Monday, June 18, 2018

Essex Way: Epping to Chipping Ongar

Off message. Last year Gill and I finally finished the London Loop walk (which took us 3 years to complete in stages) but on 10 June we started our next long distance walking challenge, the 82 mile (130 km) Essex Way. Which starts in Epping and finishes in Harwich. There are 10 stages, first is  Epping to Chipping Ongar.

We took the 58 bus to Leyton Station then the Central Line to Epping. Went the wrong way out of Epping station but soon found our way on the well signposted route. Lovely rolling countryside but some noise at first from M11. Crossed over M11 on footbridge and then soon found ourselves in timeless beautiful rural essex.

There are a couple of nice looking pubs on the way but to me the best part of the walk was stopping off at the ancient Saxon Greensted Church (see collage above) which is believed to be the oldest wooden church in the world.

After their pardon and return from transportation in Australia, the trade union Tolpuddle Martyrs, settled in this area and were given land to farm. Two of the Martyrs married in this church but the local vicar is blamed for forcing them to leave and most of them later emigrated to Canada.

Stage one finished at Chipping Ongar (8 miles). We got 410 bus back to Epping then Central Line to Leyton and 58 bus back to Forest Gate.

A lovely and quiet country walk. Recommended. I am also thinking of whether we can enter a Newham Labour team into the relay race on Sunday 2 September when teams will complete the entire 82 miles in one day.

Watch this space. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

120k kids in B&Bs, Grenfell Tower; 200k Tenants abused; NHHG Fashion, Rutting Stags, Tackling Fuel Poverty - Labour Housing Group AGM 2018

This morning I went to the AGM of the Labour Housing Group which took place at Camden Town Hall. The LHG is a socialist society affiliated to the Labour Party, which as the name suggests, is a forum concerned with the political development of Labour housing policies and issues.

The Chair, Paul Eastwood, gave a powerful introduction stressing the national housing crisis we face with 120,000 children living in bed and breakfast, Councils spending £500 million on temporary accommodation, 200,000 private sector tenants reporting being abused or harassed by their landlords and tenants being described as "vermin" by so called "eviction services".  I can only agree with his comments with regard to Grenfell that "the sad fact is that it seems people have to die before housing gets the attention it deserves".

Treasurer Ross Houston reported that the LHG is setting up a new website where members will be able to join online.

I asked the officers how we can set up at Newham Branch of the LHG and was very encouraged by the positive reaction. I will email the secretary to start this off.

Our first guest speaker was Alastair Mcintosh, Chief Executive of the Housing Quality Network who is always a provocative but entertaining speaker. His beef is with the dismal and sectarian nature of English housing players which are dominated by "rutting stags" compared with the more collaborative approach of for example Welsh housing professionals. He (like me) wondered what is going on with Notting Hill Housing Trust holding a fashion launch on the same day as the first anniversary of Grenfell?

The next speaker was Michael Ware from a corporate finance practice on the role of the public sector tackling fuel poverty by micro generation and energy storage. This presentation was very powerful but completely new to me so I think I need to get advice from our officers on this but it seems something that all of us in the public sector need to think very seriously about it.

I had to leave early to go on a visit to a resident so missed the after lunch sessions (guest speaker Nicky Gavron from London Assembly) but have stolen the pictures from Cllr Ross Houston on his facebook. I have also added pictures to the above college from Stratford Town Hall being Green for Grenfell and the UNISON campaign against violence at work.

Friday, June 15, 2018

"Councils face replacement property drought"

"Two-thirds of councils will be unable to replace all the homes sold under Right to Buy without significant reform of the system, according to the Local Government Association.

The LGA this week released research it commissioned from property consultancy Savills which showed that more than 60,000 homes have been sold off in the last six years at, on average, half the market rate. The sales leave councils with enough funding to build, or buy, just 14,000 replacement homes. The LGA is calling on the government to allow all councils to borrow for building new homes, keep 100% of all sales receipts, and have the power to set Right to Buy discounts locally. Martin Tett, LGA housing spokesman, said councils needed “urgent” support to replace the homes sold off under the Right to Buy scheme. “Without a pipeline of new homes, future generations cannot benefit from the scheme,” said Tett.

I thought the tories promised "like for like" replacement of Right to buy properties sold?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Why Pensions are so important and organising to defend the Local Government Pension Scheme

Today I had a record breaking 3 meetings on Pensions. First I chaired a meeting of Greater London UNISON reps who sit on local Council Pension Boards (see group picture of Forum members above).

UNISON has cross service group national and regional forums on the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). The overriding purpose of these forums is to defend and improve the LGPS which 4 million UK workers depend upon and has £250 billion in assets.

