Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Is it time for a Progressive Alliance to defeat the Tories? Newham Compass with Neal Lawson & Sian Berry

While a very,very worthy aim I don't think it will work nor is it necessarily the right thing to do. What about a progressive alliance within the Labour Party instead?

But I hope to attend and listen to the arguments.  

Monday, September 17, 2018

Newham Full Council Meeting 17 September 2018 (my twitter feed)

A busy evening. Confirmed new Chief Executive. Passed motions, submitted petitions, deputation that schools should have ballots before deciding to become academies, Councillor questions, public questions, Mayor and CEO report.

At Full Council meeting in historic Stratford Town Hall. Delegation speaking to meeting on anti-academy campaign, just moved petition on behalf residents from about repairs & ( Cllrs have been with residents)

His first speech to Full Council, Cllr speaks about how we need to change traffic management and support the near 50% of residents who do not have a car. “The roads belong to all of not just cars”

If this was a unison conference or TUC we would clap first time speakers :)

Now Cllr Shaban Mohammed moves motion on ballots calling for all schools considering becoming a to hold a ballot. seconds

moves sponsored motion against . I spoke about ensuring that the £1.4 billion fund takes action to ensure that we do not allow such exploitation of workers in companies we invest in

Council meeting over. Now presentation by on electoral review of for 2022 elections. ward

Picture of  & councillors supporting campaign and motion on

Sunday, September 16, 2018

TUC Congress 2018: Tuesday Day 3

Still catching up on posts about last week's TUC Congress. After a "late night" on the Monday following the UNISON TUC delegation social (and aftermath) I was in Congress for the 9.30am start on the Tuesday but a little slow on "twitter" for some reason.  

I was really pleased at Congress for the support for "Show Racism the Red Card’s Wear Red Day, which this year will be on 19 October.

Lunchtime, I went to the "digital transformation for unions" fringe where Chair, Jenny Andrews, of Unions21 made it clear that we have to learn from Darwin survival of the fittest theory and as a movement either "adapt or die" to digital change (I sort of agree but not totally). 

Alison Charlton from UNISON digital team spoke about the quote that when digital transformation is done right, it is like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly but when it is done wrong, all you get is a really fast caterpillar.  She also made a really important practical point that don't just ask what people want from digital - but instead ask what is the problem & what do they want to achieve?  Her role as a professional is to provide the digital solution.

Ali Melanie from the NUS said the next big human rights issue will be on our data rights. People are still trying to grapple with the concept of "Ethical digital". He answered my question to the panel on how to deal with all the digital "babble" out there by saying we need to try and compartmentalise the information that unions send out to make it relevant. 

When an assistant general secretary from a more "traditional" union (who many years ago I was on an WEA Employment rights course with him) asked how he can digitalise union circulars sent out to members? Ali asked in apparent all seriousness "what is a circular?". 

I was interviewed by Dr Jeong-Hee Lee, a researcher from the Korean Labor Institute about collective bargaining in Local Government! We also discussed the UK Labour manifesto on this topic. She interviewed me a few years ago when she was researching her PHD. I was given a lovely gift for taking part in the survey. A traditional Korean image on a USB stick (see bottom right on college).

Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP, received a standing ovation after announcing to Congress on how he will be able to pay for nationalisation & public services. He has found the Tory Government Magic Money Tree in the Cayman Islands. He will dig it up and bring it back to UK to be planted!

In the evening I went to the "People's Museum" for the Daily Mirror fringe on the fantastic "Wigan Pier Project". It tracks where the author George Orwell went in the 1930s when he was researching his famous book "The Road to Wigan Pier". George wrote about the hunger and poverty he found at this time, while the project has followed in his exact footsteps and compare his findings with the dreadful child poverty, homelessness and unemployment in modern day Tory Britain. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Lehman Brothers collapse - 10 Years on

10 years ago  "The filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection by financial services firm Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008, remains the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history, with Lehman holding over US$600,000,000,000 in assets".

The former head of Lehman Brothers, Richard Fuld, (see picture) “earned” $300 million in the previous 8 years.

While The Independent reports "Average real earnings – adjusted to take inflation into account – for employees are 3 per cent below where they were in 2008. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Thank you Cllr Veronica Oakeshott - Boleyn Ward

This is simply a lovely photograph of Newham Council Executive Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, presenting flowers to Councillor Veronica Oakeshott, who has announced her resignation in order to move closer to her family outside London.

