Thursday, January 31, 2013

A former "useful idiot" who had his dream broken

Well done for doing the right thing Jack, but...don't give up the day job. Hat tip Socialist Unity

Save Lewisham Hospital A&E...Saved???

"Confusion' over Lewisham A&E future" (Steve Ford - Nursing times 31.1.13)

Accident and emergency services will remain at Lewisham Hospital but on a “smaller” scale than at present, the health secretary has announced. However, the neighbouring South London Healthcare Trust is to be broken up. The financially challenged trust is to be dissolved by October 2013 to address the risk it carries for ongoing patient care and the pressure it is placing on other parts of the NHS, Jeremy Hunt said today.

Meanwhile, following advice from NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh, Mr Hunt said he had decided that Lewisham Healthcare Trust would retain its A&E – though on a smaller scale than at present. South London was the first trust to be subject to the new NHS failure regime for organisations viewed as financially unsustainable.

Currently, the trust is losing more than £1m every week and by the end of this year, is expected to have an accumulated debt of more than £200m. Matthew Kershaw, former Department of Health head of provider delivery, was appointed as a special administrator last July to look into the future of the trust and its surrounding health economy. He published his final recommendations earlier this month, advising the government that South London should be broken up, but also that Lewisham’s A&E should be downgraded to an urgent care centre.

The threat to Lewisham’s A&E services sparked widespread protests from the public and NHS staff, culminating in a rally on Saturday. Mr Hunt announced today he had chosen to broadly accept the majority of Mr Kershaw’s recommendations. South London Healthcare Trust will be dissolved, with each of its hospitals – Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, Queen Mary’s in Sidcup and the Princess Royal in Bromley – taken over by a neighbouring hospital trust.

Mr Hunt said he understood the financial rationale for downgrading Lewisham A&E, but “in the interests of local patients” had imposed some additional clinical safeguards proposed by Sir Bruce Keogh. As a result, Lewisham Hospital will retain its ability to admit patients with less serious conditions, and will continue to have 24/7 senior medical emergency cover – allowing it to remain open as a working A&E department treating up to 75% of the patients who currently use it.

Patients with much more serious conditions or higher risk pregnancies will be taken to Kings, Queen Elizabeth, Bromley or St Thomas’ because they are more likely to have a better result. Mr Hunt said: “The longstanding problems at South London Healthcare NHS Trust must not be allowed to compromise patient care in the future. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent on paying for debt rather than improving patient care for the local community in South East London. “What is in the clinical interests of patients in South East London has been at the heart of my decision making process, and as a result I have followed clinical advice to keep open the A&E in Lewisham.”

Sir Bruce added: “Healthcare in South East London is at a turning point. We need to strike the right balance between ensuring that all patients have access to the best possible specialist treatment whilst providing safe, effective and convenient services close to home . “I expect that balance to result in about three quarters of patients currently seen in Lewisham A&E continuing to receive complete care at Lewisham Hospital and about a quarter being transferred for more specialist treatment elsewhere.”

But Mike Davey, a nurse and Lewisham Unison branch secretary, said: “The [health] secretary needs to urgently clarify what is meant by a smaller A&E, as the London Ambulance Service will be reluctant to bring patients to an A&E that does not offer a full range of A&E services. “Is this proposal just an urgent care centre or a fully fledged and supported A&E Department,” he said. “The secretary of state has caused more confusion and the whole process is a shambles.” NHS

Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar said: “We need to learn the lessons from this case and others. The answer is to start discussions earlier, with doctors and leaders clearly explaining the case for change. “Otherwise we will find ourselves perpetually in a situation of trench warfare, with staff, politicians and patients all coming out in opposition on the streets.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

UNISON Pension Guru Glyn Jenkins on "smoothing" and stop "destroying" schemes

This 5 minute video "head to head" by Professional Pensions sees UNISON Head of Pensions, Glyn Jenkins, debate the recently announced Government enquiry into "smoothing" with PWC partner Jeremy Way.

Most defined benefit schemes value the present and future cost of pensions by reference to the return of government loans called gilts. Due to current abnormal market conditions these gilt returns are at a 200 year low. This means that schemes appear to have huge and unstable deficits. The enquiry is looking into arguments that instead of valuing these liabilities according to gilts they should be valued in another more relevant way.

For example by reference to the actual historic and expected return of the assets that the schemes actually invest in, not a "make believe" world that they only invest in gilts. Most pensions schemes invest in other assets such as equities  (stock and shares) not just gilts and it is reasonable to expect a much better long term return from such assets than gilts.

If they did this then the size of so called current "deficits" in many DB schemes would be slashed.

Glyn believes it would make sense to consider all scheme assets not just gilts and that the current unrealistic and inflexible "herd" or "lemmings" approach is destroying schemes. Which is actually the view of the current Pensions Minster Steve Webb.

I'm not quite sure what the conclusion of the PWC "yes but no but" argument actually is, but check it out in the the video for yourself. I suppose 5 minutes is far too short for a definitive debate but it concentrates the mind.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Myths about Public Spending under Labour

I like this post and chart in Red Brick by Steve Hilditch about actual public spending as percentage of GDP under Labour and Conservative Governments (as opposed to the myths).

With the exception of The Labour Government 1974-79, Tory Governments (including this one) have since 1965 spent more while in power than Labour ones. Even under Thatcher and Major.

The real question is did Labour spend too little in the last government?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Save Lewisham A&E March (26 Jan 13)

Conroy Lawrence, Lewisham Hospital UNISON Assistant Branch Secretary (and Hospital electrician) seen in picture top left with UNISON Assistant General Secretary Bronwyn McKenna. Conroy said.

