Tuesday, August 14, 2018

If a Police Officer can have his pension scammed then is anyone safe under Tory "Pension freedoms" ?

Check out this BBC report about a serving Police Officer who was cheated out of his pension but managed to win £135,000 compensation from the Ombudsman for his fund's failure to properly warn him about risks.  The Police Officer had been "persuaded" by his financial advisor to transfer his very safe and secure government backed Police pension into a completely dodgy scheme which it appears was then "lost or misappropriated".

While some may argue that a Police officer should know better, to me this shows that if a Police Officer can be conned out of their pension, then anyone can and that the Tory (and Lib Dem coalition) so called "Pension freedoms" have enabled con merchants to pray on ordinary peoples lifelong savings.

Since I used to work in financial services I know first hand how convincing and sophisticated these fraudsters are and also how extensive institutional corruption can be. I think that my personal views on institutional LOBO and LIBOR rips offs are well known.

Today there was also reports about the average loss is £91,000 for such pension scam victims and that
  • The Financial Conduct Authority's Financial Lives report suggested that 107,000 people aged 55 to 64 could potentially have been victims of pension scams last year

What a complete and utter mess. No wonder ordinary working people have little confidence in our financial services and its regulation.

I am appalled that Sir Steve Webb, the former Penision Minister, who introduced "Pension Freedoms" and now works for the industry is also quoted as blaming pension schemes for these cons and not apparently taking any responsibility himself for the "Pensions freedoms" policy which is facilitating even more cons to happen. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Being Scrutinised at Scrunty

Recently as Cabinet member for Housing Services I was called to answer questions by the Newham Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

This is a statutory committee of Newham Councillors whose role is to hold the Councils Executive members to account and make recommendations. 

As a backbencher Councillor for the previous 8 years, I had been a member of various scrunities (some longer than others) but this was the first time I had appeared as a member of the Executive. 

The Chair asked me to first give an outline of my housing brief for the benefit of the Committee. 

I explained that the present housing structure in Newham had been drawn up by the previous administration who had intended that all Councils services should be "outsourced". The new Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, has put a stop to all "outsourcing" and ordered a rethink and corporate redesign.  So things will change.

My housing brief is currently in 3 parts:- 

1. Traditional Council social housing management of our stock: repairs, rents, voids, allocations, residents engagement, Anti social behaviour (ASB), fire safety, right to buy, tenancy and leasehold enforcement. The Mayor has reserved the regeneration, planning and strategic delivery portfolio.

2. Homelessness and temporary accommodation (although not rough sleepers. The published minutes need correcting slightly on this), assessment, advice, support and prevention.

3. Private sector rental licensing and enforcement, including houses of multiple occupation (HMOs), advice and support. We really want to work with and support landlords but we won’t hesitate to drive bad and criminal landlords out of Newham and into the Courts. 

There are still a few grey areas (pardon the pun) about the scope of my brief due to the fragmented nature of the current structure.

Some Key issues

Number one is fire safety in our blocks including the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding. This is costing us a huge amount of money (waking watches) and it would appear that the Government will not reimburse anything like our total costs.

Review our entire allocation policy including the suitability of the offer for homeless temporary accommodation in light of the new Mayoral priorities and also changing Government policy. We have nearly 27,00 households on our waiting list and nearly 5,000 households in temporary accommodation. I suspect due to "sofa surfers", homes with grown up children who cannot afford to find a place of their own as well as all those private sector tenants, who have to spend most of their income on rent that the real figure of those in housing need is far higher.

Reform RMS repairs: (our in house repairs maintenance service). We have a number of good staff but the repair service is currently not good enough. RMS also has a limited new build module housing capacity which could be used more to build new homes on unused areas in estates.

Reduce Homelessness: Prevention is key. We spend far less than other boroughs which may be the reason why we have such high levels of homelessness. We need to educate residents about the scale and the real reasons for the housing crisis. We need more "joined up" thinking between housing and social services on these homeless issues which might result in financial savings to the Council and a better service for the people in Newham

Anti-social behaviour (ASB): While enforcement is not the only tool it is important. Too many residents live in fear of a tiny number of violent and abusive residents.

Fragmented caretaking service: This has been hived off the control of housing management. This has made it difficult to do anything about these services, particularly those services in estates, as I have no authority to manage these services.

Tackling housing poverty by supporting residents getting advice about benefits and support into decently paid work. We need to make sure "that work pays". This will reduce evictions and homelessness.

The need for Culture change and Resident Representation: There had to be a culture change on the part of both Members and officers in the way in which they interacted with residents, if residents were to be "at the heart of everything we do". There are practically no tenant and/or resident representation in Newham and while an annual citizens assembly on housing would be a good thing, it would not be a substitute for a proper democratic and accountable TRA. While we did not want to return to the “bad old days” when in some cases a small number of tenants had dominated the Tenants’ and Residents’ Associations (TRA’s) for their own ends. We need to carry out a review of tenants’ and residents’ representative structures as soon as possible.

Private Sector Housing Licensing - Enforcement: There will be an increase in the number of housing inspections undertaken to ensure that landlords were complying with the terms and conditions of their licences. Inspections and enforcement action are key to ensuring compliance and making landlords aware that non-compliance would not be tolerated. I am not at all opposed to properly managed private rented sector accommodation and I would expect any Councillor who rents property to be an exemplary landlord.

Planned Maintenance: We need to have planned maintenance and refurbishment programmes for Council properties. They are much cheaper than carrying out emergency repairs and better for residents. The “Decent Homes” programme ended eight or nine years ago. Therefore, there was a need for a properly planned programme. A housing stock survey is about to take place which will guide this.

Housing Associations: My own casework had shown me that the management performance of a number of housing associations within the borough had been abysmal. Therefore, if housing associations wished to work in partnership with the local authority, and I welcomed partnership working, it was necessary for poorly performing housing associations to improve.
In the Q&A with Councillors afterwards

In response to a question about the high cost and poor quality of some temporary accommodation I explained long-term lease agreements with decent landlords may provide an alternative form of accommodation and would do away with the requirement to pay a expensive “nightly” rate for private sector temporary accommodation.  Landlords want long term security of income. There are now a greater number of Council inspections of such accommodation. We are also thinking of buying and leasing properties.

