Friday, November 30, 2012

Local Authority Pension Fund Forum Conference 2012 (and 2022)

The Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (or LAPFF) has 55 different Local Authority members who hold £115 billion of assets. It specialises in Corporate Governance and Responsible investment issues.

This year's conference theme was "Market Reform: What are the Shareholders responsibilities?"

I was not able to attend the first day of conference but this morning's topics including a panel debate on "Investing in growth - how can local authority pension contribute to the UK economic recovery"; "The Olympus crisis: What can investors learn" by Michael Woodford MBE, ex CEO Olympus (which was very, very good) and closing speech by John Kay, on his review followed by another panel.

I'll try and post on these later (but I have quite a backlog of pension posts to catch up on). You can see my live twitter comments here (29 November).

There is huge change about to hit the £160 billion Local Government Pension Scheme and by implication LAPFF. We have the triennial revaluation of all LGPS funds next year and no doubt the usual suspects will jump up and down about so-called "deficits", even though much of that is down to completely idiotic accounting measures

The new look LGPS 2014 Scheme will radically change not only the benefits and governance structures but also an enhanced "Fair Deal" for privatised staff and for the first time, a cap on employer contributions.

Not only this but there is also auto enrolment, pressure to merge the 101 different funds, a decline in active members, need to slash costs/improve performance and the various demands (or need?) to invest more (far, far more) in UK infrastructure.

Some people think that the LGPS is the British Sovereign Wealth Fund; others think it is being treated as a cash cow and is being completely and utterly ripped off; quite a few want membership to be opened up to all British workers while some vested interests (of various political persuasions) just want to destroy it.

So there is likely to be a period of profound change ahead. Remember 4 million Brits are members of the LGPS.

I wonder what a LAPFF conference will look like in 2022?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How you can help us win in Croydon tomorrow...

Dear Colleague

We really do need your help tomorrow to help get Steve Reed elected in the Croydon North Parliamentary by election. Polling day is tomorrow, Thursday 29 November.

We will be calling on Labour supporters from early morning until close of poll at 10pm. Please pop over for an hour, or two, or as long as you can.

To find our where to go to make the best use of your time please call Alison on 0208 689 3451 or 0208 665 1214

Or simply make your way to any one of the following Campaign Centres:

908 London Road Thornton Heath, CR7 7PE

331 London Road, CR0 3PA (entrance at rear in Pemdevon Rd)

314 Norbury Ave SW16 3RL

43 Charnwood Road, SE25 6NT

36 Wharncliffe Gardens, SE25 6DQ

31 Buller Road, Thornton Heath, CR7 8QX

7 Chevening Road, SE19 3TE

772 London Road, Thornton Heath Pond, CR7 6JB

Thanks for your help and support

Best wishes


Alan Olive
Regional Director

Update: Victory for Steve and Labour

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Croydon North By-Election: UNISON London Labour Link Voter ID

After today's TUC Pension Trustee conference I went upstairs in Congress House to the UNISON regional office for a voter ID telecanvass session.

There was only a few of us at Congress House but more at the UNISON centre in Euston Road.

We used the same very efficient and clever (but a bit buggy) software that we used in the GLA elections last year to ring the 800 UNISON members in Croydon North.

UNISON members are an interesting lot to ring up. You get a far better quantitative and qualitative response than normal Labour Party telecanvassing. Most of those we manage to speak to (the curse of the answer machine) will be more honest and open about their voting intentions. It is humbling how many will immediately volunteer their total support and that of their family for the Labour Party. While you also have frank conversations with rank and file members about their gripes and moans about the union.

I may have been just a little lucky tonight but conversations I had with members, who by and large had never spoken to a union bod outside their workplace, were positive and constructive. Labour candidate, Steve Reed, does seem quids in to be the next Croydon North MP but no one should take anything for granted.

If you can help out during the next 2 days go to :-

"Ruskin House (first floor)
23 Coombe Road (corner of Park Lane)
Croydon CR0 1BD

Times of opening:
Wednesday 28 November between 10.30am to 8pm
Polling Day Thursday 29 November between 8.30am and just before the polls close at 10pm.
We need all the phones to be constantly in use, so please don’t wait to be asked. Ring 07985 290 644"
UPDATE: Victory for Steve and Labour

TUC Pension Trustee Conference 2012: Making Pensions Work For People

Picture is of Pension minister, Steve Webb MP, address the opening of the 2012 TUC Trustee conference at Congress House.

Steve spoke about his recent discussion paper on "Reinvigorating Workplace Pensions" which I will post upon another time.

He thought that auto enrolment had been a success so far with far less "opt outs" than feared (Great news).

He wants reform to allow people who build up small "pension pots" with a number of different employers to have the "pots follow the member" and consolidate into big fat pots (Good idea).

The new state pension scheme must be above the means tested income support level or people will not have the confidence to save for their pensions in case it is all eaten up by reductions in benefit (yep).

He tried to explain what his big pension idea "defined ambition" will mean in practise. While he would prefer pensions to be guaranteed and salary related, what can be done if employers don't want to offer such schemes? (you can force them Steve thought I).