"This has been a historic demonstration with of over 25,000, representing a total cross section of our community, surely this cannot be ignored by this Government, a Government who stated in their manifesto they would ensure "no forced closure of A&E Departments"

 "On behalf of Lewisham Hospital staff we would like to thank those that turnout to support us from the bottom of our hearts and we pledge ourselves to continue to fight this undemocratic and dangerous attempt to close Lewisham A&E Department for as long as it should take"

UNISON Lewisham Hospital nurse and branch secretary Mike Davy stated "If they can get away with closing Lewisham Hospital A&E, not because it is "failing", not on "clinical grounds" but to bail out a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal in another hospital, they can effectively close any A&E department in the country"

 "David Cameron once threatened a bare knuckle fight over Hospital A&E closures, but where is he now ?".

Kieran Quinn appointed as chair of LAPFF

The LAPFF AGM was last week. "Councillor Kieran Quinn, chair of Greater Manchester Pension Fund, has been appointed as chair of Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) at its annual general meeting this week.

Councillor Quinn takes over from Ian Greenwood, chair of the West Yorkshire Pension Fund, who has led LAPFF since January 2008. Councillor Cameron Rose, representing Lothian Pension Fund, and Ian Greenwood have been appointed vice-chairs of LAPFF.
In addition there are two new members of the Forum’s executive – councillor John Gray representing the London Borough of Newham pension fund, and councillor Patricia Glasman, chair of Merseyside Pension Fund.

Incoming LAPFF chair, Kieran Quinn, said: “I am very pleased to be taking over as chair of the Forum at this exciting time. Over the last few years LAPFF has grown rapidly in both membership and influence. Our work on issues such as accounting standards and remuneration reform has broken new ground, and engagements at companies such as M&S and News Corp have given us a much higher profile.”

“I would also like to pay tribute to Ian’s leadership over the past five years, during which time the Forum has made enormous strides forward. I hope I can build on Ian’s record and cement LAPFF’s position as the UK’s leading shareholder body.”

Ian Greenwood said: “Having decided to stand down as chair at this AGM, I am extremely pleased to see my friend and colleague Kieran Quinn elected. I am certain he will provide the leadership needed to take LAPFF forward. I look forward to working with him in my position as vice-chair.”

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Holocaust Memorial Day 2013

Today (27 January) is Holocaust Memorial Day.  This date is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp in 1945.

On Friday morning I was travelling through Liverpool Street Railway station and the statutes of the "Kindertransport" children next to the main ticket office, reminded me of the 9,500 children who were allowed to flee Germany before the Second World War and live in Britain.

Many of them arrived in Liverpool Street station from Harwich. The vast majority would have died in German concentration camps if they had not been able to flee. Many never saw their parents again.

While 80% of the children were Jewish, the rest were children of anti-fascists who also knew what would happen to their children if they did not escape.

Newham Council and the Mayor, Sir Robin Wales, held an event on Friday morning to unite communities and reflect on the horrors of Nazi atrocities.

On Saturday I received through the post, the latest edition of UK anti-fascist magazine, Searchlight.  Reading in the magazine the accounts of current fascist activity in the UK, you must be amazed and sickened, that there are still Nazi's in our country, such as the those in the BNP, who think there is nothing wrong with mass murder and turning dead bodies into lamp shades and soap.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Save Lewisham Hospital Protest March! Today 12 noon start!


"UNISON the UK’s largest union, is calling on the public to join a march this Saturday (26 Jan), to show their support for Lewisham Hospital’s A & E Department.

Lewisham’s A & E facility is pencilled in for closure as a result of a massive over spend in nearby South London Healthcare Trust's hospitals.

The closure plan is in spite of pre-election pledges by the Conservatives to “stop all forced hospital A&E departments”.

The union is expecting a massive turn-out, with local team Millwall FC postponing a match kick-off to accommodate expected attendance.
The march will take place on:
Saturday 26 January From Lewisham Train station
Starting at 12.00pm

UNISON Nursing Officer, Michael Walker said:

“We are urging local people to come out on Saturday and show their support for this much-valued A & E Department. Everyone has a stake in this protest and we’re expecting a massive attendance with placards from every section of Lewisham including churches, pensioner groups, schools, nurseries and workplaces”.

Conroy Lawrence, UNISON representative at the hospital:

“We would urge the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, to watch the events on Saturday in Lewisham closely, to listen to what the people of Lewisham are saying, and to study the detailed opposition to the closure proposals put forward by all sections of the medical and nursing profession”.

Mike Davey, UNISON Branch Secretary states:

“It is a credit to hospital staff that they are working as normal providing a professional service despite the threat to this hospital. NHS Administrator Mr Kershaw has ignored the 90% of respondents to the consultation on the hospitals future but Jeremy Hunt should not ignore the deep concerns of the medical and nursing professions and from the public”.

Michael Walker, UNISON Nursing Officer:

“Lewisham hospital is currently taking on extra patients from hospitals including Queen Elizabeth Hospital (Woolwich) and Princess Royal University Hospital (Farnborough) such is the pressure on acute services in South London. There is no way that this closure will not have a devastating impact on local people.”

UNISON has received reports that patients from nearby A&E departments are already experiencing long delays and patients are being diverted to Lewisham Hospital.

These closures are driven not on clinical grounds but on massive reductions in NHS funding, exacerbated by the disastrous Private Finance Initiative which has bankrupted so many hospitals".

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"An Economy for One Nation": Stephen Timms MP & Heather Wakefield (UNISON)

This should be good. East Ham MP Stephen Timms (Shadow Minister for Employment) and UNISON, Head of Local Government Heather Wakefield debate "An Economy for One Nation" and how progressive can the next Labour Government be?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cameron's Speech on Europe "in or out"

I think Prime Minster David Cameron is playing with fire since he clearly does not want to leave EU. In fact nearly all his arguments in favour of the EU I would agree with, while I would disagree with nearly all his reasons for leaving.