Regarding the adverse effects that bad landlords had on their tenants, neighbours and good landlords, I hoped to see an increase in the number of prosecutions of bad landlords and an increased number of costs orders in the Council’s favour. Also, in the case of illegal evictions, I would want to see if necessary, custodial sentences for landlords to change their behaviours.

(picture college of some of the housing visits and inspections I have undertaken in last week). 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Go Get Him Girls!

Boris Johnson's worse nightmare. This is a great piece of contemporary political art in Southend, Essex. Hat tip Colin Nickless. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

“Why Labour must adopt the full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism”

I agree with UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, in this article published yesterday in the NewStatesman where he calls for the Labour Party to adopt the "full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism including all the examples" 

As an experienced trade union rep who has been defending members accused of breaching discipline procedures and codes of conduct for many years I cannot see a problem with the “examples”. As an elected lay member of the UNISON National Labour Link committee, I voted with colleagues to support the definition and include the examples. 

I understand that many members do not have confidence in the internal Labour Party discipline process but that is a very different (but still important) issue.  This lack of confidence is being tackled by the NEC and the new General Secretary, Jennie Formby. 

Time for us to move on and unite around attacking the Tories and not giving our enemies sticks to beat us with.

"The language of priorities is the religion of socialism”. Seventy years on from the establishment of our NHS, those words resonate just as loudly today as when the great Nye Bevan first said them.

Public services are in crisis. Our NHS faces year-round crises, not just a winter crisis. Local government has been cut to the bone and beyond, with the mismanaged mess of Northamptonshire Council emblematic of austerity’s logical end point.

Police staff, care workers and teaching assistants are under incredible pressure – continually forced to do more with less. Global challenges abound such as climate change, conflict, the refugee crisis and the rise of far-right populism.

Meanwhile, our departure from the EU looms on the horizon, just over six-months away. Yet this bungling government still can’t guarantee your rights at work or the security of your pension. Whether medicines will still be available in our hospitals, or whether food will be available in supermarkets.

Truly, 2018 feels like a year for strict prioritisation of the national to-do list. And yet what is it that fixates the Labour Party? It is – somewhat remarkably – an attempt to rewrite a widely-used, internationally accepted definition of anti-Semitism.

Two years ago I was warning that “a small but significant minority engage in misogyny and anti-Semitism” in the pages of a national newspaper. It’s hard to argue that subsequent events, regardless of their intention, have lessened those concerns. Either in the Jewish community or the country at large.

This issue is already costing Labour votes, as I saw for myself when campaigning in Barnet this year. But worse than that, it's harming Labour's historically close relationship with the Jewish community. And it's costing us the moral high ground from which to oppose all forms of racial hatred and oppression.

Racism is a deep scar on our nation’s soul. Many would like to pretend that it’s in decline, but that’s not the case. Whether whipped up online by often anonymous trolls or marching through our streets, buoyed by the success of Trump and the alt-right, the racists are on the march. Those of us on the left need to meet them head on wherever they appear, but we also need to be beyond reproach when it comes to tackling race hate in all forms.

Instead, when Boris Johnson shed his court jester act this week to engage in flagrant Islamophobic bigotry, too many of his supporters were able to wave away criticism of the former foreign secretary by saying “what about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party?”.

For Labour supporters – the overwhelming majority of whom are lifelong anti-racist campaigners – that response, even when used as a deflection tactic, should be a cause for genuine sorrow. As John McDonnell has said: “how have we got ourselves in this situation?”

Yet it isn’t too late for the party to chart a different course and begin repairing that damage as Jeremy Corbyn is clearly attempting to do. Anti-Semitism in Labour didn’t start under Jeremy, but I am confident that under his leadership it can be dealt with once and for all.

UNISON’s position on this is clear. Our National Executive Council earlier this year spoke with one voice against all forms of racism and, explicitly, anti-Semitism. We have committed ourselves to oppose it in all its forms - all of the smears and tropes that come with it – within our union, our movement, our party and in wider society. Our Labour Link committee, made up of Labour members and activists from across our union, has adopted the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition, with examples, and supported calls for Labour to do the same.

Of course, in this debate, there is always an elephant in the room – the oft-repeated assertion that you can’t criticise Israel without being accused of anti-Semitism. I hear it a lot, but I’m not buying it.

I’m not buying it as a regular critic of the Israeli government, settlements, expansionism and the blockade of Gaza. I’m not buying it as general secretary of a union that has always been committed to the rights of the Palestinian people, proudly supports the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and supports Palestinian trade unionists as they face daily oppression.

I’m not buying it as someone who has repeatedly called out the murder of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli army – including the shooting of unarmed civilians earlier this year. I’m not buying it, because it’s not true. If you’re not capable of criticising Israel without being anti-Semitic, then you’re an anti-Semite – and we should make no special exceptions for you.

The truth is, this should never have become such a divisive issue, an unnecessary schism in a party that on so many issues is genuinely united.

A Labour Party that has so much to prioritise must always make winning the next election our number one goal. It’s the only party which can be trusted to stand up for the many yearning for change against the few who profit from poverty and decline.

Right now, adopting the full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism including all the examples, removing those guilty of racism from our party and putting the issue of Labour and anti-Semitism to bed as quickly as possible is critical to doing so".

Dave Prentis is the general secretary of UNISON

Friday, August 10, 2018

Forest Gate North "Great Get Together" Bank Holiday Monday - 27 Aug

"This looks fun! Forest Gate North are having a Great get Together Summer Social on Bank Holiday 27th Aug on Wansted Flats opposite Golden Fleece pub E12 5DB.

 Bring Food and Drink. Lots of prizes and activities"

Hat Tip Andy Diagram. 

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Suspend Boris Johnson

I usually think that as a Labour Party activist it is a bit pointless for me to sign petitions calling for political opponents to resign over something they have said, no matter how stupid or offensive. However, Boris Johnson's vile racism and islamophobia is beyond the pale and should have no place in modern day democratic British politics.

