Friday, August 31, 2012

Einstein was smart enough to join a union...are you?

Need I say anymore? Come on - you know it makes sense.

Join a union. If you work in public services then of course join UNISON, otherwise check out the TUC WorkSmart union guide here

Hat tip various FaceBook sharers.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

London Paralympics 2012

I watched the opening ceremony on TV last night and like pretty much everyone else who saw it I thought it was brilliant.

I admit once again that I am not a "sports" fan so I will not be watching that much outside BBC news highlights.

However, I will be rooting for the swimmer, Amy Marren, 14 year old grand-daughter of UNISON NEC member Irene Stacey (and former Branch secretary of Newham UNISON Local Government branch).  She is one of the youngest athletes at the "Games" and already holds British records in the 200m backstroke and 800m freestyle

Amy is taking part in the heats of the 100m backstroke tomorrow (Friday 31st) and also the 50m and 400m freestyle next week. Good luck to all the athletes!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Search the Money

"Search the Money" is a great new website that scrutinises donations to the Conservative Party, hospitality to MPs and constituency parties. It also allows you to check if "your MP has
been doing some private work on the side".

While I think it is corrupt and corrupting that billionaires such as Lord Ashcroft are able to pour millions of pounds to support Tory candidates.  At least it is his own money.

Public companies that donate shareholder money to the Tories are simply beyond the pale.  What possible reason can there be for doing this apart from the desire to buy political influence and power?

I also hope that private companies that donate to the Tories are held to account. Companies such as Fund Mangers Fidelity, who are the biggest company donors to the Tories yet they fail to declare it to its clients and policy holders. Many local government pension funds employ Fidelity as a fund manager. UNISON members would be furious if they realised that profits from managing their pensions is being used to fund the Tories.     

The site will also keep an eye on the private earnings of Tory MPs and possible conflicts of influence. I don't think it is necessarily always wrong that MPs have private earning but how on earth can Tory MP Simon Reevell justify topping up his obvious pittance as a MP of only £65k with a whooping £165k as a lawyer? How can he be a full time MP? 

I completely refuse to accept any comparison with the funding of the Labour Party by trade unions.  Trade unions donations are individual affiliations freely made by trade union members who can chose whether or not to pay the levy fee. If my pension fund employed Fidelity in most schemes I would have little or no choice on the matter. 

Picture is by Hogarth "Humours of an Election".

Hat tip to Mlle Witherington 

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Right to Die? Not yet

When I heard the news on the car radio last week that Tony Nicklinson had died of natural causes, I am sure that like everyone else, I was relived that his suffering had finally finished and he had got his wish to die. Tony was paralysed from the neck down after suffering a stroke in 2005.

He had described his life as a "living nightmare" and had gone to Court to be allowed the right to die. This was refused and the Court said this was a decision for Parliament to legislate about and not the Courts.

I must admit that in recent years I had been coming around to being in favour of giving people the right to commit suicide in such circumstances. However, earlier this month I heard the disabled campaigner Baroness Campbell (see photo) being interviewed on Desert Island Discs. Baroness Campbell has the incurable disease Spinal muscular atrophy. Her condition also means that she is prone to severe chest infections and often needs emergency care. At least twice when she has been in A&E the doctor has said to her husband that they "assumed" she did not want to be resuscitated.

That was one of the reasons why she is opposed to the "right to die". She told the interviewer Kirsty Young, that "when society values me as much as it values you" then we could have this change. Not until then.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Wansfell and Troutbeck Walk

Off message but I spent last week walking and sightseeing in the Lake District. The weather was just a little ropey at times but it's such a beautiful part of the world.

Picture is from the summit of Wansfell looking down at Lake Windermere. A short but relatively tough climb from Ambleside then an easy decent back via Troutbeck valley.

Magnificent views of lakes and fells. I'll post other pictures from the week on Facebook.

Used walking poles for the first time. I found them really useful and definitely felt they made going up easier and protected your knees when coming down. 4 legs are better than 2.

Update: done check out here

Friday, August 24, 2012

UNISON members Vote by 90% to accept new LGPS!

Great news. UNISON has announced that members voted in a secret ballot by 90% to accept the new Local Government Pension Scheme 2014. Ignoring the moanie, fibbing misrabalist rejectionists who for selfish sectarian reasons wanted them to turn down a good offer to indulge in pointless strike action and the inevitable "glorious defeat". On Monday the GMB voted by 95% to accept.

While there were some who had genuine doubts about the new scheme, I would hope that everyone (apart from the miserablists who will be crying betrayal) will rally around the new scheme and encourage the shocking 25% of those eligible who haven't yet joined to join. There is still further work to be done especially around member representation and governance. The new LGPS will be a fair, affordable and sustainable model for a rebirth of private sector defined benefit pensions scheme.  In the meanwhile we should be also looking at encouraging other employers to consider joining.

This result will also encourage the union's in forthcoming campaigns since we can demonstrate that by a combination of rational argument, mobilisation and targeted collective action we can win for our members.

