Tuesday, February 28, 2017

“I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilisation.” Newham Council Budget meeting 2017

This was to be my speech last night at the Newham Council Meeting on the budget. There was a free vote for Labour Councillors (i.e all of us) and I had proposed an amendment to the budget on increasing Council tax by 1.99% in order to pay for hardship funds for low paid residents suffering Tory cuts and also a 2% precept for the social care crisis.

However, I was only allowed 3 minutes instead of the 5 minutes that I expected to speak on the amendment and I had no right of reply, so was not able to put forward all my arguments outlined below. The amendment was heavily defeated 42-2 (with 3 abstentions) but there was a Oscars "LaLa" moment when the result was initially read out as 42-2 in agreement to my amendment.

It is a shame that there was no other debate on the other budget proposals. Both myself and Cllr Whitworth voted against adopting the budget (with one other abstention)

It was good to have a debate (no matter how unfairly skewed) and it aired an important issue that the Labour Party and the wider public will one day have to tackle. We cannot continue to expect and argue for high quality Scandinavian style public services to be paid for by USA style taxation system.  I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilisation.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

"Thank you Chair. John Gray, councillor for West Ham ward. I am proposing to amend the Council Budget in 2 key areas.

(1) to increase Council tax by 1.99% for this year and use the money raised to set up two hardship funds for Newham families affected by Tory cuts to Council tax benefits and housing benefit curbs. This increase will raise £689k for each hardship fund.

(2) Also levy a 2% Council Tax precept for extra money specifically to help tackle the Adult Social Care Crisis and bed blocking in our local NHS hospitals.

If a simple majority of Councillors support this amendment then it "pauses" the budget for the Mayor to "reflect upon" the proposed change and consider bringing back his own amendment at a second meeting. You would need a two thirds majority of Councillors to overturn his proposal at that meeting, I really hope that we can come to an agreement over this with the Mayor.

I would like to put forward the arguments for Council tax first which will be an extra £18.81 per year for band D properties, that is £1.57 per month. I believe that there are 3 key arguments to increase Council tax.

But look there is a problem with Council tax enforcement in Newham. 8,949 claimants in Newham were in arrears in 2015/16, and that 5,386 of those with served with a court summons for late-payment, and 1,560 had bailiffs instructed against them. While I have no sympathy with those who can pay their Council tax but choose not to I believe many of those 1560, who have bailiffs sent in cannot pay because they live in poverty and that is different.

What an expensive waste of Newham Council officer time and money to pursue people who can't pay.

Also, according to the Department for Work & Pensions, the lower Benefit Cap will adversely affect around 800 families in Newham, leaving some of those with such serious rent shortfalls that they may fall into arrears and face eviction and homelessness

Firstly, I accept that Council tax is not a fair tax but the simple truth of the matter is that our entire taxation system in this country is unfair. VAT is unfair. Why should the poor and the rich pay exactly the same rate of tax on things they buy? Income tax is unfair, why should income tax rate of the Duke of Westminster with his £9 billion be nearly the same as a Newham head teacher? A recent report showed that the Poor pay nearly 50% of their income in tax compared to 35% by the rich.

Yes, Council Tax is unfair but until we get rid of this government and elect a progressive Labour government, it is the only tax raising game in town. A few months ago in an estate agents window for the first time I saw 2 homes for sale in Newham for over £1 million each. Newham is changing and not only in Stratford and Royal docks we are seeing large numbers of middle class and relatively wealthy newcomers moving into Newham.

So Council tax is unfair but it is banded and there is still Council tax benefit, which in theory, will protect those too poor to pay. However, the Tories have cut and cut this benefit as they have other benefits. These cuts are exactly what these hardship funds will be aimed at. Most of the people in this country & most Newham residents claiming Council tax and housing benefit are in work. Recently the Council, making tough choices, decided to cut the amount of support they would get, the hardship fund will help protect these Newham residents

The second reason is that by not increasing our council tax for the last 9 years, our taxable base has been diminished, year in and year out. By not even keeping up with inflation, our potential income has been going down and down. Since we have a government that seems determined to get rid of practically all central government grants and support for Councils as well as raising income in new ways, we must protect our taxable base.

The final reason, is that if we don’t raise Council tax, then this will undermine our argument that austerity and the Tories spending cuts are indeed unfair and even savage, because the Tories will say, how can Councils like Newham need more money when they haven’t needed to raise Council tax in the last decade?

Regarding social care this proposal to accept the governments offer to set an Adults Social Care Precept of 2% will increase the boroughs ability to support residents with their social care needs, help prevent bed blocking and prevent strain on our much needed local NHS resources. I wish there was other ways to raise the money but there isn’t. Again, the working poor will be protected by the hardship fund.

Council, while we cannot reverse Central Government Tory cuts on the vulnerable and low paid families in Newham and inadequate funding of social care and the NHS, we can try and mitigate it as best we can.

Council, please support these proposals.

Monday, February 27, 2017

"Unaccompanied Child Migrants" Forest Gate North Labour Party Branch meeting Thursday 2 March 2017

This is a flyer for our next branch meeting. As well as usual Labour Party business there is a motion and debate on ""Unaccompanied Child Migrants".

"We call upon Newham Council to confirm that it agrees to accept a significant number of unaccompanied child migrants from Europe and had plans in place to ensure they are welcomed into our community. Furthermore, that Newham Council makes strenuous demands of national government to fully fund this measure".

(This meeting is for Forest Gate North Labour Party members)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Can we have a national DB pension scheme?

