Thursday, September 29, 2016

"Education not segregation" - West Ham Labour campaign day

No New Grammars day of action - 11am this Saturday, Forest Gate station

Hello - it's nice to be back after our enforced break over the summer. At at the request of our old new leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, we'll be kicking of with a campaign action day on education -#NoNewGrammars.

Please come and join Lyn Brown MP at our street stall outside Forest Gate station at 11am on Saturday. We'll also be delivering thank you leaflets to nearby voters following the election of Cllr Anam Islam in the Forest Gate North by-election in July. We'll be there until 12.30pm.

It would be great if you could let us know if you can join us (reply or call Anam 07402 797787 on the day.

We look forward to seeing you there and we'll be in touch with more news about campaigns and events soon.


Julianne Marriott
Vice Chair (Campaigns and Comms) West Ham CLP

t: @westhamlabour

Monday, September 26, 2016

#Lab16 "Axe the Housing Act" Fringe - 6pm Monday Holiday Inn

I will be at this fringe this evening. The Government will have to return to Parliament to pass regulations regarding the Act so it will be interesting to see what can still be done to oppose it.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Jeremy Corbyn wins: Now what.

I drove to Liverpool yesterday with two Labour Party colleagues. We were never going to get to the conference in time for the announcement of the leadership result but with smart phones we heard the result in real time. I think we talked politics for nearly the whole 5 hour journey (traffic was awful).  Not only about the immediate future of the Party but this of course dominated the conversation. Later at the London Labour Party reception and over a late meal with other activists, this was also the number one topic and I came across a wide range of different views about "what next" for the Party.

For what it is worth, this is my view. 

The Party, the PLP and the wider Labour movement have got to accept that Jeremy has won fair and square the right to stand as Prime minister at the next general election.  Some still think that the Party has made the wrong decision. That is fine, that is their democratic right. But what they have got to do now is unite around Jeremy and respect the choice of the Party.

That does not mean that that he cannot be challenged in a constructive fashion and that he does not need to raise his game as leader and widen the choice of his advisors.

But we do need to unite around him and stop fighting amongst ourselves. It will be difficult for anyone to win against the Tories at the next General election but the public hate a divided Party. Probably the only chance we have is if Jeremy can broaden his astonishing appeal from activists to voters.  I have been a long time in politics and I have never seen anything like the past 18 months. 

This is important not only because it is by winning elections that we can change society for the better but I think if the infighting and disunity continues then Labour does indeed face a threat to its continual existence. This threat is not in my view from a possible split by the "right" or the "left". One of my colleagues locked up with me yesterday in my little Skoda is Scottish (and a former PPC) and described to us the destruction of the Party north of the border. Brexit has shown us the power of poplar English nationalism.

I firmly believe that if we don't shape up and unite then Labour in our English heartlands faces a similar fate as in Scotland. To be frank, if we remain as we are, then we will deserve it.

Friday, September 23, 2016

"Brexit and the New Age of Uncertainty" - Cllr Rokhsana Fiaz speech to Newham Full Council 19th September 2016

"Brexit and the New Age of Uncertainty:  Implications, challenges and opportunities for Newham, London and our country"

"Thank you Chair for allowing me the opportunity to address colleagues at today’s Full Council.

 I’ll be talking about the implications of Brexit as I see it; and a new age of uncertainty that we have entered. Sketching out my thoughts about what kind of response we should offer as Councillors and leaders in our communities. 

It’s been a tumultuous three months since that morning when we woke up to the reality of Brexit.  

A rude interruption to the business of how we do politics in this country, which exposed deep-rooted anxieties about who we are as a nation. 

Some here may have been lukewarm about our membership of the European Union. The results in Newham certainly reflect a deep-rooted hostility to the European project in some quarters. 

The obvious point of contention for them has been the issue of the free movement of people. 

No doubt many here have overheard conversations about immigration tinged with casual or explicit racism. Though others have participated in valuable conversations about the impact free movement is having on our populations and services with sensitivity. 

Since Brexit, we’ve also observed a worrying rise in racism and xenophobia against immigrants. Only a few weeks ago, some mere 23 miles away from this chamber, a polish man was murdered in Harlow in what police believe to be a suspected hate crime in this post-Brexit period. 

In my neck of the woods, Custom House, membership of the European Union and immigration has been a motif for all sorts of ills in the minds of some of my residents: from fly-tipping, to housing shortages, lack of jobs and diminishing prosperity as they experience it. 

