Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Newham Council AGM: Growing up in Newham

This speech was given by Cllr Ellie Robinson to the Newham Council AGM on May 19th.

“We grow up fast in Newham. Some children are carers by the time they are teenagers; others face the added responsibility of having to provide for their families, both here and sometimes abroad too.

Too many of our young people have felt the extraordinary pain of losing a friend, or a classmate, to violent crime. Others struggle everyday with growing up in a culture where the violence involves relatively few but where the fear it creates touches many more.

Thirty per cent of our population are under 20. We are the youngest area in the whole country. Their challenges are our challenges, but if we are in this together where are the government?

The Tories have slashed funding to our community. They cut the Building Schools for the Future Programme with which this authority has achieved so much over recent years and they’ve cut the Educational Maintenance Allowance which gave many of my sixth form friends a chance they would not otherwise have had to go to college – a precious, priceless opportunity which has now been snatched away from their younger brothers and sisters.....(read rest of speech and that of the Mayor, Cllr Hussain and Cllr Christie here)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Remembering Welsh Revolutionaires and Fusiliers

Former Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price giving the Harvard Graduate "English" address reminiscing (amongst over things) on George Washington's Revolutionary Army in 1775, Adam's ancestors  in the Royal Welch Fusilier's who opposed them as well as the 14 Welsh signatories on the United States Declaration of Independence.
Hat tip Col. Roi

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Newham Council AGM: "...the kind of borough and place we want to live in..."

This speech was given by Cllr David Christie to the Newham Council AGM on May 19th.

"I have come to the conclusion that while this speech should extol the benefits of cycling, the starting point of any discussion on the issue should not be the pedal cycle itself but instead about the kind of borough and place we want to live in and create together. Today, I want to present a vision that through cycling, Newham can become London’s most liveable and vibrant borough.

In Newham we are awake to the importance of stimulating high quality urban design. It is about using the development opportunities we have to create well connected and attractive places for people. If you think about your favourite parts of London, I’m sure they will be places that are pleasant to walk around and are of a human scale. Those are places that work for cyclists too and so we can be pro cyclist just by creating places people want to live in.....

(read rest of speech and that of the Mayor, Cllr Hussain and Cllr Robinson here)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Battling for defined benefit pensions

 From May/June Engaged Investor John Gray of the Association of Member Nominated Trustees (AMNT) on the battle to keep defined benefit alive.
The inaugural AGM of the Association of Member Nominated Trustees (AMNT) was held last month in Pension Corporation’s headquarters. Over 40 MNTs attended (out of 150 members recruited so far) who safeguard between them over £50bn of pension assets. What really enthused me about this meeting was the work group I attended on defined benefit (DB) schemes. After so much negative and misinformed mudslinging at DB schemes in recent years, it was a real tonic to be in a room full of people who were genuinely positive and supportive about DB.

Yes, things need to change. Yes, we need to look again at structural problems caused by inappropriate accounting standards and unnecessary regulation. Yes, it is “bleeding obvious” that schemes should merge whenever practical and cut costs. However the message should be shouted out loudly and clearly at every opportunity that DB schemes are still affordable and can offer massive benefits to both employer and employees. They should, in my view, be the bedrock of everyone’s pension’s provision. While trust-based defined contribution (DC) schemes have an important role to play, the vast majority of ordinary working people are desperate to seek financial certainty in their old age. Employers need to not only offer a package that will attract and retain staff but they also have a duty to try and ensure that their staff do not end their lives in poverty.

We cannot let the huge mistakes made decades ago in the funding and actuarial assumptions of DB schemes distract us from the little said facts that future contribution projections in DB schemes have barely altered from traditional assumptions. With some necessary updating they are as affordable now as they have ever been.

I was the only public sector representative in the group and the others were from the private sector. They were very concerned at the obnoxious and incredibly misleading so-called “gold plating” attacks made by some on public sector DB schemes. There are still millions of private sector employees in DB schemes and all these attacks on public schemes do is to undermine decent pension provision in the private sector and encourage a race to the gutter.

"The message should be shouted out loudly and clearly at every opportunaity that DB schemes are still affordable"
When I reported back to the main meeting on our workshop I was pleased that it agreed that such is the importance of the defined benefit schemes that there should be a dedicated Working Group (which I will Chair) on not just defending DB schemes but battling for DB.We will be championing and promoting what use to be considered not so long ago as the “Crown Jewels” of the British occupational pension provision. www.amnt.org 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Spirit Level: IER & UNISON Thursday 9 June

By coincidence I have recently been trying to put together "The Spirit Level Negotiator" briefing note (with help from others). 