We discussed:-

  • Support appropriate take up of the 50/50 option, especially for low paid workers who would otherwise leave the LGPS. Point out you still get full life insurance cover with 50/50
  • Recruiting and training for new reps; 
  • LGPS fund manager Baillie Gifford refusal to talk to trade unions about manufacturer Tesla's appalling  health & safety record.
  • Indemnity insurance for Pension board members. The saga continues. Why do some funds have it but others say it is not necessary? 
  • How to challenge inaccurate calculations of pensions (a rep reported that there has been some awful big mistakes made); 
  • Poor governance arrangements on some London Pension boards; 
  • Member representation on the London Pension Fund Authority
  • Access to UNISONs financial advice partner Lighthouse; 
  • Carbon divestment campaign. Branches and Climate campaigners need to work together. 
  • Carbon Neutral investment; 
  • New Minister for Local Government Pensions (who knows his stuff); 
  • 2018 LGPS PLSA conference; 
  • Millions of pounds of savings already made by London Pension funds due to UNISON's work on exposing excessive fees:
  • Problems with the London Collective Investment Vehicle (especially with Governance and ESG)
  • Disaster. The government wins legal appeal that they can force LGPS to invest in line with the whims of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. What could possibly go wrong?  
  • We finished with a minutes silence for the victims of Grenfell. 

Green For Grenfell

"Lighting up the Old Stratford Town Hall & East Ham Town Hall at @NewhamLondon to mark our respects to the victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy one year on. And our enduring condolences to their loved ones. #greenforgrenfell" Hat Tip Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Magpie Project

I spent some time this morning at the Magpie Project in Forest Gate talking to families using the centre & volunteers. I was so impressed. A fantastic respite & haven for mums and children living in temporary accommodation in and around Newham London

Check out :-

Welcome to the Magpie Project

We can’t solve the housing crisis, but we believe in making children’s lives better during their time in temporary accommodation.
We provide practical support and advice to mothers and children under five in temporary or insecure accommodation in Newham.
We believe all children have a right to a secure, safe place to play, healthy food, engaged parents, and access support no matter what their family circumstances

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

"What it's like to be on the receiving end of a violent attack..." Lynn's Story and UNISON Charter on Violence at Work

Yesterday there was a Parliamentary launch of the UNISON Violence at Work Charter for the 3rd Sector (Housing Associations & Charities). There was a number of MPs and employers who turned up to support the launch. The contribution by UNISON Member, Lynn Gillespie, at this event about her violent assault at work will be unforgettable to anyone who heard it. 

"Hi. My name is Lynn Gillespie. I work for WM Housing and I’m a proud UNISON member and workplace rep. I’m here today to tell you what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a violent attack as a result of my work.

It is an accepted fact that those of us in public service have to, on occasion, deliver bad news or do something that may not be liked by our clients or customers . Sadly, this means there are occasions when people react in a violent or aggressive manner.

When I was a homeless officer I had a telephone, a chair and other miscellaneous objects thrown at me. I’ve also had a punch thrown at my face.

Thankfully, my husband was nearby and was able to protect me. As a result he received severe bruising to his back. I dread to think what might have happened had we not been rescued by two off duty firemen who saw the attack and shouted and as a result the assailants ran off.

That was in 1999, I was a tenancy enforcement officer by that time taking action against perpetrators of serious anti social behaviour. The impact on my family was more hurtful that my injuries as I could not see my daughters aged 5 and 7 for nearly a week as my face was so horribly bruised with a broken nose and cheekbone. They were spun a tale of mummy having ate something that did not agree with her that had given her an allergic reaction. They cried when they eventually saw me and that hurt even more.

What did help, was that I was totally supported at work by my manager who came to see me at home on the Monday as I had been due in Court and he took my court case from me and went to court himself. He was also armed with the largest bunch of flowers I had ever seen which as he pointed out would not take away the horror of the attack but hopefully would cheer me up.

My employers have always taken assaults on staff very seriously and we have an excellent internal reporting system in place for all assaults be they near misses, verbal abuse or threats or actual physical harm which thankfully does not happen too often. We do not hesitate to take action against the perpetrators and if they are our tenants we take action against their tenancy.

I am also proud to say that my employer, WM Housing, was the first organisation to sign up to the Violence at Work Charter having already put in place everything on the list.

Sadly, the stories from UNISON members in the Third Sector is that nowhere near enough employers take this responsible approach. Too many workers in the sector are being expected to put up with violent and aggressive behaviour, being told that it is part of the job. The Violence at work charter is my union’s attempt to draw a line in the sand. We say enough is enough. Committed charity and housing association workers, in fact, no workers, should be assaulted as a result of their public service.

Please go back to your employers and encourage them to sign if they have not already as we have to take a stand against this unfortunate fact of working life that affects far too many of us working in our sector.

Thank you for listening".

Monday, June 11, 2018

Doing business the right way benefits everyone

"I don't always agree with Conservative ministers, but I did at the launch of a report last month on the Workforce Disclosure Initiative (WDI), where minister for international development (who funds the WDI in partnership with Oxfam) Harriet Baldwin MP said: "If we want to eliminate poverty in all its forms then the world needs to create jobs and that creation happens by investment. 

