Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wacky Races

Apologies for the lack of posts recently (and reply to comments). Last week my computer suddenly decided to take part in a modern version of the "Wacky Races".

So, after spending countless hours fruitlessly trying to resolve this problem, I decided to format my disc and reinstall XP.

After some adventures I managed to do this only to find that it was still crashing. I then took out one of the memory sticks and it stopped crashing instantly.

Such is life. Mr Gates kept insisting that there was a driver problem. My fault for not thinking about the memory at the very beginning (aka "the bleeding obvious").

I'm trying to reinstall Office and the other stuff. Hopefully (fingers and toes) I will be able to re-install my XP "back-up".

I suppose that I should on one level be really pleased with myself. Despite such extreme provocation I did not actually smash the computer to pieces with a hammer. It was (and still is) close at times. Thank God also, we have gun control in this country!

When Bill, when, will computers become as reliable as modern day cars and tellies?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

John Biggs, London Assembly Member joins with bus drivers in battle for fair pay

Great picture of London City & East assembly member John Biggs at rally last week.

Due to Tory privatisation we have this completely nonsensical situation where London bus drivers are paid very different terms and conditions.

This is despite working for the same hours and driving the same buses for different companies.

This is just divisive and bound to cause disputes. Check out the press release below.

Labour London Assembly member John Biggs joined with London bus drivers and members of Unite trade union at City Hall this week to call for fairer pay and conditions for drivers across London’s bus network.

99% of Unite members have voted in favour of campaigning for a centrally organised pay structure for bus drivers - regardless of which bus company they work for. Currently, different bus operators have different pay scales and pension and holiday entitlements; some drivers can be earning up to £7,000 per year more than their colleagues working the same hours and driving the same vehicles but for different companies.

The protesters marched from Tower Bridge to City Hall where they gathered for a rally and were addressed by Assembly member John Biggs.

Speaking to the group John said: ‘We will continue to support your campaign for fair pay for all London bus drivers.’

Commenting after the rally he added ‘It was great to see so many bus drivers out campaigning today and my colleagues and I will do everything we can to improve the situation and close the gaps.

‘To have a situation where two people doing exactly the same job are earning vastly different sums and entitled to varying holiday and pension rights is deeply unfair and must be resolved. ‘
John concluded: ‘Our bus drivers keep London moving and should be shown the respect they deserve. The rally certainly sent a clear message to Mayor Johnson and I was delighted to be involved’.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Eric Roberts: UNISON Members First and Foremost

(Guest post by Conroy Lawrence, who works in Lewisham hospital and whose health branch nominated Eric. Conroy is the Chair of London Regional UNISON Health committee and the London Deputy Convenor. In his personal capacity Conroy is writing in support of Eric who is standing for a Health vacancy in the UNISON National Executive Council - our NEC).

I fully support Eric to be a national health representative on the UNISON NEC. Eric is a very experienced secretary of his Ambulance Service Branch. He puts UNISON members First and Foremost.

As a health worker myself I know how essential the Ambulance Service is to what all of us do - Eric has a lot of real practical real life experience as a health worker and union representative. He is well known and respected up and down the country. He knows how to fight our corner without calling for constant strikes or demonstrations. He will not let us down.

If you are a UNISON health member you should get a ballot paper next week – please don’t just put it in the drawer and forget about it, fill it out, vote for Eric and post it as soon as you can. Pass the word around to your colleagues. The ballot papers are out next week.

I do not know a better person to recommend to UNISON health members than Eric Roberts”.

(click on the election statements to read or download them - pass them to colleagues but do not use union resources to do so)

Friday, July 25, 2008

There is life after Glasgow East

Okay, okay waking up this morning to news of the defeat in Glasgow wasn’t exactly a great start to the day but it’s happened.

It was not exactly unexpected and such is life – this is after all what happens in politics. The Nats won by 365 votes out of 25,259 votes cast on a 42.25 turnout.

I’m not going disguise the fact that this is a defeat but it is not unimaginable that Labour could have sneaked in by a similar margin. Then the headlines would have still been bad but the mood music would have been very different.

I don’t think anything in politics is predictable and I do not think defeat for Labour at the next general election is at all inevitable. I am not sure that a change of leader will make any difference, change of policies - yes. There may not have been a local government strike in Scotland in the run up to this election but UNISON are balloting Scottish council staff members over their below inflation (pay cut) offer of 2.5%. I am sure that there were at least 365 council workers in Glasgow East who had received a strike ballot paper in the last week or so.

By coincidence last night in West Ham we had probably our most constructive Labour Party campaign committee meeting I have ever chaired. Despite our difficulties and differences there is still lots of enthusiasm for the Party.

After all it is only just after a year since the stunning Labour victory in Ealing and Southall (19 July 2007). Mind you I won’t go down “a year is a long time in .....

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

“Right wing ex-Trotskyite dim-wits for George Galloway and Islamist clerical fascism”

I cannot resist posting this rant on the Workers Liberty website about “Left unity? Yes! But why is the “left” divided now?”.

The author slags off the SWP, Socialist Party and Respect (quite rightly of course) for their internal repression of dissidents. Quoting Marx and Lenin to bolster the case. The author accuses them of being “Stalinists” not true “Trotskyites” which will no doubt go down very badly (with Stalinists).

Some other highlights:-

This is a “left” so confused that it let itself be led into a popular front with Islamist clerical fascists, with the tainted mercenary George Galloway as one of its chief tribunes!

narrow, persecuting, heresy hunting religious sect

Marx says - like everyone who maintains he has a panacea for the sufferings of the masses in his pocket... gave his agitation from the outset a religious and sectarian character. Every sect is in fact religious...

They do not follow Lenin’s ideas, but at best those foisted on the Communist Parties by Zinoviev and then Stalin in the 1920s.

the groups not only control or stifle elements of such an approach within their own ranks, but also cultivate and foment extreme hostility and hatred

they teach them dogmas, mythical histories and fictitious political genealogies about themselves.

The pseudo-”Leninist” sect regime is immensely wasteful. It works to create splits out of every dispute

The real joke is of course that the author of this post has obviously no idea whatsoever, that their views come over as nasty, as sectarian and as malevolent as anything the Galloway, SPEW and the SWP have ever put out. Which is surprising, since apart from one idiot I have come across, the WL members overall have usually been quite thoughtful and constructive?

Obviously, it goes without saying that they are all absolutely bonkers! (in my view of course)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tomorrow Investor – Royal Society Arts

On Saturday I was really pleased to have been invited as an “expert” witness by the RSA to address a “citizen Jury” on pension activism.

I’ll post on this separately but I had an enjoyable day and very appropriately for such a venue, my faith in the basic decency and common sense rationalism of the “great British public” has been fully restored.

I was there because the RSA are launching a new project called “Tomorrow’s Investors”. Last week they held a keynote lecture to mark the event.

Much of the money invested in company equities is held on behalf of ordinary citizens, often saving for retirement and other major life events. Yet it appears that many of those citizens have little consciousness of their role as owners.