Veronica has been a fantastic and effective Labour Councillor and campaigner for Boleyn ward who was also instrumental in the successful campaign to keep the World Cup Champions Statue in her ward.

She was a ferocious advocate of her constituents and the interests of all residents in Newham. Veronica will be missed and we have lost a talented Vice Chair of our £1.4 Billion Pension Investment & Accounts Committee.

hat tip photo Ali G

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Red Brick - "The Help to Buy Gravy Train" by Steve Hilditch

A fascinating discussion yesterday evening with London Labour Housing Group on "Policy & Practice". Some great ideas and presentations.

I was a little late and missed items on policy context and improving the private rented sector but was there for - delivering new Council homes, working with with Housing Associations and best practice on community led housing. Chaired by lead GLA housing spokesperson Tom Copley

See below yet another superb article on "Red Brick" about the "Great British Housing Rip Off" by Steve Hilditch.

"Some people suffer because of the housing crisis, others do quite nicely out of it thank you. Land owners are perhaps the best example of those who have traditionally coined it in. Nothing much has changed since Winston Churchill, way back in 1909, called land ‘the mother of all monopolies’, criticising ‘the enrichment which comes to the landlord who happens to own a plot of land on the outskirts of a great city, who watches the busy population around him making the city larger, richer, more convenient, more famous every day, and all the while sits still and does nothing.’ And still they do.

But attention has been drawn more recently to another group of people who have been achieving great riches from the miseries of others – the housebuilders. You might say that at least housebuilders produce something of use, unlike the landowner, and the point is valid. But recently the vast profits being made by the volume housebuilders have been substantially donated by the government, free gratis and for nothing.

The housebuilders’ own special magic money tree is called Help to Buy. In an excellent article in the Times on 8 September, Property Correspondent Tom Knowles showed how the average profit made by housebuilders on each home has doubled since the scheme was launched. Knowles’ analysis showed that ‘the top five builders in Britain are making an average profit of £57,000 on each house they sell, compared with a mean average of about £29,000 in 2007’.

On Red Brick we have criticised Help to Buy from the time it was launched in 2013 because it is a subsidy on the demand side of housing – it enables people to spend more on housing without necessarily increasing supply. A little bit of economics tells us that in the longer term it is likely to be self-defeating because more demand with no more supply will lead to price increases. Far better, we have consistently said, to apply whatever public finance is available to boosting housing supply not demand.

At the launch of Help to Buy the argument was made that the scheme would boost supply by giving developers confidence that they would have buyers for their output – after all, no-one builds what they cannot sell. Yet Knowles confirms that the total number of new houses being delivered is much the same as it was ten years ago. He uses Barratt as evidence: profit per house has doubled since 2007 (he uses that date because it was the last full year before the global crash), but it is building only 411 additional homes. He provides a fascinating chart to illustrate the detail, repeated below.

Knowles quotes analysts who confirm that the largest driver of today's profits is Help to Buy. One assesses that housebuilders would be making £22,000 less profit on each house built for first time buyers if Help to Buy was not in place, and concludes that ‘someone is gaming the system’.

One of my favourite analysts, Neal Hudson, who puts good stuff on Twitter @resi_analyst, is quoted saying that shareholders had become ‘the main priority’ for housebuilders since the financial crash. ‘The over-arching factor has been big pressure from the City,’ he is quoted as saying. ‘The priority for them is profit margin not the number of homes built.’

One housebuilder chief executive was paid £75 million in a bonus last year, putting even bankers to shame. I suppose you could argue that no-one would turn down a nice earner, even if it is on the back of a government scheme designed to tackle the housing crisis. And, of course, it is government policy that is to blame. Since 2010 housing finance policy has been turned on its head. Instead of providing grant to enable genuinely affordable homes for those on low and medium incomes, Government help is now aimed at supporting the private housing market – and not very successfully it seems. The Chartered Institute of Housing’s Housing Review estimated that support for the private market is taking nearly 80% of current investment compared to just over 20% going as support for affordable housing.

At local level, the riches flowing into the pockets of the housebuilders should stiffen the resolve of councils who are fed up with developers pleading that schemes are ‘unviable’ due to modest requirements that a proportion of new homes should be affordable.

In this debate, profits per home of around 20-25% of the cost are taken almost as a given, a fixed cost. I can remember a developer telling me that the rule of thumb in building costs was ‘one-third for land, one-third for construction, and one-third profit’. In our Brexit-dominated world, construction costs are likely to inflate rapidly in the near future. So, if anything is to be done it must be to bear down on the other two elements: land and profit. We have posted a lot recently about land and taxation: another good step would be to tackle the Help to Buy gravy train.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Let your voice be heard: Stratford & West Ham Citizen's Assembly

Trade Union Congress finished a little early today (we worked through the lunch break to finish business.Not something that trade unionists would normally encourage in the workplace!). I will post further on the TUC.