But those jobs must be good jobs without labour rights abuses. Too many people in the world are physically and mentally impacted negatively by work. Doing business the right way benefits everyone." 

What the WDI has done in its pilot year is to ask 75 global companies how they manage their workers and, by this disclosure, it hopes to mobilise institutional investors to push companies for better jobs. One of its recommendations was that there should be as much reporting by companies on how they treat their workforce (including their supply chain) as on climate change.

The launch was not only about treatment but also the future of work itself. The opportunities from technology but also the dangers. I enjoyed the ‘tale' by the WDI executive chair, Richard Dickinson, who in his opening remarks said: "A Ford motor manager shows a union leader around a new car assembly line made up of robots. The Ford manager says he would be interested to know how the union will get union dues from robots. The union leader replies by saying he would be interested to know how robots will buy cars."

The initiative seems to be gaining momentum. In July 2017 the campaign had the backing of 79 investors with $7.9trn of AuM. In April 2018, 96 investors with $10trn AuM were backing the WDI. I am a trustee of a pension fund that has backed the initiative. The companies that responded to the initiative are commended in the report for their efforts and providing examples of good practice.

Despite the perceived success of those who did participate, only 34 out of the 75 global companies agreed to take part, which as an asset owner makes me wonder why? There could well be legitimate reasons but, for the life of me, I can't understand why they would not support an initiative funded by the British government, supported by respected international organisations and backed in many cases by their own shareholders?

At the meeting, Janet Williamson from the Trades Union Congress (who is also a pension trustee) said: "There is a high road to profitability and a low road. In the short term you can make profits from treating your workers badly. The high road is better. Sustainable profitability is via the high road."

If, going forward companies, still refuse to participate in the WDI then you need to question whether or not they are suitable for your fund to invest in. Obviously, you will have to take professional advice, but if they don't want transparency with regard to the way they treat workers then you have to consider are they equally keen to avoid scrutiny on other important governance issues such as boardroom pay or environmental impact?

One thing that I did point out at the launch is that while the UK is clearly not as bad as many developing countries in the way companies treat workers, we must get our own house in order as well.

In my daytime job as a trade unionist, I represent workers in the UK who live in poverty, have insecure employment, awful housing and feel hopeless and betrayed. Unless we clean our own house, concern for those overseas may be seen as crocodile tears.
Finally, I assume it was not coincidentally that the launch was on May 1 - otherwise known as International Workers' Day.
 John Gray is a pension trustee and chair of a local authority pension committee. He is writing in a personal capacity only.

Hat tip Professional Pensions (and Eve for stealing from her excellent notes of the meeting)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Over a million people on Council waiting list. Let's turn Benefits into Bricks?

Many thanks to Shelter for their report highlighting the National Housing waiting list crisis. There is more than a million people on UK Housing waiting lists. Newham is highlighted as having proportionally the worse crisis in the entire country. 

For every home in Newham that we were able to supply last year there were 44 households waiting to be rehoused. We have only in total some 18,000 tenanted homes in the borough and 25,729 households on our waiting list.

But only 588 homes were available for social rent in 2016/17.

So do the maths.

Even worse we are still being forced to sell off our best family homes under right to buy. 46.7% of homes sold under right to buy are sublet in the private marker. The Government now has to pay huge amounts of housing benefit to pay these exorbitant rents to private landlords. Which do not produce a single new home.

According to another Shelter report last year we also have the worst homeless crisis in London with 13,566 in temporary accommodation. 

The new administration in Newham under Executive Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, and all Labour Councillors are absolutely committed to dealing with this crisis.

Watch this space. There are things we can and will do.

In the meantime another public report last week said that Newham spent £90 million on housing benefits for homelessness during the last 2 years.

How many social rent homes could that £90 million provide if spent on bricks and building new homes? Never mind the even more huge amounts spent on subsidising private landlords housing benefit for low paid working households.

Let's turn benefits into bricks and build homes. Are you listening Prime Minster "One Nation" Theresa May? 

Saturday, June 09, 2018

West Hammers "on the knocker" for Janet in Lewisham East

Picture collage from this afternoon's campaigning by (mostly) West Ham Labour in support of Janet Dady, Labour Parliamentary candidate for the Lewisham East by election.

Our team was joined by our MP Lyn Brown (and by Cara - her Labour Attack Dog). Ealing Central & Acton MP Rupa Haq also joined us. It was great to have 2 UNISON member MP's campaigning for the election of another UNISON Labour candidate.

The canvass returns for Janet were very good apart from a very few residents unhappy at Labour policy over Brexit. Which as a committed "remainer" I personally can understand but I also find incredibly frustrating since Labour is the only party with a chance of power who is committed to a pragmatic "soft" Brexit.

