Sunday, September 30, 2012

Lab12: Homes for the future - Where are our grandchildren going to live?

Rushing into the Conference centre I found out about this fringe (picture left to right) with Andew Heywood (Housing Consultant), Jack Dromey MP (shadow housing minister); Jon Bernstein (New Stateman and Chair) and Rod Cahill (CEO of Catalyst Housing).

Jack spoke about the need to improve the private rented sector. 39% of its stock does not meet decent homes standard. The chief problem in the past has been the lack of political will. The next Labour Government will make housing a top priory and will have that will.

Rod reminded us that 30 years ago 6% of Government spending was on housing now it is less than 1%. State support for affordable housing is crucial. Andrew said the bi-party approach to housing in the last 25 years has failed. Supply is key and if housing is going to be given more money then what will the government spend less on?

In the Q&A I asked Rod why he thinks pension funds don't invest in residential housing (never mind social) in the UK and I also asked the panel what they thought of the £412,000 pay off to the CEO of Metropolitian Housing when it is at the same time cutting the wages of its care workers by 30%?

Rod said that the problems with pension investment is that they don't think that the return is sufficient. They can only make money if rents are high enough and secure. Affordable rents are too low for this. He also said that the £412k pay off including salary and that he understood that there had been higher pay offs in the sector. Jack replied that he was not aware of the details but could he be sent to him (I agreed).  

Lab12: Some pre conference thoughts?

I'm in Manchester for the 2012 Labour Party Conference which starts today at 2pm.  I'm here as a Ex-officio (Councillor) not a trade union or CLP delegate.

On the one hand the Party looks in good shape. The Tory Coalition government economic policies are failing, Labour is well ahead in the polls, its in reasonably good financial shape and still pretty united despite the 2010 defeat.

On the inevitable other hand, no one should believe polls, many voters still think that austerity is needed and I don't think we have really worked out a truly believable alternative offer.  There is still time but just being seen as a little bit less nasty than the Tories is not going to really convince anyone nor is it an answer to our economic woes.

Picture is from last nights London Regional reception.  Ed spoke to us about keeping our foot on the throats of the Tories (which went down well) and that the Olympics had showed us what individuals and government could achieve working together. He finished by promising that if elected he would lead a "radical and transforming government".  Bring it on.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Metropolitan Housing CEO £412k payoff while carers wages to be decimated

I'm on route to Labour Party conference and still fuming from yesterday’s news. Metropolitan Housing Association has announced that its former CEO, Bill Payne, was paid £412,000 last year.  At the same time as its front line care and health workers have been threatened with 30% pay cuts. According to Inside Housing this is the biggest ever payout. He was only in post for 4 years.

Staff who care for the disabled and mentally ill are going to be paying the price for this greed and incompetence. Who on earth agreed these terms? Ironically Metropolitan are also planning to reduce redundancy payments to near the legal minimum. Someone over age 41 on £20k would get say £2000 if laid off, Payne gets £209k. One law for the Directors and another for everyone else.

This is a registered charity that is even planning to sack full time workers in order to employ part timers at rubbish money since they could have their wages boosted by Government tax credits. Such behaviours are simply vile in any organisation but this is not G4S but one which claims to be “socially responsible”. Ed Miliband talks sense about “Predistribution” and increasing the pay of the low paid.  Labour must oppose this race to the gutter.

This is all just unbelievable and shows that some (not all) Housing Associations are completely out of control, ungoverned and corrupted with rotten practises. This is destroying the reputation of the whole sector. Lets fact it, many remuneration committees are just "mates clubs". Advised by consultants who know they have stuff the mouths of their clients (the Senior Management team and Chairs) with money or they will be fired. How can the excuse of always being in the top 25% quartile of pay not be anything but a means to ratchet up SMT pay?

For a while now I have been going to Labour Party conferences and asking first Labour Housing ministers, now shadow ministers, what are they going to do about poor governance and excessive executive pay in Housing Associations?  This year I hope lots of delegates do the same. Enough with the waffle. No government or Council money nor contracts should be given to organisations who act in this way.  We need a commitment to properly regulate and democratise associations by the next Labour Government.

Picture is of Metropolitan SMT on beano.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Outsourcing and austerity: civil society and the coalition government

Friday 5 October 2012 in Congress House. "A conference jointly hosted by TUC, NAVCA, NCIA, UNISON and Unite, this conference aims to bring representatives of charities, trade unions, voluntary, community and faith groups and other civil society partners together to look at the impact that the coalition government has had on civil society and the communities we serve and to consider what political and organisational responses we might adopt".
I'm taking part in a morning breakout session " What is happening to the voluntary sector workforce?. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

West Ham Labour Party Supports TUC March #Oct20

Just back from General Committee (GC) meeting of West Ham Labour Party. At which this motion was passed unanimously.

“West Ham Labour Party welcomes the call from the TUC to help organise a National March for A Future That Works on Saturday 20th October 2012.

We agree to work together to maximise the participation of Newham Residents, employees, Labour Party members and affiliates to this event as we did for the 26th March 2011 TUC march for the alternative.

We welcome the TUC publication “Austerity is Failing. We Need A Future That Works” and recognise the need to ensure that in the next General Election a government is elected that will implement an alternative economic policy, to deliver that Future that Works".