In Q&A my question was about his comments in Pensions press in June this year, that accounting standards in defined benefit schemes were "a complete nightmareand "killerfor pension schemesWhile he also promised to "not stand idly by" and do something. Yet today schemes such as the Pension Trust are still using these completely artificial standards, to justify kicking employers out of schemes and forcing the closure of decent pensions for no good reason. These so called pension "deficits" do not exist.

Steve answered by saying that he wouldn't quite agree that the deficits did not exist, he had not forgotten his words but he cannot say anymore at the moment except that he hasn't forgotten what he has said. He also said that he had met with a number of big charities recently to talk about their difficulties with the Pension Trust.

Well, wait and see I think. I am told that it is Vince Cable as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions who is responsible for addressing such accountancy standards ("Mark to Market" and "Smoothing").  I don't know and frankly don't care who does what as long as something is done. Perfectly good pension schemes are going to wall every week in this country, while those responsible appear to wring their hands as ordinary workers are being cheated out of a decent retirement!

You can check my twitter posts of the whole conference here  It was probably one of the best TUC ones I have attended. I will try and post more during the next few days. Its a busy time for pensions. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Save Lewisham A&E demonstation

Picture Collage is from the demonstration on Saturday.

Conroy Lawrence, UNISON Branch Secretary:

"We are overwhelmed by the response of the local community, that in incessant rain over 10,000 people from all parts of the community would attend is truly inspiring to the staff at the hospital.

UNISON along with other unions at the hospital will be redoubling our efforts to defend Lewisham's vital A&E  from closure

This campaign has the full support of the medical, nursing and professional staff and their unions and with the support of the local community we are unstoppable

The people have spoken and the politicians and bureaucrats would do well to listen"

UPDATE: sign petition here

Tory Return to Victorian Health & Safety Values at Work? Sign e-petition against

Some more dangerous nonsense. This Tory led Coalition is now proposing to get rid of an important health & safety protection that was first introduced in 1898.

What next? if you fall ill, become old or unemployed - will they be reintroducing the workhouse? I shouldn't give them ideas I suppose.

Sign the e-petition to force a Parliamentary debate and pass on the link.

"The amendment to Section 47 of the Health and Safety Work Act 1974, has been added to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill at the eleventh hour.

The amendment would mean:

- Employers would no longer have a strict liability for the health and safety of their workers, for the first time since 1898.

- Workers could not rely on an employer's breach of health and safety law to win a personal injury claim, they would have to provide proof of negligence.

- Enforcement of health and safety law would be increasingly left up to a significantly weakened and less effective Health and Safety Executive.

- Employers will increasingly hide behind the defence that complying to health and safety regulations was not "reasonably practicable".

Please rescind this amendment and preserve workers' rights to a safe workplace".

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Union busting & disgusting Virgin Media

The odious and disgusting Virgin Media empire has indulged in yet more bullying of its employees by ripping up agreements and derecognising the Communication Workers Union (CWU).

Virgin boss Richard Branson has personally fronted videos in the US attacking workers who want fairness at work.

Trade Union recognition is a basic human right and any decent employer should welcome unions with open arms.

Virgin Media is a monopoly utility in many parts of the Country and is obviously not to be trusted with this power. I hope (and expect) the next Labour Government to break up this serfdom.

Virgin must despise ordinary working people, so I hope the 6 million or so trade union members (and the millions more in non TUC affiliated unions) in this country will remember this when they decide what broadband media they have in their home. Or where they save, travel, bank or holiday.

Hat tip TUC Unionreps e-newsletter. 

Fair Work Commission

I have just taken part in a survey for the Unions21 "Fair Work Commission". 

The aim of the commission is to "bring together new ideas on how we reduce unfairness in the workplace and improve the offer to British workers.

Running from November 2012 to March 2013 the inquiry will be guided by Commissioners Sue Ferns (Chair of Unions21), Lesley Mercer (President of the TUC), Manuel Cortes (General Secretary of TSSA), Carl Roper (TUC National Organiser), Lord John Monks (A member of the Unions21 Board of Directors) and Byron Taylor (TULO National Trade Union Liaison Officer). The Vice-Chairs are the members of the Unions21 steering committee including the Commission’s Secretary Dan Whittle.

To submit evidence to the Commission take the survey by clicking here. Or email your input on the questions below to The written evidence gathering ends on 10th January 2013".

Friday, November 23, 2012

Save Lewisham A&E Rally: Sat 24 Nov 2pm

Meet Saturday 24th November 2pm at Lewisham Station then march to Ladywell Field.  3pm hands around the hospital

Mike Davey Lewisham Hospital UNISON Nursing Representative

"The staff in the hospital are looking forward to a huge turnout for the Rally on Saturday from the local community, we urge them to attend the rally in their thousands. We also urge them to complete the response to the A&E closure plans on line and before the 13th December deadline"

"UNISON is confident that if the community can make it's voice heard now, then significant changes can be secured"

UPDATE: BBC report

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Why is this government destroying Pensions, Charities and Jobs?

This morning I read about the Charity "People Can" being forced into administration and 300 jobs being put at risk.

I don't know all the reasons why this has happened but we are told it was due to its "pension liabilities". Whatever that actually means?

