Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Great news! Press release from today "UNISON, the UK’s largest health union, today welcomed the High Court decision that Jeremy Hunt acted unlawfully in deciding that casualty and maternity services at Lewisham Hospital should be downgraded.

Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON, said: “Today’s decision is a victory for all the local people who turned out time and time again to protect services at Lewisham Hospital. The High Court rightly ruled that the health secretary acted unlawfully in riding roughshod over the wishes of the community and that is a lesson that the Government ignores at its peril

“This decision will give heart to health campaigners across the country where other hospitals may be threatened by Government plans to close or downgrade much valued health services.”

The BBC reports that the challenge had been brought about by Save Lewisham Hospital and the London Borough of Lewisham and quotes Labour Mayor, Sir Steve Bullock, that "justice had been delivered to a hospital well-managed, highly-respected and financially solvent".

Hat tip Nicole Minet

Monday, July 29, 2013

Employment Tribunal fees start today

This is a sad day for British justice and the protection of ordinary people at work. Check out this BBC report " Under the rules, it will cost £160 or £250 to lodge a claim, with a further charge of either £230 or £950 if the case goes the Employment Appeal Tribunal, the fees are £400 to lodge an appeal and another £1,200 for a full hearing".

I am pleased that UNISON has been given permission to challenge these fees in a Judicial Review.

But it not just the fees. The minimum time to be employed before you can claim unfair dismissal is now 2 years not 1 year.

Independent trade union and employer representatives have been kicked off as lay judges in most tribunals. Employer's can threaten and bully employees out of a job by holding what is called "protected conversations" with them. "Conversations" that cannot normally be quoted in a tribunal. Possible awards have been reduced and restricted.

Costs can (and are) already levied for so called "frivolous claims".

The only possible positive thing arising from all this is that workers who don't join a trade union because they think the law will protect them at work will have to wake up and get real. The law will not not protect them at work, nor their employers. Only your union can protect you at work. UNISON and other trade unions have already pledged to pay the fees for members in a union supported case.

ps. Check out that well know communist, "Red" Lord Justice Mummery defence of the existing system.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Why there is a rural housing crisis

This article was published in Country Standard Summer 2013 page 9. "By John Gray UNISON Housing Association Branch Secretary and National Executive Council Member

Why is it that there is a massive shortage of rural housing when all Councillors support affordable housing yet not enough is built ? Is this because the government is not funding housing associations or Councils to build?

Despite the crocodile tears of Government ministers and many rural councils about the massive shortage of affordable homes in the countryside for local people, the reasons are actually pretty straight forward and can be solved.

Firstly, the Nimby’s (Not In My Back Yard) Brigade. Often you find that those who are adequately housed in attractive countryside don’t want more homes to be built that they think may spoil their view out of the garden conservatory. Especially if these homes are thought to house possible “working class people”!

Changes to planning law means that Councils are not obliged to insist on the building of affordable homes if they don’t want to - and many don’t, they simply don’t care, regardless of the need.

We also seem to think that converting large chunks of the so called “green belt” into huge, ugly exploitative factory farms, often set up solely to take advantage of generous EU and UK government subsidies is preferable to building some new homes.

The countryside has in too many areas been colonised by a blight of retirement bungalows and weekend second homes for our wealthy urban middle class elites. As well as wreaking village communities by destroying local schools, shops and pubs. This results also in the double whammy of a lack of supply of homes and a very high demand - which pushes up prices completely out of reach for those who do not have access to a wealthy Bank of Mum and Dad.

There is also far less existing social housing in rural areas than urban (13% compared to 22%) as well as low wages and lack of jobs. The disastrous government policy of the so called “affordable rents” regime for new properties (and in many cases the new lettings of existing stock) costing up to 80% of market rents compared to the traditional social rent of 50% of market rates is another death nail. The barking mad destruction of the Agricultural Wages Board which will even lower pay is yet another.

The Bankers crisis and the huge cuts in housing investment by this Tory Government have of course just made the problem far, far worse.

There is some hope for the future since it seems that there is antidotal evidence at least that Tory MPs are being button holed in their Conservative Association Clubs by angry members who are fed up with their kids living at home until in their thirties, since even their offspring cannot afford their own place.

There is also concern expressed that there is no “help” available anymore to clean their homes, do their gardens or serve their food and drink at the local posh restaurant.

There are signs that the Countryside is turning and there is a feeling that enough is enough. Labour Councillors are now being returned in Shire and district Council elections up and down the country. This month in rural Dorset we will celebrate the Tolpuddle Martyrs and remember a time when the countryside was at the forefront of radical politics.

Maybe, just maybe, our contemporary rural poverty and homelessness may spark something a little similar.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Why the Archbishop is wrong over pension investing in Wonga

I think that the Archbishop of Canterbury is a decent, honourable man and I certainly support his campaign for the Church of England to help credit unions compete and drive Wonga out of the payday loan business.

It was obviously embarrassing for him to find out a day after the launch of his campaign that his £5.5 billion Church pension fund had a small investment in Wonga but I think he was wrong to call for its disinvestment.  Wonga has a despicable business model based on ripping off its vulnerable customer base but hey, "welcome to capitalism", this is what happens when you get poor corporate governance of a company coupled with wholly inadequate state regulation.