Newham trade unions and Labour Councillors have agreed to produce a joint leaflet and organise stalls in Stratford and Green Street to publicise the March. Also we will be organising a Newham meeting point for residents and Labour Party members who want to travel to the starting point and march together. Details to follow.

I'll post further on the GC later. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Council Pension fund to build homes

Congratulations to Greater Manchester Pension fund (GMPF) for running a pilot scheme investing in 240 new homes for affordable rent and discounted sale. I'm still not fully aware of all the full details but what I understand so far it just makes perfect sense.

Councils have land, planning responsibilites, massive waiting lists and staff pension funds crying out for secure long term inflation linked investments.

£11 billion GMPF is obviously better placed to be able to fund such schemes than smaller Council funds, but I hope this is a welcome start.

Newham Council supports TUC March and calls for alternative economic policy

On Monday evening Newham Council supported unanimously a motion to support the TUC anti-austerity March on Saturday October 20th and for the next Labour Government to deliver an
alternative economic policy for a future that works.

I moved the motion and below is the speech I gave. This was not a call for a return to the days of the loony left but to rebalance our economy and bring about growth and jobs. 

"Council, next month on Saturday 20 October, the Trade Union Congress has organised national marches and rallies in central London and Glasgow against the failure of this Tory led coalition government to deal with the current economic crisis and get our country on the road to recovery.

This motion calls on the Council to support the March and to encourage
local residents, Labour Party members and trade union affiliates to attend and take part. As we did for last year’s TUC March  where over 400,000 people took part in a demonstration in London. 

This included a proud contingent from Newham who gathered beforehand outside Stratford station and went together behind our local Labour Party banners, our Labour Mayor, our Labour Councillors and labour trade union affiliates.
While our marching and demonstrating peacefully against the misery of this Government’s policies is vital and important, marching is not just an end in itself. It is an act of solidarity and a symbol of our opposition to this cabinet of millionaires and their attempt to make the poor and vulnerable pay for the greed and thievery of the rich. 
Let us never ever forget, that it wasn’t over paid lollipop ladies, nurses or town hall cleaners who brought about this recession. It was corrupt bankers and financiers who had long argued that the market alone knew best, deregulation worked and the so-called “invisible hand” would keep us safe and prosperous.
This turned out to be at best wrong and at worse a deceit. We need to learn from this experience. That is why the motion also calls on us to make sure that we not only do our bit by marching on October 20th but also advancing the arguments for change to our economy 

Not only for a Plan B but for the next Labour Government to adopt the kind of policies that think it is economic illiteracy to pay building workers to stay at home on the dole while we have a massive housing shortage. It is economic madness that the wealthy who tend to save not spend get tax cuts while the working poor who will spend lose benefits.
An economy where people are in work, making things, selling things, paying taxes and earning money that they will then spend into the local economy and create more demand for jobs and services.
It is not as if this hasn’t been done before.  In 1948 we had to recover from 6 years of total war and had truly massive levels of debt, far, far higher than today yet we were still able to pay for a huge house building programmes, create the welfare state and the NHS.
Council, we need an alternative economic programme. We need to not only firefight this current recession with a programme to get people back into work. We also need to think about where we want our society to go?
Do we want to move towards an American model of an increasingly polarised society with an ever smaller number of super rich and huge numbers of desperate poor, or do we move towards a society that prides itself at its levels of income equality. A more equal and fairer society that all the evidence shows benefits the wealthy as well as the poor.
Council, this year is the 120th anniversary of the first ever elected Labour MP, Keir Hardie, in our own borough. Let us not only celebrate this historic advance of working class people into the mother of all Parliaments and let us show solitary with the ideals of Keir on October 20th by marching but also let us so “get” that October 20th is also about politics and economics.
There is a battle of ideas raging out there that the left lost in the past but which we now must win.  Council, we desperately need an economic Future that Works.  Council support the motion, I move."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Oxford Economics or Mickeymouseonomics?

I enjoyed this demolition in "Redbrick" of the so-called "report" issued yesterday by the CBI on apparent cost savings in the public sector from outsourcing.   Steve Hilditch pulls it to pieces with regard to Social Housing management.

The Right are coming out with some really desperate rubbish lately. While I blame the tax evaders alliance for starting this trend we must also wonder why the media chases headlines regardless of merit?

Monday, September 24, 2012

James Keir Hardie: 120 Years

This evening Labour MP, Hilary Benn, shadow secretary of state for communities and local government, opened an exhibition at the Old Town
Hall in Stratford on the life of Keir Hardie.

This was to mark the 120th anniversary of Keir being elected for West Ham as the first ever independent Labour MP.

A 11 page pamphlet (see cover) was also distributed.

Hilary spoke to members of the Newham Labour Group before the Full Council meeting. He reminded us that this historic town hall was the scene of Hardie's famous victory in 1892.

He also pointed out that many of the things that Hardie had fought for in his time were delivered by Labour.

He quoted the interesting advice that Hardie gave to a younger colleague that he "should drink less, read more and think longer".

After opening the exhibition Hilary also gave a speech to Labour Group (below) about current political issues and problems followed by a Q&A.

