Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Police, Camera, Action! Forest Gate Style

Off message but possibly a Citizen Journalist (blogging) post.

Yesterday evening at about 10.30pm I was at home in Forest Gate, London, when I heard a mass of Police sirens and looked outside of the window to count 17 Police cars and vans drive past along Woodford Road toward Wanstead chasing a car. I could hear a helicopter as well.

I thought this seemed a little excessive but thought well, I don't know the facts, but there is probably a good reason.

To my surprise a few minutes later the noise and flashing lights returned and I looked out again and saw that the Police had managed to stop the vehicle they had been chasing. The chase must have gone in a complete circle and the suspect vehicle appeared to have been boxed in by a Police Car while trying to drive along Woodford Road again (see photo to the right).

The Police taped off the road and later officers searched the roadway and I saw evidence bags being filled near the stopped car. I went to bed shortly afterwards. In the morning everything had gone and it was like nothing had ever happened.

I still don't know what was going on. Will check Newham Recorder next week.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

National Express & the pension fund risk of it killing American children?

This morning I went to a breakfast seminar in London run by the North American transport trade union the Teamsters. This was before the start of the annual Pension Governance conference run by PIRC

The collection and return home of school children by the iconic yellow buses is a huge business in the USA.  There are 500,000 such buses transporting 24 million students per day.

What the Teamsters are concerned about is the USA arm of the British listed transport Company National Express (Durham School Services).

Which is accused of not only treating its school bus drivers very poorly as employees but also consistently breaks health and safety rules for its staff and student passengers. Who often have to endure overcrowded, badly maintained and potentially unsafe buses.

The Teamsters had brought two of their actual yellow school bus drivers to the UK to speak to us about the awful, bullying, nasty and unsafe work practices they have to endure. They told us first hand of their unacceptable experiences while working for National Express in the United States.

Not only were they treated with contempt and disrespect by their management, it is also clear that the safety of drivers and the children is at risk due to overcrowding, defective and poorly maintained equipment, worn tyres and drivers forced to work despite being ill.

The National Express model is to win school bus contracts by the lowest price tender and then make profits by cutting wages and maintenance to the bone and beyond.

This is a disaster waiting to happen. Apart from the absolute morale argument that we do not want   companies we invest in on behalf of our pension scheme members to act in such a way, nor do we want them to face the risk of legal or even criminal action.  There is also ongoing financial reputational risk to the company for being such a poor and irresponsible employer.

The USA has a reputation as a litigious Country. If there was to be a mass tragedy on a yellow school bus which had been previously reported to be unsafe or if the driver was sick but had been forced to work to save his job you will expect at the least a massive law suit.

The experience of the disaster in the Gulf with BP tells us that safety should be a key issue for UK pension trustees. As asset owners it is in our own long term interests to contact our fund managers and make sure that they investigate these complaints.  Then they need to take action against National Express to make it act in a responsible and safe way.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Tory Millionaires Day 6 April 2013

Are we really all in this together?

FACT This Tory/LibDem government is planing to cut the top rate tax band on April 6th.

It is estimated that 13,000 millionaires in this country will be £100,000 better off (I can't verify this but believe it to be accurate).

FACT This will happen at the same time that many millions of ordinary workers are facing yet another year of pay cuts?

FACT One rule for the rich and powerful in this country and another for everyone else?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

West Ham doorstep & Leaflet drop

Pictures in collage are from yesterday morning ward leaflet drop and street surgery 2 weeks earlier.

I was asked to go into one house to see rubbish dumped in a rear garden by a local landlord agency which I later reported. Apart from this eyesore the family liked living in the area but were private tenants with no security of tenure.

Each year their Landlord's agent comes back wanting more rent or they face eviction. This is just plain stupid and the only people who really benefit from this churn are the agents.

Good tenants want security of tenure and good landlords want good tenants. Landlords don't want the time and expense of evicting tenants who pay their rent on time and respect their property. Why can't we have sensible regulation of rents and tenancies like they do in most of Europe and even in parts of the USA?

Yesterday I came across this plaque on a wall in Redriffe Road, E15 dating from1884 which I had never noticed before.  This land use to belong to St Mary's Church in Rotherhithe, South London (or Surrey as that part of London use to be part) and had been purchased in trust for the poor of the parish in 1659. The excellent local history website Newham Story says that the land was leased in 1878 for 80 years to build homes (and maybe a pub). I wonder who is the freeholder now?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

UNISON Community Conference 2013: Day 2

The second day of Conference started off with a 09.00 meeting of the Service Group Executive (SGE) to plan ahead the days business. (See Day one, Bedroom tax rally, Speech by Joe Irvin and my pension speech)

In the morning there were a number of workshops and taster training sessions arranged on:- introductions for new delegates; TUPE & transfers; campaigning & public speaking; how to recruit a member; violence at work and negotiating & leadership.

As a branch secretary I spent the first part of the morning taken up with last minute change of branch delegates authorisation and working out how to confirm to the necessary proportionality requirements.

