Saturday, August 31, 2013

SKSS Temple 25th Anniversary Procession Forest Gate

The picture college is from this morning's procession to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Swaminarayan Sampraday Hindu temple in Forest Gate.

The procession started at Wansted flats and went past my home to the Temple in Shaftbury Road, E7. I was just back from a run so I dashed inside to get a camera.

It was very organised but lively and colourful with marching bands, drummers, singing and dancing. It took about 10 minutes for everyone to pass by.

A very cheerful and happy occasion. I was given a red scarf to wear (obviously my favourite colour) and marchers were giving children free sweets and lollypops. Click on picture to enlarge.

UNISON LGPS Seminar "Governance, Economics and Performance"

There are still places available (you have to be UNISON LGPS member and I assume apply to your branch/region/scheme for any travel/accommodation costs)

National Seminar: Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS)

Governance, Economics and Performance
Monday 30th September 2013 - 10.30am to 3.30pm
UNISON Centre – 130 Euston Road, London

The union’s Capital Stewardship Programme is holding a seminar for all regions and branches on the governance and economics of the LGPS. There are major reforms being proposed by the government for the management and organisation of the LGPS funds in England and Wales.

The union has began a major organising campaign to discuss how best regions and branches can respond to these reforms.

Subjects for presentation include

  • Public Services Pension Act and the LGPS
  • How are the LGPS funds currently governed and UNISON proposals for change
  • UNISON plan to meet the organising challenge of governance reform
  • Economic performance of the LGPS funds
  • Costs, structure and mergers – a panel debate – external speakers offer their views
  • Responsible investment – in and outside the LGPS – a panel discussion

Email for registration form

Best wishes

Colin Meech, National Officer, Capital Stewardship Programme

Friday, August 30, 2013

Happy 96th Birthday Denis Healey

Today is the birthday of former Labour Government Chancellor and Deputy Party leader Denis Healey.

This famous picture of Denis is entitled by the BBC as "Denis Healey in a defiant mood". 

Hat tip Comrade Rayner.

During the second world war he was the British Landing officer for the amphibious assault at Anzio.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

NHS999: Hurry, Hurry, Hurry to book your seats on the London Unison Express

If you are a UNISON member in our Greater London Region then contact your local branch to put you on this list. If anyone from any region does not know how to contact their branch then ring 0845 355 0845 to find out how.

Help NHS999!


Because Northamptonshire kids deserve better...

A passionate and personal guest post by UNISON Community member Anjona Roy.

"Northamptonshire County Council has had it's third successive "inadequate" grading published. Whilst it's been badged as inadequate, five children have died in County Council care and despite this no serious case review has been published. The last two of the children who died did so during the second "inadequate" Ofsted inspection.

Here is the only news story that has been published about the deaths. Published in March there has been no update on this.

Council staff tell me that they are concerned about the situation with many qualified staff leaving and being replaced with unqualified staff and agency staff.

The Chief Executive of Northamptonshire County Council, Paul Blantern wrote to the children's social care staff on Friday stating:

"...Ofsted have commented positively in their report on many aspects of the work that we are doing:

· We are better at engaging and listening to the voice of the child
· We have strong leadership, both politically and corporately
· There is a vigorous recruitment plan in place, with a commitment to filling vacancies
· Our children’s homes are either good or excellent
· Our decisions on whether or not a child should be in care is appropriate

So while we know we are inadequate – and indeed, that was the rating we were expecting - I believe we now have everything in place to start making real improvements.

This is against a background of ongoing challenges in terms of demand on the service. Since the release of the Child Protection inspection report we have had a significant increase in the number of children that we need to provide a service to.

Since March, there has been a 30% increase in referrals to children’s social care, the number of children on child protection plans has increased by 17% and the number of looked after children has increased steadily. The number of children identified as ‘in need’ has increased from 4500 to 5300 – an almost 20% increase."

Given the concerns about under-staffing and an over-zealousness to snatch something positive from the from the third inadequate rating in a row it really makes you question whether the reality of the task at hand has hit home.

Heather Smith, Deputy Leader of the County Council, emphatically assures us that the issue had never been about money. The Liberal Democrat leader urges for extra funds out of the budgets from other Council Services to tackle the situation.