I hope that fair minded Conservative supporters (yes, they do exist) will also support the call by the respected anti-fascist organisation "Hope Not Hate" for Boris Johnson to be suspended from the Tory Party.


Boris Johnson uses his national profile to spout racist, hateful points of view. We can't let him get away with it any longer.
We’ve had enough of Boris's loud-mouthed, unashamed racism – and we're calling on the Tories to suspend him from the whip.

Agree? Sign our petition now.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Dappled Sunshine Walk in Bush Wood

Off message but on Sunday we were supposed to go on a run around Wanstead Flats and Park but it was so hot that we walked instead for a hour or so.

Picture is from Bush Wood (with a little help from Google photo assistant).

I just love the greenery and the dappled sunshine. You cannot beat natural beauty. 

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

"Decent Life Chances For Everyone" By West Ham MP, Lyn Brown

The Social Mobility Tsar Should Aim To Get Decent Life Chances For Everyone

"Today, we have more families than ever reliant on food banks and charities tell us that holiday hunger for kids is rife

Recently, the Social Mobility Commission chief, Dame Martina Milburn, claimed that the huge cuts we’ve seen to schools, council houses, and support for families haven’t harmed the life chances for people. I don’t think that’s a great start, when the opposite is clearly true.

She doesn’t think that lower pay for women is an issue for her commission, because “it doesn’t just affect people who are socially mobile”.

I’m sorry?

Isn’t the point of the job to aim to get decent life chances for everyone? The cross-party Education Committee has reportedly expressed concern about the role of the social mobility commissioner, and her comments only make things worse.

What a pity.

It’s reported that Dame Martina only applied for the job after the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, phoned her personally to encourage her. It doesn’t give us hope that her new Commission will challenge the Tories, as it should.

Today, we have more families than ever reliant on food banks and charities tell us that holiday hunger for kids is rife.

The Government’s own statistics show 100,000 more children in poverty, just in the last year.

And let’s remember, the vast majority of the 4.1 million children in poverty today have a mum or dad in work.

Things are so bad, and the Government so unresponsive, that last December the Government’s previous Social Mobility Commission resigned, all of them. They had no confidence that the Government was actually listening to them.

The previous Chair, Alan Milburn (no relation), was so disgusted with the empty words and callous actions of the Government that he said: “It’s almost better never to say that you’ll do anything about it.”

We need the Government to be responsible for ensuring we all get the opportunity of decent life chances – with ministerial accountability to drive forward a strategy across every department.

We need to ensure the Government works for all people - from schools and apprenticeships, to affordable trains and buses; to the creation of real jobs with decent pay and a living wage for all.

Most of all, we need someone to knock heads together in the Department for Work and Pensions.

We don’t need Esther McVey to spend £200,000 of our money to discover that Universal Credit has been devastating for thousands and thousands of families. We just need the benefits system fixed.

Labour puts social justice for all at the heart of our plans so we can transform our country for the many not the few".

Hap tip HuffPost

Monday, August 06, 2018

"Fix the Glitch Report"

A new update by Glitch UK on how Social Media can protect freedom of speech and tackle the appalling abuse on their platforms.

The bottom line is that social media companies need to take greater responsibility for the activities that occur on their platform. YouTube and Twitter are no longer small startup tech companies, they are multi-million pound businesses. Running a company in our society means taking corporate social responsibility and taking it seriously. We welcome YouTube and Twitter to each invite us for a private meeting to discuss how to tackle these issues.
Although our five recommendations are aimed specifically at social media companies, policy and decision makers need to close legal loopholes regarding abusive online behaviour. There is also a huge need for digital citizenship provision.
Glitch!UK believes that by working together we can begin to create safer platforms for all users and fix the glitch.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

"Are YOU fond of Cycling? If so WHY NOT CYCLE FOR THE KING...Bad Teeth No Bar"

I have asked London Cycling Campaign on twitter whether a more modern version of this (1915) appeal be something they would support?

One response I got back expressed concern at the lack of concern about cyclists bad teeth.

Hat tip War Art on twitter.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Angela Rayner's UNISON story

If you ever wondered what UNISON and the trade union movement does...watch this video. Well worth 2 minutes and 53 seconds of your time.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Town Hall Fest - Hackney and Havering

Okay, this is probably more than a little sad but last week I went to a meeting of East London Housing Partnership at Hackney Town Hall (top) and today at Havering Town Hall (bottom) for our "One Source" Shared Service committee.. 

Both are lovely Town Halls and Civic Centres. I admit to preferring East Ham and Stratford Town Hall but accept I am biased on these points.

I will post (and allow guest points) on future visits to different municipal Town Halls. 

Thursday, August 02, 2018

"Newham at forefront of Housing Crisis"

Hat tip Newham Recorder for a pretty full on report on the housing crisis in our borough.

The new mayor of Newham has slammed the loss of nearly 10,000 council homes under Right to Buy since the 1980s – saying the policy has exacerbated the bitter housing crisis in the borough.

Labour mayor Rokhsana Fiaz has called for an end to the divisive scheme blaming it for swelling the number of private landlords in Newham.

“Right to Buy is supporting the growth of the private rented sector rather than its original intention of supporting social tenants to purchase their own home,” she said.

Some 47 per cent of social homes in Newham bought through Right to Buy are now in the private rented sector, according to town hall figures.

Meanwhile 4,892 households are unable to find an affordable home and have sought council help for emergency housing.

“The massive discounts of up to £108,000 [to buy council houses] in London, together with rules around the use of Right to Buy receipts has meant it is impossible to replace these desperately needed social homes and keep pace with growing demand for them,” said Cllr Fiaz.

“Soaring rents, a skewed housing market and stagnant wages are fuelling the housing crisis we are seeing in Newham and across London.”

She set out her vision for the future of housing the borough and pledged to:

- Build at least 1,000 council homes at social rents by 2022

- Begin building 100 of these in her first year in office

- Ensure 50 per cent of all homes built in Newham in the next four years are at social rents

- Stamp out criminal practices by private landlords

- Make the private rented sector safer and more affordable for families.

