Friday, May 31, 2013

We Are The Many - Hope Not Hate

Please click here and sign this Hope Not Hate letter for tomorrow's Daily Mirror :-

To: The Editor, Daily Mirror

We Are The Many

Today, the violent English Defence League will hold demonstrations in towns and cities across our country, trying to spread their message of hate. By blaming all Muslims for the terrible murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, the EDL will attempt to whip up a climate of fear and violence towards the Muslim community in Britain.

But the EDL will fail. They will fail because we, the British people, reject their ignorance.

The EDL and Islamic extremists are more similar to each other than to us. They share a violent, hate-fuelled desire for conflict and war, and we will not let either group tear our country apart.

We condemn the shameful rise in anti-Muslim violence since Drummer Rigby's killing. The fair-minded majority of Britons understand that a community cannot be blamed for the actions of just two. We know that the EDL does not speak for all Britain, just as we know that Muslim extremists do not speak for all Muslims.

We, the British people, shun the EDL's message of hate today because they do not speak for us. We are confident that HOPE will prevail. It will prevail because they are the few, and we are -- and always will be -- the many.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Pension Minister Steve Webb MP to address AMNT 26 June 2013

Association of Member Nominated Trustees

Pensions Minister Steve Webb MP will be the keynote speaker at our first AMNT Summer Conference which will take place on June 26th 2013, at Towers Watson, 21, Tothill Street, London SW1H 9LL. Some details are still to be finalised, but currently, the day looks like this:

We will begin with registration from 0930, and the main conference starts at 1000.
Steve Webb has agreed to start us off with a keynote speech.

Then Co-Chair Barry Parr will go through the results of our Member Survey.
Bill Trythall (Committee Member) will then talk on "The Universities Superannuation Scheme".

After coffee, Ewan McGaughey will talk on "MNTs in Corporate Governance", then another Member will talk on "A Smaller DC Scheme".

Lunch and networking will be followed by our hosts Towers Watson talking on Current Pension Issues, then John Gray (Committee Member) will present on "London Borough/Local Government Schemes".

Following this, Michael Johnson will speak on "Charging in Pensions".

After a tea break, our Friends will leave us, and we will go into Round Table Debates on Current Pensions Issues with one of our Sponsors leading each table.

A final feedback session will be followed by a closing summary, which is due to finish at 1700.

After the meeting has closed, there will be the usual networking opportunity with drinks provided by our hosts Towers Watson

There are limited places available for this event, so please let us know as soon as possible if you are able to attend. Click on one of the below links and let us know by email, including whether you have any dietary requirements and if you plan to attend for the drinks reception.

Email if you wish to send the whole or part of the day at the meeting.

(if you are a member nominated Trustee or representative then join and apply to attend)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Life for Freedom in South Africa: Denis Goldberg 80th Celebration

The picture is from the celebration of the 80th Birthday of South African freedom fighter Denis Goldberg. This took place in the South African High Commission in Trafalgar Square, London.

The celebration was in aid of the development Charity Community HEART  that Denis helped set up.  My fellow UNISON NEC member for Community, Izzy McVicar, organised the event.

Denis (centre - seen with London UNISON Convener Gloria  Hanson, Deputy Convener Conroy Lawrence and me lurking at the back) spent 22 years in prison during the struggle against apartheid. He was sentenced in the same trial as Nelson Mandala. However, since he was white, he was of course put into a different prison.

In his speech Dennis joked that he and his fellow ex-prisoners are the only people who celebrate the 50th anniversary of their arrests and for only getting life sentences (the prosecutors wanted the death penalty).

Although he is very proud of all that has been achieved in a free South Africa he recognises that there is much still to be done. He does think it is a little arrogant that some people in the UK criticise the lack of equality in South Africa when they have had since 1870 to do something about inequality in the UK. 