Update: Unite members have also voted to accept LGPS 2014 by 84%. Hat tip UNISONactive

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bank of England investigates itself and finds its "Not Guilty" over QE

Well, that's okay then. Never mind perfectly sound pension schemes are closing left, right and centre. The Bank of England has looked into whether its ongoing policy of Quantitative Easing (QE) has any negative effects and has concluded the good outweighs the bad.

Apparently the fact that QE has benefited the rich (top 5%) the most isn't of concern to this Coalition cabinet of millionaires either.  I do wonder why?

The cut in gilts yields due to QE is helping to make many private sector DB pension schemes seem unaffordable and adding to the pressure for them to close. It increases the so called "deficits" which due to current abnormal 200 year market low conditions are already pretty meaningless. 

This has nothing to do with poor investment returns or increases in life expectancy. This is solely down to a discredited and outdated accountancy measure ("mark to market") which the Bank of England is aware of but does nothing about and while the Government has promised not to idly stand by and watch good pension schemes go to the wall, so far, it has done nothing either.    

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pension Myths

This post has nothing to do with moanie Ultra left pension miserablists. Instead I was checking out what the Pension Regulator has on its website about auto enrolling and came across this:-
"Pension myths
Automatic enrolment into a workplace pension will make it easier for people to start saving for their retirement. All employers will be required to enrol their eligible workers into a workplace pension scheme if they are not already in one.

We know there is a lot of confusion surrounding pensions and saving. These pension myths can make people feel confused about what they need to do to fund their retirement. We’ve explained some common pension myths below.

It’s not worth saving into a pension.
Most people can expect to get back more in retirement than they put in their pension. Most people saving in a workplace pension also benefit from contributions from their employer and the government in the form of tax relief*.

My house will be my pension pot.
! Property doesn't allow you to spread your money across a range of different investments like a pension does, and doesn't have the same tax advantages.

My partner will be my pension pot / I’ll inherit money from my parents.
! Inheritances can be uncertain, so it is important to make individual pension provision. Increasing numbers of people are surviving into their 90s and longer, so your parents may still be alive when you retire. You might also find yourself in a difficult situation in the case of divorce. Inheritances can be uncertain, so it is important to make individual pension provision. Increasing numbers of people are surviving into their 90s and longer, so your parents may still be alive when you retire. You might also find yourself in a difficult situation in the case of divorce.

I can only pay in a small amount so it isn't worth it.
Your contribution to your workplace pension will be a percentage of your salary. You’re also likely to benefit from a contribution from your employer and tax relief* from the government too. Even if you end up with a small overall pension pot, you might be able to take your pension as a cash lump sum as long as your pension savings are no more than a certain amount (currently £18,000).

I’ll save when I get old / I'm too old to start saving.
It is better to start early – usually, the younger you start to save, the bigger your pension will be, as your money has more time to grow. And unless your retirement is a few months away, there’s still time for you to build up some money.

If my company shuts down I lose everything.
There was a problem with people losing their pensions when their company shut down in the past. But this is no longer the case. With most schemes your pension is looked after by the pension provider, so if your employer goes bust you won’t lose your pension pot.

If your pension scheme is run by your employer and they go bust, your pension pot might be smaller than it would have been. This is because, if your employer has been paying the pension scheme administration costs, they will no longer be doing so. These costs would now come from the scheme member’s pots.

My grandma only lived to be 70 so surely I won’t live much longer, why bother saving?
! People tend to underestimate how long they’re likely to live and life expectancy across the generations is changing fast. On average, you’re likely to spend 20 years in retirement, so you will need to plan for that.

The State Pension will be enough.
! The State Pension is a foundation, but for many people, relying on this alone could mean a fall in income at retirement. Saving into a workplace pension means people will have more money to help continue enjoying the things they like when they retire.

(*Tax relief means some of your money that would have gone to the government as income tax, goes into your workplace pension instead.)"

This is good stuff (not sure about the rest of the communcation material) but I think it might be a bit misleading about what would happen to your DB pension if your employer goes bust and the pension protection fund (PPF) takes over. Also there is still an ongoing debate on whether the low paid will benefit from auto-enrolling.

UNISON has a new guide to auto enrolling here

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Reflections upon Breivik and our own Far Right

Picture is from the front page of this month’s “Searchlight” (the anti-fascist magazine). It’s just over a year since the massacre in Norway and the verdict on Breivik is due out on Thursday. Searchlight has commissioned a number of articles on about him and the Far Right. Some very good (some a little odd).

It’s clear to me that Breivik is clinically insane. You don’t go around shooting children at close range while smiling and laughing without being deranged. It is also clear though that he knows the difference between right and wrong. This means in Britain that he would probably be found guilty of murder. The law in Norway is different and he might be found to be not responsible for his actions. Either way I cannot believe he will ever be released.

Searchlight make the valid point that in this country while we are concerned with the threat of violence from Islamic extremists we seem complacent about the threat from the Far Right. I’m sure this is true. There will be similar egotistic sociopath morons out there in our green and pleasant land who think that the only thing that Breivik done wrong was just not to kill enough people.

