Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Eastenders and cowardly terrorists

Just heard some good news that a mate and East London Housing UNISON colleague, his family and friends staying at the Sousse resort in Tunisia were in a different hotel and unharmed in the recent cowardly massacre. They have though still decided to stay and finish their holiday. Not sure I would do the same but respect to them ‪#‎eastenders‬

Changing London...Discussion event Thursday July 2nd 8pm Forest Gate

Newham's youngest Councillor, Seyi Akiwowo, asked, me to give this event "a shout".

"Dear Friends

Forest Gate North Labour is hosting a 'Changing London' event on Thursday 2nd July from 8-9.30pm
at Coffee7, Sebert Road (opposite Forest Gate Station)

Are you concerned about ever-increasing inequality in London?

Do you want to play your part in influencing the candidates for London Mayor?

Then please join us and the authors of 'Changing London' (described as 'a rough guide for the next Mayor of London' with 'radical but practical ideas') in an interactive discussion to share ideas and suggestions, practical or symbolic, on how to tackle inequality.

We’ll put the best ideas in a letter for candidates to sign up to.

This is your chance to put inequality on the Mayoral election agenda and raise issues you think are important for a better London.

Labour party members, friends, supporters and hangers-on are all warmly welcome, so please bring them along / share the attached flyer".

Please RSVP to forestgatenorth@gmail.com


Changing London: a rough guide for the next London mayor can be ordered direct from the publishers: paperback £9.99 inc free P&P; ebook £4.50.http://londonpublishingpartnership.co.uk/changing-london-a-rough-guide-for-the-next-london-mayor/

Monday, June 29, 2015

Bevan's Dreamers to Builders: 5 July 1945 Anniversary Tee-shirt by Philosophy Football

It has been a gap since last advert but another great tee-shirt from Philosophy Football. This time to honour the socialist wordsmith, Aneurin Bevan and the Labour Government of 1945. This is what democratic principled political power can deliver.

"We have been the dreamers. We have been the sufferers. And now we are the builders." Aneurin Bevan, 1945

LAUNCH OFFER £5 OFF JUST £17.99. Usual price £22.99 thereafter.

70 years ago, 5 July 1945 Labour achieved arguably its greatest election landslide ever. In a momentous upset the people while lauding Churchill for his war-premiership turned to Attlee to win the peace. Bevan's three line philosophy summed up what was about to be achieved. The welfare state established, an NHS created, a massive public housing programme, comprehensive education, the railways and other public utilities nationalised. A post-war settlement that lasted until 1979, whatever happened to that politics of hope?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Reflections on UNISON National Delegate Conference 2015.

It's now been over a week since the end of UNISON National Delegate Conference (NDC)  in Glasgow and I have just about recovered from the traditional post conference lergy.

This is what happens after being locked up for 4 days in what is really a very large shed, with dodgy air conditioning and thousands of other people.

NDC is one of the largest trade union events in the world. It was announced at conference that there was over 3000 delegates and visitors. The largest number ever registered which is interesting considering the challenges that unions, especially in the public sector face.

There are my personal views and reflections of what I actually think was one of the most successful UNISON conferences I have been to even though of course I have just a few little moans.

I was there as an elected member of the UNISON National Executive Council for Community (Housing Association and Voluntary Sector). My region Greater London, had over 200 delegates and my Branch, Housing Associations, had 4 delegates and had 3 ordinary and one emergency motion accepted for conference.

Two of our delegates managed to speak during conference and the other two tried a number of times but were knocked out by other delegates moving points of order to push conference business on. Most UNISON branches do not send any motions to conferences nor do they have any delegates speaking. So our branch still did well to represent the views of our rank and file members but we need to think again how we arrange speakers in conference to try and make sure that important debates are not closed down too early simply because some activists want their pet motions to be heard.

I admit to be a conference junkie and enjoyed reading all the flyers and the newsletters and listening to all the debates, even to those who try to explain how the revolution and a land of milk and honey is just around the corner, if only we demanded a "general strike". If only it was so simple.

There was also some amusing calls for unity by those who then went on to attack the unions lay leadership, our national officers, the Labour Party and uncle Tom Cobley.

Others appear to not realise that Labour has been out of Government since 2010 and that the Tories were actually re-elected in May for another 5 years.

Instead of complaining constantly that the Labour Party is not going to be the 5th International, we should be making sure that our members are supported and encouraged to further our union aims and values within our own political wing.

The vast majority of speakers and debates were fantastic and UNISON should be very proud of its delegates and their informed, intelligent and often witty contributions about the great issues of the day.

There is a genuine debate to be had about the future direction of the union and how we support and protect our members and strive for change. I feel confident that we can win battles if we choose carefully and don't seek out cliffs to march over in search of more "glorious defeats".