He told a nice story about how in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis the Labour Government were forced to nationalise the Bank, Northern Rock.

He rang his father, Tony Benn and said "you know Dad that you were always in favour of nationalising the Banks? Well, guess what we'd done....". (Hat tip photo Ali G)

Dr Hari Mann: RSA Tomorrow's Investor programme

Dr Mann was the first speaker at last weeks meeting of the Association of Member Nominated Trustees (AMNT).

He spoke about the 4 year research programme into investments by the Royal Society Arts/Tomorrow's Investor Programme. He and co-author David Pitt-Watson published this report in July on Collective Pensions. 

His key theme was the high cost of many defined contribution pension schemes and the lack of transparency over charges. He prefers the Danish model where you find clear cost transparency which allows market forces to work effectively and drive down charges. In the UK the pension annual management charge does not include all costs. Some schemes charge up to 5% of contributions.
While it is clear that due to cost well designed Collective DC schemes are far better than individual DC. They are still clearly inferior than Defined Benefit schemes and always will, be since the risk in all forms of DC, remains with the employees. Also the return from pension annuities is so miserable that you need to save huge amounts in order to receive a decent income from DC.
Surely there is no getting away from it that it is better to retain (and reform when necessary) DB schemes? The real problem with DB is not that it is unaffordable but that of outdated accounting standards and the resulting volatility in valuations?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Jack Dromey MP to address UNISON Housing Association Branch

The Greater London Housing Association branch Labour Link has held a number of well attended meetings in the past with Housing Minsters (the good old days) and Shadow Housing speakers. This year Jack has kindly agreed to attend but we are hoping to increase participation by inviting non Labour Link members of my branch and my employer.

Jack is an excellent speaker, and well worth listening to regardless of venue. Invite only.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

UNISON London Labour Link Training

Picture is from the recent London UNISON Labour Link training event. Branch officers and activists came together from all over Greater London and all UNISON service groups.

We are here holding literature supporting the TUC anti-austerity March on Saturday 20 October.

The training event itself was excellent. It was a pilot and designed to equip Branch Labour Officers with the skills needed to further the Union within the Party. It was also how to use our access and influence to get a better deal for our members.

The first session was on "Why Politics?".  We need to be able to explain to our member's why politics matters. Politics is not about speeches in Parliament but its about their pay, its about building schools and running hospitals. Other sessions were on "tackling arguments about Labour Link"; "role of Labour Link Officer"; "Building a Branch network"; "Strategic Campaigning and lobbying MP's".

During a role play session I took on the part of a Conservative MP being lobbied by Labour Link activists...and yes, people did say I was very convincing :)

Feedback from all present was very positive and further sessions are being planned. Many thanks to National and Regional staff for putting on such a good event.

Photo by KW.

Friday, September 21, 2012

'Find it, Get it, Get rid of It' Argos staff Pension scheme

 Workers at retail giant Argos have started 4 days of strike action to save their pension scheme from closure.

Unite reports that "1,200 drivers and warehousemen have been on strike this week at the Argos distribution centres at Basildon, Bridgewater, Lutterworth in Leicestershire,
Heywood in Lancashire and Castleford".

They have been striking since Wednesday and the strike ends at 6.00am on Monday (24 September). Argos want to close their defined benefit scheme and replace it with a money
purchase (defined contribution) scheme worth 50% less.

I haven't got all the full details but it seems so far that Argus are claiming they have to close because the scheme is in "deficit".  This excuse is usually rubbish. 

If your employer claims that it has to close its pension scheme then firstly consider the following "Rules" (Excuse me for SHOUTING but it is important).
Rule Number One: Closing your pension scheme DOES NOT GET RID OF THE DEFICIT it could MAKE IT WORSE! If you have a deficit then it still remains on the Company books even if you close it to future contributions.
If you close the scheme you have no new money coming in and have to sell your best investments to pay existing pensioners. This is crazy. All you do is hand out a blank cheque to your advisers to run a smaller and smaller, ever more expensive liability with little or no chance of any upturn.
Rule Number Two: Your so-called pension deficit figure IS NOT REAL, it is measured in "FUNNY MONEY". Pension deficits are worked out according to something called "mark to market" accounting. Which is completely lala.
The deficit for many schemes can vary day to day, week to week, month to month, by millions and millions (and even more for bigger schemes) of pounds, regardless of the real strengths of the fund.
Not only that but many schemes are valued according to the interest rate of UK government loans called "gilts" (don't ask). Due to the current completely bonkers Alice in Wonderland economy, these gilts return are currently at a 200 year low, yet they are still used to decide whether your pension scheme is in good shape or not! MADNESS.
The Government Pension Minster, the Bank of England, the CBI all recognise that this is nonsense and things will have to change, but so far they have done nothing. But why close your scheme forever, when you know that its rules will change soon, for the better!!!
Rule Number Three: Unless your employer contributes enough money into a decent pension scheme you and your spouse will retire and DIE IN MISERABLE POVERTY.
There are Rules Number Four/Five/Six or even Seven: but they don't really matter. Rule Number Three trumps them all.
There is more stuff workers and trustees can use. The AMNT will be publishing a detailed guide to help trustees defend their scheme soon. We will also give personal help and support to any AMNT member trustees facing this problem.
Good luck to the Argos strikers fighting to defend their futures.

