Friday, October 31, 2014

This Halloween I'm going as a....Conservative

Happy Halloween :)

Vote Yes to a campaigning voice for UNISON

UNISON’s Political Fund ballot – November 2014

What is the political fund?

UNISON campaigns hard to defend jobs and decent employment standards, to promote public
services and equality, and to protect the health and safety of our members.

To do this we need to be able to campaign in the political arena, at Westminster, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, in Europe and at a local level too. The law says that unions must have a specific political fund to pay for such work and that a ballot has to be held every 10 years for it to continue.

UNISON is unique in having two parts to its political fund. You can choose whether you want your political fund payment (which is a small part of your normal subs rate and does not cost you anything extra) to go into the General Political Fund (GPF), the Affiliated Political Fund (APF), or not to pay into the fund at all.

The APF is known as Labour Link, and it funds work to take UNISON’s policies to the heart of the Labour party, promoting the Living Wage, decent pay and defending the NHS etc.
Supporting members to campaign locally

Much of the high profile political campaign work you see from UNISON is paid for by the general political fund – defending the NHS and pensions, through to tackling racism and the BNP.

But it’s not just the big things the GPF funds. All sorts of national and local projects and campaigns benefit from receiving funding this way; anti-cuts campaigns or local campaigns against hospital closures, for example.

If your branch has members in it who pay into the GPF, the branch can apply for financial support for a political campaign or activity.

UNISON needs to be able to continue to influence political decisions. Politicians make decisions that affect members’ jobs and the public services that are vital to our community, and the GPF is what enables UNISON to stand up for members and working people.

The ballot
The ballot asks members to confirm these arrangements, which have been in operation since the formation of UNISON. Every ten years unions that have a political fund have to ballot members to approve the continuation of their political fund.

UNISON’s ballot opens on 1 November and closes on 30 November.

UNISONs National Executive Council is recommending a yes vote to keep a strong political voice for the union at European, national and local levels. Our political fund is what allows us to take campaigns into the political arena.

How you can vote
The ballot papers and materials will be mailed out with U magazine in late October.

Members need to send the ballot paper back in by 30 November 2014.

For more information or if you have not received your ballot paper by 10 November please call 0800 0 857 857.

Who is voting in the ballot?
UNISON members in Great Britain are voting. The political fund arrangements differ in Northern Ireland, where there is a separate contracting-in process for members who want to contribute.

Vote yes in the ballot
UNISON has a tradition of successful political campaigning. The achievements made possible by the political fund are many, and include national achievements such as the equalities acts (2006 and 2010) and many policies improving life for working people and families, and local achievements such as the campaign to prevent George Eliot hospital being privatised, which was partly funded by the GPF.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Rally to Remember - Where you there?

Check out this great video featuring some of the 100,000 plus protesters who were marching in Central London and elsewhere for Fair pay on 18 October.

This is a UNISON video (featuring members of my branch) but it is a representative record of so many ordinary working people that day protesting peacefully but demanding a better deal for them and their families.

Politicians of all parties ignore them at their peril. We need Fair Pay for all and we need to create a fairer society to do this. 

Remember "Britain First" is a Nazi front

Just a gentle reminder that this is the time of year that the fascist organisation currently known as "Britain First" shares seemingly patriotic posts on Facebook and twitter which appear to be in support of British troops and our Remembrance Sunday.
Please do not share these posts. A number of people have been taken in. So called "Britain First" is a fascist and Nazi organisation formed after a split in the racist BNP. 

Remember that the fascists in this Country supported Hitler during the second world war and wanted the Nazi to win who would have turned Britain into a concentration camp. 

So it is completely hypocritical of them to pretend that they are in anyway a "patriotic" party supporting our military veterans.  

The only "veterans" they will support are Nazi SS murderers of brave British commandos and prison of war escapees who were tortured and then shot in cold blood in World War two. 

Check out what a genuine British combat veteran thinks of "Britain First". 

(picture of recruiting poster for British Nazi's during World War 2)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Holding your Board to Account" fringe NAPF 2014

I am still catching up on posts about the NAPF (National Association Pension Funds) annual conference earlier this month.

This fringe was one of the better ones. Governance manager, Ashley Hamilton, from Royal London Asset Management (RLAM) spoke about how investors should hold company boards to account and what lessons should we learn from past corporate scandals.

I knew Ashley when she use to work for Pension governance consultants PIRC.  RLAM is part of Royal London which is the UK's largest mutually owned insurance company.

Ashley explained that companies are starting to recognise that investors see good governance as a a means to add value. In Japan it is also seen as a market advantage. Such standards help protect the integrity of the London market and stop certain international companies listing here.

Many investors are "passive". This means they are exposed to all companies in an index. Poor governance does have financial consequences.  For example Olympus's unlawful "kickbacks" and Newscorp, which lost $7 billion in market value in 4 days after the phone hacking scandal was exposed.

Reporting and transparency is not a means to an end.  Need to also look at corporate culture and leadership.

Tesco ticked all of the boxes of standard corporate governance. So what went wrong? the Board lost touch with customers and suppliers. It is now sending executive back to the shop floor.

Barclay's Bank also ticked all the boxes and complied with codes. Lord Turner thought it's problems were a due to a pattern of behaviour, complex structures and aggressive regulatory approaches. There needs to be cultural reform. A recognition that making excess profits at the expense of stakeholders or customers is wrong and self defeating.

Investors should be aware and look out for "Governance hot spots".  Such as a dominant or aggressive CEO who does not welcome debate or discussions: when there is no real "succession plan"; ask does the Chair of the remuneration committee really understand what and why they pay Executives or do they just leave it to the consultants to explain? 

Does the organisation have diverse pools of talent? Good governance is an indicator of risks and of opportunity. Governance is an art not a science.

RLAM vote all UK shares in Annual General meetings and if against or abstain, they will write to companies and explain why. They will take part in collective engagement and as a last resort will make a public statement.  Engagement is best pre-crisis, not post.

Her fund manager colleagues at RLAM recently thanked Ashley for her report on poor practises at the troubled retailer, Sports Direct. They took notice of her concerns and sold out of the company which then went on to lose 20% of its value.