Our General Secretary, Dave Prentis, made it clear that we were prepared to take on the Government. We survived 2010 and we will survive 2015. He promised to increase number of stewards, treble the number of fighting fund organisers, double our legal funds and take a national lead in campaigning and protest.

We also had fantastic international speakers and fringe events.  Brilliant stalls and exhibitions in the UNISON zone. We even had our own demo and lobby outside Glasgow City Hall in support of sacked SECC UNISON steward Robert O'Donnell and striking Glasgow Homeless caseworkers.

I chaired a fringe on the Local Government Pension Scheme and spoke twice as a NEC member. Firstly to move the composite on Pensions on their behalf and then in support of the re-prioritised composite on Housing. Both composites had motions from my branch incorporated in them. Last year none of the motions I was going to speak upon came up so I did not speak. Such is life.

I thought my fellow NEC trustee on the UNISON staff pension fund, Lucia McKee, was one of our great lay Presidents and chair of conference. Lucia was fair minded but took no nonsense and was a good humoured but to the point champion of conference. I am a cynic about some things at times but am so proud that UNISON continues to grow its activists and show time and time again that genuine working class women and men can prove to be great leaders of our union.

At the end of conference the new NEC met for the first time and we elected our President for the year, former school meals cook and long time Labour Councillor, Wendy Nichols. London Ambulance Service Branch secretary, Eric Roberts, is now the senior Vice President and West Mids, Carol Sewell, was also elected as the new Vice President.

I eventually got home in London just before midnight and have spent the last week since largely coughing and spluttering with conference lergy. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Red Line Voting gets Green light to Save Planet, Respect Human Rights and Stop Fat Cats

I was really pleased to take part in the debate and vote in favour of the AMNT's Red Lines initiative which was approved at our summer conference on Wednesday this week. They cover a wide range of environmental, social and corporate governance issues.

Red Line Voting empowers pension trustees to make responsible investing a reality and will direct fund managers to oppose poor governance practise in companies where failure poses a risk to its shareholders.

Trustees bodies will be able to instruct fund managers to follow all Red Lines en bloc or a sub section.  It should not cost the scheme for doing so. Fund managers will have to comply with these instructions or explain why not and then run the risk of being sacked by trustees.

On environmental Red Lines the AMNT  worked with Carbon Disclosure Project and will be urging pension schemes to adopt them as they believe it would take climate change up the UK corporate agenda.

On social issues the Red Lines include trade union recognition, race equality, gender equality, commitment to equality monitoring and publishing the data, that companies should have a plan to introduce the Living Wage, and get rid of zero hours contracts.

On governance there will be a vote against the remuneration policy if any director is paid more than 100 times the average pay in that company’s UK workforce. Also on governance companies should have a tax policy stating what their tax practises are.

The AMNT are now planning to launch Red Line Voting in Autumn, in time for the 2016 voting season. They have have worked closely with UKSIF on the development of these Red Lines and major fund managers are already preparing to implement Red Line Voting instructions.

The big campaign now is to persuade pension schemes to adopt Red Line Voting, particularly those in pooled funds. Up to now investors in pooled funds were in practise unable to direct the engagement and voting on the shares associated with their investments. Red Line Voting gets round this. Fund managers may receive dozens of Red Line Voting instructions, but they are all the same instructions so they can then allocate votes pro rata. Since more than £2-trillion of assets under management in the UK are in pooled funds this could have a significant impact.

The AMNT has been granted £75,000 by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable trust over two years to develop and launch this initiative.

Red Line Voting is a revolutionary concept. I agree with "Responsible Investment" magazine that this is "a major evolution in UK Pension funds" but think "Engaged Investor" got it right when they called it "Power to the People: the new power for trustees to control fat cat behaviour".

Many people have been involved in the AMNT project on Red Lines but special mention to its Co Chair Janice Turner, who thought it up and was the driving force behind it and Co Chair, Barry Parr and Committee member, Bill Trythall. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Voting Systems: Newham Compass debate 1 July 2015

A topical subject again after May 7. I suspect that those of us who support a change in "first past the post" missed the boat during the AV referendum and we are now stuck with the current system for at least the next 5 years.

Yet it is important that the debate continues. One of the many difficulties is getting people who support change to agree what is the best (or least worse) alternative. Party lists system for example, are in my view, worse than FPTP.

I will have to give my apologies due to clash with UNISON event. It would be interesting to hear Francis and Rachel speak but it's a pity that there is no speaker who supports FPTP (is Red Tel available?)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Generation Rent Rip Off: Private rents in UK double the European average

This article from National Housing Federation shows that not only are rents in UK the most expensive but double the European average.

A staggering 40% of income is spent on rent compared to 28% European average.

This means that workers have less money to save for a deposit and explains why the housing benefit bill is rocketing.

Germany has the most people privately renting and their average is only 25%.