Closer scrutiny of the new Children's Social Care Structure shows a high proportion of Senior Practitioner vacancies and those which are vacant occupied by a high proportion of agency staff (some of whom earn over £36 per hour) and some teams having proportions of newly qualified social workers of over 60%.

During budget negotiation, terms and conditions for Northamptonshire County Council staff were altered, making conditions of service in the authority some of the worst in the Country. Whereas every other authority has been recruiting on nationally negotiated pay, terms and conditions, Northamptonshire County Council has been recruiting with the equivalent of one hand tied behind their back with a set of working conditions that no other authority have.

Prospective staff will be right to view offers of employment suspiciously. Other directives have been issued to staff which state that there will be times when they will not be able to complete activity as required by professional standards in their contracted time and this will have to be undertaken outside their contracted hours. Essentially working for free. Is this really the way to get the best people to pull the service out of this hole?

Thirteen years ago in the same authority a child went missing in Council care (Sarah Benford) and there was nationwide publicity about this.

Now that five children have died and it seems that no one wants to know. I've been in contact with three different press representatives over the course of today and it does seem that those five children are dead and forgotten. With the clamour for no increases in Council Tax it really does seem that the children simply don't matter. Is this because we don't care any more about this? Or is it that whilst they remain faceless and nameless, it's OK not to care. Whilst the serious case reviews are not published ... that's the way it'll stay.

Over the weekend I suggested that people who did care and wanted to show that they care could perhaps make a statement ... perhaps through twitter using the hashtag

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Rochdale Future Direction Striking Workers March and Rally

Good luck to the march and rally tomorrow (12:00 Thursday 29 August) by striking Future Direction workers and supporters. Speakers at rally include Maureen Le Marinel UNISON President and Heather Wakefield national secretary for local government.

UNISON Press release "More than 100 workers have begun five days of strike action in order to send their employer Future Directions a clear message that the fight against the substantial cuts to their pay and terms and conditions has not gone away.

The strike began at 8am on Sunday 25 August 2013 and follows 14 days of strike action already taken in recent months.

Future Directions CIC which is a company owned by Calderstones NHS Trust, bid for the contract to provide supportive living services from Rochdale Council, knowing that to make the contract viable they would need to make financial cuts as soon as they were awarded the contract. Future Directions is looking to expand its business and bid for more contracts at the expense of the workers who continue to deliver care to vulnerable adults, taking advantage of the fact that these workers care about the work they do and the people they work with.

A march and rally has been organised for Thursday, 29 August 2013 at 12 noon on 'the Butts' in Rochdale town centre in support of the strikers and their campaign to continue the fight against imposed cuts on their pay, terms and conditions. Many workers are losing more than £500 per month and having to use savings to subsidise their wages to make ends meet.

UNISON is asking branches to help support the strike action by giving donations to the hardship fund and help these workers to continue with their fight for a fair deal for Future Directions staff in Rochdale. For any messages of support or donations please contact the Rochdale UNISON Local Government Branch, 46 Richard Street, Rochdale, Lancashire, OL11 1DU, email address: Unison@Rochdale.Gov.UK telephone number: 01706 925952, branch secretary: Helen Harrison.
UNISON is continuing to call on Future Directions CIC to enter into meaningful negotiations with a view to resolving this ongoing dispute".

Hat tip picture UNISONActive

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

On justifying military intervention in Syria

Sense about a very sensitive issue from Norman Geras at normblog. "The signs are now clear that Washington and other Western powers, including Britain, are considering military action against Syria on account of the regime's apparent use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians. Would such action be justified? In the debate about this at least three types of issue are centrally involved: (1) whether there is a basis in international law for military intervention; (2) whether it is likely to do any good; and (3) whether it might be merited in any case on retributive grounds.