Engagement by responsible investors with the companies they own is key. If the Church of England pension fund just sells up and leaves every company it has a problem with then this will just undermine other responsible owners who may be trying to change it for the better.

According to this BBC report the Church Pension fund can already invest in companies that benefit from "3% of their income from pornography, 10% from military products and services, or 25% from other industries such as gambling, alcohol and high interest rate lenders". 

What the Church pension fund should be doing (and to be fair it does good work on this already) is working with other responsible investors in trying to challenge and change their business practices.

Engagement does have its limits. Last Wednesday evening I went to a social event run by the pension website Mallowstreet. I had a discussion with people present who support engagement but believe that fund managers should be allowed to invest in any publicly quoted company that complies with the law. I disagree. There must be the exception that proves the rule. What do you do with a company or market that engagement has just totally failed? Engagement must have some bite and as a last resort - disinvestment must be a final option. I think of South Africa in the 1980's and the worldwide Tobacco industry now.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tower Hamlets Labour Councillors Iftar with the Community.

I had been invited on Tuesday evening by Labour Group leader (and long standing Unison member) Cllr Sirajul Islam to their Iftar at the
Waterlily function rooms at Mile End.

Ifter is the evening meal that Muslims break their fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan. I have worked in Tower Hamlets for 20 years but this was the first formal Ifter I have ever attended.

It was a marvelous event with hundreds of guests and overflowing tables. I was somewhat surprised to see my old comrade, the Branch secretary of Unison Tower Hamlets Local Government branch present at this Labour Party event.  I wondered after all the trails and tribulations of his current Party if he is considering coming home to Labour?

Even more surprising was to see controversial Tower Hamlets blogger, a Sunday Express Editor and fellow North Wales Gog, Ted Jeory, with his lovely wife Alberta, who was brought up locally in Whitechapel. I just had to sit next to him and ask if he had felt any sharp pains in his back since he had been in the hall?

There were a number of speeches including by local Poplar & Limehouse MP Jim Fitzpatrick, who gave a rousing endorsement of Labour Tower Hamlets Mayor candidate, John Biggs, partly in Sylheti (apparently with a slight Scottish accent). While Bethnal Green and Bow MP, Rushanara Ali, claimed that Jim's Sylheti was better than hers! She introduced the star attraction, East London Labour Assembly Member and Mayor Candidate, John Biggs.

Also multi-faith contributions and prayers from Christian and Muslim preachers. Cllr Abdal Ullah was the main compere who kept things running smoothly and to time.

I think that you must have tremendous respect for British Muslims, for fasting from drawn to dusk in high summer. It cannot be easy at any time of the year but non Muslims I come across simply cannot believe that they are not able to drink water as well as eat no food during the current super hot and humid conditions. Many also pray early and late into the night which means they have to endure a lack of sleep as well.

Iftar is obviously a religious event but I most impressed with the courtesy and respect shown to guests such as myself. The fast finished that night at 9.10pm. I am not at all sure that I will have been so polite and well mannered if I had no food or drink for the previous 18 hours.

Hat tip pictures in collage to Sami Photography.

Update: Check out Hope Not Hate "The Big Iftar"  and "Dine at Mine" if you have never been to a Iftar.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The £35 Billion of Pension Tax Relief being Ripped off by the Rich?

The British State quite rightly gives significant tax relief to subsidise pension provision. So why is it that recent research shows that the richest 1% of our society get 17% of all tax relief while the majority of basic rate tax payers only get less than a 1/3rd?

Why do the low paid have to contribute more to their pensions than the high paid? The person who cleans the Chief Executive's office has to pay more out of their income for their pension than their highly paid boss. In an era when there was decent guaranteed pensions this might have been a price worth paying but now it is simply a rip off of the poor for the rich.  The £34 billion of pension tax relief should be shared fairly.

BTW Why don't the right wing groups such as the Tax Evaders Alliance kick off about this? Is it because many of their funder's benefit from this tax rip off?

"Commenting on new pension tax relief the Pensions Policy Institute (PPI), TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said:

'Tax relief is an important way to encourage pension saving but the benefits are currently far too skewed towards the very wealthy.

'It cannot be right that basic rate taxpayers make the majority of all pension contributions but receive less than a third of the total tax relief budget. Additional rate taxpayers, who earn at least £150,000 and represent the top one per cent of earners, receive 17 per cent of all tax relief.

'The PPI report also highlights a serious flaw in the current tax relief system, with many people receiving relief at the higher or additional rate, but then becoming basic rate taxpayers in retirement.

'Hundreds of thousands of wealthy pensioners are likely to be benefiting from this anomaly, having effectively avoided income tax on a portion of their earnings during their working life.

'With the cost of pensions tax relief set to rise to £35bn a year, the case for a simpler, fairer system is stronger than ever.'

The report analyses a number of proposals to reform pensions tax relief, including the introduction of a flat rate for tax relief and a cash limit on lump sums in retirement that are eligible for tax relief.