Solution? We need to increase supply by building more homes of all tenures and introduce rent controls.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

#uNDC15 Housing Composite

"President, Conference, John Gray, National Executive Committee speaking in favour of Composite F on Housing on behalf of the NEC

Conference, in that wonderful East London expression, it is the “bleedin’ obvious”, that housing is a key issue for our union.

Many of you here today, like me, work for housing organisations. So it has on the a direct impact on the terms and conditions of many members but all of us, regardless of whether we rent or buy, have to have somewhere to live, and lay down our hat.

So in a time of rapid change in the sector and a national housing crisis in terms of demand, quality, affordability and supply, as a union, we must to have a compelling and convincing political and campaigning strategy.

This strategy must have as a central plank the simple truth that we have not been building enough homes. For the last 5 years we have been building less that than half the homes we need to meet supply. But in truth, undersupply has been a growing problem for decades.

We must not only make the case for more and better homes but hammer the point to all political parties, that the only way to meet need is for the resumption of the post war political consensus, that it is the responsibility of the state to ensure that its people are decently housed.

It is hard to believe, conference, but in even my lifetime the Conservative Party, the tories, used to compete with Labour on who could build the most Council homes and who would charge the lowest rents.

To build quality homes that people can afford needs money and it needs subsidy. You need money up front to pay for it and you need a subsidy to make it affordable if you are on a low income. This is an unquestionable truth and therefore so is the need for a progressive system of taxation to pay for it.

Even after the disaster of May 7, this is not totally pie in the sky. Tory voters complain that their adult children cannot afford to leave the family home, that if they rent there is no money left over to save for a deposit. They know that expensive, insecure short term lets destroys communities and damages our economy. We must continue to press the national interest case for more and cheaper homes

Conference, the Composite sets out a comprehensive programme and strategy of campaign work which the NEC and this union is committed to campaign around, let me reiterate them - an increase in the supply of housing, particularly social housing; improving the quality of existing homes; effective regulation in the private rented sector; campaigning for a “living rent” – based on a system of rent controls alongside measures including landlord regulation and licensing, more secure tenancy agreements, and long-term solutions to welfare reform, including abolishing the hated bedroom tax.

Conference, please support this composite"

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Assaults on Housing staff survey: Why health & safety is a trade union matter

My grown up job is a housing officer in East London. It was about 10 years ago during an eviction in a flat which had been taken over by violent criminals that I was assured by one of them that he would come back and put an "axe in my F......... head".

Thankfully such direct threats of violence against housing staff doing their job are rare - but they do happen.

Well done to Inside Housing for their latest annual surveys of assaults and abuse on housing workers.  They report some horrific stories and accounts of at best incompetent or at worse callous responses by some employers.

After a 22% increase last year there is a welcome 3% decrease this year. However, it is pretty clear that there is a massive problem with under reporting of incidents.

I was quoted in the article "John Gray, who represents housing staff (they should have referred to my branch role not NEC) of Unison, says this issue is often raised by members of the union. ‘There’s a cultural problem,’ he says. ‘Staff feel that if they put a complaint in about a resident, the organisation is so pro-resident they would get the blame for causing the problem.’ This, he points out, is not the way to keep staff – or tenants - safe. If a resident is threatening staff, it is a good bet they are also threatening their neighbours.

And candid assessments by housing professionals cast some doubt on the reliability of the figures supplied by social landlords who told us they had no incidents of verbal or physical abuse to report this year. ‘There’s nowhere where it’s zero,’ is Mr Gray from Unison’s assessment. ‘Zero means that stuff is not being reported.’

I had quite a long interview with Inside Housing. I also mentioned that Housing organisations that report little or no assaults, or do not collect data, are clearly failing in their legal duty to protect staff and putting themselves and senior managers at risk of criminal prosecution. 

Organisations and senior managers face unlimited personal fines and imprisonment for failing to have an effective health and safety management system in place. A failure to properly record, investigate and respond to assaults which is later linked to a death or serious injury will (and should) result in the risk of jail for the CEO and senior management team. 

The best response to violence at work is trade union recognition and a partnership approach by employers and workers towards health and safety. Research quoted here by UNISON has shown that having trade union safety representation can cut workplace deaths and accidents by up to 50%.  

It is better to work together to prevent the problem occurring in the first place than letting workers be harmed then punishing those who allowed it to happen. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

#uNDC15 Are you a first time or lone delegate? If so, join us for lunch

Back to last weeks UNISON conference.  I thought this initiative by London Region on the Tuesday lunchtime was fantastic.

Our London regional delegation is over 200 but many delegates were there for the first time or a lone branch delegate.

The Regional lay leadership and staff invited these delegates to an informal lunch and chat.

It was really well attended and I hope we made people think they were made welcome and part of the wider delegation.