At a national level, the doom and gloom scenario proffered in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote has been averted. But we should not get too complacent. There remain serious risks of a recession, despite the assurances the government is giving. 

So while we’ve been watching Teresa May’s government wrangle about what form of Brexit Britain will opt for - maintaining the best possible links to European markets or going full hog with a ‘clean break option’ so that we can trade freely around the world – this all depends on whether the Europeans and the World Trade Organisation will allow either option.   

In Newham, in London and across the country we are still absorbing grave assessments of the future. In workplaces and on the streets there is a new mood of unease. 

Uncertainty is everywhere. 

Much of our current mood of uncertainty has specific causes, which Brexit has simply amplified. Some of it is due to the consequences of the 2008 financial meltdown and its effects such as zero hour contracts and the politics of austerity. 

So while we know that the future is always to some extent uncertain, following the EU referendum it feels as though our uncertainty has risen sharply. 

How then can we overcome the inertia and anxiety that results from living in uncertain times? 

Well we know that we can’t exactly anticipate the risks we face now or in the future: but we must act if as if we do in our role as civic leaders in our communities. 

In an era when the politics of uncertainty dominate – publics of varying kinds demand the right to hold decision makers to account and their judgments made publicly transparent. 

This has led to a situation where decision-makers are becoming more preoccupied with managing their own risks to their reputations as a consequence. 

And it is leading to a dangerous culture of defensiveness in politics and in government: causing a rupture in our relationships with those we serve - our constituents.  

Instead, we need new forms of leadership capable of developing a language of risk that explicitly admits the possibility of failure without this being understood as an excuse or blame-avoiding strategy. 

The new politics of uncertainty must generate legitimacy for the possibility of failure - as this opens up many opportunities to recast our relationship with our citizens. 

So my biggest hope for Newham in this post-Brexit era is that we manage to take care of each other, that we build this community further on trust, solidarity, and generosity. And we remain honest about the risks associated in a world dominated by uncertainty".

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Newham Triathlon 18 September 2016

Picture from Sunday, when fellow Newham Councillor, Terry Paul, and myself completed a self organised Triathlon (using google maps) starting and ending in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford, London.

This was not a race and there was no mad scramble and frantic quick change transitions unlike the 2014 London Excel Triathlon which we both previously took part in. It was long and tough but pretty relaxed and not competitive. The weather was perfect too.

We started off at the magnificent London Aquatics Centre in the centre of the Olympic Park. We swam there for 1.5k (30 x 50m), I did it in about 48 minutes, Terry was a bit faster. We then went on our bikes for a 40k cycle via Victoria Park, Regents Canal (too busy), the City, Embankment to Big Ben at the Houses of Parliament (which is always glorious) and then back along the CS3 route towards Barking (fast but noisy). The final stretch along the Newham Greenway was lovely. It took 2:14 and we actually did in total 41.7k.

The final part was the 10k run. We ran (slowly) up the River Lea Navigation and back along the original River Lea. We stopped to read the historical and nature signs and finished in 1:16. We started and finished together.

We were overall pretty slow but I enjoyed it far more than in 2014. We did seriously even think of stopping off for a coffee at Big Ben (and perhaps we should have). I have done two marathons in the past and felt destroyed and unwell at the end of both of them. I have felt exhausted at the end of both triathlons I have done but not destroyed and was able to cycle home.

I am raising funds for the UNISON welfare charity "there for you" and the "Greece Solidarity Campaign".  If you wish to sponsor me for "there for you" click here and/or the GSC then click here

Terry and I are thinking of this being an annual event each September. We will change the routes but if you want to take part, let us know or watch this space. 

Many thanks to my wife,  Gill for being the anchor woman and looking after all our stuff

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Victory for decency at work - Sports Direct will hold an independant review into its employment practices.

In what is also a victory for effective pension stewardship, "workhouse employer" Sports Direct agreed to hold an independent review into its awful working practices and governance.

See TUC press release below

"Trade Union Share Owners welcome Sports Direct announcement on independent review

20 September 2016

Trade Union Share Owners (TUSO) have welcomed the announcement today (Tuesday) by Sports Direct that there will be an independent review of the company’s working practices and corporate governance.

The announcement follows a resolution calling for an independent review that was tabled at the company’s AGM earlier this month by TUSO, and supported by a majority of independent shareholders.

TUSO Chair Janet Williamson said: “This is good news for Sports Direct workers, especially young workers who make up a large part of their staff but too often get a poor deal at work.