Frances O'Grady added: 'The TUC fully backs the proposal to set a flat rate of tax relief at 30 per cent. This would transfer some of the benefits from the very wealthy to lower and middle income earners without any additional cost to the Exchequer.

'Tax relief on lump sum payments is even more skewed towards the super rich, with the two per cent of lump sums worth over £150,000 accounting for almost a third of all expenditure.

'The government must consider a cash limit on lump sum tax relief. A limit of £36,000 would halve the cost of tax relief without affecting the vast majority of pension savers.'

Key facts from the PPI report:
More than half of all pension contributions are made by basic rate taxpayers, who receive less than a third of pension tax relief.
Higher rate taxpayers contribute only 37 per cent of all pension contributions yet receive the majority of tax relief.
Additional rate taxpayers contribute 9 per cent and receive 17 per cent.

- The PPI research can be downloaded from - The TUC has part-sponsored the PPI research, along with Age UK, Partnership and The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ed Miliband & How to overcome distrust in British Politics

Yesterday evening I went to the Coin Street Community Centre in South London with fellow UNISON Labour Link activists to take part in a Q&A with the Labour Leader.

The room was packed with affiliated trade unionists and Labour Party activists with some media also present. It was stiflingly hot due to the current heatwave.

Ed came in and explained to the audience that he is not going to speak long since he wants to have a conversation.

He wants to start a conversion with trade union members and activists that will lead to a Special Conference in the spring next year to agree changes (only allow affiliations from union members who actively choose to support the Labour Party rather than block affiliations - see my initial thoughts here on subject). 

Politics should be powered by ordinary people. He has 4 points to make: Politics is dominated by the wealthy and powerful. You can see Big Tobacco at Downing Street. Is this about a break with the links with the unions? No, the unions founded the Labour Party.  The unions are the voice of  working people.  This is not about removing this voice but how that voice is exercised.  

The problem is that many people think that the Tories write them off and Labour takes them for granted? We need to persuade people to join the Party. Not just Trade unionists but small business people as well. The excellent experience of the French socialists in their recent Presidential election is what he hopes for the London Mayor Primary with registered Labour supporters.  If we want to change we need to hear the voices of the people.  Leadership of the Party is essential but we need a genuine movement rooted in every community.

There then followed quite a far reaching debate. Ed repeatedly said it was "open house". He was asked questions on whether the purpose of a primary is to stop "left" candidates in London? (answer "No"). The lack of Labour Parliamentary candidates who are women, BME or working class (answer "agreed" and he will do something about this).  "Jack" a 92 Year trade unionist in the audience took Ed to task for the failure of the Party to recruit more union members to the Party. Ed asked him how long he had been in the Party. Jack replied he first voted for Labour in 1945 while in the Army in Egypt. He joined the Party later after he left the Communist Party. 

There was some support for Ed's proposals about trade unions from activists but most contributions on this subject were more cautious or frankly sceptical. Ed made it clear that he could not understand why a trade union member who did not support Labour could be affiliated to the Party. He thought that things had changed in recent years and that sense of collectivism amongst working people was not as strong as it use to be.

I got the opportunity to ask him a question. I introduced myself and pointed I am an activist in  UNISON and we have always allowed members to opt in to pay the Labour Levy but I respect the rights of other unions who have gone through internal democratic processes to affiliate all or part of their membership. I didn't think that things had changed that much since there had always been significant numbers of working class Tories in the union movement.

My main point was why are we doing this less than 2 years before a general election when the Tories will out spend us as usual and we will need every penny we can get to defeat them? Why not allow all affiliates to become full Party members, lets then have 3,200,000 members and if a Tory gets a membership card in the post he doesn't like - he can resign.

Ed responded by saying he understood the risks to funding and as Leader was taking responsibility for this decision.

After probably 25 or so questions (including a 12 and 14 year old from Tower Hamlets) Ed called the meeting to a close since it was so hot. No one made the obvious joke about the cause being all that "hot air"!

A very competent performance by Ed but I do hope first and foremost if the changes go ahead that he is right and that we will have enough money in 2015 to defeat the Tories and overcome their extremely "wealthy and powerful" donors.

Secondly, while I suspect UNISON influence in the Party will probably be strengthened by his proposals, the Party itself needs to change as well as any changes to union affiliation. Unless you give individual members more meaningful influence in the running of the Party then you are simply not going to get a new mass "movement rooted in every community". 

Afterwards we went off to a local pub to continue to put the world to rights and rehydrate (medicinal reasons only).

(Hat tip picture of me asking Ed question to James Beckles)

Congratulations on the Royal Birth by a Loyal Republican (but)

While I have tried to avoid as much as possible the media frenzy on the birth yesterday of a son (and heir) to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. I'm not going to join in the carping and name calling by some of the "left" on Facebook and other social media.

Frankly, a lot of it is just plain silly and actually puts back the cause of a British Republic and an elected Head of State. It just makes us seem to be, dare I say swivel-eyed loons?