There are of course limits of engagement. An index fund will have to hold shares in companies with bad practises; there is a "free rider problem" and absentee proxy votes still swamp AGMs.  There is also concentration of company AGMs in April and May which means there is time and resource constraints.

Corporate governance is important but not a panacea. Cultural problems are more serious than non-compliance. Trustees should be asking questions of fund managers and consultants. Actively vote your shares and facilitate information flows.

I asked Ashley the question was there empirical proof that companies that are held to account produce superior long term returns?

Ashley responded by saying that there is not that clear data but there is plenty of evidence of what happens when things go wrong.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"The most common reason for unfair dismissal"

I found this advert for an Acas training course interesting. Over the years I have come across some
appalling investigations. Often the main reason is that the investigator simply hasn't a clue what they are doing.

"One of the most common reasons for a dismissal to be found unfair is that an employer has failed to carry out a reasonable investigation. But what exactly is a reasonable investigation?

The Acas Code of conduct on disciplinary and grievance procedures, used by Employment Tribunal Judges, to assess the fairness of a dismissal, says: "Employers should carry out any necessary investigations, to establish the facts of the case".

"The nature and extent of the investigations will depend on the seriousness of the matter and the more serious it is then the more thorough the investigation should be. It is important to keep an open mind and look for evidence which supports the employee’s case as well as evidence against."

So do you need to interview the employee concerned? Do you need to interview all witnesses? Can the same person that carries out the interviews carry out any subsequent disciplinary hearing?

Acas Investigations training courses will answer these questions and more, covering:

The legal background and burdens of proof
Purpose and stages of disciplinary procedures
The responsibilities of the employer
The rights of the employee
The stages of an investigation
Listening and questioning techniques
The role of suspension
Case for dismissal
Writing the report and presenting findings

Monday, October 27, 2014

Reminder: A Manifesto for Labour 2015: Newham Compass Tuesday 28 October

Jon Cruddas MP and Steve Terry from UNISON Labour Link in a debate on the Labour Manifesto for 2015

Chaired by Lyn Brown MP.

Tuesday 28 October 2014 at 7.30pm in West Ham Supporters Club, East Ham.

Emma Reynolds MP speaks at West Ham GC - turn Benefits into Bricks

Last Thursday evening Labour Shadow Housing Minister Emma Reynolds MP was our guest speaker at the West Ham General Committee (GC) meeting which was open to all Party members.

Emma started by thanking our MP Lyn Brown (right of picture) for her advice and support in becoming an MP.

She then said she realised that in somewhere like West Ham housing was a top issue.

The recent Lyons Review for the Party recognised housing is a key priority. Ed Miliband understands this and that is why her role is now in the shadow cabinet.

Housing is fundamental to everything we do in a future government. If we can't get housing right, we won't get anything right. Especially in the private sector. Ed's mission is to double the number of homes being built.

For over 3 decades we have not been delivering anywhere near the number of homes needed. We now have the lowest level of new build since the 1920s. We did  many good things in past Labour government but can't pretend that we built enough.

The construction industry is dominated by big builders, who also build the smallest houses in Europe. Families in the UK don't need less space to live in than those in Germany or France?

We need to bring more land into use to be built upon, more power to councils to allocate planning specifically for 1st time buyers. Emma use to work and rent in Belgium for 6 years. You don't have to go to "Venezuela" to see that there are different models of private renting. Labour will introduce 3 year tenancies, cap the rise of rents and ban fees for letting agencies. Private sector regulation needs to be expanded.

In the Q&A I introduced myself as a UNISON Housing Association delegate. I told Emma while I think that the scale of housing crisis is such that local authorities will have to take the lead in building homes. I do believe that Housing associations have a role but I am deeply concerned about the governance of many housing associations and their lack of accountability for public money.

Some have little or no effective tenant and resident involvement; secret remuneration committees that increase their chief officers pay by huge amounts while cutting the pay of its front line workers. Despite being registered charities some refuse to recognise trade unions and one, Catalyst Housing Association, has recently responded to complaint of bullying against its HR by attempting to de recognise UNISON. Housing Associations have got to get their act together.

Emma said that she shares my concern about housing associations. There are some very good ones who are doing excellent things but she is worried that due to the 60% cut to grant by this government, they are being forced to take part in revenue raising schemes such as shared ownership and market rents.  Some are in danger of losing their social ethos since they are indeed supposed to be charities. She said that she is worried about what is happening in Catalyst and will speak to me about it later.

It was not a good night for Housing Associations, since another GC delegate who is a shared ownership resident, spoke about his "corrupt" housing association and its "bullying and intimidating managing agents" Shared ownership leases are feudal and enables landlord goons to send threatening letters. To them we are just peasants.

Emma said she was determined to do something about this if Labour is elected, she hears this story too often. I later asked the delegate who the housing association was and it turns out it was one of the few in the G15 who refuse to recognise trade unions. Landlords who don't respect the human rights of their staff won't treat their residents well either.

She finished off by saying that she wants to turn "benefits into bricks". If you pay people properly and not have them to rely on state benefits it is empowering. The Mansion tax is a fair way to help the NHS.  On the question of building on brownfield sites v green belt. She agreed with Lyons that it should be brownfield first but this was not the whole answer in areas of high demand. Swapping land in and out of greenbelt could be an answer.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Focus 15, Occupation and the Carpenters Estate

It was good to read on Friday that Newham had managed to let out some of the long term void properties on the Carpenter Estate to homeless residents.

I had received a large number of complaints by ward constituents and many other people about the way that the Council had dealt with the occupation by Focus 15 mothers and their supporters of 4 flats on the Estate.

At the Full Council meeting on 29 September, Cllr Rokhsana Fiaz OBE and I raised emergency formal questions to the Mayor, Sir Robin Wales.  After the meeting there had been unacceptable violent and aggressive scenes outside East Ham Town hall by some supporters of the occupation.

Later that week on the way home from work, I went to visit the occupation with my fellow West Ham ward Cllr, John Whitworth. A number of Newham Councillors had visited the site.  Relatives of Councillors and local Labour Party members were also assisting the occupation.