Just as it has bad outcomes for our society in general to have gross inequality of income, it is also harmful that there is such a huge gap between the top and the bottom pay levels in individual organisations.

Particularly in the voluntary and community sector (who should know better).

The Hutton report on Fair Pay was surprisingly useful.  I'll post on the Negotiator when its finished.   Hopefully local trade union reps in my sector could use this as resource to bargain over pay with their employers.

If you have never read "The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone" or not heard either of its authors speak, then I urge you to apply for tickets to this event.

(I still have to write up a post about the SERTUC meeting on "The Spirit Level" held earlier this year.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A message from "The Dark Side"

Email: A message from the "Dark Side":  Hello John,

I really shouldn't encourage you but thought it only fair to let you know that ***** Council's Labour Group are now planning on proposing a similar (if not identical) motion to the Newham one - after a little nudge from the UNISON branch's ultra-left Labour Link Officer (a dedicated Rogersite and closet John Gray blog reader). 

Comradely regards (just this once) 

Labour Link Officer

P.S. You are still wrong in almost every respect".

Monday, May 23, 2011

Newham Council votes to support the LGPS

On Thursday at the Newham Council AGM, Councillors decided unanimously to oppose the Government's attempt to wreck the Local Government Pension Scheme.  This is the speech by the proposer of the motion, Cllr Stephen Brayshaw (Majority Group Chief Whip and a Community Lead Councillor).  I seconded the motion

"Council, this Tory led government is trying to rob millions of mainly low paid, female workers of their pensions in order to pay for the banking crisis. A crisis brought about, let us never forget by, the ignorance, the greed and swindles of those financiers who fund and support the Tories, not by town hall cleaners, the cooks, the teaching assistants and lollypop ladies.
The government are proposing a series of cuts to the Local government pension scheme (LGPS) while at the same time increasing the contributions of staff by over 50%. This will make the scheme completely unaffordable to millions of workers who will be forced to leave the scheme. When large number of people leaves pension schemes then it costs these left in it even more to continue which will result in a vicious circle of further decline and could result in its destruction. If there is no LGPS then the cost of looking after these pensioners will fall directly on the taxpayer.

The LGPS is not in crisis. It has assets of £160 billion. It is cash rich. It receives far, far more than it pays out. The fund is the most important single pension investor in UK PLC. The LGPS makes billions of £ per year for Britain from its overseas investments.
Why is this government attacking the LGPS, attacking the pensions and future of millions of ordinary workers? Why are they attacking this vehicle of badly needed investment in our economy? Why are they supporting a policy that will result in further welfare dependency?

The reason is that this is an ideological attack by the Tories. To firstly make our people pay for the bankers crisis and secondly because they hate all forms of collective provision. Out of sheer spite and Daily Mail bigotry they wish to destroy our NHS, our social care, our support of young people, and replace all our public services with privately run for profit provision.
Councillors please don’t help this government destroy what is left of decent pension provision in this country. Please save the LGPS and vote for this motion".

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Snowdon 2011: Ranger Path up and Rhyd Ddu down

On Mayday this year I walked up Snowdon with my sisters, Helen and Lucy, for the pleasure of walking and to pay our respects to our father whose ashes we spread on the summit in 2002.  This year Lucy's husband Rob and their (very) grumpy Border terrier, Chili, joined us.  We hadn't been up the Snowdon Rangers path before.

The weather was absolutely glorious apart from the wind.  The route was very quiet compared to the paths on the other side of the mountain.  As we went up the views were outstanding.  It was probably one of the easiest Snowdon climbs to make as well.  We said hello to our Dad at the summit, then made our way down by the Rhyd Ddu path.   This picture is of a white baby Mountain goat (a kid) and the Ranger path is behind.  (double click photo to bring up detail) It was simply wonderful.

On the way down we cut across country to try and go direct to our starting point car park by the Llyn Cwellyn.  We had to walk thorough the remains of a old Copper mine and a massive slate quarry.  It is strange now to think that Snowdonian use to be a heavy industry economic powerhouse.  We got a bit lost at the end so probably best to keep to clear way mark routes. 

It was a wonderful day.  The views were magnificent and out of the wind, it was lovely and warm but we know we were lucky with the weather and that we will pay for this the next time.