My latest article for Professional Pensions. "John Gray says we need to do all we can to preserve defined benefit pension provision in the UK

Those of us who live in the real pension world know it is true but many are in denial. For entirely understandable reasons, the pension industry just don't want to admit it. So come on folks and get out of the pension closet and collectively shout out loud that defined contribution (DC) pension schemes are usually pretty rubbish. 
The government green paper on the future of the defined benefit (DB) schemes may indeed be an attempt to justify the slashing and burning of pension promises but it is also an opportunity to make the opposite case and call for a rebirth of DB.
Recently I was at the TUC annual pension trustee conference and there was a fascinating panel debate on the future of DB. Of course, the 'usual suspects' (progressive actuaries and trade union pension officers) pointed out that there is still a huge (and growing in some sectors) DB pension provision in the UK and that despite some genuine problems these schemes are still affordable, if you ignore the 'Mad Hatter' valuations and assumptions by those who confuse being prudent with being totally risk free.
I raised a question to the panel about why DB schemes are being written off when there is a contribution cap for future accrual in my DB scheme of 19.5% of payroll for employers (13%) and members (6.5%). Meanwhile our new employees, who do not now have such access, need to put away the equivalent of up to 50% of their pay (dream on) to receive similar benefits when they retire in a DC scheme.

Is there an alternative to DB?

Isn't it obvious that DB is better for workers than DC? The half way intermediate schemes such as collective DC or hybrid DB seem to be getting nowhere. There is simply no alternative to DB.
The key note speaker, economist and writer, John Kay gave a brilliant speech at the end of the TUC conference in which he admitted that he thought we had failed the modern generation on pensions. He told us about how recently he had spoken on pensions at a seminar and afterwards a young woman in her 30s had asked his advice about what personal pension she should start? The question had shaken and upset him to think that frankly, his advice should have been it was actually hopeless for her to start anything at her age.
Let's face facts. Many people who will only have access to the state pension and some DC pension savings will not be able to afford to retire. They will have to work until they drop. If they do retire (or get sacked under workplace capability procedures) they face at worse poverty for the rest of their lives and at best certainly nothing like what they would have expected as a standard of living after a lifetime of hard work. Many more will still be dependent on means tested benefits.
We have a national NHS but why don't we have a National DB pension? If the government gave it a Crown promise why can't we open up the Local Government Pension Scheme to everyone including the self-employed? Merge it with the Pension Protection Fund and private DB schemes for efficiencies and economies of scale?
The new government consultation on DB is timely and we should all respond and demand that the government acts to fulfil its duty to its citizens that they will not die in poverty in their old age. The best mechanism to do this is by modern DB schemes open to all, regulated and guaranteed by the state.
John Gray is admitted body union representative at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets Pension Board. He is writing in a personal capacity

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Be a councillor: West Ham Womens Forum AGM 6.3.17

We've been struggling to find a suitable/affordable venue for our training + I now have to stay in the Middle East a bit longer for work :-( / :-)
We're still super keen for this training to happen as soon as possible so holding the training session on the same day as our West Ham Women's Forum AGM - Monday 6th March.
2018 Council Election Training for women.
As a Women's Forum we really want to continue encouraging as many women to apply to stand as a local Councillor in the 2018 elections. The selection process will start soon so we've planned a bespoke introductory training and information session for all local Labour women that are interested in standing as a councillor (or just finding out a bit more).
Please mark Monday 6th March in your diaries, children are welcome! I've set up a Facebook group support group, please join here
If you have any questions please drop me an email.
In Sisterhood,
West Ham Women's Officer

Friday, February 24, 2017

Hardship funds & Social care crisis: Proposed amendments to Newham Council Budget 2017/18

This is my proposed amendment to the budget which the Newham Council meeting on Monday 27 February 2017 should consider.  See my previous post on this issue.

What I am hoping to do is persuade (there is a free vote) my fellow Labour Councillors on Monday to:-

(1) vote to increase Council tax by 1.99% for this year (which has not been increased for 9 years and is still less than expected inflation for this year) which will set up two hardship funds for Newham families affected by Tory cuts to Council tax benefits and housing benefit curbs.

(2) Also levy a 2% Council Tax precept for extra money specifically to help tackle the Adult Social Care Crisis and bed blocking in our local NHS hospitals.

If a simple majority of Councillors support this amendment then it "pauses" the budget for the Mayor to "reflect upon" the proposed change and consider bringing back his own amendment at a second meeting. You need a two thirds majority of Councillors to overturn his proposal at that meeting,  I really hope that we can come to an agreement over this with the Mayor.

While we cannot reverse Central Government Tory cuts on the vulnerable and low paid families in Newham, we can try and mitigate it as best we can.

"The increase in council tax will enable the Council :-
  • to establish a Hardship Fund of £750,000 for Council Tax Reduction scheme claimants in Newham; 
  • to establish a Discretionary Housing Payment “top-up” fund of £750,000 to better help those affected by the Government’s lower Benefit Cap. 
This is because:-
  • That 8,949 Council Tax Reduction scheme claimants in Newham were in arrears in 2015/16, and that 5,386 of those with served with a court summons for late-payment, and 1,560 had bailiffs instructed against them; 
  • Several London boroughs have either chosen not to introduce a Minimum Payment (charge) for CTR claimants or exempt disabled claimants or establish “Hardship Funds” for those in financial difficulty; 
  • According to the Department for Work & Pensions, the lower Benefit Cap will adversely affect around 800 families in Newham, leaving some of those with such serious rent shortfalls that they may fall into arrears and face eviction and homelessness; 
  • In 2016/17, DWP allocated Newham £1.552 million in Discretionary Housing Payment funding to help those facing the Bedroom Tax and Benefit Cap, and a similar sum is expected in 2017/18; 
  • In nearby Tower Hamlets, a fund of up to £1 million is being established in 2017/18 to “top-up” the Government’s DHP pot. 
  • The number of Council Tax Reduction scheme claimants falling into arrears and facing enforcement action makes it clear these charges are an unbearable strain on Newham’s poorest households, and that a Hardship Fund is needed; 
  • The Government’s Discretionary Housing Payment funding is not sufficient to cover the rent shortfalls of tenants hit by the Bedroom Tax and the lower Benefit Cap, and that Newham should top this pot up from the General Fund. 
  • The agreement to accept the governments offer to set an Adults Social Care Precept will increase the boroughs ability to support residents with their social care needs and prevent strain on our much needed local NHS resources