John and I spoke to Focus 15 Mums and supporters in what turned out to be a 30 minutes long outdoor discussion on the future of affordable housing in London (and elsewhere).  This debate was at times passionate and pretty lively but generally polite and constructive.

My basic argument was that it had been accepted that Newham Council had not always acted properly with the Focus 15 Mums (the Mayor has apologised) the problem of affordable housing is a wider political issue. To make housing affordable in a high rent area such as London someone has to subsidise the cost. In the past the State used to accept responsibly for ensuring that its people had access to safe, secure and (truly) affordable homes. Even the Tories in the 1950s used to compete with Labour on who could build the most homes each year on a social rent (50% of market rent).

Councils and Housing Associations can always manage their stock and developments better but until the State puts its hand in its pockets and takes its responsibly to people seriously again then we will not solve the housing crisis in this Country. Instead of wasting money on housing benefit we should be investing this in homes but this will not be enough. Subsidy requires money....lots of money. This is a political truth that we will all have to grapple with.

Unfortunately John and I were not able to actually visit the block since by the time our discussion was over the campaigners were holding an urgent meeting to discuss legal issues regarding the pending court case by the Council to recover the properties.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Gregg McClymont MP at NAPF Conference 2014

Labour Shadow Pension Minister Gregg McClymont spoke (with a smile) about the previous speaker Bob Geldof being his "warm up act" this year. 

Gregg has now been coming to the NAPF Conference as Shadow minister for the last 4 years.

He has four key points.

1. There has been successful pension changes and measures which have been delivered with consensus.
2. We all need to deliver on pension promises
3. The Government is currently in the wrong place
4. It may have made decisive policy but not with the necessary checks and balances

His thoughts on these points

1. The new universal flat rate state pension and the successful launch of two million people into auto enrolment  was achieved by consensus.
2. The Government under pressure from the Labour Party and the NAPF have introduced a charge cap and the "disclosure" of transaction costs.
3. Where the Government is in a wrong place, is in the governance of pensions schemes. Where there are not independent trustees, workers are unlikely to see value for money in workplace pensions. Pensions of all types including contract schemes should be governed by independent trustees with an obligation to act in their best interests.
4. Soon many workers will be able to take out all their pensions in a lump sum (after paying a possible massive tax) but what will the guidance look like to stop people being ripped off and the likely take up by individuals is just not known.

Labour priorities are for value for money and to get this we also need to promote the scale of pension funds.  Larger pension schemes are more likely to delivery value for money.

In the Q&A I asked Greg would he agree that independent trusteeship of all pension schemes is also about re-establishing trust in the industry after decades of financial scandals.  People would save more if they were more confident that their money was being looked after by genuine beneficiaries trustees who will be acting on their behalf and making sure they are not being ripped off .

Greg thought that greater trusteeship would help establish checks and balances which is especially important since millions of people have been auto enrolled by the state and there is even a greater  responsibility to make sure the money is looked after properly.

Friday, October 24, 2014

UNISON Members vow to fight Union busting at Catalyst Housing Association

"UNISON members at Catalyst Housing Association reacted with shock to the news that the Head of People and Organisational Development received a 28% increase in salary last year whilst they received a mere 1%.

The members were attending a large, boisterous union meeting called to discuss the Chief Executive, Rod Cahill’s, decision to derecognise UNISON.

A letter of de-recognition was issued last week in response to a letter of complaint from UNISON about bullying of stewards and the unfair treatment of union members at Catalyst.

Members expressed their anger and concerns about their employer’s anti-union stance and are prepared to even consider industrial action in their fight to retain trade union recognition at Catalyst.

When a legitimate complaint about serious concerns results in an instant letter of de-recognition, you do wonder about that organisation’s governance and accountability”, commented Regional Organiser, Colin Inniss. “Does this mean that Catalyst tenants who complain automatically face eviction?

All Catalyst workers deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect as the organisations’ tenants and stakeholders; this is shabby treatment by an employer that is supposedly striving to go from good to great.”

Housing Association Branch Secretary John Gray said "Catalyst have refused to even meet with us to discuss our complaint or their concerns and have given out false and inaccurate information about membership levels.

They claim to have a strong Information and Consultation Committee that was voted in by 100% of the workforce; in actual fact less staff members voted for it than are in the union.

We have also taken legal advice and it is clear that Catalyst has acted unlawfully under international law and human rights.

UNISON always wants to talk to employers and seek agreement where possible. I call on the Board of Catalyst to meet with UNISON and settle this dispute before it gets ugly.

For Further information or comment please contact:

UNISON Regional Organiser, Colin Inniss

UNISON Housing Associations Branch Secretary , John Gray

Notes for Editors

1. UNISON’s represents over 60,000 members in the Community and Voluntary sector.
2. UNISON has recognition agreements with most of the G15 Housing Associations – London’s 15 largest housing associations.

3. Catalyst Housing Association own and manage over 21,000 properties in London and the South East

4. In 2013/14 Directors of Catalyst received pay increases ranging between 28.7% and 6.8%; frontline staff received a 1% increase in pay.

(hat tip London UNISON Press release)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Happy Diwali

Best wishes to all those celebrating Diwali, which spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair....

(What a fantastic set of values - Hat tip Tower Hamlets Labour Party e-newsletter)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Jean Geldart from Hope Not Hate - UKIP is a Far Right Party of Race Hatred

Today was the UNISON Greater London Regional Council meeting. Hope Not Hate Trade union organiser,  Jean Geldart was a guest speaker.

Before she retired from Tower Hamlets Council, Jean was my  Branch Secretary and a senior UNISON NEC member. She is also the daughter of Phil Piratin who was the Communist Party MP for Stepney 1945-1950.

Jean described how appalling and openly corrupt many of the UKIP MEPs and Councillors are. While many of them are good for a laugh, the leaflets UKIP have put out are worse than even the fascist BNP!

They have organisers who use to work for the National Front and see nothing wrong with this.

