Friday, October 30, 2015

TUC mass lobby of Parliament – protect the right to strike #KillTheBill #TUBill

Monday 2 November
"As you know the Trade Union Bill is the biggest assault on working people’s rights in living memory.  We need as many branches and members as possible in Westminster on Monday to lobby MPs and ensure they are aware of the key issues, the impact it will have on our ability to support and defend workers and the strength of feeling around this issue.    

If you haven’t already made contact with your local MP it’s not too late:-

·         Try to arrange a meeting with your MP before the day. We have set up an email template you can use, just by putting in your postcode and a few details, here:

·         You can also write to them by post if you would prefer, at the House of Commons. Put your post code in the box on this website: to find our their name if you don’t know it, then send it to House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA.


The lobby on Monday will take place at Central Hall, Westminster -

12.30: Arrive (please do arrive by 12.30)
Arrive for the rally at Central Hall Westminster, Storey’s Gate, Westminster, London, SW1H 9NH. (The building is open from 11.30 am if you want to arrive earlier.)

Please first go to the Great Hall (inside the Central Hall building) to register. There will be a UNISON table

1 – 3.30pm: Rally
Hear from some exciting speakers from 1pm – 3.30pm.

2pm: Lobbying starts
The lobbying in Parliament will start from 2pm and throughout the afternoon groups will go over to the House of Commons to meet with their MPs to explain why they should vote against the bill. Please the queue outside the main entrance to the House of Commons from 2.00pm. You will need to enter through a ramped entrance (the Cromwell statue entrance) to the left of the St Stephen’s entrance to the Commons.

Finally if do meet with your MP please let me have any feedback and photos from the day .

The UNISON activists briefing ‘Everything you need to know about the TUC mass lobby on 2 November’ is attached for your info.

Hat tip KW

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Karren Brady: hands off West Ham fans' tax credits

To: Baroness Karren Brady

"Stop voting to cut the tax credits that hard working West Ham fans rely on to get by.

Why is this important?

I'm a former season ticket holder and lifelong West Ham fan. I was disgusted to see that West Ham's Vice Chairman, Baroness Brady, voted with the government to take away tax credits from working families, even through around 40% of working families rely on the credits.

Nearly half of all children in Newham are growing up in poverty according to the Campaign to End Child Poverty, so why is Baroness Brady taking it out on our community, instead of supporting the people of West Ham?"

 Graham Copp

If you agree sign 38 Degrees petition 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

By Election - Boleyn Ward, Newham Council

A Council By election has been called for Thursday 3 December 2015 in Boleyn Ward, Newham following the very
sad and unexpected death of my colleague, Councillor Charity Fiberesima.

It is a "Women only" short list (the other 2 Councillors for the ward are both men). To be eligible you have to be a Labour Party Member for at least 12 months.  I think there is a residential requirement as well but not sure how long.

I am pleased to note that is being pointed out that any candidate should be a member of a trade union if eligible (Charity was an UNISON member and a strong supporter of trade unions). 

You have to return your nomination paper by 5pm Thursday 29 October ! (All Party members in Newham should have received this information today and details on how to request nomination forms).  We need lots of good candidates to put themselves forward to make sure Labour Party members in the ward have the
widest possible choice.

I hope that all ward secretaries in Eastand West Ham will forward this information urgently in case any of their members did not receive individual notification. 

Lively Public Sector Pension Fringe #Lab15

This report is late but the affordability of public sector pensions schemes keeps coming up. Picture is of me taking part in my latest verbal duel with Michael Johnson (pink shirt on-the-right) on public sector pensions at the CIPFA fringe during the Labour Party conference.

The fringe was chaired by Kevin Schofield from Political Home. The first speaker (not in picture) was the new Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions, Nick Thomas-Symonds MP.  Nick argued the  need to build a new consensus on public sector pension provision and that fairness was top of his agenda. He then had to leave.

Michael is a former Investment Banker, Policy adviser to David Cameron and now Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies. He is, let me say, a somewhat controversial and even provocative figure in the pensions world (and financial matters generally). 

He spoke about public sector pensions being responsible for fostering an "inter-generational injustice" and that they do not exist in the private sector and will not exist in the public sector either in the future. Interestingly he doesn't think you should look at claims of £1.3 trillion in liabilities for public sector pensions schemes. Since no one can agree on how to calculate liabilities. Instead he thinks you should look at the cash flow projections, and it is clear in his view, that they are getting worse and soon they will simply run out of money if nothing is done.

CIPFA speaker, Paul Woolston argued that we need to make some big choices and it is crazy that health is ring fenced but local government budgets are cut.

In the Q&A I challenged Michael about public pensions being unaffordable in particular the Local Government Pension scheme (LGPS) which is a funded scheme. While we are indeed being ripped off by the financial services industry, modern day defined benefit schemes are as sustainable and affordable nowadays as they have ever been. Millions of workers in the private sector still have DB schemes especially directors. Why are brand new DB schemes being opened in South Korea which has amongst the longest life expectancy in the world? The reason why DB provision in the UK private sector has declined is down to the unrealistic and outdated way liabilities are measured and not to do with deficits.

Michael did not accept this argument and claimed that new schemes in Korea cost 28% of wages. He did accept that the retirement age being linked to the State Pension did make public schemes more affordable.

The GMB National Secretary, Brian Strutton, veteran Councillor Dan Filson and feisty UNISON retired member, Moira Owen, all joined in the fun. Brian told Michael that the cash flow of the LGPS was improving not getting worse. Dan was unimpressed with the time given by the panel for the Q&A and Moira pointed out that she had worked long and hard for her pension and that the average LGPS pension was only about £3000 per year.