“The board should now consult both shareholders and trade unions in finalising the plans for the independent review. Trade unions representing workers at Sports Direct stand ready to work with the company to ensure a successful future that is fair for its staff.”

- The Trade Union Share Owners (TUSO) is a group of investors representing the financial assets of the labour movement, including the TUC staff pension fund, the Unite staff pension fund, the UNISON staff pension fund, and the International Transport Workers’ Federation.
- All TUC press releases can be found at"

Hat tip cartoon Kipper Williams, the Guardian

Monday, September 19, 2016

#HousingDay 2016 (A view)

Today is "#HousingDay 2016" a day that "celebrates positive impact of social housing on thousands of people across the UK. Stories by landlords, staff & ".

While I think this is a really good idea to challenge negative stereotypes about social housing and drew attention to its positive impact, there is a national housing crisis across all tenures - with unaffordable, poor quality and insecure tenancies in the private and social sector. Sky high property prices in many parts of the country also means that buying a home for many people is just never going to happen.

This is not actually a "housing" problem - it is a political problem. We need a political will to build more homes of all tenures.  If you increase supply you will bring down house prices and rents.

We need to move away from paying the mortgages of buy to let landlords with housing benefit and instead using this money to subsidise the rent of new build rented and shared ownership property.

There needs to be a democratising of housing for all. Most leasehold arrangements are feudal and allow freeholders to rip off leaseholders.

There is no real voice for tenants and residents associations any more in many parts of the country.

Many housing associations and councils are "mates clubs" and "union busters", run for the benefit of their executive and senior management with no accountability or respect for their residents or their staff.

Things can change. It doesn't have to be the way it is now. Maybe lets turn next years "Housing Day" into a national campaigning day, demanding access to truly affordable, well run, secure and good quality housing for everyone.

Things are so dire for so many people that we need a revolt rather than a celebration.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Prep for tomorrow's Newham Triathlon OMG

Just getting things sorted for tomorrows self organised Olympic distance triathlon. Currently I am wondering why do I volunteer for such things!

I am meeting fellow Newham Councillor, Terry Paul, at the London Aquatic centre in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park at 9.15am for 1.5k swim,. We then cycle 40k to Big Ben at the Palace of Westminster via the Olympic Veldrome, Victoria Park and Regent canal. Next along the Super cycle highway CS3 to Barking and then back to the Aquatic Centre via the Greenway.

Finally, we go on a 10k run up and down the Lea rivers.

See routes in collage above and picture of Terry, myself (and his brother-in-law who is not taking part tomorrow) after we had completed the 2014 London Excel Triathlon.

I will be raising funds for the UNISON charity "there for you" and the "Greece Solidarity Campaign".

If you wish to sponsor me for "there for you" click here and/or the GSC then click here


Friday, September 16, 2016

Axe the Housing Act Summit: 22 October 2016

The Battle is not yet over. The Government needs to bring back to Parliament exactly how they intend to Act to operate so there is still lots of campaigning opportunities.

UNISON is also sponsoring this meeting. So many of our members and their families will have their lives wreaked by this Act. We must oppose it.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Hackney Mayor Election 2016

Tonight I helped out in Lea Bridge ward, Hackney for the election campaign to select a new Executive Mayor for the Borough. The Labour Candiate is Philip Glanville.

At the campaign headquarters, ward activists were really hospitable and appreciative to us for turning up and very pleased to get help from outside Hackney.  It was a shame that more activists from Newham did not turn up to support our sister Borough. I must try and find out why?

Personally, while I do not think that the Executive Mayor model is best for Unitary Council authorities (and have my doubts about regional mayors) I still want a Labour Party candidate to win (and then reform the system).

See picture of Cllr Rokhsana Fiaz and myself (bottom left) at the Ward campaign headquarters before we were sent out to deliver "Time is running out" reminder cards to local residents.

By complete and utter coincidence the first door that Rokhsana knocked on was answered by someone we both know from Newham as an expert advisor on LOBOs!

I will update the post when I find out the result of the election.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

TUC Congress 2016: Day 2 Monday

My second collage of Twitter photos of the UNISON delegation (mostly) at this year's TUC Congress getting stuck in and telling it as it is.

