alert you to a dispute that is currently taking place within what would normally been seen as a near perfect working environment, namely the Gardens of the leading Horticultural charity,
The RHS continues to make large operating surpluses (£3.1million in 08/09 ) and yet it has decided to slash staff costs and are forcing all staff to sign new contracts which include working a 5 out of 7 day rolling working week, with no financial incentive, and many redundancies will fellow.
Despite the RHS flagship Garden at Wisley having many Unite and Prospect members the senior managers are refusing to meet with union officials and are trying to bulldoze through change with minimal consultation.
It is important to remember that these Gardeners are some of the most highly skilled practitioners within the industry while at the same time are the least well paid employees of this highly profitable charity.
Unite is currently turning this into a National campaign and I would urge you to write to : - Inga Grimsey, Director General, RHS, Vincent Square, London and register your disapproval and in particular can I encourage anyone from within Surrey to write to the local paper and express your outrage.
Can I finally ask you to send this email on through your own email networks.
(from members of the local Labour Party and Unite/GMB)
Support the Factory Occupation
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
From 1 April 2009 an increase of 1.25% on SCPs 4 to 10 inclusive
· Annual Leave
From 1 April 2009, an increase from 20 to 21 days in minimum annual leave for employees with less than five years’ service.
By 1 December 2009, the NJC will produce joint guidance on best practice in handling redundancies.
So the latest offer has gone up from 0.5% to 1.25% for low paid and 1% for the rest. This would be back dated to April this year. Also an extra days days leave for workers with less service and an agreed union/employer guide on good practice over redundancies.
The joint unions will meet on Monday 27 July to consider a response.
In a press release UNISON Head of Local Government Heather Wakefield says:-
"We are pleased that the local government employers have come forward with an improved pay offer. While we believe that our members are worth more, we are pleased that the employers have realised that 0.5% was an insult. It is also vital that we have an agreement in place to protect jobs in the sector. This will help keep services running through the recession - when families and communities need them most. "UNISON's national committee and the NJC trade union side will meet next week to start the consultation on the offer."
I think it is fair to say "well done" to the Joint Union negotiators for helping to bring a positive offer to the table in these difficult times and also getting a fairly significant increase on the previous offer. I can imagine the Daily Hate headlines tomorrow morning. But maybe we can get more?
My employer is so far still holding out on a 0% increase for non-NJC Staff (i.e staff not on local government rates – usually directly employed staff who do not have TUPE protection). With us there is any appeal process in hand and this offer should help us argue against the 0% non-offer. I am just back tonight from a Housing Association Branch Executive meeting where I heard that one employer proposed a 5% cut in wages. This was beaten back and in fact many employers have increased wages for this year by more than 1%.
I think that those in local government UNISON leadership roles should wait until they can properly consult their ordinary members on this final NJC offer. Before passing instant judgement and slobbering over the thought of leading their members (who they obviously consider too thick to think for themselves) into the valhalla of glorious strike action.
Mayor Boris Johnson is grilled by campaigners angry that the £744,000 a year he promised for rape crisis centres will not be delivered (from 40 secs).
Page nine of Boris Johnson's crime manifesto said:
"…we will act immediately to provide long-term funding for four Rape Crisis Centres in London. We would provide funding for these centres by cutting the number of GLA spin doctors.
Current annual expenditure at the centre in one remaining centre in Croydon was £178,823 in 2006/7. Adjusting this for inflation gives an estimate of annual running costs of £186,000 in 2008/09. Therefore to secure the funding for this centre and three others would require ringfencing of around £744,000 annually."
Boris now says "As you know, what we can't do in the GLA, we're not a funding organisation. We can't directly fund them ourselves" (1min48sec).
Boris seemed rattled by the protest. We know he is not a "detail" man but this is a serious issue. He was most put out by the comparison made that the funding of one "Rape crisis" centre for the year would cost less than the £250,000 in "chickenfeed" wages he thinks he receives for writing his media columns.
I think that there is a reasonably good chance that Boris will now be shamed into fulfilling his promise.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
I would normally encourage a member to take advice from specialist welfare rights advisers such as Law centres or Citizen Advice. Many years ago I worked as an advisor but am now “out of date”. But (its a long story) the member did not want to seek advice from anyone else as they did not want to discuss their accident and the impact on their health with anyone else.