Lets do this every year. Hat tip photo Rita  Conneely.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

East London Labour Mayoral Hustings: #YesWeKhan

This afternoon there was a London Labour Party Mayoral candidate hustings at the historic Old Town Hall in Stratford, East London 

West Ham MP, Lyn Brown, local Councillors and other Party supporters held a stall outside on behalf of candidate, Sadiq Khan and encouraged local Labour voters to sign up and become "Party Supporters" for only £3. 

I had volunteered with local West Ham CLP members to help out with the registration of people at the door coming to the event (and sell them raffle tickets - see picture of the dynamic trio with back drop of Keir Hardie statute, who was elected as the first ever Labour MP in this same town hall in 1892). 

All six Labour mayoral candidates were present. The newly elected Tower Hamlets Executive Mayor, John Biggs, chaired the meeting. 

Since I was on the door I missed the beginning of the hustings and then left to go back after 30 minutes. My initial thoughts were that the panel all looked a little nervous and very serious. 

Diane Abbot spoke first and said she should be the candidate since due to her TV and media work people all over London know her and unlike former ministers, she also has the personality to win a London Mayoral election. 

Gareth Thomas said he was the only outer London Labour politician standing, who also knows how to fight these marginal seats and how to win for Labour in outer London. He is a street fighter while his opponents all come from safe inner London seats. 

Sadiq Khan said he wanted to be someone who having been born and bred in a London council estate and was the son of a London bus driver, wants to be the candidate who will represents all of London. 

David Lammy made clear that he wanted be the young, active and independent of party candidate who could defeat Zac Goldsmith. 

Tessa Jowell  compared herself to Hillary Clinton, and pointed out that if she win, she will be the youngest ever female mayor of London (think about it).

After 30 minutes I went back to the front door to let another member of the registration team go and listen. I understand things got a little heated later on with questions about building on the Green belt, the number of social housing homes in the Olympic Park and the relaxation of gambling laws.  

Talking to people as they left it seemed that they did learn from and enjoy this event. 

Nuf said. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Why Nationwide Building Society has some pretty rubbish governance

I spent today recovering from UNISON conference and trying to catch up on my post and emails.

I was completely ticked off when I responded to the ballot papers I had received while away for the Nationwide AGM next month. This is the biggest mutually owned building society in the world with some 14 million members.

The candidates for election or re-election to its Board appear to be entirely white, but only 2 of them are women. There are no employee or member representatives on the Board and as far as I can see in a move reminiscent of North Korea, only "approved" candidates had been allowed to stand and fill positions. I pointed out on the Nationwide AGM survey and twitter that they appear to have "a white middle class mates club" running this hugely important mutually owned organisation,

There appears to be 13 directors on the Board but only photos of 11 on the website. So I am unclear about the diversity of the entire Board.

Elsewhere in the annual report they claim that they expect by July 2015 to have 25% of women on Board and "33% of the entire director population (divisional directors and above) to be female and 8–15% of the entire director population to be Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) by 2020".  Which until they explain more about divisional directors is entirely meaningless and would I think suggest that they can fulfill their target on "BAME" by only including less senior staff.

The final thing that drove up the blood pressure was reading the report on director remuneration (which was largely complete gobbledygook) and seeing that  the CEO's total pay had gone up from £2,571,000 in 2013/2014 to an unbelievable £3,278,000 in 2014/2015. An increase of over £700,000 in one year. Since 2009/10 it has over doubled from £1,539,000

This is just shocking and really disappointing. I have been a member of the Nationwide since a child. I hope that other members will like me vote against the annual report and the proposed directors (I withheld my vote on the female candidates).

What a mess the mutual movement is in when even the Nationwide acts as badly as their private sector counterparts.

Update: A member of the Building Societies Members Associations has pointed out that they have an article on their website here on Nationwide.

All about "Ratchet, Ratchet & Bingo’" HIgh Pay Event on Remuneration Consultancy

This looks really interesting but I have a clash on Wednesday

"Event: Is Remuneration Consultancy Really Independent?

Wednesday 24th June
12:30 – 14:00
High Pay Centre, 32-36 Loman Street, London SE1 0EH

Remuneration consultants are at the heart of the executive pay setting process. According to the Financial Times, “One of the root causes of the executive compensation madness is the cottage industry of ‘comp consultants’, also described by Warren Buffet as ‘Ratchet, Ratchet & Bingo’”.

Our new report examines their commercial relationships to the companies they advise and the potential for conflicts of interest in the pay setting process. It looks at the additional services provided by remuneration companies in this context.

Report author Paul Marsland will present on his findings and will be joined by additional panellists to answer questions and discuss the report.

Lunch will be served. This event is free and open to the public, but RSVPs are essential. Please email natalia.raha@highpaycentre.org to reserve your place".

#uNDC15 - Branch support for composite on Pensions

More stuff from UNISON conference. I moved the Pensions Composite on Wednesday and then Doreen was one of the supportive speakers. Our original branch motion on pensions was one of those composited. It is all a bit confusing to those outside the union bubble but welcome to my world. 