The recent shambles in the European Parliament has seen them form an alliance in order to gain EU funding of £1 million (from us tax payers) with Polish anti-Semitic racists and Holocaust deniers.

While they are not  a serious threat in most of London at the moment we have to be vigilant. UKIP can be defeated. In May 2014 when there was local election as well as Euro elections, voters tended to vote UKIP for the EU since they did not think it was important and mainstream parties for local council.

All polling indicates that although they do have real support, the majority are positively opposed to them and actively dislike the UKIP.

So what we need to do is get the anti UKIP vote out.

In the May elections in the North West, there was was a massive anti BNP and UKIP campaign which resulted in them getting only 6 Councillors in the whole of the region. Compare this to similar areas in North and Midlands where they got far more.

We need to expose UKIP and look at what they say and their voting record in Europe. Such as their views that women deserve less pay, their wish to privatise the NHS and destroy workers employment rights.

We need to get this message out what UKIP is really about. We also need to get people to register to vote and set an positive agenda for multiculturalism in London. Jean encouraged all UNISON branches to affiliate to Hope not Hate!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Union is Strength!!!

Fantastic advert for joining an union. Collective is best and its usually always "better together". A pity that Catalyst Housing Association is so anti-trade union and its senior managment believes in right wing corporatism.

Monday, October 20, 2014

As Soon As This Pub Closes...

One of the many reasons why we have never had a real Revolution in this Country since 1649 despite the weird and wonderful selling newspapers outside Tesco's.

Hat tip singer Alex Glasgow who also sang one my favourites "When The Boat Comes In". Brilliant.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

"Council's bullying and sexist culture contributed to Rotherham scandal"

This is I think the most important finding from the enquiry by Professor Jay into the disgusting and shameful issues her report uncovered.

"A bullying and sexist culture promoted by the former leader of Rotherham council made it difficult for staff to raise concerns about child sexual exploitation, MPs have been told.

Roger Stone resigned as Rotherham’s Labour council leader in the wake of the Jay Report, which brought to light that 1,400 children in Rotherham had been sexually exploited over a 16-year period.
Stone said when he stepped down: “I believe it is only right that I, as leader, take responsibility on behalf of the council for the historic failings that are described so clearly in the report and it is my intention to do so.”

Professor Alexis Jay, the author of the report and former chief inspector of social work in Scotland, has now singled him out for criticism during her evidence to the House of Commons communities and local government committee inquiry yesterday.

She said that “sexist bullying” designed to put down and undermine women was a feature of the council’s “extremely traditional, male-dominated administration” during a number of years.

“The behaviour of senior people is absolutely critical in determining the ethos and the culture of an organisation. Staff will take their cue from that,” she said. “I don’t think this was an appropriate climate in which to be discussing an issue of such social sensitivity as child sexual exploitation.”

Labour MP Simon Danczuk asked Prof Jay about a letter sent to the committee by Martin Kimber, the authority’s chief executive, in which he is said to have written: “There have been challenges largely associated with the dominance of a particular personality within the council, who at times could be very direct.”

Professor Jay said she assumed that Mr Kimber “was referring to the then leader of the council”. Stone led the authority for 11 years until his resignation when Prof Jay released her report in August.
Rotherham’s new council leader, Paul Lakin, told MPs that he agreed with Professor Jay’s comments, acknowledging that a “bullying culture did exist” at a senior level. He referred to his predecessor as “remote”, and said that Labour councillors had no access to the leader’s office because “you couldn’t even get through the door to see his secretary”.

Lakin said Stone initially resisted his request to commission an independent inquiry after reports in The Times revealed the widespread grooming of girls in the town".

Bob Geldof opens NAPF Conference 2014: Make a difference

Last week I went for the first time to the National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF) Annual conference in Liverpool. 

The opening speaker was someone who was pretty influential in my teenage years for his music and who later became a respected world figure for doing more than anyone else to feed millions of starving people in Africa, Sir Bob Geldof. 

To honest, I was just a little sceptical beforehand about how much an ageing rock star had to offer the British pension fund industry, but I was and I think others present, were pleasantly surprised.

He started by saying that "...after 40 years in rock and roll I end up talking to a bunch of pension geeks!"

He was a little rambling at times, talked about the risk of international war and Putin Russian adventurism, but also gave a convincing argument about how Africa is the home of some of the world's fastest growing economies.  Also that there is a business case for pension funds to invest in Africa, not for charity but as long term investors seeking returns.

Interesting start to an interesting conference, on which I will post more later. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

TUC March 18 October: Britain Needs a Pay Rise #Oct18

Picture collage from today's TUC "Britain Needs A Pay Rise" March in central London. I was in between my branch (UNISON Greater London Housing Associations) and the London Regional banner. The March was I think a fantastic success. UNISON did the TUC proud.  At the rally I also joined up with West Ham Labour Party comrades.

I met with many London and national trade union and Labour colleagues and discussed a number of issues including the Union busting attempt by Catalyst Housing Association to attack their workers' human rights.

The key message of the March was of course that workers are currently facing the biggest squeeze on incomes in recorded history. Wages have fallen in real terms every year since 2010. No wonder they are angry and we have seen a rise in support for far right racist parties such as UKIP.

When we marched past the opulent Ritz Hotel and then the busy Fortnum and Masons in Mayfair, one of the most expensive and wealthy areas in the world,  I thought not only does Britain deserve a pay rise but we evidently can afford it. In fact the risk to social cohesion from mass poverty, unaffordable housing and food banks is such that it is in the long term interests of the wealthy that we get a pay rise. If nothing changes, people will not continue to march peacefully for ever.

More pictures from today on my Facebook page here.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Red Brick on Lyons Review

Lyons does 90% of the job

For housing development nerds the Lyons Housing Commission report, published today, is a cracking read. Commissioned by the Labour Party, and launched by Ed Miliband, it is a serious review of all the problems and challenges facing the Party if it is to achieve its ambition in Government of building 200,000 homes a year by 2020....(click here)

Union Busting at Catalyst Housing Association


"In a move reminiscent of American style union busting, Catalyst Housing Association has responded to a request by UNISON to meet the Chief Executive and discuss bullying of stewards, and their very poor industrial relations record, by issuing a letter confirming that they intend to derecognise the union.