We had to appeal on a point of law only - so we tried to argue that the decision was perverse since it was plainly unreasonable and did not fit the facts. This was turned down by a Commissioner (Judge) who said it was not a point of law. We argued that it was a point of law. Another Commissioner reviewed this argument and agreed with the previous decision that it was not a point of law but found that the appeal tribunal had indeed “erred” in law by not explaining its decision properly and ordered a fresh tribunal appeal(hmmm - no comment).
At this rehearing the appeal was again allowed but this time the disability was assessed at 20% not 14% which meant they were eligible for benefit and it was awarded for life. So after almost 20 years finally justice is done (I told you it was a long story). The member will only receive about £28 per week (tax free but nearly £3,000 in back payment) but was really, really pleased to be getting some compensation for the decades of pain and suffering caused by a horrible accident at work.
In the trade union movement we need to wake up to industrial injury benefits. Why did it take over 15 years after returning to work for the member to realise they could claim? I suspect that every large UNISON branch in local government and health have manuel members redeployed or on permanent light duties due to industrial injuries who could be eligible for benefits. Mental health injuries caused by work is another less obvious area to think about. I will see what we can do at region but I think that all union reps ought to seriously think about whether they have members who should apply. I think most of you will have at least one.
UPDATE: in conversation this morning with Disability rights Guru, Montrose Matty, he reminded me that sufferers from work related Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) may also be eligible.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Ace Labour and Capital blogger Tom P has reverted here to his calm and measured ways after last month’s explosion over public pensions. He exposes now the cant and hypocrisy shown towards "City interests" and the failure to bring about much needed change.
“Imagine if the economic crisis had been caused by trade unions, by constantly pushing for higher wages and using industrial action in support of short-term objectives, regardless of the long-term consequences.
Imagine if at every stage in the run-up to the crisis when government or regulators or the public had tried to curb their behaviour, or urged restraint, they had simply responded with threats to withdraw their labour (in the traditional sense, not by relocating overseas...).
Imagine if that behaviour had left the country saddled with debt that would take years to pay back, with related cuts in public services.
Do we really believe legal curbs on their behaviour wouldn't be introduced? Do we have any doubt that legislation would be enacted to hamper their ability to do such damage again in future? Do we seriously think society would be satisfied with voluntary codes of conduct which they could choose to comply with, or explain why not?”
I'm actually just using this as an excuse to post again my favourite YouTube clip. There is also a serious message - somewhere.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
We were swiftly sent off to a sub office in Catton Grove. Where we spent the day canvassing door-to-door and delivering some targeted leaflets. I knew the ward organiser via SERTUC. Most of the patch belonged to Norwich City Council and their stock was on the whole in pretty good condition and well cared for by the Landlord and the residents. We had a pretty positive reception even though I had one resident who after I posted the target mailing opened his door muttered furiously about God know what and threw the leaflet back out onto the floor and slammed the door shut. I put his leaflet in his recycling box.
There was a piano in one communal hallway which I wondered about while I noticed that one resident had converted their front door to resemble a shiny red post office box. I wonder if he or she was on strike Friday as well?
There were loads and loads of friendly Labour Students from all over - out delivering and door knocking.
I tried to help one elderly resident whose Yale key was stuck in her front door and she could not get in. I was called over because I was “a housing officer and will know what to do”. I failed miserably to open the door since the key was bent but the next door neighbour was looking after her and had called a locksmith.
My highlight of the day was trying to persuade a Labour supporter to use our “Promise Card” as a reminder to vote on the day. I explained carefully how he could keep it on his mantelpiece or behind a fridge magnet. To which he smiled nicely and said “or I could keep it in the rubbish bin?” while reassuring me that he would vote Labour and did not need all this “fuss” to do so. I still think that the “promise cards” are a good idea.
There were a few Tory canvassers about but the Green Party had bizarrely a (mostly) red ex-London transport double Decker as some sort of a “Battle Bus” polluting the environment with a loud, grating and almost completely intelligible PA system. Keep it up Swampy! Towards the end of day we actually canvassed the streets around the bus which appeared to have broken down.
On the whole we all felt that it had been a very positive and even friendly canvass. The big problem I suspect will be getting our vote out on the day. If we get our vote out we will win. So if you are available in person this Thursday then please turn up to help out. Or if you cannot then go to Labour Party members net virtual phone bank and pick up the phone.