I'll post more pictures of the day on Facebook.  Some previous posts on Snowdon walks: Watkins Path (first mention of Chili), Grib Coch (the horror! the horror!) and something poignant.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Newham Council AGM: Royal Docks Enterprise Zone

 At the Newham Council AGM on Thursday in the Old Town Hall in Stratford, Councillors Christie, Hussain and Robinson gave formal presentations. Cllr Forhad Hussain spoke about the Royal Docks Enterprise Zone.

"Good Evening, I want to talk to you tonight about the future plan to implement an Enterprise Zone within the Royal Docks in Newham and the potential benefits for both Businesses and our Newham residents.

As an entrepreneur myself I have a passion for business and have been involved in a number of startup businesses in recent years. So, I understand the importance of business support from government and also understand the vital role that businesses should play within their surrounding communities such as contributing to the local economy, community cohesion and local job creation.

So what is the Enterprise Zone in Royal Docks? During the Budget announcement, in March this year, the Government announced that they were going to create 21 Enterprise Zones around the UK to help generate Business development.

Following the budget announcement and lobbying from Newham Council, The Royal Docks was awarded Enterprise zone status which covers a 125 Hectare area which includes the area around the docks, Custom House and Silvertown. This Enterprise Zone will be led by the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority, working closely with Newham Council.

Thousands of jobs are expected to be created by this Enterprise Zone which will provide a significant boost to the regeneration plans to transform the Royal Docks into a brand new district to live, work and invest in. Businesses will be encouraged to start-up and develop by enticing them with various incentives.

What are these incentives? The first major benefit is that Businesses will have the opportunity to claim Business rate discounts worth up to £275,000 over a five year period. Revenue from Business rates within the Enterprise Zone will be retained and controlled by the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority and will re-invested in promoting economic growth elsewhere in Greater London.

This business rate discount incentive will be a huge benefit for start up businesses. However as a local authority we need to ensure we negotiate with the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority that the majority of revenue from the business rates collated from the Royal Docks Enterprise zone is to be reinvested back in Newham.

The second major incentive to incoming businesses is that the Government and local authority will relax planning laws and take a radical and simplified planning approach in the enterprise zone. This will allow Businesses to expand and develop more quickly, easily and with little bureaucracy.  This incentive will be great for rapid business expansion and development but as a local authority we need to be careful that we maintain our influence on the way OUR Royal Docks is regenerated.

So how do our Newham Residents benefit from the Enterprise Zone? As businesses in the enterprise zone receive incentives, I feel it is fair to ask these businesses to give something back to Newham; Incoming businesses need to work with initiatives like the ‘Workplace’ and help create jobs for local Newham residents. We need to influence incoming businesses to prioritise jobs to our long term Newham residents and especially our younger people and the long term unemployed.

Incoming Businesses in the zone should also be expected to support and develop long lasting relationships with other Newham organisations and Community groups. These businesses should be offering skills, training & work opportunities to our students, getting involved in community initiatives/events and help to promote Newham as a great place to do business and invest in.  

I believe creating local jobs and Community Cohesion programmes should be paramount within incoming businesses and should be set as required criteria before being accepted in the Royal Docks Enterprise zone. This will definitely ensure our Newham residents benefit in different ways from the local enterprise zone. So, what do we need to do to make Enterprise zones work in Newham?

Various think tanks have identified that the success of enterprise zones such as the one implemented in the Canary Wharf is down to investment in the regeneration of infrastructure. Therefore I feel as a local authority we need to ensure that the correct infrastructure is in place within the Royal Docks enterprise zone and that we invest in local transport links (developing effective Bus, cycle and walking routes), leisure opportunities (especially outside working hours) and in housing (with the right balance of affordable homes). For this infrastructure setup we need vital investment and support from the private sector and the Government.

To summarise; The Enterprise zone is to be introduced in April 2012 and there is ongoing further consultation between the council, Mayor of London, the coalition Government and interested businesses.   As a local authority we need to ensure we maintain our influence on the development and regeneration of the Royal Docks and make sure that jobs are created for OUR Newham residents and ensure their interests are prioritized. 

I sincerely believe The Enterprise Zone in the Royal Docks is a Fantastic opportunity to encourage new businesses into Newham, especially with the arrival of international businesses such as Siemens (in the Royal Docks) and Westfield (In Stratford). I am confident that the Enterprise zone will regenerate and revive the Royal Docks, Create economic growth within the borough and will create a world class business & tourist legacy that we can ALL be proud of".