Hat’s off to the people and government of Norway for the way they have dealt with this appalling crime.

Monday, August 20, 2012

GMB vote 95% in favour of LGPS: Further Misery for Miserablists

GMB member's of the Local Government Pension Scheme have voted by 95% in a secret postal ballot to support the new look scheme.

"Brian Strutton, GMB Public Services National Secretary, said “GMB members have spoken loud and clear.  The new LGPS 2014 proposals represent a fair and balanced outcome which means the pension scheme will remain affordable and sustainable; GMB members have recognised this as shown by the overwhelming vote in favour".

The UNISON ballot is ongoing. The ballot helpline close's tomorrow and the vote ends on 24th August.  Of course the UNISON miserablists are being even more miserable than usual at the GMB result. Does the GMB have miserablists or is it just an affliction that UNISON suffers from?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Maintaining Useful Volunteers

(Guest post) "Volunteers play a unique role in the work of non-profit organisations. Often they are not there for the long term and lack positions of authority. It is difficult to include volunteers as leaders. At the same time, volunteers cannot be counted as employees because there is usually nothing binding them to the non-profit that promotes strong accountability or incentive except for their personal integrity. This often makes the role of volunteer in the non-profit sector an “other” or an “extra”.

It seems to me that many volunteers feel just that. They understand their roles to be dispensable, temporary, and additional rather than essential. When non-profits engage volunteers, they must carefully set up a structure that understands and communicates well the role of volunteers. This requires flexibility, clear expectations, and a form of accountability. Often the non-profit trades such requirements for easier strategies, like flattering volunteers, playing on emotions, and unrealistic marketing messages.

For example, a non-profit might market that it needs volunteers using emotionally-gripping images and stories. The marketing message might state the goals of the non-profit as though they were already realised and definitely being accomplished. It might promote that volunteers are able to join the effort by doing simple tasks at the convenience and pleasure of the volunteer.

While such strategies tend to function well in the recruitment of volunteers for the non-profit sector, they also set up failed relationships and projects for both volunteers and non-profits because of the lack of clarity, expectations, accountability, and flexibility. Anyone who has worked at bettering the world (especially through non-profits) and faced the reality of the brokenness and complexity of the world is aware that the goals of a non-profit are rarely fully accomplished and are often met with challenges, setbacks, and multiple changes. This is simply reality, and it requires flexibility. Volunteers need to have a clear knowledge of this reality while they set their expectations and incentives for working with a non-profit.

Even if non-profits employ strategies for clear communication about expectations, goals, and incentive with volunteers, these are not enough without accountability. Empowerment language hardly belongs in messages marketed to volunteers because volunteers given power are rarely also given humility, servitude, and purpose. These allow for the accountability that ensure continuity, long-term commitment, and the growth of integrity in volunteers and the projects they serve in for non-profit work. It must be clear to volunteers and to the non-profit sector what goals, expectations, and roles need to exist for the success of projects, not for comfortable recruitment. This recruitment starting point is not enough, the non-profit sector must honestly engage volunteers to succeed. 
Author Bio
Nancy Parker was a professional nannies and she loves to write about wide range of subjects like health, Parenting, Child Care, Babysitting, nanny background check tips etc. You can reach her @ nancy.parker015 @

Saturday, August 18, 2012


...and Vote for Cara! In the 2012 Westminster Dog of the Year competition. West Ham Labour MP Lyn Brown's pet Cara is up against dastardly Tory and Lib Dem opposition.

Cara is a one year old Yorkshire Terrier and is often seen out campaigning for Labour in West Ham and other parts of the UK.

(yes, this is the silly season but an election is an election. So spread the word)

Friday, August 17, 2012

"Keir Hardie and moral purpose"

Hat tip Dave Watson

"The Keir Hardie Society held a meeting in Hamilton last night in conjunction with the South Lanarkshire Branch of UNISON. This was the day after Hardie’s birthday. The rooms above the library are excellent and the library service did a fine job with their display on Hardie and his times. A great example of what a public library service can do. This all contributed to a good audience turnout.

The main speaker was to be Jimmy Hood MP, who was like Hardie a Lanarkshire miner. However, sadly Jimmy has taken ill and was in hospital - our best wishes for his recovery. His replacement was Gregg McClymont MP, who before becoming an MP taught modern British history at St Hughes College, Oxford. I have heard Gregg speak on Hardie’s life and times before and he has a detailed understanding of the period and the ability to show the relevance to political debate in Scotland today. The Society’s President, Cathy Jamieson MP added her own contribution, again with contemporary references.

While giving a general overview of the principles that drove Hardie, Gregg gave some focus to one aspect that gets little attention, what Gregg called his Puritanism. Hardie was strongly opposed to drink and gambling and the temperance movement was a strong influence, not only on Hardie, but the early Labour Party. The temperance movement in this period had a strong political edge with campaigns to close outlets and it gave opportunities to develop public speaking and debating skills. Temperance groups also gave equal status to women and Bob Holman speculates in his book that this may well have determined Hardie’s early commitment to female suffrage. In a West of Scotland context, it was one of the few areas where Catholics and Protestants could make common cause.