Michael, of course, was in his element, basking in all the controversy and arguments. 

Hat tip picture Moria.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Children tax credit reprieve - Gawd bless yer Britney Spears!

Well done to the House of Lord tonight for blocking attempts by multi-millionaire "Old Etonian" and future Baronet, Gideon "Mockney" Osborne, to take children tax credits from millions of low paid working (strivers) British families.

I saw him being interviewed on telly afterwards and he was not, to say the least, "happy". Unlike those facing absolute poverty because of his plans and who will sleep better tonight because they appear to have at least a reprieve before they and their children go hungry. 

Torbay Council to have referendum on Executive Mayoral system

This is interesting to anyone concerned with local authority governance. According to this report just under 1,000 people in Torbay took part in a consultation process, where they rejected the mayoral system in support of a new committee system involving all Councillors in decision making.

Following a very close vote at the Council, there will be a referendum next year in Torbay on whether to continue with an Executive Mayor model or to do away with it. The main arguments made against the Torbay model is that it is expensive and undemocratic.

To have a referendum I think you either need a resolution passed by elected members at a Full Council meeting or in response to a petition signed by at  least 5% of local residents.

According to Wikipedia  "As of May 2014, there have been 51 referendums on the question of changing executive arrangements to a model with an elected mayor. Referendums are triggered by council resolution, local petition or central government intervention. Of these, 16 have resulted in the establishment of a new mayoralty and 35 have been rejected by voters. Average "yes" vote is 45%. Typical turnout is around 30%, but has been as low as 10% and as high as 64%. The turnout is higher when the referendum coincides with another vote, such as an election.
There have been four referendums on the question of removing the post of elected mayor. Two mayoral posts have been disestablished following a vote and two retained".

Directly elected Mayors can be imposed without a referendum and are very much in the news lately with Government plans for more regional and strategic Mayors.

Hat tip my former UNISON NEC colleague Lesley Discombe. The picture caption is of a famous Torbay resident who I am sure would have fancied himself as Mayor.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Letter to the "Workers Party" on the theft of Workers Tax Credits

Picture is from this mornings programme on the BBC "Andrew Marr" Show where I saw a confident Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, pretty much destroy Tory Education Minister, Nicky Morgan, rather desperate attempts to justify the Government's proposals to rob £1000's from hardworking British "Strivers".

He knew that Nicky was genuinely embarrassed at the prospect of hundreds of thousands of low paid school staff - teaching assistants, admin, cooks and cleaners having a huge cut in their income at a time that the Tories are giving massive tax breaks to millionaires.

This is the letter that John has sent to Gideon:- 

"Dear George,
It has only been three months since the Summer Budget when you chose to break the promise that David Cameron made to the British people during the election – that the Tories would not touch tax credits.
We now know that you plan to cut £1,300 from over 3 million families who are in work and doing all they can to pay the bills and get to the end of each month.
Last week you said that you were “comfortable” with this decision, and David Cameron said he was “delighted”, but the British people will not be happy that you are breaking the promise David Cameron gave to them during the election campaign and that working families are having their tax credits cut to pay for tax giveaways to a few wealthy individuals.
Now, you, me and everyone else in Westminster knows that you will have to u-turn on this issue. However, you need to do it in full. It can’t be a fudge. Not some partial reversal that scores cheap headlines, yet leaves people still worse off or lands another burden on middle and low earners or the poorest in our society. You need to drop this policy completely.
I know first-hand that for politicians the fallout from changing policy can be tough. But sometimes you have to be big enough to admit you got it wrong and do the right thing.
So I am appealing to you to put the interests of these 3 million families ahead of any concerns you may have about losing face and ahead of petty party politics. If you do, I promise you personally and publicly that if you u-turn and reverse this decision fairly and in full, I will not attack you for it.
To restore faith in our political system it’s time that politicians stopped making promises at elections that they won’t keep when in power – this is the lesson the Lib Dems learnt the hard way on tuition fees.
For the sake of those 3 million families, and the British people’s trust in politics, please see sense and fully u-turn on your cuts to tax credits.
I look forward to hearing from you.  
Yours sincerely,
 hat tip Kitty Jones

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The West Ham 3 Johns at work - Punk John, Chic John and ? John

Busy Saturday. First, was Councillor Surgery at Brasset Point Tenants & Residents Room (had a tricky planning "Stop Notice" issue); then memorial tribute to PC Nina MacKay followed by ward "walkabout" in Dirleton Road E15 with concerned residents (and they have every right to be concerned about issues we came across).

In the afternoon I went to help out at West Ham Labour Party HQ in High Street, Stratford. Following a roof repair and leaking water tank problem we have an enormous amount of wood, chipboard, trunking, broken furniture and other debris to clear up and prepare for removal tomorrow.

My comrades John Whitworth and John Saunders (left and right) were recently described by "The Guardian" fashion page as "Punk Corbynistas" and "Chic Corbynistas". I wonder what they would have made of me and my Philosophy Football "The cuts won't work" tee shirt? It was hard work but fun smashing up planks of wood so they will fit into the van.

In the right of picture you can see the 100 boxes of "Sadiq Khan for Mayor of London leaflets" for West Ham CLP. We picked up the leaflets for West Ham and Custom House wards. If you can help deliver these leaflets in your local ward then contact your branch secretary.

Hat tip photo Rokhsana.

PC Nina Mackay 24 October 2015

This morning I was present at a memorial tribute to murdered PC Nina Mackay. The 25 year old was stabbed while trying to arrest a wanted man at a flat in Arthingworth Street, West Ham ward on October 24, 1997.