Should investors be more involved with their investments, with a greater awareness and understanding of the broader implications?

Would a greater degree of involvement yield better results – both financially and ethically?Speakers to include: David Pitt-Watson, founder and chair of Hermes Equity Ownership Service; Jasmine Birtles, journalist, broadcaster and finance expert; Paul Myners, Chairman of the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority; and Penny Shepherd, Chair of the UK Social Investment Forum.

Top "Labour & Capital” blogger, Tom P was also there, and has as usual captured the debate wonderfully in this post (see selection below) so I won’t need to add anything apart from a few observations.

I think it's fair to say the real action was the split between the views of Pitt Watson and Myners. David sketched a more optimistic picture, arguing that the democratisation of ownership through funded pensions and other savings had already started to have an influence on the nature of ownership. He gave the example of the success of UNPRI.

Myners was far more critical, arguing that there had been very little real progress. Most institutional shareholders didn't take ownership seriously,
SRI barely figured on the radar of company boards (as an influence on them), trustees were still spoon-fed by advisers and still focus on short-term performance despite its irrelevance.

I think the broad consensus from our little group was that although the Pitt Watson view was the one we would like to believe, the Myners perspective seemed to fit more with our own experiences.

I thought that Paul Myners was being deliberately provocative - shock horror. There are still huge problems to overcome, but as David pointed out there has been an enormous change in living memory. I actually think that Myners is actually on on board with New Capitalism although unsurprisingly off message.

Even if he is a "trade unionist" and “someone who wouldn’t join the Labour Party because it is not sufficiently left wing for my taste”. Which is a somewhat unusual statement for the Chair of a Hedge Fund to say? As was his suggestion that stamp duty ought to be increased to 5% in order to encourage long term ownership (not traders).

He advised the unions to concentrate on the disparity in Executive pay “the self appointed managerial elite are raping the resources of companies”. So called “independent” external advisers on executive pay are called “Ratchet, Ratchet and Ratchet”.

We need someone like Myners to remind us how far we have to go. Hopefully, at some stage he may have some slightly more constructive remarks. But I agree (and I am sure that David would as well, but is too polite to say so) that the majority of pension trustees need to be more independent minded and stand up to professional advisers. There again to do this they need support and training. Who can do this other than the unions?

Jasmine Birtles was very entertaining and brought us back to planet earth, she remarked that on her money web site she has worthy features on ethical investment, but no-one reads them. The most poplar stories tend to be “how to get rich without really doing anything”. While Penny Shepherd combated Paul’s negativity and took him to task.

I was fascinated when David pointed out that the BT Final Benefit pension scheme (run of course by Hermes and owned by the scheme) only cost 0.2% in annual charges (I repeat 0.2% pa). While modern DC (defined contribution, money purchase, stakeholder, personal pension - what ever) Pension charge at least 1.5% which could swallow over the years up to 40% of the fund in charges.

Come back DB schemes – all is forgiven.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Field of dreams: Wanstead Flats

The other day I received an email invite from Eastside Community Heritage (Hidden Histories) to go to a “walk about” around Wanstead flats next Saturday. Wanstead flats (or Wanstead Heath as it uses to be more accurately known in the past) is part of Epping Forest, owned and managed by the City of London.

We live nearby and I think that (together with the adjacent Wanstead Park) it is one of the jewels of East London. When I first moved into the area in the 1980’s I was astonished that Cattle were still allowed to roam freely around the flats. This was due to “Commoners rights”. It was not at that time unusual to chase cattle out of your gardens or to herd them from residential areas back to the flats. Remember, this is pretty much in the heart of East London. Sadly, BSE put an end to Commoners cattle. However, there are hairy beasts penned in by electric fences in Chingford and plans even for sheep to be re-introduced into the flats.

Historically, Wanstead flats are quite important. King George III reviewed his troops on the flats, there were massive battles between local people and landlords who attempted to fence off and enclose the flats in the 19th century. Somewhat ironically (to me anyway) the City of London is now the guardian (and paymaster) of our egalitarian playground. During the 2nd world war nearby was a prison of war camp. There were also anti-aircraft batteries, search lights and barrage balloons stationed at the flats. You can see even today the concrete foundations of the gun platforms and army huts. There is a metal fastening post right in the middle, for the balloons used for parachutists to practice jumps for the D-Day Landing.

A bit of personal history is that my family “thinks” (not sure) that my grandfather (another John Gray) was by co-incidence stationed on the flats during the Second World War. We know he was a NCO of a TA Searchlight company which was stationed we think on the flats during the blitz, then later on in the war he was a sergeant in charge of transport for a “Unexploded Bomb Squad (UXB).

In Centre Road which runs thorough the flats during the war there was a bus hit by bomb. I think this gruesome tale relates to this attack.

During this period there were also a number of temporary pre-fab homes built on part of the flats. They were later demolished.

After the war, the fascist, Oswald Moseley, (father of the bloke currently in hot water for various things) used to hold meetings next to the Band Stand (now demolished) near Capel Road.

There was also a controversial campaign after the war to prevent West Ham council from building Council flats and a school on the flats. A campaign I am pleased to say that local residents won.

I go running in the flats most days. During winter you often get marvellous low lying fog which makes it surreal to run thought. In the summer you can be almost deafened by the birdsong. Brilliant. Come along if you can.

As part of the Wanstead Flats project a walk across Wanstead Flats has been organised for:

Saturday 26th July 2008. Meet 11am at the Alexandra Lake car park. Bus 101 or W19

Hear about the history of Wanstead Flats, the struggles to prevent development and its wartime uses whilst strolling across the area.

The walk will last 1-1 1/2 Hours and finish at Dames Road.

Please RVSP to give an idea of numbers.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Graduation Day: Joining a Picket line with your Dad

Passing on the baton of basic trade union values to the next generation.

Picture is of new University Graduate, Deanne Matty with her father, UNISON Housing caretaker steward, Montrose (“Monty” – 3rd on right) at a City of Hull Council picket line on Wednesday.

Dianne’s graduation from Hull University co-incided with the first day of the UNISON/Unite local government strike. Montrose had to give his apologies to the UNISON Tower Hamlet Council picket line at Gladstone Place, Roman Road, Bow, East London to take his family and Dianne to Hull for her graduation. Montrose and his wife Sue (a Schools kitchen assistant) were both on strike.

However, Father and daughter sought out a local Hull picket line to show support.

The picture was taken by the Hull City UNISON branch secretary with a local activist. By a fairly amazing coincidence the chap on the right is a local Tower Hamlets resident (Malmesbury Estate, where I use to work) who was there for his sister’s graduation and who wanted to support the picket line.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Its not an Equitable life Henry

Do you remember that annoying TV advert for Equitable Life in the 1990s? Equitable Life nearly went bust in 2000 and left nearly a million people with reduced pensions.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman has just released a very damning report into the “maladministration” of the various government regulators (Department of Trade and Industry, the Government Actuary's Department, and the Financial Services Authority) that allowed this to happen. She is calling for the government to issue compensation to policy holders. The government says it will think about it.