Agenda item 12: The Council’s Budget Framework 2017/18 – The Mayor’s Final Revenue Budget Proposals, Medium Term Budget Strategy to 2019/20 and Council Tax Setting Proposals

That Council;  
  1. Delete recommendation  1. And replace with:-Agree the Council’s General Fund Budget Requirement for 2017/18 be set at £233 million

  1. Delete recommendation 4 and replace with :- Agree to accept the Government’s offer to set an Adults Social Care Precept of 2% on Council Tax in 2017/18

  1. Delete recommendation  6 And replace with:-Agree the Newham Council element of Council Tax for 2017/18 be increased by 1.99% This results in a local element Band D level of £964.44

  1. Agrees to establish:
                     i.            a Hardship Fund of £750,000 for Council Tax Reduction scheme claimants in Newham; and
                   ii.            to establish a Discretionary Housing Payment “top-up” fund of £750,000 to better help those affected by the Government’s lower Benefit Cap.

Agenda Item 13: Council Tax 2017/18

That Council

  1. Delete 1. And replace with: Agree that the Newham Council element of Council Tax for 2017/18 be increase by 1.99% This results in a local element Band D level of £964.44

  1. Delete 3. And replace with: Agree to accept the Government’s offer to set an Adults Social Care Precept of 2% on Council Tax in 2017/18      

Thursday, February 23, 2017

An Evening of Palestine Solidarity - Wanstead Tap E7 Tuesday 21st March

This looks interesting and just around the corner from where I live but clashes with my UNISON branch AGM.

"Join us for an evening of solidarity with Palestine.

Guest speakers: Hamed Qawasmeh, of the Hebron International Resources Network and Leanne Mohamed, winner of the Jack Petchey "Speak Out" Challenge.

Followed by Q&A and discussion

Donations at the door to Independent Youth Forum (Palestine) are welcome

Register here"

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Angie Greenhalgh North West Female Seat UNISON Nec Elections

"I am signing the Stronger UNISON pledge because I believe in doing what's right for our membership, ensuring that we stand up for their right to be treated fairly. UNISON needs a strong united NEC to lead our union and speak on behalf of our members, ensuring it is their views that we represent"

Angie Greenhalgh North West Female seat

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

7 days to come out with new ideas about Newham Council budget 2017?

At the Newham Council meeting next Monday 27 February 2017 there will be a free vote of all Labour Councillors on the proposed Mayor;s budget. All Councillors in Newham are Labour so this an important development and I congratulate my Labour Group colleagues for agreeing to this.

As a Labour movement activist, I am a firm believer in collective responsibility (when democratically arrived at). When we have a Council with a powerful Executive Mayor and where there is no political opposition, this means that we have a responsibility to debate important issues, such as the budget, in public rather than it being decided behind closed doors in Labour Group and subject to a "whipped" vote.

That doesn't mean it should be a "free for all" nor an exercise in futile grandstanding.

The reality is that Council finances are dependent on Central Government funding which each year is being cut and cut and cut. It is also too late in the budget process for us to have a meaningful debate about the 2017/18 budget (but I live in hope) so the discussion at Council on Monday is in my view a more general debate about the future direction of Council finance.

If anyone has any ideas and practical proposals about the budget then please let me know. Details of the agenda is here

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Remembering Eric

Last week there was a packed memorial and celebration service for UNISON President and London Ambulance branch secretary, Eric Roberts, who died unexpectedly aged 67 on November 24 2016. Eric had been elected the President of UNISON in June 2016 for a one year term. This is highest office for a lay activist in the union.

It was held in the TUC headquarters in Congress House, London. Our UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis gave a speech celebrating Eric's life as did his son, brother and friends including the Cuban Ambassador no less.

Eric and I had worked together for many years as UNISON activists in London and we had enjoyed the occasional social drink or three. He was kind and supportive to me as a London regional lay activist and when I became an NEC member. He was a really special person and will be missed. Nuf said.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Labour Local Government Conference 2017

I arrived in Coventry yesterday evening for my second Labour LGA conference. This year it is the biggest conference they have ever had with 370 Councillors attending. There was a conference buffet dinner with deputy Labour leader,Tom Watson MP, as guest speaker. 

It was a good opportunity to talk with Councillors from different parts of the Country and share experiences.  Dispite the huge financial problems facing  all Councils and the state of the Labour Party the mood was relatively upbeat. 

I was also able to ask Shadow Housing  minister, John Healey MP, to speak again at my UNISON branch Labour Link AGM.  Former UNISON activist Angela Rayner MP was there as was Tower Hamlets Mayor, John Biggs and Hackney Mayor, Philip Granville and my favourite Birmingham Councillor (and fellow UNISON NEC member) Mary Locke.  It was a shame that there was no one else from Newham.

The conference started properly in the morning with an address by LGA Labour Leader Cllr Nick Forbes followed by keynote speech by Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn MP to a packed audience. Jeremy attacked the Tories for asset stripping, failing social care and the NHS. He promised to get Council's to build homes.

Ever the gentleman, on his way out of the hall, Jeremy saw me, stopped to shake my hand and ask me how I was.

I will post more on conference later.