The vast majority of people I spoke to did not mention Brexit at all and were more interested in traditional Labour issues such as opposing cuts to Schools and the NHS. 

Friday, June 08, 2018

Tower Hamlets Community Housing Strike over Pay

Early this morning I went to the UNISON picket line outside the headquarters of Tower Hamlets Community Housing (THCH) to show solidarity and support for the strikers. In my roles as UNISON London Housing Associations branch secretary, Regional Council Officer and NEC member for Community.  I also passed on a message of support from last night's ward meeting of Forest Gate North Labour Party.

Management are attacking pay at THCH and have obviously wound up staff so much that they have voted for 2 weeks of all out strike action. Which is pretty much unheard of in the sector. Most of the strikers were delivering leaflets on the dispute to the surrounding THCH estates.

There is a solidarity picket on Monday morning from 8am (11 June - at THCH HQ which is 285 Commercial Road, E1 2PS near Watney Market). There is also a public meeting at 4.15pm Tuesday 12 June at Oxford House, Derbyshire Street, Bethnal Green, E2 6HG London.

It was also good to meet former colleagues again who used to work with me in Tower Hamlets Council.  

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Newham Cabinet Meeting Monday 5 June 2018 - Free Schools & Scrutiny

This was the first cabinet meeting of the new administration which I thought went really well. Making actual executive decisions is a very different experience to being a backbencher Councillor.  It is a more than a little strange how quickly you get use to change.  I also like the fact that four of us took a bus to this meeting from Newham Dockside.

See what the Newham Recorder thought about some of the key issues below:-

Newham Council to rethink £660,000 rugby pitch plan in West Ham

At Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, members rescinded the cash earmarked to build the pitch at the Memorial Recreation Ground in West Ham.

The plans were passed under the borough’s former mayor Sir Robin Wales weeks before May’s election.

However the plan was called in by the scrutiny committee when councillors suggested the huge sum could be “better spent” elsewhere.

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz, who was a member of scrutiny under the last administration, approved the recommendations and said the council will be looking at alternatives ways of spending the money.

Cllr John Gray, cabinet member for housing, said this was the first time the scrutiny committee had been successful in stopping something in its 12-year history.

He added that it was good to see the committee “have some teeth”.

(JG It was made clear that the Rugby club may still get the money pending a new review of Parks and Leisure. The monitoring officer said that Scrutiny structure had been in place for 17 years!)

New free school in Royal Wharf development ‘reluctantly’ approved by Newham Council

"Newham Council has “reluctantly” passed plans to build a free primary school to serve one of the borough’s largest new developments.

The new free school at Royal Wharf was given the green light by mayor Rokhsana Fiaz on Tuesday night.

The school will serve the Royal Wharf development, which will have more than 3,300 homes when finished.

The Britannia Education Trust, a charity which also set up the Britannia Village Primary School in Silvertown, has signed on to run the facility.

Free schools are a type of academy set up by parents, teachers, charities or businesses and funded directly by central government but independent of local council control.

Earlier this month Ms Fiaz said she had “significant concerns about the government’s policy of academisation and the lack of accountability this type of school structure creates for local communities”.

However, the cabinet said it was “urgent” the school was set up to take its first intake of pupils by September 2019 and the free model was the only way of achieving this.

Councillor Julianne Marriott, cabinet member for education and children, said: “This development already has around 2,000 people living on it and will have roughly 8,000 people by the time it is finished.

“We have no choice to agree this proposal to ensure our children can attend a school near their home and we fulfil our duties as an education authority. But it is a travesty that the only way we can have new schools in the borough is through free schools.”

Ms Fiaz added: “We will be bringing forward the full council motion on academies to the July cabinet.

“We will be asking government to enable us to build our own schools where demand determines it, give local authorities more powers to take over failing academies and to enable schools to return to local authority control.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Paying homage to Keir Hardie at West Ham

Yesterday I took my fellow UNISON NEC member (and NHS hospital worker) Mary Locke on a whistle stop tour of the Old Town Hall in Stratford. 

Mary was re-elected in May as a Labour Councillor in Birmingham. 

Mary is a huge fan of Keir Hardie who was the first ever Labour Member of Parliament. He was elected as MP for West Ham South on 4 July 1892. 

In this town hall during the 1892 the election count took place in the main hall and Keir made his acceptance speech from its outside balcony to people gathered below in the Broadway. He was then taken on a victory procession to Canning town. 

The old West Ham Council debating chamber is now called the "Will Thorne" chamber (see photo bottom right) in honour of another local MP (and Mayor) who was also a founder of the GMB union. Ironically, one of the founders of UNISON's predecessor union, NALGO, Herbert Blaine, was also a West Ham Council officer but he was also a Conservative Party National Agent! 

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

West Hammers helping out at Lewisham East this Saturday 9 June 2pm at Lee Station: Vote Janet Daby

West Ham Labour Party are organising a campaigning event to support the Labour Candidate (and UNISON member), Janet Daby, in the Lewisham East By Election. 