'Thrasher' swears at Copper

“Open this gate, I’m the Chief Whip. I’m telling you — I’m the Chief Whip and I’m coming through these gates.”

What a charmer. When they still refused, Mitchell allegedly responded:

"Best you learn your f***ing place. You don’t run this f***ing government.
“You’re f***ing plebs.”

Mitchell is also believed to have attacked the police as “morons”. Hat tip Labourlist
(Let us not forget.....see comments below made before "Thrashergate")
"Mr (Boris) Johnson said "If people swear at the police, they must expect to be arrested,"   

 "Not just because it's wrong to expect officers to endure profanities, but it's also because of the experience of the culprits.

 "If people feel there are no comebacks, no boundaries and no retribution for the small stuff, then I'm afraid they will go on to commit worse crimes."

“Tory MP David Davies, who serves as a Special Constable, said:‘This is a threat to law and order. When I trained in London four years ago, if someone swore directly at you – I was called a “f****** pig”, for instance –you would give them one warning, then arrest them if they refused to stop.
‘It is vital that you take action in such circumstances. The police should not have to put up with this behaviour.

Hat tip Captain Swing. Check BBC report (update: photo )

Thursday, September 20, 2012

mallowstreet pension Awards (& Oct 20)

Last night I went to the very successful mallowstreet 2012 Awards bash near London Bridge. Mallowstreet is a pension social media site which I became a member via the AMNT.

I was up for "the most influential trustee award". There is a little bit of flannel being nominated in these sort of awards but its nice flannel.

Chris Wagstaff from Aviva Staff Pension Scheme deservedly took the award but I had a very good evening and on our table we put the pension world to rights around the possible consolidation of funds and investment in affordable housing.

I was tweeting during the evening and everyone's tweets on the hashtag #msawards were shown on screens around the hall. I was asked what my twitter "avatar" (picture on my account) was about? I explained that I had put on it a poster for the TUC "March for a Future that Works" on 20 October (see top of this blog). Stunned silence.

Perhaps I should suggest that mallowstreet organises a City pension contingency to take part in demo on 20 October? They could march behind a Keynesian banner which said "let us spend ourselves into prosperity". They could also chant "what do we want: Infrastructure spending now!"
If they did I actually think there would be a good turnout. Go on Dawid...

Nick Clegg apology a.k.a - lying gob s***e?

Nuf said.

Update: and now the Musical :)


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Searchlight and Hope Not Hate

I've been a subscriber to the monthly anti-fascist magazine "Searchlight" for many years and supporter of its campaigning arm "Hope Not Hate". So I was concerned to hear that they had some sort of a dispute and have gone their separate ways. Taking on racists and Nazi's is difficult, stressful and even dangerous, so it is obvious that there will be tensions and problems from time to time. These things happen. Maybe it is a good idea to separate the research from the campaigning? I don't know.

Yet I was really concerned to read in this month's "Searchlight" a two page article criticising "Hope Not Hate". Now I do not know the ins and outs of the issues or personalities involved. But I cannot see how in any way this article helps anyone but our real enemies. 

Can these differences be sorted out in another way?

(as usual this is a strictly personal view)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Workplace Pensions TV advert

Apparently it was on TV last night for the first time. I haven't seen it yet myself but its now on YouTube.

Auto-Enrolment into workplace pensions is the biggest thing to happen to pensions in decades. It's not perfect but a welcome start. As the advert says "the bosses" will indeed pay into your pension (whether they like it or not). So will you and so will the taxman.

Hat tip the one and only Mr Meech.

One Housing "defends" the indefensible

This is the 3rd recent post on Housing Association, "One Housing Group". First was in August this year in response to their plans to "Shape Communities" while at the same time slashing the pay and conditions of already low paid care and support staff.

The second was early this month about this post by Cllr Marc Francis, Tower Hamlets Labour Party, on housing blog "Red Brick" about "One Housing" going back on a deal made with residents about them having a majority on their local housing management board. This deal was in return for their support for an estate transfer.

"One Housing" have now come up with a rather silly defence of their action in this "Inside Housing" report. They attack the previous Board, Tory Cllrs and the local Labour MP and appear to claim that residents are just incapable of running housing services.

Which must be a bit of a surprise to the many successful co-operative housing organisations here and abroad. 

This is just an excuse. They could have compromised and still had an effective Residents Board but have chosen not to do so.

No wonder many attack Housing Associations as being unaccountable with poor or non existent governance, run in the interests of the senior management executives and their advisers, not ordinary residents.  This may be unfair to some but thanks to the behaviour of "One Housing" (and others) you can understand why many residents and politicians think so.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Fair Pensions: Change the World from your Workplace

Its a pity but I won't be able to attend this Fair Pensions training day in November due to a clash
"Become a Workplace Responsible Investment Champion

TRAINING DAY: Saturday, 17th November 2012 (10am - 4.30pm)
UNISON Centre, 130 Euston Road, London NW1 2AY

FairPensions is running a day-long training for people who want to use the power of their pension fund to campaign for social and environmental justice.

If you belong to a workplace pension scheme this training is open to you.