(1) My own view on whether there is a basis in international law for humanitarian intervention in situations of this kind is that there is. As I have already stated this view at some length, I will be brief on the present occasion. There is not only a right, there is a duty, of humanitarian intervention when a government is committing mass atrocities against a civilian population. This can be established by reference both to customary international law and to the doctrine of A Responsibility to Protect, underwritten by the UN. The question, in particular, of whether a UN resolution mandating intervention is required can be quickly answered - no - for a reason given here: 'The U.N. Security Council is not the sole or unique custodian about what is legal and what is legitimate'. To put the same thing another way: a system of law that would countenance mass atrocity without any remedy simply because the interests of a veto-wielding power at the UN blocks remedial action is morally unacceptable, indeed intolerable; and so where the UN itself becomes delinquent by not upholding some of its own most fundamental principles, the UN not only may, it should, be defied by member states willing to give those principles more respect.

(2) However, integral to the doctrines of humanitarian intervention and R2P alike is the requirement that a prospective military intervention should have a reasonable chance of success. Intervention is not to be contemplated without regard to the likely consequences. In the present case, this is, in my view, the most difficult of the three issues to resolve. Would military intervention against Syria now do any good? That depends, of course, on what its objectives are: whether to influence the overall outcome of the civil war in that country; or merely to weaken the regime's military capabilities; or to deter it from further gas attacks on the Syrian people; etc. I don't propose to offer answers on each different conception of possible objectives. Indeed I don't know that I can. My earlier uncertainties over Syria have not dissipated. But, in any case, one should note that intervention may be justified even if the overall balance of consequences is not beneficial.

(3) For intervention may be undertaken on retributive grounds, to punish a regime that so blatantly flouts the norms of international humanitarian law and the principles of all civilized morality. It may be regarded as morally unthinkable that such a regime should be able to commit gross crimes against humanity with impunity - without being made to suffer any significant penalty. In this situation military intervention is undertaken as a reprisal (scroll to the end) for the crimes committed.

How one weighs the force of (3) against that of (2) in a case where there may be negative consequences I am unsure. But it is these considerations rather than UN authorization or lack of it that should take precedence.

Save Our Royal Mail

Check out website here to help save Royal Mail from privatisation. This is one of the campaigns that Newham TULO will be supporting.  Spread the word #SaveOurRoyalMail @SaveOurRM and sign petition

Monday, August 26, 2013

Payday loan pension scandal? Disinvest or engage?

I have been very critical about the Social Housing Pension Scheme (SHPS) on their decision to raise contributions to the scheme for what I think are "artificial" deficits.

Yet I think that industry magazine "Inside Housing" has got the wrong end of the stick about its front page story on Friday "Revealed - Pay Day Loan Pension Scandal".

The "Scandal" is that the £2.6 billion SHPS invests less than 1% of its money in rip off Pay Day loan providers as does the Cheshire Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS)

My view on this are similar to the post I made about the similar pickle the Church of England Pension fund found itself in last month.

Pay Day lenders have "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".

Pension Scheme trustees have a fiduciary duty to run funds in the interests of beneficiaries.  They have an obligation to take advice from their professional advisers on where they should invest beneficiaries money.

To ignore this advice there is very slippery legal and practical slope if you decide to call for disinvestment on "ethical grounds". If you are a Muslim then you would probably want to call for disinvestment in all companies that lend money for interest (its all "usury"). So no investment in any banks or insurance companies then? If you are a vegetarian or vegan you would be unhappy in any investment in companies that take part in the production and sale of meat. So no investment in supermarkets or shopping centres?

Teetotallers would object to companies that sell alcohol, animal rights activists would object to investments in pharmaceuticals and environmentalists would not want their money in oil companies or mines. I can go on and on - but I think you get the picture.

What all pension trustees should be doing is making sure that they and their fund managers engage with all the companies that they own to try and ensure that they are socially responsible.  SHPS should be working with other pension funds to firstly in private, try and change pay day loan business models. If (and when) this fails then they should instructing their fund managers to vote out the company Board and Executive team at the next AGM.

Now, I am currently unclear whether SHPS do any engagement? I am not sure either about the quote in "Inside Housing" from Cheshire LGPS that  they do "not operate a socially responsible investment policy". Since it is clear from their statement of Investment Principles that they do (if appropriate) - and they are members of the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF), who are very well known for their active engagement with companies on a whole range of socially responsible investment issues.

I think that the key development in pension fund governance in recent years is the rising (not total) acceptance that you will in the long run get better returns from investing in well managed and responsible companies and that trustees have a duty as owners to try and ensure the companies they invest in act in this way.