On a positive note Denis thinks that "the hormones in our teenagers" will eventually solve our racial differences.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

One Nation Housing – 50 Policies for Labour

The Labour Housing Group has published this consultaton paper on its own website and on the housing site "Red Brick" in advance of their annual conference next month:-

Housing is central to Labour’s One Nation approach and our plans for economic recovery and social well-being.
Housing Investment
1.       Housing should be a central feature of a new National Infrastructure Plan looking ahead 10, 20 and 30 years at the country’s requirements for a modern economy and a cohesive society.
2.       Increasing housing investment in all tenures should be a key component of economic policy.
3.       To ensure an adequate supply of affordable homes, capital investment subsidies should be restored to 2008 levels as quickly as possible, with over-riding priority given to building homes for social rent.
4.       Councils should be enabled to invest much more under the new self-financing regime. The existing borrowing cap should be lifted and international conventions for measuring public borrowing (which exclude public corporations) should be adopted.
5.       Smart national accounting should be adopted that recognises how housing investment contributes to savings in health, education and benefits budgets. 
Planning for Housing 
6.       Councils should be under much stronger planning duties to meet housing needs in their areas, to plan for mixed communities, and to co-operate in planning for new housing across sub-regions, especially City regions.
7.       Local plans should prioritise social rented homes separately from other sub-market rented and low cost home ownership homes.
8.       Local communities should benefit more clearly from development through requirements for affordable housing and other facilities.  
9.       The New Homes Bonus should be ringfenced to be spent on housing infrastructure and benefits for communities affected by development only and should be phased out.
10.    A proportion of new homes should be made available to people from the local area.
11.    There should be much stronger duties on public agencies to release land for affordable housing.
12.    As a general principle, brownfield land should be used first and broad Green Belt protections should remain.
13.    Minimum space standards should be applied to all new homes.
14.    More rapid progress should be made towards achieving high environmental and energy efficiency standards in new homes, with higher priority given to cycling, play and recreation facilities.
15.    Planning permissions should expire sooner and should be based on project completion.
16.    Planning powers should enable Councils to take more effective enforcement action against rundown and empty homes that blight neighbourhoods.   
Tenure Reform
17.    Labour should undertake comprehensive tenure reform with standard mandatory tenancy conditions across private and social renting.
18.    Labour should adopt a plan to ensure that the Commonhold form of tenure, introduced by the last Labour Government, is more frequently used.
19.    Labour should renew its commitment to co-operative and new forms of tenure.
Private renting
20.    The private rented sector should be modernised and reformed, with longer tenancies, more predictable rents, better regulation, and proper enforcement of safety and decency standards.
21.    There should be tough regulation of letting agents and encouragement of not-for-profit agencies.
22.    Stronger enforcement action should take place in cases of landlord crime like harassment, illegal eviction and theft of deposits.
23.    All landlords should be registered in a self-financing scheme.
24.    As part of a package of reforms, Labour should review the tax treatment of private landlords to encourage investment, and reintroduce repair grants to achieve a new PRS decency standard.
25.    Shared housing should be regularly inspected to ensure compliance with standards. 
Social housing
26.    All social landlords in receipt of public money should be subject to effective regulation and occasional inspection to achieve higher standards in terms of customer service, efficiency, governance, accountability, and viability.
27.    Statutory requirements for tenants to be involved in scrutiny and in the regulatory system should be strengthened and the right to complain to the Ombudsman should be strengthened.
28.    Labour should ensure that housing associations remain not-for-profit organisations and review the scale and use of their surpluses.
29.    There should be genuine ‘like for like’ replacement of Council homes sold under Right to Buy. Give-away discounts should be restricted. Councils should be enabled to take an equity stake in sold property and strict covenants should be applied in relation to future letting and onward sale. 
30.    A new social sector Decent Homes Standard should be adopted with stronger environmental and communal area requirements.
31.    All social landlords should produce an annual Asset Management Statement, demonstrating how they have made best use of their stock. There should be a presumption against unjustified sales of property.
32.    Security of tenure should be restored so there is a basic requirement that a household cannot lose their home without the landlord’s case being tested in a court. 
33.    It should be a priority to ensure that homes that have been ‘converted’ from social to so-called ‘affordable rent’ revert back to their original status.  
Home ownership
34.    Government help for home ownership should be targeted to provide help with deposits for first-time buyers.
35.    Labour should require the energy industry to provide better grants and loans to ensure minimum standards in energy efficiency.
36.    Repair grants should be reintroduced in housing priority areas to enable owners to bring their homes up to basic standards.
37.    Labour should work with the development industry to introduce a Rent To Buy scheme for first time buyers.
38.    Labour should work with the mortgage industry to deliver more loans at higher loan-to-value ratios but without encouraging sub-prime lending. 
Tax and benefits
39.    The total benefit cap should be regionalised to take proper account of rent differentials between areas of the country.
40.    Local Housing Allowance should be made available up to the level of median rents in an area rather than the 30th percentile.
41.    HB direct payments to landlords should be restored based on tenants’ choice.
42.    The ‘bedroom tax’ should be ended in favour of a new national plan to tackle under occupation based on incentives and a stronger ground for possession with a right to suitable alternative accommodation.
43.    Labour should develop and adopt a long term plan to switch from personal subsidies to investment subsidies in housing, reducing the benefit bill by reducing the cost of rented housing.
44.    A Mansion Tax on properties valued at £2m or more, or additional Council Tax bands, should be introduced.
45.    Options should be investigated to impose additional taxation on foreign buyers in the prime property market.  
46.    Additional charges should be levied on long-term empty properties and unused development land.
47.    A fundamental review of property taxation and reliefs should be undertaken, including council tax, capital gains, stamp duty, to find a system that meets wider housing objectives. 
48.    It should be a key target of a Labour Government to reduce homelessness. The strong homelessness safety net should be restored.
49.    A new National Tenant Voice should be created, for all tenants.
50.    Labour’s commitment is to encourage mixed and sustainable communities across the country - in cities towns and rural areas.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