UPDATE: the speech is now online here with those by the Mayor, Cllr Christie and Cllr Robinson. 

UNISON National Labour Link Forum 2011: London Motion on Public Housing


Motion 11 "The Death and Rebirth of Public Housing". 18 motions have been submitted to this year's National Labour Link Forum. Motion 11 is from London region. Another similar motion has also been submitted by my branch to UNISON National Delegate Conference.

"Forum notes:- 

1) That the ConDem government is proposing cuts to Housing Benefits that will result in financial hardship and even evictions for hundreds of thousands of private and public sector tenants.  

2) Cheaper rental areas will face an influx of people and families. Local education, social and medical services will not be able to cope with such dramatic population changes.

 3) This ConDem government has stopped a hundred year old tradition by all previous political parties of subsidising the cost of building new homes for low income families.  

4) We believe that this is an ideological attack by the ConDem government upon the low paid and those most at need. There is a battle of ideas in housing that at this moment progressives are not winning. 

Forum believes that:

a) The only short term solution to Britain’s housing crisis is the reintroduction of rent controls which will bring down private and public rents to affordable levels.

 b) That the only long term solution to adequately house the 4.5 million on Council waiting lists is to build more homes.   

c) It must be an overriding priority of the next Government that there must be a renaissance and rebirth of good quality, affordable, accountable and secure public housing.

Forum requests that

1. The National Labour Link affiliates to the Labour Housing Group in order to help win the battle of ideas in housing during the next General Election campaign with a focus on points a-c above.

2. The National Labour link encourages regional Labour Link Committees to affiliate to their regional Labour Housing Group and if one doesn’t exist to work with the Regional Labour Party to establish such a group. 

Greater London region

(I'll post the other London motion on "Defending the NHS" later. London Labour Link is applying to affiliate to the Labour Housing Group)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Councillor Ron Manley: 25 Years Award

Picture is from last nights Newham Council Annual General meeting in the Old Town Hall in Stratford, E15.  Ron (2nd from right) is being presented with a picture of West Ham Church by Newham Mayor, Sir Robin Wales for serving the community as a Councillor for 25 years.

Ron is my fellow Labour Councillor in West Ham Ward (with Cllr Freda Bourne).  He is orginally from Liverpool, who spent 9 years in the British Army before settling down in Newham with his wife Jean. They recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversity. Ron and Jean live in the ward and are proud to be Council tenants.  

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Myners Report: 10 Years On

Last week the Financial Times ran a number of articles on the anniversary of the Myners Report which was published in March 2001. This report was written by Paul Myners, former fund manager, Chair of Marks & Spencer and of course, a Labour finance minister in the last government.

In 2000 Myner was asked to review institutional investments and whether investors were acting in the best interests of beneficiaries.  The poacher turned gamekeeper concluded they did not and made a number of recommendations.

I was quoted here in the article here about the role of auditors and my view that there had been despite Myners a "spectacular failure" by asset owners to stop the Banking crisis.  This was due (in part) to scheme fiduciaries not acting as owners of capital. 

While Myner’s report helped turn me from being a trade union observer on my pension scheme investment panel in 1996 (with no formal speaking rights -I did of course speak, no rights to attend all meetings, to question or to receive information) to being a full voting member of an investment committee. However, this is nowhere near enough.

The banking crisis showed that there is still grossly insufficient governance. Owners of capital (pension and insurance funds) failed to take their responsibilities of ownership seriously and allowed their money to be squandered and even stolen by the managers they paid to be “on watch” and look after their assets. How ridiculous that we continue to allow this? Not only did we lose big chunks of our savings but as taxpayers we then had to bail the banks out and are now suffering huge cuts in basic public services to pay for it.

The dangers of ownerless assets is well known, even Adam Smith warned about this over 200 years ago.  Part of the solution is that trustees and representatives should undertake an in depth management and scrutiny role with our funds.  I compared the role of pension trustees with that of scrutiny panels in local councils, who meet monthly, go on visits, have specialist staff tasked to support them, co-op experts to assist and can call witnesses to be questioned about their performance.

I also gave a plug in the interview to the  Association of Member Nominated Trustees (AMNT) which I think will play an important role in better governance.