Friday, February 17, 2017

LOBOs "Newham to save up to £94 million on its debt portfolio"

Well I never. Hot off the press. I will ask for further details (it is inaccurate in some respects) but I am really happy that it appears that some of the problems with LOBOs can be sorted.

"Newham Council could save up to £94 million in future after the council’s Cabinet today (Thursday 16 February) agreed to restructure its market debt with a major high street bank.

The decision enables the council’s director of financial sustainability to strike a new deal with the bank that will switch their structured loans (otherwise known as Lender Option Borrower Option or LOBO loans) into normal fixed rate loans.

The deal also takes the ability away from the bank to change the interest rate levels at regular intervals over the remaining lifetime of the loans. The new financial agreement will save the council up to £1.6 million per year on interest payments on these long term loans.

This new deal will improve the council’s credit position thereby reducing the cost of future borrowing. Moreover, it will further stabilise the council’s future debt costs helping to safeguard council tax from future increases and protecting council services.

The agreement was made following lengthy negotiations with the bank. The market conditions are now right to strike this this deal which will deliver a clear financial benefit to the council.

The new deal is in line with the council’s Treasury Management Strategy, which reviews how much the council can afford to borrow and constantly monitors opportunities for restructuring or refinancing existing council debt where there is a clear benefit in doing so.

The council borrows money to carry out works such as improving the borough’s roads and to fund long term assets like buildings, such as schools, or bringing homes up to a decent standard. Government regulations meant that we cannot use long term loans to run services.

In 2007, Newham Council refinanced some of its debts to take advantage of lower interest rates available, at that time, through a series of long term loans from banks.

Previously the council was paying in excess of 10 per cent on its loans with the Public Works Loans Board, which lends government money to councils. These loans helped to refinance this expensive debt saving the council nearly £11 million to date in interest payments.

For further information, please contact Deborah Hindson, director of financial sustainability...

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"racist, spineless, uneducated scum" (Yep they are. I agree)

I haven't always agreed with everything our local weekly paper "Newham Recorder" has published over the years (or not published) but I totally agree with the comments below by its editor Michael Adkins on the foul and disgusting abuse my inspirational ward Councillor, Seyi Akiwowo, (photo right) received recently.

"While the birth of Facebook and Twitter has helped connect people like never before, launched careers, created millionaires, allowed us to follow our heroes and get in the mind of President Trump, social media has a sinister side.

It allows odious keyboard warriors to post wretched personal insults and threats from the privacy of their home, workplace or library.

It’s fast becoming a breeding ground for trolls who feel it’s given them free reign to insult, harass and threaten hardworking, decent honest people with their bigoted and racist bile.

Impressionable children are at risk of online grooming or 24/7 abuse from a playgrund bully.

At 25 years old, Cllr Seyi Akiwowo is Newham Council’s youngest representative.

Her work at the European Youth Hearings would have been a proud moment for all who know Cllr Akiwowo and the London Borough of Newham.

But the Twitter trolls simply saw it as an opportunity to show their true colours - as racist, spineless, uneducated scum.

Policing and managing social media is one of the biggest challenges we face and I’m not sure we have the answers.

Media organisations are subject to strict laws, rules and regulations when publishing stories. However, individuals are rarely prosecuted for breaches on social media.

Worryingly terrorist organisations like ISIS have used social media to spread their hatred globally.

Check out nspcc.org.uk for guidance on how to safeguard your children from the dangers".

Support EU citizens’ right to remain day of action

Join UNISON, in co-ordination with the New Europeans and the3million’s in the EU Right to Remain day of action.

Register to join the lobby

On Monday 20 February, UNISON members can meet their MP and ask them to support the following pledge:
“I call on Theresa May to guarantee unilaterally the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.”
To register:
  • Step 1 – Register to attend the mass lobby on Eventbrite
  • Step 2 – Once you have registered you will be sent a link to write to your MP (please do this as soon as possible)
  • Step 3 – Please let us know if you get a meeting time with your MP by email to k.widlak@unison.co.uk
UNISON will ask the government to recognise the value of UNISON members who are EU citizens who live and work in the UK and in particularly provide a significant contribution in the running of UK public services, such as health and social care.
UNISON calls for a clear commitment from the government that EU citizens currently living in the UK are welcome to stay here.
Workers from across Europe play a vital role in our public services, especially the NHS and local government. They and their families deserve better than years of uncertainty and being reduced to bargaining chips in the upcoming negotiations.
Make sure you get a chance to share your UNISON story and concerns with your MP by formally requesting their presence on the day.
UNISON stewards will be there to help you and committee rooms in parliament have been reserved from 2.00 – 6.00pm to allow MPs to drop-in, meet you and hear from you. For more information on the day of action contact K.Widlak@unison.co.uk

Join the lobby

If you would like to meet your MP on 20 February, you need to contact them first. Please use this link to send to send an email request to your MP

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Valentine's Day #lastminute.com

Had to smile at the slightly panicky queue of men (including one women) inside my local florist in Forest Gate last night at round 7.30pm.

Have to admit that I have "been there, done that and got the tee-shirt" - so I'm not that smug:)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Abiola Kusoro Black Members ' Reserved Seat NEC Elections

"I signed the Stronger UNISON pledge because I am committed to taking our union forward in support of all our members' interests. Together we can fight for the right to work in an environment which is free of inequality and discrimination".

Abiola Kusoro Black Members ' Reserved Seat NEC Elections

Monday, February 13, 2017

"Why we need to build a new housing Consensus for affordable and decent homes for all"

This was my speech to Greater London UNISON Regional Council AGM 1.2.17 on our branch motion. It was passed and selected to be a regional motion to this year's National Delegate Conference.

"Chair, Council, John Gray, Housing Association Branch, moving motion 2 on why we need to build a new housing consensus for affordable and decent homes for all.