So I was able to get a train home from Manchester to be in time for the inaugural Citizen Assembly for Stratford & West Ham Community Neighbourhood.

I am a Newham Councillor for West Ham ward.  Citizen Assemblies are intended to achieve newly elected Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, commitment to :-

"Putting Newham Residents at the Heart of Everything We Do.

During September 2018 there will be the first in a series of Neighbourhood Citizens’ Assemblies taking place across the borough in each Community Neighbourhood.

What Neighbourhood Citizens’ Assemblies

Neighbourhood citizens’ assemblies are large open meetings where you and others from your Neighbourhood decide how to improve your area.

The assembly is your chance to:
  • set the priorities for the Community Plan
  • discuss and work together with others to find solutions to local problems 
  • connect with other local people and share knowledge
  • set up local projects
  • find out what is happening in your local area 
  • give directions on how funding available to your area is spent
There will be a daytime and an evening assembly session in each Community Neighbourhood which will last approximately 3 hours, including a break and time to meet and greet others".

I had heard that the morning meeting had gone well with around 90 residents attending. We had about 70 plus residents in the evening. It was by far the most successful community participation event, I have ever known, either as a Councillor or a Housing officer. Residents were thoughtful, constructive and genuinely wanted to understand problems while keen to contribute to possible solutions.

Certainly, a number were quite forthright about about the serious issues that we all face and there was some difficult conversations but there was very little of the negativity and self interest that I have found in other community consultation events I have attended over the years. It showed to me what you can get if you treat residents as grown ups - treat them with respect and make it clear that you are actively listening and really want to involve them. 

The meeting decided and voted upon what would be the Stratford & West Ham priorities and I did a random drew in front of everyone to pick 4 volunteers from each ward to be part of a working Group.  The working group will meet next month and the next Assembly will take place in November.

While I have no doubt that it will not always be sweetness and light I am really excited about our Citizen Assemblies and look forward to the next one. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

TUC Congress 2018: Day 2

A somewhat random selection based on my tweets from Monday.

Frances O'Grady TUC leader in her speech to Congress calls for a 4 day working week for 21st Century. Just as in 19th century the TUC successfully campaigned 8 hour day & in 20th-century for weekend off & annual leave.

Also, she told Mrs May. "If you won't give us the New Deal that working people demand, then stand down. And take your ‘do nothing’ government with you. Give us a General Election. And we’ll do every thing in our power to elect a Prime Minister who will".

UNISON leader, Dave Prentis, while moving composite 7 "Public Services Outsourcing - Lessons from Carillon calls for an end to privatisation and making demands of Labour too. A day one commitment to abolish the divisive, destructive, disastrous policy of privatisation. No reviews, no reports but an immediate end!

Lunch time I went to "Show Racism the Red Card" fringe. Chaired by UNISON Liz Snape & 1st speaker UNISON Roger McKenzie. Last speaker UNISON Liz Cameron. The meeting was packed. Sign of times with growth of racist football lads alliance?

Finished off with evening fringe at Midland hotel on pensions chaired by Henry Tapper. First a short history of pensions then some home truths about the appalling miss-selling of unsuitable investments to British Steel pension holders. Surely this fraud this must be a criminal offence?

While fascinating presentation on new pension scheme for Royal mail workers based on dutch and Canadian models.

UNISON delegates had their delegation social later.  A good time was had by all.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Local Government Chronicle Investment Summit 2018

Last week I went to this summit in South Wales on investment in the Local Government Pension Scheme. There was around 250 Councillors and Council pension staff from all over the country.

I am particularly interested in the latest ideas on Risk, Asset allocation, ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance - also known as socially responsible investment), investment in housing and infrastructure.

The opening speaker John Roe from Legal & General gave his perspective on the UK and global economy. He argued that he did not think that the equity market was expensive and made an observation that rising income inequality had led to the rise of fascism and the anger that caused Brexit. I asked him in the Q&A what was the solution and he said greater taxation of the international elites and an open debate on immigration. Not often do I hear calls for greater taxation in such conferences (I agree totally with him on this point)

Next we were invited to visit different briefing sessions. I went to the one on "Fixing our broken housing model". Which turned out to be an introduction to the merits of pension funds investing in purpose built private sector rental but not alas, fixing the complete and utter mess that UK housing is in.