It is not statesmanship but it is clever politics. I think this will put Labour in a difficult place for the next election.

The real trouble is that it is too easy to knock the EU, because it is dysfunctional in so many ways and does need radical reform (wasteful Common Agriculture Policy, the shameful ongoing failure to have audited accounts, the 2 separate parliamentary sites etc). Pro-Europeans need to face up to this.

So it needs desperately to reform but if the UK does leave, is this a cut to your nose to spite all our faces?

Cameron should be in a strong position to get his way within the EU since the Euro countries also need drastic political change to save their currency and UK could make things difficult (or rather make things even more difficult) unless they play ball.

So this is not a good day for Europe or democracy.

The public can vote on Europe in 2015, at the next British General Election. Let the batty UKIP stand on its own merits and and see if they win a majority of MPs mandated to leave. That should be our way of deciding such things.

Lambeth UNISON Local Government AGM 2013

Picture of the Ritzy Cinema, which is opposite Lambeth Town Hall and was today the Annual General Meeting venue for my 2nd favourite UNISON Local Government branch ever, Lambeth!

Sincere congratulations, of course, to my fellow Labour Party comrades, JR and Ruth, who were elected joint branch secretaries!

My invitation to speak to the meeting must somehow have been "lost in the post".


Save Lewisham A&E March this Saturday 26 January

"UNISON expresses bitter disappointment that TSA Matthew Kershaw has chosen to ignore the unprecedented response to the recent consultation exercise in respect of his health proposals across Lewisham and the South London Healthcare Trust.

In doing so he disregards a number of compelling clinical arguments in favour of the retention of emergency and maternity services on the Lewisham site.

Whilst the political arguments are taken to the heart of government by our local Labour Party MPs, and the Secretary of State deliberates on the final decision, UNISON is urging all of its members to join in the march and rally on Saturday 26th January.

Come and march with your local UNISON branch and join with UNISON colleagues from across South London in demonstrating against the proposed down grading of our local emergency and maternity services.

The march will pass by the hospital and terminate in Mountsfield Park around 14.00, with live music and various speakers, including UNISON Greater London Deputy Regional Convenor (and Lewisham's very own) Conroy Lawrence.

Assemble under the UNISON Greater London Regional banner on the roundabout by Lewisham Station from 12.00 on Saturday 26th January.

In the meanwhile UNISON will be making a further submission to the Secretary of State drawing attention to the powerful arguments made in our consultation response previously submitted to Matthew Kershaw.

As others have already commented, we need to maximise turnout at this march and rally in order deliver a resounding statement to the Secretary of State before he makes his final decision.

Please make every effort to support this event and I look forward to joining with you all on the 26th".

Mike Davey
Lewisham Hospital Branch Secretary

Monday, January 21, 2013

"Will no one rid me of these turbulent Member Trustees!"

I've been sent a rather odd and disturbing link to a story here on "Engaged Investor" magazine's website.

In which a pension consultant is quoted as saying he understands that the Government is maybe thinking of getting rid of Member Nominated trustees who sit on Pension scheme Boards???

So who will replace the  representatives of those who actually pay into the pension scheme and act as the owners of their capital? Let me think now? - perchance, more highly paid consultants?

The timing seems most peculiar, since the Government has recently agreed to a significant increase in member nominated representatives (MNR) in the Local Government Pension Scheme and is making promising noises about giving more powers to MNRs in Governance Committees for Contract based pensions schemes and Master trusts. I fully expect the next Labour Government to continue with this process.

I actually support the important role played by professional advisers and consultants in running pension schemes and think many of them are honourable and genuinely want to do the right thing for us. However, there is no getting away from the fact that we have the fiduciary duty to our beneficiaries and they do not.

But as the full article in Engaged Investor makes clear, never forget the reason, why the requirement for member nominated trustees came about in the first place. The picture above is of Bob Maxwell in his famous yacht a year before his death, who stole hundreds of millions of pounds belonging to pensioners.This resulted in legislation that requires at least 1/3 of member trustees make up the Board.

The institution of trusteeship in this country is centuries old and although not perfect is still fit for purpose. Our primary role is to ensure that the money we hold in trust is held for the benefit of the beneficiaries and not be totally ripped off by those who are paid to manage our money. Even Adam Smith (not someone I normally cite on this blog) would have understood this.

In the past some trustees have not been properly trained and supported and have been held back on Boards. The requirement to have member representation and the growth of trustee based organisations such as the TUC Trustee network and especially the Association of Member Nominated Trustees (AMNT) will help counter these problems.  

Anyone who opens a newspaper or who turns on the telly to watch the news, will be aware on practically a daily basis, that we actually need more member trustees and representatives looking after all aspects of our money - not less.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Leaning Tree of Wansted Park

Off message but went for a great snow patrol today in Wansted Flats and Wansted Park. Picture above of the leaning tree (right) at the bottom of the Long walk which has seemed in danger of falling into the lake for years. Its branches are just about touching the water.

I'm trying to upload more photos to Facebook but it keeps crashing at the moment. Will post link when it works. Due to the clouds and snow most of the pictures seem to be in black and white.

UNISON Community District Nurses out there serving the public

Great pictures from Captain Swing of London Community district nurses struggling through the snow on Friday to visit their patients.

This Tory coalition think that such public servants should have their wages cut and cut while at the same time reducing taxes for millionaires?

Something fundamentally wrong here I think?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Love Trains: Hate High Fares Valentine’s Day Action

"Kick off Valentine’s Day with our action for low fares.

On 2 January, rail fares soared above inflation for the tenth year running. They have increased almost three times faster than wages and are now 26% higher than they were before the recession. Is it any wonder we pay more than anywhere else in Europe? Our #FareFail campaign took to the streets and stations of Britain and thousands of commuters got involved to express their view. The actions also received great friendly national and local media coverage, and a very positive reaction from commuters, who took up thousands of our campaign postcards.