How to allocate a £1 billion of pension assets?

Picture is from an unusual meeting held recently with other members of Newham Pension Committee on fund "asset allocation".

What types of investments you should allocate pension fund money into is arguably the most important decision that a board or trustees can make. Far more important than deciding who you employ to manage the funds day to day or even how much they charge.

Depending on your fund requirements, if you say decide to invest too much money in high risk equities rather than lower risk bonds it could have a devastating impact. Conversely if your fund really needs to take more risk and you think the economic outlook is right, then it can have a very negative effect if you opt for the safe options.

Newham decided that instead of having the usual type of review meeting meeting, where our fund advisers will  present  issues and options to the Committee who will then be expected to make a decision - to try something different. So the fund officers organised a special "round table" meeting and invited different City professionals and the Committee members (including the trade union reps) to debate and argue what should be our asset allocation fundamentals.

There was  a robust but productive wide exchange of views and I think all committee members went away with a much better understanding of the problems and possible solutions than a dry presentation. Good stuff. I recommend other pension schemes should consider doing the same. (picture of me with Cllr Ayesha Chowdhury and UNISON pension rep Gloria Hanson)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

West Ham CLP Euro Husting 28 May 7.30pm Vicarage Lane Community Centre, E15

All 6 candidates to be ranked by a ballot of London Labour Party members next month have confirmed that they will be attending. Including UNISON supported candidates Sanchia Alaisa and Ivana Bartoletti. Existing London MEP Mary Honeyball is also planning to be there.

Friday, May 24, 2013

"Trident: What its for?" Newham Compass and Fabian Debate

This picture is from the debate organised on Trident by Newham Compass and Fabians last week.

Kate Hudson from CND and Labour Party Councillor (and NEC member) Luke Akehurst debated the proposed Trident Nuclear submarine and missile programme.

Former Newham Cllr (and budding author) Graham Lane (middle of photo) chaired the meeting.

Luke went first and started by arguing that he is not here to argue for the use of nuclear weapons rather it's role in deterring such war. While there is no current threat Trident is an insurance policy for the next 40 years, since who knows what threats we will face during this time interval.

He agrees that the world would be a much better place if there was no nuclear weapons but believes that this is more likely to happen if there was multilateral rather than unilateral disarmament. Since no one would care if we disarmed by ourselves. If you have a deterrence you can negotiate it away but if you haven't got it & then find you need it to face a threat then it will be too late.

Trident lite nuclear solutions make pre-emptive strikes more likely & more dangerous than not having nukes. The total cost of Trident should be viewed over its entire lifetime - 0.3% of total government budget.

Kate was not having any of this and costed Trident at £3 billion per year for 30 years. The equivalent of 30,000 new homes being built each year which could provide 60,000 jobs.

She believes that even the UK Military top brass are worried about opportunity cost of Trident and that the UK cannot have Trident and be an useful military ally. Former Labour minister Des Brown thinks we cannot afford Trident. She points out that even Tony Blair admitted that that having Trident is not about defense but about national status.