Gregg pointed out that this was not always an electoral strength to the early Labour Party, but it was important in the development of many Labour movement leaders including Snowden, Henderson and Tom Johnston. Cathy followed up this theme with reference to Hardie’s moral purpose and its relevance to modern politics. In the era of public outrage about tax dodging and bankers bonuses, she argued that people know when something isn’t right and proper. Political parties should reflect that moral stance. A good example, used by both speakers, is the debate over the liberalisation of gambling laws.

I was thinking about these ideas this morning when reading new research by Christian Aid that shows 56% of British adults believe, even legal tax avoidance, by multinational companies is morally wrong. Only 4% thought these practices were fair. Note the use of morally wrong. The public can and do distinguish between conduct that is “just not right” as Cathy Jamieson put it. Gregg later argued that even Margaret Thatcher may not have understood the consequences of unleashing the rapacious free market forces that subsequently brought the economy crashing down.

In this context there may be an opportunity for Labour to reflect a changing public mood by emphasising the moral purpose of socialism. Albeit in a 21st Century context and, I emphasise, this is economic morality not a drive for social conservativism. A good starting point is supporting the Christian Aid ‘Tick for Tax Justice’ petition when the Tax Justice Bus visits your area over the next few months. Keir Hardie would have been with us on the campaign to stop rich tax-dodging companies robbing people in poverty of the vital public services they need".

Thursday, August 16, 2012

But why is Ecuador protecting a rape suspect?

Julian Assange. What is going on? Why is anyone opposing the extradition of a suspect accused of assualt and rape to Sweden? Sweden that well known CIA Client state?  Sweden??? of all places???

Left is from the British Government  Foreign office website on travel to Ecuador.

Obviously this is just all wannabe colonial lies as well. Or is it? 

Pensions: Wakey, Wakey Community and Voluntary sector!

This initial advice below was sent out yesterday by UNISON Community national officer, Simon Watson. We met up with the Pension Trust last week (with Unite and the UNISON pension officer
Alan Fox). 

"Pensions: Auto enrolment and scheme changes

UNISON is aware that many employers are reviewing their position in light of the forthcoming auto-enrolment of staff into pension schemes, and recent valuation of some pension schemes. Some employers are considering raising contribution rates, or even closing schemes.

UNISON believes that some employers are panicking unnecessarily, and the outcome of the LGPS negotiations shows that high quality defined benefit pension schemes remain a viable and realistic option for the community and voluntary sector.

We recently met with the Pensions Trust to discuss the schemes that they administer (including the Social Housing Pension Scheme) and we are preparing advice on both what to do if an employer proposes changes, and on “auto-enrolment” into pension schemes. Look out for these soon.
Employers are legally obliged to consult with current and prospective members of the pension scheme before making changes, under regulations from 2006 (

Please get in touch with UNISON if you hear of any changes to your pension scheme – email"

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Barclay pay AGM vote round-up"

Hat -tip Tom at "Labour & Capital"

"Being the sad man that I am, I've been collecting asset manager voting decisions on Barclays' remuneration report at this year's AGM.

Here are the scores on the doors so far -

FOR - Goldman Sachs, Standard Life
OPPOSE - Aberdeen, AXA, F&C, Investec, JP Morgan, Jupiter, Kames, Legal & General, M&G, Royal London, Scottish Widows

Will update when I get more data. Interesting thing to note is that some hefty UK institutions voted against. So where did all those votes in favour come from?"

(grayee comment: Goldman Sachs Yeah but Wtf is Standard Life doing voting to reward shareholders being ripped off?

Octavia Hill, Housing, the Diffusion of Beauty (& other things)

On Monday it was the 100th anniversary of the death of Octavia Hill. She was one of those remarkable, talented, passionate strong willed, Victorians whose influence is still live and kicking a 100 years on. While I don't actually agree with everything she did or believed in - if you work or have an interest in social housing you simply cannot ignore her.

She is credited with the development of social housing, the Army Cadet Corp, the National Trust, and even being "a forebear of occupational therapy". I love the fact that she was once a treasurer of the "Society for the Diffusion of Beauty".

She believed that the poor deserved decent, affordable, well managed housing. However, she did not believe either in state subsidised housing, female emancipation nor even social security. She was also a very hard taskmaster with regard to rent arrears or anti-social behaviour, which I believe would be popular on modern day housing estates but produce a field day for human rights lawyers.
Octavia also believed in the role of women in housing management. This was of course at a time when women were excluded from nearly all "professions". Women trained by her later founded the Institute of Women Managers in 1916. This much later eventually became the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIOH).

One final thought is that I remember attending a meeting of the London branch of the CIOH in middle 1990's. They had an elderly female speaker (whose name I am sorry I have long forgotten) to speak about the history of housing management. I remember her clearly talking about the significant role of women in housing management since Octavia Hill. She looked around at the (majority male) audience in the room and asked what has happened in housing management in recent years - "Where have all the women gone"?