I then chaired the workshop on recruitment and was impressed how serious and thoughtful delegates were about this key and fundamental role.

During lunch we went to the Manchester bedroom tax rally (see report here). Then after lunch the Community seminar session ended and the actual Community Conference started.  This was chaired by UNISON President Chris Tansley.

There was about 21 motions to discuss and debate on various issues and concerns facing our members in Community. My branch delegation spoke on a number of motions including our composited motion on a "Living Wage plus" and "Save our Pensions". I also spoke on the pensions issue on behalf of the SGE.

Out of these 20 odd motions there was really only one motion regarding the big Community specific  branches meeting up to discuss their issues at the expense of all other branches that caused any sort of a stir.

It does make you think what is the point of having a motion based conference that consists of moving, seconding and debating, motion after motion that nobody opposes? I think we need to think again about what we do at conference since I suspect most delegates did not think this was a good use of time and resources.Especially since we completed all of conference business on the Saturday afternoon when we had Sunday morning timetabled for it as well!

We had a social and raffle in the evening. This raised money for the Presidents project "Hope Not Hate". Where I won tickets to a County cricket match, which of course being North Wallian I gave away (to my branch chair who despite being Irish is a cricket fanatic) and a UNISON Community bottle opener and stopper! We then went to China Town for a London region meal and one or three beers.

The next morning I went for a run (aka slow jog) around the nearby canals and much to my surprise came across a recreated Manchester Roman fort gatehouse!

This is the 3rd UNISON Community seminar and conference and while it is not all perfect, I really think we are going from strength to strength. We do have a long journey ahead but I am confident we will achieve it.

(Centre picture of Community NEC member, Isobel (Izzy) McVicar speaking about health and safety in our sector UPDATE: See UNISON press release on safety issue in our sector and UNISONactive take on conference).

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Don't Lose Sleep over your Job Security: Join UNISON

For once at the UNISON London Regional Committee meeting today, the miserablists agreed with me! The current union TV and media recruitment campaign is reaching out to non members who are just not aware of all the benefits of joining a union.

Times are very tough. This evening I went to my school governors meeting, where I heard that they an advert out recently for one administration job at the school, which was only open for one week, but they had 150 applicants.

If you are in work, the best way to try and save your job is to join a union. If you work providing any form of public services then join UNISON.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Save Our Pensions" Community Conference 2013

This is my speech from the Community Conference on Saturday on motion 23 (see text here "Save Our Pensions"). Which is a motion from my branch.

"John Gray speaking on behalf of your Service Group Executive, in favour of this motion and moving this amendment which is intended to update the original motion in light of recent developments.

Conference, please thank Tony (Power - my branch chair) for his excellent speech. From someone who to my personal knowledge has a led a terrific battle to save his pension and that of his colleagues. What I would like to add to the debate here is that no one should be under any illusions about pensions.

The only hope for you and your members have of having a dignified retirement is a well funded and secure employer retirement plan.

You cannot rely on the state pension. The flawed Government plan for a new universal state pension will only provide at best an income just above the absolute poverty line

As a Housing estate officer in the East End of London, I have seen first hand pensioners living in poverty, buying second hand clothes, eating out of date food, huddled in front of the TV in a freezing cold room because they are too scared to turn the heating on. Stuck in this freezing home because they have no money for trips or holidays and shamed that they are too poor to treat their grandchildren.

That is your future, your member’s future if you do not have a decent secure pension from your work.

Pensions are an expensive business. There is an old rule of thumb in the pension’s world that in order to retire on half your pay and a lump sum, you need to save 15% of your pay for 40 years, repeat 15% for 40 years.

Hardly anyone in the best of times can put 15% of their salary in a pension, never mind the times we live in now. That is why your employer will need to put in at least 10% plus into your pension or else it is condemning its work force to retire and die in poverty.

Conference, please remind your employers this when you negotiate over auto-enrollment and ask them the question do they as a responsible employer want their workers to enjoy or endure retirement. Ask them to do the maths. It is quite simple to work what they need to save on your behalf. Are they responsible employers or are they rogue employers?

Yet, what we increasingly find in practice is the exact opposite. As already pointed out by London Housing Associations branch, some employers, who in the past, were good employers and provided access to good quality defined benefit schemes are using the nonsensical and irrational accounting measures as an excuse to close these schemes and replace them with insecure poverty pensions.

They are closing schemes even in the knowledge that there is - as the amendment points out, an urgent government inquiry taking place on ways to change the way we value schemes which could get reduce or even get rid of many deficits.

There is a unholy alliance of the CBI, TUC and National Association of Pension funds who support change. So why has East Thames and Notting Hill Housing associations closed their scheme in recent weeks? why have others such as Barnardos announced similar intentions? what role did the Pension Trust and the Social Housing Pension fund play in bankrupting the charity PeopleCan the organisation Joe mentioned in his speech earlier today?