But I do know that the charity and its workforce protects victims of domestic violence, stops ex-offenders reoffending and gets the homeless into secure and safe accommodation.

The  Administrators, PriceWaterhouseCoppers (PWC), is not of course an evil organisation, however is not that well known for its concerns about battered women, ex-cons wanting to go straight or homeless kids desperate to get off winter streets.

It is known that "People Can" has a history of financial insecurity.  But I wonder what is the real reason for the "pension liabilities" (or deficits) in the first place that are supposed to have led to the potential sackings and loss of vital services? Was it due to inadequate financial planning or that its defined benefit pension scheme was in some way unsustainable?

No one has mentioned either about whether the pensions of the charity staff are truly safe or are they being subject to the tender mercies of the "Pension Protection Fund"? The PPF is a "good thing" but do not think for a moment if the PPF steps in that you have nothing to worry about your retirement. You do.  If you haven't already retired you may find your future pension significantly reduced.

My biggest gripe is that this closure and threat to peoples pensions in "People Can" and elsewhere could be based on complete and utter stuff and nonsense.

Due to outdated and deficient accountancy rules called "Mark to Market", perfectly good defined benefit pensions schemes are going to the wall. Sometimes bringing their organisations down with them. For no good reason. Perhaps we ought to shout out the emperor has no clothes – these so-called pension deficits are not real! They do not reflect the true future costs and liabilities facing pension schemes.

Schemes usually have to price these costs according to the return on Government loans called gilts. Due to our abnormal economic conditions these gilts currently have negative prices. This means scheme deficits have increased massively and have nothing to do their underlying strengths or weaknesses.  Quantitative Easing (QE) by the Bank of England is making things even worse. This has resulted in gilts yields being in even more La La land. They are at a 200 year financial low.

Everyone knows this but why is it allowed to happen and destroy perfectly good pension schemes and then make its members live and die in poverty? Even worse, relying on the tax payer to subsidise poverty employers who pay their pension pittances. Is this the sort of society that we really want?

The government has committed to act on this but has just  failed to do so! The Pension minister Steve Webb promised in June to do something about what he called this "nightmare" which is "killing" perfectly good pension schemes and that he would "not idly stand bye" and let this happen.

I'm not holding my breath Steve. Many more jobs, services and decent pensions schemes will not last, unless you, Clegg and Cameron get their fingers out and do something.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Winning in 2015, the Beveridge Report and Xmas Nosh

"Jon Trickett MP: The Labour Party vote 1997-2010 and what this means for winning in 2015 - Tuesday 27th November from 19:30 at 349 Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9RA

The great British novelist Aldous Huxley once said, "that men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach." Help prove him wrong:

Join us to hear from Jon Trickett MP, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, on how Labour can win the next General Election by learning lessons from the electorate of the past.

Liam Byrne, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the Beveridge Report, 1 December on 11am -12pm.
Toynbee Hall is hosting a series of free policy lectures to mark the 70th anniversary of the Beverige Report, and to contribute to the critical debate about the future of the welfare state.

On December 1 1942 the Beveridge Report set out the makings of the welfare state - and since then Britain has changed dramatically. Exactly 70 years on, Labour's Liam Byrne will give a keynote speech in conjunction with historic Toynbee hall and the Fabian Society as he sets out how we can build a system of social security fit for the challenges of the 21st century.

Tower Hamlets Labour Party Fundraising Dinner - 18th December 2012
Join us for a fundraising dinner as we end a very successful year for Tower Hamlets Labour and look forward and build towards the future. The event will take place on Tuesday 18th December at Mumbai
Square, Middlesex St, E1 7AA from 7pm.

Tickets cost £25 and £18 for concessions. More details to be announced soon including special guests. Please e-mail James King for more details or sign up at"

Hat tip Tower Hamlets Labour Party newsletter edited by Chris Weavers.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Root of all Evil in the Local Government Pension Scheme

The Pensions Institute last week issued a very provocative report which does raise some important points about process and scale but misunderstands the real nature of the governance deficit in the LGPS (in London and elsewhere).

Which is Councillors have a clear fiduciary duty to Council tax payers, but pension funds should (must by European law) be run in the interests of beneficiaries not employers. This dichotomy does mean that some LGPS schemes have indeed made poor decisions based on Council tax considerations. However, this is not just a “London thing” and some of the larger schemes have faced similar accusations.

Unlike the private sector Defined Benefit schemes where you have at least 1/3 beneficiary representation there is no similar legal right in the LGPS. Some schemes have consistently refused to have any beneficiary representation not even as observers.

Member nominated trustees and representatives (MNR) have a real interest and “ownership” of their schemes. The trustee model has its faults but on the whole has worked well over the years in trying make sure that pensions schemes are well governed and principles are not ripped off by agents. We need to do much, much better, but if you have no effective beneficiary representation on schemes and also a fundamental conflict in fiduciary duty then no wonder some of them go astray.

The answer is to mirror the best practise in private sector DB schemes and have statutory beneficiary representation in the LGPS as well as employers. The fiduciary duty of all representatives must be to the beneficiaries.