We started off with Gordon McKay, berating our mean employers for not knowing how to add up and stop being crooks, so they should pay the National minimum wage in full.
Sinead Libby tells Congress of the various disgraceful way the Tories cheat young workers out of fair pay
A well argued, passionate address by Trade Union Congress General Secretary, Frances O'Grady, warning bad employers that unless they change - the unions are coming for them.
All of Congress held up support posters proclaiming that "We will be the movement for young workers".  (While Becky from Eastern Region qualifies I am not really sure that Darren and I are the best poster boys for that particular statement? We will do our best)
Paddy Lillis, the Chair of the Labour Party NEC gave Congress the fraternal address. He said he had been hoping for a bit of a quiet year when he was elected. Little did he know...
Caryl Nobbs points out that there is no objective evidence to justify the breaking up and privatisation of the Probation Service but the Government still went ahead with it.
Nicky Ramanandi supports fair and equitable welfare benefits and looks forward to the end of the subsidy for poverty pay employers and making sure they pay a real fair wage.
Maggie Griffin argues that the Tories Work Capability Assessment is not "fit for purpose" and linked to a staggering 700 suicides by disabled benefit claimants.
Lilian Macer describes her experiences meeting victims and their families during a UNISON delegation visit to Columbia. The most dangerous place in the world to be a trade union activist. Thousands have been murdered and tortured.
Stephen Smellie spoke on The Early Years Education motion and asked Congress to support the motion for the sake of his grandchildren.
My long standing comrade, Barbara White, (Musicians Union and a Redbridge Councillor) moved the "Music Co-operatives" motion 39.
I went to an interesting CLASS fringe "A Year of Tory Rule: Taking Stock of Public Services" during lunch time. It is all pretty depressing but good news about the huge support that the public have for Public v. Private Services. We need to turn this into votes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Speech on Housing Policy to TUC Congress

This is the text from my speech yesterday on the composite motion on Housing.


"Congress, the housing crisis and the lack of affordable homes is blighting the lives of workers and their families across the nation.


More and more people, particularly the young, are at risk of rent arrears, evictions and homelessness, causing financial hardship and misery to all those affected. 


Yet the government has failed to tackle the crisis. 


The Housing and Planning Act, which applies to England, was a missed opportunity to get to grips with the housing issues facing the nation. I work in housing in central London. The extension of RTB will delete housing stock for all and under Pay to Stay many workers that UNISON represents will face their rents doubling or even tripling. Those most affected are not the well paid but caretakers, school cooks, nurses and street cleaners


What we need now first and foremost is political will. It used to be the case that all the major political parties accepted that it was the duty of the state to ensure its citizens were adequately housed. They used to compete with each other on how many Council homes they could build each year and make sure that not only was public housing rents capped and truly affordable but so were private rents. Without this political will we not get the funding needed nor the radical solutions to solve the crisis across all the different housing markets.


That is why we desperately need to build more homes of all types to meet the housing needs of the young, the vulnerable and those on low and middle incomes, many of whom are simply unable to afford a decent home to rent or buy – and not even the hope of ever doing so.


Significantly increasing the supply of housing would widen the options of people and lower the cost of housing for everyone, in particular private renters, who often face the very worse insecurity, soaring rents and the early morning knock by bailiffs.


Congress, why do we spend £25 billion per year on housing benefits When much of it is used to pay off the mortgages of private landlords - Why can’t that money be used instead to build homes. Why can’t we have transition from "benefits to bricks"?


But tackling the housing crisis also requires significant improvements in public housing policy to deliver a "housing deal" for current and future generations.


This should as said include investment in housing, particularly social and real affordable housing provided by local authorities and housing associations; we also need a rebirth of tenant and resident representation, effective rent controls, landlord licensing, secure tenancy agreements and long term solutions to reform welfare. 


And more importantly a better housing deal for current and future generations would ensure that housing - across all markets - is decent, is secure, is stable and is truly affordable for all.  


Congress, Please support". Motion was passed.

Monday, September 12, 2016

TUC Congress 2016: Day 1

On Sunday I travelled down to Brighton as part of the 60 strong UNISON delegation to the 148th Trade Union Congress. This is the annual Conference or Parliament of the British Trade Union movement. Congress started for me with a delegation meeting at 3pm, where we discussed business and agreed policy towards motions and who would speak on behalf of UNISON. I found out that I would be speaking in the Housing debate the following morning, so I knew that I had a busy night and early start writing my speech. 

Congress started at 4pm in the main hall of the Brighton Conference centre. The unison delegation this year had a good position in the middle of the hall directly in front of the speakers podium.