We are meeting outside Lee Station at 2pm on Saturday 9 June.

To get there you can meet West Ham CLPers outside ticket barriers Stratford Station (NOT Westfields side) 12.50 sharp to travel together to Lee station (only 36 minutes) or drive/cycle to 
SE12 9JG.

Contact me if you planning to go so I can let the local organisers know numbers.

Appeal by Mayor of Newham to find boy's killers

A really heartfelt plea by the Mayor for help in finding the murderers and reassurance that everything possible will be done to protect our young people in Newham.

"Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz has appealed for residents to come forward with any information that could lead to the arrest and conviction of the killer or killers of a 14-year-old boy.​

Today (Monday 4 June) is nine months to the day that Corey Junior Davis, known as CJ, died as a result of a shooting incident in Forest Gate. The Mayor’s appeal on the council’s website comes ahead of a reconstruction of his death set for BBC1’s Crimewatch Roadshow programme on Tuesday (5 June) at 11am. 

Said Mayor Fiaz: “Corey’s death horrified us all. He and others like 18-year-old student Sami Sidhom whose moving and touching funeral service I attended on Friday, were part of Newham’s bright future until they were brutally attacked and taken from us. In the case of Sami this was a result of a knife attack back in April and also in Forest Gate.

“This borough is a poorer place for the loss of both of them and the other young people who have fallen victim to senseless attacks that have occurred in our borough over the past year. I can’t begin to imagine the pain that their respective families, friends, and others who knew them, are feeling. But I can understand that these incidents are making our young people feel frightened and our communities anxious about how we can keep them safe.”

The Mayor has put tackling violence and making young people feel safe at the very heart of her plans. She said: “There have been too many young victims in Newham this past year and this has to be stopped. Too many young people have been killed or injured, and too many are scared. We will not allow it to continue. We all have a responsibility to protect our young people and keep them healthy and well.

“My decision to emphasise the importance of youth safety as part of my mayoralty isn’t a consequence of recent events. For so many of our young people, feeling unsafe has been a feature in their lives for far too long.”

In meetings Mayor Fiaz has had with young people so far, they have told her they want to be safe. They say youth services and youth clubs are important places of safety, but they fear being in streets and in parks.

Added the Mayor: “But despite everything, they say they love this borough. They embrace its diversity, its vibrancy, and its dynamism, but what they want is to be listened to. They want us as adults, be it parents, teachers, carers, neighbours, police officers, council services or community organisations, to step up and make them feel safe. That’s why I’ve pledged to involve them in making the decisions to create a safer and more engaging environment for young people to grow up in.

“In the meantime I encourage anyone who may know something about Corey’s tragic death to speak up. His killers are still out there. Contact the dedicated incident room number of 020 8345 3775 or to give information anonymously contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. Let’s break down the wall of silence. We owe it to Corey and his mother who we need to help.”

Monday, June 04, 2018

Carpenters Estate Stratford

On Saturday I mobiked through the Carpenters Estate to meet a friend at the Olympic stadium and on route had a chance to do an unofficial walkabout. While I thought that the poppies and flowers displays were lovely and well kept, I know that there are problems on the estate.  I need to meet up with local residents, Councillors and stakeholders about housing services, while the Mayor is clear that she wants a resident led masterplan for the future redevelopment of the area. 

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Women of Westminster Walking Tour: 26 July 2018

Newham Youth Council & Cabinet meeting

On Friday afternoon the Newham Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz and her Cabinet (including yours truly) met the Newham Young Mayor ,Tomiwa Akintunde and the Youth Council

After introductions were made we talked about the Young Mayor's projects especially the support for students studying for exams and also mental health issues affecting young people. I offered to attend a future meeting of the Youth Council to discuss housing for young people in Newham. 

We then had a meeting in the Mayor's office to discuss the forthcoming review of Newham Council ward boundaries to reflect changes in population. While overall the population has risen, I was astonished that the population of Royal Docks ward had decreased by 20% since 2008. 

I wish that I was as articulate and confident as these young people are when I was a teenager. They do Newham proud. 

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Early Parliamentary Selection: Chingford & Woodford Green

Dear member,

Applications are now open for Chingford & Woodford Green Parliamentary seat. This is Ian Duncan Smith's seat and Labour has a real opportunity to take it from the Tories.

In 2017, Labour cut the Tories majority in this seat to under 2,500 and it is crucial that Labour wins this in the next General Election.

This is an all women shortlist. Click here for information how to apply

Deadline to apply is Thursday 7 June, good luck!

Best wishes,

London Labour

Reproduced from an email sent by London Labour. Promoted by and on behalf of London Labour both at Southside, 105 Victoria Street, SW1E 6QT

Friday, June 01, 2018

Damp or Condensation? is it caused by "lifestyle" or is it actually overcrowding?