The real "scandal" of Pay Days loans is the failure of successful governments (including Labour) to properly regulate the sector. Hopefully the next government will sort this out. In the meantime the SHPS, the Pensions Trust, the LGPS and all the Pension funds in the Community and Voluntary sector ought to be working together to bring about meaningful change in the companies they own.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Newham First Mondays - Free advice at Stratford East

What a great idea by Stratford East.

Free professional advice to Newham residents on developing creative ideas, writing a business plan, organising, fund raising, design, jobs in theatre and arts, marketing and press.

First Monday of every Month starts 2 September 2013 - 5pm to 7pm. No booking required. 

(double click picture to bring up detail)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Cadair Idris - the Giants Armchair

Off message but just back from a walking holiday in North Wales and Shropshire. Highlight in Wales was a superb walk up Cadair Idris in Snowdonia.

Went up via Minffordd Path, which is the shortest way up but also the steepest.  The weather was as always in Wales, warm and sunny, but it had rained heavily the night before, so lots of gushing water everywhere.

The way up was not as bad as I had expected. A series of hard climbs but some relatively easy bits in between.

The path was quite quiet with relatively few other walkers for the time of year. 

The views all the way up and around were simply glorious. You felt on top of the world. The way down (horseshoe route) was worse since it was just straight down and down on a steep wet, slippery shale path.

Picture (double click to bring up detail) is from the way down looking back towards Cadiar Idris. You walk up on your left and around the mountain range. Believe me this looks easier than it is.

This walk was magnificent and now one of my favorites but not to be tackled in poor weather.  Had a lovely (but expensive) cold beer at Minffordd Hotel at the end to celebrate.

Update: More photos on Facebook here.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Trade union renewal and the role of ideology, organising and servicing.

UNISONActive had an interesting post recently "Ideology - an essential component of union growth strategies". It argued that having an organising agenda alone does not work and that unions ought to be more "political". Organising is defined as  "empowering workers at work and in their union".

The American trade union SEIU has a world wide reputation for organising yet this has not resulted in an increase in trade union membership.  Instead this post believes that "Our core message has to address social injustice and the failure of market economies".

I tend to agree but I don't necessarily see any conflict with an union pursuing political goals as well as an organising model except of course that unions don't have unlimited resources so some form of prioritisation has to take place. 

Yet the solution offered is to "empower workers with an anti-caplitalist ideology". Which unsurprisingly as a fully paid up mixed economy reformist I don't agree with. We need to control the excesses of capitalism by political regulation, progressive taxation, quality public services and strong free trade unions. 

"Ideology" has always been a problem for unions but it is good to debate this issue and hopefully come to a consensus on what we can agree upon for the here and now.

I also think we should also mention in any discussion on trade union renewal the much maligned "servicing" model of trade unionism. I am a huge fan of organising and empowering members and stewards but if members need help at work then they have the right to expect speedy, responsive and competent representation. The best person to represent members on personal or collective issues is a trained, confident local rep who has the support of the membership. But reps need the support of the union and where there is no such local rep the union needs to be there.

Finally, we also need to think that if the Anglo-American school of trade unionism is declining then should we not be looking at those countries in Northern Europe where they seem to be more successful than us with much higher density levels and better protections for workers? 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

This is a True Story (it must be true because its on the internet - or is it a lie to infuriate the stupid?)

Great stuff. Don't believe the silly troll nonsense on the Internet or Facebook and tell those who do - to wake up and stop being so daft. Also those of us who consider ourselves to be "progressive" (whatever that means) ought to be careful about the posts we make about the Tories et al. If we resort to over simplistic slagging off then we will be little better than the right wing trolls (I will admit and plead guilty to this charge at times but there are limits). Hat tip David Wilson on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country"

I think many people will be surprised that an American President ever said such a thing. But it makes perfect sense. 


I recently discussed a national living wage with someone who argued that a living wage rate was okay for a rich area such as London but not for poorer regions such as the South-West of England. He argued it would destroy jobs in those poorer areas.


Thinking about it now I should have argued "why?". If it was legally binding to pay a living wage and all companies had to pay it then there would be no competitive advantage to pay poverty wages. The introduction of the national minimum wage showed that a wages floor does not destroy jobs.