I’ll declare an interest. During the 1990s Equitable Life was the approved (and only) Additional Voluntary Contribution (AVC) provider for the Local Government Pension Scheme. I decided to try and top up my main pension with a small policy. I believe Equitable Life was also the AVC provider for the NHS pension scheme and many others. My wife also took out a private pension with Equitable Life. For some reason I keep forgetting to mention this stunning bit of financial foresight in my election statements for UNISON London Regional Finance convenor.

Luckily for us, unlike many long term investors we did not lose much money. I am very pleased that there might be an end insight for those that did (picture from Equitable Life Members Support Group).

While I would agree that the regulators should have stepped in and sorted out the rogue management at the time, there was also a wider failure in governance which has lessons to the current debate on capital stewardship and New Capitalism.

Equitable was the world’s oldest mutual life assurance company. There were no shareholders only “with-profit” policy holders who “owned” the company. Before the collapse I was surprised that unlike other insurance companies and building societies you could only vote at the company AGM in person. There was no postal voting on motions or elections of the board. The AVC funds of the LGPS and the NHS must have been very substantial. Yet there were no in-house governance arrangements in place for even monitoring what was being done with these investments. The money was simply handed over to the company with no scrutiny in place. I am certain that most LGPS schemes did not go down (probably none) and vote at the AGM until it all blew up.

The Penrose Report 8 March 2004 concluded that Equitable had little effective scrutiny and was "a self-perpetuating oligarchy amenable to policyholder pressure only at its discretion".

Yes the regulators let policyholders down and since then I have no doubt that they have learnt lessons (apart from Northern Rock I suppose) but also the regulators continue to fail to ensure that policy holders in other banks and insurance companies are able to exercise their responsibilities as owners. Some companies spend huge amounts of money just on finding ways to get around regulations. Regulation is crucial but also proper representation in these companies of those who are actually risking their life savings and futures would be even better. All collective investments should have elected independent policy holder representatives or “trustees” on the investment boards.

Now, that would be Equitable Life Henry.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"What a Show of Solidarity!" Local Government Strike

From UNISON wesite

Dave Prentis, UNISON's general secretary

"What a show of solidarity! From Cornwall to Northumberland; Norwich to Derry; Cardiff to Tyneside and all points in between – UNISON local government members in England, Northern Ireland and Wales have taken strike action, calling for fair pay.

It’s never an easy decision to go on strike. Our members aren’t militants – they work hard every day to provide the services our communities rely on.

But this week, some 600,000 UNISON members have made their feelings clear. £2.45 per cent pay offer is not enough. With inflation rising rapidly, our members – many of them low paid women with families to support – simply can’t make ends meet.

Don't believe the employers when they say that they cannot afford to pay any more. They are sitting on £11bn in bank accounts, £3bn of which is unallocated.

That means they could afford to pay a decent increase without going to the government with a begging bowl, without putting up council tax and without affecting jobs and services.UNISON members are providing front-line services and it is their hard work that has led to these huge cash reserves being built up.

The way to settle this potentially damaging dispute is for the employers to get back round the negotiating table and treat our members decently".

GMB lose Allen Case

Bad news for the GMB and maybe the other public service unions. The Court of Appeal has handed down its very important judgment on this controversal case.

An Employment tribunal (ET) in Middlesbrough in 2006 found that the GMB had indirectly discriminated against union members by recommending a pay deal which did not offer adequate compensation to female members for past unequal pay. The Union was found to have had a legitimate aim of securing a fair deal for all but since they did not pursue the back pay meant that they had not been “proportionate”.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) in 2007 found in favour of the union. Today the Court of Appeal overturned the EAT.

Permission to appeal the House of Lords has been refused. Although I understand that you can appeal direct to the Lords.

There is a 16 page written judgement here.

Employment lawyer Daniel Barnett (e-bulletin) reckons that there are 4,000 claims against the GMB and 7,000 against UNISON. He calls it “A very bad day for unions....”

UNISON & UNITE Local Government Strike – Today and Thursday.

Watch the excellent video by Heather Wakefield, the UNISON head of local government on why people are on strike.

I’ve set this post to be published at 04:00 The first picket lines would have usually started about now at Council depots across the country. Some lines have been going since 00:01.

Refuse collectors, street cleaners, transport and cleaners will usually be the first out.

Add your support to the strikers by either an on-line message, by phone, by text, by phone picture or video, by Flickr or by YouTube! You can also post a message of support on a Google earth Map.

All UNISON and trade union bloggers are asked to past the above banner code to their blogs. It was quite easy. If you use blogger go to settings, add page elements then simply paste HTML/Java scrip. It is not that difficult – honest.

From UNISON website

Mortgages up 8% Petrol up 22% Bread up 9% Milk up 17% Fuel bills up 15% Inflation up 4.3%
But council workers are being offered a pay rise of just 2.45%. Take inflation into account and it's a pay CUT. Coming on top of 10 years below-inflation pay rises, it's no wonder we think this is the last straw.

So we are striking on 16 and 17 July.

Not because we want to. Many UNISON members are low-paid, part-time women workers, struggling to pay the bills - losing two days pay for strike action is not something we do lightly.

We are striking because the employers won't even consider talking to us about a better offer.

We know that the services we provide are essential to our community, and that shutting them down for two days will cause disruption and we're genuinely sorry if you are inconvenienced. We just can't afford another pay cut.

and unless we get a fair settlement on pay, local communities will suffer too.

Services will simply get worse as councils continue to lose committed staff and struggle to find new employees prepared to work for such low pay.

We empty your bins, clean your schools, conduct your marriages and civil partnerships, care for your parks, check the safety of your food and look after your children in nurseries, schools and in care.

And so much more.

In exchange, all we are asking for is your support for a fair pay settlement.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Vote Tory or Get Stabbed - by "you know who"

Another short post but I could not resist this great Steve Bell cartoon from today’s Grauniad – hat tip to The Spenny Post.

At the moment I am still in the midst of my life long love/hate relationship with the Guardian.

The “hate” at the moment still feels pretty very raw. No doubt “love” will return yet again and the pointless cycle will continue.

Bloody paper...

Congratulations to Old Ford Primary school

Just a quick post to congratulate an East End local LEA primary school very close to my office, which was judged as “providing an outstanding all round education for its Pupils” by Ofsted June 2008.

Well done to all staff, pupils and parents!

Picture is from the famous Roman Road Market.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Burma Campaign – Committee for Workers Capital

The only session I managed to attend at this year's meeting of International Union Pension trustees (last week), was the opening introductions and then the discussion over Burma.

The meeting was chaired by John Maitland, from the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Rob Lake, head of sustainability at the Dutch pension group APG and Jo Allen, head of SRI engagement and responsible investment for CIS (Co-op) gave a hard headed presentation on investment in Burma.

They both basically argued that you still needed to pursue engagement policies with companies such as Total who trade with Burma. On balance they do more good than harm by being there and if they were to go, they would be replaced with companies who will not challenge the regime at all and would make things worse for their workers. Surprisingly this view was somewhat supported by black South African delegates present, in light of their experiences during the battle against Apartheid. Unsurprisingly, French delegates also supported Total and said more time should be given for engagement.

