Thursday, September 19, 2019

Newham Fabians on local Housing

This evening I came back from attending the Ryanair AGM in Dublin (will post further on this) to go and attend the meeting of Newham Fabians and speak on my role as the Cabinet lead on housing.

More people arrived after the start and it was good to have a debate with members who have detailed knowledge and experiences of housing issues in Newham.

I presented on what we are currently doing as an administration and what we hope to achieve. I must write this up properly but in short we are doing lots of good things in Newham on housing but need to do lots and lots more.

While building a 1000 Council owned homes at truly affordable rents will be  transformational for those residents we house we need a Labour Government in power give us the money and ability to house the 27000 families on our waiting list (and the many thousands who are in desperate housing need but not on the list)

Afterwards there was a typical Fabian "polite but challenging" Q&A which I really enjoyed.

Many thanks to Newham Fabian Officers Anita, Rohit and David for the invite and the opportunity to speak and explain.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Ryanair AGM

I have just arrived in Dublin to attend tomorrow’s Ryanair Annual General Meetings.

I am there on behalf of the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum which represents 80 Pension funds and 6 collective investment Pools worth £250 billion.

Should be interesting...

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) Executive Induction

Today I went on an induction to the LAPFF Executive following my election as Joint Vice Chair.

I used to be on the LAPFF Executive in 2013/2014 and it is good to be back.

LAPFF represents 80 UK Council pension funds and 6 Collective investment pools with asserts worth some £250 billion.

Some 4 million people have paid into UK Council pension funds.

Last week I represented LAPFF at the Sports Direct AGM and on Thursday I will be in Dublin for the Ryan Air AGM. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Jeremy Corbyn | Climate Emergency & Car usage

Hopefully those of us who support Jeremy to be our Prime Minister will recognise that we must radically reduce car usage in Newham, not only to prevent climate change disaster but also to stop it contributing to the killing of 7 out of  every 100 deaths in our borough for those over age 30 (mostly our elders).  While young people in London are also dying from car related air quality.

I can personally vouch that Jeremy is a life long cyclist and supporter of public transport who hates using a car unless there is no alternative.

If you do not support a radical reduction of car use in our borough, you are not a supporter of our leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Bowers Marsh Walk & the Battle of Benfleet

Off message but went with Gill on a lovely 5.5 mile walk on Sunday courtesy of the free website EssexWalks.Com.

We started off at the RSPB reserve at Bowers Marsh which has a wonderful sense of "Big Essex Skies" and marsh land solitude despite the distant hum of road traffic.

Follow the Thames Path out of the marsh and under the road bridge and along the mudflats of East Haven creek. The path is a little overgrown approaching a second world war pill box so not suitable for shorts or sandals.

It was very pleasant walking along the creek and checking out the boats moored or those abandoned to rot beside it.

At Benfleet there was a memorial to the battle in 894AD when the Saxons defeated the Vikings in a surprise attack and burnt their long ships. Traces of the burnt ship timbers were apparently found when the railway was built.

After walking through parks, back of houses green lanes and horse paddocks (we had to climb over a gate on a public footpath which had been locked shut with a screw - must remember to report to Essex Council rights of way officer) we stopped at the historic 14th Century St Margaret's Church, which is reputed to be haunted, but nothing spooky occurred and the Church wardens who let us in were very friendly.

At least we think... they were the wardens?

We stopped off at the nearby Gun Pub for a beer to re-hydrate then drove home (about 45 minutes each way). You could take the train and start the circular route at Benfleet station.

I do recommended this walk, there is some traffic/train noise and you walk through a few brownfield sites but it has lots of atmosphere and history as well as being a change from chocolate box "pretty" country side walks. EssexWalks.Com has lots of excellent free walks across the county. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Pension fund anger at Sports Direct's Mike Ashley: 'There’s a problem here'

This morning I went to the Sports Direct Annual General Meeting, during which I had at times a rather robust conversation with its founder, majority shareholder and Chief Executive Officer, Mike Ashley. The media were banned from the meeting.