It is disappointing that this Pension Institute report has not had any input at all from existing LGPS beneficiary representatives nor does it make any reference to the changes already agreed to the scheme such as theire will be an employer contribution “cap and collar”. This is probably the most significant development in LGPS governance in decades.

I must admit that the “evidence” in the report for the serious “wrong doing” suggested is pretty weak and antidotel. It may or may not be true (and I strongly suspect some of it is) but I wonder if this aggressive approach is the best way forward to win hearts and minds for change?

As s LGPS activist for a number of years, I would also disagree that elected Councillors are “dominant” on London schemes. In fact I will say the opposite and it is professional advisors and Council Officers who are dominant (and in that order). That makes for more potential fiduciary conflicts.

It is illogical to complain of Councillors dominating schemes when at the same time arguing that their 4 year election time span is too short? This is also obviously not just a problem in London and is another argument for MNR to play a positive role like they do in the private sector schemes. MNRs are also more likely to provide continuity. Since I have been a MNR in my scheme in 1996 all the original Councillors, Officers, professional advisers, actuaries and fund managers I first worked with have long gone.

Scale is a crucial issue but it is also one for the private sector. Having 101 pension funds sharing £150 billion is inefficient but what about the hundreds of thousands of tiny private DB/DC schemes? What about the billions invested in contract schemes which have no independent oversight or beneficiary governance?

No recognition either that the way pension liabilities are calculated in the public and private sector schemes is  a complete nonsense due to low gilt yields. Yet they are driving repayment plans and long term asset allocations.

I also wonder about the tabloid references to “gold plated pensions” and “DB in the private sector is dead” (in press release)? The average pension for a women retiring from the Council in 2011 was £2780 per year? Hardly “gold plated”, also there are still 3 million workers in the private sector accruing DB pension benefit. As well as 25% of the LGPS who now work for private organisations?

Just because in the private sector it is now the fashion for many employers to turn their backs on their workers and are seemingly quite happy for them to retire and then die in poverty, doesn’t mean that it is a good thing for teacher assistants, cleaners, clerks and road sweepers to have the same fate?

The taxpayer of course has to subsidise these bad employers and pick up the bill for their poverty pension provision. This will have to change and the reintroduction of DB into the private sector is the only way it is going to happen.

I am also surprised to the reference about the discredited Channel 4 programme and the supposed link with LGPS and Council tax? I think I am right that 80-90% of Council income comes does not come from council tax e.g. Government grants, business rates, charges, fees etc. How is it therefore relevant to link LGPS contributions only to Council tax?

In short I am glad that this report has meant that long standing concerns about LGPS governance being fit for purpose are at long last out in the open. Yet it has ruffled feathers amongst those who are broadly supportive of change and has failed to take on board the argument that it is the democratic deficit that is the root source of most if not all evil in the LGPS.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

London Councils Summit 2012

On Saturday I went to the London Councils Summit at the medieval Guildhall in the City of London. I had my ward surgery at 10am so I missed the morning session and opening keynote speech by London Mayor, Boris Johnson. I gather it was as silly and superficial as usual.

I stopped off at a lunchtime London Councils "micro-surgery" on "Social Media" and came away convinced that I should try a "Tweet up" Councillor Surgery. Tell everyone I will be available on twitter on such and such date and time for 1 hour for West Ham ward matters. Watch this space.

After lunch I went to the breakout session "Mind the funding gap" with  Cllr Richard Cornelius, leader of LB Barnet, Cllr Catherine West leader of LB Islington, Chair John O'Brien and LSE director, Tony Travers.

We all live in our own political comfort zones and bubbles. So it is rewarding to come out and meet the enemy, and find they are as convinced and comfortable with their own political prejudices as you are with yours. Catherine and Richard are chalk and cheese. Yet they were both polite and humorous in their attempts to convince us of the merits of their very different approaches to the dire and desperate financial situation we are in.

In the Q&A Richard was not impressed with my comment about the report last week by PWC that London Councils pension funds could have been £1.6 billion better off if they had merged. Nor that the outsourcing of all Barnet Council back office services will result in his pension scheme going belly up and this will completely wreak their finances.

You can check out my twitter account of the debate here 17 November 2012.

The final session "taking the temperature - London's Political Landscape" by Robert Gordon Clark and Tony Travers was so interesting that I stopped tweeting in case I missed anything. You can check out what people did tweet about at #lcSummit. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Equality: how radical can the next Labour Government be?

Newham Compass & Fabians are holding their next event on how radical the next Labour Government will be with regard to achieving greater income equality.

This will be held on 7.30pm Tuesday 4 December 2012 at West Ham Supporters club in Green Street.

The guest speaker will be Sean Baine from the Equality Trust. The trust is "an independent, evidence based campaign working to reduce income inequality in order to improve the quality of life in the UK". It was set up by the authors of the Report "The Spirit Level".

Sean spoke at my UNISON Housing Association branch AGM early this year on the same subject. I met him again last month at the launch of Class. He is very good speaker and it should be an interesting debate.

I have a Council meeting clash that evening so might not make it. My take on this is that is the most important political issue and is central to nearly all my beliefs. Radically reducing levels of income inequality should be a key manifesto pledge.