"President, Conference. Doreen Davies, Greater London Housing Association Branch speaking in favour of Composite D.

Conference, campaigning for decent pensions, was one of the major reasons for the birth of trade unions in the public sector. The reasons why our trade union ancestors fought for pensions are exactly the same reasons as today.

Decent Pensions are and have always been expensive and the simple truth is unless we can make our employer pay enough money into it then we will end up living in poverty when we grow old.

What we now find is that this Tory government, in order to please its friends and financiers in the City of London, are trying to not only destroy the existing pensions built up by our members but at the same time as they are trying to destroy our pension futures by allowing employers to pay peanuts into our pensions.

Conference, be scared, be very, very scared. There is an army of thieves out there actively planning to cheat you out of your money. On holidays in Spain this summer don’t be surprised if you find yourself being lured into a meeting with someone not to discuss timeshare but how they are going to “liberate” your pension.

Conference, we cannot trust the City of London to look after out interests. Do you remember past miss-selling frauds of personal pensions, endowments and the current the loan insurance scandal.

You cannot trust this Government either to look after your interests. Remember a majority of money to fund the Conservative Party comes from City interests and hedge funds who have been rubbing their hands in glee at recent changes and will be profiteering at your expense. .

Conference, you can only rely on your union to protect you and your interests. Conference, please support this motion today but next week, conference, support campaign to save your pension and for a decent and safe pension for all. Thank you. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

#uNDC15 "Composite D Pensions"

"Chair, Conference, John Gray, National Executive Member, moving Composite D on Pensions on behalf of the NEC

Conference, A decent and safe pension in retirement is vital to ensure people are able to live with dignity into their old age.

This motion highlights some of the current pension pitfalls and dangers you face and what we have to do to make sure people have enough money to live on, in their retirement.

The first danger area is the new so called “right” to cash in your pension pot.

Pensions were hard fought for in this country and successive governments rewarded employers and workers who saved into a pension with significant tax breaks - this is because saving for retirement rather than spending now, is often a hard choice - especially when making ends meet is hard enough day by day.

Until the recent Tory changes, you could not have more than 25% of your pension in a lump sum, since its main purpose is to save for security in retirement.

But now, under new legislation, from April this year, anyone over 55 can convert up to 100% of their pensions into cash.

Sounds tempting doesn’t it? But Conference there are a series of traps designed to rob you and your family of security in retirement. UNISON is deeply concerned about this development.

One of the first questions we have to ask is who really benefits?

Well certainly the government, as it will be able to get much more tax revenue from a one-off lump sum – up to a whopping 75 per cent of the pension pot could be taxable and much of that could be at the higher tax rate. A nice little earner for the George Osborne certainly.

This so called “pension freedom” to be robbed applies to what is called defined contribution schemes - which an increasing number of our members are in - BUT the majority of our members, who are in defined benefit schemes such as the LGPS could also withdraw their money from their current scheme and transfer it into an inferior and insecure scheme just to access this new ability to cash it in.

This would mean exchanging a state guaranteed, inflation proofed income and all associated benefits (such as life assurance, ill health and dependants pension) for a taxable insecure lump sum - swapping security for insecurity in retirement. For the vast majority of people this is a bad deal.

But the dangers don’t stop there.

Research suggests there may be real pressure for people to sacrifice their security for others. There is the real risk of vulnerable pensioners being coerced into cashing in their pension pots for someone else’s financial gain or greed

Let us also make no mistake that Pension scammers and fraudsters are jumping up and down with joy at this new measure – the unwary will find their pension has been reduced by extortionate one off charges, annual fees and that their money is now tied up abroad or lost entirely to a scam.

And we can’t ignore that our funded occupational schemes are also themselves put at risk by this policy.

A well managed pension fund runs on the basis of expected cash in to cash out ratios. If a new wave of pensioners start cashing in their pensions then, in the short-term this will cause a significant cash flow risk to the schemes.

The government absolutely knows the risks involved which is why it has made it mandatory for independent financial advice to be taken before cashing your pension pot in; but a telephone advice line will not stop people being seduced into choices that later prove completely disastrous.

So what about the state pension and state backed auto-enrolment schemes - can we rely on them?

Research shows that the UK has one of the least adequate pensions in the whole of the EU.

17 European countries do better than us in terms of the overall risk of pensioner poverty including Romania, Latvia and Slovakia.

It is clear that, as a minimum, the rate of state pension should be no less than the official level of poverty.

Auto enrolment is a welcome step forward in encouraging employers and workers to save towards their retirement but while the minimum employer rate of contribution remains so low it will not do nearly enough to guarantee an adequate retirement income.

That is why, as the motion sets out, we must work with the all relevant bodies to campaign for an urgent increase in minimum employer contributions, combined with a state pension at least equal to the official poverty level of £175 per week, and why we must organise a member information campaign explaining the dangers of the new rights to be robbed

Conference I move (hat tip photo Rab Smith)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

#uNDC Motion 36 Care of Older People

President, Conference, Mitsy Harmon, Greater London Housing Association branch speaking in favour of motion 36 as amended.