Pension funds have huge economic clout and can rapidly bring concerns to the attention of top decision-makers in the business world. Whether it’s low pay, child labour, excessive executive bonuses or climate change, our pension funds have the power and responsibility to challenge corporate injustice.

Your pension fund takes care of your long-term savings and that gives you the right to have your say.

At the training you will learn:
  • How and where your pension fund invests your savings.
  • How to communicate effectively with your pension provider about responsible investment.
  • How to campaign on a wide range of environmental and social issues using shareholder activism as a powerful tool for change.
  • How to build wider support for responsible investment amongst your colleagues and by your employer.
Trainees will leave the workshop with practical skills and tools for shareholder activism. You will also receive simple written materials and guides to responsible investment.

FairPensions is building a UK-wide network of Responsible Investment Champions. After the training you will join that growing network.

Learning about the power of the financial system will be invaluable for your wider campaigning goals and objectives.

If you care about ethics at work, join us on the 17th November and become a champion for a better world!

We encourage you to come with a work colleague if possible, though you're welcome to come on your own! Please note that there is limited space for this event and we expect it to fill quickly.

RSVP to me at
nataliedotlangfordatfairpensionsdotorgdotuk and make sure you include the name of your workplace.

We look forward to seeing you there.
All the best,
Natalie and the FairPensions team

P.S. Please forward this to anyone you know with a passion for change. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

TUC 2012: the long march towards the workers idyll?

A week ago the 2012 Trade Union Congress opened in Brighton. I was there as a UNISON delegate although I missed the final day (Wednesday). Here are some random and personal thoughts on this year's Congress.

I suppose the yardstick for deciding if it was successful or not is whether the movement is in better shape after Congress now than before?

Did "ding dong Thatcher gone", heckling Ed Balls and calls for a national strike wreck our image and credibility? or did the election of Frances O'Grady, the consensual chairing of El Presidente Kenny and the lack of blood on the carpet mean that a workers idyll is just around the corner?

Neither is true. While I have my doubts that it is indeed possible or desirable to call a national strike, the threat of it drew more media attention to Congress than even Liz Cameron's savaging of Ed Balls.

The media are even more obsessed with strikes than the most enthusiastic of ultra left newspaper sellers. The ding dong row was of course a complete and utter ring wing media invention that had nothing to do with the TUC itself.

I do think that Frances O'Grady as General Secretary is a huge advance for the movement. Apart from her many personal qualities and with all due respect to all the good work carried out by Brendan Barber and his predecessors, we finally have a GS that looks and speaks like one of our members and not just one of our activists.

It also seemed to me that the speeches and fringes at Congress this year were more hard headed and realistic than in previous years. There was less grandstanding and pontificating. We still talked to the converted too much and there was some completely off the wall wishful thinking but the starkness and enormity of the threat that faces us concentrated many minds.
We are against the wall. We have less than 6 million members out of a total workforce of over 30 million. While austerity, redundancies, pay freezes and attacks on employment legislations mean we either get our act together and organise effectively or we turn into just another protest movement. This makes me think that Congress was a "success" in these terms although it is only the start of a long, long road. During which we need to consider what works and what doesn't?
Is the traditional Anglo-American trade union "model" (aka the bosses are all bastards)"fit for purpose"? Do we continue to not want to dirty our hands by providing welfare or financial services pensions to the general public like they do in countries with much greater union density (and income equality)?  

Hat-tip caption Hope Not Hate

Friday, September 14, 2012

TUC 12 "Why every trade unionist should be active in the Labour Party" CLPD fringe

Sorry this is a little late but on Tuesday evening I went to the fringe organised by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD).  This is the first time that I've been to a CLPD event and had never seen its shy and retiring Secretary, Pete Willsman, in action before (see centre). I won't repeat his comments about the recent North Norwich PPC selection process.

Jim Kennedy from UCATT (and Labour Party NEC) spoke first about the need to get ordinary working class union members as elected representatives. On 4% of MPs come from a manual background and UCATT are running a campaign group "to get that plasterer into Parliament".

Kate Osamor from Haringey (speaking) explained how her borough was still recovering from last years riots and how she was brought to believe that the trade unions are the cornerstone of any civilisation. Andy Kerr from the CWU (another Labour Party NEC member) doesn't see how anyone in the Party cannot be a trade union member and that trade union members should be Labour Party members. Lucy Anderson London NPF representative described how there was a window of opportunity with "Refounding Labour" for activists to increase their influence in the Party.

Michael Meacher MP posed the question about how will we get the money to pay for work for the unemployed? Then he reminded everyone that according to the Sunday Times "Rich list" during the last 3 years the top 1,000 in this country have increased their wealth by £105 billion.

Kelvin Hopkins MP told how he first joined the TUC 43 years ago. It was unimaginable at that time how right wing things would become. He believes that the mass of people are still "to the left", they just don't realise what they want is actually "socialism". Even hard core Tory voters want the railways to be renationalised.

Simon Wellor from ASLEF complained that there was now a "political class" in this country and that people go to Oxbridge, then become Parliamentary Assistants then become MPs. Is there some sort of Labour Party by-law that every PPC selection has to include someone from Islington?