Council, I don’t have to tell those of you who live or work in London that we live in a housing crisis and that millions of us live expensive, overcrowded and often insecure home miles away from your workplace, your family and your friends.

How many of you here today have grown up children or even grandchildren living with you not through any choice but because they simply cannot afford to move out.

This is not just the low paid. I recently met a young engaged couple who have had to give up their rented flat and move back into their respective parent’s homes to save money for a deposit. One of them was a NHS radiography and the other a junior manager. They had a joint income of over £50,000 but they had worked out that they could not afford to buy or rent anywhere in London. Full stop. The only property they could possible afford is a cheap shared ownership flat but to get this they needed to save £20,000 to cover moving expenses, legal fees and furniture and fittings.

This is not a crisis only in London and is not a new crisis either. Governments of various political colours have in the last 30 years announced a number of different grand schemes which they claimed would solve the housing crisis. Council, they have all failed.

Council, why have they failed? The simple truth is that there is no longer a political consensus in this country that it is the duty of the state to make sure that its people are adequately housed and most importantly that the state would provide the resources necessary to make sure that its people are adequately housed.

While the state being prepared to stump up the money to build homes and make sure they are affordable is of course really important. The need to have a political consensus that this is the duty of the state to provide shelter for its citizen is absolutely key since without this consensus, as we have seen in recent years, you have no chance of getting the money in the first place.

Council, this is not just wishful thinking, this is not “LaLa” land. In my lifetime different political parties and governments used to compete about how many homes they have built and how they will build more homes than anyone else once they were in power. Conservatives as well as Labour.

In London local elections even the conservatives ran on a platform of building more and making sure that rents were less than 25% of average wages.

Council. We must rebuild this consensus and the role of our union in rebuilding is crucial.

We must work with other unions, stakeholders and residents to campaign and make the case for more money, more investment in public housing.

We must work with our Labour Link to make a new housing consensus a top issue within the Labour Party.

We must make the case that the huge amounts of public subsidy wasted on housing benefit should instead to be redirected into building homes. Building homes will put the unemployed into work and give our young people skills and a trade.

If you increase the supply of public housing you will help drive down the costs of homeownership and private renting.

Council. This is not going to be easy. We have to have a government willing to tax the wealthy properly and make sure they pay their bit.

There are huge vested interests who make money out of hoarding land and high rents. We also want to make sure that new investment is in homes that are well built, environmental efficient and also that landlords are accountable and democratic.

Council, this can be done. We could afford a mass house building programme after 6 years of total war in 1945 then as the 4th richest country in the world we can afford one now.

We have to be blunt but persuasive and build a consensus again that the only way that people in this country have any chance of a housing future is for the state to take the lead and once again take responsibility for its people.

Council please support this motion. I move.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Joining the Party by Rachel Finke

Recently I went to the memorial service for Rachel and saw Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn MP talk to a packed hall about this wonderful article. I never met Rachel and was there to support her father and his partner. But, I felt I did know her since her father had spoken and written so often about his talented daughters.

It was a deeply sad occasion but also a celebration of Rachel and her life. Family and friends gave beautiful and uplifting eulogies, personal reminiscences, poems, songs and music.

The family requested donations to the Mental Health Foundation in Rachel's memory. 

As someone who joined the Labour Party on his 16th birthday (and had been allowed to attend branch meetings and campaign before that) I had forgotten how scary Labour Party meetings were to new members. I hope that this article is required reading for all Party Chairs and Secretaries. 

In an unpredictable political climate, Rachel's astute observations about "electability" are still very valid.

Labour Briefing December 2015. "15 year old Rachel Finke, a new member of Hackney North CLP, describes a special journey

THERE'S CHAOS AT THE CENTRE OF THE CLASSROOM, a big huddle, loud voices. This is something I'd usually do my best to avoid, but, for some reason, I decide to be interested. "What's going on?" A boy is Waving a vote Labour sign in the air, pleased with the attention he's created for himself, and the heated debate that's followed (this a year 9 class, young people aren't interested in politics, my arse). Apparently he's been parading it around all day, and I'm reminded yet again that it's only a few a weeks until the General Election.

I begin cheering him on, which is strangely unlike me. "I joined! I'm a member!” He grins
triumphantly. The teacher is trying to settle us down. "What?" I say, "You can join when you're 14?" "Yeah" he replies, "It's the youngest age, it's only a pound a year." I grin. I know what the first thing I'm doing when I get home. 

I'm Rachel, and I’m 15 now. I joined the Party back in May, wanting to feel more involved in the
election. It was like I had all this knowledge about politics, and I couldn't do anything with it. Politics has such a huge influence over people's lives, for better or for worse. As a young person with no vote, I wanted to do more. I signed up online that afternoon, and found it was surprisingly easy. Politics suddenly felt really accessible. I didn't tell my dad until I received my card and membership packet in the post. I brought it to him excitedly. "Comrade," he said, grinning from ear to ear, fist bumping me...My first few weeks in the Labour Party were undoubtedly exciting. I went leafleting with a friend, we lost an election, Ed Miliband resigned and in an instant all the talk was focused on the new leadership. 

The first thing I attended was the London Young Labour Summer Conference. I Was unbelievably nervous, walking into the UCL with a bunch of uni students (Young Labour goes up to people aged 27) and dad's friend's daughter, who was in the year above me. I hadn't met her before. I knew nobody. Fortunately, I felt immediately accepted, everyone was encouraging and friendly, although that didn't stop me feeling intimidated. 

Most of the Labour Party meetings and events are intimidating. You can usually find me stuck right next to mum or dad. I can see this being a problem for many new members. Meetings are more often
than not filled with older people who seem to have been involved for an unimaginably long time. They all have more experience than you. I'm currently doing my GCSEs, too, and this means the meetings can be at really inconvenient times. Late. School nights. For this reason, I prefer the Young Labour events. They're scheduled at times I find easier, and there'll only be a few people who're more than ten years older than you.