This is despite Chief Executive, Rod Cahill, only a few weeks ago at a housing fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference telling the fringe that Catalyst does recognise trade unions. This fringe included leading Labour Party figures.

However, Mr Cahill also stated at this meeting that Housing Associations are private bodies and not accountable to anyone but themselves.

It is a fundamental human right enshrined in international law for all workers to have freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Any employer, especially a registered charity such as Catalyst that refuses to recognise a trade union does not respect human rights; any employer that does not respect human rights should not be given access to public funds or contracts.

UNISON Regional full time officer Colin Inniss said "I have been trying for several weeks to meet up with Mr Cahill to discuss complaints about bullying in Catalyst. A day after I chase a response we get this letter announcing that they are terminating the recognition agreement, without even the courtesy of a meeting to explain why they are thinking of doing this!

 Housing Association Branch Secretary John Gray said "To be clear, Unison is the biggest union by far in the social housing sector. Unison is a moderate and sensible union but we will not tolerate union busting in this country. We always want to talk with employers if there is a problem and resolve things whenever possible. This is an attack on human rights. It will also be seen as an attack on the whole trade union movement in this country. This has the potential to be an extremely prolonged and damaging dispute the likes of which has not been seen before in our sector.

I call the Board of Catalyst to step in and withdraw this union termination letter and facilitate urgent talks with unison and management before this gets totally and utterly out of hand.

 For Further information or comment please contact: UNISON Regional Organiser, Colin Inniss or UNISON Housing Associations Branch Secretary , John Gray

Notes for Editors
1. UNISON’s represents over 60,000 members in the Community and Voluntary sector.
2. UNISON has recognition agreements with most of the G15 Housing Associations – London’s 15 largest housing associations.
3. Catalyst Housing Association own and manage over 21,000 properties in London and the South East
4. In 2013/14 Catalyst Chief Executive, Rod Cahill, received a pay increase of 9.7%; frontline staff received a 2% increase.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

God moves in mysterious ways: Craig joins Kippers

Great post by Forest Gate blogger Martin Warne about the former leader of the Christian Peoples Alliance, Alan Craig, who has joined the far right UKIP.

As Martin points out in his 2010 General election manifesto amongst the many "bonkers" and "unpleasant" things he said about gays and Muslims Craig also pledged to:-

"Strangers into citizens
We would tackle discrimination and embrace the talents of asylum seekers, as many successful asylum applicants are highly trained and dedicated individuals. It makes no sense to leave them on the scrapheap, unable to use their professional skills to provide for themselves, their families, or contribute to the British economy.
[Asylum] applicants will be treated as if they were British citizens with full access to state support and the right to work.
We will tackle the problem of illegal immigration by an amnesty that brings irregular workers into mainstream society, paying taxes.

A time of jubilee for the world
Aid will be given in grants and not loans and not tied to poor countries opening up their markets to powerful multinationals from rich countries.
We want the unpayable debts of the world’s poorest countries to be cancelled in full without strings attached.

I wonder how this will go down with his new mates in UKIP down the boozer on a Saturday night?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Campaign to Save Member Nominated Trustees: Trying to keep the City honest!

I was recently interviewed on the telephone by a researcher for the campaign group for responsible investment ShareAction.

They are rightly concerned that there is a move towards getting rid of independent member nominated trustees of pension funds and replacing them with "professional advisers". This is my edited record of the interview.

Q. We’ve been asked by civil servants to provide any instances of proof where having a member nominated trustee on a board actually resulted in different outcomes, compared with not including MNTs.  What would you say to this?

MNTs are often the only people from outside the often ‘cosy club’ of providers, advisers and consultants who are actually independent. They can be the only people prepared to ask difficult questions and challenge things like fees and charges, whereas an adviser who is themselves on £100k plus a year would not.  And they are far most sensitive about fees and charges because - it’s their own money!

MNTs are also often the only ones to really bring up Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) issues.  Many employers and providers pay lip service to this and claim they think it’s important but ESG is never actually an agenda item and often is not brought up at meetings unless the MNT brings it up.

MNTs are very dependent on their advisers, they don’t actually run the schemes themselves after all.  But advisers don’t have a fiduciary duty, their duty is to their employer or their firm’s partners.  MNTs have a unique fiduciary duty to members and this is absolutely crucial.

Q. We’ve often heard the criticism that pensions are very complex and MNTs just don’t have the expertise to do the job properly.  What would you say to this?

‘Rubbish’. It’s not true at all.  The Pension’s Regulator actually over-complicates the system in some ways.  There are many actors in the system who benefit from this complexity, the more complicated it is the more there is a need for experts to advise.  The recent research into local government pension schemes which showed active management to be a waste of money is evidence of this.  When I was first involved in governing a pension scheme, in the early 90’s, we  had 2 or 3 investment funds – who did fixed income, equities and property for example.  Now schemes have 10-11 funds.  Its all got far too complicated and far too expensive.

If people can make money from complexity and being experts than they will, it’s just the way of capitalism and a reasonable response to systemic incentives.

Saying that, we do have to be honest that not all trustees are up to speed, we are carrying some deadwood in the system.  This is sometimes because they don't have the support or haven’t been given the training, or they haven’t been shown why the training is really important.

Some MNTs are selected for the role, rather than being elected, and I do worry that in some cases individuals are deliberately selected because they won’t really challenge the employer or provider.  Its human nature, if the people responsible for administering the pension scheme choose who sits on the trust board, why would they want to choose individuals who are going to give them a hard time?

I knew a really capable MNT, one of the best I have ever known, who who was kicked off the board because she challenged the scheme too much in one respect.  She refused to ever vote on a matter if she hadn’t been sent the papers at least 24 hours in advance, she was very diligent and capable but she was managed out of the role.

Churchill said "Democracy is the worse form of government - apart from all the rest". MNT's should always be directly elected by beneficiaries in my view.