This years President of the TUC is Liz Snape, who is also an UNISON Assistant General Secretary. Congress was opened by Liz and the first major item was to remember union activists that had died in the previous year. This included Jo Cox MP. 

The first UNISON speaker was Glenn Williams, who spoke about Devomanc and Devoscouse in the debate on "A more positive approach to public service delivery".

Liz gave her Presidential address after a cheery vote of thanks from fellow Liverpudlian, Unite General Secretary, Len McCluskey.  Liz made it clear unions "must fight for their class as the Tories do for theirs".  The vote of thanks was seconded by Clare Williams from UNISON who told us about the Liz who is a friend and a comrade.

During the debate on the European Community, UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, vows to defend all members and that "We will take on the racists post Brexit". 

Our first international speaker was Luca Visentini, who is the General Secretary of the European Trade Union Congress. Lucan expressed great disappointment with the Brexit result but made it clear that no matter, British workers remain Europeans and the ETUC will still support them.

Congress closed for the day around 7pm. UNISON held a reception for its delegates and to honour members who are due to be given awards by The TUC.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Abbey Gardens E15 - Harvest Festival & Classic Vegetable Show

CELEBRATE What will the Harvest be? 

Saturday 17th September 2pm-5pm

Dear Friend,

Friends of Abbey Gardens will be holding our Harvest Festival on Saturday 17th September. It's a free event for all ages. We invite you to celebrate and taste the harvest, enjoy the garden at its best and celebrate the 10th anniversary year since Friends of Abbey Gardens was formed.

Highlights include:
  • Talk by Karen Guthrie, House of Ferment: Preserving What’s Fresh Now for Later. 
  • Enjoy cookery tastings and demonstration
  • Enter your best veg in our classic show for the chance to win a prize!
  • Kids craft, lucky dips and bric-a-brac stall
  • Plentiful produce from the garden on our Honesty Stall
  • Visit our ever-popular tea and cake stall
We hope to see you at the event.

Vicki Lewis

PS  Don't forget our usual drop-in gardening sessions are running three times a week until the end of October.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Jeremy is going to win the Labour Leadership Contest: Get over it.

While one of the reasons why politics can be exciting is its unpredictability at times, there seems little doubt that Jeremy Corbyn will be announced the winner at the special conference on Saturday 24 September.

The latest YouGov poll predicts an even greater majority for Jeremy this time than last year 62% compared to 59.5%. A massive 38% majority. 52% of Party members, 70% of registered supporters and 54% of trade union supporters. YouGov have apparently made very accurate predictions of such contests in the past.

So where do we go from here? I think the only way forward is for the Party to unite around Jeremy and for everyone to recognise that he has earned the right to lead the Party into the next general election.

This doesn't mean that Jeremy and his advisers do not have to recognise that they have made some huge mistakes and need to raise their game. I know of a number of genuine left and progressive Labour MPs, who felt they were completely let down and undermined by some of his team. But equally his critics need to understand that they have fought their corner and lost again. Badly.

Some might well consider that another leader could win in 2020 (or sooner) but unless Jeremy chooses to step down, Labour would just implode in a civil war and would definitely lose. Voters hate a divided Party.

If you think that the problem is Jeremy's policies rather than his leadership (which I think is truthfully the case for most critics) then unless you (in your terms) hold your nose and give him support, if he is defeated at the next election, then the blame would be laid against you for disloyalty and division rather than his policies.

Lets face facts that the next general election will be really tough for Labour to win whoever is in charge of the Party. While Theresa May's PM honeymoon will not last for ever and the Tories could still destroy themselves over Brexit, it is far more likely that their gerrymandering over electoral registration (a million voters off the register) and Parliamentary boundary changes will cost any Labour leader very dear. Scotland is also still a disaster for Labour and it is clear that many of our core vote do not agree with our perceived metrocentric bias against Brexit.

Increasingly, I think the only way we can win the next general election is to think out of the box and present a genuine alternative economic and social agenda. While I don't agree with everything that Jeremy has said and done, I have never seen so many people become engaged and enthused by his politics and his policies. The historic home of the Labour Party, West Ham CLP (I am it's Vice Chair Membership) has grown from around 450 to nearly 1990 members. The overwhelming vast majority of these new members and supporters are not from the tiny UK ultra left but ordinary people who just want change.

If the Party can enthuse the wider public in the same way Jeremy has done with our new membership then we can win and win big. So lets go for it. Lets put aside the awful abuse and sectarianism in recent months by all sides and unite around attacking and defeating our common real enemy - the Tories.