Without a parent to hide behind I haven't got a choice but to interact with others. 

The leadership election is what made me feel really involved. Like many other young people, I boarded the Corbyn train. He may be old, but he resonates with young people, and so do his policies. His refusal to act and dress like other politicians, his history of going against the grain, his honest demeanour. For the first time ever, I could vote for something really important. My vote mattered, even if it was lost among the other 200,000 odd Corbyn votes. It may be early, but I have faith in Corbyn's ability to win the next election. Electability is a concept that hasn't always been right. Circa 2007, Obama wasn't considered electable, yet he's coming to the end of his second term as the US President. Nobody considered Corbyn electable as a leader, yet he received 60% of the vote. 

I hope the Labour Party can become even more open and inclusive. I'd like to help get more new members coming to meetings and campaign sessions. Hopefully getting the public more directly involved and connected with Westminster doesn't stop at Prime Minister's Questions

Saturday, February 11, 2017

"On the knocker" for Labour and the NHS in Canning Town (and elsewhere)

When Councillor Terry Paul (aka "Red Tel") promised on Facebook "sunshine" for this morning's Canning Town campaign session perhaps we should have looked out of the window first!

A very cold and at times snowy Labour doorstep this morning in Canning Town and Green Street West. It was what we call a "street surgery", calling at homes with a local Councillor asking residents if they have any problems or issues with Newham Council that they wish to discuss with us.

We had very positive results which could mean everything is perfect in Newham or that residents wanted to close the door to keep the heat in as soon as possible.

Last weekend and during the week West Ham Labour activists were in Stoke-on-Trent to campaign in the Parliamentary by election supporting Labour candidate (and UNISON trade unionist) Gareth Snell. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Dan Beard UNISON NEC Candidate Higher Education General Seat

"My only priority is what matters to you, the members, not the demands of any political party or other outside group.

If it matters to you, it should matter to your union".

Dan Beard Higher Education General Seat. 

Birmingham council leader brands LGPS investment fees ‘a national disgrace’

While I do not believe everything put out by the CPS (sorry Michael) I do think that my pension fund is being ripped off. As are Councils with toxic LOBO loans.

"The leader of the UK’s largest local authority has claimed asset management fees paid by local government pension schemes are “sucking in” money that could be used to offset government spending cuts to vital public services.

Birmingham City Council leader John Clancy said a finding that LGPS funds may have paid out as much as £9bn in fees to fund managers over the last decade, almost double reported figures, was “a national disgrace”.

The claim was made in a report by the Centre for Policy Studies, which also concluded LGPS’s assets had under-performed the major UK and global equity and bond indices over the last decade.

Responding to the report, Clancy called on the West Midlands Local Government Pension Fund to stop using external investment managers.

The scale of fees paid in management costs by WMPF, which were £86.3m in 2014-15 and £74.9m in 2015-16, were unacceptable and that management of the fund should be brought in-house to save money, Clancy said.

He backed a call by the CPS for LGPS funds to move from active investment to passive investing (where funds are invested in benchmark indices rather than actively traded by managers). Active investment incurs expensive fees, Clancy stated, but the switch could save millions of pounds to help fund essential public services.

According to Clancy, the West Midlands scheme has paid £1bn to managers over the past ten years, compared to only £70m estimated to be paid by West Yorkshire Local Government Pension Fund over the same period.

Birmingham City Council expects to have to pay about £125m to WMPF this year, including top-up fees to cover a projected deficit, he highlighted, with the fund “sucking in” money from Birmingham and the six other West Midlands metropolitan councils that could be spent paying for social care and other services.

“The Centre for Policy Studies report is a vindication of what I have been saying for a long time – local government pension schemes across the country and here in the West Midlands are a dysfunctional mess and not fit for purpose.

“There is no need to hire investment managers at all. But the brutal truth is that funds up and down the country have happily spewed out hundreds of millions of pounds to City advisers for no real return whatsoever.

“This is a national disgrace, which is sucking money from local authorities at a time when public services are under threat as never before. If investment managers do not add value to a fund, they should not be paid.”


This is brilliant. Love Unions. We are not perfect but never forget what we have achieved for workers.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

West Ham Labour Update - Canning town, Copeland, Stoke, Brexit, Compass, AGMs....

Dear John

Canvassing here and away (for Copeland and Stoke by-elections), Brexit curry and Future of the Left debate...

We're going to be out canvassing in Canning Town this weekend - both Saturday and Sunday (11 and 12th Feb). Meeting 10.30am at Stubbs Point, New Barn St, E13 8JL (241 or 325 bus).

Don't worry if you've not knocked on doors before - you'll be with someone who can help. (Sat: contact Alan 07773 884339, Sun: Terry 07957 227372).

Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent by-election - without getting cold! Weds, 15 Feb
Last weekend we had a group of West Hammers travelling to Stoke. If you don't have time for that come and help with only a trip to East Ham. There will be tea and biscuits too. Don't worry if you've not done it before - there will be a briefing and a script.
6.30pm, Weds, 15 Feb, Trinity Centre, East Av, East Ham, E12 6SG (very close to East Ham stn). 

Brexit Dinner - Thurs 30 March
Brexit and curry - with speaker Keir Starmer MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Venue and time tbc - but please put in your diary.

Compass in Newham - the future of the left in Britain Tues 21 Feb
All Labour members welcome. 7.30pm, 21 Feb at West Ham Supporters Club, Castle St, E6 1PP

AGMs - each branch will be holding their AGMs over the next month - with a few wards holding theirs tonight. Your ward branch secretary will let you know or you can get in touch to check.