Conference, I have worked as a Care worker in a 24/7 residential project in East London for many years, caring for mainly older people who have severe physical and mental disabilities. As well as working shifts, I am also studying to be a registered nurse.

Conference, I welcome this motion. Not only as a care worker, who sees first hand my clients suffering, when they are stuck in the middle of a seemingly, never ending battle, between local authorities and health trusts, about what is social care, what is medical care and who pays for what.

I also welcome it as a carer on a low wage for its call to defend and rebuild collective bargaining , to level up our terms and conditions and to root out abusive employment practices, such as zero hour contracts.

Conference, we must never forget that collective bargaining is for trade unionists, the real reason for our existence. It is only way that care workers will be able to achieve a fair wage and equitable terms and conditions.

Finally conference, we must rescue our sector from the sharks and the thieves who seek to profit, not only from our labour but from the care given to our clients. Those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

It is fundamentally wrong to take profits for the care of the elderly and the vulnerable. We must fight and campaign for the reintroduction of accountable care services, based on the principle of a public service ethos and stop the ripping off of those who receive care and those who care.

Conference, please support the motion.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

#uNDC15 UNISON Greater London Regional delegation meeting

UNISON London branches have sent over 200 delegates to Conference.

At a packed regional delegation meeting on Monday evening, our elected regional reps Yvonne Green and Phoebe Watkins, briefed delegates on what to expect.

On Thursday evening all delegates were encouraged to attend a demonstration outside Glasgow Council City Hall in protest against the dismissal of UNISON steward, Robert O'Donnell, at the SECC (the conference centre we are using in Glasgow) and in support of the 74 UNISON members working as homeless case officers, who are in their eleventh week of strike action.

Regional Secretary, Linda Perks and deputy convener, Conroy Lawrence also chipped in with advice about staff conference team, scanning of credentials and card votes.  The London regional social takes place today (Wednesday) at 8.30pm in the Thistle Hotel, Cambridgeshire Street.

Our London Standing orders rep, Jim Manfield, made a brave attempt at explaining the mysterious world of SOC.

Publicity officer Lyn Bentley asked for new delegates to tell her what are their impressions and send her stories to publish in our daily regional conference "London Calling" newsletter.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

#uNEC15 UNISON LGPS Reform Campaign fringe

Picture of UNISON Capital Stewardship officer, Colin Meech, at last nights fringe "Why Governance and Economics Are Now Critical for Members".  This took place at the end of Local Government Conference and the eve of National delegate conference.

I chaired the meeting and started by apologising for my voice since I have started the conference with a cold. Normally we all get colds by the end of conference.

Colin began by pointing out that all UK Pensions funds don't know how much they cost. Even the Unison staff scheme doesn't. The Netherlands are the only place they do know how much they cost and this has seen costs cut by up to half.

The true costs and fees of pension schemes have been massively understated. Transport pension scheme "Railpen" estimate that some £350 million of costs had been hidden by their fund managers. The New York City 5 public pension funds found that over 10 years they had an income of $40 million but their costs were $2 billion!

The new Local Government Pension Boards have a statutory duty to ensure that funds are effective and efficient.  We cannot assume that funds are being run in your interests.  Remember that scheme members are liable for increases in costs. Employer costs are capped (13% of payroll). If this cap is exceeded by more than 2% then the LGPS will have to either increase employee contributions, cut benefits or both.

Any money that leaks out of the LGPS is money that is not available for you to have a pay rise. Each Board must have a thorough examination of every penny of costs. If you reduce costs you increase your income.

Costs are critical. Don't forget that most Tory Party funding is from the City of London.

In the Q&A Colin was asked how to stop cronies of Council managers being appointed to a Pension Board? He said if the selection process was unfair then local branches must make a complaint  first to the local Board, then to the National Advisory board and ultimately to the DCLG.  Once a Board is established it is supposed to be independent of the administering authority.

Boards should also pick who chairs meetings. This should be discussed at the first meeting of a Board.

Need to address structural problems now. All costs have to be made transparent so you can see what efficiencies there are and we must look again at the merger of the 89 funds. This was blocked in the run up to the General election. However, the Tories now want to save money.

Remember that things that get seen, get measured. Things that are hidden are not. Now we can use the example of Holland who have transparent pensions.

I made a point in response to a question about whether the LGPS is sustainable, that pensions are expensive and cost money. If you want to have a decent pension when you retire then whether you work in the public or private sector, your employer is going to have to put an significant amount of money into a pension plan for you. If they don't then you will retire in poverty.

A final question was about whether scale and being managed in-house saved money. Colin confirmed that the best performing pension funds tend to be the largest and that the funds with the lowest costs are the large ones who manage the money in house and do not employ expensive external managers.