But these measures are unlikely to make a significant dent in the 27,228 households currently on the council’s housing register.

It comes as the Recorder’s Hidden Homeless investigation has revealed Newham has the highest level of homelessness in the capital.

The staggering level of housing need has resulted in 3,292 households being moved out of the borough the five years to 2017, and 14 per cent out of London altogether to places as far away as Birmingham and Thurrock.

There are now more homeless Newham households living in temporary flats, B&Bs and hostels than anywhere else in London.

“In Newham, we have lost 1,178 social rented council homes over the last eight years and it is one of the reasons why the number of genuinely affordable homes has declined dramatically,” said the mayor. “Until we can change that, we have little choice but to house our residents in expensive temporary accommodation, which is not ideal at all.”

Private landlords are also taking advantage of this housing demand, “with many hiking up rents to a level our residents can’t afford”, said the mayor.

Housing reform was at the forefront of the mayor’s successful bid to win power at the local elections in May.

We asked for an interview with Cllr Fiaz to discuss housing policy. She was unable to meet the Recorder but provided answers to detailed questions.

We asked why six years after the 2012 Olympics and the promise of significant numbers of new homes, Newham was at the forefront of the housing crisis.

“We’ve been challenging the London Legacy Development Corporation on the limited delivery of genuinely affordable housing as they own the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and are responsible for all development delivered as part of the legacy promised before the Olympics came to Newham – including housing,” she said. “I’m determined that under my administration we keep on pushing partners to deliver genuinely affordable housing for local residents.”

She also said in an ideal world the tens of millions spent annually paying for temporary housing would instead be invested in new affordable homes.

“I’d love for us to build loads of new homes,” she said. “This is my ideal world, and I am really frustrated that we are constrained by finances and the reluctance of the government who are stopping us and other councils borrowing to build the homes our resident’s desperately need.”

She said a campaign on housing would be launched this autumn, but provided no more details on the specifics.

In her first week in office she also met Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, deputy mayor of London for housing James Murray, and shadow secretary of state for housing MP John Healey to look at working together to solve the housing crisis.

Asked what her vision for council housing in Newham is, the new mayor said: “I am committed to reversing the chronic failure to build affordable social homes in the capital.”

But, echoing other council leaders across Lodnon, she says the government needs to lift restrictions on local authorities borrowing to build homes.

“I am working closely with the Mayor of London and other partners to ensure we maximise all opportunities and funding available to build more homes in the borough,” she said.

(Photo Cabinet member for housing John Gray, mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz, and deputy mayor for housing, James Murray. Picture: Andrew Baker)

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

First Time UNISON National Delegate Conference Report #UNDC18

First Time National Delegate Conference Report

By branch activist, Naomi Adams, in picture of branch delegation celebrating the 25th anniversary of UNISON at conference. (Hands in air).

"Ahead of attending the conference I went on the ‘Going to Conference’ one day training course and I highly recommend this for first time delegates. At this training they went through how to vote, explained the Standing Orders Committee Report, the Conference App, useful meetings to attend, how to speak at conference and many other things. They also give you a handy booklet which has lots of useful first time delegate information in it. It also meant that when I got to conference I saw some other familiar faces apart from my own delegation which was nice.

For this conference I was a sharer which was nice because being there for the whole 4 days is pretty tiring and demanding! Being a sharer means that you have two credential badges which you share between the two of you. The red badge gives you access to the visitors’ gallery and the green badge gives you access to the delegate hall. You must meet with your fellow sharer and swap badges each time you take turns on the delegate floor.

Here some details of some of the debates I sat in on.

Annual Report

Conference celebrated the success of the NHS pay increase. But concerns were raised regarding Northern Ireland and the impact Brexit will have. Membership has increased by over 2000 and we are now officially the largest union in the UK!

Financial Report

Unison forecasted a drop in income last year and predict the same for this year. This equates to a 10 million pound drop and this increases further when inflation is taken into account. The Trade Union Act has brought extra running costs. The Fighting Fund is now 32 million pounds and 505 fighting fund organisers have been employed since 2017. I can personally vouch for the success of this initiative as Optivo has had excellent support from our fighting fund officer.

Motion 19 - Low paid women in Unison

There were many excellent and inspiring speeches from women on this subject which is close to my heart. I found these speeches very inspiring and thought this year’s Conference Chair Margaret McKee, a catering assistant from Belfast was a truly inspiring woman who had carried out her tenure despite great personally tragedy due to the loss of her son who was shockingly murdered this year. The debates centred on investigating the barriers which prevent low paid women from engaging and taking senior roles in the union. The point was made that only two regions have Regional Women Officers and conference agreed that more of these posts would go a long way to solving recruitment problems in this area. This motion was carried and NEC will report back to conference 2019 with findings and recommendations.

Composite A

This was a very energetic and fiery debate on the 25 year strategic review. The NEC proposed this review to assess whether sufficient resources are being placed where they are needed rather than historically allocated. The current funding formula is based on single employer branches however branches like ours dealing with hundreds of private employers are now more the norm. The NEC proposes a strategic centre that supports strong organising regions and active branches instead of fragmented independent branches. Another important suggestion made was does the current overly bureaucratic model of self-organisation deliver the needs of the union. Could the system be streamlined in order to progress the equalities agenda more effectively? A lot of the bigger branches spoke against this motion and accused the NEC of trying to centralise control. The motion went to a card vote but did not pass. I think this is a missed opportunity and hope this gets resolved as I feel this review is really important.

Motion 48 - Public Housing Post Grenfell

This was a very emotional debate in which the branch secretary for the K&C TMO got up to speak about the disgusting way this tragedy was dealt with and how front line staff were left to fend for themselves by the very people responsible for this awful event. As a Housing Officer who has always fought for fire safety improvement works I could really relate to this debate. Deregulation of fire safety controls, inspection and planning laws created this avoidable disaster. Conference welcomed the Labour governments progressive polices on housing such as committing to building 100,000 new council homes, introducing new legal minimum standards and control on rent rises. Also importantly people spoke on reinstating and enforcing independent fire safety and building regulations. It causes me great pain that 70 people had to die in order for this overall of the system to be carried out. I really hope these families are not left fighting for justice for 30 years in the same way as the Hillsborough families. With Unisons support let’s hope this does not happen.