I would go further than FDR and make it clear that a living wage should also include pensions, holidays and sick pay but perhaps that what he meant by "the wages of decent living". 

"No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level. I mean the wages of decent living."


President Franklin D. Roosevelt 1933".

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Monday, August 19, 2013

Fidelity - the Tory "Fund" managers

Hat tip to Labour and Capital blogger Tom P for highlighting how fund managers Fidelity are one of the biggest corporate donors to the Conservative Party. I wonder how many Fidelity policy holders or members of the local government pension scheme (Fidelity Worldwide Investment runs £3 billion of LGPS money) realise that profits from managing their pensions is going to fund David Cameron and George Osbourne?

Check out Tom here at "Another £25,000 donated in April" and "On the trail of a big Tory donor"  (see below)

"Readers of long standing may know that I've blogged a fair bit in the past about the financial and political relationship between asset manager Fidelity and the Conservative Party. On the Peter Cruddas scale, Fidelity are a "Premier League" donor. For example, they gave the Tories £300,000 in the year running up to the 2010 general election. Last year they gave them £100,000. They also employ the MP Srir John Stanley as a consultant. (They also chucked £50,000 at the No2AV campaign in 2011).

Oddly, over the years the way that Fidelity donates to the Tories seems to have changed. So up to 2008 they were listed as "Fidelity Investment Management" with the company reg number 2349713 or sometimes 02349713.

But from 2008 to the start of 2012 they started appearing as "FIL Investment Management", again using the same company reg number. Then, for the remainder of 2012 (three donations of £25,000), they appeared as "FIL Holdings", using the company registration number 6737476.

Since the start of 2013, however, there have been no donations have been reported using any of the previously used names or company registration numbers. Maybe they've stopped, or maybe they are reporting under a different name and company registration number? Or maybe they just didn't donate in Q1? Anyway, I'm keeping an eye on it".

Keep up the good work Tom. Of course, you do wonder why the very highly paid directors of Fidelity choose to give all this money to the "tax cuts for millionaires" Party? 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Blue Plaque for Jack Jones

"Dear all, as it’s 100 years ago this year that Jack Jones was born, it
is appropriate to ask you to support this campaign.

Southwark News and Southwark Historical Society have drawn up a
shortlist of former and current residents and buildings nominated to
have a Blue Plaque dedicated to them. Only one will be successful following a public vote.

The shortlist includes Jack Jones, International Brigader, trade union and pensioners’ leader.

You don’t have to be a resident of Southwark to vote. Email Southwark News saying you’d like to vote for Jack Jones to get the 2013 Blue Plaque.

The email address is  Deadline is 31st October. Please circulate widely" . 

Hat tip via SERTUC.Picture of Jack in Spain (3rd from left). Jack lived in a Council flat in Denmark Hill, Southwark.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

"It would be a damn shame if we couldn't own a Canadian...".

"On her radio show, Dr. Laura said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance. The following response is an open letter to Dr. Schlesinger, written by a US man, and posted on the Internet. It's funny, as well as quite informative:

Dear Dr. Laura:

 Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I'm confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan,

James M. Kauffman,

Ed.D. Professor Emeritus,

Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education University of Virginia

P.S. (It would be a damn shame if we couldn't own a Canadian.)

(Dr Kauffman has since denied writing this letter although he would not appear to disagree with its contents. A "Kent Ashcraft" has apparently received royalties from reference to the letter's argument in the TV series "West Wing".)   Hat tip Nigel Lawrence share on Face Book

Friday, August 16, 2013

More nonsense about Pension fund deficits

Last week Inside Housing contacted me about the latest report warning members of the Social Housing Pension Scheme (SHPS) that it's deficit (put simply the difference between assets held by the scheme and its "liabilities") has grown again.

The investments in the SHPS have actually been doing pretty well. While it is practically impossible to get information about SHPS from its web site,  the parent body "The Pension Trust" saw net investment income grow by over £400 million last year. This positive information is hardly ever reported.

Instead the emphasis is always on the "deficit". Which I keep repeating is calculated in an outdated and increasingly meaningless manner.  Now, this argument is not as complicated as it seems. Bear with me a little on this.