While our members are in a whole variety of pension schemes, this is important since our UNISON e-survey late last year found that 35% of our members are in Defined Benefit (DB) guaranteed pension schemes

DB guaranteed pension schemes are NOT a thing of the past. UNISON recently won access to the Local Government Pensions Scheme for new starters at South Lakes Housing Association. Wrekin and Telford Housing are offering all staff the LGPS as well.

Due to the behaviour of some employers and pension providers we also should welcome the call in this motion for the wider Labour movement to look into whether, we the unions, should be involved in providing decent pensions provision, as they do in many other countries.

Conference, while we welcome the plans to smooth valuations and replace them with more accurate estimates it is important that the government accepts and implements these accounting changes without delay and that our employers who are disgracefully still rushing to destroy their employees future when they know this inquiry will report soon, should pause and stop.

Conference please support this amendment and the motion. Thank you. (update UNISONactive take on conference)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Joe Irvin Chief Executive NAVCA speaks at UNISON Community Conference 2013

Guest Post by Ionela Flood UNISON London Region Community Service Group rep (and member of my branch) on Joe Irvin's speech to our conference in Manchester on Saturday. 

Joe is the Chief Executive of  NAVCA (National Association for Voluntary and  Community Action)

"The current climate in the voluntary sector is affecting the sector by public sector cuts and resulting poverty.

Contracts and grants from local authorities are decreasing by 20% in 2011-2012.

Working together with UNISON is beneficial in order to use public law to challenge cuts; to exchange information and campaign for voluntary community services.

Working together we can join forces to address the Social Value Act  and be a strong voice for children living in poverty, shelter for the homeless and practical help with pension regulation and accrediting to the Living Wage.

More joint work can be done by campaigning for the independence of the community sector and be able to advocate and be the voice of people living in the community, building the partnerships necessary to change society.

The services that protect children, environment and social care are the statutory duties of local government . Research by the NAVCA shows that the money available to other service are decreasing and will have a dramatic downward trend in the future. Now is the time to campaign together with UNISON and the voluntary sector to achieve positive social change.

We must learn to avoid constraints in the workplace, learn to exchange information and support both sectors in legal challenges and campaigning that can be used effectively and get the results we both want".

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Bedroom Tax Protest Rally Manchester 16 March 2013

Picture from yesterday's (Saturday 16 March) lunchtime Bedroom Tax protest and mass rally in Manchester Piccadilly. Charity worker Isobel McVicar from Manchester Local Government Branch, who is also my fellow UNISON Community NEC member had organised an adjournment to our Conference for delegates to attend and support the rally.

The Bedroom Tax is a major issue to the Community members up and down the country. Not only are they going to be the workers who have to deal face to face with the resulting misery from vulnerable tenants due to the Bedroom Tax, but is is clear that many specialist Housing Association and voluntary organisations risk going under due to the whole gambit of Tory/Lib Dem welfare cuts.

Centre picture is of top UNISON and Labour movement activists Angela Rayner and Maureen Le Marinel. Angela is the branch sectary of UNISON Stockport Local Government branch and Maureen is of course one of our two UNISON National Vice Presidents.

Angela is standing for selection as the Labour Party candidate for Manchester Withington. What a superb MP she would make.

Why not a one off wealth tax to save the world?

I think like everyone else this morning, switching on the news it was at first shocking to hear about the tax on savings accounts in Cyprus.  

I am less sympathetic to those with £100k plus in savings but the tax will include British troops and those with retirement nest eggs. There is also the risk of a widespread run on the banks but thinking about it, could this be the solution to austerity? 

I am reminded of this post I did last year (see link here) here about a report by the Boston Consultancy Group (BCG).  The report recommended an international wealth tax to wipe the debt slate clean and end the recession. 

Now the BCG are hardly bleeding heart liberals. Their plausible argument is that we have written off debt in this way before and a tax is actually in the interest of the wealthy.  Since instead of years or even decades of austerity, if this was to work and the world economy would grow then their assets would soon rise by more than they would have lost.  

A one off tax would also be much better to wealthy savers who are currently earning interests rates below inflation, so it would make sense for them to have a one off hit than lose more in real terms.

This could be progressive solution and even poetic justice since many of the wealthy made money from the debt bubble. Yet taking savings from the poor and vulnerable as they are in Cyprus is just wrong. This should be a tax on wealth (and not just bank account savings).

.By coincidence this came up at a recent pension meeting I attended where in a discussion about what we can do about the recession, I asked our advisers if they had heard of the report? (They hadn't) and this morning it is one of my top 10 of "Most Poplar" posts!

UNISON Community Conference 2013: Day 1

This is the seminar and conference for UNISON Community members who work in the Voluntary and Housing Association Sector which opened Friday afternoon in Manchester and finished (early) 5pm Saturday.

The first speaker was Karen Jennings, UNISON Assistant General Secretary seen in picture with the Service Group Executive Chair, Kevin Jackson and National Officer Simon Watson.