The FT concluded with a quote from Paul “You don’t wash or service a rented car because you expect to give it back. I still get the impression that shareholders treat their holdings like a rented car. For the efficient use of capital, that attitude has to change.”

Monday, May 16, 2011

UNISON Housing Association Branch: New Website

Picture left is a screen print from our new branch website.  Many thanks to our branch manager for this update.  The site is far more attractive and professional looking to download and to access information.

For a branch such as ours, which has 3500 members in over 180 different employers spread all over London and South East England, an effective
web presence is vital.

The main picture is of our banner at the rally in Hyde Park after the March in March TUC demo. Check out also the Labour link page.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Motion on Local Government Pension Scheme: Newham Council AGM 2011

Local Government Pension Scheme

Proposer: Councillor Steve Brayshaw (Labour)
Seconder: Councillor John Gray (Labour)

Council notes
The Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) is a sustainable, good quality pension scheme that benefits from being funded and locally managed. It is valuable to employers and employees alike. Successive governments have failed to recognise the distinctiveness of the LGPS in setting policy, most notably in the proposal announced by the Chancellor in the last CSR to impose an extra 3.2% contribution tax on scheme members, increasing scheme average member contributions from 6.6% to 9.8%. This tax does not benefit the scheme or scheme members or employers. This proposal is in addition to pension reductions caused by being indexed against CPI instead of RPI and is in advance of expected benefit reform recommendations from the Hutton Review.

Council agrees:
An increase in member contributions as proposed will lead to mass opt outs from the LGPS and that would be undesirable and damaging. The views expressed by the LGA in its letter to the Chancellor dated 16 February 2011 on this subject are also the views of this Council.

Council resolves:
Council will write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Secretary of State for Local Government within the next month stating this Councils support for the LGA letter referred to above and calling for government to rethink it’s proposed increases to LGPS member contributions. Council will work with Trade Unions to ensure employees are made aware of the proposals for the LGPS and encouraging them to support the Council’s representations to defend their pension scheme.

(I hope that similar motions are being considered by Labour Groups and Councils up and down the country)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Libel Reform: Sign the Petition and write to your MP

The Libel Reform Campaign is urging people to sign their petition and contact their MP and ask them to support Early Day Motion (EDM) 1636.  The government published a draft defamation Bill in March.

"The Libel Reform Campaign led by English PEN, Index on Censorship and Sense About Science have welcomed the Government’s draft Defamation Bill as ‘a great starting point’ to ensure the first overhaul of our archaic libel laws, but calls upon Parliament to go further in key areas. Since its launch 18 months ago, 55,000 people have signed up to the campaign, with over half of all eligible MPs backing our Early Day Motion in the last session of Parliament. This is the first time any government has promised wholesale reform of our libel laws since 1843.
In particular, the campaign calls for:

• a stronger public interest defence
• an end to the ability of corporations to sue in libel
• more protection for web-hosts and Internet service providers from liability for the words of others".

Super-injunctions, privacy laws and libel have been in the news recently but it is not just the rich and famous who could fall foul of our unfit for purpose libel laws.  I am speaking as someone, who with two blogging comrades (Dave Osler and Alex Hilton), had some little local difficulties (for almost 4 years!) at the Royal Court of Justice.  Grappling over such issues of principle as whether comparing someone to Chocolate Cake is actionable?  and should there be an injunction in case primary school children google the names of their governors and think they are a terrorist?  

Finally, eventually, the cases were thrown out an abuse of process - "not worth the candle" of pursuing. 

However, there is a very serious side to this since these utterly pointless cases probably cost you the taxpayer £100,000's in un-claimable Court costs and check out this account on the real "cost" of the case by Dave's Partner, "Mrs" Stroppy. 

What scrapping the Education Maintenance Allowance means to East London

"...the Government is scrapping the EMA, a payment of £10 - £30 a week to low- income students who want to stay in post-16 education. At present 29 receive it in the City of London, 4,230 (41%) in Tower Hamlets, 3,078 in Barking & Dagenham and 5,771 (46%) in Newham. The scheme cost £560m nationally and is being replaced with a £180 million 'discretionary fund' which will leave the poorest students almost £400 a year worse off according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies"...John Biggs AM Monthly Report April 2011.

Friday, May 13, 2011

"...the greatest threat to your pensions - Ever"

On Wednesday lunchtime there was a meeting of the UNISON London Region Pension network at ULU. This is a quarterly training meeting of UNISON member nominated representatives who sit on London Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) committees and members who are interested in pension issues. Our guest speaker was Colin Meech, who is the UNISON national officer for its Capital Stewardship Programme.