Having any nuclear weapons is just too dangerous. If we think we need them then so will other countries.

The debate and Q&A that followed was civilised and courteous unlike similar debates I remember from my youth. As an aside I pointed out in the Q&A that myself and Terry Paul (a Newham Councillor who was also present) were "cold war warriors" who had spent part of our misspent youth in the 1980s as members of the British Territorial Army. Who at the time were trained to defend the German plains and stop the possible advance of hordes of Soviet tanks.

At the time I didn't think we would have much success in this role nor the reassurance we were given that don't worry if nuclear weapons were being used in the battlefield because as long as we had 18 inches of earth above our trenches, we were perfectly safe from anything apart from a direct hit! ...Yeah.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Yes Google is are Amazon, Starbucks and all such tax thieves

I was at a pension trustee meeting a little while ago where I was criticised for bringing up our share holding in companies who don't pay their fair share in taxes. I was told that it was the duty of such companies to reduce their exposure to all taxes.

I disagreed and while I didn't express my true views that these companies are spongers who steal from the old and the sick. I did point out that we expect companies we invest in to be well managed, aware of risk and run with integrity.

There is a balancing act to be made by companies on minimising their taxes while recognising they have a duty to pay towards in public services and infrastructure they rely on to run their company in the UK.

The negative publicity and financial damage to the brand if they misbehave is also immense. 

If they get this balance wrong then the CEO and the Board are simply incompetent as well as immoral and not fit and proper people to run the company.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The best way to respond...Donate to "Help for Heroes".

Everyone will be shocked by the reports about the cowardly and savage murder today in London of a unarmed soldier by brain washed moronic animals pretending to be people of faith.

I think at this time our thoughts are firstly with the victim and his family.

While it is too soon to know exactly what happened and why - I suspect that they are doppelgangers
of Norwegian fascist mass murderer Anders Breivik. These extremists are all the same - ignorant, selfish, vain, cowardly bigots and should be treated with the contempt that they deserve. 

I think the best way to respond is to click here and donate whatever you can to "Help for Heroes" Pass this on.

Monday, May 20, 2013

"Feeding Cats": Motion to Branch Committee....

(this is a real motion to a South London trade union branch committee May 2013. Straight out of Monty Python)

“Feeding Cats”

Unfortunately a serious Health & Safety/Environmental Health situation has
arisen in the ***** ****** branch office whereby some Branch Officers are creating unnecessary risks to their colleagues and the local communities Environmental Health and Safety.

It came to my attention several weeks ago that Branch Officers had left cat food out for a cat which they spotted in the office back garden. Local cats, feral and domestic, occasionally come into the office back garden and are generally not a problem. However, I objected to the actual feeding of cats
(feral or domestic) in the back garden by users of the office as unnecessary and irresponsible on the following grounds:

• When someone leaves food out to feed a “cat” in the back garden they are not just feeding one or more “cats” they are feeding all manner of feral animals, pests and vermin, i.e. Rats, Mice, Ants, Cockroaches, Flies, Insects, Pigeons, Foxes etc. etc.

• These creatures, if their numbers are not controlled in city areas, can cause nuisance, spread diseases (toxoplasmosis, cryptococcosis, psittacosis to name but three) and therefore be a potential danger to humans, children and families in the local area as well as users of the branch office and garden (and be a danger to other animals as well).

• If cats and other feral animals are seen in cities and in the vicinity of humans it is generally because there is already an abundance of food available in the area to sustain them; so they don’t actually need an easily available source of food to be provided for them by humans. Otherwise they wouldn’t be there they would be somewhere else where there is food available.

• It is not the responsibility of Branch Officers/council employees to feed feral animals while at work or in the workplace (local domesticated cats should be fed by their owners).

• Leaving food out in the garden simply encourages not only cats but all the other feral animals and pests as mentioned above to move into the area in increasing numbers. It encourages the presence of these animals where they don’t need to be (workplace environments can also be hazardous to animals) and so creates a problem where there doesn’t need to be one, and where one did not previously exist.

• If people wish to take irresponsible risks with their own health that is their right, however they have no right to take irresponsible risks with the health of other people, colleagues, and children and families in the local community.