The government response was to turn a blind eye to rail passenger anger. Transport minister Norman Baker told us fares were “not nearly as expensive” as presented! On 9 January the government defeated a parliamentary motion opposing the fares increase.

Well, we don’t know about you, but we’ve had enough. If we want change we’ve got to keep the pressure up.

On 14 February, the international day of love, we’re going back to the travelling public with one simple message:

“Love Trains, Hate High Fares!”
And we need your help to do it.

And as it’s Valentine’s Day, why not pledge to bring a loved one with you too!
We can only stop the era of rip-off fares if we show those in charge how strongly we feel. Please get involved with the campaign today.

We want to be at as many railway stations as possible on the morning of 14 February, between 7.30 and 9.30am. If you can volunteer, register here:"

Friday, January 18, 2013

Islington: Residential property to provide ethical, long-term returns - Investment - Pensions Week

I got a twitter message from the editor of Pensions Week , David Rowley referring to this video of him interviewing Chair of Islington Pension committee, Richard Greening, about their investment into residential property. They are putting around 2.5% of their £800 million fund into it and hope for a long term 4-5% return above inflation, as well as increasing housing supply. Greater Manchester Pension Fund is doing something similar.

For years I have been puzzled why Council Pensions funds haven't invested in residential property? I never got a satisfactory answer from advisers or fund managers why this is so. While these schemes are for the private rented sector, I'll be obviously interested in social housing as well.

There are of course risks and concerns that many Council pension funds are too small to invest in such assets. Also the beneficiaries representatives need to be involved in the decision making since it is their pension futures that will be at risk. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Save Our Pensions (Do you want to be Old and Cold?)

This is one of my branch motions to the UNISON Community conference in March 2013. Which was amended at the last weekends Service Group Executive meeting at York (see last point).

"This conference notes:-

That the Social Housing Pension Fund and the Pension Trust have announced plans to stop many Community employers from offering a decent defined benefit scheme to our members.

They are also trying to massively increase pension contributions to such an extent that many employers are planning to close schemes to future service or pass on these contribution rises onto members. This will make them unaffordable and members will be forced to leave the schemes which will in turn then fail.

The reasons given for taking this action by SHPS and the Pension Trust are that they must protect the fund against rising “pension liabilities”. This is a completely nonsensical argument. It is well known that due to outdated and deficient rules called “Mark to Market” accounting, the “costs” of defined benefit pensions have risen in a totally artificial manner. Schemes usually have to price their costs according to the return on Government loans called gilts. Due to the abnormal economic conditions these gilts currently have negative returns and are at a 200 year all time low. This has meant that pension schemes appear to have high deficits when in fact this has nothing to do with their underlying strengths or weaknesses.

The government has committed to act on this issue but has just failed to do so. The Pension minister Steve Webb promised to do something about what he called this "nightmare" which is "killing" perfectly good pension schemes and that he would "not idly stand by" and let this happen.

Properly run and regulated defined benefit pension schemes are as affordable today as they have ever been. Most defined contributions schemes will not result in members getting adequate benefits when they retire. Our members will die in poverty and the taxpayers will have to subsidise bad employers for their poverty pensions.

Auto enrolling of pension is an organising opportunity for the union as well as a means to fight for better pension provision. .

This Conference calls upon the Service Group Executive:-

To lead a campaign to save our pension schemes from closure. To encourage our employers to stand up to the Pension Trust and SHPS and make them understand that they do not have to destroy peoples pension futures to safe guard the scheme. To also reopen existing closed schemes.

To lead a campaign to ensure that if employers do not stand up to the Pension Trust and SHPS then they should pay the extra contributions which the schemes are unreasonably asking for and not staff.

To lobby the Pension Trust and SHPS to modernise their schemes. For example why does the better off pay less (after higher rate tax) in pension contributions then basic rate taxpayers?

To lobby the Government to change “Mark to Market” accounting.

To examine the case for employers to be encouraged to seek alternative defined benefit provision in our sector and what role the Labour movement can play in this provision. In many other countries trade unions provide pensions.

To consider how to organise effectively around auto-enrolment in our sector and ensure that any defined contribution schemes match NAPF Quality standards plus".

SGE Amendment:

"New point 8

"To campaign for all Community employers and pension providers currently proposing to close their defined benefit schemes or raise contributions, to suspend changes following the announcement by the Chancellor George Osborne in the Autumn Statement of a government enquiry into new ways of valuing pension fund deficits. Some commentators believe this could lead to a reduction in deficits by up to 40%".

UNISON's London Regional Committee – the Paragon of the Labour Movement

(Guest Post by my esteemed UNISON colleague, the NEC member for Skidrow-on-Sea)

"I understand that there is a point of view that, since there are an infinite number of numbers it follows that there are an infinite number of realities.

If this is so then there must be a universe in which one day the London Regional Committee of UNISON, which met this morning, will make sense and do what I tell them to do, since I am of course...their Great Leader.

Mathematically, there must be a reality in which there is a Committee which doesn't care that due to my underlings shouting, bullying, threatening and general bad behaviour, London activists haven’t wanted to attend and make quorate Regional Councils (other than its AGM) since 2005. Instead of listening to my speeches they want to go and represent their members at the workplace! How dare they!

Why do we have this paragon of labour movement virtue as a Committee instead of one that realises that led by me (as said Great Leader), the UNISON London regional committee can deliver instant worldwide revolution, universal love and the downfall of the ruling classes!!! All they have to do is just listen and follow me!