Look forward to seeing you at something soon. And please get in touch if you'd like any more information.

Best wishes

Julianne Marriott
Vice Chair (Campaigns and Comms) West Ham CLP

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Redbrick on "Housing white paper: Government reinvents the wheel"

Check out "Here are some initial reactions to the White Paper published today, having also listened to Sajid Javid’s statement at lunchtime. 

Almost every news programme and every newspaper has previewed the Housing White Paper, published today, in excitable terms, building expectations that something dramatic was about to happen. It seems they all believed the spin that the Government was to take radical and bold action to ‘fix the broken housing market’. Housing Minister Gavin Barwell in particular has been talking a good game over the weekend, and nearly sounded convincing.
But in the event the 100+ page White Paper is a huge disappointment, a damp squib, a fuss about nothing. It reinvents the idea that local authorities should undertake standardised housing needs assessments, pinches but waters down some private rented sector proposals made by Ed Miliband at the 2015 General Election and promises a huge number of consultations on future changes (mainly to detailed planning regulations) – well, they’ve only been in for 7 years, it’s too much to hope they know what they’re doing by now.
Most of the rest of it is the same old words, spoken by Housing Ministers back to the venerable Grant Shapps, but in a slightly different order: simplify planning, make more land available, release public land, strong protection for green belt, stronger voice for communities, better use of land, providing infrastructure, tackling skills shortages, more small builders, custom building, more institutional investors, making renting fairer, it goes on and on.

The Government is reinventing a square wheel. It didn’t work the first time and it won’t work now.

The White Paper is mainly about housebuilding, and a bit about private renting. It has next to nothing to say about making housing genuinely affordable. It continues the failed policy of pouring money into supporting demand for home ownership whilst allocating a pittance to new genuinely affordable supply. It has nothing to say about the horrific implications of welfare reform or the relationship between housing affordability and the benefits system.
Social rented housing make a single appearance in the White Paper, but only in the section on plans to ‘redefine’ affordable housing.
Continuing the current debasement of the language, affordable housing is to be defined as including many things that are not affordable at all.
Affordable housing will be defined as including:
  • Social rented housing (determined by guideline target rents)
  • Affordable Rented housing (let to the same eligible people as social rented but with rents at no more than 80% of local market rents)
  • Starter homes (to be restricted to those with maximum household incomes of £80K, £90K in London)
  • Discounted market sales housing (discount of at least 20% from market value)
  • Affordable private rent housing (at least 20% below market rent)
  • Intermediate housing (sale or rent at costs above social rent but below market).
The complete absence of any proposals to re-establish a major programme of building of social rented homes at genuinely affordable rents is the central failure of the White Paper. It might get boring to repeat this so often but as George Orwell said:

We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Mark Fisher UNISON NEC Candidate Wales Regional Male Seat

"Pleased to stand as your Regional Male Seat candidate making sure we have a strong Welsh Voice in National Stronger UNISON"

Mark Fisher Wales Regional Male Seat

Sunday, February 05, 2017

#HEARTUNISON 8 – 14 February 2017

"It’s back! Up and down the UK workers will be celebrating being part of a union.
Heart unions week is a national event organised by the TUC that many of you will have taken part in and due to the success of 2016, it’s back!
We know this government is intent on hurting working people and undermining trade unions. So we must get stronger and use every opportunity to celebrate the positive impact we bring to people’s lives. Heart unions week is just that opportunity. Let’s prove our worth to members and potential members by shouting about all the reasons to Heart UNISON".

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Seyi speaks to ITN's Lucrezia Millarini on London Tonight about racist filth she has recieved

My local Councillor (and good friend) Seyi Akiwowo was interviewed by ITN about the disgusting and vile racist abuse she has received following a video shown on you tube. Shame on "You Tube" and "Twitter" for doing frankly bugger all about it and failing to even contact her.

You Tube and Twitter are obviously happy to make money out of racist outbursts. All they are bothered are about the number of "hits" so they can sell more stuff. Shame on them as much as the Nazi interbreds who have attacked young Seyi.

I was so proud of Seyi when I first saw the orginal video when she stood up to fascists trying to close her down.

Liz Cameron UNISON NEC Candidate Black members Female Seat

"Help us achieve fair pay, keep our jobs, terms and conditions, pension rights, stamp out racism in all its forms, fight for equality for all members, Women, Men, Black, Disabled, LGBT, Young Members and in all our sectors. Keep us safe and health protecting our Local Government, our NHS, our Policing and our Education"

Liz Cameron Black Members Female Seat

"Labour refuses Newham ‘trigger ballot’ inquiry as affiliate finds breach of its own rules"