Yesterday evening I went on an inspection of 8 flats with Newham London Housing management and technical officers to this block in Plaistow following some horrendous reports of disrepair & damp in the block. 

A list of repair actions was agreed with residents but while there are things that residents and Landlords can do to mitigate condensation damp, it is no coincidence that overcrowded households tend to suffer the most. We need to build more and better homes to solve this.

Many thanks to the London Renters Union for supporting residents on this and helping to bring this to our notice 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

RBS LOBO loans a "fraud on the people"

Newham Cllr John Whitworth labels RBS 'inverse floater' LOBO loans a "fraud on the people" at RBS AGM, demanding further disclosure from the bank.

Newham Councillor John Whitworth who is also the Chair of the Scrutiny Committee at the Council posed a series of questions to RBS Chairman Sir Howard Davies regarding RBS LOBO Loans- which Mr Whitworth likened to a: "fraud on the people" at the RBS AGM in Edinburgh.

Sir Howard Davies said during BBC Question Time that PFI was a fraud on the people because "it is always cheaper for Government to borrow than anybody else." Mr Whitworth proceeded to outline that Newham was having to pay an interest rate of 7.6% on its LOBO loans, borrowed in 2010, when RBS was accessing credit from the Bank of England at just 0.5% interest.

Mr Whitworth noted local authorities were still struggling financially having received the bulk of austerity cuts, caused in no small part by RBS, which was the largest bank in the world when it collapsed in 2008. Yet despite this, RBS was looking to extract the "maximum interest possible" from local authorities struggling with cuts.

Commenting for Debt Resistance UK, campaigner Joel Benjamin said:

"Sir Howard Davies admits that it is always cheaper for Government to borrow than banks, and that PFI and by extension LOBO loans are therefore a fraud. What Mr Davies fails to recognise in an act of cognitive dissonance all to commonplace in the banking profession is the role of his own bank in facilitating those frauds, as one of the largest PFI and LOBO loan lenders to UK public authorities.

Frankly, I would have expected more from the man who once ran the Audit Commission and Chaired the Financial Services Authority"

Newham Council currently pays around 70% of all council tax income on servicing interest on debts including £563million of LOBOs borrowed from RBS and Barclays.

You can read the full transcript of Mr Whitworth's AGM question here and watch the video footage, including RBS's response.

Other major LOBO borrowers including Leeds, Kent, Edinburgh, Manchester, Cornwall, Liverpool and Glasgow  should now take action to ensure hundreds of millions in interest savings for local taxpayers can be delivered.

At least 240 councils across the UK have taken out LOBO loans, totalling £15bn. Auditors are currently considering legal objections from residents in 18 councils, filed under the Audit Commission Act last year, which could result in some LOBO loans being ruled unlawful.

Find out more about LOBO loans and if your council has them on the Debt Resistance UK website.
 For press inquiries email:  Phone: 07429637423
Links to further information:
UK Local Authority Debt Audit website:
Interactive map of local authority debt:
What is a LOBO loan?
LOBO Loans are potentially illegal
The conflicts of interest

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Plaistow from the 15th floor

View from 15th floor of Victoria Point E13 Newham London overlooking Plaistow

I did a walkabout of the block & was impressed with repairs & caretaking. 

I was meeting residents with Newham Council Officers about a lift renewal in @WestHamBLP Redfern House.

Shame that so few residents turned up for such an important matter (only one lift in the block).

Need to encourage a rebirth of real tenant and leasehold representation in our borough. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Unsung Hero: The Jack Jones Story - Trailer

‘Unsung Hero – The Jack Jones Story’ is a documentary on one of the greatest British figures of the past century – a man who exercised more power over government economic policy than any other trades union leader in British history.

Jones took on four of the great evils of modern times: poverty, fascism, worker exploitation and pensioner poverty - and took them on with so much conviction that at one point, the public voted him the most powerful man in Britain. 

The life of Jack Jones mirrors the story of the 20th century - a man whose like we may never see again.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Friday, May 25, 2018

Lyn Brown MP: Demanding action on Gaza

Common sense speech by our West Ham MP Lyn Brown, condemns the massacre in Gaza by the IDF (and the the Hamas terrorists who glory in the massacre).

My question is why does the IDF do what Hamas want and create martyrs???

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

VIOLENT CRIME: Labour MP Lyn Brown gives a moving speech in parliament

Intelligent and passionate speech by Lyn on the recent violent deaths of 9 young men (and children) in West Ham.