Final speaker was Diana Holland from Unite who is also the Labour Party treasurer. She wants to be optimistic & positive for the future. She senses that people want a change and is pleased that the new people who have joined the Party have stayed in membership and renewed it the following year. 

I couldn't stay for the Q&A and had to dash off.  I'd didn't like to mention that I was back to work in Islington the morrow. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

AMNT meeting September 20

"Dear member,
Do you know how much your scheme is being charged, and whether that is too much? Do you know what to look for?

Come along to the open meeting of the Association of Member Nominated Trustees and find out.


The meeting will be held next Thursday at Barings Asset Management, 155 Bishopsgate, London, EC2M 3XY.

If you have not done so already, you can register by choosing one of the following options:

Click here if you would like to attend the meeting and will arrive for lunch (please let us know if you have any dietary requirements);
Click here if you would like to attend the meeting, but are unavailable for lunch;
Click here if you are unable to make the meeting.

A buffet lunch will be served from 12:30, and the meeting will begin at 13:30.

The theme is ‘Costs of Pension Schemes’ and we are putting together a programme of speakers and discussions which will be of interest to all.

We have Hari Mann presenting some of his research recently published by the RSA as a paper on “Charges to Pension Funds”, followed by a speaker from Barings, our hosts for the day.

Then John Simmonds from CEM Benchmarking will speak on “Comparing the cost of running pension schemes: If you pay more, do you get more?”
We will then break into smaller groups to discuss what we have heard, and what we can apply to our own schemes. Each group will present a brief summary of their findings, after which there will be an opportunity to network over drinks.
We also welcome new trustees with no experience just as warmly as we welcome those who¹ve experienced the joys of trusteeship for years.

AMNT Committee"
My PS if you are a member nominated trustee (or LGPS representative) and have not yet joined the AMNT click here.

Separated at Birth?

Hat tip "I support Public Service don't let the Con Dems destroy them"

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Housing Voice ‘To Have or Have Not? Taking Responsibility for Tomorrow's Affordable Homes Today"

I left TUC Congress early today to return to London for this morning's launch of the Housing Voice report at the House of Commons.

Housing Voice is an independent affordable housing alliance with cross party political support. For the past year they have carried out a national inquiry, taking evidence up and down the Country.

Over 60 organisations and 3000 individuals have given evidence. Today the report was published. I was there to make a response on behalf of UNISON. This is the press release and full report.
There was around 40 people present including MPs from all the main political parties. On the main panel was Liberal Democratic Stephen Gilbert MP (who said he was the only MP to be still living at home with his parents), Conservative Mark Pawsey MP and Labour Shadow Housing Minister, Jack Dromey MP. 

Not everyone agreed with everything in the report but there was more consensus than I expected.

There is lots and lots of good proposals but one of the big ideas is to use £5 billion of the recently announced £50 billion in Quantitative Easing (QE) to buy low interest housing bonds rather than government gilts. This money is then used to invest in affordable housing. 
In many ways the problem and solution to the crisis in affordable housing is the bleeding obvious. There is an absolute shortage of homes in all tenures - home ownership, social housing and private rented. Nearly everyone gets this big picture, this is why nearly 50% of UNISON members have grown up children still living at home.

Supply and demand means that cost of housing in many parts of the UK is simply unaffordable.  The only market solution to reduce cost is to build more new homes. The only social solution is to build more new homes with genuinely affordable rents.
Over the next 3 years we will spend only £4.5 billion on building new social homes while we spend a staggering £93 billion on housing benefit.

Lord Larry Whitty introduced the report by saying such is the crisis 250k new homes are needed each year for the next 20 years. Last year only 110k were built.
The problem is not planning permission, nor is it a land bank (supply) problem. With huge unemployment in construction and development, capacity is not a blockage either. The problem is money.

Extra government support and QE can be used to provide that money, build affordable homes and get Britain working again. Get people off the dole and build homes, get them paying taxes and spending money in the economy. 
I also picked on the recommendation that pension funds are encouraged to invest in new homes. While it is the responsibly of the state to make sure and enable their citizens to have adequate shelter. I can say as a pension trustee that schemes are crying out for suitable vehicles to invest in long term, secure, inflation linked products such as residential housing.

The problem lies with many advisers and fund managers who think its all just "too difficult" and prefer investing in warehouses and retail because that is what they are use to.  Unlike the rest of the world where pension schemes actively invest in residential property.   

Appropriately the meeting stopped at 11.30 just after the Parliamentary bell rang for prayers. I'm not religious but I did have another bleeding obvious thought.
(I was pleased that afterwards Jack Dromey MP agreed to speak at a future meeting of my UNISON Housing Association branch). Check out Red Brick account of meeting here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

TUC 2012: Unions21 fringe - Extending collective bargaining; Extending union influence

Lunchtime fringe sponsored by Unions21. Somewhat similar content to last nights History & Policy fringe.

Meeting Chaired by Brian Groom. Business & Employment Editor of the FT.

Paul Nowak (left of picture) from the TUC spoke first about the crisis in the private sector. The Government is trying to drive a wedge between the public and private sector.  The reason why there tends to be poorer terms and conditions in the private sector is due to low density. His 3 big ideas are:- due to fragmented workplaces we need to work better together, we need to think strategically; examine other sources of leverage such as the campaign for a living wage & develop a coherent political narrative or "ask".