Yet we cannot just sit back and pontificate about this but we need to get out and convince the Great British Public that this is necessary and will benefit everyone in our society. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Tories: One rule for them, another for us plebs...

Council pensions, mergers and the infrastructure cacophony

(this is an article I wrote for Professional Pensions which was published yesterday on behalf of the AMNT. An earlier John's Labour Blog version is here).

"Recently Sir Merrick Cockell, Chair of the Local Government Association announced that he personally supported the merger of the 101 different Local Government Pension Schemes (LGPS) into 5 “super schemes” each worth around £30 billion each.

He was being interviewed about a report from The Future Homes Commission on the need for investment in residential property. He argued that to invest in such infrastructure you need massive scale. There are claims that this merger and investment could result in 300,000 more homes being built every year with 15% of pension assets being invested

His comments are likely to be more than a little controversial in the sedate world of Council pension funds.  Merger is controversial. Some funds have consistently argued for merger in the past not only to enable infrastructure investment but to increase returns and slash costs. Others say "rubbish", bigger doesn't mean better and small is often beautiful (and more democratic and responsive).  The fragmentation of pension funds in the private sector is also far worse.

Yet, the governance concern about these proposals is even more significant than a spat over size.
As a LGPS member nominated representative I have been in favour of looking into the merits of merging Council pensions schemes for many years. Also investing in rented residential properties as an asset class with the prospect of long term inflation linked returns has always seemed attractive.

But remember pension funds must be run in the interests of the scheme beneficiaries and not make up for an inadequate state housing policy or the need to stimulate demand in the wider economy.
Have Councils in favour or opposed to merger actually consulted beforehand on this issue with their beneficiaries? Why is the government being let off the hock and not asked for guarantees?

The local government trade unions have quite rightly objected to this plan which was made without any consultation with them.  There is a planned cap on employer contributions to the LGPS so if this infrastructure investment goes belly up then active beneficiaries will be left to pick up the pieces.

15% is a very significant amount of assets to invest in any one class. Nothing in life is risk free. There is an obvious risk of property price crashes or even that future housing benefit cuts could derail plans.  Hundreds of organisations are cited as contributing to the Future Homes report but there is no input from those whose money it is being proposed should be put at risk?

For this still worthy proposal to have any legs there needs to be firstly proper consultation with the representatives of scheme beneficiaries on why this is good for them and then the drawing up of a business plan as water tight as possible".

Update: The Government are now consulting on plans to allow Council Pensions to invest up to 30% of its assets in infrastructure? Up from the existing limit of 15%. Hello, 30%! What is going on here?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Newham History Society: "Up the Hammers" and East London Floods

On Tuesday evening I went to my first meeting of Newham History Society. It took place at the Didsbury Centre in East Ham and the speaker was  Mark Watson from the Vallence House Museum in Barking.

Before he spoke, members of the society gave a short "plug" on historical books for our area.  "Up the Hammers" which is about the West Ham Pals battalion in the First World War & "Borough over the Boarder" a history of West Ham.

Mark spoke very well about the history of flooding in Newham, Barking and Dagenham marshland from the Iron age to present.  I did tweet during his talk which you can see here on my twitter account for 13 November.

I was not aware that it was possible in Tudor times for King Henry VIII to sail his fleet right into the centre of Barking.

That during Victorian times "busting up" was a favourite children's game during the summer, when they would look for the dead and decomposing bodies of dogs and pigs floating in the marsh and throw pointed stones at them to try and "blow 'em up".

Nor that Welsh drovers use to herd thousands of cattle to the marshlands to fatten them up for sale and that Dagenham use to be regarded as a healthy place to live and visit since it was so windy! It was also an area where rich families use to have rural summer cottage retreats. Just like nowadays!

The meeting was well attended with about 30 residents present. There was tea, coffee and a raffle.  The  Society normally holds its meetings on the 2nd Tuesday of the month. Well worth a visit. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

STOP POLICE PRIVATISATION (& vote Labour in Corby, Manchester Central & Cardiff By-elections)

Police and Crime Commissioner Elections


On 15 November, the elections for Police and Crime Commissioners will be held for the first time in England, excluding London, and in Wales.

Worried about government cuts to your police force? Concerned that policing could be privatised? Then make your voice heard by voting on 15 November for your Police and Crime Commissioners.
Government cuts will mean:
  • 16,000 fewer police officers
  • 18,000 fewer police staff (police community support officers, 999 call takers, forensic experts etc)
The government also wants to privatise policing to allow private companies to make a profit from keeping your community safe.

If you object to these attacks on your police force, vote for a Police and Crime Commissioner who will campaign against cuts and privatisation. Vote for public services on 15 November.
Here's how you can make a difference:
  • Register for a postal vote today at:
  • Talk to friends, family and work colleagues to make them aware of just how important it is to vote on 15 November
  • Visit to find out more.
Find out more about your local PCC candidates: Link to an external websiteChoose my PCC

(hat tip UNISON website)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Some good news on housing workers pensions! But...

This is a rather rare title for a post on pensions! However, well done to Housing Association Plymouth Community Homes who have decided to keep their 60th Defined Benefit scheme with the Social Housing Pension Scheme (SHPS) open and absorb the extra costs imposed by the SHPS.