In this universe however, those who believe I am their Great Leader on Regional Committee, who just happen to have lost the last 7 elections “on the trot”, demand that the winners listen to me and my fellow losers and stand up for the right of the self important hot air Brigade, not to have functioning Regional Councils, after all, anyone who has not seen my revolutionary light are indeed sorry creatures.

We need effective and vigorous unity to confront the attacks from the Coalition Government. Such unity cannot be built on the basis that working class grass roots branch secretaries don’t do what they are ordered to by middle class derelicts. Just because in the past my followers have wreaked any chance by their appalling behaviour to arrange a quorate Regional Council (other than an AGM) in eight years. If workers won’t turn up to meetings, then what shall we do? We have no choice, we must get rid of workers!

Trade union democracy - which requires well attended decision making meetings - is not an "optional extra". But we don’t want this. What is really essential is to have pointless talking shops instead of an effective response to austerity and to the defence of workers' interests more generally. What we actually need is to call our opponents stupid, make speeches about General strikes and call for the nationalisation of the top 10,000 corner shops.

Given the infinite possibilities of the "multiverse" there must remain hope that the Regional Committee will rise to this potential occasion and cut the quorum to one male delegate, one female (no low paid)  and their cat to ensure that the revolution will now take place due to there being a quorate Regional Council after this year's AGM.

Or perhaps not.

(apologies to folk who have not a clue what this is on about)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Barnardo's Pension Betrayal

Some things do make you simply despair. Today I learnt that the Charity Barnardo's has announced that it will be closing its defined benefit pension scheme for it's staff without consultation.

Of course it is now back tracking rapidly since UNISON has reminded it that it is legally obliged to consult with its staff before making such a decision.

But how on earth have we come to this place that a previously respected national charity is not only depriving its staff of a decent pension scheme but is planning for them to retire and die in miserable poverty?

Let us get certain things straight from the beginning. Firstly, Barnardo's do not have to close their career average defined pension scheme. It will not get rid of any pension fund deficit since that will remain and now become far more expensive to service. It will arguably make the existing deficit worse and without doubt, cost Barnardo's more money to close it rather than keep it open.

So why on earth are they wasting charitable and public money on closing their scheme?

Not only that but even the Government has accepted that the way pensions schemes traditionally calculate the cost of their pensions is completely nonsense due to outdated and ridiculous accounting measures. The Pensions Minister, Steve Webb, has promised to change this and there is currently an on going enquiry into this matter which some commentators believe could reduce the size of pension fund deficits by 40%?

What is also particularly sickening is that Barnardo's is proposing to offer its staff being kicked out of its existing pension scheme, the poverty pension plan currently offered to new staff members. It will only offer 4% or 6% matched employer pension contributions, which are wholly inadequate and will mean that many of their staff, particularly the low paid will retire and die in poverty.

Is this what they really want? What does the Charities trustees think of this?

If you check the accounts there are 8,366 Barnardo staff who earn less than 59,999 per year. The overwhelming majority of course are on much less than £59k. There are 35 staff who earn £60k - 159k per year, who no doubt earn so much, they will be able to properly fund their pension schemes.

The top earners are the ones who made the decision to close the traditional scheme.

This is all just wrong and totally unnecessary. Barnardo's should be engaged in genuine and meaningful negotiations with UNISON over these issues.

If they don't then, it will just further damage and even help destroy their reputation. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

amazon tax thieves cost jobs

The lesson for today is that corporate thieves such as amazon.con evades taxes, mugs hospitals, schools and the elderly:  while Jessops pays its tax, becomes uncompetitive and goes into administration.

So - don't shop with the amazon, you enrich their bosses, who treat us all with contempt, while they steal our money. 

UNISON Housing Associations Branch Annual General Meeting 12 February 6 - 8 pm House of Commons

All members are invited to the Branch Annual General Meeting

Tuesday 12 February
6.00 – 8.00pm
House of Commons
Committee Room 18

Speaker: Gregg McClymont MP, Shadow Pensions Minister
Social Housing Pensions * Auto enrolment * State Pension proposals

Deadline for motions and nominations is Monday 21 January.

Entrance to is through the Public Entrance – Cromwell Green

Allow plenty of time to pass through security and take your seat

Members who have not visited the House of Commons before can meet other branch members at 5.15pm prompt outside Westminster Tube Station to go as a group to the House of Commons. 

 The meeting will be followed by a social in the local Wetherspoon.
 Prize draw for all members attending the AGM. 

(Picture TUC March for an Alternative 2012)

Monday, January 14, 2013

another busy day for pensions...but is it a good day for future pensioners?

The government today published its white paper on a new "flat rate" state pension for 2017 currently valued at £144 per week. While this is an improvement on the current £107 per week it is expected that in the long term (2060) most pensioners will lose out.

UNISON reminds everyone that £144 is still below the poverty line and Labour Shadow Pension Minister, Gregg McClymont, points out that there will 16 million pensioners in 2017 who will not benefit from the changes and many "Strivers" will be paying extra in National Insurance Contributions.

What has struck me the most about this proposal is the claims that this increase in basic pension will take many people out of means tested benefits so that they will have the incentive to save for their futures under the new pension auto enrolment regulations.

I'm not too sure. Firstly, many low paid are being excluded from auto enrolment. You will have to earn more than £8,105 per year.

Also contributions from employees (3%) and employers (4%) are also just far too low to build up a decent pension and keep the low paid out of dependency upon means tested benefits. In high rent areas if you retire then you are still likely to be on housing benefit and the disincentive to save continues.

But the biggest issue I think is that defined contribution schemes are just plain inadequate. Even relatively good and inexpensive ones like NEST.

Now maths is not my strongest point and this is very much a back of a fag packet calculation. But I have used the NEST pension calculation website to estimate what a male 22 year old on National Minimum Wage (£6.19 per hour 40 hours a week, £12,875 per year) would get if he retired aged 68 after 46 years of defined contribution contributions.