Beforehand UNISON representatives held a pre-meeting where we discussed the agenda and agreed our positions.
The first main item of business is the President’s report. Martin reported on the recent strikes in the construction and engineering sector. Workers on the “Blue book” terms and conditions. He considered that the successful outcomes of the strikes should be considered as “victories” for the workers concerned especially during these times. The Fight still goes on since employers are trying to use the recession to attack workers. He praised the CWU strike action in support of the post office. The likelihood of action by the Fire Brigade over the attempt to Privatise support services. Mind you the FBU don’t need lessons on defending themselves. Congratulations to those in this region who fought the BNP. But 2 BNP MEPs are two too many. He pressed the government to use the banks that they now own to support British companies. He reminded Council that today was the 91st birthday of Nelson Mandela. “Congratulations”. He reaffirmed our solidarity with our brothers and sisters in South Africa who are still struggling to bring about fairness.
Next the inevitable “minutes/matters arising”.
Our First Speaker was Kate Hudson – who is the Chair of CND. She led on the recent Guardian poll that 54% of the public are opposed to having nuclear weapons. It is also the first time a majority of Labour Party supporters oppose the Trident programme. The highest level of opposition is in the 18-24 age range (no surprise there). Amongst social classes CDE there is the greatest opposition at 63% (which is surprising – to me anyway). She thinks that there has been a victory that the decision on Trident will have to come back to Parliament and that there will be a 9 month delay. She argues that research shows that more jobs will be created if Trident is scrapped.
Labour MEP Claude Moraes was to speak on the European Elections results but unfortunately his Dad is sick so he has had to fly to Edinburgh. He will speak at the next meeting.
The Regional Secretary had submitted a written report on which she accepted questions and comments. She reminded us about Burston School Strikes Rally. A CWU speaker reported on the ongoing dispute in Royal Mail. We were told to expect further industrial action. Our delegation leader asked for an update on proposal to make “Workers Memorial Day” officially recognised. There is supposed to be a DWP consultation on this. Megan was not sure how much substance this proposal has but will check it out.
The only motion was the Greater London UNISON motion on “shared surfaces”. Which I kept referring to as “shared services” (which is another trade union issue). This motion had voiced opposition to the whole concept. This is (very basically) the Dutch idea that you improve road safety by merging roads and pavements. The Executive wanted the motion to be remitted. But an amendment was submitted which appeared to do away with their concerns. Many disabled groups are opposed. Nicholas Russell from London Voluntary Organisation branch moved the motion and argued “How can you feel safe if you can’t tell the difference between the road and the pavement”. There was however a good debate by speakers opposed to the motion who believed that Shared Services can actually improve road safety and that we need fresh thinking. Despite this the motion was passed with overwhelming support.
The only items of AOB – was a request for everyone to sign the petition to save Vauxhall and invite everyone to join the UNISON Beastly Boris “chicken feed” event on Tuesday.
There were 66 trade union reps present form 19 different affiliated trade unions and 20 reps from county Trade Union Councils.
(usual health warning on the accuracy of my “speed typing”)
Saturday, July 18, 2009
UNISON members at the Greater London Authority (GLA) will be inviting the public to chuck feed at a chicken man representing Boris Johnson during a protest over job cuts on Tuesday (21 July).
The GLA staff are clucking mad after the mayor described his £250,000 salary for his second job as a Daily Telegraph columnist as “chicken feed”. Currently 120 staff are being threatened with redundancy, despite warnings from workers that downsizing City Hall would mean downsizing life for Londoners.
More than 350 UNISON members at the GLA were balloted, as part of the fight against job cuts, and 75 per cent voted in favour of industrial action.
Tuesday’s protest will kick off a series of events leading up to a rally in October. Regional Officer, Shirley Mills, said:“Boris ‘two jobs’ Johnson described his £250,000 second job as “chicken feed”, while slashing jobs of low-paid workers. “Leo Boland, the GLA Chief Executive, is also earning over £205,000, £10,000 more than the Prime Minister.“It is disgusting that these two wallow in their huge wages while low paid staff face the axe.“We will be chucking feed at the penned up chicken man during the protest to show our disgust.”