An American colleague made it clear that this was a trade union meeting of trustees and the international trade union movement had made it clear that they support disinvestment. We should show solidarity with the Burmese democratically elected government (now repressed by the military junta) and the exiled trade union movement who call for such action.

I suggested that the time for engagement was now over. Engagement had been going on for decades and that it had not worked. At some point you have to disinvest otherwise you run the risk of undermining the argument for engagement. This is the exception that proves the rule. Of course, arguing for disinvestment in a particular country due to its regime is different than arguing for disinvestment in a particular company. You still have to have pretty good evidence that the investment is likely to backfire and damage the pension fund to satisfy the fiduciary rules.

However, I think on balance that in Burma you can argue this. The worse news was that a brand new off shore gas field and pipe line is being considered. South Korean companies are thought to be involved. If built this would not only generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the military regime in taxes, kick backs etc but also would involve forced labour and driving Burmese people off their land as happened in previous pip eland construction projects.

It was a pity I missed the meeting the following day with the Burmese Campaign UK.

Also present was top UNISON rep Mark Rayner, who is a member nominated representative on the Greater Manchester LGPS with Donald McDonald who is a BT pension trustee and Chair of the UN PRI (United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment). Mark promised me to make a guest post on what happened during the rest of the meeting.

This is what the UNISON website says about Burma investments

Your pension fund can help the Burmese people

(06/12/07) Do you contribute to your employer's pension fund? If you do then you will be able to take part in a global campaign to help the Burmese people achieve democracy.

Your pension fund may have shares in companies that trade with the military dictatorship. The Burmese trade unions want you to tell your fund trustees or reps to stop investing in companies that trade with Burma.

UNISON is supporting a call for trade union members across the world to get involved. And this is how you can do it.

Write or send an email to your pension fund administrator - go to your employer's web site to find out who this is or ask your UNISON branch if they know.You should ask your pension fund board of trustees or pension committee to request that they or your investment managers report to you on:

what shares the fund holds in companies with ties to Burma

their assessment of the financial, legal and political risks this may pose to your savings and the reputation of the fund

their strategy for addressing such risks

Remember, your pension fund is your savings. You have a right to know how this money is invested, and a right to ask if investing in companies that make money from a military dictatorship is putting your savings at risk.

Since 2000, the international trade union movement has called on all companies with business links in Burma to sever those links and withdraw from the country.

In October 2007, the International Trade Union Confederation asked its affiliated organisations to engage in a shareholders' campaign which may include disinvestment from companies linked with Burma.

This position supports that of Burma's democratically-elected ruler, Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as the Federation of Trade Unions-Burma, which operates clandestinely inside and outside the country.

Foreign companies play a pivotal role in maintaining a steady flow of capital to the military dictatorship, and by extension, in upholding the country's brutal regime.Military rule and repression has led to massive and systematic violations of human and workers' rights.

In particular, the military regime oppresses and exploits its population through the widespread use of forced and compulsory labour.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Madness over Local Government Pay Offer

UNISON and UNITE Local Government Strike 16-17 July. On Wednesday and Thursday this week, the two biggest unions in the public sector will hold national strikes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland over the latest Local Government pay offer.

This is over a below inflation rate offer of only 2.45% being made by the employers. Inflation is up by 4.3%, Food is up 6%, transport 7%, mortgages 8%, electricity and gas 15%. 2.45%? It does not add up. Pay in the private sector is rising by 4%.

Some 600,000 UNISON workers are due to go on strike. Most Town hall services and many schools will be closed.

So the madness continues. In less than two years we will face a general election and the only Political Party that does actually give a damn about public sector workers is trying to gain their support by cutting their pay? Is it only me that thinks this is just stupid? Does anyone think that this offer will really appease the Tory press? Is this really “evidence based government”? Or is this the beginning of the 2nd longest suicide note in history?

Anyway – Good luck to the strikers, despite the fact that my wages are linked to local government NJC terms, my branch was not balloted on strike action. In my employer we have staff on about at least 8 different pay, terms and conditions so it is a bit of nightmare. I think we have sorted this out now so if there is any further action it is likely we will be called out. I will donate my wages for these days to the branch hardship/strike fund.

Also, UNISON Housing association members will join local government members at local picket lines to show solidarity. In London on the Wednesday there well be a demo, so assemble at 1pm at Lincoln Inn Fields, 1.30pm to start March, 2pm –Rally @ Friends Meeting House. Speakers to include: · Keith Sonett, Deputy General Secretary, UNISON, Jack Dromey. Deputy General Secretary, UNITE; · Kevin Courtney Branch Secretary and NUT NEC.

Keep it in the family - I am very proud of my “better half” who informed her headmaster the other week that she will be going on strike for the two days. She is a teacher assistant (on less than £10k per year) in a London primary school where the GMB are the dominant union amongst support staff. She will therefore be the only one in the school on strike despite this being the first year of her service.

My “little big sister” is a self employed gymnastics coach in North Wales and her LEA schools will be closed. While my “little sister” is an assistant social service worker in Lincolnshire who will also be on strike.

Gordon, Alistair, for crying out loud – forget that these people are my family, they are all instinctive Labour Party supporters, but if you pay them rubbish money, how can you get them out to vote for you in 2010?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Frontline public sector workers need stab vests?

This morning the TUC e-newsletter on safety issues, Risks, reports “The growing fear of knife crime in Britain is forcing hospital trusts and local authorities to supply body armour to frontline workers, including accident and emergency (A&E) staff, hospital porters, teachers, benefits officers and traffic wardens.

The Observer quotes stab vest supplier Body Armour Company as saying it had received about 10,000 orders for protective vests from local government, with front line NHS staff accounting for most of them. The firm said it had also received orders for body armour from teachers. Company spokesperson Peter Warren said: 'Councils are becoming aware of the need for armour and protecting their staff. We have had many private enquiries from teachers and the rate is going up. Headteachers are aware that teachers are at risk and knife crime is getting worse.' Schools were its biggest growth market, he said.

The Observer article said experts believe councils are responding to the new corporate manslaughter law. Peter Warren of the Body Armour Company said: 'If a schoolteacher can sue for £300,000 for stress, what price a school that failed to protect its staff from knives?' He said an order had also been placed by a railway operator for 'ballistic body armour' to protect workers”.

Last week UNISON requested stab vests for ambulance workers in the North East. The picture above is of ambulance staff in Essex who were issued with vests in 2005. I think that the point, that it is management concerns about the new Corporate Manslaughter law (despite all its flaws) is behind all this, is probably true.

This issue did come up at a Tower Hamlets Council health and safety committee meeting I attended a few years ago. It goes to show how much things have changed; management and trade union representatives were all horrified at even the thought that staff would need such protection.

Nowadays I am not that sure. Even if you ignore the sensational media reporting I would expect risk assessments for public sector workers, such as - traffic wardens, bailiffs, rail and bus ticket inspectors, A&E staff etc to recommend stab vests. There is a significant risk and it is entirely foreseeable.