Q. What is the biggest challenge that you face in carrying out your roles as an MNT?

Getting sufficient time off work, to stay on top of all the developments in the pension world and go on training courses, to do necessary reading as well as attending the actual trustee board meetings. Some employers are very good at giving reps enough time off to do these roles but others aren’t.

Q. Is there anything that we should be calling for the regulator to do to improve this situation?

There is already guidance that says that time off should be given to trustees but this guidance needs to be clearer – for example it could specify that time off is needed for reading and training as well as attending the meetings.  There is about a day’s worth of reading to do for each meeting.

I don't think as a rule that MNTs should be paid for their roles, as they are managing their own money, but the employer could be reimbursed by the scheme for giving them the time off and if a MNT is out pocket, they should be fully reimbursed.

Q. Apart from providing a fresh, non-industry perspective and asking challenging questions, what are the other benefits of having MNTs on the board?

It gives the members confidence in the system when they can see that they have their own representatives involved in governing the scheme.  This is essential because many members have a real distrust of the scheme or the employer and this is preventing them from saving enough.

In some good schemes they have an AGM once a year where trustees can talk to ordinary members and often encourage them to join the scheme. Senior management or PR type people just can’t talk to members in their own language in the same way.

Member reps are essential for building trust in the system and proper accountability. I have lived through so many scandals in the Financial services industry, like Maxwell, Equitable Life, 2008 etc, and it should be obvious to everyone that people from outside the industry need to be involved in governance to stop foul play.

Q. We have been calling for more schemes to hold AGMs, but hear the criticisms that they won’t work, no one will come, it’s a waste of money.  What is your experience?  Do AGMs work?

Yes they do.  Many schemes typically get very good turnouts.  I have been to AGMS of FTSE 100 companies where the turnout was much worse than at a pension scheme AGMs – and the quality of questions was poorer too.

Q. What kind of things do people ask questions about mainly at pension scheme AGMs?

Benefits.  And after that ESG is the next biggest topic. Employers and providers are very nervous about ESG issues but they aren’t actually doing anything about it.

Q. You’ve said that ESG is on the radar of trustee boards and pension schemes, but what can be done to move things to the next stage of getting them to act?

We need to get the message across that it makes good business sense to incorporate ESG.  This approach is better for getting your money to grow in the long-term than chasing short-term, speculative returns.  The funds I am involved in are not ethical funds, but they still care about investing ethically because it’s best for the fund.  There are still, unfortunately, a lot of people out there who thing that ESG is just for tree-huggers

Q. What kinds of mechanisms should schemes (trust-based and IGCs) put in place to open channels of communication with members, apart from AGMs?

Schemes should have good websites and newsletters, where they profile trustees.  I have seen organisations who do a ‘trustee of the month’ feature, for example, which works well.  Large organisations can also post things on notice boards in communal areas.

Q. What have been your proudest achievements during your time doing these roles in pension governance?

My proudest achievement is getting a proper reaction from the fund management industry to the Rana Plaza disaster and other factory fires in Bangladesh. A lot of fund managers initially didn’t get why this was important and we had some very "difficult" meetings.  We did succeed in convincing fund managers to take appropriate action to try and ensure that this type of thing does not happen again.  This was particularly important in my pension fund as a lot of scheme members are of Bangladeshi origin.

The TUC, AMNT and UNISON stewardship networks have been very useful for achieving these sorts of aims and I  has seen how actions these schemes have taken have filtered through to the wider industry.

Q. Any final comments?
Schemes need to recognise that it’s just not good for them to shut out the members.  They should welcome MNTs as these people help schemes to realise their own weaknesses.  The industry should know this.  There is no ‘invisible hand’ regulating the market. We try and keep schemes honest and successful. Nothing more and nothing less.

(I suspect that many will not know who is the person in the picture - it is mega pension thief Robert Maxwell)

Monday, October 13, 2014

NHS Strike - 5 Days for fair pay

This morning UNISON and other union health workers will be out on strike in England.

For the first time in their history midwifes will also be on strike. The last such dispute on pay was over 30 years ago. Urgent and emergency care will still be provided.

The government is refusing to implement the independent pay review body award of 1% while at the same time increasing the pay of MP's by 11%. It will not talk to the trade unions.

Pay for the last 5 years has been below inflation so this means in real terms a massive pay cut for NHS staff.  The lowest paid such as Band 1 hospital porters have lost £1,387 and this year another £347.

Over the weekend we heard that 20% of NHS staff have to work a second job in order to survive and 13% depend on payday loans.

By coincidence on BBC news today they reported that the directors of the top FT100 companies now earn 120 times average earnings.  This is £2.3 million each per year. In 2000 they use to receive only 47 times the average. I note that they used the figure of average earnings as £27,000 per year. 25% of NHS staff earn less than £21,000.

It is growing pay inequality in this country that is driving not only poverty and food banks but disillusionment, distrust and fear in modern British politics.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

UNISON Labour Link: Public Services - time to pay fair! #Lab14

I am still catching up on Labour Party Conference posts. This is on the UNISON Labour Link political fund fringe on the Monday evening.

The Chair of UNISON Labour Link Committee Eleanor Smith chaired this meeting.

Jon Trickett MP the Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office spoke first about the Tories declaring war on public services. They have cut staff, outsourced and slashed pay.

Their war is about "public bad" and "private good". We know what happens if a public service goes private. The pay of Chief Executives compared to their workers goes up from a ratio of 1:22 to 1:276.

The privatised companies make excess profits but they also don't pay tax, they don't deliver on contracts such as Olympics and the risk always come back to the public sector.

Labour Pledges to get rid of this "public bad" assumption. Also bad companies cannot expect to be on any future government procurement list. We need to reverse the dogma of market triumphalism like we did in 1945. 

UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis, spoke about the many good things that came out of the  recent Labour Party policy weekend in Milton Keynes, such as no longer will the cheapest bid automatically win public contracts. The downside is the current international trade talks which are not about fair trade but about getting rid of collective bargaining and stopping public services which have been privatised ever being brought back in house.

The value of pay for public sector workers has gone down by 1/5th in 5 years. We have lost 800k jobs. We have 1.4 million on zero hours contracts. We need to fight for a living wage now and not one in 5 years time.