The average LGPS pension fund costs £141 per member. The West Yorkshire fund only costs £26 per member. You have to look at cost and stop everyone having a slice of your pie.

After the fringe I had to rush off to the London regional meeting. 

UNISON National Delegate Conference 2015 - opens

UNISON President Lucia McKeever has just opened our National Delegate Conference which this year takes place in Glasgow.

This is our Union's AGM and "Parliament" which decides rules, finances and policy for the forthcoming year.

There are around 2,000 delegates and visitors from all over the United Kingdom and a number of international guests.

I am here as the UNISON National Executive Committee member for Community (members who work for Housing Associations or the voluntary sector).

As usual I will try and post on as many speeches, fringes and events as possible. Sometimes these posts may not be in strict date or time order.

Personal opinion as always.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Red Dawn for London?: Mayoral Hustings - Stratford Old Town Hall, June 21

"In a few weeks’ time, we will be casting our votes for who will be the Labour candidate for Mayor of London.

Before voting begins, you will have a chance be put the candidates to the test in hustings being held across London.

This is your chance to put your questions to the candidates and hear them make their case for why they want to lead our party in London. Everyone is welcome, so feel free to bring friends along -- they don’t need to be a Labour member to attend, but they do need to

Places are limited, so RSVP as soon as you can

If you can’t make it along or are not able to get a place, there will be other hustings in London and we’ll send round details of these nearer the time".

book ONLINE - click here!

Sunday 21 June 2015
Old Town Hall, Stratford
29 The Broadway
London E15 4BQ

(hat tip invite London Labour Party. Picture Red Dawn at City Hall by Dan McCurry)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Ed Miliband got more votes in England in 2015 than Tony Blair got in 2005.

Yes, I know about an increase in population and low turnout in 2005 but...


Makes you think maybe it wasn't that bad...?

Hat tip Dr Éoin Clarke

The end of social housing? 10 Tory plans to finish it off

Hat tip to progressive Housing blog "Redbrick" where I have stolen their arguments about Government housing plans and put my own slant on it.  They highlight 10 problems with these plans for social housing :-
  1. "The new Affordable Homes Programme (AHP) – which precludes building for letting at social rents. 
  2. Conversions – the last AHP (which ended in March) led to 80,000 homes being built but at the cost of converting more than 80,000 existing homes from social rents to ‘Affordable Rents’. Even more conversions will be needed for the new AHP. 
  3. Right to buy sales – council starts (see above) have been vastly exceeded by sales and the gap will grow as discounts are increased. 
  4. Right to buy 2 for housing associations – like RTB1, it will see social rented homes sold and (perhaps) replaced by units at Affordable Rents. 
  5. Planning gain (section 106) – numbers of units delivered will fall as more loopholes open up, allowing obligations to be reduced or avoided completely. 
  6. Estate redevelopment – with encouragement from the housing minister, more homes will be demolished and the new units will be less affordable and fewer still will be let at social rents. 
  7. Welfare reforms – the next wave will hit social housing even harder, making it especially difficult to house larger families and pushing more low-income tenants out of their homes. 
  8. Discretionary housing payments – helping to mitigate the effects of the bedroom tax and other ‘reforms’, are being cut year-on-year. 
  9. High-value council house sales – yet-to-be-defined plans will force councils to sell off their most valuable properties as they fall vacant; if replaced, they will be with homes at Affordable Rents.
  10. (If we add the possible end of prudential borrowing to this list").
Redbrick concludes that this "starts to look like a concerted attack on social housing (and particularly on council housing)" I think if all above happens then this will effectively mean the end of social housing. High rent areas such as London will be "cleansed" of the poor first. The poor will be forced to move to low cost areas but this increase in demand which will eventually force up rents even in traditional low cost areas. One day there will be virtually no "social housing" anywhere since everywhere will be at some 80% of market rents (so called "affordable rents").

Ironically, this will also result in life long dependency on housing and state benefits for all low income workers at a massive cost to the taxpayer.

(Photo of Labour canvassers in a Tower Hamlets social housing block last month.  If these 2 and 3 bedroom flats are let at 80% market rent, then families on benefits will not be able to live here)

UNISON members - Do you want to have a say in Labour's leadership election?

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This email was sent out to UNISON APF members last week. The link in this post is not live. So if you are a member you need to find your copy and click on the link. It only takes one "click" to become a Labour Party supporter and have a vote in the Labour leadership contest (and if you work in London, the Labour Mayor candidate).

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Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Bare Necessities of Life...

A member of my UNISON branch has contacted me about a new food co-operative, he is helping to set up in a foyer in Borough, South London.

Due to harsh benefit sanctions many of the young people who live in the foyer are dependent on local food banks and donations from nearby Borough Market to survive.