I have therefore been shocked and appalled by the reaction to my objections to “feeding cats” by other Branch Officers and the Branch Secretaries and have been compelled to submit this motion in defence of a socially responsible position on H&S/Environmental Health issues. Not only were my above objections dismissed without any engagement of rational argument or discussion, other Branch Officers have seen fit to actually inflame the situation and make matters far worse.

One Branch Officer actually decided to go ahead with the idea (without permission or consultation) of continuing to put food out in the back garden indefinitely in order to deliberately lure the cat that was originally spotted (supposedly feral?) back into the garden so it can be “Trapped” then taken to
a Vet and neutered! Then what?

Unfortunately this ludicrous idea has been endorsed by the Branch Secretaries as a “sensible solution”! Again with no consultation. This “sensible solution” to a problem that has not previously existed and still doesn’t need to exist (Branch Officers are creating the problem) addresses none of my concerns about the long term consequences and damage to the local environment and local peoples, including children’s, health and well being caused by encouraging feral animals, pests and vermin.

• I also believe that staff leaving food out for animals in workplaces, which encourages pests and therefore creates a health hazard, is against Council Policy and breaches H&S policy.

• I believe UNISON Branch Officers “Trapping Animals” when not doing so in the capacity of their substantive post of a Council Officer/employee is illegal and breaches Council Policy.

I regret having to submit this motion when there should be more important issues to discuss but I believe it is now a matter of education on socially responsible attitudes towards Environmental Health and Health & Safety within the workers & Trade Union movement.

• I am simply calling for a socially responsible position where we do not encourage animals (feral or domesticated), pests and vermin in the workplace and community by leaving food out in the back garden. It is not necessary; it is a health risk and creates problems where they don’t need to exist.

Please vote to endorse this bullet point.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Barnet Casino - the video

Watch this clever YouTube cartoon video on the consequences of the privatisation of Council services in Barnet, London.

Rudderless trots?

(Guest post by Denver Walker) "As the Government of millionaires attacks on one front after another, the political ultra left is bereft of direction.

The catalogue of brutality unleashed by the side currently winning the class war would have been unimaginable even three years ago.

Yet never forget that the ultra left did their best to let the Tories win. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have gone over the same period as real wages have continued to fall in an unprecedented way. The tide of privatisation rising across the public sector has begun irreversibly to engulf the health service and now laps at the feet of postal workers.

The demonisation of claimants is gradually capturing the popular imagination as benefit cuts force us back to the nineteenth century. Legal aid cuts and employment tribunal fees (coupled with changes to rules on remission), together with other changes to employment law further hobble workers individually and collectively. Even the seemingly solid social gains of a generation of progress towards equality are fragile in this most reactionary century.

The defence of the public sector equality duty will be of totemic importance. So where is the opposition? The (capital "O") Opposition is Labour who can still mobilise meaningful opposition to "Tory cuts" (as in the London Fire Service) but is hamstrung by the ultra left's meaningless sloganising and selfish distructive gesture politics. In large part the absence of our Labour Party where we so badly need it is a function of a generation of ultra left grandstanding and stupidity on the part of extremists in the trade union leadership.

The strategic error of supporting Trotsky entryists and not the centre left in Labour in the 1990s has had cumulative, calamitous political consequences for the trade union movement which are still playing themselves out. Since the General Election the unions have mobilised around real and winnable issues such as pensions and have achieved incrediblely successful results.

The largest strike since the General Strike secured real meaningful concessions on public service pensions. Laughable attempts by extremists who want members to die in poverty to satisfy their perverse views undermine the morale and motivation of our activists. Pragmatic General Secretaries are staring into the horror and know what they can do as opposed to meaningless and futile oppositionalism.

Out on the further reaches of the left there is no direction or purpose. Those who hoped the Green Party was a new road to a new Jerusalem can pick their way through the litter strewn streets of Brighton as they contemplate their error. The largest far left political party has imploded, and those clinging to its wreckage simply haven't noticed yet that it is over (though it may not be dead for years - some people still sell the "Newsline").

The latest electoral project of the far left has broken all records for tragic irrelevance. Socialists might as well practice "entryism" in the Monster Raving Loony Party as continue to place hope in TUSC. Such is the lack of hope in ultra leftism that an excellent film maker has managed to lever his deserved reputation to promote the "Left Unity" project (which falls somewhere between Sir Richard Acland's Common Wealth Party and the political equivalent of vanity publishing).