Local Police Officers and members from the Territorial Support Group were present. A wreath was also laid by the Newham Mayor, Sir Robin Wales and  Council Chief officer, Nick  Bracken (a former Police officer).

I am not sure whether it is the Council or the Police who organise this event but I will suggest that next year we should invite local West Ham residents and organisations to it.  I think it is important and I am sure my constituents will agree, that we show our respect to those who have died protecting us. I will bring it up with the Council and at our next ward and Stratford forum meeting.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Remember to put your clocks back this weekend?

Don't forget to turn your clocks back this weekend! In accordance to Government edict at 02:00 on Sunday you should turn all your clocks back to 25 October 1865 to reflect the society they want to create. 

Please note that in accordance with this edict the following traditional Tory measures will be introduced (if they can get away with it) :-
  • All NHS hospitals will be immediately closed and replaced with fee paying and whatever charities may provide 
  • All state schools to be shut.  Your children will have to work in farms, mines and factories to pay their way. There may be some free elementary church or "ragged schools"
  • Most of your children will anyway die of disease or hunger before they become adults. A million people died in Ireland from famine between 1845 and 1852
  • If you are unemployed, sick or old (there will be no old age pension) then the only assistance you will get is in the workhouse concentration camps, where if you are in anyway able-bodied you will have to break rocks or go on the treadmill to get any food
  • You and your family would otherwise live in a room in a private rented slum with no security, no direct sanitary arrangements or fresh water supply
  • At work you will have little or no employment rights, health and safety or protection.  Trade unions are to be criminalised. You would work 12 hour days, 6 days a week, with little or no holiday
  • Life expectancy for a UK male born in 1865 was 38.4 years. 
This direction of travel is what the current extremist, hard right, Conservative Government wants.

If you don't want our country to descend to this then join a trade union and join the Labour Party.

Hat tip photo @neilroytaylor1

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Vote Dave Prentis for UNISON General Secretary


A whopping 230 branches have agreed to nominate Dave!

What a fantastic show of support - thank you to each and every one for making this happen.
Eighteen branches have had their nomination forms rejected but they still have until Friday (tomorrow 23 October) to appeal. If your branch is one of those affected (you will have been written to) please make sure you lodge an appeal". Ballot papers out next month.
Nominations and endorsements for Dave from :-

National Bodies
Health SG Executive
Police & Justice SG Executive
Energy SG Executive
Higher Education SG Executive
W.E.T. SG Executive
Black Members Committee (endorsement)
Women’s Committee (endorsement)
Disabled Members Committee (endorsement)
Young Members (endorsement)
Retired Members (endorsement)

Regional Councils
East Midlands Regional Council
North West Regional Council
Greater London Regional Council
Eastern Regional Council
Northern Regional Council
Wales Regional Council
Y & H Regional Council
Northern Ireland Regional Committee