Friday, September 09, 2016

La La Defined Benefit Pension Deficit calculations

I have long been very sceptical about the Daily Torygraph headlines about defined benefit (DB) pension schemes being "in massive deficit", "gold plated" and/or "unaffordable". Check out this paper below by Dennis Leech, Emeritus Professor of Economics, University of Warwick. The way that we calculate the liabilities of these schemes are just nonsense. This means that so called deficits are hugely exaggerated and cause deadly problems to company balance sheets.

Sustainable DB pension schemes have been and are being closed left, right and centre due to broken, La La accounting measures.  Millions and millions of workers are being robbed of their pension futures for no good reason. Robert Maxwell's rip off of the Daily Mirror pension scheme is small beer in comparison .

"Pension deficits: mark–to–market valuation is the elephant in the room

The chief economist of the Bank of England, Andy Haldane, has said he hasn’t a clue about pensions. It is not surprising when so many occupational schemes have a deficit that stubbornly just keeps on growing. They have agreed a recovery plan with the pensions regulator to ensure there will be enough money to pay the pensions promised when they fall due - but still the deficit grows seemingly uncontrollably.

The latest estimate for the total deficit for defined benefit schemes eligible for entry to the pension protection fund was £383.6bn at the end of June 2016, up from £294.6bn at the end of May an increase of £89bn in one month. The combined funding level has fallen to 78 per cent, close to its lowest ever level. There were 4,995 schemes in deficit and only 950 schemes in surplus.

The blame for this is most often put on the fact that pensioners are living longer than expected. But that is not convincing and can be only part of the answer: deficits are changing too fast to be due to something as slow moving as longevity trends - that are anyway allowed for in the recovery plans that have been devised. The other explanation often trotted out is the catch-all ‘market conditions’ which covers a multitude of factors. This usually means low interest rates, casually and wrongly equated with poor investment returns.

No. It is the regulations governing pension scheme valuations that are mostly to blame for this unsustainable situation. They are the elephant in the room of the pension deficits story that is being ignored by most of the industry. They are not fit for purpose and urgently need to be revised. They force pension schemes to have to deal with extraneous – even spurious - risk factors which exaggerate deficits. The effect – as we have seen in recent years - is to force many schemes to close.

Deficits have grown substantially since the 1990s when minimum funding requirements were introduced. The 2004 Pensions Act set up the pension protection fund to reduce the risk of pensions failing due to the sponsoring company failing. But it also tightened up on funding rules and imposed an inappropriate market-based valuation methodology
[2]. Accounting regulations based on this methodology are at variance with real-world economics. They are based on a purist belief in markets as a source of information - ignoring all evidence from academic economics, both empirical and theoretical, showing the limitations of markets as providers of information. They were intended to prevent pension schemes needing to enter the pension protection fund but in fact have had the reverse effect by making sponsor failure more likely.

It is only policy makers who can deal with this problem. They need to take an overview of the consequences of mark-to-market accounting and revise the valuation regulations in the light of experience.

... To continue reading access the full paper
here or here.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Cycle to Work Day: Wednesday 14 September 2016

This is a fantastic initiative by the London Cycling Campaign. My union work takes me across London and I find cycling often takes less time to get there than public transport or by car.
There are also a number of relatively quiet and attractive routes you can take even in busy London.
Yesterday, I took the fast cycle "Super Highways" from Stratford to Merton but on the way back took Route 20 for part of the way which went along the River Wandle and Parks.  Then I cycled to Euston via the Thames. (I did then get a bit lost but never mind about that)
Today I went via a hired "Ken Bike" (now sponsored by the Santander) through the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Victoria Park and along Regent Canal into Euston. A (largely) glorious and traffic free route into the centre of London. The sunshine helped make it a lovely commute.
"On Cycle to Work Day, London Cycling Campaign are running ten London BikeTubes - a series of rides to help people commute by bike for the fist time.
Ten guided rides will set of from different corners of
London and accompany people to central points in the city.

The rides are coordinated by experienced ride leaders and
supported by volunteer marshals. You can join the ride nearest to home and jump of at the point nearest your workplace.

Halfords will be on hand offering free checks to bikes
to ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable ride to work.
Santander have kindly offered to loan free bikes to anyone
who pledges their miles at

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

"Sports Direct cannot be allowed to mark their own homework"

Check out the press release below from the TUC about rotten employer "Sports Direct" whose company AGM is tomorrow.