There are still some changes which UNISON members are unhappy about such as move from RPI to CPI and the charging of pension contributions while on maternity leave.  But PCH obviously care about their workforce and take their duties as a responsible employer seriously.

They do not want their employees to retire and die in poverty. Unlike some it would seem who not only want to close their Defined benefit (DB) scheme but replace it with a pittance of a Defined Contribution (DC) scheme. In a recent report by a leading Actuary, in a DC scheme you would need to invest 22.9% of your pay to get 53% of final salary pension (twice as much as a DB scheme!).

Yet some employers are proposing to pay only the new national legal minimum of 3%. This will mean as mentioned above that their staff will not only die in relative poverty in their old age but the taxpayer will also have to subsidise their pensions to keep them out of absolute poverty.

SHPS and its parent organisation, the Pension Trust, tries to justify increases in contributions by pointing to a supposed rise in "liabilities" (the future expected costs of giving members pensions) yet even the Pension Minster, Steve Webb MP, recognises that the way we calculate pension costs is practically meaningless and is destroying perfectly good pensions schemes.  He has committed to change.

Employers need to get a grip and challenge the assumptions being made and the contributions they or their employees are being expected to make. I am not at all convinced that this contribution rate increase requirement by the SHPS is at all necessary and I hope they seriously take this up with them.

I am dismayed that SHPS are not engaging with UNISON's proposals about practical alternatives to contribution rises. The Local Government Pension Scheme is very similar to many SHPF schemes but has been able to avoid increases in contributions for most of its members by working in a partnership with the trade unions and employers. This has brought about radical but thoughtful and intelligent change.

There was no consultation with the trade unions whatsoever by the SHPS before they decided what they wanted to do and no interest shown in any real partnership working.

One of the irony of ironies is that a major reason why some SHPS employers want to close their scheme to existing members is because they have closed it to new members joining. Quite rightly pensions contributions have to be increased if a fund is closed. SHPS have to charge more (I think 3%) since in any closed scheme the investment returns will be lower and the costs higher. This is just madness. Why condemn your staff to a miserable old age for nothing? Cut costs and re-open those schemes to new blood.

Closing your DB scheme does not make it any better, it does not get rid of any deficit (real or otherwise) it just makes it worse. Increase contributions on your staff by too much and they will just walk away from it, the scheme will then fail and the employer will be left to carry the can.

UNISON has recently published an excellent guide on the proposed changes to SHPS and later this week we are holding a national training event in London on it. 

Perhaps there is a God?

Mind you I think that David Cameron would also enjoy this picture of his least favourite ring wing Tory MP, Nadine Dorries, from last nights "tucker trial" on the very silly but entertaining TV show "I'm a Celebrity...Get me out of here!". 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Something wrong with this blog, blogger or Internet Explorer?

Now I know the miserablists (et al) will claim that there is indeed lots wrong with my blog but many apologies to those who have had "difficulty" opening John's Labour blog in recent weeks and months (it kept crashing or you lost the will to live while waiting for it to open).

I have tried various things and changed the template a little while ago but this clearly didn't work. It goes well with Chrome, but that is perhaps hardly surprising since blogger is run by the same firm (Google). Blogger "help" wasn't that helpful I am afraid.

I have now rolled back the template and removed all the individual changes to the layout. It seems to be running much better? Let me know if you are still having problems. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

"to those who died in Flanders Fields and are buried forever in Flemish soil"

This morning at 11.00am I was in Ypres to watch the Remembrance Sunday Parade and Ceremony.

It was so busy that we were not able to get anywhere near to the main Ceremony taking place at the Menin Gate memorial. So we watched the parade march past in the City square outside the Cathedral and the service on the large TV screen.

It was simple, beautiful occasion during which I think everyone who took part was deeply moved. There were many thousands present from all parts of Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth.

There were a number of poignant moments to note but the one that moved me the most was the joint wreath laying by the German and British Ambassadors to Belgian, while side by side.   Afterwards we walked along the City Wall Embankments to Lille Gate and the tiny war cemetery which is just incredibly sad but also in a stunning location. Please one day visit it. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"This withering assault on farm workers' wages is a race to the bottom"

While on route in car to Ypres. I sent this response to the consultation

"This is an awful and damaging proposal which will not only cause poverty and hardship for families, it further wreck our economy.

Wages will be cut, demand and consumption will be reduced at a time that the rural and wider economy needs greater spending power not less.

The taxpayer will be left to pay out more in top up tax credits and housing benefits to subsidise poverty wages. Leaving even less money to be invested in the economy and pay off the deficit.

This proposed measure is economic illiteracy"

Email DEFTA - to join in and make your points.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Ypres Remembrance weekend 2012

This weekend I am in Ypres, Belgian visiting some of the First World War Battle sites, museums and cemeteries.

Picture is of the war graves at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery. It is at the site of a former hospital and with nearly 11,000 graves is the 2nd biggest British and Commonwealth cemetery in Belgian.

It is incredibly emotional and moving to walk along the rows and rows of graves.