GLA staff and others will take place in the UNISON protest at 12.20pm on Tuesday (21 July) at Potters Field, next to City Hall, The Queens Walk, SE1 2AA.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Our Party has asked for maximum support from CLP’s to encourage members to turn out and campaign for the Labour Candidate, Chris Ostrowski, who is standing in next weeks Norwich North By-election. So after consulting with the West Ham CLP Chair and Secretary - I have decided to cancel Saturday’s stall at Green Street and Sunday’s door knock.
What we want to do is encourage everyone to go to Norwich this weekend instead. The Party needs us to help out and defeat the Tories.
I am trying to see if we can possibly arrange a minibus for Saturday and Sunday (details to follow tomorrow). Some West Ham members are planning to go by train (from Liverpool Street or Stratford - see Trainline). Others may want to drive.
Check out the “Norwich North” Campaign website here for their HQ, map and address (Labour Campaign HQ, Unit 9, Concorde Road, Norwich, NR6 6BH – the telephone number is 01603 622107.
I will send out another email tomorrow with further information.
Please let me know by telephone tomorrow afternoon 2pm if you are interested in coming by minibus (if I can arrange it), by pooled cars or train.
Our MP Lyn Brown will be coming with us on Saturday and Sunday.
Norwich is a lovely City and I am sure that members will enjoy campaigning there!
Let me know if you can help the Party out this Weekend.
West Ham Agent
(Please forward this email to anyone else who may be interested in going)
The Demonstration will be: Meet under Churchill’s Statue Parliament Square 12.30hrs
Then a small delegation will go and hand a Giant Postcard at the BIS department in Victoria Street. While the rest of us head for the Rally in Central Hall
MAKE SURE YOU ATTEND AND hear the latest about the industrial action & WHAT the next moves ARE.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
I thought that the canvass went quite well. It is always hard to judge and this is a difficult time for the Party at the moment. But I found that the people I managed to speak to were on the whole pleased to be contacted and to be canvassed for their vote. There was overall positive Labour support and certainly no great appetite for any other opposition Party.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
The sad sorry tale of utter financial incompetency and impropriety (or even worse) by some senior managers in the past has resulted in the funding council HEFCE trying to reclaim millions of pounds of grants. The arguments actually put forward by the University to justify sacking people and “outsource” services to save money seem pretty desperate and frankly daft.
It makes you wonder (despair?) about the governance arrangements for the University. Who is responsible for the mess? Why was this allowed to happen? What is being done to make sure this will never, ever, happen again? (Or at another university or college)?
As far as I can see there is still open warfare between London Mets management and the Funding Council. How is this going to help things now and in the future? They are both responsible for this chaos and should deal with the problem without sacking loads of staff or getting rid of students.
There is a wider question about the Boards of governors, trustees, commissioners or whatever, of our traditional British public institutions. Do the so-called “great and the good” of our society who tend to populate these boards have the necessary skills, life experiences and even gumption to challenge the day to day management and give proper strategic guidance and oversight?
On the present day evidence - I think not.
It is a pity that some minor management stooges have tried to wreak the day by trying to score sectarian points and attacking the union. But I suppose that like rubbish management this is something we just have to deal with.
(Picture of UNISON branch secretory Alan Pike, a super picket and UNISON regional organiser, Harry Lister, behind a banner asking the Minister, David Lammy, for the enquiry he promised into London Met finances)
This is an absolutely brilliant video by TUC New media guru John Woods (Sorry John but it is true). This is really clever stuff and make sure you watch it the right to the very end. I won't say anymore because I might spoil it - but please spread the message.
Monday, July 13, 2009
“Ed started off by paying tribute to UNISON and to Labour Link and its leadership. He then mentioned that it was the first time he had ever shared a panel with his families midwife. It turns out that NHS Nurse, Rachel Voller, who was chairing the Forum had been the midwife at the recent birth of his child. He praised Rachel for being brilliant at calming down “panicking dads”. He then said that he was sure that she was also very discreet. There was a gentle heckle from a certain former UNISON president on the floor who claimed that Rachel had not - and she had “spilled the beans”. Never!
Ed then got stuck in with telling us that all MP’s owed us an apology. They had let us down. Most had not personally abused the system but they should have not allowed the scandal to have happened in the first place. Especially for those of us in public service who work for a Labour Government and expected better.
There are 5 things we now need to do. Firstly, we need to remember our values and why we came into Party. Not about the better management of the economy but a battle of competing visions. It’s about fairness and justice. Who we stand up for. The role of the market is not about who can manage it better. The Tories believe that the recession should take its course. This is their belief in free markets. While we do believe that government can be a force of good. There is a basic difference in values.