But teachers or housing officers? While I don’t work in a school, I am the branch safety officer and I am not aware of any London housing organisations who supply stab vests. However, last year a Police Community Support Officer was stabbed while assisting in a rent arrears eviction. Housing staff throughout London are present daily at evictions, drug raids and crack house closures. I have taken part in some recently myself. So I think the issue does need careful consideration.

Also, in the Risks newsletter was a report from an inquest which found that a worker who died after an explosion at his workplace may have been saved if he had been wearing the appropriate fire safety clothing. I believe that it is accepted in the police and especially amongst licensed doormen (bouncers) that stab vests have saved lives. What no-one wants is a future report of someone being killed when they could have been saved by wearing a vest.

Finally, before we all go and scare ourselves silly, the BBC news website has a thoughtful post on the issue of knife crime which points out that reported knife crime is actually less this year than last year. Also that violent crime overall is down 41% since 1995. Tell that to the Daily Hate.

Friday, July 11, 2008

London Local Authorities Pension Campaign - my report

How local authorities are investing in unscrupulous corporations” Last week I went to a meeting at the left wing bookshop Housmans in Kings Cross. This is the first time that I have been to Housmans. It is the sort of place that you could easily spend a hour or so looking through bookshelves at various bits and bods. It also hosts a number of evening events for “community and radical groups”.

I had never heard of the "London Local Authorities Pension Campaign" and being the anorak that I am, decided to play a visit to this event.

Redpepper described it as such “Thursday 3rd July 2008 – 7pm This talk will mark the launch of a new campaign that aims to disclose how local authorities are investing funds from our council taxes and pension schemes into some of the world’s most unscrupulous corporations – often without knowing it.

By collecting data through the Freedom of Information act, and networking with a range of anti-corporate and corporate accountability campaign groups and individuals, a picture has emerged in which local authorities are investing in companies that are raping the environment, profiting from war, and trampling over human rights. The campaign has received support from Corporate Watch, Campaign Against Arms Trade, Islington Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and FairPensions amongst others”.

I went with a shy and retiring UNISON colleague.

The meeting was organised by Michael, who by co-incidence is a member (paid worker?) of the Amicus UNITE housing branch. There was about 20 people present, half of which, Michael said were his “friends and relatives”. He described how first got involved in this issue because he was horrified that his Council tax payments was being used to invest in the Arms trade in such companies as BAE. He had used the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to contact all of the London Councils to find out what the top investment holdings were. All the councils replied, except for the City of London (who very efficiently replied to his request but simply refused to disclose – so no real surprise there) and Croydon Council (who claimed that they could not supply such details since they had “pooled investment funds” – hmmmm, what nonsense). Michael apologised that a speaker from Fair Pensions was not able to attend. He was (for reasons he explained fully afterwards) not very happy about this.

The next speaker was Richard from the Mining Network (which I think is connected to the website Mines and Communities). London is the world's centre for raising finance for international mining companies. Nearly all the major companies are listed on the London stock exchange. Richard described how some of these companies have driven people off their land without compensation and ruined the environment. However, he said that his group had used the “engagement” argument with these companies to try and encourage them to do some good things rather than bad. London Council pension funds invest a lot of money in mining companies.

The final speaker was Robin from the London branch of the Campaign against the Arms Trade (CAAT). Their main campaign at the moment is with Islington Council who has 0.6% of its pension fund invested in the "arms trade". He does not believe in the engagement argument for arms companies. He is pretty confident that they will be successful in Islington. He pointed out that if some councils do not invest in the arms trade for investment reasons, without any apparent negative cost to the scheme, then why shouldn’t other councils decide not to do so on grounds of principle. In Merseyside, the majority of councils who contribute to the local pension fund, had voted not to invest in the arms trade (actually it was over "cluster bombs" but nevermind) but the fund had refused to accept their decision.

There was in my view anyway, a pretty useful and wide ranging discussion afterwards about the campaign. The ambitious UNISON capital stewardship programme was brought up. I think that it is also fair to say that there was a polite frank exchange of views on some matters. In particular the view that actually pension funds do not belong to the Council's nor tax payers but actually to the Council employees. Also, the primary purpose of the funds is to provide a safe and decent retirement for employees. Actually, I thought that there was a broad consensus on the need for council pension funds to manage their funds in a socially responsible manner.

I have always thought that the disinvestment argument (not investing in companies such as British Aerospace) for the arms trade was counterproductive. Like it or not, it is clearly unlawful for Council pension funds not to invest purely on “ethical” arguments. That is not to say that you could not argue against not investing in a company, that say produces landmines. Since you could argue that there is a risk to the fund by investing in such a company, because the reputational risk could harm the value of the investment.

Personally, I think that the campaigners in CAAT are actually letting pension funds off the hook by concentrating on the disinvestment argument rather than the more difficult to argue against “engagement” argument (check out the UN Freshfields report).

I will also declare a personal interest. My father was for many years employed as an aircraft electrician by a company that ultimately became a part of Airbus. He has the assistant branch secretary for the electrician union at this factory in the 1950’s. For many years, the production of war planes at Broughton brought bread to our family table. The factory was/is a major employer in my home town. Keeping it in the family, one of my brother-in-laws, is also an aircraft technician and often works on military contracts. If we are not pacifists and continue to have an army, navy and air force in this country how can we be against investing in companies that manufacture arms? This argument is utterly different from that about selling arms to dictatorships or paying bribes for contracts.

Michael gave out a list of the top 24 holdings by London Council pension funds. At the end of the meeting I went through this list with him. At the TUC pension trustee conference recently there was a comment that how could any pension fund not invest in BAE since there was practically no other major manufacturing company in Britain?

Arguably, my own pension fund in Tower Hamlets Council would have "problems" (moral hazards) with investing in nearly every company listed. Oil and gas (destroying the environment); banks and insurance (for usury - many members are Muslims); Mining companies (as above); Tobacco (obvious); drugs companies (animal experiments); drink companies (obvious); Nestle (baby milk powder). In fact the only companies in the list that I could not think would be objected to by someone would be Videophone and BT.

Of course, I have now remembered that telecommunication companies sell and export military communication equipment as well! So they are out! The problem is even more complicated since Michael’s own union UNITE organises in BAE. No doubt these trade union members will also have a view on their jobs.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Claim it or Lose it - Industrial Injuries Scheme

This afternoon I helped a long standing, good trade union member at a tribunal hearing. This hearing was an appeal against a refusal by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to pay him a benefit under the "Industrial Injuries Scheme".

He "won" the appeal but will not get any money. Despite suffering for years from a pretty appalling work related injury.

According to the DWP website
The Industrial Injuries Scheme provides non-contributory no-fault benefits for disablement because of an accident at work, or because of one of over 70 prescribed diseases known to be a risk from certain jobs.

Benefits are paid to employees who are liable to pay income tax under Schedule E on wages, salaries or fees.

All Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefits, except Industrial Death Benefit, are tax free.
They are payable in addition to other incapacity and disability benefits but taken into account against income-related benefits".