He would receive a pension worth only £1,990 per year (£38 per week) and a lump sum of £22,600. (This is for a pension guaranteed for 10 years after retirement, with spouse pension and pension rises in line with inflation). These figures are subject to stock market performance, annuity rates and not guaranteed.

If he was in a traditional defined benefit 1/80th scheme he would get at least £6,437 per year (£123 per week) and a lump sum of £38,625. He would also get life insurance and ill-health cover. He and his employer would of course have to pay more but the pension would be guaranteed.

Question: So how will you attract the low paid to save for 46 years when they can only expect (fingers crossed) to get a pension worth £38 per week?
Answer: You can't. They are not stupid, they won't do it. Get rid of low pay. Turn a minimum wage into a living wage and auto enrol all workers into a decent defined benefit scheme. Job done. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

SWP: Something is seriously rotten in the state of LaLa land

I think most folk know that I'm no friend of the Trotsky Revolutionary sect, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), but the latest scandal they are embroiled in is just breath taking.

One of its junior female members made a complaint of rape against a longstanding member of its Central Executive Committee.

Instead of insisting that this member should report this very serious crime to the Police, they agreed that an internal "Disputes Committee" made up largely of friends and senior colleagues of the the alleged perpetrater  should "investigate" the complaint.  To no ones surprise they found (6-1) the case against "Comrade Delta" (a well known SWP Central Committee activist and reputed to be a violent thug) was "not proven".

Check out the report in "Socialist Unity" (who broke the story), "The Independent" and "Dave Osler" blog.

While I fully accept that the Police and the Crime Prosecution Service have in the past treated some rape victims shamefully and the Jimmy Saville debacle shows that powerful men can get away with a life of crime. I cannot for a second accept that an internal "investigation" by any organisation into such serious allegations is acceptable, never mind that the investigation panel comprised of mates and colleagues of the accused. How dare they think that they are better than an independent jury of 12 of your peers.

Is this a case of history repeating itself? In the picture above is Gerry Healy, the former leader of the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP). Healey was eventually found to be a serial rapist and sexual abuser who for years was protected from accusations. The WRP collapsed after the discovery that its leader was a rapist and afterwards the SWP took its place as the "main" Trotsky sect in the UK.

Is there something in the essential DNA of these tiny ultra left sects and cults that make them prone to its leading men treating women as dirt? 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Employment Law Year Ahead 2013

Least we forget how much this Tory led government hates and despises the rights of ordinary working people. This post is based on an e-newsletter I read recently from a leading firm of UK Employment lawyers.

6 April

The Government has stated its intention to reduce the 90-day minimum period for collective redundancy consultation, replacing it with a shortened 45-day period.

Summer 2013

Last summer, the Ministry of Justice announced its intention to introduce employment tribunal fees in the summer of 2013. Final tribunal fee proposals include: an issue fee of £160 or £250, depending on claim; similarly, a hearing fee of £230 or £950; and an EAT issue fee of £400 and £1200 hearing fee. Tribunals will have the power to order the unsuccessful party to reimburse fees paid by the successful party and a fee remission system will operate for those who cannot afford to pay.

Evidence of pre-termination negotiations conducted with a view to agreeing terms for ending employment will become inadmissible in most unfair dismissal claims, except where the employer has acted improperly.

Finally, it should be noted that other proposals for change are also in the pipeline, for example, a consultation on TUPE and reform of the Working Time Regulations. However, firm details are still awaited.

We are stuffed. Yet this will also mean that workers will realise that the law will not protect them at work and the only force that can - are trade unions.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

UNISON Community NEC elections 2013: Nominate John Gray & Isobel McVicar

NEC Community Seats Nomination Request
John Gray & Isobel McVicar
RMS 3083288 & 5260001

8 January 2013

Dear UNISON Branch Secretary

We believe that your branch is entitled to nominate candidates to the two Community
seats for this year's National Executive Council elections. We request that your
branch considers nominating John Gray for the General Seat and Isobel McVicar for
the Female seat.

John has been an activist in UNISON for many years and held a number of branch and
regional positions including Treasurer, Health & Safety, Welfare, Labour Link,
International officer and Assistant Secretary. He is now the Branch Secretary of the
Greater London Housing Associations Branch which has nearly 3500 members.

Isobel has also been a longstanding UNISON activist holding positions of Assistant
Conditions of Service Officer, Publicity Officer and Branch Secretary in the Glasgow
City Branch and International Officer in the Manchester Branch

In 2011 we were the first ever elected Community members to be represented on the
National Executive Council. While on the NEC John has served on the Policy and
Development Committee, Trustee on the UNISON staff pension fund and National
Labour link. Isobel has served on the Finance and Resources Committee and the
International Committee.

Community members are facing amongst the very worse cuts in jobs and attacks on
their pay, pensions, terms and conditions by this Tory led Government.

Care and support staff wages in particular are under threat as unscrupulous employers
deliberately underbid to win Supporting People contracts then try and do their up most
to destroy TUPE protections.

While many Housing management organisations are cash rich after years of inflation
plus rent rises yet still refuse to give their staff decent pay rises.

Many Community members belong to the Pension Trust or the Social Housing Pension
Fund. Some employers are using flawed and discredited accounting measures as an
excuse to try and close their schemes or raise contributions to unaffordable levels.

Both of us have been working and campaigning with branches and regions to oppose
these measures. We believe that Community members must play our part in opposing
Austerity and arguing for an alternative economic policy.