Is it really no coincidence that 65% of Newham children are brought up in poverty while living in one of the richest cities in the world? I think not. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

ACAS: Religion or belief discrimination: ten myths

Myth:  I can’t be accused of discriminating against someone with the same religion as me.
Fact:   If you treat someone unfairly because of their religion it would be discrimination, whether or not you were the same faith.
Myth:  A philosophical belief is simply what I believe in, so my beliefs are protected.
Fact:   What qualifies as a philosophical belief is not always clear cut. There are guidelines, but they are only guidelines. And the final decision whether someone’s beliefs amount to a ‘belief’ in their individual case will rest with an employment tribunal or court.
Myth:  Employees are only really protected against religion discrimination when they are devout in their faith or work in religion.
Fact:   No, they are protected against unfair treatment whether they are devout or not. And, for example, because their friend holds a particular religion or they are thought to follow that religion, even when they don’t.
Myth:  Away from work, I can say what I want regarding my religion or belief on social media – it’s my profile and my page.
Fact:   An employer has a right to ensure an employee’s personal views are not mistaken for its own. It should have a policy on social media including use away from work.
Myth:  As long as a manager is canny in their questioning in the interview, they can still get away with finding out a job applicant’s religion if they want to.
Fact:   Even a question such as ‘Which school did you attend?’ is likely to be seen as discriminatory if fishing for the candidate’s religion and the question is irrelevant.
Myth:  A request for leave for a religious festival takes precedence over a request for a family holiday.
Fact:   No, religious observance does not necessarily override any other good reason for leave.
Myth:  An employer’s dress code must be strictly followed, otherwise there’s no point.
Fact:   A strict dress code would have to be for very good business reasons to satisfy an employment tribunal. Better to take into consideration that some employees may wish to dress in a certain way because of their religion or belief.
Myth:  An employee can refuse to do aspects of their job because of their religion or belief.
Fact:   Not if there are good business reasons why they are part of the job, such as being essential duties, and the employer’s decision is proportionate.
Myth:  An employee doesn’t have to follow a rule like having a photo ID pass, if having their photo taken is against their religion or belief.
Fact:   Employees should understand that their employer has a right to expect certain things to happen for good business reasons, such as having a photo ID pass for security reasons.
Myth:  A colleague can’t in any circumstances lecture me about their religion or belief.
Fact:   They can’t force their views on you when you don’t want to hear them. However, if you bait them you are less likely to be able to claim harassment.
Want to learn more about these areas? Download the free Acas guide
Religion or belief discrimination: key points for the workplace from:

Monday, May 21, 2018

PLSA Local Government Pension Conference 2018

Just arrived for the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association annual conference in Gloucestershire as
Newham London delegate from Investment and Accounts Committee.

Some interesting speakers and seminars ahead.  Local Government minister Rishi Sunak MP, fees, ESG, economy, change, the regulator, cost cap, funding & current affairs.

Will blog as and when

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Being a Republican but still enjoying the Newham Royal Wedding Celebrations

Picture collage from two events in Newham yesterday that I attended with Gill on behalf of the Council celebrating the Royal Wedding. While I personally believe that our Head of State should not be a hereditary monarch, I respect the views of the majority in this country, who pretty obviously do.

I must admit to being more than a bit worried in light of the experience "across the pond" of us electing a "President Farage" but still think the democrat principal is absolute.

I have blogged previous on this here. It was great to spend time with local residents at the Community Road Centre and the sheltered tower block in Holden Point (Deputy Mayor Clarlene McLean and her lovely deputy, deputy Esme).  

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Janet Daby selected as Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Lewisham East By Election

Congratulations to UNISON Labour Link nominated candidate, Janet Daby, for her convincing win today.

Janet won 63% of the vote to become the Labour Party Parliamentary candidate in the forthcoming by election. Well done to Janet and her team of supporters. Commiserations to the other candidates.

Many thanks for her kind comments about the support that UNISON was able to give her.

We have been able to support a number of different successful candidates recently in London.

I have already received an email from the Labour Party asking (I assume to all West Ham CLPers) to canvass at the following dates:-

Let's get teams out to support her.  I assume some evening slots will be available soon.

           Sunday 20th May at 2pm, meeting at Grove Park station

·         Monday 21st May at 2.30pm, meeting at Grove Park station

·         Wednesday 23rd May at 2.30pm, meeting at Grove Park station

·         Thursday 24th May at 2.30pm, meeting at the Burnt Ash Hill Methodist Church on Burnt Ash Hill

·         Friday 25th May at 10.30am, meeting at the Burnt Ash Hill Methodist Church on Burnt Ash Hill

·         Saturday 26th May at 4pm, meeting at the Crown Pub, Burnt Ash Hill

·         Sunday 27th May at 2pm, meeting at the Crown Pub, Burnt Ash Hill

Friday, May 18, 2018

Thursday, May 17, 2018

"50th anniversary of Ronan Point" & "Are tenants being listened to on safety?" (NO)

"Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz yesterday (Wednesday 16 May ) laid flowers and attended a special memorial event to mark the day, 50 years ago, that four people died in the Ronan Point tower block disaster.

Ronan Point in Custom House was a 22 storey block near Butchers Road. The building partially collapsed following a gas explosion on the 18th floor in the early hours of May 16, 1968.