Christine Payne General Secretary of Equity. Her union has gone from 35k to 43k members in 6 yrs with no extra staffing resource. Her 3 ideas are to increase member participation in the running of the union, involve young people & improve communications.

Mike Clancy, General Secretary Designate of  Prospect was a little provocative. He posed the question How well have we really done during the last few days? Surely quality is better than quantity? All the breast beating, the suicidal brand damage we have done to ourselves in the last 24 hours?

Frances, our new GS will have her work cut out. We have got to be part of economic alternative that is believable. Not just about fairness at work but message that unions are good for business. We will still be the sword of justice for our members. We have got to be realistic. Is there an alternative to a market economy by 2pm today? How to make the market economy better for all. We have got to be credible.  Why is it that we all consider ourselves to be progressive but we appear to be so conservative?

Tess Lanning,  IPPR Research Fellow, spoke last (apologies but out of photo). She quoted Tony Benn "nationalisation & robens doesn't mean socialism". In Europe they tend to do things better. Trade Unions involved in redesigning work & jobs; they favour the "high road to growth". UNISON praised for helping to win an in-house bid in Newcastle.

My question (modified from last night's fringe) was piped to the post by Paul from 1st Actuarial who also asked whether there is a role for unions to play in the provision of pensions. I made the specific reference to organising around running a decent defined benefit scheme based on the new look LGPS.

TUC 2012: UNISON pressie to President

After close of business this morning the UNISON delegation met up with Congress President, Paul Kenny, to present him with a gift to thank him for his work during the last year.

Paul was very pleased but could not resist holding up the carefully wrapped box gift to his ear and said "in the past a GMB official would have very cautious about receiving a gift from UNISON and would have checked to make sure - it wasn't ticking". 

TUC 2012: Ed Balls speaks to Congress

Shadow Labour Chancellor Ed Balls addressed Congress followed by a Q&A.

He was introduced as the man according to David Cameron who is "the most annoying person in British Politics".

Ed started off well by taking the mick out of himself over that title. He then talked about how there is an economic alternative to the Coalition policies, there always has been.

He spelt out the Labour Party 5 point plan. While is all good stuff, I don't think you can really call it an alternative policy to getting us out of recession. He admitted that he understood that the unions cannot just wait for the return of a Labour Government but warned that the Tories are desperate for the unions to go on strike because they will then have someone to blame for the stalled recovery.

"Unlike Nick Clegg we will not make spending promises that we don't know we can deliver. We need credibility with the public". He argued that protecting jobs is more important than pay rises.  

"We need radical Banking reform. It was not too many teachers and health workers that caused Lehman Brothers to bust in New York" He finished by saying that the unions should never stop offering "strong advice" to him and the shadow cabinet (no chance of that) and that "the Labour Party must win back the trust of working people".

During the speech he had a little bit of heckling but was given some more stick during the Q&A. He agreed with Vince Cable that lack of demand was the biggest problem facing the economy but the government does nothing about it. Picture is of Liz Cameron from UNISON asking him the question (to loud cheers) why when she as a public sector worker has had a pay freeze for 3 years at then same time that inflation has increased by 12 % - he won't support a pay rise?

TUC 2012: Trade Union Rights - Why is Britain always different - and always worse?

After close of Congress last night I went to the fascinating "History & Policy" fringe chaired by John Edmonds, former General Secretary of the GMB.  The fringe was supported by the excellent Peoples History Museum.

Professor Keith Ewing started by disagreeing that the UK has always been different. The real problem facing trade unions is the collapse in collective bargaining. In 2010 only 32% of workers covered. If unions don't collectively bargain then what is their purpose?

In the past even the Tories recognised the value of bargaining and encouraged it in 1934 to raise wages and get the country out of the depression. 1979 it was 82%, a time of the lowest ever level of inequality.  This is what trade unionism should be about. The total membership of unions is not key, its impact is.

Three reasons for failure: Hubris of unions who thought that better benefits could be achieved by local bargaining; foreign inward investment with no tradition of collective bargaining and Political (Thatcher).

Sarah Veale from the TUC spoke about being sympathetic to the view that workers want to left alone by employment law. Unions are about addressing collective concerns rather than individual. Individual representation is important but it is very time consuming. It is rubbish that small businesses want tighter employment law. It is only the 6th most important concern in a recent government survey. Need to be careful that we are not just seen as an arm of the Labour Party but as acting to defend ordinary workers.

John Monks, former TUC and ETUC General Secretary pointed out that trade unions in most European countries have declined, but the most in Britain. In 1969 when he started out in the movement unions were intellectually very confident. At a time of full employment the reality was that power did lie in the hands of local stewards. The unions saw off two attempts to limit their power. The Tories learnt their lessons and when they came for the unions again, they fought dirty.  

John remembers Tony Blair making a visit to Congress House soon after he became leader. He asked to see the TUC Trophy room. We said "Trophy room"? Yes, he said, the room where you keep the heads of Wilson and Callaghan? He told us that his head will not be joining them.