Karen describes herself as an unusual trade unionist since she is softly spoken. Her message however was pretty forthright and direct. The next few years are going to be tough and we are going to have to fight to protect members but if we cannot improve our union density then we will have no voice and no strength.

Next speaker was James Meadway, from the New Economics Foundation on "The Financial Crisis". James started off by hoping he would not depress us too much. I thought that he didn't and actually he raised hopes by pretty much abolishing the Tory led Government case for austerity and gave delegates the ammunition for arguing that there is a different way of running our economy. The last thing you should in a recession when there is no demand is cut government spending. What should be done instead is reverse austerity; redistribution of income; import less and democratise finance (break up banks).

After this we had a presentation by West Midlands Community branch about the highs and lows of setting up a regional wide branch.  That is a single branch for all UNISON members in the region who work in our sector (Voluntary organisations and housing associations).  Hats off to regional activists and staff who have obviously worked their socks off to get the branch up and running and to the National union for being prepared to seed fund it. It is still early days but it is a leading model of branch organisation and every other branch with community members can learn from it.

Finally there were separate regional meetings of delegates to welcome everybody and explain about conference business (speaking on motions, picking up voting cards, split votes etc) and a chance for branch representatives to decide what motions to support and to plan who will speak on what).  The London meeting also had a far ranging debate about putting our Community world to rights.

Despite the rain, a Friday night in Manchester City centre is always a good night out and I ended up with my Wexford born Branch Chair in a St Patrick's Day (or rather week) beer tent outside the Town Hall listening to live Irish music and drinking Guinness. Not sure it was the best preparation for my pension’s speech the following day...

Update: see UNISONactive take

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Miserablist's moaning that no one listerns to them

Do young people really, really like this music? Or have I turned into my Dad?

Apologies to those who haven't a clue what this post is really on about :)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

An Economy for One Nation: How Progressive can the next Labour Government be?

This post is late but tomorrow Thursday 14 March East Ham MP and shadow minister for Employment, Stephen Timms and UNISON Head of Local Government, Heather Wakefield will be debating how progressive (or radical) the next Labour Government can be?

This event is bring arranged by Newham Compass and Fabians. It is being held at the West Ham supporters club starting at 7.30pm.

Click on flyer to bring up further details.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Eastenders: Dot faces eviction

Another steal from Red Brick

"Poor old Dot Branning is facing the loss of her council house in EastEnders.

Having left the property for several months in the hands of more than one lodger, none of whom paid the rent, she has returned to find herself in arrears (more than £4,000, which seems a lot for six months away). In one slightly bizarre scene she was interviewed under caution by Council Fraud Officers about her lodgers. She has not made an arrangement to pay off the arrears so the Council is taking her to Court for possession.

The storyline isn’t about housing management procedures, but about the devastating emotional consequences of Dot potentially losing her long-term family home. There are some minor deficiencies in the story (she appears not to have a housing officer, so her first contact is with the Fraud Officers, and I can’t recall a notice of seeking possession being served or her), but my main observation is that Walford Council can only end the tenancy by going to a Court to obtain possession. That is the real meaning of security of tenure.

(As an aside for EastEnders aficionados, Dot’s supposed long occupation of the house seems a bit odd because she hasn’t always lived there and I’m sure the property was once owned by another character, but let’s not get picky about continuity).

It appears that the good burghers of Hammersmith and Fulham have not been moved by Dot’s story because they have scrapped security of tenure for future social housing tenants. New tenants will get a two or five year tenancy depending on their age and behaviour. Under their policy Dot Branning presumably would have been moved on years ago as her fixed tenancy came to an end.

The Council’s cabinet member for housing says the ‘tenancy for life’ is unfair and antiquated, that it creates ‘disadvantaged communities’, and he described council housing as ‘a welfare benefit in the form of a heavily subsidised house’. He said ‘we want to create neighbourhoods where a broad mix of social households all live side-by-side.’

We will excuse the cabinet member for his ignorance in not knowing that council housing is no longer subsidised, indeed makes a profit. But anyone with experience of some of London’s Tory councils will be sceptical that they want to create broadly mixed neighbourhoods.

Since the days of Lady Porter phrases like that have come to mean selling off homes and estates, gentrification, and getting rid of the poor in favour of higher income groups who might, coincidentally, be more likely to vote Tory. H&F certainly likes selling off estates.

Language and imagery is important in politics. The term ‘bedroom tax’, which so annoys Cameron, is a recent example of winning an argument via a brilliant slogan. ‘Lifetime tenancies’ is an earlier example, invented as an adjunct to the campaign to demonise the poor as undeserving scroungers.

There is of course no such thing as a ‘tenancy for life’, but it has gained such currency that it has entered common usage, even in the Guardian Housing Network. Tenancies with security of tenure are an entirely different concept. A tenant can only stay if they continue to qualify, if they do not breach a wide range of tenancy conditions, if they have not been awarded an introductory or a temporary tenancy in the first place, and if the landlord does not otherwise have a ground for possession.