Hat tip article Oscar Williams-Grut. Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK

"Sports Direct (SPD.L) received an angry reception from major shareholders on Wednesday at a tightly controlled meeting with investors.

The discount sports retailer faced a shareholder rebellion at its annual general meeting with investors. Press were barred despite intense public interest in the company.

At the AGM, 9% of voting shareholders rejected Mike Ashley’s reappointment as CEO and 17% of independent shareholders who voted tried to stop David Brayshaw being reappointed as a director. Other directors faced smaller rebellions.

Founder Ashley owns over 60% of shares in the business, meaning he was always set to win all the AGM motions. However, independent shareholders expressed their anger at the way the company is being run at the voting box and outside the AGM.

“I’m hoping that everybody wakes up, smells the coffee, realises there’s a problem and fix it,” John Gray, vice-chair of the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum, told the press.

Sports Direct has in recent months lost its auditor, unveiled a surprise £600m ($742m) tax bill, and warned that its controversial acquisition of bust department store House of Fraser is hurting the wider business. It is currently struggling to appoint a replacement auditor.

‘Insufficient challenge’
“Without being personal about it, there is insufficient challenge to Mike Ashley on a board level,” Gray told the press outside the AGM in London’s Soho.

“When you’re dealing with a majority shareholder, somebody like Mike Ashley — who I’ve never met before — you need to have a robust team of directors, confident in what they do with extensive experience in order to stand up to him.”

Gray, who is also a councillor in the London borough of Newham, said he represented 80 local authority pension funds with assets of £250bn ($390.1bn). Collectively, his organisation represents the retirement plans for 4 million UK citizens.

“It’s really, really important that when we have issues with companies that we have to invest in because they’re in the index, that they meet with us and address our concerns properly,” Gray said.

“I don’t want to have another robust conversation in 12 months time but we will if necessary.”

Gray said he voted against all motions at the AGM, which attracted less than 20 attendees and ran for about an hour. Ahead of the meeting, advisory group Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) counselled investors to vote against Ashley’s reappointment as CEO.

“This could be a test case for good governance in the UK,” Gray said. “The issue over the way workers are treated at Sports Direct should have been a signal to everybody: there’s a problem here.”

Sports Direct was criticised by MPs in 2016 for “appalling working conditions and practices,” after an investigation uncovered workers at its Shirebrook warehouse being paid below minimum wage and penalised for taking breaks, as well as health and safety breaches.

“It’s not just about workers dignity and their rights — it follows through with the governance in the company,” Gray said, “and that’s why you’ve got a £600m unexpected tax bill from the Belgian government, that’s why the auditors have walked away from Sports Direct, that’s why — and there may be other reasons as well — they can’t find an auditor.”

Sports Direct was due to appoint an auditor at today’s AGM. The company told investors it was “in the middle of a process” but did not comment further.

If Sports Direct is unable to appoint an auditor in the next seven days, it will have to ask business secretary Andrea Leadsom to step in and appoint one on its behalf.

‘Panto villain’

Besides questions over governance and auditing, Sports Direct’s board also faced criticism for their failure to pay a dividend.

“The share price is low because who’s going to buy a share when you’re not getting a return?” Laurence Corbet, a Sports Direct shareholder for over a decade, told the press outside the meeting.

Corbet said he too voted against all the resolutions but said he would support management if they introduced a dividend. He called Mike Ashley the “enfant terrible of retail, but he gets things done.”

Ashley, who owns over 60% of Sports Direct, complained at the AGM the media was “painting me as a panto villain”.

A spokesperson for Sports Direct said after the AGM: “We remain totally focused on delivering our elevated proposition, which following the AGM continues to be supported by the investor community.

"We are already seeing some exciting milestones with the acquisition of Jack Wills, the opening of the new Flannels flagship store in London, and plans for Fraser are now in motion.

"We are building a young and dynamic executive team to assist in this transition but making sure we retain the core values in the existing business that have allowed the business to prosper over the years.”

The spokesperson gave no update on Sports Direct’s auditing situation.

Wednesday’s AGM also saw a small protest from fans of Newcastle United, the football club owned by Ashley.