Paul Hunter from the Smith Institute spoke about their new report on outsourcing.  6% of the UK economy GDP is awarded to the private sector with little or no evidence and information that it is more efficient or saves money.

Public contracts are being run by driving down labour costs, not for value for money nor efficiency. It is a return to Compulsory Competitive Tendering. Pay, benefits and pensions are being driven down.

I asked a question to Paul about whether his report has looked at the huge administrative cost of outsourcing. Huge amounts of time and money is spent on drawing up contracts and specifications. Even more money is wasted on bids and due diligence . Legal costs alone are massive. Public bodies have to then evaluate the bids, meet any challenges and the cost of monitoring ongoing compliance. Paul said this was not within the scope of this report but it is obviously a key issue.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

West Ham helps out at Fairlop

This afternoon members of West Ham Labour Party joined Ilford North activists and PPC Wes Streeting to door knock in Fairlop Ward.

West Ham has been "twinned" by the London Labour Party with Ilford North for the General Election Campaign.

While we will continue to work hard for the Labour vote in West Ham it makes sense for us to help local marginals.

The General election will be won and lost in the marginals. If Labour loses and the Tories are returned then everyone in West Ham will suffer. So we need to help out where we can. By coincidence I am the Agent in West Ham and Chair of London UNISON Labour Link. UNISON Labour Link has also been asked to support Ilford North.

After this photo we split into 2 canvass teams. West Hammers went with veteran Redbridge Labour activist, Councillor Roy Emmett. The canvass went pretty well for Labour. I was pleased again to find former Tory voters who were now considering supporting Labour in May. 

I had a frank but courteous conversation with a UKIP supporter who said she was voting for them because "its always in the papers about these immigrants who come over and claim benefits and abuse our health service...". I pointed out that although there was abuses which needed to be dealt with, the vast majority of immigrants come to this country to work and in fact the NHS would collapse without immigrants working for it. I also asked if she was aware that UKIP wanted to privatise the NHS if they won power? She didn't answer - but I think the penny dropped.

I use to know Barkingside very well but have not been there for years. At the end of the canvass we all stopped off at an old favourite of mine - "The Fairlop Oak" and over a swift pint or soft drink, tried to put the world to rights.

Nest session - meet outside Fairlop Station 2pm Saturday 25 October.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Busting pension fund myths - Stop the scare-mongering & pay up!

This opinion piece was published today in "Inside Housing".

"There is a lot of old nonsense being put out about defined benefit pension schemes and the Social Housing Pension (SHP) fund in particular.

Let us kill some pension myths.

Yes, many pension schemes have a deficit, but these ‘deficits’ are calculated in the main by using the return of government bonds called ‘gilts’. Due to recession these gilts are at a near 200-year low. Therefore, these so-called ‘deficits’ are pretty meaningless.

You do not get rid of any deficit by closing your pension scheme or raising contributions so high that members cannot afford to remain.

In fact, you could make it worse.

A closed pension scheme will not have new money coming in and will soon find that it will not be able to invest in long-term equity investments that produce superior returns. So employers could end up paying even more to close this gap.

It is the cost of future membership that is key. Ignore the scare stories. The cost of a modern defined benefit pension is affordable and sustainable. Why is it that they are opening brand new defined benefit pensions in South Korea, which has among the highest life expectancy in the world?

Unless an employer wants its workers to retire and die in poverty then they have to pay up. There is no alternative. At my first ever Trades Union Congress  pension course we were told there is a old-fashioned but valid rule of thumb that, if you want to retire at half pay and with a lump sum, you need to save 20% of your income into a pension fund for 40 years.

Whenever I tell people this they are shocked. But this is the reality. Pensions are expensive. Employers need to be putting in at least 14% of the wage bill into pensions.

Poverty in all its ugly forms is obscene, but in front-line housing management I find poverty in older people to be perhaps the most depressing, since there is little they can do about it at that stage.

At a time that many housing associations are making massive record surpluses, giving above inflation pay rises to executives and after years of pay cuts (most staff are at least 20% worse off in real terms because they received no or below inflation pay rises) they meddle with their staff pension schemes at their peril.

Unison has arranged for early talks with the SHPS and is more than willing to meet up with any employer to discuss their concerns. But enough is enough.

John Gray is housing association branch secretary at Unison 

(I'm actually the Secretary of the Greater London Housing Association Branch of UNISON but never mind)

Thursday, October 09, 2014

West Ham CLP October Update - Winning the General Election

Happy October! This email gives you information about our next all members meeting with shadow housing Minister Emma Reynolds, details about the TUC march and what we're doing in West Ham to make sure the next government is a Labour government.

Winning the General Election 

The 2015 general election will be won or lost in some of the key marginal seats around the country. We're paired with our near neighbours - Ilford North to get Wes Streeting elected as their Labour MP. Up until the new year we'll campaign in Ilford North on the second and fourth Saturday of the month - beginning this Saturday 11 October.

We'll meet at Fairlop station (on the Central line) at 2pm or 1.30pm at Forest Gate Youth Centre, Woodgrange Road, E7 0DH. Contact is John Gray.

Ilford North - future dates

11 October 2pm Fairlop stn (or 1.30pm Forest Gate Youth Centre)
25 October 2pm Fairlop stn (or 1.30pm Forest Gate Youth Centre if cars/drivers available)
8 November 2pm Fairlop stn (or 1.30pm Forest Gate Youth Centre if cars/drivers available)
22 November 2pm Fairlop stn (or 1.30pm Forest Gate Youth Centre if cars/drivers available)
6 December 2pm Fairlop stn (or 1.30pm Forest Gate Youth Centre if cars/drivers available)

We're also be hosting a phone bank on Wednesday evenings at 306 High St, Stratford. And we'll also help out our old friends in Thurrock constituency and we'll be spending a few Thursday evenings in Bermondsey and Old Southwark.

If you want to get rid of the Tory/Lib Dem government please come and join us - let Julianne know if you'd like to know more.