Secondly the Tories believe “if it isn't hurting it is not working” and “unemployment is a price worth paying”. We don’t - and what this means is that we put money into the economy. To prevent all the repossessions compared to last time. We have forced the banks to keep lending and prevent massive long term unemployment. We have guaranteed job/training to all under 25 for 6 months. There is a big difference between us and them. No matter what - the recession would have been deeper and more painful under Tory rule.
It’s no more “business as usual”. Unfairness has to change. The increase in higher rate tax is an example. Why have working people voted in the past more or less for Labour? The minimum wage shows we have raised the living standard of the people we represent. Need to show how we will further raise this standard of living for our people.
We have unfinished business. The Social Care lottery needs reform. We need to make Social Care a central part of the welfare state. Family Policy is key. Scandinavian countries are way ahead of us. Not only use minimum wage but also use tax credits
Thirdly. Climate change. This is the area. The biggest challenge. But it is not the biggest challenge in everybody’s lives. In 60 years time people will ask did we face up to the challenge. Need to show big ambition in climate change. What do you get with a Labour government you won’t get with Tories? We want growth, jobs and a sustainable environment. Our values are to make sure poor don't pay the most to counter climate change.
Fourth: We have to show the contrast with the Tories. They want a referendum on the Labour Government rather than a debate on who they stand up for. Ken Clarke, when he became a shadow minister again, said that the inheritance tax policy commitment “is an aspiration”. The Tory high command said “No it’s a commitment”. They want a smaller state - that is what they believe in. Need to warn people about the Tories. We have made enormous gains - 18 weeks hospital waiting lists and the massive school building programme. His CLP has been transformed. Massive changes. For example, Surestart, which they will do away with. What if Tories get in - what does it mean for Doncaster North?
Fifth: Why did we come into the Party - because we are idealists. We are the real idealists. We are the people who think that public services can transfer people’s lives. Idealism is a missing component of government. My brother (who I don't usually quote) said recently When you are out of Government you know too much of it and when you are in Government you know too little of it. The country is not crying out for Tories. If we get this manifesto right we will win”.
(Compared to Harriet the previous day - Ed did get a bit of a pummelling in the Q&A. Especially over transport policy, public housing and privatisation. He tried to give assurances that there was no plan to market test 75% of elective NHS services but Forum was determined to give let the minster responsible for drawing up the Party manifesto for the next election know that things need to change. In the nicest possible way of course).
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Saturday, July 11, 2009
However, even the most unresponsive, expensive, badly run, rude, arrogant and inefficient public services in the world now have a favourable comparator in Virgin Media.
I posted recently on the completely useless service I had received from Virgin Media. Even at the time I thought that I had just been a little misfortune. After all, these things happen don't they in the best of companies? My Virgin broadband had stopped working and the company had refused to allow me to use their dial up service. At the time of the last post I had actually managed to get on line via their dial up service despite the melody of fibs I had been told. The dial up service (slowly) cost me about £100 extra in charges for the time I was off broadband. I was “offered” £30 in compensation. However, it all got even worse afterwards. I took time off work to be available for an appointment for an engineer to attend my home only for it to be cancelled by a text message on the grounds that the problem will be solved via the network. Of course that did not happen so I had to ring again and was told to wait another week since it was not a network problem and an engineer needs to attend at home.
A manager was suppose to ring me to apologise and see if a weekend appointment could be organised for an engineer to attend - but of course no one rang me. I think that I was told that a manager would ring me on 6 separate occasions but they never did. While waiting for an engineer to call I tried my Internet connection and it suddenly started to work. So it was a network problem all the time. Did anyone ring to offer an apology or explanation? No, of course not. To be clear nearly all front line staff I spoke to were apologetic and tried to be helpful they but incapable of doing anything positive by the company rules. The one manager I actually spoke to was by far the most arrogant and smug person that I have spoken to in a such a long, long while. His attitude was basically that Virgin Media was such a wonderful company with such great products that I should be just grateful for being even allowed to pay (through the nose) for its products.