The "deficit" is calculated by reference to the yield (return) of government bonds called gilts. Due to fears over the survival of the Euro and government bonds in some parts of Europe and the so-called Quantitative Easing programme (the mass buying up of gilts by the Bank of England aka "QE"). Gilt yields are at a 200 year historic low. The lower the yield the higher the deficit. The pensions fundamentals haven't suddenly changed. It's just the way they calculate the deficit.This also leads to wild volatility in pension deficits which can double or half in a matter of weeks.

So even if your investments are doing okay and there has been no sudden change in any other material factors such as life expectancy, due to changes in gilts your scheme is somehow in "trouble" and you have to raise contributions, close the scheme or reduce benefits?

This isn't just the SHPS, it is practically all defined benefit (DB) pension schemes that suffer from these "Alice in Wonderland" calculations.

Picture above of typical DB trustee meeting when discussing latest "deficit" projections.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Should I Read the Daily Mail?

Check out this important new website "Should I Read the Daily Mail?"

"An in-depth analysis of whether or not you should read one of the UK's best selling daily papers".

All you need to know about should read the Daily Mail or not. 

Click here now!

Hat tip Gary Williams Facebook (& once again sorry to my Uncle Sam who loves his Daily Mail and complains I keep picking on it. Yes folks, many working class people do like the Daily Mail and this is something we have to get our heads around).

Just another cog in the machine

This is a brilliant and clever video by TUC John Woods from 2009 that should be on all trade union websites.Hat tip reminder Captain Swing.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Never forget: The Banks Caused this Recession...Counter "the vast lie"

"There's a few things Labour should be doing in my view. They have to get a coherent line on the economy,"
Mullin told the BBC's World at One. "Firstly they've got to counter – and my goodness they should have been doing this for a long time – the vast lie which has been allowed to become embedded in the public consciousness that our economic problems were primarily caused by the last government.

"To paraphrase Bill Clinton: it was the bankers, stupid. The only thing Labour needs to apologise for is not regulating the banks sufficiently, and the Tories are not entitled to take advantage of that because throughout they were in favour of less regulation, not more."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Minimum Wage, A Living Wage or Fair Pay for All?

The introduction of the National Minimum Wage was one of the great successes of the last Labour Government and trade unions such as UNISON who had pushed long and hard for it.

So successful that we now take it a little for granted and forget the huge opposition from the Tories who claimed that it would lead to business failures and mass unemployment.

While a national minimum wage of £6.19 per hour is far, far better than no minimum, it is simply not enough to live on. It is poverty pay. The vast majority of workers on minimum wage will also need to have their wages topped up by the State in housing benefit or family tax credit.  

The idea of a "Living wage" is the amount needed to "let workers lead a decent life". It is currently £7.45ph (and £8.55 ph in London).  Accountancy firm KPMG recently estimated that 20% of workers (5 million) are paid less than a Living wage.

Labour Leader Ed Miliband is in favour of making the Living wage compulsory in the public sector and in their procurement practices. He also believes in naming and shaming other companies that don't pay a living wage.

If this happened it would be a fantastic news for the low paid and also the British tax payers since we will not have to subsidise many poverty pay employers. It would also result in a welcome boast in demand for the British economy.

Yet, at the risk of being churlish, is even a "Living Wage" - not enough?

If you are on a Living wage but become sick and have no income protection you will immediately fall back into poverty. If you retire and have no company pension you will also fall back into poverty in old age. If you are on a Living wage but are on a Zero hour (or Bank) contract and have no employment protection, how can you live a "decent life" with no security? Ed Miliband is also  in favour of restricting Zero Hour Contracts. It has been estimated that there could be as many as one million workers on such contracts. 

What about those traditional low pay sectors which can actually afford to pay more than just a living wage and also pay decent sick pay and a pension?

So what about the concept of "Fair Pay". This is a recognised goal of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Your pay should not be just about your wage but also about sick pay, holidays, overtime, pensions and employment protection.   There are some private companies competing for public sector contracts who would quite happily pay £7.45 per hour if they did not have to pay for decent sickness protection and pensions.