People opposed to the whole concept of social rented housing used the term to make it seem unreasonable that a tenant should have security, and to give the impression that no-one ever got removed, no matter what they did. Far from it: tenants can be removed for arrears, domestic violence, neglect, misrepresentation, overcrowding, major works, and under-occupation on succession.

It is the existence of such wide grounds for possession that made the argument for removing security such a sham. Identified issues can be tackled by amending the grounds for possession rather than ending security – for example where there is under-occupation but subject to a test of reasonableness and the availability of suitable alternative accommodation.

We should watch the development of the Dot Branning eviction story with interest. They don’t usually get housing-related stories right on EastEnders. Maybe they will this time. One thing is for certain: as the Government’s policies force more and more tenants into arrears, Dot will not be alone.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Chuka Umunna MP at Joint London & Eastern Region UNISON Labour Link Forum

Picture of the joint meeting with UNISON Labour Link Greater London and Eastern Regions.

At first each region had held their separate annual meetings then we met up to hear the first guest speaker Richard Howitt MEP. Next was Chuka Umunna MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Chuka gave his usual very polished and competent speech ripping into this Tory led government.

As a former employment law solicitor he pointed out how the Tories are rolling back basic protection for all of us at work. They have already raised the limit for claiming unfair dismissal from one year to two years; introduced fees to take out an employment tribunal claim; got rid of independent lay judges; capped compensation awards and attacked TUPE as well as 3rd party harassment claims.

In the Q&A he dismissed a question from the miserablist who was rabbiting on about some silly nonsense that Chuka was supposed to have said (and had clearly not).

I asked Chuka about a recent interview with Ed Miliband during a visit to Denmark when he was reported to have been asked does he support the high public spending and taxes they have in Denmark being replicated in the UK? (obviously a trap question). Ed was quoted as saying that no he doesn't, but he is interested in copying their high skill base and training. My question was how can you have a high skill base and training without high public spending paid for by higher progressive taxation?

Chuka replied by saying he wants people to have more skills and training and a more equal society but he thinks that people in his constituency simply don't have the money to pay more taxes at the this moment. They are struggling to survive.

Union News and witch hunt at London Metropolitan

On Friday I went to the excellent Unions21 conference (which I will post on soon). There I met Pete Murray from the website Union-News, which I haven't really come across before.

Pete showed me via his smart phone his post on the victimisation of suspended UNISON NEC member Max Watson,  Jawad Botmeh and Professor Steve Jeffries by their employer, London Metropolitan University.

Max sits behind me at UNISON NEC meetings and while we don't always see "eye to eye" on some issues, this attack on him and his colleagues by the University seems pretty stupid, over the top and malicious. UNISON NEC and the Presidential team have sent strong messages of support.

Tomorrow lunchtime the UNISON London Metropolitan branch is holding its Annual General Meeting at the Resource Centre in Islington, which is also the location of my UNISON branch office. I hope to see Max there and offer my support.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Help Mums not Millionaires

"Happy Mothers Day!

This morning a group of mums went to Downing Street with a simple message: This Mothers Day David Cameron should help Mums not Millionaires.

In April David Cameron is handing a £100,000 tax cut to millionaires, while imposing a £180 “Mummy Tax” with real term cuts in maternity pay, taking money out of the pockets of mums, at a time when family budgets are already being squeezed.

This is another example of David Cameron failing in his pledge to lead “the most family friendly government ever”. He would rather cut taxes for millionaires than for families.

You can still support our campaign to help mums, not millionaires: "
 Ed Miliband

(hat tip great Picture of Sarah and Millie-Rose, Tameside)

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Libel reform campaign petition: Don't kill the Bill

I've signed this petition from the Libel reform campaign to my MP asking her to save the current Bill which has nearly passed through Parliament. However it has been hijacked by "unhelpful" amendments in the House of Lords.

While I would personally support these amendments, they are not relevant to libel law and appear likely to scupper the entire Bill.

By coincidence last Saturday was the 2nd anniversary of the throwing out by the Royal Court of Justice of a certain stupid, wasteful and completely pointless Libel case. If the new Bill was passed into law it would help prevent similar nonsense in the future. 

Friday, March 08, 2013

UNISON TV advert - Essential cover before you get to work

"UNISON's new TV advert launches on Monday. The ad urges public service workers to join UNISON for essential cover wherever they work.

It is part of the union's recruitment campaign, which will include press and social media ads that will be launched over the coming weeks, along with an on-the-ground organising push by staff and activists.

The advert will air on a range of cable and terrestrial stations under the title 'Essential cover before you get to work'. It tells the story of the support and benefits a prospective UNISON member can receive before they even get to work".

Join UNISON here!!!

Hacked off at West Ham? (Labour Party GC & Leveson)

Twitter picture from last week's West Ham Labour Party GC when we had Julianne Marriot from Hacked Off as our guest speaker.

Hacked Off is about "campaigning with victims of press abuse to ensure that the Leveson Inquiry leads to a free & fair press, promoting world-class public interest journalism".