This scheme is not widely known. The key elements are - it does not depend on national insurance contributions; its no-fault (you do not have to prove your employer is at fault or that there was “negligence”); it covers employees who are liable to pay tax (not self-employed) and it is tax-free. You can also still be in work and claim. The benefit is usually time limited and reviewed annually or when deemed appropriate.

In one way this is a model for what perhaps we should have in this country for all workers who suffer from work related accidents or diseases, without having to participate in the expensive lottery of taking out personal injury claims at Court. The problem with it, is that the levels of benefit are far too low and that the taxpayer has to fund the payment. New Zealand, I believe, has a very good no-fault, compensation scheme for work related accidents or illness, which is funded by industry wide levies.

The benefits amounts range from £27.36 to £136.80 a week depending on your level of disability. You cannot claim for the first 90 days and you are only eligible if you are assessed as suffering at least 14% “disability”.

My trade union member had a manual job and had a serious fall at work many years ago and did not realise that he could claim this benefit. Despite being off work for a year on certificated sick leave and eventually being redeployed into a non manual job. Since then he has suffered chronic pain and bouts of illness, which has severely restricted his employment, family and social activities.

The hearing today decided that he was eligible to benefit immediately after the accident and for 15 years afterwards however, since he did not claim beforehand it is impossible to link all of his current problems to that original accident. Therefore the hearing found he has currently only 10% disability and at that level he is ineligible for any current benefits. Rough justice?

I hate to think how money he has lost over the years from not claiming sooner. I will see if we can make a further appeal, but apparently it can only be on legal arguments.

In the meanwhile if any union rep comes across a member who has suffered such an injury or illness - think about industrial injuries benefit – Claim it now or possibly lose it.

Committee on Workers Capital

Today is the start of the 4th International Meeting of trade union pension trustees. This is organised by the Committee on Workers Capital (CWC)

The meeting last two days and is being held this year in London at the TUC, Congress House.

Last year in was held in Switzerland. Picture is from the informal dinner held last night. There are union trustees present from all over the world – USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Holland, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain.

It is an incrediblely useful opportunity to discuss common issues and exchange ideas. Due to other commitments I will not this year be able to attend all the meeting.

The agenda for today includes Burma – engaging Chinese companies; Labour as an Investment Issue; Green Jobs; PRI / Private equity / Infrastructure; Capital strategies.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Credit Crisis – What you get when you have Capitalism without Owners?

I’ll finally finish off my reports from the recent TUC Pension Trustee Conference with the key note speaker, David Pitt-Watson. Respected fund manager, author of the best selling “The New Capitalists” and life long member of the Labour movement.

David reminded everyone of the economic might of pension funds – no one may rule the world, but pensions own it. UK pension schemes won 20% of UK shares, while a further 20-25% is owned by foreign pension companies. Pension funds also own big chunks of insurance companies who also hold massive holdings of shares worldwide. Some 10 million Brits are a member of a pension scheme. Petroleum giant BP recently tried to calculate how many people benefit from the payment of their dividends into collective funds. They gave up after counting 280 million people worldwide.

The two major problems in the economy are the credit crisis and rising commodity prices. The problem is as severe as the 1970s but so far the system has managed to hold together better e.g. no mass unemployment.

David noted that “turbo charged capitalism” has made huge amounts of money for a small number of speculators such as investors in hedge funds. He notes that most of this money was made using pension fund investments.

How did the credit crisis come about? In the old days to get a mortgage you needed a 30% deposit for a 70% loan over 25 years. Until post crisis, unregulated mortgage brokers were buying up credit loans and selling to pension funds. They valued it not as how much was owed, but how much you could trade it for. Eventually these dud mortgages came home to roost and the crisis ensued.

However, there is a problem here. We own the banks, we appoint managers and accountants. We knew that credit reference agencies who gave positive assessments of these loans were being paid by the people who packaged the mortgages. How did we allow this to happen?

How much is the huge increase in the price of oil the result of speculation using our money to drive up the price?

How big is the crisis? It is very big. You have had banks with £50 billion of mortgages supported by only £1 billion of equity.

How to address the problem? Better regulation? Yes, you need to worry about short selling but remember the most regulated market in the world is in the US.

A better standing point is accountability. Pensions own the world and trustees should represent members. We want profitable companies to pay for pensions but we don’t want to destroy the planet along the way. Trustees should be defenders of beneficiaries.

David pointed out what pension funds working collectively together have done in the past. Such as allowing the production of cheap drugs in developing countries against the wishes of drug companies. Stopping the production of pig iron in Brazil for the car industry which depended upon indentured labour and the destruction of rainforest for charcoal.

David finished by stressing the need for us to act as owners in a sensible pragmatic and principled way to make the economy run properly.

I felt that David was actually pulling his punches somewhat, to let the message sink in. To use Northern Rock as an example. Yes, the Bank of England has hardly covered itself in glory over its lack of regulation over Northern Rock; however who appointed the risk management committee members of that bank? We did, whether we realised it or not. If as the owners of Northern Rock we failed to appoint the right people to manage on our behalf or failed to employ the right advisers to monitor them then who is to blame?

In my post yesterday I made my anger clear regarding directors (the owners of companies or appointed by them) who are not held responsible even for killing workers.

Taking your ownership responsibilities seriously is key. While at the moment it is actually difficult for pension trustees to act as owners it is not impossible. The biggest hurdle I think is actually improving the self-confidence of my fellow trustees/member representatives to actually act more as owners. It is after all their money and they should challenge, probe and test their managers and advisers constantly. Demand accountability and full transparency. Ask the simple, direct questions that owners should ask of the people they employ to manage their money.

Remember the old adage, if you don’t understand it, don’t buy it.

After all, to further misquote Hartley Shawcross “We are the masters now”.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Firm “fined” £2 over death of worker

This month's SHP reports on the conviction of a company for breaches of safety law which led to an explosion, the death of one worker and seriously injured three others. The Company Aintree based North West Aerosols was fined £2 in Liverpool Crown Court on June 8 2008 (not 1808).

The reason for the "low" fine was that after the accident the company directors put the business into voluntary administration. Despite the fact that the Prosecution reported that the explosion was "both “foreseeable and preventable" and that the Judge said it was “an accident waiting to happen” no action was taken against the former directors responsible for the company. The HSE did investigate and found that there was not enough evidence under existing laws to take action against anyone.

Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) held a vigil outside the court. FACK campaign for company directors to be given positive legal duties over health & safety and to be held accountable for this.

A director of a company may be sent to prison for fiddling the accounts but not for inadequate health and safety polices which result in people being killed. This is not justice.

Check out the BBC report and video of the explosion (and the fire-ball)

I almost forgot - the firm also had to “pay” another £1 in costs!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Why are Company Personal Pension schemes allowed to have such rubbish governance?