Barking Havering & Brentwood Health
Barking Havering & Redbridge Hospitals NHS Trust
Barnet & Chase Farm Hospitals
Brent UNISON Local Government Branch (M)
Causeway Branch
Cumbria and North Lancashire Health
Dorset Police and Justice Branch
Dudley and Walsall Health Partnership
Ealing Hospital & Ealing Primary Care Trust
East & North Hertfordshire NHS
East Sussex Area   (L)
Hartlepool Unison Branch
Highland Healthcare
Kingston Hospital (M)
Moorfields Eye Hospital (M)
N & W Belf.Comm & Mucka. Abbey
North Derbyshire Healthcare
North Devon Health
Rotherham Metropolitan Borough
Queen Elizabeth Hospital Trust & Greenwich PCT
Royal Brompton NHS Trust
Royal Hospital Trust
Royal Marsden Hospital (M)
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals
South London and Maudsley
South and East Belfast Health
Staffordshire UNISON Branch
Tamworth UNISON Branch
Transport East Midlands
University of West London
Barnsley Branch Unison
London Electricity (M)
Luton BC
Orchard Health and Social Care
University Of Leicester
Barnet Healthcare
Environment Agency Thames (M)
Four Seasons Huntercombe West Midlands
Greater London Gas
Central & North West London Mental Health Trust
Salford Health
Valuation Tribunals (M)
Cleveland Police
North London Mental Health and Community
Bedfordshire Police Unison
Croydon University Hospital
Greenwich (Local Government & Grant Aid) Branch
Gtr Belfast Comm. & Voluntary
Hampstead Health Branch (M)
Hillingdon Health
Merseyside Police Unison Branch
Muckamore Abbey Hospital
Newry & Mourne Health
North London Blood Transfusion (M)
North West London Hospitals
Northern Ireland Ambulance
Northern Regional Health Commissioning Branch
Rotherham Health Unison
Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital UNISON (M)
South West London Community Healthcare
Stirling University
Wandsworth Health (M)
Wiltshire Police and Justice
Yorks & Humberside Gas Branch
Glasgow Caledonian University
Isle of Man National Branch
North Cheshire Health
South and East Belfast Health
South Tyneside Health
South Tyneside Local Government
Worcestershire Acute Health
Yorkshire Electricity
Central Lancashire University
Down Education
Guy’s & St Thomas’ (M)
Humberside Police Support
North Tees & Hartlepool Health
North Yorkshire Br. of Unison
Northern Energy
Omagh/Fermanagh Hlth & S.S.
Sefton Health
Sheffield Comm Hlth Unison
Birmingham Women’s Hospital
Dorset Police and Justice Branch
Durham Police
EDF Energy (Doxford)
Mater Hospital Trust
NHSBSA Newcastle
North London Mental Health and Community
Norwich City Unison
Somerset Health
South East Energy
Teesside University
West Midlands Police Staff Branch
Wolverhampton Acute Branch
Wyre Unison
Basildon / Thurrock Hlth Unison
Cheshire and Wirral Community Health
Warwickshire C.C Branch UNISON
West Yorkshire Police
Wiltshire Police and Justice
Caerphilly County Branch
Managers in Partnership
Muckamore Abbey Hospital
Northern Ireland Ambulance
Southern Education
Torbay L G
Wolverhampton Acute Branch
Chorley Borough
Concorde Health UNISON
Environment Agency (Southern)
Heart of England (NHS Foundation Trust)
Highland Healthcare
Housing Associations Branch (M)
Hull University
Imperial College Healthcare
Newry & Mourne Health
North Middlesex Hospital (M)
Redcar & Cleveland
South Lakeland UNISON
Wigan and Leigh Health
Northumberland Tyne and Wear Health
Birmingham Women’s Hospital
Bromley NHS Trust
Cheshire and Wirral Community Health
Concorde Health UNISON
Cumbria Police Branch UNISON
Cumbria and North Lancashire Health
East Midlands Gas (Southern)
Hammersmith and Fulham
Leicestershire Police
Lewisham Healthcare NHS Trust
North Lincolnshire
North West Cumbria
Rhondda Cynon Taff
UNSAIN Ambiwlans Cymru – UNISON Welsh Ambulance
Birmingham Healthcare
Cumbria County Branch
Goldsmiths College Branch (M)
North East Ambulance
North Wales Police and Justice
Northumberland Tyne and Wear Health
Cwm Taf Health
Gloucestershire Police and Justice
Lanarkshire Health
RWE NPower
University Hospital UNISON
Gateshead Health
Liverpool Community & Hospitals Health
Royal Surrey and Frimley Hospitals
Southern Education
Down & Lisburn Comm.Health
East Midlands Gas (North & Central)
Flintshire County Branch
Great Ormond Street Hospital Trust (M)
Lancashire Police
Royal Devon & Exeter Health
Royal Hospital Trust
St Helens & Knowsley Health
West Cheshire
Broadland UNISON
Central Manchester Health Care
Lanarkshire Health
Staffordshire Community Health
Wearside Health
Barnsley Health
Harrogate Health Care
North West Gas
Northampton Hospitals
Northumbria Healthcare
Queen Elizabeth Hospital Kings Lynn
Warwickshire Police and Justice Staff
Grimsby and Goole Health Branch
Leeds and York Community Health
London Ambulance service
Northumbria Police
St Helens and Knowsley Health
University of Sunderland
Blackburn and Darwen
Camden and Islington Community Health Trust
Dudley Group of Hospital
Hampshire Health
Scunthorpe Health Service
Belfast Education Branch
Monmouthshire County Branch
Neath and Port Talbot County Branch
Newport City Council Branch
North Tyneside Met.
Greater Manchester Police
Salford University
Thames Water
Aneurin Bevan Health
Ayrshire and Arran Health
Bradford Met District Unison
Derry Education
Flintshire County Branch
Mater Hospital Branch
University of Cumbria
Belfast City Hospital Trust
City of Sunderland
Health Agencies
Newcastle Hospitals Unison Branch
North Devon  (LG)
Cymru/Wales and the South Gas
Yorks & Humberside Gas Branch
West Yorkshire Transport
University College London Hospital
North Wales Health
Amber Valley (LG)
Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability
SSE Scotland
Cwm Taf Health
NHS Glasgow Clyde and CVS Branch
Wakefield (LG)

Hat tip Graphic 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

UNISON signs Recognition agreement with Outward

A good news story.  Joint UNISON convenors, Adam Zadaane and Wendy Lavington are seen in photo with Outward CEO Peter Little (centre) about to sign a trade union recognition agreement with my UNISON branch.

In my personal view any employer that refuses to recognise trade unions and therefore does not respect basic United Nations Charter human rights is unfit for running any publicly funded social care or housing service (or anything else in the private sector for that matter). 

Well done to Outward for wanting to work in partnership with their staff and their union representatives. 

Also, great work by Outward UNISON reps and our branch staff.

UNISON Press release "The trade union UNISON has signed a recognition agreement with care services provider Outward, who provide care and support services to vulnerable people across ten London boroughs.

UNISON members working for Outward will now be able to negotiate and bargain with their employer over their pay, terms and conditions, and all other important aspects of their working lives.

Housing Associations Branch Manager/Organiser Josephine Grahl said: “We’re delighted that UNISON members at Outward will now benefit from formal recognition in their workplace.”

“Care and Support workers do an extremely important job and, thanks to the government’s austerity agenda, come under constant pressure to work harder for less. They need a strong union who is prepared to defend their rights at work.”

Outward CEO Peter Little said: “We’ve always valued good communications with our staff and this agreement will strengthen our working relationship with UNISON. We look forward to working in partnership with them.”

UNISON convenor Wendy Lavington said: “The recognition agreement has come about because of the hard work and organisation of our members at Outward. Membership has doubled over two years and there is a real groundswell of enthusiasm.”

For more information contact Josephine Grahl, UNISON Housing Associations Branch Manager/Organiser, on 020 7697 4030/4031 or

Notes for editors

UNISON represents 1.3 million workers employed in the public sector, by private contractors and in the not-for-profit sector, including over 20,000 members in housing associations. The UNISON Housing Associations Branch represents over 3,000 workers in social and supported housing across Greater London.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sunday Night Live: Corbyn and the (new) Labour Landscape

This looks interesting. 5-6.30pm next Sunday 25 October 2015 at Stratford Picture House Bar, London, E15 (5 mins from Stratford Station). I wonder if the West Ham Corbynistas Fashion Gurus will be present?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

One-Party Councils, Accountability & Corruption

Below is an email that I have sent to Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) in response to a recent report she circulated to I believe all local Councillors in England. The report is called "The Cost of One-Party Councils: Lack of Electoral Accountability and public procurement corruption" by Cambridge academic, Dr Mihály Fazekas, who believes that one-party Councils cost some £2.5 billion per year in excess costs for defective contracts. The ERS believe that this report supports their call for proportional representation in Council elections and have asked for responses.