The BBC report here that Sports Direct are desperately trying to pretend that all is ok and they are going to change.

Such human right abuses will always occur when you have employers who refuse to recognise independent trade unions and don't have collective bargaining agreements.

Trade Union recognition is an internationally recognised fundamental legal human right. If any company refuses to recognise trade unions then they are clearly human rights abusers.

Good luck with motion 19 tomorrow at the AGM calling for an independent investigation into the employment practices of Sports Direct. I wish I was there.

"Commenting on a report into Sports Direct’s employment practices by its law firm published today (Tuesday), TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“An apology is always a good start, but this is too little, too late. What we really need is an independent investigation, as called for by the trade union resolution at tomorrow’s Sports Direct AGM.

“A report written by a law firm which previously represented Mike Ashley and management simply won’t cut it. Sports Direct cannot be allowed to mark their own homework.

“Cases like this show why the government must act to end the abuse of zero-hours contracts, and get serious on enforcing employment rights.

This story is a testament to the tireless work of Unite the union, which has played a key role in revealing abuses at the company.

"I urge shareholders to support the Trade Union Share Owners’ resolution 19 for an independent investigation into employment practices.”

- The Trade Union Share Owners group, of which the TUC is a member, is calling on Sports Direct shareholders to support resolution 19 at the AGM, which commissions an independent review of Sports Direct International plc’s human capital management strategy.

 - The Trade Union Share Owners (TUSO) group is a group of investors representing the financial assets of the labour movement, including the TUC staff pension fund, the Unite staff pension fund, the UNISON staff pension fund, and the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

  - The resolution has been filed by investors including the TUC and UNISON staff pension funds, both members of TUSO, and the Borough of Islington Staff Pension Fund and Prospect general fund.

- All TUC press releases can be found at

- Follow the TUC on Twitter: @The_TUC and follow the TUC press team @tucnews

Monday, September 05, 2016

"Expensive exercise in futility’ Tory plans to evict tens of thousands over "Pay to Stay"

Hat tip to a hard hitting post in "Red Brick" seen below about the Tory plans to evict tens of thousands of working council and Housing Association tenants and their families.

This plan to means test all social tenants will cost millions to administer and result in many including the self-employed, teachers, factory workers and nurses to be thrown out or forced out of their homes.

"Spot the lies in this justification by the government of its pay-to-stay plans: ‘It’s simply not fair that hard-working people are subsidising the lifestyles of those on higher than average incomes’. Aside from the fact that it implies that social tenants aren’t hard-working (how else would they be earning more?), the two outright lies are that they receive taxpayer subsidies and that it is only those on above-average incomes who will pay more.

In fact, all but the lowest ten per cent of earners will be within or very close to the pay-to-stay threshold, because DCLG have been forced to set a very low starting point (£31,000 outside London, £40,000 within) in order to increase the projected income from the scheme. And of course, the government never misses a chance to refer to social tenants as ‘subsidised’, even though those on slightly higher incomes with little or no dependence on housing benefit are among the least subsidised householders in the whole housing market.

Red Brick makes no apology for saying ‘we told you so’ on pay-to-stay since we were among the first to draw attention to the risks. Back in 2011, when first mooted by Grant Shapps, it would have applied only to so-called wealthy people who choose to live in council houses and whose combined earnings came to over £100,000. It was of course aimed at people like the late Bob Crow, who earned £145,000 and had the temerity to live in a housing association flat. In response to widespread criticism that, if set at that threshold, the scheme would cost far more than it would generate, DCLG shifted the starting point downwards.

Red Brick predicted four years ago that this would be even more of a bureaucratic nightmare, since it would draw all tenants into having to declare their incomes and any changes to them. This point is now confirmed by Southwark council, who say that means testing tenants is an ‘expensive exercise in futility’ that could cost authorities millions to administer. If it has to be done, they want HM Revenue and Customs to do it for them.

And in any case, the extra red tape could now generate only £75 million annually, according to the LGA, rather than the £365 million that the government projects. This would add less than a paltry 0.8% to rental income, before admin costs are deducted, meaning the scheme could potentially produce no net income at all. As Jules Birch has pointed out, the government’s own assessment indicated that (at least in the first year) admin costs could be as high as £65 million, and Southwark’s warning shows that in practice this is very likely an underestimate, especially given the increasing variability of household earnings among those on modest incomes.