The vast majority of the dead were so young.  Their surnames remind us of friends and work colleagues. They are from every class, every part of the UK and every part of the Commonwealth. A few have their photos from real life smiling laid alongside. Gravestones of German soliders now lay side by side their former enemies.   There are red poppy wreaths on some graves from UK primary school children who came from the same towns and villages as the fallen and came to show their respect.

In the picture to my left is Rob Frisby my brother-in-law (ex-RAF), to the right his son Matthew and in the middle, Matthew's friend from his high school days, Ashley. Tomorrow we hope to visit Battlefield sites and Menin Gate.

Sylvia Pankhurst and the East London Federation of Suffragettes

"Campaigning greats - Sylvia Pankhurst and the East London Federation of Suffragettes - Wednesday, 14 November 2012
This event is an opportunity to learn from campaigning greats. The East London Federation of Suffragettes, led by Sylvia Pankhurst, galvanised women and men to campaign for Votes for Women.

Professor Mary Davis, leading biographer of Sylvia Pankhurst, will speak, and Cllr Rachael Saunders will present her research on the campaigning methods and tools used by suffragettes in the east end of London. The chair is Kathryn Perera, Chief Executive of Movement for Change, the home of community organising in the Labour Party.

Hosted by Tower Hamlets Labour Party and the East London Fawcett Society, kindly supported by London UNISON Labour Link.  To sign up please click here"

(Hat tip Chris Weavers)

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Vodaphone: Start Paying Tax

Hat tip The Intruders

The Fighting Temeraire (& the Fighting 63rd)

Off message: This simply gorgeous sunset by J M W Turner of the old Battleship being towed towards the breaker's yard was once voted the "Greatest Painting in any British Gallery". I agree - and a canvass print of the painting is one of my 50th birthday presents yesterday.

Last weekend I went to the Portsmouth Historic Docks and visited HMS Victory and HMS Warrior. I found that there was a 23 year old John Gray who served in HMS Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar  in 1805. I'll post pictures on Facebook of this visit, including a boat trip to look at a £400 million modern day Naval Battleship and older ones awaiting the same fate as the "Temeraire".

This weekend I am going to Ypres in Belgium with my nephew Matthew, his mate Ashley and my brother-in-law Rob. We are planning to visit the First World War Battlefield sites and museums. On this forthcoming Remembrance Sunday, we are going to show our respects to the British and Commonwealth dead at Menin Gate.

My Taid (Welsh for Grandfather) fought in the First World War in the Royal Naval Division (63rd). There was too many men volunteering for the Navy at the beginning of that war so Winston Churchill who was in charge decided to form a land fighting navy division. The RND was constantly in the thick of it in France (and Gallipoli) during the War. It lost the equivalent of four times its numerical strength in dead and wounded (stop and think about this figure) .

My Taid (who also survived Gallipoli) received this citation in 1917 "Temporary Lieutenant Frederick John Matthews RNVR for conspicuous gallantry and devotion in leading his company forward with ammunition under a heavy machine gun fire. He also attacked and captured a machine gun position, seizing the gun and taking about forty prisoners for which he was awarded the Military Cross".

I think this action took place in or around Ypres and I will try and find out further information. How on earth can any infantry unit under heavy fire attack machine gun positions? It would be fascinating to work out when and where this action took place and to visit the location.

My Auntie Di (daughter-in-law of Taid) wants to visit Flanders. I have promised her that this weekend will be a tester and if it all goes well then perhaps the wider Matthews Clan can organise a similar gathering next year?

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Fair Pensions Living Wage Standards (& poverty pay Metropolitan)

Late yesterday I attended most of a briefing by Fair Pensions on their campaign to get a Living Wage for all employees and subcontractors of the FTSE 100.

Check out my twitter feed for 5 November for some of the stuff I found interesting.

Some key points from seminar: Fair Pensions CEO Catherine Howarth, that they had some form of contact with 50% of FTSE 100 companies and 11% are or will be Living Wage employers.

While Rhys Morgan, the Director of the Living Wage Foundation said that 80% of employers who pay a living wage found that quality of work was improved. I was glad that he also quoted Labour Leader Ed Miliband as saying that a Living wage was "important but not the summit of our ambitions". UNISON argues for a Living Wage "plus" - not just £8.30 per hour (as welcome as it is) but also decent sickness pay, pensions, annual leave as well as trade union recognition and collective bargaining.

I had to leave early for a Pension committee meeting.

It is also rather ironic that during the "Living Wage week" that UNISON is running a campaign against Metropolitan Housing Association, which claims to be a charity and responsible employer.  Yet it paid £412,000 to get rid of its former CEO, while at the same time planning to pay its care workers less than a living wage and employ part time staff on poverty rates, so their their wages will be topped up by the taxpayer. How completely disgusting and shameful.

If you work for Metropolitan or want to show solidarity sign the Petition here and read the comments by staff who in 2012 face being forced below the poverty line not above.  

Monday, November 05, 2012

Vote Barry - Message for White Voters

Seriously - Good luck for tomorrow President Obama. Fingers crossed. Hat tip Harry Place (check out the other videos

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Pension Regulator or Pension Terminator?

“Is trying to protect the Pension Protection Fund destroying DB?”