On the other hand today I met up with my lovely niece, her partner and their young family.  She works as a care assistant in a privately run mental health project. She loves her job but is on the minimum wage and on a zero hour contract. She does not receive holiday pay (which I need to check) and also cannot get family tax credit because she is on a zero hours contract.  She only gets statutory sickness benefits and no pension. Due to her income she is likely not to be eligible to be auto-enrolled into a pension. 

If she was to get a Living wage and an extra £1.26 per hour it would transform her family finances but since she does not know from day to day what hours she will work and has no security of employment, it would still be practically impossible for her to make plans for her future. 

The answer to such poverty pay and conditions is that the next Labour Government must be as brave and as radical on this and other issues as its predecessor in 1945.  While in the long run the best protector of decent pay and conditions are the trade unions. Post 2015 Labour should impose Fair Pay for All.  A living wage, living sickness benefits, living pension and employment security for all. While at the same time introduce binding sectoral bargaining agreements between unions and employers for those sectors which can afford to pay more than a Living wage.

While this will save the Government money by reducing the state subsidy on poverty employers and increasing demand in the economy, it will lets not fool ourselves, cost more, especially in the public sector. This is a price worth paying and will need to be paid for by increases in progressive tax rates on those who can afford to pay more. 

I think to win the next General Election and get rid of the Tories we need to be honest with the public and also offer a genuine alternative. I asked my niece today if she voted in the last General Election. She admitted she didn't. I also asked if she thought the next Labour Government would ensure she would get a Living wage and security in employment would she vote for them? She said Yes. Her current MP is a Tory with a majority of just over 3000.

Hat tip picture to Pay Up Sainsburys.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

How we pay for the City (& expensive Red Wine)

I recommend that if you have a funded Pension that you listen to this excellent Radio 4 programme "How You Pay for the City".  

Former fund manager David Pitt- Watson pointed out that excessive charges in the UK compared to  Holland means that the average comparable dutch pension will be 50% more than you would get in the UK.

While the incomparable Mr Colin Meech, UNISON National Officer for Capital Stewardship, thinks that the Local Government Pension Scheme is just being ripped off. He recounted how a colleague who became a fiduciary trustee on a large scheme was shocked to find that the trustee board spent more time being wined (at £100 per bottle!) and dined by fund managers than they spent supervising the scheme. I have heard the same story from that colleague.

It is not just excessive fees by fund managers but also "churn" (excessive buying and selling of stock); stock lending (they lend out your share certificates for a fee), "Custody Banks" (if something is too good to be true...) and "transitional management" (there is a completely shocking story how the Royal Mail Pension fund was cheated and how a judge was told that an untruth was not a lie)

By coincidence we heard similar arguments at the AMNT Summer Conference from Michael Johnson that I posted upon yesterday.

Friday, August 09, 2013

AMNT Summer Newsletter 2013: The Minister, the Researcher, the Polemicist & Red Barry

 Dear Member’s and Friends

The AMNT year so Far
This is our latest email newsletter. 2013 has been an exciting year so far for the AMNT. Our membership has continued to grow. We have made significant contributions to government and regulatory policy on pensions and trusteeship. We have held successful and well attended open meetings and make our presence known by speaking in conferences and writing articles for the pension press.

We have been successful in our fund raising and have now employed an administrator, Kate Bendy, on a part time basis to support the AMNT objectives and our volunteer executive committee.

Pension Minister Steve Webb speaks at AMNT Summer Conference

Picture of our Joint Chair, Janice Turner, with Pension Minister Steve Webb MP, who was the keynote speaker and took part in a Q&A at our Summer Conference, “Where Now The Pension Promise?” on June 26th hosted by Towers Watson.

As well as the minister there was presentation on different pension schemes by members of the AMNT (USS, LGPS & HSBC).

Ewan McGaughey, a researcher from the London School of Economics, described the AMNT as “unique” and “the most important development in Pension Governance in 50 years”! While the ever so quiet and retiring Michael Johnson, research fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), gave a well received “Trustees: take no prisoners” speech on “Charging in Pensions”.

All the speeches are now on the AMNT website here

There was also a showing of the new AMNT DC and Auto-enrolment video kindly developed with Barings Asset Manager.