These are my notes of his presentation:  Colin pointed out that this current government is committed to cutting £85 billion in expenditure during the last 4.5 years. They charged Lord Hutton to find savings in public pension schemes to reduce government debt. Hutton was not responsible for the decision to change pension uprating from the RPI to the CPI index. Which it is estimated will "rob" £85 billon from pensioners in public schemes in the next 15 years.

It is proposed to raise contributions by 3.2% of income (over 50% increase in actual "real money" contributions). In the LGPS they aim to reduce government grant to councils by £900 million over 3 years. However, UNISON has sponsored research by the respected Dutch pension group AGP which found that if the 101 different Council pension schemes which together manage £160 billion in assets were to be merged into 14 it would cuts costs and increase income by a staggering £1.2 billion per year. But if pension contribution are increased by 50% then this could cause masses of members to leave the scheme.

Especially after the years of 0% pay rises ("pay cuts" when you take into account inflation) that Council staff have suffered. If employees leave the scheme because they cannot afford contributions then this will make it even more expensive, lose economices of scale and could lead to the collapse of the scheme. Many will then have to depend on state benefits when they retire.

It does not make sense to put at risk a long established pension scheme for 4 million people, which saves the government untold billions of pounds in benefit claims at risk, to save £300 million per year, when we could earn £1.2 billion by merger?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Democracy: Near and Far

An old friend from University is on his way home from Nigeria, where he was an international observer on the recent general elections in that country. Some 500 people are estimated to have been killed during this election.  Including 10 young students who were manning polling stations.  Ironically, I understand that the elections this year have generally been "free and fair" and the "best poll in Nigeria for decades".

Before we get too smug in this country, I think about our own long history of internal political violence which lasted until relatively recent times. The last armed rebellion in this country (mainland) was by Chartists in Newport, Wales in 1839. Picture is of Jacobite clansmen at the Battle of Culloden 1745. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Reminder: UNISON NEC Elections 2011

Ballot papers for this year's National Executive Council election need to be returned by this Friday 13 May (unlucky for some)!

So if you haven't voted yet please retrieve your papers from the kitchen drawer or where ever you have left them.

Have a look at the recommendations to my left (double click to bring up detail) and consider voting for sensible left candidates who will unite the union.

We need a leadership that will only represent members and their interests. If we get this then this government's attempts to destroy public services (and the unions) can be stopped. No more glorious defeats please. So vote and post today!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

London Labour Housing Group Policy Day: Sat 11 June

Following the very successful launch of the London branch of the Labour Housing Group early this year in Westminister Hall.

There will be a policy day on Saturday 11 June 2011.

This will take place at the Labour Party Headquarters in Victoria. Guest speakers will be Ken Livingstone, Karen Buck MP and Nicky Gavron AM.

Discussions will focus around

- How can a Labour Mayor increase housing supply in London

- How can we meet the needs of people on low and middle incomes?

- What is the future for rented housing – social and private – in London?

Only 100 places are available. So email Steve as soon as possible to reserve your place.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Josh Peck New Labour Group Leader of Tower Hamlets Council

Cllr Josh Peck has tonight been elected as the leader of the Tower Hamlets Labour Group.


I first met Josh during the 2005 General Election.  He now I think holds one of the most difficult municipal political roles in the UK - bar none. 

Good luck Josh! 

I don't know yet who was elected to other positions...

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Just Pay: Fair Pensions (and the bleeding obvious)

 I missed the launch of the "Just Pay: Living Wage Campaign" by Fair Pensions last Monday. I hope it goes well.  What a fantastic campaign.  It calls on all the UK FT 100 companies to agree to being a Living Wage

Check out Tom who points out that 3.5 million workers in the UK earn less than £7 per hour and 53% of kids who live in poverty have a parent in work.  A coalition of investors with assets under management in excess of £13 Bn will contact the CEOs of FTSE 100 companies calling for the application of Living Wage standards across all UK operations. The campaign is also asking small shareholders, policy holders and customers of these companies to take part in the campaign. 

Personally, I do not understand how the senior executives of these companies who earn huge, and often staggering amounts of money each year can enjoy their dosh when significant numbers of the people they employ have to support their families on poverty wages.  Apart from the moral argument over poverty pay I found this "bleeding obvious" comment below compelling.