Back in the main hall we heard of research by Hymans Robertson that following the changes in the LGPS in 2014 some scheme members had actually seen their future pension entitlement rise by 24%.  Which is mainly due to rubbish pay in the local government in recent years which has failed to match inflation.

In a focus session on ESG investing there was some compelling evidence from MSCI that good ESG is "material". Good ESG investments tend to have better cash flow, be less risky, result in greater dividends & make it 3 times less likely to suffer serious incidents such as the Volkswagon fraud and BP Deepwater disaster.

At the next focus session, Abbie Llewellyn-Waters, from Jupiter gave evidence that ESG can deliver "Alpha" performance. Also, with regard to the S (social) in "ESG", she was clear that “the better that companies treat their workers, the better the companies financial results.....without a shadow of a doubt”

Roger Phillips, chair of  LGPS National advisory board spoke to a meeting of Councillors only on its annual report. Membership of the LGPS had increased to 5.6 million members, had £263 billion in assets, 1700 different employers and enjoyed in 2017,  a 19.5% increase in investment performance. However funds need improve their data management.

At the session on “Infrastructure, urban regeneration & real estate”, to wake everyone up, I asked the panel who had spoken about the investment opportunities on investing in this asset class about the statement by Sir Howard Davies, Chair of RBS who said on Question time early this year that “PFI was a fraud on the people”.  He had argued it was always cheaper for Governments to borrow money than private organisations to spend on infrastructure. How do you respond to this statement?

The response was that Government does not want such debt on its balance sheet. Which is an argument post 2008 crisis and post quantitative easing that I have not heard for many years.

In the last session of the day with the Pension Regulator & the FRC, I asked both speakers why was it that in private defined benefit schemes, up to 50% of trustees were nominated by beneficiaries but in the LGPS, a public defined benefit scheme, there was no obligation whatsoever to have any beneficiary representation on its boards?  The regulator replied that they did support member nominated representatives in the private schemes because they can challenge "group thing" but they also have pension trustees boards that only have professional trustees on it.

I note that Labour is committed to make 50% member nominated representation compulsory in all pension schemes.

At the summit dinner the guest speaker RH Lord Winston of Hammersmith, who was as entertaining and as "nice" in real life as he appeared on the telly.

In the morning after more presentations on successful partnership working (Pooling) and protecting your equity portfolio from a future crash (which I am sure is coming sometime soon) I went to a briefing session on "Is sustainable investing just a romantic notion?" session with Newton.

Who pointed out that some $300 billion was invested in alternatives to carbon in 2017. They also compared modern day oil reserves with the 19th century slave ships which became "stranded assets" when slavery abolished

Secretary to the National LGPS advisory board, Bob Holloway, reflected on 35 years involved with local government pensions and announced a meeting with the minister for council pensions committee chairs on 15 November 2018.

In the last session on Devolution and Regionalism, Dawn Turner, CEO of the Brunel Pension Partnership talked about not investing infrastructure because the Government tells us to do it but if it fits our needs & purposes. Also, we are not impact investors but should be aware of any positive or negative impacts from our investments. Not just globally, but in the UK as well

Final speaker was Paddy Dowdall, from Greater Manchester Pension Fund about their investing in housing... “Council provides the land and the Pension fund provides the capital” also “by definition residential housing is local & who knows more about local than councils”. For many years they have invested a percentage (5%?) of fund locally and managed to avoid any "moral risk" by making sure that the actual investment decisions are made independently.

Overall, a very informative and useful summit. It has now been running for 30 years but will no doubt have to change in the future when the pools take on investment decisions from local funds even though funds will retain responsibility for liabilities and asset allocation.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

TUC Congress 2018: Celebrating 150 years

I am at the TUC Congress in Manchester as part of the UNISON delegation which started at 4pm
today. This is the 150th anniversary of the 1st ever Congress which was also held in Manchester which is why we are back to celebrate.  Then only 34 delegates gathered nearby to discuss

The Congress guide reports this year that there are 519 delegates from affiliated trade unions. 268 Male and (only) 251 Female.  UNISON has has 57 delegates. 21 Male and 36 Female.

You can check out the business programme of Congress here and final agenda here.  As usual there are a number of fringes during lunchtimes and evening which I will try and attend as many as possible.  There is also a large exhibition hall full of stalls.

Despite falls in membership in recent decades, the TUC still represents a massive 6.23 million UK workers. Last year there was a welcome small increase.