Julianne explained they are not just about phone hacking but about press abuse.  She gave a number of examples of the sorry state that is the modern day UK press. For example some of them will still ring the actor Hugh Grant's  90 year old Dad in middle of night, to try and startle him into saying something and they will pretend to be his son (his Dad also has heart condition).

Major newspapers such as the Sunday Express are not even members of the current voluntary Press Complaints Commission. You need to have an independent regulator underpinned by law. The Government want a "Royal Charter" while the victims of dreadful abuse want statutory regulation of press.

One good thing so far about the debate and controversy about the press is that it has so far stopped further media consolidation.  Final criticism of the Tory Government "Royal Charter" is that it would result in a "modest fee" for arbitration when Leveson made it clear that arbitration should be free.

Julianne gave a thought provoking and persuasive presentation.

She is actually a member of West Ham Labour Party and West Ham ward and we had a "discussion" yesterday evening about "Hacked off" and the Libel Reform Bill where I expressed my "concerns" over recent developments. Nuff said.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Tell David Cameron to drop the Bedroom Tax...

"From April 13,000 millionaires are getting a tax cut worth £100,000 a year on average while over 600,000 households - including armed forces families, disabled people and foster carers - have to find £728 a year to pay a new bedroom tax.

This isn’t about tough choices, it’s about the wrong choices.

Join our campaign and tell David Cameron to stop the Bedroom Tax".

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Richard Howitt MEP speaks to Joint London & Eastern Regions UNISON Labour Link

Immediately after our London UNISON Labour Link forum last week there was a special joint meeting with London and Eastern region. The first speaker was Richard Howitt, Labour Member of European Parliament.The meeting was chaired by Link National officer, Keith Birch.

Richard began by pointing out that the long running UNISON campaign against the reduction in Meat hygiene inspectors had been proved right over the recent horse meat scandal.

He then spoke about Europe and contrasted the "left" in who want to inflate their economies in order to create growth and jobs with the "Right", who want cuts and austerity. While in the UK the only reason why the Tories are talking about leaving the EU is not really because of sovereignty but is all about rolling back Social Europe and reducing employment and health & safety protection for workers. He also reported on the recent victory in a recent EU judicial decision (Viking) in favour of labour rights above that of Capital.

I asked Richard in Q&A that the parts of Europe that seemed to being doing better in this recession were countries who have greater income equality and have greater public spending and progressive taxation. He replied that he tended to agree and said that countries such as Finland which have high taxes are amongst the most efficient and most productive economies in the world.

When he and other Labour MEPs were criticised by a London miserablist for apparently not standing up to the last Labour Government, Richard reminded him that they all refused to toe the line over the agency rights regulations and they were even sent letters threatening deselection.  While he had to say "No Prime Minister" over the issue in a very difficult telephone conversion with Gordon Brown.

He finished by reminding us all that 1 in 3 British jobs depend upon trade with EU and that the UK is a member of a number of international bodies such as the UN, ILO, IMF, World Bank etc. but no one says we should have a referendum on this. Next speaker was Chuka Umunna MP which I will post upon soon. 

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Tell @edfenergy to drop legal action v. No dash for gas activists

Check out this sorry tale of silly and OTT corporate bullying by EDF. Reminds me of the McLibel fiasco.

If the activists did wrong then they should have been dealt with under British criminal law or injunction and not retro bankrupted for peaceful protest.

"Our daughter Claire is one of the 21 activists who spent a week up a chimney at West Burton power station in Nottinghamshire in October 2012. Claire and her fellow activists are now being sued for £5million by EDF Energy.

Claire and her friends act on principle and are entirely altruistic in what they do. Their chosen career paths have led them, not in the direction of making as much money for themselves as they can, but rather to promote ethical and radical solutions to some of the most important issues which face the planet and ultimately the human race.

She has lobbied the government, emailed companies, signed petitions and marched with placards, but nothing changed. So Claire and her friends decided they needed to take more decisive action to get the government and energy companies to change their ways.

The group spent months preparing and training for this action; using their spare time, money and skills to enable them to scale a 300 foot chimney and survive for several days in the constant thrust of the wind. Yes, it looks dangerous, but they believe in the necessity to take such action because the alternative outcome to the continued output of emissions on this scale will cause global warming of such magnitude, that the planet will be seriously compromised and the future of the human race, uncertain. We are so proud of Claire and her friends and what they are trying to do.

EDF are suing Claire and her fellow activists for £5 million. We feel this is totally unfair. The company says that they have to take the consequences for their actions. EDF's business is to make money, not safeguard the planet for generations to come; theirs is a short term, expedient enterprise. It’s heartbreaking to think that Claire and her friends are being punished for putting themselves at risk for the good of humanity.

England celebrates its right to peaceful protest. The abolition of slavery and women's suffrage are but two issues which have only come about through this means. We should be applauding and rewarding the group for their actions rather than allowing a multi-national organisation to put them in debt, possibly for the rest of their lives for a sum, which to EDF is a mere drop in the ocean, but well over a lifetime's income for them.