We also believe that there are a number of Community specific campaigns that
UNISON should be pursuing such as:-

• Binding Sectoral Pay Boards - Set up to decide the pay and conditions of all
staff by collective bargaining including a living wage minimum for all Community
workers and agency/sub-contractors.
• Better governance and democracy - increasingly many of our employer
management boards are run by highly paid unelected and unrepresentative
"elites". There should be union employee representation on all Community Trust
or management boards, especially remuneration committees (if applicable)
• Access to a decent defined benefit pension scheme for all.
• No public money for anti-trade union employers. Community organisations that
do not have trade union recognition agreements should not be allowed to bid for
grants or contracts from local or national governments.

We both work together well as your Community NEC team. While Isobel's employer is
a small charity, John's works for a large housing association, so we represent and
complement both of the major sectors in Community.

If you would like either of us to come and attend a branch meeting or Hustings (under
UNISON election rules) then please let us know and if we can, we will be delighted to
come and speak.

You can contact John on 07977 285 297/john.gray2012atbtinternetdotcom. Or Isobel on
07876 561 643/izzymcVatbtinternetdotcom
Yours faithfully

John Gray & Isobel McVicar
(I'll be posting on other NEC nominee recommendations during the next few days)

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

"Unions support workers, supporting themselves"

I think that eventually the penny will drop. Due to the decline in trade unions bargaining power wages, benefits and pensions for the majority of working people are now lower. This has indeed led to higher government spending  and taxation to keep them out of desperate poverty.

Note that the vast amount of this spending was on supporting families in work who needed tax credits and housing benefits.

To make things worse, the decline in wages led to increase in household debt as workers made up for their reduced spending power to top up their pay on the "never, never".

I am constantly told by financial experts that the real problem for the British Economy is not our national government debt (which is relatively low compared to the past) but our high domestic debt.

Now that access to debt is restricted the decline in real wages has resulted in reduced demand. So we face  - decades of recession.

How do we increase demand and drag this country out of recession??? How do we reverse low pay?

When will the tax evaders alliance demand greater rights for trade unions to reduce dependancy on the state? :)

Hat tip picture to the ironically named "Union Thugs" Facebook page

Monday, January 07, 2013

UNISON Labour Link CVO Branch Parliamentary Meeting

UNISON Greater London Community and Voluntary Organisations (CVO) branch are holding a meeting in the House of Commons with Shadow minister of Civic Society Gareth Thomas MP on Tuesday 29 January 2013.

I am also speaking at the meeting as the Chair of Regional Labour Link.

Afterwards there will be a reception at a local hospitality (Pub!).

The CVO Labour Link Officer, Jonathan Slater, is organising the event. Attendance is for UNISON Labour Link members and strictly by invite only.

Jonathon has opened the invitation to all UNISON Housing Association Labour Link members and I will be sending out an invite to them tomorrow.

We may also be holding a Parliamentary lobby for UNISON member's on another issue earlier that day. Details to follow.

Many thanks for Jonathan for organising what what looks like to be an interesting event. Labour Link officers   in all branches should think about organising something similar. We need to get our ordinary members, who are bearing the brunt of the attacks against not only their pay but the the services they provide, to tell their story to their local MPs. 

Sunday, January 06, 2013

The Iron Lady

I watched tonight for the first time the film "The Iron Lady" which is about the life of former Tory Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

It was an historical drama and not a documentary. While I would certainly not agree with all the political interpretations it made, I enjoyed watching it.

Thatcher today is very much still a divisive  figure: a hero to some and a hate figure to others.

Under Margaret Thatcher, male unemployment in my part of North East Wales, following closures in the local Steel works and textile factories reached 33%. It was an horrendous time and she seemed to give the impression as PM that she didn't care and just a price worth paying!

So I should really hate her, but I have always preferred to dislike rather than hate. The key thing in politics is to attack what politicians do and say rather than their personalities.

Forgetting the politics (if you can) I was pretty uncomfortable with the scenes in the film around her current  supposed mental health and the involvement of her children, grown up or otherwise. It was more than a bit off I thought and it was simply wrong in my view of the film to bring this up.

The actual acting by Meryl Streep was simply superb and incredible. She was Margaret Thatcher.

As regards to any lessons we can learn from this film for the "left"? Well, yes there is. We all know that there are many working class Tories such as Thatcher and we cannot just ignore them and pretend they do not exist.  It is no use just knocking people who share these beliefs we have to find ways to win them over.

The real lesson from the film is that the "left" needs to learn from Thatcher (of all people) that if you have real self-belief and self-confidence in your arguments it is possible to succeed and bring about fundamental change.  

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Vic Turner: Pentonville 5 and Newham Labour Councillor

Vic Turner, the veteran trade union leader and Newham Labour Councillor passed away on December 30 aged 85.

Vic was born in Custom House, Newham and lived in the area all his life. He was the youngest from a family of 7 and was told to join the union the day he started work at the local docks with his father and brothers. He became a member of the Transport & General Union and the Communist Party.

Vic is seen in photo being carried by supporters after being released from Pentonville Jail in 1972. He and 4 other dockers had been jailed for ignoring a court order to stop "illegal" picketing at a container site in Chobham Farm in Newham (now I think part of the Stratford Olympic site).

The Tory government of the time led by Edward Heath had been forced to release them from prison due to the threat of an effective general strike by trade unions led by the TUC.  This was rightly a huge victory at the time for the trade union movement. The Tories did unfortunately learn from their defeat in future battles with the unions.

After being made redundant from the docks, Vic worked for Newham Council and later become a Newham Labour Councillor from 1994 to 2006. He had the reputation of a hardworking and dedicated Councillor. In 1997/98 he was the Mayor.

I only met Vic the once (I think) many years ago and at the time I was not really aware of who he was so I wasted the opportunity to have a proper chat with him about 1972 for a now forgotten conversation. My loss.

Vic's funeral I understand will be on January 18 and will take place at City of London Cemetery and Crematorium in Manor Park.