Overall I had a really inspiring and motivating experience at conference and I encourage new Stewards to go and see the bigger picture of Unison. It is very refreshing to be in an environment which continually strives for equality and opportunity for all and is such a new experience for me".

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Community Wealth Building Seminar for Labour Councillors 21 July 2018

This well attended seminar sponsored by APSE (Association for Public Sector Excellence) of was excellent. Held in the UNISON centre (HQ) in Euston Road, London.

Speakers Paul O’Brien and Mo Baines, APSE; Neil McInroy CLES, Cllr Matthew Brown, Leader of Preston City Council and Cllr Asima Shaikh, Executive Member for Economic and Community Development, Islington Council.

Chair was Mo Baines who works for APSE but is also a UNISON branch President and member nominated representative on the Greater Manchester Local Government Pension Fund.

Paul O'Brien warned us that the "Barnet Map of Doom" could still happen - social care budgets will rise and rise and soak up all Council budgets! London local authorities depends at the moment on Council Tax for 40% of its income. In 2020 that will be 51%! (a huge problem for Councils who have failed to increase Council tax in the past even by inflation and therefore decimated their tax base)

While Neil McInroy reminded that we live a world were 5 super rich men control 50% of its wealth while workers suffer wage contraction, how we must build wealth locally and stop global capitalism from extracting wealth for the super rich.

Cllr Matthew Brown described the "Preston Model" and long, hard, slog to bring about changes following the destruction of traditional local industries and the failure of private led regeneration schemes to develop the city centre.

Cllr Asima Shaikh explained how Islington Council had won court battles over private developers who had overpaid for land and therefore claimed that they could not provide 50% social housing.

A really positive event. At the end I had a number of very constructive conversations with London Councillors about the possible role of local government pensions funds investing in social housing. Watch this space.

(Hat tip pictures Cllr Sakina Sheikh)

Monday, July 30, 2018

Decent pension provision is not dying out - it's being murdered

A headline in last Friday's "Professional Pensions" was "DB surplus hits record high of £382bn on best estimate basis, says First Actuarial"

It is becoming increasingly clear that the the huge decline in decent pension provision in the UK (employer defined benefit schemes) is mistaken and even completely unnecessary. Millions of workers in this country will retire and die in poverty because of this.

Pension schemes were valued according to outdated and irrelevant accounting measures which pretended that they had huge unmanageable deficits. It was a little bit like telling someone who had just taken out a 25 year mortgage to buy a home that they were really bankrupt since they could not immediately pay off the loan.

6 years ago the AMNT argued that defined benefit schemes were affordable and stopping workers from joining or closing schemes was a nonsense.

Instead of using a broken yardstick to measure present and future costs, First Actuarial, have produced an index based upon a prudent estimate of investment performance. They calculate that the 6000 defined benefit schemes left need an actual return of only 2.6% per annum to pay its pension promises. While the stock market will go up and down, unless you honestly believe that the end of capitalism is nigh, surely in the long run, this return is more than achievable.

Last year there was a series of bitter strikes by University staff opposed to the dismantling of their supposedly bankrupt pension scheme USS. Under best estimate calculation they could have a surplus of £10 billion.

If you think I am angry about this situation then read below Death by Discount Rates

"Discount rate controversy is nothing new. One rarely, if ever, hears people in the industry say that using the yield on high-quality corporate bonds (as accountants do), or a rate just above gilt yields (as most actuarial valuations do) is without problems.

But the flaws are more serious than many realise. The theoretical case for these rates is acutely defective. They have wrecked company balance sheets, caused the misallocation of billions of pounds of corporate resources to plug illusory deficits, distorted scheme investment strategies, and played a major part in the collapse of private DB provision. If a disaster even a fraction of the size had befallen the state pension system, governments would have been voted out of office. It's a national scandal."

Frank Curtiss is the immediate past president of the ICSA and the former head of corporate governance at RPMI Railpen. Tim Wilkinson is the former chief accountant at RPMI Railpen

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Wanstead Flats Fire July 2018

Pictures taken last weekend from the top of a 308 bus showing the recent fires (from the week before). It was probably the worst fire I can remember in 30 years.

A scary time for many local residents who live adjacent to the flats and it caused massive disruption when surrounding roads were closed (my own car was trapped in Capel Road by a huge emergency water hose for a few days. A minor inconvenience in the scheme of things).

Many thanks to the London Fire Brigade and the City of London Staff.

It looks a little bit like a war zone but there has nearly always been fires every hot summer and the heath will recover and grow back.

This morning I went for a run through the flats and you could see some tiny green shoots, here and there, following the recent rain. Nature is amazing. 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

July 19th - Pension Board, LAPFF AGM, UNISON HAB, West Ham Labour GC (Sarah Jones MP Shadow Minister Housing)

Belated report on a busy Labour movement day last Thursday 19 July.

I started the day with a quarterly meeting of the London Borough Tower Hamlets Pension Board as an UNISON appointed representative.

The £billion plus fund is doing well and we are planning to try and safeguard very significant financial improvements against any possible future stock market crash.

Afterwards I went to the AGM of the Local Government Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) in Westminster with my Newham hat. I was late due to the Tower Hamlet clash but appreciated the touching tribute at the meeting to the former forum Chair, Cllr Kieran Quinn, who died unexpectedly late last year.

Kieran was a proper working class socialist who had a traditional grassroots trade union background but was also an effective Council leader, a tolerant and decent man who wanted to bring about change for the better. He is missed.

After LAPFF I went to my UNISON Housing Association Branch in Holloway to speak to staff and sign stuff as branch secretary. A member of our small team is now also a London Labour Councillor and Deputy Cabinet member for housing!

In the evening there was the General Committee meeting of West Ham Labour Party. We had Shadow Housing minister, Sarah Jones MP as our guest speaker.