We support Claire and her friends and admire their courage. Please sign this petition to tell EDF to drop this unprecedented legal assault. Thank you from Barbara and Russ Fauset

We are both semi-retired teachers. Barbara is a Licensed Reader in the Church of England and Russ teaches children with disabilities".

Monday, March 04, 2013

UNISON London Labour Link Forum 2013: Decent Pensions for All

Picture from last week's UNISON London Labour Link annual forum in the UNISON HQ.  I chaired the Forum meeting with Gloria Hanson (see to my left).

It was a good business meeting where we discussed with Link delegates from London branches the financial report, this years work plan and motions to the National Forum.

Gloria took Chair when I moved this motion on "Decent Pensions for All".

"This Forum notes:-

That many private employers providing public services across all Service Groups have in recent years announced plans to stop offering a decent defined benefit scheme to new members or stop existing members building up further pensionable service.

Some employers and pension providers are planning to massively increase employee pension contributions. This will make them unaffordable.

The reasons given are that they must protect the fund against rising “pension liabilities”. This is nonsense.  It is well known that due to needlessly overcautious assumptions by many schemes and inflexible accounting practices, the “costs” of defined benefit pensions have risen in a totally artificial manner.  This has meant that pension schemes appear to have high deficits when in fact this has nothing to do with their underlying strengths or weaknesses.

Properly run and regulated defined benefit pension schemes are as affordable today as they have ever been. Most defined contributions schemes will not result in members getting adequate benefits when they retire. Our members will die in poverty and the taxpayers will have to subsidise bad employers for their poverty pensions.

If in the future decent defined benefit schemes are only to found in the traditional public sector then this will under mind their long term future.

This Forum calls upon Labour Link :-

To support and campaign to save all defined benefit pension schemes that we have members in from closure.

To lobby the Government to change accounting practices .

To examine the case for employers to be encouraged to seek alternative defined benefit provision in our sector and what role the Labour movement can play in this provision. In many other countries trade unions provide pensions.

To ask Labour Link to campaign within the Labour Party for a decent defined benefit pension for all".

It was accepted unanimously and selected to be one of our two regional motions submitted to the National Forum.

Afterwards there was a special joint meeting of London and Eastern England UNISON link members with guest speakers Richard Howitt, Labour Member of European Parliament and Chuka Umunna MP Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. Which was followed by Q&A's which I will post upon later.

AMNT Open Meeting March 20th at AXA

Dear Member,

The next AMNT Open Meeting will take place on the afternoon of March 20th at AXA’s London offices, 7 Newgate Street, London, EC1A 7NX. Please do try to come along, though spaces are limited so book your place early to avoid disappointment.

The day will begin at 1100 am with a group training session on one of the latest modules of the Pensions Regulator’s Trustee Toolkit - strategic investment, This follows on from the fund management module we discussed at the last Open Meeting back in December. If you have not already completed these modules, these group discussions are a great way to find your way through.

A buffet lunch will be served at 12.30pm, which members are welcome to attend whether they have been to the morning training session or not.

The main open meeting will take place between 1.30pm and 5.30pm starting with an update of recent AMNT activity, including John Gray’s DB Defence Pack, which is aimed at helping trustees of DB schemes that are faced with closure.

Janice Turner will then go through a recent AMNT submission on smoothing which she has been leading. This will be followed by a presentation by our hosts AXA on how various overseas countries have approached the question of smoothing.

After a break for tea, Colin Meach will give a presentation on recent developments in Public Sector Pensions

Finally, the day will conclude with Robert Inglis, a Project Director from the Financial Reporting Council, explaining Technical Actuarial Standards (TASs), which have been in force for almost three years and getting feedback from the floor.

After the meeting has closed, there will be the usual networking opportunity with drinks provided by our hosts AXA

There are limited places available for this event, so please let us know as soon as possible if you are able to attend. Click on one of the below links and let us know by email, including whether you have any dietary requirements if you plan to attend for the buffet lunch.

- Click here to join the AMNT

 - Click here if you would like to attend for the whole day, including Trustee Toolkit training, lunch, AGM and open meeting.
- Click here if you would like to attend part of the day (please specify which part/s).
- Click here if you are unavailable to attend any session on the day.

 Kind regards,
AMNT Committee

Sunday, March 03, 2013

UNISON activist? Be a Labour Councillor!

Picture is from the UNISON Labour Link and LGA Labour Group training event for UNISON activists on "becoming a Councillor".

This was the first ever event run by UNISON encouraging our members to become Councillors and took place last Tuesday evening at the UNISON HQ in Euston. 

The main speaker was Cllr Tulip Siddiq, (to my left) who is a Cabinet member in Camden Council.

Tulip talked about the pressures and responsibilities of holding down a responsible full time job, a demanding Local Government Cabinet role, being a political campaigner (and trying to have a life). I gave my view as a UNISON activist and junior backbencher Councillor and agreed with Tulip that it is really demanding being a Councillor but it can be so worthwhile. You can make a difference.