"We've found that paying the Living Wage is a smart business move as increasing wages has reduced staff turnover and absenteeism, whilst productivity and professionalism have subsequently increased." - Guy Stallard - Director of Facilities, KPMG Europe.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

One Year on...West Ham Ward Election Declaration 7 May 2010

Tempus fugit. It's been a year to the day since I was elected with Freda and Ron as Labour Councillors for West Ham Ward in Newham, London.  The term actually began officially on May 10.  While in London (especially in the East) we defeated the Tories and wiped out the BNP, nationally of course, it was a disaster which we are now paying the price.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Pistyll Rhaeadr

I won't comment on the UK Council, Assembly or AV election results out today. Instead I will suggest that I have a hinterland by posting pictures from last weekend of beautiful (Labour!) Wales.

Pistyll Rhaeadr Waterfall is in the Berwyn Mountains, Powys and is one of the seven wonders of Wales.

It is the tallest single drop Waterfall in the UK. Well worth a visit and a ramble. When we were kids the Gray family use to camp here and in the mornings
my sisters and I use to go and stand (very briefly) under the waterfall (bloody cold but invigorating).

The countryside around this hidden valley is simply gorgeous. 

Check out Facebook photos here

Knocking up in Thurrock

This evening I was “knocking up” Labour supporters in Thurrock, Essex and reminding/encouraging/cajoling them to go out and vote for Labour candidate, Phil Smith.

I was in a canvass team with fellow West Hammers (CLP) vanguardists (and Newham Cllrs) Forhad Hussain and Ellie Robinson.  We were joined by Ron from Hackney South CLP (see main photo left to right). There were a number of Newham Party members out and about in Thurrock today, including the Mayor Sir Robin Wales (and in recent weeks).
Since there are no elections in London this year the Regional Labour Party have allocated each CLP a key Council election outside London to help out.

We were working in Stanford East & Corringham Ward. During the Election last year the Tories won the council seat by only 1649 votes to 1620. So this should be winnable but I do worry about the turn out in such local elections when compared to the General election.

It was all quite quiet. I didn’t see a single political poster in any window or garden. I didn’t see any other canvassers. All the people I met were very polite but those who had already voted were unusually hesitant in admitting to me who they had actually voted for. I had a good conversation with a Ford worker about the NHS, pensions and “Sending a message to Downing Street” about his concerns.

The most excitement of the night came from the traditional arguments amongst canvassers of all political persuasions helping out in new places about “we are lost” and “what way should we go?” (see photo left above) I think from now on, West Ham Labour Party should describe the direct route to anywhere as the “Ellie Way” and the going totally in the wrong direction route as the “Forhad way” :).  I was too lazy to do any map reading tonight.

It was still a good day. We met up with London Assembly John Biggs, Cllr Bill Turner from Tower Hamlets and Cllr Josephine Channer from Barking and Dagenham.

Update: check out some more photos on FB here

Update: Phil wins by 136 votes! Well done.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Vote Yes: Let's 'AV a beer!

"vote with your head and your heart at the same time".  Hat tip Mr Biggs. nuf said?

Ken helps mobilise Labour Vote outside London

This evening I went to an "eve of poll" telephone canvass bank at the Labour Party headquarters in Victoria. This was hosted by Labour London Mayor Candidate, Ken Livingstone. 

This year there is no elections in London. The London Labour Party has twinned CLP's with target seats in Councils outside London.

The telephone bank on the ground floor was packed. I understand that the much bigger one upstairs was also full of Party members who had also volunteered to help out.
I was ringing voters in Kent. The response was very, very good. There seems to be an appetite out there for people to send the Tories and the Lib Dems a powerful message. Or "a good kicking" as one person I spoke to tonight put it. When I suggested to a voter that the indications are that it will be really close. She responded sharply by saying "What do you mean it will be close. We are going to win!"

I also spoke to a retired UNISON member who told me proudly that his Labour Link poster was in his front window.

Ken came around and thanked activists for their support (see college).  The star of the show was of course the lovely and very well behaved (guide?) dog who slept under the chair throughout (top left of college). 

Update: We were canvassing voters in Dover/Deal in Kent.  Labour increased its seats by 4 but the Tories still control the Council.  The Lib Dems were wiped out.  Two of the new Cllrs are the Mum and Dad of former Tower Hamlets Cllr, Clair Hawkins, who I met in 2006 when they were helping Clair canvass in Mile End and Globe Town ward. 