"Dear Katie

Thank you for sending me a copy of this hard hitting and provocative report. As a Labour Councillor in the London Borough of Newham which has no elected opposition and has been controlled by my Party for over 100 years, I was of course interested in its findings. I also sit on my authorities' scrutiny commissions and was myself, a former officer, employed by another Council for many years.

Firstly, I note that although you say in your covering email that there are many one-party councils "which are models of local government excellence and efficiency" the report by Dr Fazekas does not seem to support this. I am also puzzled that London Councils are omitted from this analysis since "due to the two-tier government structure and London’s special economic position within England". There are two-tier structures in non London authorities and such procurement issues are surely similar in London and the rest of England?

I also see that the London Borough of Newham is also mentioned in the main report (page 2) and used to illustrate "governance weaknesses and mismanagement of public funds such as the
London Borough of Newham‘s East Ham Campus project (PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2015
)". A number of London boroughs are also listed in Table 4 as being one-party dominated.

I am not a statistician so I freely admit to have struggled to fully understand and evaluate all the empirical "big data" evidence that support the report's conclusions on the link between one party control and corruption.  I feel though that it is somewhat stating the obvious that having such control and dominance leads to a real risk of inefficiency and corruption. However, I don't necessarily think that it is always inevitable as long as the necessary checks and balances are in place.

The justification about the"red flags" dangers for corruption risks - such as there being only a single bid, not publicising tenders in the official procurement journal, too short times between adverts and submission of bid,  rigged assessment procedures etc are persuasive and well made. All Councillors should be aware of this. I suspect that there is insufficent vigour in scrutiny in many one-Party Councils and money is wasted. However, I can see that a local authority may for various valid reasons include non competitive requirements in any contract such as wanting an in-house team or a Living wage for a contracted out workforce. This does not always mean that they are corrupt or wasteful.

In my time in local government I am aware that corruption has taken place but at the risk of appearing naive, I do not believe it to be epidemic and widespread. By and large we are well served by our local government officers, although there are rotten apples and some very poor practises. Having a full competitive tendering process can be a very complex, lengthy, bureaucratic and expensive. It may well be more effective and efficient not to always have such processes. This must always be fully justified.

While I am actually a long standing supporter of proportional representation in national and local elections I do not think it is a panacea for all ills. I read the main report while on a visit to Rome, Italy (see picture above). Which is a beautiful and historic place but it is not exactly a model of good governance and anti-corruption, despite having proportional representation for their elections for many years. "First past the post" is plainly wrong and fatally flawed but often in one-party councils, opposition parties are ineffective since they are disorganised and do not receive the support needed from their national organisations who concentrate resources in marginal election areas.

I also have my doubts about the single transfer vote system since I think Party "top up" lists are inherently dangerous and risky since they give too much power to the Party machine.

Finally, I think just as important as electoral reform, local government needs structural and legislative reform. Such as making the role of scrutiny committees much more robust and truly independent of the Executive; beefing up Standard Boards; time limits on Council leaders; stopping backbench Councillors being refused information by Chief officers for no substantiated reasons; being open and transparent and stop restricting information to the public or press unless absolutely necessary; making officers' hospitality register a public document; better guidance from national political organisations on the role of elected members as being champions of their constituents and holding the Executive to account. Last but not least, we should reintroduce powers to surcharge individual Councillors who act without due care or legal authority with public money.

Yours sincerely

John Gray

(this is of course in a personal capacity and not be seen as representing the views of anyone but myself)

Update: I think I have confused the STV system for electing local Councillors with that used to elect the devolved government. It is confusing. Hat tip Tim R-P. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Our Tory Housing Future

Please read (and then weep) this examination of the new Tory Housing and Planning Bill on the blog Red Brick. In housing, as with the cuts in child tax credits, I don't think that people "get" just how right wing and extremist this Government is behaving. 

Councils will be stopped from building social housing with money raised from the section 106 levy on new developments, while at the same time they will be forced to sell off each year part of their already diminished existing housing stock to pay for the right to buy bribe to Housing Associations. 

Starter homes will be unaffordable for most and will even drive up prices further.

Where on earth are low income families going to live in the future? Shanty towns on the outskirts of our cities and towns. These really will be "Barracks for the Poor".

If you are a Council or Housing Association tenant your income and savings will now be compulsory means tested at pain of criminal prosecution. If you and your partner (or if you have an adult child living with you that works) earn more than £15,000 per year (£20k in London) you will be forced to pay full market rates (your rent will probably double - driving even more people onto benefits). 

It is more than ironic that such a right wing Conservative government is furthering its social and economic agenda by effectively nationalising (and stealing) Council assets and implementing state rent control and forced sales over private assets (belonging to housing associations and charities).

The only "good" thing to come out of this is a lesson for a future Labour government that nationalisation and state control is obviously perfectly acceptable. I shall look forward to the Labour government learning this lesson and exercising its power in the interests of working people and not just the rich. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Trade Union Bill: Parliamentary Lobby - 2 November 2015

I have just sent my MP, Lyn Brown, a message via the UNISON website asking to meet and lobby her over the Conservative anti-trade bill at the TUC event being organised for Monday 2 November.