After the presentations by Tulip and myself, the Group broke up into two groups led by Paul Wheeler and Martin Angus from the LGA Labour Group and went through how to get selected as a Labour Councillor and how to get elected.

I think this was one of the most important UNISON Labour Link initiatives that I have ever attended. It is imperative that we encourage our members to become local Councillors. We are a Labour Movement Family. We need to get our act together and participate in the movements political wing or how can we complain that the Party does not understand us?

This training also builds on the excellent branch London Labour Link  training event we held last year. UNISON not only needs to encourage its members to be Councillors (and working class MPs) but also to be on NHS Trusts, become School Governors, Charity and Housing Association Board members.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Free Schools in London & Mayor Education enquiry

This is a speech that I made as an UNISON delegate to the London Labour Party Biannual conference last month.

"Conference, the mover has already spoken about this ideologically driven threat by Gove and Boris to education in London and its democratic deficit.

But it is not only that the principles behind so called "Free Schools" are wrong. We must also oppose this latest privatisation of key public services, because it is yet another example of turning accountable and transparent bodies, responsible for huge amounts of public money, into what often becomes self selecting oligarchies and "mates clubs".

Whose senior management teams first task is to award themselves a massive pay increase while at the same time they contract out the jobs of UNISON members; the cleaners, the cooks and the school caretakers onto poverty wages, with no protection if they become sick and no pensions, so they retire and die in poverty.

Free schools epitomise much that is wrong with our society under this Tory Government. Instead of a planned, accountable and joined up approach to running essential public services, we have a selfish and divisive route, driven in many cases but not all, by simple greed and the wish to enrich themselves at the expense of those ordinary working people, the UNISON members who clean their offices, cook their school meals and unblock their office toilets; the people who they consider to be their serfs.

Conference, let us also make sure that while opposing Free Schools we also make sure that our own house is in order. Can all of you here, who like me are school governors, make sure that at your next Governor meeting, that all the workers in your school, are on decent nationally agreed terms and conditions or their equivalent. Not only a living wage, but living sickness benefits and living pensions for all who work in your school.

Conference, please support this motion. (I then had to rush off to another commitment. The motion was passed)

Picture of 100 Sefton school staff left high and dry by a Free school.

Free Schools are not recruiting minority and ‘disadvantaged students’*

Guest post from Newham Labour blogger and twitter Seyi Akiwowo on so called "Free Schools". I will also post a speech I recently made on Free Schools.

"In short? Yes. But the factors explaining why free schools are not recruiting students from these groups is not so simple to explain.
Free schools were primarily created to address the attainment gap in the UK.  They have the same legal structures as Academies, which means they are free from local authorities when it comes to the operation of the school. Although funded through public money, free schools provide parents, teachers and others interested a chance to create new schools as a way to improve the choice of schooling.

Findings from the Race on the Agenda (ROTA) paper late last year outlined that free schools do not recruit students from the most deprived backgrounds and BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) students. With the knowledge that many students from deprived background and BAME students are on the wrong side of the attainment gap, how does this specifically designed policy not enroll their ‘target’ students?  ROTA highlights several reasons for this (for the complete list check out FYI):
  • Significant portions of free schools opened in deprived urban areas are not enrolling pupils from ‘disadvantaged’ backgrounds at the same rate as other local schools.
  • There is a lack of transparency around the free schools programme. The public information provided by free schools themselves in relation to equality and inclusion is also often limited. This obscures the degree to which free schools are benefitting socio-economically disadvantaged communities. Additionally, this lack of information reduces accountability.
  • There is a lack of engagement with BAME communities in the free schools programme. BAME communities – in particular those that have been acutely disadvantaged in education, such as African Caribbean, Pakistani, Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller communities – are underrepresented as leaders within successful free school projects. Communities are largely unaware of the free schools programme and the Department for Education does not appear to have given much attention to the engagement of such underrepresented communities.
Francis Gilbert takes an interesting view on the reason for this, believing that the policy is very flawed and favours wealthier parents.  A policy that helps wealthier parents is in serious danger of exacerbating the persistent educational inequalities faced by socio-economically ‘disadvantaged’ students. In my opinion, for free schools to fail to recruit students that would most benefit from this policy negates the achievements made by free schools in their GCSE results. Of course wealthier students will achieve better results; that is not credit to the new wave of schooling! In turn, this does not persuade me to believe that greater school autonomy in admission policies is the best way forward in education.

Education in many ways is becoming more and more like a business transaction, where only the wealthy can participate effectively and thus reap all the benefits.  However, all taxpayers pay into this idea of compulsory education until 18 so all members of society should reap the benefits!

For More Information:
Race On The Agenda:
London School Network: Francis Gilbert’s article:
*Disadvantage is in quotation marks because I do not completely agree with the use of this word and think it is time we come up with an alternative word.