LGPS 2014 - Ballot helpline now open

"Dear colleague

 You should have received your ballot paper for the UNISON ballot on the new proposals for the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS).

If not, the ballot helpline is now open: if you have not received your ballot paper, or need a replacement, call the helpline straight away on 0845 355 0845.

Remember, you can vote by post or online, and the ballot closes on 24 August at 10am.

Your service group executive - the committee of lay members representing you - recommends that you vote Yes to these proposals, under which most members will be better off.

There is a lot of information about how the proposals might affect you on the Local Government Pension Scheme page of UNISON's website at

The ballot closes on 24 August. The ballot helpline is 0845 355 0845 and it will be open until 10am on 21 August.

Yours sincerely"

Monday, August 13, 2012

"London 2012 – The People’s Olympics"

Hat tip David Christie on Labourlist

"So the curtain has closed on what must surely be celebrated as one of the greatest ever Olympic Games. Lord Coe told the world “we did it right” and even hardened Games-Scrooges and doubters are looking just a little sheepish. But, this has been a Games where people have been centre stage…and not just on the track.

The list of individual and collective achievements is awe-inspiring. The 29 Golds and 65 medals, the partnership between public and private sectors to deliver the amazing setting and the thousands upon thousands of volunteers have created a feeling of euphoria which no one dared anticipate.

The media narrative has completely changed too, celebrating people it was castigating days before. From Mo Farah the Somali asylum seeker turned double Olympic Champion to the thousands of Games Makers and volunteers. Many of those who volunteered are unemployed and using the opportunity to get valued experience and receiving plaudits from across the world.

For the past 2 years the Government have pushed a narrative about social responsibility and the ‘something for something’ culture which at first glance appears to resonate with the idea of a wider vision for community volunteering and activism. But it is not our ability and work ethic that has fundamentally changed in these magical two weeks. It is our attitudes to one another.

In this light it is easy to see why Cameron’s Big Society vision has so far failed. Aside from the cuts to local authority budgets which has decimated funding for local third sector provision it is simply that by castigating and vilifying people and feeding stories in the right wing press on scroungers, layabouts and lazy public servants the Government has hitherto contributed to a national mood of selfishness and individualism. In such a climate it is impossible to garner the good will and commitment to deliver positive change.

The Olympic Games has somehow managed to wipe away that gloom and antipathy. The spotlight has been firmly on the UK and the British people have reflected a warm glow right back.
I hope that we can hold onto that collectivism and sense of community that has been created in the last few weeks.

There is nothing wrong-headed about the Tory Big Society idea. Their mistake has been to over-politicise it and confuse the message and to fail to recognise that the way to achieve a better society is through opportunity and skills and investing in people. Britain is soaring on an Olympic wave right now, bring on the Paralympics.

One Housing Group...Shaping Local Communities by cutting pay?

Inside Housing magazine report here on an attack by Unite on One Housing Group for planning pay cuts to its care and support workers.

I note that One Housing claims to be "building affordable homes and shaping local communities". I wonder where they think their own workers will be able to afford to live when they cut their wages? What do they mean by "shaping local communities"? Into minimum wage zones?

The Chief Executive of One Housing Group in 2010/11 got at least £134,000 in pay (One Housing apparently refused  to disclose his bonus or how much his lease car cost).

In a response by a reporter about the prospect of industrial action I made this comment on the Inside Housing website. "I think that it is almost inevitable that there will be serious and sustained industrial action and further conflict. A small number of rogue employers are leading a race to the bottom and actively under cutting good employers. Workers in our sector are being to realise that they cannot depend on TUPE or employment law and that as a last resort they will have no alternative but to take action to defend not only their own pay and conditions but also to protect our clients and retain quality services".

photo Left Futures 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

London Olympics 2012: Thanks for the Warm-Up

I'm about to start watching the closing ceremony on TV. Will stick head out of window later to look for fireworks. Hat tip Ellie.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Free Olympic Park tickets for Newham Residents (Saturday 11 August)

Stop Press: Good News! Free tickets tomorrow (Saturday 11 August only) to the London 2012 Olympic Park for Newham Residents.

"The Mayor of Newham has secured 1,000 FREE tickets for Newham residents to enter the Olympic Park in Stratford tomorrow (Saturday 11 August).
Tickets are available from 10am on Saturday 11 August from the information points at the council's two Newham Live sites, our free outdoor events featuring all the Olympic action on giant screens.
The Newham Live sites are located in:
  • Stratford Park, West Ham Lane E15
  • Central Park, High Street South, East Ham E6
Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis and limited to a maximum of four per person. Proof of Newham residence will be required. Under-16s will need to be accompanied by an adult.

These high demand tickets will allow you to experience the magic of the Olympic Park but do not get you in to any Olympic Venue.

Please note, there are restrictions in place regarding what you may take into the Olympic Park - for more information please visit"

"Landlords hit with extra £30m in pension costs"

"Inside Housing" magazine today reports that the Pensions Trust has told 700 employers who are part of the Social Housing Pension Fund (SHPS) that they are facing a rise in
pension contributions of £30 million.