As I posted here last year on the Queen's Jubilee I am opposed to the politics and not the personalities.  Name calling is not going to change the 80% of the British population who support the monarchy. Reasoned argument might. Until then the Queen is our Head of State.

So I support those who welcome the birth of a new Prince but point out we should not forget the other 2000 babies born yesterday in the UK. Many of whom will live and die in poverty. Changing from a monarchy to a republic would not necessary make a jot of difference to this (as in USA). Making considered political and economic arguments for a different type of society will (eventually - fingers crossed).

Monday, July 22, 2013

Focus on Member Nominated Representation in the LGPS

This is the article I posted on the Pension Social Media site Mallowstreet for a feature they did on trustees. I have been short listed for the annual Mallowstreet Awards for 2013 as "Most Influential Trustee" (2nd year running) and "Top Blogger". 

"I've been a member nominated representative on the Tower Hamlets Local Government Pension Scheme since 1996 (there are no Trustees in the LGPS). I was nominated by my trade union UNISON and have been there ever since. In fact all the original Councillors, Council officers, professional advisers and fund managers have all left apart from me. I am also the admitted body representative.  

There are 101 different LGPS. Collectively they are worth around £130 billion. It is an open defined benefit scheme.  The Tower Hamlets scheme is worth (June) £930 million and has 16,000 members (5,200 active).  There is an investment panel which reports to a Council committee.

The main challenge as a "trustee" is keeping up-to-date with the scheme paperwork and keeping your pension knowledge current. The best part of the role (not really a highlight) is holding your fund managers and advisers to account. Especially with regard to good Governance and other ESG issues. It is surprising how poorly prepared some managers are when they come to present to panel. Even in Beauty Parades you find prospective managers come to see us and they haven't even read our Statement of Investment Principles.

The LGPS is changing dramatically next year with a new set of benefits. Also there are going to be local pensions boards set up in partnership with the trade unions and the employer representatives (elected Councillors). There will be for the first time 50/50 representation on these boards.

I think all member nominated trustees or representatives need more support and independent training. UNISON is planning to offer training and advice to its representatives. The TUC Trustee Network and the Association of Member Nominated Trustees (AMNT) have been really supportive (as of course can be social media sites such as Mallowstreet!).

It can be very difficult as a lay trustee to feel confident enough to challenge your advisers and managers. You need the input of your peers".

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Olympic Anniversary Run 2013

I still can't quite believe that the London Olympics have been and gone (and its now almost a year since!).

Life in Newham has pretty much returned to normal but the Olympic Park (now renamed the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park) is there to remind us that it was all not a dream

This morning I took part in a 5 mile Anniversary run around the Olympic Park finishing off in the Stadium itself.

There were I believe about 12000 runners. The weather was warm but thankfully overcast so not too hot.

It was a strange feeling waiting for the start amidst all these thousands of like minded strangers dressed in the same blue National Lottery tee-shirts.  We were divided into white, red, green and pink sections and while we waited we were blasted with very loud "motivation music" with lots of bass. Pretty much everyone was cheerful and eager to go but a little apprehensive.

I wonder why we do this? I thought we are supposed to be living in an "individualist" society. Does this sort of thing appeal to some sort of collective race memory? Who knows (or cares).

The run itself went okay although at the beginning a little crowded in places so you had to walk for a bit then run then walk again.  You could not avoid bumping into people but nearly everyone was very "English" about things with lots of "sorry" and "excuse me".

It was superb to run again through the Olympic park. The waterways and green spaces are just absolutely stunning. I can still remember the awful industrial estate and ugly railway sidings that were there when I used to cycle to work from Forest Gate to Bow.

I had a bit of a panic when I saw a 3 mile marker when I was expecting the 4 mile one but thankfully I was looking at the wrong marker.

The best part was the final 300m along the Olympic Stadium running track to the finish line with the crowd cheering and clapping. That was a long, long 300m mind!

At the end we picked up our goodie bags and medals. As we went out of the park families and young children were streaming into it for their run.

I walked back to Forest Gate feeling pretty happy and content with myself albeit just a little sore.

(Picture of fellow Councillor David Christie bottom left and I have stolen his great pic of the "medal and Tortoise" from Facebook. Also Newham Labour Candidate 2014 James Beckles top right)

Newham's Wonderful Women

This is a speech by Newham (born and bred) Councillor, Ellie Robinson, at the Full Council meeting last Monday.

It was a marvelous speech and it was a shame that at that meeting we voted to change our Constitution so that Council meetings in the future can be filmed. Shame Ellie missed out on this.

"I am going to talk about Newham’s wonderful women.

We have a proud history of fabulous women here.  Yesterday was the birthday of Emmeline Pankhurst, born on the 14th July 1858, who founded the women’s franchise league which fought to allow married women a vote in local elections.

She later helped found the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) whose members were the first to be called the 'suffragettes'.  Emmeline's daughters Christabel and Sylvia followed in their mum’s footsteps and when the Union’s headquarters moved to London, Sylvia Pankhurst moved into the Canning Town Public Hall, now the home of Community Links on the Barking Road.  The first London branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union was formed right there. 