The Anonymous Trustee Question?
Each newsletter we are planning to allow a MNT to post a question on a current issue – if you have an answer for this question then do so on the AMNT LinkedIn site or email

“The Final Salary scheme of which I am a Member Trustee has gathered up people from various prior schemes and has endeavoured to match the pension terms that each member had before. So, we have several different ages from which the member may retire without actuarial reduction, many well before their 65th birthday. Trustee consent is required for these early retirements.

This is inevitably quite a large cost to the scheme. We have recently had an actuarial valuation and the sponsoring employer wants the trustees to agree never to consent to these requests for early retirement on these terms, so that this cost may be omitted from the valuation. The trustees have never refused a request for early retirement in the past and indeed have formerly been directed by the sponsoring employer not to do so”.

Has this happened to other pension schemes? What did you do?

Encourage your fellow Member Nominated Trustees (or representatives) to Join the AMNT
Even in this social media world of Facebook, twitter and blogs, by far the best way to recruit someone is still by word of mouth, one to one. So if your fellow MNTs in your scheme are not yet members of the AMNT, please point out the benefits and ask them to join! Check out our revamped website here

Driving down investment charges
An AMNT member wants to do something about investment charges and to see whether we can't drive down charges - or at least reach acceptable standards - for our investments. The concept is that perhaps we may be able to guide members as to what a reasonable charge rate might be for certain asset class investments and not only that but perhaps have more confidence in using more challenging forms of contract - risk reward and so forth.

This is a big subject and it would be very helpful if we could identify a set of AMNT members willing to share some knowledge regarding their experiences on costs and contracts. If you are interested and can help please email

£179m of Equitable Life payments owed
The Equitable Life Payment Scheme is asking company pension fund trustees and administrators for their help to make payments of £179 million to their members. Members of the pension scheme that you act for may lose out if you do not take action. 547,000 scheme members are due a payment of 22.4% of their relative financial loss suffered as a result of UK Government maladministration in the regulation of Equitable Life.

As Equitable Life did not hold the addresses for nearly 500,000 company pension scheme members, the Scheme is asking trustees, administrators or authorised representatives of pension schemes that invested in Equitable Life between 1992 and 2000 to share their members’ addresses.

The Payment Scheme has made good progress with most company pension schemes and has received data sharing agreements covering over 400,000 of their members who are due payments of £115 million. This represents 73% of the 547,000 members who are due a payment.

The Payment Scheme is now urging the remaining company pension schemes to return data sharing agreements as soon as possible. Once this is completed, they can provide members’ addresses so the Payment Scheme can write directly to their members to start the payment process.

A list of the company pension schemes that the Payment Scheme has been unable to trace is on the Scheme’s website. Individual members of these schemes can call the Payment Scheme’s policy checker service on 0300 0200 150 to check whether their policies are eligible and find out the next steps to take.

Pension Trustees Circle Seminar
This will take place on Sunday-Monday 29-30 September at The Majestic Hotel, Harrogate. There are currently 2 Pension Trustees Circle (PTC) events in the South East – this will be the first meeting in Northern England. The PTC is for chairs of pension schemes or experienced trustees in pension funds with a minimum of £100m and it is free to attend. In addition, to celebrate the inaugural PTC North meeting and encourage attendance, the organisers are providing free accommodation for approved trustees. if you would like to apply for a place please contact Liz Doughty –

PMI Qualification in Trusteeship
The AMNT have been researching the possibility of organising training and the exam for the PMI certificate in trusteeship.

We would like to hear from any of our members that would be interested in the training and sitting the exam. If we have enough interest then we will explore setting up the training and the exam. To register your interest please email

Dates for the diary – Thursday 26th September 2013!
Next AMNT open meeting scheduled to be held at Pensions Corporation, London on Thursday September 26th. Further details to follow. We are also planning an event to take place in the House of Commons in November.

Defined Benefit Defence Pack
The latest version of the pack is being updated and we hope to be able to announce a re-launch date soon. In the meanwhile if any AMNT members need advice or support on proposed closures please email DB Working Group Chair, John Gray, (in confidence) at

Picture (bottom right) of our other Vice Chair of the AMNT, “Red” Barry Parr, on front cover of July 2013 “Pensions Insight” magazine (Shome mishtake, shurely? Ed)
Editor: AMNT Executive member John Gray