The Pension Trust runs schemes for "over 2,400 charitable, social, educational, voluntary and not-for-profit organisations". I imagine that all their defined benefit scheme employers will be receiving similar messages.
I posted the following comments in response on the Inside Housing website:-  

"What employers should be saying to the Pensions Trust is why should they pay more when this so called "deficit" is a completely meaningless figure based on a discredited and outdated accounting standard? Which even the Government pensions minister describes as a "nightmare" and has promised to change?

Why isn't the Pension trust looking into the alternatives to simply raising contributions and threatening the long term sustainability of the scheme?

Why aren't they following the lessons learnt from the new Local Government Pension Scheme 2014 on how to keep contributions down but still offer a first class defined benefit scheme?

John Gray
Branch Secretary Greater London UNISON Housing Association Branch".

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

London 2012 Olympics - visit to Park for Hockey

Yesterday evening I finally went into the Olympic Park during Games to watch the Men's Hockey quarter final, GB verses Spain. I went with fellow Newham Councillors and members of the Newham Youth
Council (and the current Young Mayor Abraham Male).

We came in via Eton Manor Gate at 5pm. I bumped into some current and former UNISON staff coming the opposite way from the Swimming. The first impression of the Park is how beautiful and spacious it all is - the flowers, the greenery and the waterways. The volunteers and staff were still cheery and helpful despite this being the second week. Everything seemed to be well organised and moving smoothly.  There was clear signage and was relatively uncrowded. Lots of things to stop and stare at. Drinks and food were expensive (£8 for fish and chips!) but I believe you can bring food in (not liquids). It all reminded me (favourably) of a Walt Disney theme park.

The Hockey match itself was fast and furious and at times a little fractious. The support for the GB team was pretty overwhelming and I felt a little sorry for the Spanish players and their drowned out supporters. During a break in play the stadium PA would ask the crowd "to give a cheer for the Spanish team". Which would result in a small cheer. Then he would ask for a "cheer for the GB team" which would result in a completely deafening and massive cheer followed up by a 4 man band playing "land of hope and glory". The weather was pretty cool and there was the occasional spot of rain. No one seemed to mind.

It was an exciting finish (even for non sporty me) and the final result was a 1:1 draw which meant that GB went to the next semi-final (Spain had to win to do so) which as you can imagine went down well with spectators.

The journey home went quick and straight forward and I was indoors within an hour. A special evening.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Miserablist loses the plot (while having a strop)

Check out this great article in UNISONactive about the hypocrisy of the miserablists, who are actively trying to destroy the new local government pension scheme. Putting aside for the moment that the new LGPS 2014 is a victory for the union (and our members - in particular low paid women workers), the chief miserablist is having one of his "know it all" strops and attacking anyone who dares to disagree with him. 

While at the same time ignoring basic principles of trade unionism by declaring UDI from collective decisions made at conference and by elected lay members.

"Catching the bounce"

Hat tip Ellie Robinson at Labour List

The Olympics have captured national attention and sent our spirits soaring in recent days. Precedent suggests that this kind of event raises also our opinion of government. Certainly Boris seems to be enjoying the bounce. If we’re not quick off the mark and sure in our response the Coalition government will also benefit.

As nurses, Jarrow marchers, matchgirls, and suffragettes marched across the huge screen in my local park last week, and we proudly celebrated modern multicultural society, I couldn’t help think, this could be our party political broadcast of the last century. It didn’t seem an appropriate moment to whip out the Labour Party membership forms, but just to be quietly, deeply thankful that Boyle had not only reflected these images across the world, but made our society proud of them.

And that was just the beginning. The Olympics has become a world showcase for Socialist values in the UK. The Labour Party should not allow the moment to pass without remark.

Our roots are in the public sector

From the nurses in the opening ceremony to the army stepping up where the private sector failed, our public sector workers have done us proud. They have made our trains run on time, directed us around London, kept us safe in the park, and even filled seats in the stadiums. Along with all the amazing volunteers, the public sector has pulled the games off, effectively, efficiently.
Let’s use this opportunity to loudly celebrate our public sector workers and defend their jobs and the services they provide.

Our dream is of an equal society

The Olympics brings society together without recognizing colour, class or gender. The opening ceremony powerfully recreated a history of Great Britain’s working classes, while some of the medal tables have opened up the debate about class inequalities and meritocracy. In addition, there have never been more images of powerful, successful women in the media, and there is no space in an Olympics Britain for terms such as ‘plastic brits’, as Mo Farah responded Saturday night when asked by one journalist if he would have preferred to run for Somalia:

“Look mate, this is my country. This is where I grew up, this is where I started life. This is my country and when I put on my Great Britain vest I’m proud. I’m very proud.”

Let’s use this opportunity to shout about gender equality, celebrate our multicultural society, and build up the courage to talk about the very real reality of class inequalities.