Sarah gave a great speech and Q&A. She reported on the really welcome change in public opinion polls towards housing issues and that Labour policy is now 12% ahead of the tories (like the NHS).

Our West Ham MP, Lyn Brown, also joined in with the Q&A.

Afterwards a few of us retreated to the nearby garden of the historic Black Lion pub to rehydrate after a very long and hot day. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

Race, gender, class in the "Mother of Parliaments"

Recently I went to a late afternoon event in the House of Commons then afterwards had a drink (or three) with a colleague in a nearby pub.

The pub and road outside became full with drinkers enjoying the end of the workday and the glorious sunshine.

The picture right was taken later but there was probably around 100 people at its peak.

My colleague had worked in and around Parliament for many years and was very entertaining about the various MPs, Lords, journalists, lobbyists and party hacks who passed us by while we enjoyed our beers. Some of whom greeted him warmly. Some didn't. The vast majority of drinkers had some direct or indirect connection with Government.

I must admit that the lack of of diversity was pretty damn obvious. At a peak I only saw about 5 black men and no black women. I wonder how many of the 100  (or so) were working class from state schools? I suspect very few.

We still have a long, long way to go to making our society fairer and more inclusive.


Thursday, July 26, 2018

What have the Trade Unions done for us?

"Ever wondered what the trade union movement in Britain has done for us? Equal pay, equal opportunities, maternity pay and flexible working hours".

A great update for the young by the TUC on an old idea.

Watch the original monty python inspiration. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7tvauOJMHo

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

London Region at UNISON National Labour Link Forum 2018

Picture College of the London delegation at work and at play while at the national forum earlier this month in Newcastle for the UNISON Labour Link political fund that supports the Labour Party.

I am the London Regional Chair but was at forum as an elected representative of the NEC on the National Labour Link committee.
I was really pleased how many London speakers spoke at the forum. Not just the usual suspects this time (but how many times did Doreen speak?)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

"Labour councils working with Trade Unions"

This is good news agreement for the Labour movement family.  We should never forget that one of the reasons why the Labour Party was ever able to win power in the first place was that they were able to prove that they were on the side of the workers when in power in local government by paying decent wages, pensions and other terms and conditions.

"The Local Government Association (LGA) Labour Group has developed and formally adopted a ‘Labour Local Government and Trade Union Principles’ document, in partnership with the local government unions – UNISON, GMB, and Unite. The agreement is designed to help establish and strengthen the dialogue between Labour council leaders and councillors and local staff trade unions.

It sets out the standards which the LGA Labour Group believe should be met by Labour councils in their relationships with the unions and their policies, and covers austerity, good industrial relations, exemplary employment practice, the LGPS, promoting equality and in-house services, opposing academisation, and the Trade Union Act.

The document is reviewed annually, and was formally adopted by the LGA Labour Group in July 2018".

Hat tip Keith from UNISON

Monday, July 23, 2018

Councillor Report to West Ham Ward 1.7.18

"Dear Members, Firstly, may I apologise for the lateness of this report. The past few months have been exceptionally busy (for all of us).

Many thanks to all everyone who supported Cllr Whitworth and myself to be reselected as your candidates in the elections in May and for all your help in us being re-elected with such massive majorities.

Welcome to our new ward colleague Cllr Charlene McLean and at the same time best wishes to my former West Ham colleague, Cllr Freda Bourne upon her retirement.

Congratulations to Cllr Whitworth on being elected by Newham Labour Group to be a Chair of Scrutiny and Cllr Mclean upon her appointment as Deputy Mayor by our new directly elected Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz.

Shortly after the election I was also appointed by the Mayor, as Cabinet member for Housing Services and Chair of the Investment and Accounts Committee.

I have taken a leave of absence from my employer to carry out the role which so far, at least, I am finding fascinating but extremely challenging. Newham has nearly 26,000 households on its waiting list; private sector rents and house prices have shot up and arguably, we have the highest rate of homelessness in the country. While we will not solve the housing crisis in Newham without a change of government there are significant steps we can take to make a real difference.

Surgeries and case work

I have attended 2 surgeries per month in Vicarage Lane Community Centre and Brassett Point Residents Association room. However, from next month due to the problems with Vicarage Lane (see “ward issues”) I am changing location and times as below :-

· Stratford Library – 1st Saturday in every month 10am-11am

· Brassett Point – 1st Wednesday in every month 5pm-6pm.

Examples of recent casework involve overgrown trees, disabled adaptations disrepair, “Right to buy” dispute over valuations, boundary wall disputes, home visits about damp/disrepair. I have made a number of repair reports via “Love Newham” app, I am still unimpressed with repair failures in the Church Street block run by One Housing Group despite a second meeting with management and residents.

Ward Issues

Planning application in Abbey Road
An application for a huge private tower block next to the DLR station has now been submitted. Many residents are extremely concerned about the development. I have met with residents and developers and have submitted the concerns of residents. There will be future meetings. Cllr Whitworth is now on the Strategic Planning committee so will have to step back on this issue.

Durul Jannah Community Centre, E15 – Planning permission
Unfortunately a change in planning permission for this centre was refused and trustees are considering an appeal.

Apart from this set back there was a very successful awards event at the centre.

New Lifts
I have attended an evening LBN consultation meeting on lift renewal

Other Issues.

Workers Memorial Day 2018
On Saturday 28 April 2018 we had the most well attended event for many years. Many thanks for Lyn Brown MP and the Mayor (then a candidate) for attending and laying wreaths remembering all those killed at work or who have died of work related ill health at the Three Mills Green Memorial.

Rebecca Cheetham Nursery School
Due to time constraints I have been forced to resign as a School Governor but I have assured the school that if they need any help or assistance that they can still contact me. After 8 years it is probably time that they have someone new to replace me.

Lewisham By-election
With West Ham Labour colleagues I went on a canvassing session to this by election.

If any member wishes to contact me about this report to discuss any aspect please do not hesitate to do so.