During last week’s TUC Pension Trustee conference, Robert Laslett, Chief Economist, Department for Work and Pensions was responding to questions after the Minister, James Purnell had to leave. I asked him the question “Why is it that company Personal Pensions schemes don’t have decent governance arrangements in the same way as other workplace schemes? If member nominated representatives in Trust pensions are recognised as being so important in making sure that pension funds are run properly than why not the same for other schemes?”

Robert batted back with the factually correct answer that Company Personal Pension schemes are individual contract based schemes belonging to the pension contributors.

Let me now try and “ungeek” this question and explain why I think this is a really important issue and one that will become even more important in the future.

Traditionally, company pension schemes in this country have been set up on a “trustee” basis. In well run schemes trustees are elected from workers and management to supervise the scheme and make sure it is safe, well invested and properly funded. In recent years trustees have been given more powers and responsibilities. This is not only because of rogues such as Robert Maxwell and the collapse of some pension funds when employers have gone bust. But, due to the size of pension funds and their impact of their investments in the economy as a whole, it is vitally important that that their investment decisions and strategies are properly thought out, managed and implemented. For example the Local Government Pension scheme alone is worth over £130 billion nationally, mostly invested in British companies. Check out the Myners Report.

There is also the principle that pension funds are owned by workers, it is their deferred pay. Since they are owners of this capital they need to exercise their responsibilities of ownership. They will want their representatives on the trustee board to make sure that their money is invested in companies that not only give good financial returns but are also properly run. People do not want their money invested in companies that employ child labour, ban trade unions and destroy the environment. Equally they want to make sure that the companies that they invest in do not reward greedy executives for failure, buy or merge with other companies that do not create value and are generally run in the true interests of the owners (pension members) not the senior management or their City advisors.

In recent years for a whole range of reasons (to my regret – but this is a different matter) traditional trust schemes have been in relative decline and most companies today offer so called Contract based Group Personal Pension schemes or stakeholders. Members of such schemes generally invest via payroll in the pension funds of large insurance companies and usually the company also pays into the holding. There are no trustees or member representatives to check on the administration of the scheme and more importantly, to look after what happens to this money once it reaches the insurance companies.

How do workers know that their money is being invested safely, properly and responsibly? There are now hundreds of billions of pounds invested in companies all over the world by these insurance companies. The market is getting bigger every year.

So, if it is a recognised “good thing” (the “unsung heroes” of financial services) that you have member trustees looking after trust based pension investments then why should we not have member representatives looking after contract based pension investments? Why is one “good” and the other “bad”?

The good(ish) news is that afterwards I attended a workshop run by the Pension Regulator. They regulate such schemes (“approved workplace pensions”) and have published a good practice guide on “Management committees” for administration and governance issues for work based contract pension schemes. These committees would involve employers and employees. So far this is voluntary and does not really address ownership issues. But I suppose this is a useful start. We need to change pension law to address this. This is in the interests of pensioners and the economy.

Have a look at Tom P post on “Investor Suffrage” which I think is a possible way forward. I’ll hopefully also post soon on David Pitt-Watson’s thought provoking speech at the conference which is also relevant.

Hopefully, I have explained the things properly and you release that this is a huge issue. If not, then it is my fault for not explaining it adequately. If you do understand then you are well on your way to becoming a Pension Geek!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy 60th Birthday NHS

Many, many happy returns also to our NHS on its 60th Birthday.

The National Health Service (NHS)with "free health care for all" officially began on Saturday 5 July 1948.

The UNISON banner is from St Georges Hospital branch, Wandsworth with the picture of South Wales miners son, Aneurin "Nye" Bevan.

Nye was the Labour Party Minister of health with responsibility for the formation of the NHS.

The Last British Revolution – Happy Birthday America

Thanks to Harry’s Place for reminding us all “across the pond” that July 4th should be celebrated in these parts as well!

Today is the day when the British freed themselves from a despotic monarchy and declared independence.

Unfortunately, they were unable to liberate their homeland of the British Isles, but those Britons willing to stand up to a tyrannical king went on to become “Americans” and created a world superpower, invented the corndog, and gave the world Bob Dylan”.

Tonight, by co-incidence, the Mrs. and I enjoyed a feast of Burgers (venison – low fat), Fries ( Tesco finest oven baked chips) and Baked Beans (Heinz - of course) washed down by loads of cold Beer (okay, okay - actually glasses of Jacobs Creek).

Happy Birthday to all our Revolutionary American Cousins!

The picture above is considered to be the first flag of the United States, the “Grand Union” or “Continental Colours” (properly spelt of course) flag that was in use 1775-1777.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

White Riot: The Violent Story of Combat 18

I have just finished this book by Searchlight editor, Nick Lowles. It is now a little out of date but I would recommend the book to those who like to believe that the fascists are only “nationalists” or even “patriots” when their political parties (BNP, NF) are clearly led by life long National Socialists (Nazi).

Combat 18 use to provide the body guards for BNP leaders such as Griffin before they fell out with him. It finally disintegrated after years of violence when they split over money and ended up fighting and even killing each other.

I was astonished to read in this months Searchlight (page 7) that two of the notorious fascists mentioned in the book, “crazed long time Nazi and Satanist David Myatt” converted to an extreme form of Islam, while former BNP member and the nail bomber who killed 3 people in London, David Copeland, “had sought a extreme form of Islam” while in prison.

The article mentioned another former BNP member, Stephen Jones, who is also serving life for murder who has converted to an extreme Islam sect which threatened to have the moderate prison Imam killed.

Interestingly to speculate why they turn to Islamic extremism?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Happy Days! Galloway/SWP Councillors join Labour

I'll post on this further - Hi to Oli, Lutfa and Rania - now that the "ego" and the toy town revolutionaries have rejoined their forgotten brigades, Welcome to the Labour Party!

"Three more councillors switch to Labour in fresh blow to Galloway…
All three remaining ‘Respect Unity Coalition’ councillors on Tower Hamlets Borough Council, who split from George Galloway’s party last year, have today joined the Labour Party.

Councillor OLI RAHMAN, the first councillor to be elected under George Galloway’s ‘Respect’ banner in 2004, Councillor LUTFA BEGUM and Councillor RANIA KHAN will all join the group which runs Tower Hamlets.

Councillor Rahman (St Dunstan’s and Stepney Green) said today:

“I know in my heart that the Respect Party has no future and that the best way I can help achieve lasting improvements for my community is to work as part of the mainstream Labour Party.

“The real choice at the next General Election will be right-wing Conservative representation which would be the worst possible result, or a Labour MP like Jim Fitzpatrick who will continue to stand up and deliver what is needed by the local community.

“It is time to put our differences aside and work together and that’s what I will do.”

Councillor Begum (Limehouse), who works as a Community Practice Nurse said:

“Respect is totally split and incapable of delivering anything positive for the people of Tower Hamlets. I stood for council to help make things better for my local community - particularly to improve health care and to fight for a better deal for women.

“I know that our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is working hard to deliver on the issues that concern people in Tower Hamlets. It is clear today that the only party doing that can change things for the better for ordinary people is Gordon Brown’s Labour Party.

“I have been encouraged by the vast majority of local residents in my community to join the Labour Party.”