The Co-op has received a £500 "start up" grant from Southwark Council to buy such bare necessities’ as food, cleaning products, shampoo etc. at a low price which we can then be sold and money reinvested in stock so that there will be a continuous and sustainable business.

The project is being led by residents who will be involved in all aspects of the co-operative. Who will gain skills around running a business which they can then use when applying for jobs.

They have a website https://thebarenecessitiesgateway.wordpress.com and twitter account @the_necessities and would appreciate any help, support and publicity.

There is a big launch on Wednesday 17 June which I will miss since it clashes with UNISON NDC conference.

I think this is a fantastic initiative and wish it well.

Of course why the 5th richest country in the world allows vulnerable young people to go hungry in the first place is another issue.

London against Austerity Conference - 4 July 2015 Islington Town Hall

No acceptance of austerity | March with Labour members

Dear <<First Name>>,
Councillors, communities and trade unionists together

GLATUC - the Greater London Association of Trade Union Councils - have called a conference to bring together trade unionists, councillors and community activists to discuss developing joint campaigning against austerity and its impact on local services.

Councillors from across London are encouraged to attend to widen discussion about how we collectively respond.

Supported by Islington Labour Group, sessions on the day will include:

  • strategies to oppose cuts to grants to the council or organisations 
  • supporting campaigns for staff pay and conditions and maintaining services 
  • maintaining and returning council services in-house 

Speakers on the day will include:
  • Islington Council leader Richard Watts
  • Islington Housing Executive Member James Murray 
  • Barnet UNISON Secretary John Burgess
  • Labour NEC local government rep Alice Perry

  • Time: 10am
  • Date: Saturday 4th July
  • Venue: Islington Town Hall
  • Tube: Highbury & Islington (Victoria/Overground) and Angel (Northern)
  • Registration page

I will be at UNISON National Labour Link Forum in Manchester on the 4th so unfortunately will miss this event. My West Ham Labour colleague, John Whitworth, is going and will be encouraging Newham Councillors and Party members to attend. Click on Link here 

Friday, June 12, 2015

John Biggs wins Tower Hamlets Mayoral contest for Labour!

Great news. Woke up this morning to find out that John Biggs is the new Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets.

Yesterday evening West Hammers were out with at least 3 teams "on the knocker" reminding supporters to vote in Lansbury ward. My team was in and around the Bloomfield Estate by the Limehouse Cut. The canvass was positive for Labour but there was clearly a large vote for the "independent" candidate, Rabina Khan. An usually large number of people who had voted declined to confirm who they had voted for - which is always a worry.

I had been cautiously optimistic during the campaign since local Labour activists I had spoken to had been on the whole, reasonably confident. Sometimes in the past they tend to be a bit of a misery (mind you usually with some cause).

The canvass tonight was pretty good humoured, energetic (lots of non lifted housing blocks to climb up and down) and included a brief fuel stop for chips. There was a mixture of well kept social housing and new private gated blocks. In one very expensive warehouse conversion we got into the flat door numbers were beamed down onto the floor (see top right of collage).

Finished off with drink (and obligatory sausage roll) at Galanisers Union in Bromley-By-Bow.

It will be interesting to see who will replace John Biggs as our local Greater London Assembly member (his current job).

Labour also won the Council by election in Stepney Green  and Sabina Akhtar was elected. Congratulations to John, Sabina and Tower Hamlets Labour Party for a magnificent victory.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What Amazon Isn't Telling You (ripping off its workers, evading taxes and its bosses lining their pockets)

Hi John,
On Wednesday, Amazon bosses will be schmoozing with their shareholders at the big company annual meeting. CEO Jeff Bezos will be boasting record sales. But we’ve teamed up with some Amazon workers to make sure that’s not the only story that gets told.
Will you share this video to make sure the truth behind Amazon’s sales are heard this week?

While Jeff’s lining his pockets, Amazon workers are paying the price. Their testimonies are a dismal tale of miserable working conditions, stress, poverty wages and job insecurity. With reports of aggressive anti-union tactics, Amazon workers often feel unable to speak about their treatment.
The more people that see this video, the more difficult it’ll be for Amazon to admit it’s just about making money. Amazon sees their thousands of temporary workers as disposable items. But these are people, and it’s time Amazon treated their workers fairly.
On Wednesday, a few Amazon workers are heading to the meeting in Seattle to get the truth out and demand some change. Let’s make sure their story is shared far and wide: can you watch and share the video below with your friends and family?
Lots of love,
Amazon Anonymous x
PS. You might have seen in the news: Amazon has decided that paying *some* tax in the UK might be a good idea after all. As of this month, they are aiming to pay corporation tax in the UK.
Let’s take it with a pinch of salt - and see how much they actually pay! But it’s a great sign that Amazon caves to pressure. To the thousands of us who boycotted the rotten company over the Christmas, through to the independent bookshops who are fighting back: the pressure works as long as we keep at it :)