John Gray
West Ham Ward Councillor

Sunday, July 22, 2018

NHS 70 : Celebrate and Defend Party in Gateshead

Belated picture collage from NHS 70th Birthday Party held on 5 July in Gateshead. UNISON Labour Link Executive was meeting nearby "across the water" to prepare for the National Forum which started the following day and we volunteered to join the celebration.

Great speeches in defence of NHS from our President, Gordon Mckey, Ian Lavery MP, UNISON regional secretary, Clare Williams and Deputy Regional Convenor, Linda Hobson (both Gordon and Linda are NHS nurses).

The birthday cake was delicious.

It was great to be reassured that the sun always shines in Gateshead :)

"Tell Esther McVey MP not to scrap the pensions dashboard"

I have already about 10 different defined benefit and defined contribution pensions. It is ridiculous in this day and age that we cannot have a single dashboard to control them.
"Do not scrap the promised pensions dashboard, a website that would help millions of people keep track of their pensions
Why is this important?

The Welfare Secretary Esther McVey wants to "kill off" a new government website which would help millions of people keep track of their pensions throughout their careers, because she thinks it's not the government's job to help. Without it millions of pension pots are at risk of being lost.

According to estimates by the Department for Work and Pensions, 50 million pension pots will be lost by 2050 without an official website to help workers to keep track of savings through their careers.

The website has already been successfully tested, and was due to be rolled out nationally soon. It's all the more urgent because new laws to boost pensions have led to 9 million workers being automatically enrolled on to workplace schemes in recent years.

A huge petition signed by thousands of us will show the government we expect them to keep their promises and continue to roll out the pensions dashboard.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Philosophical Belief Discrimination

Interesting.... (no known relation)

Philosophical Belief Discrimination

"Can an employer discriminate on grounds of philosophical belief where the employee is the only person to hold such a belief?

No, held the EAT in Gray v Mulberry.

Ms Gray worked for Mulberry. She refused to sign a standard contract clause assigning copyright in her work to her employer, fearing it would give them ownership over a novel and screenplay she was writing (even though the contract was amended to exclude them). She was eventually dismissed.

She claimed her belief in the sanctity of copyright law was a philosophical belief and thus a protected characteristic. The Employment Appeal Tribunal, after considering the necessary limbs for establishing a philosophical belief, held that the tribunal was entitled to conclude that the belief lacked sufficient cogency to qualify under the Equality Act 2010.

Of more interest, the EAT held that even if it was wrong, there could be no indirect discrimination because Ms Gray was (as far as the evidence went) the only person known to hold such a belief. Accordingly there could be no disadvantaged group, as she was not part of any group. Thus her indirect discrimination claim had to fail. Permission has been granted to appeal to the Court of Appeal". hat tip www.danielbarnett.co.uk 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Letting the government off the hook over removal of housing subsidy

Hat tip Redbrick (shame because Dispatches have a good track record)

"With reporter Antony Barnett driving between sites in a flash open top and very sporty white car, trying to link a number of disconnected stories under the disingenuous title of ‘Getting rich from the housing crisis’, the Dispatches programme on housing associations on Monday had the kind of sensationalist style that gives TV documentaries a bad name. I broadly agree with Carl Brown’s comprehensive analysis of the programmes' deficiencies on Inside Housing - principally that the government was totally let off the hook.
antony barnett
Dispatches' Antony Barnett and his irritating sporty white car. (Pic Channel 4)
Executive pay in housing associations is of course an issue – especially large redundancy pay-outs - but the media obsession with it is a pain and rather hypocritical when you look at how much people in the media get paid (the last CE of Channel 4 – a public corporation – received a package of £1m in his last year, and don’t get me started on BBC executive pay). To reduce the motivation for housing association activities – good and bad – to a single driver – pay – is absurd. It would also make a change for the press or TV to take a wider look at people who get rich from housing – the developers, the financiers, the private providers of temporary accommodation and the rest. There is a lot of leakage from residents’ rents and mortgage payments to very rich people, and housing association chief executive pay is only a small part of it.
The programme has been widely condemned in the sector, but a little defensively. The answer to a simplistic attack that you’re doing a bad job is not to simply assert that you are ‘doing a great job, a really great job’ (to quote Donald Trump). Because there is another side to the coin and there are issues that need to more honestly addressed.
Stripping aside the overly-dramatic style of presentation and the crude and untrue linking theme of people 'getting rich', the actual issues selected by the programme should not be lightly dismissed. For example, the Clarion redevelopment of the Sutton Estate in Chelsea has been widely criticised, not just in this programme, estate ‘regeneration’ schemes in general have often led to a major reduction in social rented homes (although more homes overall) and the non-delivery of promises, and the practice of selling hundreds of formerly social rented homes in high value areas at auction is little short of a disgrace even if it has been encouraged by this government. The contributions from Tom Murtha asking if associations have lost sight of their original ‘mission’ to provide homes for the poorest, and from Karen Buck MP about disinvestment in the high value but also high need communities she represents, asked reasonable questions of the sector.
The programme failed to get to the heart of the debate about housing associations. The removal of subsidy by government – the main culprits - has led many associations, and especially the largest ones, to maximise their surpluses to enable them to grow their development programmes and to provide an element of cross-subsidy to keep rents in new homes below market levels. Some councils have done the same thing. Practice varies of course – some associations refused to do ‘conversions’ (whereby empty social rent homes are converted to much higher 'affordable rents' before re-letting), others have maximised the practice – but the bottom line is that surpluses from existing activities have grown. Some of the new homes are being provided by making bigger surpluses from existing tenants, but with virtually no debate about the pros and cons.
Within the new business model, associations have clearly done very well. They have kept housing production going and have expanded their output. They have reapplied large development profits to produce more homes rather than see the money leak out as dividends as it would with private developers. The issue is whether they could have done more a) to oppose the worst aspects of government policy and b) to maintain a bigger flow of homes for social rent even if that meant fewer homes overall. Not all associations have made the same choices and there has clearly been more than one possible outcome. Although we are used to needs analysis for social lettings, I never see a serious assessment of who benefits from the rising proportion of new homes at market or near-market prices. There should be far more debate about the implications of losing so many of the cheapest homes to feed a development programme that comprises more expensive homes.
We should start from the principle that tenants should not be paying – in rent and reduced services – for the government’s failure to provide funding for additional affordable homes. I talk to a lot of people in the business and for several years it was hard to get anyone senior in a big association to talk about tenant services rather than development. At strategic level, housing management seemed to be reduced to little more than a growing source of cash. It was hard to get anyone to talk about social rent – still the only genuinely affordable tenure for people on low incomes – rather than total output and ‘affordable housing’ - often a cover for producing homes that were not affordable at all.
Grenfell changed the terms of the debate, forcing a greater focus on existing social housing and the deal that social tenants get. Groups like CIH and Shelter are reviewing social housing and concluding that providing homes at lower rents for poorer people is a very important policy. Labour has shown the way forward with its Green Paper, and the government’s own Green Paper is due to be sneaked out before the Parliamentary recess. Whether they will put more grant into new social rented homes is the critical thing to look out for. If they do, the way the sector then responds will tell us much more about the mettle of housing associations than how much their chief executives are paid.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Labour Friends of Local Government