Today, we all continue to come across fabulous women everyday - helping to run our schools, our businesses, our voluntary organisations, and our health services, and, of course our council services. 

At the Mayor’s Town Show over the weekend, there were some fantastic women and girls performing, educating, organising, inspiring throughout the day.  On Saturday I went to the Forest Gate Women’s Institute food festival which is a fabulous family-friendly event organised by a great group who are currently campaigning against female genital mutilation. 

Last Friday, I was very honoured to spend some time with our social workers.  The woman who let me shadow her in the morning works all hours of the day, with a smile and with incredible patience, changing families’ lives in Newham.  At the end of the day I was privileged to meet with some of our care leavers and their key workers.  One care leaver spoke confidently about our children in care council and how it had given her confidence and ambition and new skills while bouncing her new born, much loved, daughter on her lap.  When I asked the key worker about the best part of her job she told me, without hesitation how proud she had been to be her birthing partner.

There are fabulous women doing worthwhile things all around us, yet this government clearly does not respect the contribution of women.  Women’s unemployment has risen to a 25 year high whilst men’s has decreased.  The Government’s attack on welfare and plans for growth are frankly leaving women behind. 

In addition, women are still underrepresented at the highest levels. 

·  UK women have slipped from 33rd to 57th place since 2001 in the international power rankings
·  22% of MPs are women
·  within the legal system, only 14% of the senior judiciary are women.
·  11% of UK bank CEOs are women
·  5% of Editors of national daily newspapers are women

This is made worse by there being a real lack of black women, Asian women, working class women, disabled women and lesbian, bisexual and transgender women in positions of power and influence. 

Ensuring that women are equally represented ensures that issues which affect half the population are understood and debated.  Last month, the very awesome Texas State Senator, Wendy Davis electrified the pro-choice movement with her 11-hour filibuster.  Facing down condescension and sexism, she stood and spoke for 11 hours to ensure the rigid anti-abortion bill would not go through.

We all know that important decisions affecting us all, men and women, are better made when different experiences and perspectives are heard.  Not having women at the table is huge waste of talent and potential which perpetuates itself, reproducing a model image of what leadership looks like, constraining and  stifling the aspirations of future generations. 

100 years ago this year Emily Davison was killed when she threw herself under the King's horse as a protest at the government's continued failure to grant women the right to vote.  100 years on, we can all vote but there is a long way to go.

Emmeline Pankhurst said of the Suffragettes, ‘We are here, not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers.’  Emmeline broke the law so that I and others could help make it. 

Let us commit to ensure that, in Newham, in all that we plan and all that we deliver, ALL the women and girls in our care, in our schools, in our workforce, in our community have the support and the opportunity to be the best that we can be.”

Hat tip picture to Col Roi and Museum of London

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Tolpuddle and the Essex Connection

This year my plans to go to the Tolpuddle Martyrs' festival this weekend in Dorset fell through again.

The 6 martyrs were farm labourers who were sentenced to transportation to Australia for forming a trade union in the village of Tolpuddle, Dorset 1834.

There was an outcry against this injustice and after 3 years the men were given free pardons and brought back home.

What many people do not realise is that when they returned from Australia they were given farm tenancies in Greensted and High Laver in Essex near Chipping Ongar. (TOWIE 1837?) This is only a 25 minutes drive from Newham in East London.

So today I retraced the walk I went on in 2010 (apart from getting lost this time) and revisited the historic Saxon church at Greensted where one of the Martryrs James Brine, had married Elizabeth Standfield (daughter of another Martyr) at the Church in 1839. I think this was their local parish church (despite most of them being Methodists).

The reactionary Rector of the Greensted Church at the time (I wonder if he took James wedding?) was virulently opposed to the Martyrs and helped make their lives so unpleasant that all of them eventually left and apart from one they emigrated to Canada.

Despite this latter association I would recommend that anyone who lives nearby and cannot make it to Tolpuddle to visit Greensted. It is believed to be the oldest wooden Church in the world and even the oldest wooden building in Europe. It is also incredibly beautiful and peaceful in lovely surroundings. 

PIRC Corporate Governance & Responsible Investment Journalism Awards 2013

On Wednesday evening I went to the PIRC awards at the Design Museum on the south bank of London.

The winning journalists were Tom Bergin from Reuters (2nd left) who won the Corporate Governance Award for stories on tax dodging by Google. 

While Rob Davies (3rd from left) from the Daily Mail won the SRI award for his work on polluting mining giant Glencore (now who would think there was good in the Daily Mail?).

I suppose that I should ask PIRC MD, Alan MacDougall (on right of photo) why there isn't an award for CG or RI Blogging?  Or is this a contradiction in terms? :)  Must ask Tom P (who was poorly last week and missed the event).

Friday, July 19, 2013

Chris Byrant MP at West Ham Immigration Debate

Yesterday evening West Ham Labour Party and our MP, Lyn Brown, hoisted a debate on Immigration with the Shadow Minister responsible, Chris Byrant MP.

This took place in the courtyard of the Old Town Hall, Stratford, Newham.