Hmmm. I can honestly say that we don’t get things right all the time in public services but I have never, ever experienced such an incompetent, unresponsive, uncaring and inefficient service as I have from Virgin Media. I suspect that the overriding reason for this is that they are in a monopoly situation for most of their customers. It is difficult and time consuming to switch services if you are a cable customer. So they milk it as much as they can. There is an important lesson to learn for those who believe that privatisation is the answer for public services. It is clearly not.
The UK economy is going to be increasingly dependent on efficient and responsive broadband services. Virgin has failed to rise to the challenge and on the evidence I have seen, it is institutionally incapable of doing so.
Oftel must break up the Virgin Media monopoly to enable real competition and improve services for its captive customers. Nationalisation is probably the only real alternative to being broken up.
The bearded one is obviously more interested in other things than customer service.
Check out "Which" recommended Zen Internet and BE Internet.
Excellent news - Clear red water. This should be a national Labour Party manifesto commitment for all. Hungry kids do not learn.
Also there was the successful launch of Newham Young Labour. Great news for the future of the Party in Newham.
On Thursday evening we had a successful West Ham CLP campaign meeting. Despite the national political backdrop our meeting was very positive and vibrant. Lots of positive and constructive ideas. We have agreed a schedule of campaign events across the summer and into the autumn.
We kick off with a telecanvass at the Party rooms next week in support of the Labour candidate, Chris Ostrowski, in the Norwich North by-election.
PS - Apparently we had Tories “canvassing” in Capel Road, Forest Gate recently! I wonder if the leaflet has stirred things up?
(click on picture to bring up detail)
Friday, July 10, 2009
"Chair, Forum...Firstly can I say that I am speaking as someone who had invested nearly 20% of his pay for over 20 years in Public Sector Pensions. For the last 16 years I have also been a member nominated representative on my scheme investment panel.
Forum, it is a strange, strange world we live in and I think it is only now that we fully understand and appreciate the job of work that was done in recent years by our Labour Link and UNISON to save our pensions. If there had not been a Labour Link, arguing with facts and passion to defend our pensions, we would not now have a guaranteed, safe, final salary pension scheme.
To be frank Forum, the battle to save our pensions is not over. The vultures are gathering. Let us be crystal clear – the Conservative Party even under cuddly Cameron will abolish our pensions. The Liberal Democrats even under Saint Vince Cable will abolish our pensions. They will abolish our pensions and replace them with insecure, unstable personal pensions with massive cuts to employer contributions.
Forum, our enemies, for that is what they are; our enemies’ attacks on our pensions are based on two things – Lies and Spite. The first of the many fibs are that public pensions are in some way “fat cat” pensions! Now all of us here, today, know that to be a lie. But what you need to do is let all your branch members, your friends and families, know that in reality the average public sector pension is under £5,000 per year. £100 per week is not a “fat cat” pension. Especially when compared to the millions paid to Royal Bank of Scotland “Fred the Shred” for actually losing our pension funds hundreds of millions of pounds of our money.
The 2nd lie that is being told by our enemies is that our pensions are in some way “unaffordable”. Forum, this is rubbish. This is untrue. We must do everything we can, at every opportunity to refute such porkies. Let me explain further.
I am a member of the local government scheme (LGPS) and was tupe transferred to a housing association who only offers a Group private pension to their other staff. My membership of the LGPS costs my employer 13.8%, repeat 13.8% of my salary. They even put that figure on my pay slip each month. Now if I was to transfer to the Group private pension scheme it would cost them 16% of my salary. Not only this they would have to pay more for life assurance to replace our “death in survive benefits”, and even more to pay for a Permanent Health Insurance policy (PHI) to replace our medical early retirement benefits.
Forum, this is the truth of the matter not the lies. The truth also is that Pensions are an expensive business. It does cost money to provide decent pensions. No matter what system is actually used. Remember also that the best public pensions cost less than 0.5% in running costs per year while personal pensions can swallow up to 40% of contributions in commissions, administration and fund managers profits.
So in fact our public pensions are affordable, cheap to run, secure and safe. So why do our enemies attack our pensions? The answer, Forum, can only be ideological spite. The traditional open Tory belief that Public=Bad; Private=Good; Collective= Bad; Markets= Good.Forum, there is 5 million of us in the public pensions, in local government, in heath and in utilities. Forum we desperately need to work for the re-election of a Labour government, for its faults, to save our pensions. There is clear red water on this issue. Please support this composite.