Building hope and opportunity is what we do

Not only has the Olympics created conversations happening on our terms, the games are happening in our ends. The Labour Party was born in Stratford, and the Party continues to represent those living in ‘Stratfords’ across the country. Regeneration in East London has had a massive effect on local people. As Christine Ohuruogu said to the Standard:

“I used to dream of living in Essex. Now because of the Games, I’m proud to say I come from Stratford.”

To read accounts from those far more eloquent than me about the effect this has on a local community so almost forgotten check out this awesome blog – Community links’ Newham views – really inspirational, emotional accounts of what this means to the local community, overwhelmed with pride.

Let’s use this opportunity to talk more respectfully about our poorer communities. Instead of getting drawn into the damaging scroungers debate let’s talk about the effect of regeneration, jobs, investment and belief.

Of course the Olympics isn’t a socialist paradise, the massive significance of the private sector sponsors, the medal tables dominated by public schools in some disciplines and the concerns about missed opportunities for the local community – there is undoubtedly a way to go – but the Games have showcased some of the values of a better society and opened up opportunities for debate.

The whole country is talking about what makes us British. Public sector workers, internationalism, equality and fairness. We own this language. We should own this debate. The Labour Party won the Olympics and we believe in many of the values it is reflecting. It would be both perverse and unjust if the Tory government got a bounce from the Games. We must be sure to catch the ball and use the opportunity to celebrate our belief in equalities, to protect our public services, to shift the debate from scroungers to opportunity and to win the argument".

Monday, August 06, 2012

"Pensions people can trust"

This post is just a little bit late but I was away when the Labour Party and Ed Miliband launched its policy review document on pensions last
month and I am still catching up on things.

I thought the review was pretty good and was pleased that the Party recognise that not only are pension policy holders being ripped off in charges but one of the most obvious solutions is that all pension schemes should be "Trustee based". 

This would mean that schemes are looked after by representatives of the beneficiaries who have a financial stake in their scheme and therefore a real fiduciary duty to their fellow pension scheme members. Most company defined contribution schemes are run by pension or insurance companies and have no trustee representation at all. These schemes tend to be run in the interests of private companies and their shareholders, not pension policy holders. No wonder in so many cases they get such a rotten deal.

The review was not perfect. I was disappointed that the review did not mention any positive measures to protect and encourage defined benefit schemes. It did put its finger on the major pension challenge. The complete and utter lack of trust by the British public in our financial institutions.  Who would blame them for this? Since all the evidence is that for at least the last 30 years most have at best ripped off and at worse defrauded savers. The latest loan protection mis-selling scandals and LIBOR fixing shows it is still going on. Things need to change. 

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Trotski finishes 16th (but still beats TUSC)

Ivan Antonovich Trotski from Belarus finished 16th in the London 2012 Olympics 20k walking road race. Mind you he still did better than the TUSC in the British local elections in May.


Hat tip Ali G.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Visit People's Museum and Newham Gallery during London 2012

Peeping out of the upstairs windows are former local MPs Keir Hardie and Susan Lawerence. Welcome to the People's Museum and Newham Gallery, 306 High Street, Stratford, E15 1AJ. I stopped by on my way home from work on Thursday to visit.

The Museum is only about 5-10 minutes walk from Stratford station and the Olympic Park. It opened last month and during Games is usually open 11-5pm Monday to Saturday. It closes 22 October 2012.

Inside are various displays and multi-media exhibitions. There are a number of special events taking place including a talk on the 8th August 6.30pm by documentary photography Mike Steel; on 13th August 2pm long term East End Resident Ted Lewis on local history and 20th August 4pm Geoff Bell about the history of protest in Newham. There is lots of other things going on as well.

I'll post on Facebook some pictures I took inside later. The museum is actually the home of West Ham Labour Party.

Directly opposite the museum on the other side of the road is a modern day Newham protest. A Tamil Hunger Striker, Gobi Sivanthan and his supporters, who want an international investigation into the Sri Lankan War.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Have you ever thought of becoming a Councillor?

"In 2014 London will be electing its Councillors for the next 4 years. This training session is designed to help you understand what it means to be a Labour Councillor.  

What do Councillors do? What would you expect to find being a Councillor?  

Labour Councillors are Community leaders and are at the forefront of working in their local areas. This training session is about leadership, Community working and working in a team. 

The event is taking place on 8th September 10.30am at the Labour Party Head office in central London. Log onto to register for the event"

Hat tip Tower Hamlets Labour Party e-newsletter. Picture of new (ham) Councillors elected for the first time in May 2010.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

"Do You Hear The People Sing"

The so called "good old days" when the miserablists were right to be miserable. Hat tip FB Mary Lockhart.

Around and about the Newham, London 2012 Olympics

Today I drove around the Olympic Park while going to work and back. To my continued surprise, despite the “Games” the commute both ways took less time than usual. The
traffic locally now has a permanent Sunday morning feel.

So far every "Newhamite" I have spoken to is supportive of the Games and some admit that they use to be cynics before the opening ceremony but they are now big fans.