Immigration is a sensitive political subject which the Labour Party has I think on the whole, a proud record.  Yet we were clearly punished over our policy in the 2010 election by some parts of our core vote. The Party has vowed to learn from this while not forgetting our values.

Newham is probably the most diverse borough in the UK and West Ham Labour Party reflects this. So it was fitting that Chris should spend an evening listening and debating with Party members on this key subject.

Chris started by saying that during the last General Election  he was asked questions on immigration that he did not know how to answer. While he won't enter into any "dutch auction" with the likes of UKIP, he understands that there is genuine concern about immigration and that this concern has nothing to do with racism.

The UK have had massive benefits from migration and he is not going to spend all day apologising for the last Labour Government, since we did many great things such as the longest ever period of  economic growth but we made mistakes - such as not stopping bogus collages and not restricting the right to work in the UK for new EU members - and we need to admit this to voters.

Chris attacked UK companies such as Tesco who have been quite happy to sack British workers in order to employ cheaper East Europeans on insecure and temporary contracts.   They exploit all workers for profit regardless of the damage they cause to society. Chris finished by making it clear that the vast majority of British people are not racist but they just want things to be fair.

Chris then spend over an hour on a open Q&A with all members of the audience. Everyone who wanted to ask a question or make a comment did so.

My question to Chris was that as a West Ham Councillor during a recent surgery I had a family from an immigrant background come to see me about a serious housing issue. During which a serious complaint was made about all these "foreigners" who just arrive in this country and get "given" homes immediately. While I challenged their "facts" I think that the real problem is the unfair and insecure employment practices in this country that allow such inaccurate views to be given credence.

During the last Labour Government, the Corporate tax dodgers at Amazon were given government grants to build a huge new warehouse. Yet they employed no workers on decent terms and conditions, only exploited agency workers from East Europe.  In the past when we had fairer employment practices, immigration had not been quite the issue that it has now become. This exploitation of all workers is now a cancer in our society and can only be addressed by fair wages and employment for all.

Chris did a terrific job holding his own amidst a mass of questions and comments often strongly put. He answered them all I think with honesty and at times humour.  This was a great debate for us in West Ham and I hope Chris will take back something from us as well to contribute towards the National Party discourse.

Hat tip for some of the pictures in collage to various #WesthamCLP Facebook friends. Click on collage to bring up details.

Pensions Age article on Rana Plaza Building Collapse.

This is a short article I wrote on behalf of the Associated Member Nominated Trustees (AMNT) for Pensions Age magazine last month (sorry can't find on line link).  See my previous post
on this wholly avoidable mass killing.

"I’m sure that everyone who watched the TV footage of the collapsed Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh would have been shocked and horrified. The death toll is now more than 1100. The reasons for the collapse are unclear but there has been suggestions that alterations to the building were made without official planning permission and allegations of local bribery and corruption.

UK clothing retailer Primark who sold goods produced in this building (which is owned by FTSE 100 Associated British Foods) has offered to help with compensation payments. This is all very good but the question that pension trustees should consider at their next board meeting is this.

Have they done all they can to ensure that the companies they invest and partly own take all reasonable steps to ensure that their supply lines do not profit from potential death traps?

To be clear, the direct responsibility for Rana Plaza lies in the hands of its owners and State authorities. However, as owners of companies that have benefited from the production of cheap clothing we also have a duty.

We need to make sure that our fund managers know that not only do we care about what is done in our name and with our money but we believe it makes long term financial sense that we only do business with companies that can demonstrate they take all their responsibilities seriously".

Thursday, July 18, 2013

My NEC report to UNISON Community Service Group Executive

In June I was re-elected unopposed as the Community General Seat representative on Unison National Executive Committee (NEC). Isobel (Izzy) McVicar the other Community NEC member was replaced by Janet Byran.

Izzy was the first ever female NEC Community member and had done a fantastic job on the NEC for our members and the union. I have no doubt that she will soon be back soon in a national position.

The first meeting of the 2013-2015 NEC was immediately after the end of our National Delegate Conference in Liverpool. This meeting was to elect our lay President and vice Presidents for the following year. I was really pleased that Maureen Le Marinel has been elected president of UNISON for the next 12 months. Maureen is branch secretary of the Lancashire police branch and is the union's first openly gay president.

Lucia McKeever, a nursing assistant is the new senior vice-president. Lucia is the first woman from Northern Ireland to hold this position. Maureen and Lucia are joined by North Yorkshire County Council branch secretary Wendy Nichols, as junior vice-president - making this the union's first ever all woman presidential team.

The first business meeting of the NEC was on July 3rd at the UNISON Centre building (our national headquarters) in Euston Road, London. At this meeting our general secretary Dave Prentis told us that mobilising for the NHS Rally on 29 September at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester - must be a priority for the union. It is also an event to defend the welfare state and public services. Which are key issues for Community members, both as workers and citizens.

Pay and the casualisation (such as Bank staff or zero hours contracts) of the workforce are the other campaigning issues for the whole union. Community Care and Support members have suffered from direct cuts in their wages while most of us have had “hidden” pay cuts due to years of below inflation pay awards (if any). Many of our members are also still on poverty minimum wage rates.