(this is an off the wall thought and not in the motion - If you are really serious about ending poverty for all in old age? – How about compelling all employees, employers and self employed to join their local council pension scheme? Contributions collected either direct from all or the Inland Revenue? Just a thought).
It is interesting that he indicates that what he calls “gentle heckling” by Ultra Left extremists at this year’s NDC conference was okay? ...and he has the blooming cheek to calls his NEC colleague “hypocrites”?
Now I come from a rough and ready tradition of public political debate and can be as passionate about things as anyone. Sometimes, in the dim and distance past I will admit, even I, have overstepped the mark somewhat at meetings for which I have then apologised (never at our Conference of course).
But the continual screaming, shouting and booing in some Conference debates this year by Ultra Left delegates who at the top of their voices yelled - “Liars” and “Rubbish” at speakers they happened not to agree with is completely unacceptable. It is not “gentle heckling” This appeared to be organised and pre-planned behaviour and gave the clear impression that it was done quite deliberately to physically frighten and put off ordinary members from speaking at our Conference.
But I think that most people have a different view of heckling than Trotskyite entryists who always want to shout down opponents since they don’t actually believe in such bourgeois concepts such as democracy. Instead they think shouting loudly and being indignantly outraged all the time will bring about the revolution.
Remember: This is from people who quite deliberately wreaked a sensible rule change (and wound up others with untruths and smears) at Conference which would have assisted the union with throwing out of membership Racists and Nazi’s. Some speakers against the rule change did have a principled argument but why the Ultra Left actively organised against it is beyond me? I cannot think of any other reason than to score points to suit their own narrow, pointless and sectarian purposes.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
I now depend on MS for their black socks and lovely pre-cooked grub.
So I have a sort of “love-hate” relationship with “Marks and Spencers”.
Today I was at a meeting of the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF). My Pension scheme is a relatively new member of the Forum.
According to its mission statement “LAPFF exists to promote the investment interests of local authority pension funds, and to maximise their influence as shareholders whilst promoting corporate social responsibility and high standards of corporate governance amongst the companies in which they invest.
Formed in 1990, the LAPFF Forum brings together a diverse range of local authority pension funds with combined assets of over £75 billion”.
Later that day LAPFF Representatives were going to move and vote on their resolution at the M&S shareholders AGM about splitting the role of its Chairperson and CEO, Sir Stuart Rose, who currently holds both positions in the company.
This combined role of the two most powerful positions in a company is a complete nonsense and goes against all good modern day governance advice. Not because Sir Stuart is doing that bad a job but it is very poor practice for a modern day top public company to have a management structure that you are more likely to find in an overseas company run by the Russian mafia than our dear old M&S.
In the long run, such poor governance is bad for the company, bad for the shareholders, bad for pension funds and therefore bad for my members. By definition Pension investments should be in for the long term.
The LAPFF resolution was very successful. They never expected to win but they received nearly 40% of the vote which is unheard of in such an AGM. The BBC reported here that the vote was twice as high as any other shareholder resolution in a top FTSE 100 company.
I expect M&S to "take on board" this message.
LAPFF members only hold less than 2% of the total shares of M&S so this is a great result for them and for better governance of our investments.
It is only a pity that they were not in the past able to challenge the rubbish governance of the risk management and remuneration committees of our Banks and other Financial institutions. If they had we would not be in the mess we are in and many pension schemes would not be under threat.
Check out Tom P at Labour and Capital for some great analysis here, here and here
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
We have an active, organised and well supported Young Labour section in Newham (East and West Ham).
These activists have been at the very heart of campaigning in recent elections. This is probably one of the reasons that we have been doing so well relatively in Newham.
I'm going to miss the London Progressive conference this Saturday. So this can be a chance to catch up on Ken's latest views on Boris and the wider political scene.
All Labour Party supporters welcome.
Check out here for a early ultra analysis of Mark and SWP bonker madness.
Apparently Galloway's antics on Big Brother was the final straw. Who said there was no good at all in the "Gorgeous One"!
Monday, July 06, 2009
I had the interview the week before in East Ham Town Hall. This was the first formal interview I have had for over 10 years (I think?)
There is still a long, long way to go. Next thing is to get yourself adopted as a Labour Party candidate for a Newham Ward. Usually you have to make a presentation to the local Labour Party ward members and answer their questions. Then there is a secret ballot and the top 3 are selected as candidates (one at least has to be a woman). This is likely to begin in September.