There is no alternative to the Labour Party - and no matter how many lamps the middle class ultra left rub no such alternative appears. The political problem confronting the working class in this country, as throughout Europe, over the last generation is the political inadequacy of the wreckers and splitters in our trade unions, not the political label of the politicians we can vote for. They provoke and encourage infighting and allow the right wing to make us appear irrelevant. Unable to make a difference in the wider world, comrades retreat into squabbles they believe they can win even if no one else has a clue what on earth they are going on about.

Internecine strife between and within groups on the left will continue to get worse as long as we fail to change the script of this tale and tell them either to get on the bus or go forth and multiple. So what do we do? We don't just say sloganise. Wherever you are, working or unemployed, you can organise collectively to resist the ruling class offensive as best you can. We have suffered many defeats and will suffer more if the ultra left have their wrecking ways.

Lives are being ruined - and ended - and we, who should lead the resistance, are continuing to fail since we put up with those who want to destroy us and our unity for their selfish ludicrous politics So we must rethink, regroup and redouble our efforts. Due to the wreckers, some may be rudderless in a storm but that is no excuse for failing to keep the boat afloat. Our trade union movement, the oldest in the world, remains the largest voluntary organisation in UK civil society by a country mile. We are not weak. We are not powerless. We need not be ineffective.

We have just got to sort out the ridiculous sects and the fantasists who divide us.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Stratford & West Ham Spring Festival: Sunday 19 May

Reminder about tomorrow's (Sunday 19 May) free festival for residents in Stratford and West Ham.

It is taking place at the Stratford Centre, Broadway, E15 12-4pm.

Main Stage
12.00-12.05pm – Welcome from Cllr Freda Bourne
12.10-12.25pm – Ballroom taster
12.30 –12.45pm - Russian Souvenir Ensemble and the Sunshine Choir of ECC Globus
12.50-1.05pm - Portway Primary Senior Choir
1.10-1.20pm – Project G
1.25-1.45pm – Zumba
1.50-2.05pm - Carpenters Allsorts Choir
2.10-2.30pm – Caramel Rock Academy Fashion Show
2.35-2.50pm – Stratford East Poets
2.50-3.50pm – Time to Shine Talent Competition

• Cake decorating competition; Please submit your entries
on arrival between 12noon-1.30pm
• Get Growing
• Art & crafts workshops
• Children’s play
• Health MOTs
• Dance performances
• Zumba workshop
• Massage therapies
• Dr Bike - FREE bicycle check and minor repairs made
• Libraries
And much, much more"

Friday, May 17, 2013

Newham Council AGM 2013

Last night (Thursday 16 May) was the Annual General Meeting of Newham Council, held in the main hall of the historic Old Town Hall in Stratford, Newham.

This is an important formal civic meeting. The Chair and Deputy Chair of Council is elected, Committee and Executive arrangements are announced while the Overview & Scrutiny and Audit reports are published.

At the beginning pupils from Selwyn Primary school had entertained guests with music (who had learnt to play under the Council "Every Child A Musician" programme"). 

The Newham Mayor, Sir Robins Wales then thanked the retiring Council head of regeneration, Clive Dutton and the 2012 Newham Young Mayor, Abraham Male.

Robin in his speech attacked the savage government cuts  that have affected our residents far more than the wealthy parts of London. The bedroom tax targets the poorest members of our society.
While millionaires nationally get a tax cut, government policies will see £13 million taken out of Newham people’s pockets in this financial year against the backdrop of a cut of a third of the Council’s budget over the last three years.

Robin believes that we must build resilience amongst Newham Residents not only to off set the cuts but to build a local society that is self reliant and more resilient. Check out his speech to the AGM here.

After the meeting there was a reception in the former West Ham Council chamber on the ground floor of the old Town Hall.

Christian Wolmer 4 London Labour Mayor?

Picture is of Christian Wolmer speaking to West Ham Labour Party General Committee last month.  We usually have a guest political speaker at every meeting to which we invite all members to attend.

Christian is well known as a transport expert but he also disclosed that he use to work for the Housing Charity Shelter.

He is one of the first Labour Party members to openly admit to wanting to be the Labour Party candidate for London Mayor in 2016.