 If you have a Labour MP (who are opposed to the bill) you should still take part and lobby them.

All UNISON members should try and lobby their MPs regardless of their Party label.

This is a human rights and fairness argument as much as anything else.

Check out the UNISON email facility to contact your MP here 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Workers' Capital in the 21st Century: ShareAction Annual Lecture with Sharan Burrow

The keynote speaker at this years ShareAction annual lecture in the historic Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London was the General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, Sharan Burrow.  The ITUC is the global version of the British TUC.

Sharan give a well argued and passionate speech on "Workers Capital" (the pension investments and other savings of workers) and in favour of using it to support climate transition while respecting fossil fuel workers and their contribution to our prosperity.

She repeated her mantra that I first heard her say at the recent CWC meeting last month "there are no jobs in a dead planet".  While she welcomed the green "disinvestment warriors" present who would want pension funds to immediately pull out of investing in Carbon industries such as Coal and Oil, she did favour engagement with firms if they are willing to take part in transition. Some will earn our trust.
If companies refuse to change then we do have the powerful leverage of disinvestment by our pension funds. We are close to losing the Climate Change War and must act if our politicians fail to regulate.

Sharan praised the TUC for setting up "Trade Union Share Owners" where trade union staff pension funds collectively vote their share holding and she hoped other national unions would do the same. Also ShareAction for its success in furthering the Living Wage.  She thought that the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader was a great symbol of the possible. 
Her closing remarks was the battle cry "Zero Carbon, Zero Poverty".
Next Speaker was Gail Cartmail from Unite, who spoke about role that unions can play by representing the interests of their members investments, Colin Meech from UNISON who talked about the need to control costs of our pension funds like they do in Holland, while Jeannie Drake reflected that many workers do not have unions in their workplace and have contract not trust based pensions, so how do we leverage their capital?

There was then a Q&A during which Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett, asks whether there are civil Liberty groups present today and can we work together? I tried to ask a question but wasn't called on how trades unions generally will have to raise their game and give practical support and guidance to pension trustees if we want them to pursue a progressive agenda on climate change.                             

Catherine Howarth from ShareAction closed this successful event with a call for a legally binding "Charter of Rights" for investors and owners. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

West Ham TULO sets up Anti-Austerity Campaign Group

Last week trade union affiliates and activists to West Ham Labour Party were invited to a meeting organised by Kim Silver, who is its trade union liaison officer. ‎ At the meeting was also Peter Smith, who is secretary to the Newham joint trade union committee. 

West Ham trade union activists have been in discussions with the NJTUC for some time about forming ‎an anti-austerity campaign group. At the meeting we had a useful and constructive debate about how we can campaign against Austerity and put forward an alternative economic policy. 

It was agreed to plan and hold a launch event with if possible some keynote speakers. 

At the meeting we also discussed how to support the lobby of Parliament on 2 November against the Tory Anti-trade Union Bill. 

Kim is also looking into holding a welcome meeting for the new 461 individual trade union affiliate members in West Ham‎. Hopefully we can get Unison to support this meeting.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Osborne plays a deceiving game

Hat tip to Bob S for his link to Facebook site "Fight Propaganda" who have dissected George Osborne's speech at the Tory Party Conference last week. Check the references below.

"With scores of economists indicating through open letters that Osborne is making bad financial decisions, and indicators of poverty rising sharply, It is impossible to see these parts of his speech as anything other than misleading propaganda.

Market crash not Labour: Crash started in America:

More debt than every Labour Government:

Slowest economic recovery since 1720: 

Homelessness up 40%: 

Food bank use: 

Longest sustained decline in average wages since records began: 

Economist open letter: 

Transcript of speech:"

Monday, October 12, 2015

Real Debt fringe: Austerity, Private debt & the next Global Crash - TUC Congress 2015

I am slowly catching up on events that I haven't managed to post upon yet for various reasons.

This "Real Debt" fringe took place at the TUC Congress last month. It was sponsored by Unison.
Clare Williams, the Northern Region convener chaired and speakers were Damon Gibbons from Centre for Responsible Debt, Sarah-Jayne Clifton, from Jubilee Debt campaign and Ewa Karwowski, who is a lecturer in Economics at Kingston University.m

Sarah spoke first about how debt has increased by 30%  in the last 4 years. The level of debt did drop during the onset of the recession in 2008 but we still have a very high level of individual debt.  At a time of very low interest rates, we also see investors and institutions chasing dodgy debt in order to get a higher interest rate.

Tax dodging by multi national companies is just huge. They dodge 3 times more than developing countries get in aid. The UK alone loses £40 billion a year in corporate tax avoidance.

Does the UK have a debt problem? The UK private sector has but not the public sector. Only 4%  of government revenue goes on paying off our debt. Usually experts say it is a problem if you have to pay 18-20%.  The main risk from debt is when the debt is not held in your own currency.  25% of our debt is owed by the UK Government, 50% by UK investors and only 25%  by foreign owners. Private debt  in the UK from household and private companies is however a massive 4 times our GNP.

Ewa also  agreed that our UK problem was not public debt at 90% of GNP.  It is not that much higher than Germany at 80% and far less than Greece at 180% but we need to grow our way out of debt.  Also if we add up all our true U.K Government, corporate, household and most important our financial services debt then we are actually ahead of Greece in terms of GDP.  Which is not good.

The reason for this $57 trillion in global debt?  The richest 20% have seen their wealth rise by 64%  since 2005.  While most workers have seen wage stagnation. Workers have been forced (and encouraged) to rely on debt to survive.