From Guardian journalist Dave Hills on his blog. "Labour’s governing national executive committee (NEC) has turned down a request from party members in Newham to hold an inquiry into how the borough’s executive mayor Sir Robin Wales was narrowly chosen to seek election to the post for a fifth time next year despite two of the affiliated organisations that supported him conducting their own investigations into how their votes were cast, one of which has now concluded that its local branch broke its own rules.
Sir Robin announced his re-selection, secured by 20 votes to 17, to a full meeting of Newham Council on Monday. The NEC had concluded on 24 January that the result of the close-run local “trigger ballot” to decide if he would automatically become Labour’s candidate for May 2018 or face challenges from other hopefuls should stand.
However, the national Fabian Society has informed its Newham branch, which is affiliated to Labour locally and voted “yes” to Sir Robin’s automatic re-selection, that it had “breached the society’s rules” for determining how trigger ballot votes should be cast and that “the Labour Party has been informed” of the outcome of its review of what occurred.
In a 13-page letter sent to the NEC prior to its meeting last week, 47 Labour members in Newham, including ten councillors, asked that the Fabians’ vote “be held in abeyance and not counted” on grounds that included failure by local officers to hold a meeting of members to discuss which way their “trigger ballot” vote should be cast. A statement from the national Fabians said, while it accepted that its Newham officers had acted in good faith, “the national society’s by-laws require a vote of members in the re-selection of a mayoral candidate” and that this had not taken place.
Separately, one of the trade unions whose vote helped Sir Robin to victory is looking into whether the locally-affiliated branch responsible for the decision followed the correct procedures. Gerry Morrissey, general secretary of media union BECTU, has told On London that, although the union’s head office had no involvement in the matter, the way the “yes” vote was settled is to be considered by its executive committee later this month. BECTU has recently become a sector of another union, Prospect, and dis-affiliated from Labour with effect from 1 January.
The letter from the Newham members to the NEC stated that the signatories “do not believe” that local affiliation fees to East Ham constituency Labour Party (CLP) had been paid by the BECTU branch and that “a communication” from the union’s branch delegate suggests that the person concerned decided how to vote in the ballot without any consultation with fellow BECTU branch members. In this case, they asked that the ballot “be declared void and that BECTU be deemed not to have voted”.
It was among a large number of points made about the trigger ballot process as a whole in a sometimes the strongly-worded document, which asked the NEC to void or hold in abeyance a total of seven of the 20 individual “yes” votes, comprising two from unions, two from other affiliates and three from party ward branches, of which two took the “yes” option by a single vote. Eleven out of 20 ward branches voted “no” to the automatic re-selection of Sir Robin.
The letter also asked the NEC to examine why some eligible unions cast more than one vote and suggests that inconsistent interpretation of the rules arose from a major failing in the running of the trigger ballot process. The GMB cast four votes (all “yes”), the CWU cast three (two “yes”, one “no”) and Unite cast two (all “no”) while Unison (“no”), Usdaw (“yes”), the TSSA (“yes”) and Bectu (“yes”) cast only one each. The letter attributes this to some locally-affiliated union branches each casting individual and other unions only voting once no matter many branches had affiliated locally to one of the two Newham CLPs as a result of rules being interpreted differently.
The CWU and TSSA have not responded to email requests to comment on the matter and the GMB, despite several requests and an assurance that a response would be provided, have yet to offer answers to any of the questions first put to them about the trigger ballot process before Christmas.
In email correspondence Newham party members, Labour Party general secretary Iain McNicol has written that the trigger ballot was “raised very briefly” at the NEC meeting and that “there was a short discussion” but that the body “did not discuss or agree to pausing or changing the result of this process”. He added that “NEC members have agreed to come to Newham and speak to members about what lessons can be learned from this process [regarding] how future trigger ballot processes can be conducted in a way that best engages members and affiliates”. It is believed that two NEC members will be involved. Signatories to the letter are considering how to respond. One has expressed dissatisfaction to McNicol that the request for an inquiry has not been granted.
In a statement, Labour’s London region has said that, “the process in Newham was carried out in line with established rules and procedures”. A source close to Sir Robin has denied that the ballot process was flawed and suggested that an influx of new members prompted to join the party since May 2015 in order to support Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s leader, lies behind much of the opposition to Sir Robin, although only members who joined before 25 April 2016 were entitled to vote in their ward ballots to determine which way to vote in the trigger ballot, which ran from 25 October until 4 December. This would have excluded any Newham members who joined Labour last summer in order to help Corbyn defeat the challenge to his leadership by Owen Smith.
The source also contends that a group of local Labour members called Trigger Democracy, which has campaigned for an open selection, is a manifestation of this, something the group itself denies, saying its members “aren’t anti-Robin” and “don’t represent any faction”. Those behind it decline to reveal their names on the grounds that they “wanted to provide as neutral a platform as possible” and because some of them work in or for the borough.
Newham is notable for all 60 of its councillors being Labour. Some of these and other local members believe that Sir Robin has been in the job too long and that his grip on the machinery of the Town Hall has made it difficult to hold him to account. Even so, the letter to the NEC said that its signatories would support his candidacy without equivocation if they considered it secured “as a result of an open and fair re-selection process”.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

John Gray statement seeking nomination Vice-Chair Campaigns & Communications West Ham CLP

Dear Branch Secretary

I am standing ‎to be the West Ham CLP Vice Chair campaigns at our Annual General Meeting in June and I am requesting the supportive nomination of your Branch. 

I am a long standing member and activist in West Ham and have served the Party in a number of different roles, including Vice Chair Campaigns in the past and Parliamentary Agent for Lyn Brown MP in 2010 and 2015. 

I have also been a Labour Party agent for Council by elections. 

I have been an active campaigner for many years and have planned and led canvassing teams in Newham and elsewhere. I can write and design leaflets, press releases and social media posts.

For the past 5  years I have also been a full time lay organiser‎ for my trade union UNISON and have taken part and directed a wide range of campaigns for a living wage, better housing and employment protection. 

If elected as Vice Chair Campaigns I commit to doing everything possible to support the local and national Party. While there are no local elections this year we have to work for council elections in 2018 and the prospect of a sudden general election.  If elected my aim will be to attract and involve the huge number of new members who have joined the Party in recent times to become activists and campaigners for Labour in West Ham and nearby crucial marginal seats.  As Parliamentary agent in the 2015 General election, West Ham played an important role in defeating the Tory MP in Ilford North. 

I believe that I have the local knowledge, skills, dedication and experience to be a successful campaigner, vice chair and team player. 

I am currently a backbench Councillor for West Ham, Vice Chair Membership for West Ham CLP, Vice Chair Forest Gate North branch, Chair Greater London UNISON Labour link and Vice Chair UNISON London international and Europe Committee.

Yours faithfully

John Gray