Great first meeting at Portcullis House Westminster on Wednesday. Labour in Local Government is determined to punch its weight in our national political life. "MPs and Councillors at this Parliamentary reception to mark the formation of Labour Friends of Local Government - bringing the Parliamentary Labour Party and Local Government family together".

Picnic in the Park - West Ham & Stratford Labour Party Sumer Social Friday 27 July

Should be good! 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Charlbury House Walkabout - 17 July 2018 with local Little Ilford Councillors (Art in Blocks)

Picture collage from this evening when I did a home visit to Charlbury House with local Little Ilford Councillors, Councillor Riaz Ahmed Mirza and Councillor Pushpa Dipaklal Makwana about an ongoing leak in the block affecting a number of flats that needs sorting.

We did a "walkabout" from top to bottom afterwards and around the outside. The block was generally clean and in good repair but I will be making a number of on-line communal repair & cleaning reports via #LoveNewham app and also assist Cllr Mirza in the chase up of the leak.  

I forgot to discuss with the ward Cllrs about "Art in Blocks" but it would appear that there is already a secure notice board (bottom right) that perhaps we can use? 

Monday, July 16, 2018

London Stadium Report & LOBO legal action: Newham Full Council Meeting 16.7.18

Tonight's Newham Full Council meeting was dominated by two key announcements by Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz in her report to Council.

Firsty, she announced the result of a QC investigation on the London Olympic Stadium debacle where Newham Council lost at least £54 million in a failed investment in the stadium. 

Why did Newham go ahead with the original £40 million investment when even our financial advisors warned against it? Full report published tomorrow.

Secondly, the Mayor announced that Newham Council is pursuing legal action against Bank(s) over the selling to us of toxic LOBO loans, which is separate to the Court challenge announced by 14 other local authorities yesterday. Matter now "sub judice".

Not often I can say this but today was in my view a great day for Newham. Getting to the truth, holding people and institutions to account, seeking justice, learning from what has gone wrong while standing up for the interests of our residents. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

La Marseillaise: 'The Greatest National Anthem in the World, Ever' - BBC...

"Historian Simon Schama explains why La Marseillaise is the greatest national anthem in the world, while artist Andrew Park reimagines Delacroix’s iconic painting Liberty Leading".

La Fête Nationale. Joyeux Quatorze Juillet ((aka #BastilleDay in UK but not interestingly in France where it is just known as their national holiday)

Friday, July 13, 2018

"Sleep-in shifts judgment is a huge mistake"

This judgement is bad news for hundreds of thousands of low paid care workers (including my

Being paid not even the national minimum wage for work is simply a disgrace. I hope UNISON lawyers can find a way forward on this.

If not we need to campaign to force employers to pay. Local authorities can play a role in this as well as unions. See UNISON press release below. 

"The legal decision today (Friday) not to count sleep-in shifts as working time is wrong, and is at odds with legal precedents and a common sense understanding of what counts as work, says UNISON.
Today’s Court of Appeal judgment in favour of Mencap overturns a previous ruling at an employment appeal tribunal in April 2017.
UNISON took the initial case to an employment tribunal on behalf of care worker Claire Tomlinson-Blake. It argued that sleep-in shifts should count as working time, and should be paid at hourly minimum wage rates or higher.
The union argues that most care workers on sleep-in shifts aren’t sleeping. Most nights they have to get up to care for people, are on constant call, and are not free to come and go from their place of work.
Commenting on the case, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “This judgment is a mistake, but let’s be clear where the fault lies. The blame for this sorry state of affairs that’s hitting some of the country’s lowest paid workers must be laid at the government’s door.
“Ministers are so consumed by Brexit that they’re ignoring huge problems around them. Social care is in crisis, and this situation wouldn’t have arisen if the government had put enough money into the system and enforced minimum wage laws properly.
“Sleep-in shifts involve significant caring responsibilities, often for very vulnerable people. With too few staff on at night, most care workers are often on their feet all shift, only grabbing a few minutes sleep if they can.
“That’s why it’s such a disgrace that workers have been paid a pittance for sleep-ins – with some getting just £30 for a ten-hour shift.
“As a society we should value care staff and the work they do, but unfortunately we don’t. After this judgment who could blame care workers for leaving in their droves.”
As a result of the judgment, UNISON is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Notes to editors:
– Last autumn the government introduced the social care compliance scheme. This aims to ensure that companies and charities providing care services to the elderly and vulnerable adults settle the back-pay owed to staff for sleep-in shifts that haven’t been paid at minimum wage rates.
– Most workers have not yet received any of their backdated wages, and it’s not clear what today’s ruling means for staff owed money.
– More information on UNISON’s position on the social care compliance scheme is available here.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Forest Gate Festival - this Saturday 14 July 2018 (Bastille Day!)

@FGFestivalE7 FREE 🎉 street festival 🎉 on Saturday 14th July Osborne Road in the heart of #ForestGate #newham #forestgatefestival

 Check out theforestgatefestival.com

 (there will be a Labour Party stall outside 27 Osborne Road 10-2pm)