The Pension Protection Fund was broadly welcomed, especially by Trustees, who thought they could now sleep easier over the prospect of things all going horribly wrong. The question now being raised by many trustees is whether the “tail is wagging the dog”? Is the Regulator being too aggressive and inflexible with regard to liability calculation and deficit repayment because he has to safeguard the PPF at all costs - even if it is at the expense of remaining Defined Benefit schemes?

Nearly everyone accepts that current market conditions with regard to equities returns and gilt yields are completely and utterly abnormal. Government policy on Quantitative Easing is arguably making things worse. This all means that many (not all) deficits are exaggerated and don’t reflect a true or fair picture. Yet, the Regulator is insisting that schemes make repayment and investment decisions as if they were real? This seems wrong. The Pension Minster himself, Steve Webb, is on record recently that the “Mark to Market” accounting standard is a nightmare which is killing perfectly good schemes. He has promised not to idly stand by and do something.

It is an “objective” of the Pension regulator to reduce risk to the PPF and to protect to protect the benefits of pension scheme members. However, if the regulator doesn’t support “smoothing” or some other way of supporting schemes through this current nonsensical period then there is the danger that good schemes could close or fail. The failures would then have to be taken up by the PPF. The AMNT would support the NAPF proposal that it made under the Red Tape Challenge to give the Regulator an additional statutory objective to defend the longevity and health of pensions schemes.

I think that everyone realises that the Regulator is in a difficult position but many trustees are in an even harder place. They believe that they are being forced unnecessarily to close viable and affordable schemes. The PPF should be a pension saviour not destroyer.

(this article was publised in Pensionage last month)

Class: Parliamentary Launch "Why Equality Matters"

Collage is from the Parliamentary launch last Wednesday evening of "Class" The "Centre for Labour and Social Studies". A new "left" think tank.

The launch featured its latest report "Why Equality Matters". Which is a more populist and accessible version of the book "The Spirit Level - Why Equality is better for everyone". 

The meeting was packed with loads of Labour MPs. Including Stephen Timms from East Ham.

Steve Hart from Unite chaired the meeting, Emily Thornberry MP spoke first, then we had John Trickett MP, Owen Jones, Professor Richard Wilkinson and new TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady. Check out my twittering here on the event (31 Oct).

I asked the question about whether we were really preaching to the converted here tonight when we should be asking what actual policies will be needed to bring about a more equal society. Should we be honest with the electorate, that everyone will have to pay more in taxes not just the super rich, to bring about a society that benefits everyone? (such as truly affordable housing and childcare)

Owen Jones responded by saying that at first we we need to start with a tax on the rich and make sure that they do not evade their taxes, then we could be more ambitious. The wealth of the Sunday Times "Rich List" has grown during this "recession" by more than the total sum of the deficit.

Frances O'Grady was fiery and passionate in her response. Growth in real wages is key in reducing inequality and recession. UK companies have reduced wages and accumulated £750 billion in reserves. No wonder we have no demand in our economy.

Afterwards I met up with my best ever blogging mate, Dave Stroppy, (nee Osler) and we went with UNISON comrades to sort the world out at the Red Lion.

Middle picture hat tip Seph Brown

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Living Wage "Plus"

Next week is "Living Wage Week" and tonight the motion below was passed at West Ham Labour Party ward.

The Living wage campaign is a great step forward but we must not let employers "off the hook" with regard to decent holidays, sickness and pension benefits as well as trade union recognition.

"Support for a Living Wage plus for all workers in Newham

  1. West Ham branch supports the Campaign for a Living Wage “plus” for all workers in Newham as a minimum.   The Living wage rate for London is currently £8.30 per hour.
  2. We also believe that all workers should receive Living Wage “Plus” representing decent sickness pay, holidays and pensions.  Employers should ensure that any contractors it uses should also pay a Living Wage “plus”.
  3. This is not only necessary to bring workers and their families out of financial hardship but it will also stop taxpayers subsiding employers who pay poverty wages with family tax credits.
  4. Employers who now pay a Living Wage report improved morale, lower turnover of staff, reduced absenteeism, increased productivity and improved customer service.
  5. A Living Wage plus will also encourage people to seek employment and become economic resilient.
  6. The wider economy is also in need of a boost in demand to pull us out of recession. Raising the wage rates of poorly paid workers is one of the best ways of doing this.
  7. The branch recognises that there may be legal and contractual difficulties and this could take some time for employers to fully implement.
  8. Trade union recognition and organisation is the best way to achieve and retain a Living Wage “plus”.
West Ham Branch:-
  1. Supports the Living Wage week 4-10 November.
  2. Calls on all employers to work towards being a Living Wage “plus” employer.
  3. Work with the Newham Mayor, Councillors, our MPs and trade unions to bring about a Living Wage “plus” for all who work in Newham, private and public sector. 
This motion was passed unanimously and will now go to West Ham General Committee on the 22 November. See if you can send a similar motion to your trade union or Labour Party branch?

Update: I will try and amend slightly at GC. A new point. "The UK is in terms of income one of the most unequal countries in the World. Research in the book "The Spirit Level" demonstrates the destructive and harmful impact such inequality has on our society. Raising low wages is key to reducing this inequality".  Also add "collective bargaining" to 8.