Assistant general secretary Bronwyn McKenna reported on a recent equal pay victory members in Scotland which will hopefully stop employers using ridiculous arguments to avoid equal pay justice.

The NEC has a number of sub-committees. I had been re-appointed by the lay Presidential team to be a member of Policy and Development sub-committee, an employer trustee on the £600 million UNISON staff pension fund and as a delegate to the TUC Congress. There is a great UNISON motion going to Congress on Fair Pay (not a minimum wage, not a “living” wage but fair wages including terms and conditions such as sickness benefits and pensions) which I will report further about soon. I was re-elected by NEC Link levy payers to the National Labour Link Committee.

Next was a series of elections by NEC members of Committee Chairs and vice chairs. During which I spent an hour stuck in a lift with 12 other NEC members. Which was not a particularly pleasant experience but as a Housing management officer gives me more empathy with my residents when they complain about lift breakdowns! (see picture above from inside trapped lift)

I am planning to make regular reports to Community members on NEC and sub-committees I sit on. The next NEC meeting will be in October. Please circulate this report to any Community members in your branch and let me know of any issues or campaigns that I should be aware of or can offer assistance.

John Gray

NEC Community General seat Member (and Secretary of Greater London Housing Association Branch). If any Community branches or members want to contact me please ring 07432 150 530 or email john.gray2012ATBtinternetDOTcom (personal blog "John’s Labour blog" and Twitter @grayee)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

How wrong public opinion can be on key social issues

Hat tip Redbrick "A fascinating paper published yesterday by the Royal Statistical Society and King’s College London – The Power of Perception - reported on a survey undertaken by Ipsos MORI which ‘shows just how wrong public opinion can be on key social issues’.
  1. Teenage pregnancy: on average, we think teenage pregnancy is 25 times higher than official estimates: we think that 15% of girls under 16 get pregnant each year, when official figures suggest it is around 0.6%.
  2. Crime: 58% do not believe that crime is falling, when the Crime Survey for England and Wales shows that incidents of crime were 19% lower in 2012 than in 2006/07 and 53% lower than in 1995. 51% think violent crime is rising, when it has fallen from almost 2.5 million incidents in 2006/07 to under 2 million in 2012.
  3. Job-seekers allowance: 29% of people think we spend more on JSA than pensions, when in fact we spend 15 times more on pensions (£4.9bn vs £74.2bn).
  4. Benefit fraud: people estimate that 34 times more benefit money is claimed fraudulently than official estimates: the public think that £24 out of every £100 spent on benefits is claimed fraudulently, compared with official estimates of £0.70 per £100.
  5. Foreign aid: 26% of people think foreign aid is one of the top 2-3 items government spends most money on, when it actually made up 1.1% of expenditure (£7.9bn) in the 2011/12 financial year. More people select this as a top item of expenditure than pensions (which cost nearly ten times as much, £74bn) and education in the UK (£51.5bn).
  6. Religion: we greatly overestimate the proportion of the population who are Muslims: on average we say 24%, compared with 5% in England and Wales. And we underestimate the proportion of Christians: we estimate 34% on average, compared with the actual proportion of 59% in England and Wales.
  7. Immigration and ethnicity: the public think that 31% of the population are immigrants, when the official figures are 13%. Even estimates that attempt to account for illegal immigration suggest a figure closer to 15%. There are similar misperceptions on ethnicity: the average estimate is that black and Asian people make up 30% of the population, when it is actually 11% (or 14% if we include mixed and other non-white ethnic groups).
  8. Age: we think the population is much older than it actually is – the average estimate is that 36% of the population are 65+, when only 16% are.
  9. Benefit bill: people are most likely to think that capping benefits at £26,000 per household will save most money from a list provided (33% pick this option), over twice the level that select raising the pension age to 66 for both men and women or stopping child benefit when someone in the household earns £50k+. In fact, capping household benefits is estimated to save £290m, compared with £5bn for raising the pension age and £1.7bn for stopping child benefit for wealthier households.
  10. Voting: we underestimate the proportion of people who voted in the last general election – our average guess is 43%, when 65% actually did.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

UNISON Labour Link Forum 2013 - "Decent Pensions for All"

I was unable to go to this years' UNISON National Labour Link forum since it clashed with my local Councillor selection hustings (I was reselected as a candidate for West Ham ward in 2014).  Which is a great shame and the first one I have missed in years.

Top Greater London Regional Labour Link elected rep, Linda Bentley, moved our London region motion "Decent Pensions for All" which was passed overwhelmingly by the Forum.  Below is her speech.

"Forum, private and not for profit employers providing public services up and down the country are getting rid of their guaranteed defined benefit pensions schemes - and replacing them often with grossly inferior and insecure pensions.

Sodexo, The Pension Trust, G4S, the Social Housing Pension fund and even the national charity Barnardos

While other employers are planning huge hikes in pension contributions for our members if they want their schemes to remain open. This will in many cases lead to the schemes being unaffordable to members - who will just leave. - Which of course means that these schemes as well will simply close.