He remembered that in those days we use to patronise the German unions with their "work councils" and "limited or no strike deals". "We were the world leaders, we were the hard men". He thinks that there was a missed opportunity in the past. We settled for minimum wage, Social Chapter and Trade Union recognition.

Must learn from Countries that still have high trade union density. These unions provide welfare services and benefits. We were offered this opportunity in the past but refused.

Final speaker was the former trade union official and historian Jim Moher.  Jim believes that the Labour Party and the Unions share the blame for the problems today. Trade unions were first legalised in the UK as far back as 1824. The first country to do so. Trade union support for the first and second world war gave them power.

The unions have to accept that is was the over turning of elected governments that led to Thatcherism. We need to look to ourselves. "In Place of Strife" may not have been perfect but it would have been much better than now. This is a political issue that we have to address.

In the Q&A with regards to unions providing welfare services I asked whether we should consider running a decent defined benefit pension scheme? Final point from Keith - The trade unions are in crisis we have to adapt (and maybe offer services) or we will end up as just another protest group along with all the other protest groups.

TUC 2012: Fraternal Greetings from the Labour Party

Michael Cashman, Labour Member of European Parliament (former "Eastenders" actor and Labour Party NEC) gave the traditional Fraternal Greetings from the Party to Congress.

No doubt Michael was a very wise choice. A life long union member (including NUPE when he had a temporary job as a hospital porter). He was a founder of the Equity Penison scheme.  Michael is also the son of a London Docker and a mother who use to look after her family and do cleaning jobs morning and night.

He knows that politically "we are the sum of our experiences".

As second generation London Irish he remembers that he was brought up at a time when it was usual to see notices on windows offering up properties for rent that said "No Blacks and No Irish".

Monday, September 10, 2012

TUC 2012: Frances O'Grady during Transport debate

I like this picture of the new TUC General Secretary, Frances O'Grady, making a statement on behalf of the Council during the debate on transport.

There is going to be a lot of interest in Frances as the first ever female head of the TUC. Not just the media looking for a new angle. But I'm not sure that the Guardian (bless it) was really right when it said the average trade union member is now a young female graduate (surely not?  if that was the case then the majority of the 545 delegates at our democratic Congress would of course be women!).

The new General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), Bernadette Ségol, also addressed Congress today.   She looked to Frances during her speech and said  "I now look forward to working with Frances. Tom Jenkins explained to me that, in London, busses were late, but then three of them arrived at the same time. Well, like London busses, women General Secretaries have been late in making it, but you are getting them now. Enjoy".

TUC 2012: Why Inequality Matters fringe

During lunchtime I went to this launch of an authorised summary of Professors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett's "The Spirit Level".  The fringe was sponsored by the new "left think tank" Class (Centre for Labour and Social Studies).

Chaired by GMB Tim Roache. Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey kicked off by introducing "Class" and the reasons why it was set up. For too long right wing think tanks have dominated political policy and research. Katherine Round spoke next. She is producing a video documentary on "The Spirit Level". 100k copies of the book have been sold in the UK while the gap now between the rich and poor is the widest for 30 years.

While Richard started by posing the question - is inequality an ethical or empirical issue? Many perfer to believe it to be ethical rather than empirical since then it can be dismissed as being subjective. He explained that in the 600 odd lectures and seminars that he and Kate have given there has been no good counter arguments. People are surprised about how how inequality has such a profound impact in so many ways. He is clear that you cannot have a classless society without addressing income equality.

Mehdi Hasan from the Huffington Post told a witty tale about how he was thrown off a right wing USA TV programme (are there any others?) for arguing in favour of a wealth tax even though a "wealth tax exists in communist Switzerland and is supported by that well known Marxist, Donald Trump".

Owen Jones (not in picture he was speaking at another fringe) came on last and made the point that Labour leader Ed Milibands "Predistribution has a point since billions spent on family credit were in effect a subsidy for low pay...whatever predistribution actually means". 

TUC 2012: Seb Coe thanks TUC for Olympic role

I don't think that many former Tory MPs have been given the opportunity to address Congress (even by video) but this morning Lord Coe did. 

He very generously thanked the TUC for the help the unions had given to help London bid, win, build and run the 2012 Olympic Games.

TUC 2012: Nationalise the Banks?

Motion 27 "Public Ownership of the banks" moved by the Fire Brigades Union saw the first real "debate" of Congress since there was a speaker against. While much of the motion makes sense I don’t see the answer to the "disastrous role of the banks" being "full public ownership of the sector". In the TUC statement on the motion it mentioned the huge cost of doing so (£180 billion) and fairly asked whether this would this include successful and well run mutual banks such as Nationwide and the Co-op?

I was surprised that during the debate there was no discussion about the role of workers capital and the governance of banks? It was mentioned that the money in banks is "our money" but we also already own significant bits of many banks via our pension and insurance funds. The problem is not just the "de-regulated, free market model" – it’s also that we have no meaningful way of exercising our rights (and responsibilities) of ownership over our shareholding in banks and other companies.

Decisions are taken by fund managers in our name with our money but often in their interests and that of the financial services "mates culture".

The motion was passed (UNISON abstained since no policy) but I understand that since the TUC Council statement was also approved then the statement overrides the motion. Classic TUC.