Do not forget that the 1930s recession was a double dip and our next recession could strike anytime soon caused by austerity and the resulting inability of households to be able to pay off  their private loans.

Damon agreed that "Britain is in the red" and that it should be noted that the Government stopped publishing details of household debt 2013. We can guess the reason why...?

I know that the economic advisers to the Newham Pension fund are also very concerned with the level of household debt in the UK and fear that unless something is done it will end in tears.

My question to the panel about the chances of a one off international wealth tax being levied to pay off this debt (which will actually benefit the rich in the long run) was supported but it would have to be only for the really wealthy and their short term selfishness made this unlikely to come about. Instead the ending of austerity, growth, more effective regulation of financial services, a real increase in wages and fair taxation as well as a clampdown on avoidance was the way forward.

Rather like many of Jeremy Corbyn's ideas

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Why did Sports Direct call ambulances 82 times?

"Dear Friend

Sports Direct’s Shirebrook warehouse is the heart of the giant sportswear retailer, handling clothes and kit that will be sold all over the country. The pace of work there is relentless, and the harsh conditions have long been protested by Unite, who represent workers there. But now a new BBC investigation has confirmed just how damaging Shirebrook is to its workers’ health.

The BBC’s Inside Out team used freedom of information requests to find out that over the last two years, ambulances have been called out a frightening 82 times, with 36 occasions described as ‘life-threatening’. The emergency cases uncovered by the BBC included incidents of chest pains, breathing problems, convulsions and strokes.

View the BBC report here:

Shirebrook operates a ‘six strikes and you’re out’ policy, with even minor infractions of the strict work codes – like chatting to colleagues or taking an excessively long toilet break – punishable with a warning. It’s no wonder many feel scared to take time off sick, even when they really need to, and people are pushed to the limits of their health.

This can’t be allowed to go on.

Please help increase the pressure on Sports Direct to treat its staff decently by sharing Unite’s petition with friends and colleagues. Forward this email, or use social media to spread the word about this campaign:

Every time we tell someone about Shirebrook we shine another spotlight on what’s happening there, and help the Unite members who are fighting for respect and decent work.

Thanks for all your help,
Unite Campaigns Team"

Hat tip

Update: controversial owner of Sports Direct, Billionaire Mike Ashley has now been charged with  a criminal offence following collapse of one of his companies. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

TUC Rally and March #4Oct15 - A week on

The picture collage above is from the TUC Rally and March which took place last Sunday in Manchester. I went with UNISON Greater London Regional colleagues and helped carry our Banner.

It was estimated that 85000 trade unionists from all over the country took part in the march around the Conservative Party Conference in protest at government austerity policies and their attempts to shackle trade unions.

It was also from my viewpoint an entirely good humoured and peaceful March. There was apparently a tiny minority of idiots who spat at some journalists and threw eggs but they were not part of the main TUC March. Attempts by the Tories and even some Labour figures to link this behaviour with the trade unions and the new Labour leader is pretty disgraceful even by their standards.

By and large in my experience the idiots tend to be middle class posh kids and toy town revolutionaries who don't know the first thing about austerity nor trade unions.

The Tories of course have their own idiotic fringe making references to all protesters as "proles" "swampy" etc as well as allegations about "hating" Britain.

Their extremist agenda will mean that regrettably there will be more aggressive protests in the future.  The Tories use to talk about "Broken Britain", they are now delivering it. 

Friday, October 09, 2015

World Mental Health Day sees increase in reported mental health problems (such as anxiety and depression) at work

Tomorrow (Saturday 10 October) is "World Mental Health Day" which is supported by the respected United Nations agency the World Health Organisation.

"World Mental Health Day is observed on 10 October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilising efforts in support of mental health. 

The Day provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide". 

While mental health issues at work are not at all solely related to work related stress it is clear that many of us are being made ill at work due to long hours and workers being treated inhumanly. This will also impact on the many at work who have pre-existing mental health issues. Often employers and individual managers (not all by any means) have very little or even no understanding of this problem. 

I am obviously horrified at the finding of the CIPD survey below but not surprised.  There is increasing economic and social inequality, low pay, zero hour contracts and reduced employment rights. If you have a workforce that is not unionised or has weak density, there is no one to "push back" and challenge senior management on long hours and uncaring attitudes. So no wonder we have such high and increasing reporting of mental health issues at work.

The CIPD (professional body for HR) is publishing a survey ahead of World Mental Health Day that shows " Over two-fifths (41%) of organisations have seen an increase in reported mental health problems (such as anxiety and depression) over the last twelve months.... In 2009, only 24% of organisations reported seeing an increase in mental health problems during that year; 2015 is now the sixth consecutive year that levels have been over 40%, showing the problem isn’t going away. Reported increases are most likely in large and medium-sized organisations, with 69% and 51% respectively showing rises. They’re also associated with long working hours and the extent to which operational demands take precedence over employee wellbeing.

“So what more can employers do? Manager training is crucial, as they are often employees’ first point of call for reporting an issue, but only 30% of organisations currently provide it.  There needs to be a lot more focus on this going forward, as well as tailored support for line managers from HR and signposting employees to appropriate support. Employers also need to look at how well their corporate culture supports good mental health and employee wellbeing.”

The report also found the private sector particularly lacking in managing and supporting employees with mental health problems, with 28% admitting they weren’t taking any action to support employees. Just 32% currently offer a counselling service, compared to 70% of public sector organisations. Similarly, only 21% said they were increasing awareness of mental health issues across the workforce as a whole, compared to over double that (47%) in the public sector"

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Tower Hamlets Council Pension Board - Inaugural meeting 28 July 2015

This post is just a little late but for accuracy,  I wanted to be able to refer to the published minutes which were only published recently. 