He gave what I thought was a very competent speech about his vision for London and handled questions from members present quite well. He says he is "not a politician" which he believes could mean that he will get wider public support. He did however use (effectively) the old political technique of deflecting difficult questions by asking the questioner "what do they think is the solution?".

I am probably biased but I thought his comments about housing were more interesting than that on transport, as important as this issue is to congested London. Yet, I've looked (briefly) at his website tonight to remind me what he said about housing but can't find anything.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Unions Together Political School - apply now for Sept 2013 course

This video is from the organisation representing trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party called "Unions Together". Who have been leading a campaign to make politics more representative and encourage more working people to become Councillors and MP's. You may recognise one or two of the folk mentioned. I posted previously on this excellent course here.

"Our politics needs to change.

Of the MPs in Parliament at the moment:
a quarter went to Oxford or Cambridge
86 MPs used to be lawyers
156 MPs used to work in business
90 MPs used to work in politics
only 25 MPs used to work in manual jobs
fewer than 1 in 4 MPs are women.

That's why unionstogether is working to make our politicians more representative.

We are running a political school to open up politics to more people.

The unionstogether political school ran for the first time in 2012. It was set up to strengthen the link between union members and the Labour Party. If you want to use your skills as a union activist – skills like campaigning, negotiating and representing people – in your community, then this is the course for you.

The political school is an important part of making sure trade unionists are at the heart of the Party, making sure that the voices of working people continue to be heard in the Party that was founded out of the trade union movement.

The course is designed for people who are looking at different ways they could get substantially more involved.

It’s not an entry-level course about how politics and the Labour Party works. But it is for people who want to get politically involved in different ways. We’ll show you different ways you could use your union rep skills to represent your community now or in the future – as a Councillor, or even a Member of Parliament.

The next political school will begin in September 2013, with a residential weekend course, and applications are open until June 10th.

The course is primarily for people who are members of one of the affiliated trade unions that are part of unionstogether. If you are unsure if your union is affiliated to the Labour Party then you can check here. If you are a member of a union, but not a unionstogether union, and you want to apply for this course, then please do contact us".

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My First Boris Bike Ride

Off message but today I finally did it - and after months of faffing around I bought a helmet and cycle clips then hired a Barclay (Boris) bike and rode from Holborn to London Liverpool Street station.

This is the London cycle sharing scheme. 

Of course they should be called "Ken's Bikes" since it was actually the idea of London Labour Mayor Ken Livingstone in 2007. Like a lot of Ken's ideas - Boris nicked them.

It took me about 20 minutes to work out how to log in and release a bike. The instructions on docking stations for first time users are pretty rubbish. Luckily for me some helpful staff were about relocating bikes. You have to set up a charge with your credit card and get a receipt then you have to reinsert your credit card to get a slip with an unlocking code. Once you know what you are doing then it is quite simple.You can order a key online to make things quicker.

The bike itself is pretty easy to ride and feels surprisingly light considering it is quite a big bike. The gears need a little getting use to but it is stable and being high off the ground gives you confidence. The front carrier basket is rather small but its better to store stuff here rather than a rucssack on your back. If you are not use to cycling in London it would be best for you to try out in quiet streets and at quiet times to get use to the bike before hitting the high road in peak traffic. 

I was on the whole, well impressed and will definitely give this mode of transport a try in coming months. Tomorrow I will be going to Mordon and may be able to cycle some of the way back to Islington.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

UNISON NEC Elections: still 10 days of voting to go!!!

The biannual postal ballot elections for UNISON NEC is still on until May 24th.

If you haven't already voted (and the great majority of UNISON members will have not voted) you still have the chance to vote for the forces of light and progress such as my Community Colleague Isobel McVicar.  Have a look at this site for recommendations. 

So check out the pile of post in the kitchen drawer that you haven't got around to sorting out yet. If you did not receive a ballot paper ring UNISON direct on 0845 355 0845.

Monday, May 13, 2013

"Chavs", "lazy thinking" and Pension investments into Social Housing

A couple of weeks ago Pension Weekly published this useful article on "The risks and rewards of social housing".

I've been a pension trustee (of sorts) for about 16 years and during this time I have asked various property fund managers and professional advisers "why don't we invest in social housing?"