Councillor Khan (Bromley by Bow) said:

“I became involved to help make a real difference. The best way to achieve that change is by being part of the Labour Party which is rebuilding in Tower Hamlets and going from strength-to-strength.

Labour’s JIM FITZPATRICK, MP for Poplar and Limehouse said today:

“I welcome this boost which reflects hard by Labour’s team both locally at Tower Hamlets Council and nationally at Westminster to be on the side of ordinary people delivering real improvements to their lives.”

Taking the Long View – Effective Pension Trusteeship in Uncertain Times.

Back again to last Friday and to the annual TUC pension’s trustee conference at Congress house. The first speaker was James Purnell, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (and bad photographer).

James called Pension trustees the “unsung heroes” of financial services. This is something useful which I will store away for the future. He thought that there was a vital role for member nominated representatives to play in helping rebuild confidence in pensions.

Confidence is key to the future success (or otherwise) of Pension Personal Accounts. In the 1980’s and 1990s we had Maxwell, collapse of pension schemes, contribution holidays and the mis-selling of private pension plans. The government now has the “Architecture in Place” to help rebuild confidence. The Pension protection fund (PPF) protects some 11 million pensioners. Together with a strong regulator and compensation for those schemes that failed before the PPF.

James celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Old Age pension. He told the audience though that there use to be a “Character Test” for access to pensions in 1908. He joked that maybe this should be re-introduced for MPs before they could get their pensions! Only 25% of the population reached the age of 70 in 1908, most died in their 40’s. Only 500, 000 people were entitled to a state pension in 1909, now over 11 million. Including probably the first woman who will live in the UK to be 120, who he thought was probably 65 now and would live off her pension for the next 55 years. I think he put this fact in to make people think.

He finished off by pointing out how significant Personal Accounts will be – he estimated there will be up to 9 million extra savers and within a few years £10 billion of extra savings.

Could we be finally, starting the long and tortuous journey to the abolition of poverty for all in old age?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Harry Enfield - Tory Boy

This has been suggested in the comments following the last post. From me - No comment.

How to be a Tory MP

(From conservativehome - hat tip to Col. Roi)

"Last week ConservativeHome published a guide to the decidedly Thatcherite views of the candidates who have been adopted as Conservative candidates for the next General Election. 126 adopted candidates took part in the survey that also asked for advice for all those contemplating following in their footsteps. Below we group the advice they offered - chosen to be representative of the whole:

DON'T LEAVE FIRST BASE WITHOUT YOUR FAMILY'S SUPPORT "The road to being a candidate and MP gobbles up time and money. If your spouse isn't 100% committed you are putting your marriage at risk. Support from partner/ husband/ wife is a first base call." "Be prepared to work very hard without thanks or reward, often without the full support of your association, to miss out on promotion at work and to risk strife at home! That said, it can be very fulfilling and of course if / when you win, it will all seem worth the stress."

DON'T PUT ALL OF YOUR EGGS IN THE 'I WANNA BECOME AN MP' BASKET "Most of the people who started on this search with me have given up or STILL haven't been adopted. For most people the road to becoming an MP isn't just hard and long but unsuccessful." "Get a job and life, and when you have done something real and valuable, then consider standing for office." "Be patient; get on with life outside politics and make a success of it because a political career is highly unreliable; have fun."

IT'S NOT WHAT YOU KNOW, IT'S WHO YOU KNOW "Seriously - do some homework - and be seen in the right places - by elections, various events that the area CCHQ staff are at...and the like...don't bother doing 10,15, 20 years working your way up through the ranks gaining experience." "Lick up to everyone in CCHQ who matters to get on the A list - get the fix in your favour and make sure you're good on the night too." "Hold your nose while youre on your way up. Say nice things to the CCO staff who will lose your CV or put it on the top of the pile. It's nauseating but these people have so much power.Too much power." "I was told by a CCHQ employee that if I applied for the seat they would ensure I got an interview. We'll manage the sift for you. It was a person I'd bought champagne at the last Party Conference. It was the best £35 I ever spent in my time in the party."

PREPARE TO LOSE A LOT OF MONEY "Over the last ten years I've spent at least £100,000 getting to this point and I feel lucky. I will be an MP in the first Conservative government of the 21st century but many others have spent tens of thousands and have got nowhere."
A ConservativeHome survey - published last year - found that the average cost of becoming a Conservative MP was £41,500. 49% of adopted candidates expect their candidacies to cost more than this when they add up direct costs and lost income opportunities. The same survey found that 55% thought that their incomes would drop if they become MPs.

PERSEVERE: THIS IS A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT "Get a thick skin. Work hard and be prepared for a long, hard and lonely haul." "Develop elephant hide." "Do not give up, keep on keeping on." "It is a marathon not a sprint and you must pace yourself accordingly."

SPEND MONEY ON EXPERT HELP "Don't do this on your own. Hire a coach. Talk to candidates already selected about who to hire." "I got no where until I started getting professional help. Getting selected is partly an art but there's also science to what you say, what you wear, how you prepare. A few thousands spent now on good advice from the likes of Mark Fulbrook will get you selected faster and so save you many thousands more down the road."

DON'T LOSE SIGHT OF WHY YOU GOT INTO ALL OF THIS"Know why you're doing it and be prepared to compromise your career and say goodbye to evenings and weekends."

YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN... "Don't expect the work that needs to be done in most marginal seats to be done by others - expect to have to alter your whole life." "Expect help from nobody but yourself." "Be prepared for very little support from the party, count any support as a blessing." "If you lose you seat then expect to be very, very lonely. No one thanks you." "Be prepared for a fractious and ungrateful local Association. If you get a decent one, you're lucky."

...UNLESS YOU FORM A CIRCLE OF TRUST "The best thing I have is my group of three. Three friends who are part of the party and know the score. They tell me what is going on, they tell me when I am being sensible or paranoid. They tell me if I'm being fair to my family or unfeeling. I rehearsed my selection speeches in front of them."

AND FINALLY... "Never use notes when speaking. You should know what you have to say. If you can't do this then realistically you are probably not going to make it as an MP." "Get the CV filled up with hands-on campaigning wherever's handy for you. For example, don't write a press release about saving a post office: Go and work in one, even in a different constituency, and go to the public meetings. Then you'll be able to show the selection committee, or open primary that, while you acknowledge the party is doing wonders nationally, you will get stuck in locally. It really isn't all about top notch public speaking skills and a conveniently healthy bank balance. It's convincing the selection panel that voters will connect with you, and be prepared to trust you.

That you'll get your hands dirty, however needy and unrealistic constituents may be, that you'll do what you say you will etc. For that reason alone, be realistic about the seats you go for, especially where it's unlikely you'll win. Putting in effort locally is one thing: Travelling miles before you can get started is another. Also, if you have no energy, no personality, no sense of humour, a history of giving up in the face of disappointment or a tendancy to get very angry at every unfairness with which you are visited, look for other ways of having a fulfilling life. A recollection that being a MP is about public service would also help."

(June 30, 2008 at 08:43 in Costs of being a candidate)