Even if the scheme does produce a small surplus, in a travesty of the principle that council housing is now self-financing, the money will have to be repaid to government. When council housing bought its financial independence in April 2012 by paying £7 billion to the Treasury, the government said this meant councils would ‘keep all the money they receive from rent’ and for tenants that ‘the level of rent you pay will continue to be a decision for your council’. It took barely a year for the government to issue the consultation paper which broke both these promises.

There are plenty more arguments against pay-to-stay too. It will be a disincentive to precisely those people who have jobs that pay modest salaries and who might want to try to earn more. It will encourage more tenants to exercise their right to buy, at which point of course they really will get a massive subsidy to help them buy their house, of a size unavailable to other first-time buyers. And it will lead to the further residualisation of social housing, eroding the mixed communities which were until recently an important aim of housing policy. As Natalie Bloomer commented on, social tenants are now penalised for having too many bedrooms, penalised (by the benefits cap) if they don’t have jobs, and will soon be penalised if they do. The message to social housing tenants is: ‘If you don’t work, we’ll punish you. If you do work, we’ll punish you’. And as evidence of how struggling households will suffer, the Guardian has helpfully compiled some tenant stories of what the scheme’s consequences might be.

Fortunately, opponents of this daft policy appear to have an ally, someone who says that ‘while we continue to help the worst off we will also be focused on the millions of people for whom life is a struggle and who work all hours to keep their heads above water.’ She (and that’s a clue) has set up a powerful working group that will aim to make ‘life easier for the majority of people in this country who just about manage’.

Yes, it’s Theresa May, whose newly stated policy aims appear to run counter to those of the pay-to-stay scheme, and it’s Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, who joins her on the new working group. Ditching pay-to-stay would be an excellent no-brainer for the group when it first meets. After all, ending it would cost practically nothing while saving the government from a potentially embarrassing policy failure.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Too Poor to Pay? Is this really the New Poll Tax?

This report is very disturbing. I have asked the Council for a response and agreed to meet with CPAG and Z2K. I will encourage other Councillors to do so as well. By coincidence I have just been to a Unison seminar where the practice of trying to force poor residents to pay Council tax was compared to the Poll Tax of the 1990s. Also, the dreadful practices of so many bailiffs was exposed. 

"New CPAG and Z2K report on council tax support in London
Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K) today release STILL TOO POOR TO PAY: three years of localised council tax support in London.
This is our third report looking at council tax support in London. It examines how London schemes have changed over the past three years and analyses the impact on claimants. The report has found that in 2015/16, over 98,000 low income Londoners were sent a court summons for non-payment of council tax and 19,000 were referred to bailiffs, a 51 per cent increase on the previous year.
As you probably know, Newham is among those local authorities who have decided to charge claimants 20 per cent. Our report finds that this is having a serious impact on low income residents in the borough:
·         8949 Newham residents on the Council Tax Support Scheme were in arrears as of April 2016
·         4808 Newham residents have had additional ‘legal costs’ added to their bills
·         1,560 residents were referred to bailiffs in 2015/16.
CPAG and Z2K appreciate that the 10 per cent cut in council tax support funding in April 2013 came at a time when local authorities were already struggling with deep cuts to their budgets, and that the requirement to exempt pensioners from any new charges has added to the burden on working age claimants. We continue to call for a return to a fully funded, national system, or, at a minimum, that central government provides local authorities with 100 per cent subsidy.
However, in the event that council tax support remains localised, we call on Newham’s leadership to abolish your authority’s minimum payment and introduce 100 per cent support. We note that Camden council is currently consulting on doing just this. The falling number of council tax claimants in Camden, something common to your authority, has reduced the cost of its scheme, allowing the council to make this proposal. Camden also estimates that the proposal will reduce administration costs related to recovering relatively small debts from council tax support claimants and free up resources to pursue larger debts.
Despite the financial pressures Newham continues to face, we hope that you will work with your cabinet colleagues to follow the example of Camden and the six London boroughs who continue to provide 100 per cent support. The alternative is that your poorest residents will continue to experience the very real financial hardship, as outlined in our report.
We would welcome the opportunity to discuss the findings of our report and how to strengthen the support for Newham’s poorest residents. To arrange a meeting, please contact Alice Woudhuysen, London Campaign Manager at CPAG
Kind regards,
Alison Garnham| Chief Executive | Child Poverty Action Group   

Joanna Kennedy, Chief Executive, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K)