To which I have had a number of different replies, most of which have not been that convincing to be honest.

Why is there this apparent mismatch between  social housing providers who say that there is not enough investment available for them to build while pension funds say there is inadequate opportunities to invest in such long term stable investments linked to inflation?

Usually the first response from a fund manager to my question is a blank look, followed by a little bit of waffle about how their current property portfolio is so good then saying this is a "very good question" and that they will speak to their people and get back to me (they don't).

However, over the years I have been told that there is a "reputational risk" if a pension fund invests in social housing since the fund agents may have to evict residents for non payment of rent etc. Well, Councils for example already evict tenants for non payment of rent up and down the country yet they still run pension schemes?

At a drinks reception after a pension conference (I admit not a reliable source for information) I was told by a property fund manager that  no one invests in social housing because of the risk that "chavs" would turn up at their posh City HQ demanding that they fix their leaking central heating!

Only once or twice have I heard the argument that the return from investing in social housing is not good enough compared to other asset classes.  Now this is a real argument but rather odd since pension funds normally invest in a range of investments with variable returns in order to spread risk. I also understand that the yields from bonds issued from housing associations are far greater than gilts or other bonds?

I am also aware that it may be possible to get a greater possible return from an investment by a pension fund if it was able to share in the capital appreciation of new build social housing stock? Obviously the funds would have to take more risk to get this return but I am informed that it is risk that is currently putting off existing social landlords from making new investments. So why can't Councils and Housing Associations share this development risk with pension funds?

I suspect that the real problem is that property fund managers and advisers are use to what they know. One adviser told me that the excuses put forward by such managers is just "lazy thinking". They are experienced in investing in shiny new retail parks, hotels and warehouses. Investing in Social Housing is outside their comfort blanket. Also Housing Associations are not use to sharing the capital appreciation of their assets either.

We need to sort this out. In other countries I understand that pension funds invest in social housing as a matter of course. They make decent money for their beneficiaries and they build affordable homes for rent. Kick starting the economy with new construction starts is another important consideration you would think. How often do we get a possible win-win-win on such a question?

Reminder: Trident Debate tomorrow (Tuesday 14 May)

Tomorrow's Newham Compass/Fabians debate on Trident "What it for?".

Labour NEC member Luke Akehurst will be debating with Dr Kate Hudson from CND.

7.30pm Tuesday 14 May at the West Ham Supporters' Club (which is next door to the football stadium). Nearest tube Upton Park.

It is free to attend but a donation towards the cost of room would be appreciated.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

We don't do politics in this house...

I remember last year canvassing for the Labour Party and being told by one person when I knocked at their door "we don't do politics in this house".  Even though she had young children playing in her garden. I'm afraid I made a rather flippant response "that's OK its not compulsory" to which she made no response but was unlikely to have made her change her mind about the importance of "politics".

Last night I spoke to an old friend who had recently been rushed into hospital following a suspected heart attack. He spent 2 days at the hospital before being discharged and whilst he praised the clinical care and support he received from staff, he was in a mixed sex ward which made him feel very uncomfortable. Also some patients in the ward were suffering from dementia and kept him awake for the entire stay because they were constantly calling out for help and crying.

To me, having a health service that is inadequately resourced is "political". Elected governments can choose how much they spend on health services, what outcomes they want and how they pay for it.

How do we get this message over to those who don't "get" this is politics?

Picture is the flag of German Pirate Party (I suppose that I could have used UKIP flag).

West Ham Labour Party European Parliament Hustings 28 May

In June, Labour Party members across London will be asked to vote to preference six candidates to stand for Labour in the 2014 European Parliament elections. To help you decide, West Ham Labour Party will be hosting a hustings event where you will get an opportunity to meet and question all of the candidates.

West Ham Labour  Party with sponsorship by London UNISON Labour Link presents:

The London Labour Party Euro Hustings
Tuesday 28 May
7.30pm at Vicarage Lane Community Centre, Govier Close, Stratford, E15 4HW 

All Labour Party members and affiliates are welcome. Venue only a few minutes walk from Stratford Town Centre.

At the event we will also be hosting The ULTIMATE EURO QUIZ a Raffle and Auction. A drinks bar and nibbles will be available.

Best wishes

David Christie
West Ham Vice Chair Membership