Check out tributes herehere and here

UPDATE: Vic Turner's funeral will take place at 2.45 pm on Friday, 18 January, at the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium.

Vic Turner's family have confirmed  that if  you wish to send funeral flowers they should be sent to 51 McGregor Road, Custom House, E16 3LL.  Donations in lieu of flowers should be sent  to Cancer Research UK.  They are not being dealt with by the funeral directors, so should be sent directly to the charity.  Either on-line via or by post to Cancer Research UK, Angel Building, 407 St. John Street, London EC1V 4AD.

The reception after Vic's funeral will be at the "Princess Alexandra" pub, 219 Barking Road, E16 4HH - between Canning Town flyover and  the The Abbey Arms, Plaistow.   

Friday, January 04, 2013

Myths and Misconceptions about Welfare

A very good report in the indie about voters being "brain washed by Tory Welfare myths".

I would go further and say these are not myths but deliberate lies and distortions being put out by this Tory led Government to justify ideological attacks on the most vulnerable.

Not only on the chronically sick and the unemployed but mostly the working poor who depend upon the state to top up their employer poverty wages.

Actual benefit fraudsters should be dealt with harshly as they are thieves and criminals. However, so should the many City and business thieves who in practise steal far more from the public purse, yet rarely end up facing the justice at the Criminal Courts they deserve.

UPDATE: Check out Channel 4 FactCheck here on more Tory welfare porkies.

Bond Bubble Burst

This could be yet another disaster for ordinary savers thanks to our dysfunctional financial services industry.

This morning I read a newsletter from a respected firm of pension solicitors highlighting 10 key issues for 2013.

Number 8 was to beware of a possible "bond bubble". The concern is that bond prices (government loans called gilts or other traded loans to companies) are so over priced that soon there will be a "crash". Gilt yields (due to high prices) are currently at a 200 year low.

If this happens then the value of personal pensions for many people approaching retirement who will tend to have most of their money invested in bonds will be devastating.

It's complicated because a fall in gilt prices should mean an improvement in annuity rates (the amount of money you will actually get each year if you retire on a personal pension) and will also help out defined benefit schemes. But there is no doubt that if you are in a standard "lifestyle" personal pension plan (which most people in "normal" times should be in) then in the 5 years before your retirement most of your money will be moved away from long term savings in equities and into bonds and cash. A predicted 40% crash in bonds would be a disaster.

As always, wealthy or financially sophisticated investors will avoid the risk. Joe Public will not. This is another reason why individual defined contribution (or defined ambition) schemes are not the answer to the pension problem in this country.

With individual defined contribution schemes (personal pensions in all their shapes and sizes) ordinary individual savers have to take all the risk over their pension fund asset allocation and investment strategy. That is not their job. That is not what they are good at in life. Their funds are usually far too small to be able to afford the expert and ongoing advice needed.

While most trust based collective defined contribution schemes can afford this advice and will hopefully will put in place measures to protect members I cannot see how they will be able to fully protect those about to retire if bond prices collapse. The "market" is not the answer to everything.

The answer is of course decent modern defined benefits schemes for all.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Berlin 1939 and Berlin 1945

My late father (another John Gray) carried out his national service in the RAF in Germany 1947-1948 as a Aircraft Technician.

I picked up an envelope of postcards and photos he had collected during this time from my sister Lucy during the New Year holiday.

I had remembered that he had a set of postcards titled "1939 Berlin 1945". In this set were photos of prominent and historic buildings in Berlin before the War and after. As a child looking at these cards I can remember being horrified by the devastation.

My father wrote on the inside of the pack "I spent a weekend in Berlin while based at RAF Gatow. The photo's speak for themselves. Thank God we didn't lose the War".

(click on collage to bring up detail)

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

New Pensions Crisis on Way...Millions will get Pension Boost

This morning (2 Jan 2013) I noticed that the entire front page of the Daily Express newspaper (see online page to right with picture of smiling grey haired pensioners) was taken up with this banner headline "Millions Will Get Pensions Boost".

I thought at the time that it was unusual for a tabloid to be saying anything positive about pensions. So I had a look tonight at the online version and found that due to the recovery (or sorts) in the price of shares that the deficits of pension funds had been reduced and the value of private pensions increased.

Which is good thing but hardly news since the recovery of the markets is well known. However, there was a link under the article to another Daily Express article written a whole 2 working days earlier (28 Dec 2012 see left with picture of unhappy grey haired pensioner) with the headline "New Pensions Crisis on Way". 

This alarmist article predicted the end of private pensions by 2050! Now I have posted on a similar misleading article on the "end of pensions" here.

But my point is no wonder people are genuinely confounded and confused by pensions when there is so much inaccurate and sensational misreporting by the media and in particular the tabloid press. Are pensions a good thing or a bad thing? How can you tell on the basis of this coverage. This is one of the reasons why so many give up on saving for their retirement and will end up dying in poverty.

The real problems with pensions is that employers either don't contribute anything or only grossly inadequate amounts and that many of the saving products on the market are simply rubbish. Bad value, insecure, nonsensical accounting and the final pension amount totally at the whim of the stock markets and government policy of the day.

The answer of course is decent modern defined benefits schemes for all. 

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy Hogmanay and Blwyddyn Newydd Dda 2013

Happy New Year 2013! From deepest darkest Sleaford in Lincolnshire.

Hagmanay was a bit of a let down this year. I was struck by a bad dose of Man flu yesterday.

So instead of going out with the family to a party in a local village hall, I saw in New Year on the sofa with Chilli, my sister's 10 year border terrier and Lill, her psycho cat.

This 2008 post "Happy Hogmanay and Blwyddyn Newydd Dda" (and same picture as left) on a past grayee New Year is one of the top 10 most popular posts on this blog.