All members meeting (GC) 23 October 

Our guest speaker is Labour's shadow Minister for housing - Emma Reynolds MP. We hope you'll join us for what's likely to be a lively session. We meet 7.30pm at 306 High Street Stratford, E15 1AJ.

TUC march 18 October 

West Ham CLP will be joining the TUC march and rally. We'll be meeting outside Stratford station 10.30am on Saturday 18 October. Contact is John Whitworth. We hope we'll see you at GC or in Ilford North or at the TUC march.

Best wishes Julianne Marriott and Gordon Miller (West Ham CLP Vice Chairs)

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Big, Bad & Dangerous...? Do we need Housing Associations? #Lab14

This Labour Party conference housing fringe took place on the Monday afternoon outside the secure area. There was an error in the programme about timings which meant I think some people missing it. 

The Chair was from the New
Statesman, Jon Bernstein (centre of photo)

First speaker was shadow planning minister, Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods MP. Roberta said we need to build 200,000 homes per year and asked how will housing associations be part of this mix? Affordability will be key and the Michael Lyons report for the Party will be out soon. We should also be about "Place making". What jobs and services are needed? not just about new housing units. Many councils will not want to take role of housing developers so there is a strong role for associations.

Next was Rod Cahill, the Chief Executive of Catalyst Housing (on right) who started in housing as a trainee in the London Borough of Camden in 1975. In that year Housing Associations only built 22,000 properties while local authorities built 145,000. Unlike now. There has been a 100,000 per year shortfall in new build for the last 30 years which means we are need 3 million extra new homes which causes shortage and affordability problems.

It will take a long time to increase production. Catalyst will build 1200 new homes this year. Rod believes that Housing Associations are a key part of the solution. There is a need to generate surpluses to cross subsidy the cost of new build. There has been a 70% cut in capital support by this government. Without surplus they would not be able to build at social rents. Catalyst made £40 million last year which they will reinvest in bricks and mortar.

There needs also to be a change in planning. There is an anti development culture. We need clarity about affordable rents. We need land and to re-professionalise Housing. We need government support for when the market drops and we are unable to cross subsidise. Public money can be found for absolute national priorities. We need to go back to 40 years when we built 300,000 homes per year.

Cllr Julian Bell, the leader of Ealing Council (standing) spoke about a "perfect storm" in housing. With the problem of "beds in sheds" and affordability.  You need to earn £70,000 per year to buy a house in Ealing where the average price is near £300,000. In his borough they had set up a Housing commission to examine what can be done and increase supply. Raising the HRA headroom would help.

Last speaker was London Assembly Housing spokesperson Tom Copley. Tom was interested in Councils providing housing because of the scale of the problem and that the private sector wouldn't fill the gap. No incentive for the private sector to build since in their interests to restrict supply. There is still an arbitrary cap on housing investment in the UK but not over other forms of prudential borrowing. We only the only country to define housing investment as government debt. Tom believes everyone needs to step up including the private sector.

My question to the panel as a Labour Councillor and UNISON Housing Association branch secretary was that that any solution to the Housing crisis will have to result in even more government spending and subsidy. I said I am not digging Rod out in particular since this is a sector issue. The problem with housing associations is that they have a democratic governance deficit. They need to raise their game to account for public money. The average CEOs has increased their salary by above inflation while their staff are given less; some of them despite being charities refuse to even recognise trade unions while many have little or no involvement of residents in the running of their organisations. If Housing Associations want to be on board then there has to be change.

Rod said they do recognise trade unions and what does my question have to do with housing supply? Housing associations are private organisations and do not rely on public money. Only £1 in every £6 invested is public money. I said that this is about governance and housing associations do rely on housing benefit and past public investment. Unless we have proper accountability and structures they should not get public money.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Monday, October 06, 2014

Future of the Local Government Pension Scheme - LAPFF at #Lab14

Still catching up on my posts from Labour Party conference. On the Monday lunchtime I attended the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) fringe.

The Chair of LAPFF, Cllr Kieran Quinn (standing in photo) spoke first on the future of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) and that the government had lost its nerve about forcing the merger of the schemes. He doesn't know if it will be on the agenda of any new government post May next year.

Kieran believes that fees are too high and by acting collectively you can drive out costs but decisions should be made locally. The government also seems to be backing off forcing schemes to invest in passive rather than actively managed investment funds.

Next speaker was Henry Boucher (on left), who is a fund manager and partner of Sarasin & Partners.
Henry is an active fund manager. He posed the question "Is active management really worth it?" and answered it by saying not all active managers are worth it and some are indeed over paid. But in the LGPS there are better results for lower fees than many other investments in the world. Research has shown that 40% of all fees are taken by only 10% of asserts,  mostly hedge funds.

He thinks the chief problem is that shareholders fail to hold companies to account. The USA even use to have what was called "bearer share certificates" with no names on them. Companies ran themselves. Chief Executives are being allowed to pay themselves too much. It cannot be right that they get an average $30 million per year.

He wants companies to be run properly and not use slave labour or destroy the environment. We need state of the art governance. The LGPS is good on this but needs some changes. However, it doesn't make sense to have all investments in passive funds.

My question about changes in LGPS governance with the requirement to involve employees more and how the panel thought this would happen?

Kieran thought that a greater scrutiny role by employees is for the good. The more diversity in boards the stronger the decision making process. He understands that some of the trade unions think there is a democratic deficit in the LGPS.

(Chair was Alan MacDougall from PIRC)

Sunday, October 05, 2014

It's a rich man's world - find out how you compare

"Using data from the World Income's Database we have built an online widget which shows where your income stands relative to the 0.1% in the UK. Want to know how far off you are from the richest man in the world, Carlos Slim? Check it here now".

I am on a decent wage and this was my result:-

"This year you'll pay about £7,054 in tax – a whopping 0.00076% of the amount F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has avoided paying over the last 9 years! He stores money in offshore banks, making it tax-free. Otherwise he'd have contributed about £1.2 billion.

When people and companies dodge tax it means less money for governments to spend on hospitals, schools and clean water – ultimately it's poor people that pay the price"

Hat tip The Spirit Level documentary