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Association of Member Nominated Trustees

Recently I joined the "Association of Member Nominated Trustees".  The AMNT was only launched last year and has already 150 members who serve as trustees or representatives on pension funds with over £50 billion of assets. 

On Wikipedia the AMNT is described as being "composed of pension trustees selected by employees or members of private and public sector pension funds in the United Kingdom. It a non-profit group which seeks to organise employee representatives through sharing information, expertise and coordinating policies for pensions and corporations in which money is invested".

I went to its AGM in March and was very impressed.  In particular I went to a work group on Defined Benefit pension schemes and was pleased to be in a room full of people who were genuinely positive and supportive about DB. I was also the only person from a public sector scheme.  At the meeting it was decided to form a working group defending and promoting DB pensions schemes which I will Chair.

I have always thought that despite the good work of the TUC Pension Trustee network and LAPFF there needs to be some form of national forum for all member nominated trustees and representatives. Our schemes are all different but we all have particular pressures and problems common to all. The founding joint Chairs are Janice Turner, Member Nominated Trustee of the BECTU Staff Retirement Scheme and Barry Parr, Member Nominated Director of the Orange Pension Scheme.

If you are interested in getting more information or becoming a member check out its temporary website here.   The next open meeting will be on 7 July in London.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Tax Payers Alliance take on death of Bin Laden...

"Greedy Public Sector Workers with their Gold Plated Pensions, Kill Prominent Saudi Tax Paying Millionaire"

BBC Picture of USA troops watching President Obama's TV announcement while in Afghanistan.

Hat tip Col Roi.

West Ham Labour Party AV Debate: 28.4.11

On Thursday evening former Labour Party deputy leader, Margaret Beckett and John Denham, former Labour Secretary of State for CLG took part in a Hustings on AV. Margaret was Against AV and John For. This was organised by West Ham Labour Party and our local MP, Lyn Brown. It was held in a new University of East London Lecture theatre in Stratford E15 and was sponsored by UNISON London Labour Link.

The meeting went very well. When you organise such events there is always a worry beforehand about how many people would turn up on the night. It was the eve of a Bank holiday and the media have been going on about how people are not interested in the AV referendum. However, when we went there to help set up at 6.15pm (for a 7.30pm start) some guests had already arrived at 6.30pm. Around 150 turned up and at the close of the debate at 8.50pm there was still a mass of hands still raised to ask the panellists questions or make points.   

Both John and Margaret had 10 minutes each to set their respective cases then there was the Question and Answer.  
This was thankfully an intelligent and even tempered debate unlike the rather puerile one that the national Yes and No campaigns have descended into at times. It was still a little sharp - with John or Margaret shaking their heads at what the other had just said and writing notes on counter arguments furiously. 

I am of course completely bias since I am a convinced YES supporter (who had already cast his vote by post) but I felt that John did have the edge.  

Margaret argued persuasively for retaining the First Past The Post (FPTP) yet was less convincing to me, in her attacks on AV. I accept many of her arguments since I do think that FPTP does have merits. However, many of her arguments against AV were in fact credible arguments against Proportional Representation (PR) which AV is not. I would agree with her that PR is unsuitable and flawed. To me AV is just a updated and modern version of FPTP.

It’s not perfect.  But the world will not end if it is introduced. I think AV is fairer and we do need to shake up our parliamentary political system after the mire over expenses.

I agree with her argument that all electoral systems are unfair to some and flawed to some degree and that this should be about principle not political advantage.  

While I support AV because I think it is right. I think that John made a telling argument about how the Tories had benefited from FPTP. The Tories dominated British politics in the last century in part due to FPTP. That is why Cameron is so opposed.   

I made a contribution about the level of support for AV in the Newham Labour Group and also made reference to The Today interview I heard with John Curtice, Professor of Politics, at the University of Strathclyde. He had number crunched that if we had AV in the last election, there could have been a Labour led Coalition government.  So I offered my update on the old saying that “the worst day of a Labour led Government is better than the best day of a Tory one”.  

We then had the traditional Labour Partry raffle and auction. Next was down to the "Black Lion" for drinks with John and Lyn. A good night was had by all.

Many thanks to UEL and the very helpful campus staff and all those who helped out to arrange such a successful event.

I will post photos on Facebook later but check out the professional snaps by Dan McCurry here.