During the week I have taken the train past and through the Olympic Park a number of times and it is clear there is a huge number of spectators and competitors but little or no congestion on the underground or overhead train services. This may change tomorrow with the reopening of the main Stadium for the athletes. Hopefully not.

In the morning I went for my usual jog in Wanstead flats past the temporary Police feeding station on the fairground site which is overlooked by the "Surface to Air" missile battery mounted on the top of Fred Wigg House. I drove to Bow in Tower Hamlets from Forest Gate via the A12 for a meeting and later walked through lovely Victoria Park to Hackney Wick station. There is a free “London Live” event in “Vicki Park” with a huge Ferris wheel, cafes and open air video screens. This is just west of the Olympic park and there was a steady flow of people coming and going.

In the evening on the way home I drove along the A11 into Stratford itself, parked up (thank you Morrisons) then walked around with my camera taking in the sights. As I have already pointed out here, while I’m really pleased that the Olympics are in Newham, I’m not into watching sports at all. But I like people watching and feeling part of an occasion.

There was a music festival in the gardens of St John’s Church. I first went into the excellent "Peoples Museum and Gallery of Newham" at 306 High Street (which I will post upon separately) then into the melee of the stairs near Stratford station and the shopping centre Westfields. Christian and Islamic propagates compete for attention with Tamil protesters. The staff and volunteers had it all well organised.

There is a very international and touristy feel. It reminds me of living in Edinburgh during the August fringe and festival. Everyone appeared to be happy, pleased and intent on having a good time.

Next I went into the courtyard of the Old Town Hall back on the High Street. There is a restaurant under a canopy which serves different international food every evening with an outside bar and a Council information office. Had an interesting discussion with the information officer about why West Ham Football club is actually located in East Ham (for now). Then along West Ham Lane past the East Thames Housing Association HQ (which is now home to the Kenyan Olympic delegation) to Stratford Park (proper name West Ham Recreational Park), where there are stalls, displays and a live open air video screen of events.

Finally back to Morrison’s then home (picking up on the way a pack of beer at the supermarket to claim back the £1 parking fee). I still have to pinch myself that this is all finally happening.

(UPDATE: I've done a new collage. Double click to bring up details)

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

UNISON Community e-news: Voting YES in LGPS ballot is "vital"

Community e-news

July 2012

UNISON’s e-newsletter for the Community service group

Vote “Yes” in the LGPS ballot

The leadership of UNISON’s Community service group is urging members to vote “YES” to accept the proposals for a new Local Government Pension Scheme.

Service Group chair Kevin Jackson said: “This is a vital vote for all our members in housing associations and charities.

·         If you are in the LGPS, then it’s a good deal, especially for part-time workers.

·         If you are not in the LGPS, then keeping a high quality scheme for public service workers will help put the brakes on other employers who want to ‘dumb down’ pension schemes.

·         If you are being TUPE-transferred then the “Fair Deal” for pensions is being beefed up to give you more protection too.

“Not all members are in the LGPS.  But we have to ballot everyone in employers which have some members in the LGPS.  We are also working hard to protect the Social Housing Pension Scheme and other pension schemes.  A high turnout in the ballot will send a message of strength to the government. 

Make sure you vote!

The ballot runs from 31 July to 24 August, and members can vote by post or online.  There is more information on

Pensions: Fight to keep schemes! and “auto-enrolment”

Members in the Social Housing Pension Scheme (Pensions Trust) need to be aware that their employers have been sent letters about the deficits in their pensions schemes which is causing some employers to panic and start talking of closing the scheme or massive increase in contributions.  There has also been some outrageous scaremongering by some financial “advisors” to schemes.  UNISON is arranging an urgent meeting with the Pensions Trusts.  In the meanwhile if your employers starts talking of any changes to your pension scheme please contact your branch and UNISON’s pensions unit immediately and ask your employer to send copies of what is being proposed.

Remember – the current pension so-called “deficits” are valued in a completely discredited and inaccurate manner which even the current Pensions minster has recognised is wrong and needlessly “killing” good pensions schemes. Remember closing a pension scheme does not get rid of any deficit - in fact it can make things worse.

Finally, for everyone, “auto-rolling” for pension schemes is starting from the end of this year. Nearly all employees who are currently not in a pension scheme will be automatically enrolled into the employer’s scheme or a state scheme. Now this may be “good news” for those not in a scheme but we are concerned about some employers who currently have decently funded defined contribution schemes (“final salary” or “career average” schemes) may be tempted to cut existing employer contributions, since they are worried about an increase in the pension bill from more people being in it.  We have to fight this as well. Pensions are expensive.  Employers’ have to realise that unless they want their staff to retire in poverty they have fund pensions properly.

Pensions are obviously not boring nor are they as complicated as you think. We need to have at least one UNISON Pension Champion (or contact) in every employer.  If you are interested in being a “Pension Champion” let us know and we will sort out some training for you on the role in the very near future.

(top two stories on pensions in this months Community e-news. Check out rest of news here on
campaigns and research against cuts and austerity; pay deals and employer reports from around the country; activity in regions; and a new chair for your service group executive).