Four people died as a result of the blast, Thomas Murrell and his wife Pauline, Thomas McCluskey and Edith Bridgestock. Thirteen other people were injured and 80 families were made homeless.

Mayor Fiaz was invited to the event by campaigners Patricia Jolly and Paul Wade who want to see a permanent memorial those who lost their lives. She was joined by Cllr Pat Holland, who represents the Custom House ward, and Newham Council Chief Executive Kim Bromley-Derry.

Patricia, who lost a relative in the collapse, told a group of around 50 who gathered at St Mark’s Church Community Centre: “People need these memorials that come in the form of statues and plaques. The collapse of Ronan Point was an unexpected and awful tragedy, but it is a part of the history of Custom House and Newham, and should not be forgotten.”

The Mayor thanked the campaigners for their hard work and pledged the council would be working with relatives, friends, and all those who remembered Ronan Point, to create a respectful permanent memorial.

As guests remembered the Ronan Point victims, thoughts were never far from 71 victims of last year’s Grenfell fire tragedy.

Mayor Fiaz said: “None of us will ever forget the feeling of horror and helplessness as we watched the events unfold on that dreadful night, and for those of you that lived in Custom House 50 years ago, it will have brought back the painful recollection of the tragedy at Ronan Point.

“Once again the country has been shocked into action and there is rightly, once again, a renewed focus on the safety of tower blocks, and all social housing. We in Newham have not, and will not forget the tragic lessons of Ronan Point and Grenfell and will make sure building safety lessons are not forgotten.” Hat tip Newham Council Website

and Inside Housing Magazine 

On the 50th anniversary of the collapse of Ronan Point, tower block safety campaigner Frances Clarke questions whether Dame Judith Hackitt is really listening to tenants..

"A great deal is at stake.

The Grenfell Tower tenants said loudly that their block was a fire risk. No-one in power was willing to listen and 71 people died.

We had a completely different experience during the Ronan Point campaign. Ronan Point, which partially collapsed 50 years ago this week, was rebuilt and re-inhabited.

In 1982 the first tower blocks’ campaign national conference brought together a range of tenants, experts, community workers and activists.

During the conference, tenants of Ronan Point spoke to architect Sam Webb and told him of their concerns: they could smell food being cooked many floors below, they could clearly hear the conversations and TV programmes of neighbours far away.

Mr Webb responded by carrying out a survey of the flats during which he dropped a coin between the floor and wall and it disappeared, demonstrating that the flats were not sealed units, and fire and fumes could spread. Regulations were breached.

Pressure from tenants was enormous.

Newham Council voted to empty the block and they offered it to the Building Research Establishment (BRE) so that they could test it thoroughly.

The testing process was very transparent. A flat was set on fire to test one hour compartmentation – after 11 minutes engineers were seen to be scurrying out of the flat above as fumes and flames travelled upwards.

The fire had to be extinguished, the test had failed, the flat couldn’t contain a fire for one hour.

Structural investigations took place which revealed that the H2 joints could not be relied upon to hold the block up, they could not withstand a pressure of 2.5 psi. Instead of being packed with concrete, they contained newspaper and tin cans.

The Tower Blocks Campaign and Newham Council worked together to ensure that tenants were informed and involved throughout.

There were frequent meetings, with free transport and council-run creches. ‘Experts’ were required to talk in plain English and the council funded independent technical advice for tenants.

This experience showed us that effective partnerships can exist between engineers, architects, politicians, tenants, community workers and the media.

Are tenants being listened to now, in the aftermath of Grenfell? Sadly, the example of the remaining large panel system blocks, blocks like Ronan Point, is not positive.

Residents of the Ledbury Estate had raised concerns about gaps in their flats for years, their concerns heightened after the Grenfell fire. Resident Danielle Gregory’s questioning of the Council and of Arups, their consultants, about the existing ‘stay put’ policy was not welcomed.

Nonetheless she was proven right, resulting investigations showed that the flats could not contain a fire for one hour.

Tenants went on to force the examination of structural joints and again the joints could not withstand a pressure of 2.5psi – they should not have had gas or people in the flats.

Would this information have come to light without serious tenant pressure? It is the efforts of these tenants that brought large panel system construction to the attention of Dame Judith.

In these examples, a change in building regulation would not have solved the problem as these blocks were in breach of current regulations.

So the role tenants played was to alert authorities to a dangerous situation. Why do tenants, such as these, have to work so hard to be listened to?

Why can’t landlords work in partnerships with tenants, as with the Ronan Campaign? Will Dame Judith’s Review properly address tenants’ voice?

Will she ensure that a legally enforceable pathway is created for tenants to report their safety issues when their landlords do not respond appropriately to their concerns?

Are you listening Dame Judith, have you heard?"

Frances Clarke, tower block campaigner and co-founder of Tower Blocks UK (JG adds and former Newham Councillor and Cabinet member)