If the local ward selection meeting is not quorate then the Regional Party selects candidates.
If you get selected as a candidate you then of course have to pass the final “big test” and get yourself elected by the good people of Newham!
(see previous post on original application here)
Sunday, July 05, 2009
Saturday, July 04, 2009
Since “Today is the day when the British freed themselves from a despotic monarchy and declared Independence. Unfortunately, they were unable to liberate their homeland of the British Isles, but those Britons willing to stand up to a tyrannical king went on to become “Americans” and created a world superpower, invented the corndog, and gave the world Bob Dylan”.
Hat-tip thingy to last year’s Harry’s Place and this post.
What needs to be brought forward is if the Tories had been in power they would have said “let the banks collapse... let the recession take its course and cut public spending now”. At the recent international economic conference she had assumed that everyone would be flocking around Obama on his first visit – no, they were all following and speaking to Gordon about what to do over their economic crisis's.
Thanked unison for its work on equality and how without unison the Equality Bill would not have happened and still need our support. Cameron apologised yesterday about Section 28, now they have worked out it wrong but they are still voting against the Equality Bill.
The Q&A went okay. She answered questions about MP expenses., privatisation, pensions and equalities. She was not aware of plans to privatise and market test 75% of NHS services and said she was sure that there are no plans approved by ministers to do so.
She finished by reminding us that we have got to be determined and united. If we struggle between ourselves at the moment remember the Tories would slam the door on the unions. We have our disagreements but we must unite. Don't believe we are written off we are not.
Steve Warwick formally thanked Harriet for her speech and asked her to remind the Labour Party of the importance of having a manifesto for the next election that 1.3 million UNISON members can all sign up to for.
Friday, July 03, 2009
Our General Secretary Dave Prentis gave a thoughtful and balanced account of “The State We're In” and the way forward. I moved a speech on Pensions. The workshop – worked.
The UNISON MPs (who are of course individual union members and not sponsored) Panel Q&A was lively. I'll hopefully post tomorrow a more extensive report on today. The highlights of Saturday are the Annual Report, rule changes, further motions and we have Ed Miliband MP to speak to us on the Labour Manifesto.
UPDATE: Warning - The witch hunting, red baiting and soft on the BNP Trot maestro has linked to this post.
Thursday, July 02, 2009
Tomorrow's agenda includes debates on motions, keynote speakers RH Harriet Harman MP and our GS Dave Prentis, workshops on “influencing the Government on key issues arising from UNISON national delegate conference”, MEPs panel Q&A, more motions then ending up with the traditional Friday night “Social”.
This is the elected national forum of the UNISON political fund which is affiliated to the Labour Party. It used to be called the “Affiliated Political Fund” or APF. This is a completely voluntary affiliation paid by those UNISON members who want to support and influence the Labour Party.
We live in “interesting times” in UNISON Labour Link and I am looking forward to a good debate on motions and during workshops. Needless to say – I will be expressing my views on things and hopefully posting over the next 2 days.
BTW – I have mislaid my Mobile -so apologies to anyone who is trying to get hold of me. You can email.
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
The BNP have somewhat successfully peddled the myths that homes are being given to immigrants ahead of “local families”. Which those of us who actually work in providing front line housing services have always known to be rubbish. The Fed reveals that in 2008/09 only 4.6% of lettings went to non-UK citizens.
This builds on other published research by the Local Government Association and the Equality and Human Rights Commission that only 2% of people who live in public housing were born outside the UK and that most new migrants end up in the “bottom end of private housing”.
This will give me some information to use when out canvassing and you come across people who genuinely believe that the only reason why they or their children cannot be rehoused is due to "immigrants". Sometimes they are even black Brits who have swallowed the racist’s line in frustration at their own personal overcrowding housing misery.
Now, I support in principal the idea that there should be a greater priority in local authority waiting lists for “local people”. But until we start building sufficient new homes for rent for those in the greatest of need as well as for general needs it is all simply moonshine.
What we need is political will and action - a mass national housing programme - this is as evidence based and joined up thinking as you can get it.
If for example they invest in a company that makes excess profits by damaging the environment with carbon pollution than this will be at the cost of the value of all its other investments in companies who will suffer financially from adverse climate change.
To save our pensions we need to think outside the box. Now more than ever.
Makes sense to me.