The meeting was held in the Council Chamber in the  Mulberry Place Town Hall E14. 

The Hutton report resulted in the requirement to set up a Board for every Council pension fund so this was a historic meeting. The first time there had been a committee of employer and employee representatives meeting on an equal footing to assist in the decisions making process of the  Tower Hamlets  Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). Well, that was the aim of the meeting anyway. It didn't quite work out that way on this occasion.

The LGPS has been in existence for around 100 years. The need to set up a retirement scheme for Council workers was one of the drivers for the setting up of one of UNISON's predecessor unions, NALGO and instrumental in this was the manager of next door West Ham Council tram services (a stanch Tory as it happens).

I have been a trade union observer/member nominated/admitted body representative on the Tower Hamlets fund since 1996 and have been arguing since then (and nationally with other UNISON colleagues) for the greater democratisation of our pension funds.

Things do move slowly in the Local Government Pension world although in recent times this is a-changing.

There had to be a meeting held of each Pension Board before the end of July 2015. I went as an observer since I sit on the main Committee. The meetings are open to the public but parts of it may be closed if there is confidential or "restrictive" papers to be discussed.

Unfortunately at the beginning of the meeting we found out that the 3 employee representatives were unable to attend due to a vacancy; a prearranged clash and the Council trade unions still seeking an agreement on who was to represent them as the third rep. The 3 employer representatives were present as was a member of the GMB trade union, who was hoping to become the trade union employee rep.

The acting chair of the Board was a Council chief officer from another London Borough. An interview  process was on going to appoint an independent non-voting Chair. I must admit I do not see the need to have a Chair who is not a full member of the Board. I also think that as a matter of general principle, it is not appropriate for the Chair of any Board to be a serving Council Chief Officer.  A Pension Board is supposed to be holding Officers and Councillors to account. So there will be seen to be an obvious conflict, regardless of the personal merits of such a Chair. 

It was decided that despite being inquorate the meeting will go ahead on an informal basis. No decisions could be made but I felt it was still an interesting and useful first meeting. Everyone present was able to contribute.

The report for the meeting to consider was over over 360 pages.Which is frankly far too long and will put off new Board members and even experienced Councillors. It may prove the need for more frequent meeting with shorter agendas and much shorter reports.

After the usual introductions, apologies and declarations, there was an discussion on the role and functions of the Board. There was some polite disagreement about whether the Board was about scrutiny of administration and processes or more than this. This issue about what was the real purpose of the Board kept coming up throughout the meeting.

There was also a constructive debate on terms of reference for the Board, training and its work plan for future meetings.  These issues are really crucial. 

The terms of references for many Council Pension Boards were not properly consulted upon with staff or their representatives (or not at all in some instances) and some I have seen are very poor indeed. A number do not even comply with statutory requirements and guidance. 

Training is key to the success of the Board but it must be good quality and independent of fund managers, advisers and other conflicted bodies. I am not sure that this option exists at the moment. 

The work plan is important but until the Board finds its feet it should be wary of making firm timetables and commitments. Instead it should first deal with bread and butter issues such as its governance and training. 

A good point was raised by an employer rep that the Lord Hutton report on the LGPS made it clear that Boards should be concerned with the sustainable future of the scheme and not just bogged down in technical detail.
Next was a presentation by the investment and treasury manager on roles, responsibilities and statutory documents as well as our investment in the London Collective Investment Vehicle (CIV)

There was also a report on fund performance and on the fund 2014/2015 annual report.

There was also a debate on how the Pension board can challenge decisions made by Pension committee. One view was that the Board cannot say the Committee has made the wrong decision, they can only criticise the process. I disagreed and said that in my view the Board could criticise Committee decisions but obviously they would have to justify it. The Board is not a sub-committee of pension committee but has its own statutory responsibilities and ultimately reports to the Secretary of State.

A very important discussion took place on the way different firms of actuaries make different assumptions on pension liabilities. Which means that some LGPS funds may may appear to be doing better or worse than their peers purely to the "House view" of their advisers. Which is not at all a good place for the LGPS to be in.

The Treasury "employer cap" on their contributions was also debated. If Council contributions for future pension service rise above 13% then the Government will force cuts to benefits or increases in contributions for staff. Which of course could result in staff leaving the scheme and bring about its collapse. To stop this we have to cut the massive fees we pay to our fund managers and advisers as well as increase our investment returns.

I also made an argument that the reason that pensions seem more expensive nowadays is that interest rates (gilt yields) are at a 200 year historic low and we need a more modern and realistic means of valuing the true likely costs and not an outdated and broken accountancy yardstick.

The Chair pointed out that his pension fund had assets of £1.5 billion yet were currently only paying out £47 million per year in pensions. So if nothing else changed (which he fully accepted will not happen) his scheme had enough capital to pay this figure for 30 years even if there was no further investment income or contributions.

The current value of the Tower Hamlets pension fund had increased by £100m in the last quarter to £1141,860,000

This was an imperfect but as I said, an historic meeting for the democratisation of the capital of workers.

It seems now that the Tory Chancellor, George Osborne, is determined to force the 89 LGPS funds to pool and consolidate into 6 regional "sovereign wealth infrastructure funds" (whatever that actually means). This could result in the demise of the Tower Hamlets Pension Committee and Board However, I hope and expect that the governance arrangement of the LGPS in the future will mirror the partner approach of Pension Boards rather than that of existing pension committees. We shall wait and see.

I will try and visit other London Council Pension Boards as an observer and report on what takes place. I live an exciting life.

(please note that this is my personal report)