Forum, we must oppose these closures not only because we want our members to retire in dignity and not die in poverty. But Forum, our members are being conned out of their pensions by the financial services industry.

They say guaranteed pensions are too expensive? This is nonsense. The way they price pensions is outdated and simply wrong. They price so called pensions deficits by reference to the price of government bonds called gilts. Due to the current economic crisis these gilts are at a 200 year low. But why is this 200 year low price is still used to justify closures?

Forum, modern guaranteed defined pensions are as affordable now as they have ever been. For example the cost to employers of the Local Government Pension Scheme is fixed at 13% of wages. That is not unaffordable.

One other thing forum. Why don’t unions in this country help provide pensions as they do in many other countries? Is one reason why members in private companies won’t join a pension scheme is because they just don’t trust the financial services industry? Isn’t the provision of pensions something the labour movement should be at least looking at?

Finally Forum, in my view if guaranteed defined pensions schemes like mine only remain in the traditional public sector then our pensions will never be safe. We must have guaranteed pensions in the private sector – we must have decent pensions for all".

Monday, July 15, 2013

Future Directions workers out in force at the Durham Miners' Gala

From Today's UNISON eFocus
"Future Directions workers were out in force at the Durham Miners' Gala at the weekend, pressing their case for pay justice at the annual celebration of the labour movement.

The workers from Rochdale in Greater Manchester are taking industrial action, including strikes - most recently for four days - over pay cuts and slashed terms and conditions which could see some losing up to £10,000 a year.

Some 115 members are being forced to take industrial action by their employer Future Directions, a "community interest company" set up by the local NHS foundation trust to provide community services.

The workers were transferred to the new company from the NHS and local councils under TUPE.
When the action started in May, Rochdale branch secretary Helen Harrison said: "Our members provide a vital service to vulnerable adults living in Rochdale. They do a tough job, and now they are being asked to do it for even less money, on worse terms and conditions.

"Some of our members may lose their homes because of these drastic cuts. They care deeply about the services they provide, but have no choice but to take this strike action."

Messages of support and donations can be sent to Helen Harrison, branch secretary, Rochdale UNISON, 46 Richard Street, Rochdale, OL11 1DU. Email: Cheques can be made payable to Rochdale UNISON".

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Girl With a Book

Sign the petition and stand with Malala Yousafzai for teachers, schools and books.

Newham Carnival and Mayor Show 2013

Picture Collage from the Newham Carnival and Mayor Show yesterday.

The weather was glorious and the Show was packed out with families from all over Newham enjoying themselves.

Local Councillors were at the Community Hub tent where we took part in possibly the most important task of the weekend.

Handing out free Newham helium filled balloons to endless queues of awestruck young children!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Poor Pay More in Taxes than Rich

Hat tip to BBC Mark Easton tweet on this table left (click to bring up details).

The poorest 20% of households pay more of their income in taxes than the richest 20%.

36.6% against 35.5%.

Actually the poorest pays more than anyone else! I suspect that the Tory VAT tax hike may be one reason. Indirect tax rises punish the poor the most.

So - we are not all in this together!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Newham Labour Party Candidates for Council Elections 2014

Saturday 6th July
West Ham branches meet at the Old Town Hall, Stratford
East Ham branches meet at Newham Town Hall, East Ham

Stratford & New Town
Charlene McLean
Richard Crawford
Terry Paul

Manor Park
Jo Corbett
Amarjit Singh
Salim Patel

Green Street West
Tahmina Rahman
Hanif Abdulmuhit
Idris Ibrahim

Little Ilford
Farah Nazeer
Andrew Baikie
Ken Clark

1.30pm: Plaistow North;
Plaistow North
Joy Laguda
Forhad Hussain
James Beckles


West Ham
Freda Bourne
John Gray
John Whitworth

East Ham Central
Julianne Marriott
Ian Corbett
Unmesh Desai

Forest Gate South
Dianne Walls
Mas Patel
Winston Vaughan

East Ham South
Lakmini Shah
Quintin Peppiatt
Susan Masters

Sunday 7th July
West Ham branches meet at the Old Town Hall, Stratford
East Ham branches meet at Newham Town Hall, East Ham

Forest Gate North
Seyi Akiwowo
Ellie Robinson
Rachel Tripp

Wall End
Frances Clarke
Lester Hudson
Ted Sparrowhawk

Plaistow South
Aleen Alarice
Neil Wilson
Gordon Miller

Ayesha Chowdhury
David Christie
Alec Kellaway

Canning Town North
Ann Easter
Clive Furness
Kay Scoresby

East Ham North
Firoza  Nekiwala
Paul Sathianesan
Zubair Gulamussen

Custom House
Pat Holland
Conor McAuley
Rokhsana Fiaz

Green Street East
Rohima Rahman
Mukesh Patel
Jose Alexander

Canning Town South
Sheila Thomas
Alan Griffiths
Bryan Collier

Royal Docks
Steve Brayshaw
Tony McAlmont
Pat Murphy

(results were also published on twitter @NewhamLabour. Hat tip stats to Ali G)

UPDATE: Check here Newham Council website for up-to-date list of all candidates