Unions are as needed now as much as they were needed in the past. UNISON published today research on Housing and how it is now practically impossible for most public service workers to afford to buy a home. The Bank of England restricts mortgages to a maximum of 4.5 times their income. This means that for example NHS cleaners or teaching assistants cannot afford to buy anywhere in any English region. All unions have unfinished business to complete on behalf of their members.

Picture above of TUC President Sally Hunt from the UCU who gave her address and received a well deserved standing ovation.  Afterwards she mentioned the campaign by a TUC delegate who is also the Granddaughter of one of the Match Girl 1888 strikers (Sarah Chapman) who is buried in Manor Park, Newham without a headstone. Sign the petition here to provide one. 

Saturday, September 08, 2018

NEC Celebrating 25 years in UNISON: NDC 2018

Picture of the UNISON National Executive Council at this year's National Delegate Conference.  All of us (including the General Secretary) are elected via secret ballot by rank and file UNISON members from all parts of the union.

We are wearing green to honour Grenfell victims. 

Forest Gate North September Canvass & Street Surgery

Summer is now over and the never ending cycle of political campaigning and street surgeries continues. I missed a canvass session on Wednesday evening in my home ward but went out with local Councillors Rachel Tripp and Anamul Islam this morning (Sasha is on holiday).

Very positive response, in particular, local residents appreciated the support that their Councillors had given in opposing a recent attempt to close a nearby right of way.

I did not hear any mention of national party issues or Brexit. Mostly when you ask residents whether or not they support Labour they look at you as if almost insulted. "Of course we vote Labour!" (do you think we would vote for the Tories? one resident asked me today)

The Newham Council housing blocks we visited seemed in good order (well done to managing agents Swan Housing) but the L&Q Housing Association blocks had some shoddy bodged disrepair and a definite trip hazard on communal stairs. Cllr Islam will be contacting them with photos.

The picture on the bottom of the college (2nd left) is of a property I canvassed a couple of years ago. A young woman came out to speak to me and her front door slammed shut behind her. No one else had keys and I had to climb the wall into the garden to see if there was a window open. There wasn't so eventually we had to get the lock drilled and smashed the window of the front door for her to get in. I got a new lock fitted and she "sorted things out" with her landlord. Never a dull moment when you are canvassing. Thanks to retired caretaker manager (and Party member) Montrose Matty.

New CLP vice chair for campaigns Karl Lewis ran the board (told us who to contact and recorded information) while the ace campaigner of the day was Rachel's daughter India (Child Labour).

Anam, Karl and I went for coffee at "Freds" afterwards to gossip and chew the fat. 

Friday, September 07, 2018

In Memory of 13 West Ham Heroes killed by Enemy Action 7 September 1940

"Memorial at LBN Abbey Road Depot, to those killed on one of the first attacks on the 7th September, 1940, known as `Black Saturday`. This was the start of the `Blitz`, although not the first bombs to fall on West Ham, Beckton Road was bombed on the 31st August". Hat tip Robert Rogers Newham History Society on Facebook. 

"account of the incident from The London Blitz – A Fireman’s Tale by Cyril Demarne who was a Sub-Officer in the Auxiliary Fire Service at the time and later became Chief Fire Officer for West Ham" hat tip Richard Durack Newham Council Heritage Service.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Unison affirms Sadiq Khan as our London Labour Mayor Candidate

Greater London UNISON’s Regional Labour Link Committee yesterday unanimously agreed to support Sadiq Khan as Labour’s candidate for the Mayor of London in 2020.   

It was great that Jeremy headed the list of endorsers and that all wings of the Party in UNISON support him. 

"UNISON affiliates to the London Labour Party and was asked to decide whether or not they wish for Sadiq Khan to be automatically reselected as Labour’s candidate. 

The Committee decided to unanimously back Sadiq based on his record of supporting Londoners at work, promoting trade unions and trying to tackle London’s challenges on housing, transport and crime.

John Gray (UNISON Labour Link Chair) said “Sadiq has always placed Londoner’s and UNISON members concerns at the heart of everything he does, we are proud to offer our support to him to carry on the job of housing Londoners and making London cleaner and safer”.

Yvonne Green (UNISON Regional Convenor) said “with our decision we confirm what Londoners know already, this Mayor is committed to making London a fairer and more equal city for everyone”.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Newham bids to deliver pledge for 1000 homes at social rent

At tonight's Newham Council Cabinet meeting, it was agreed to support an ambitious bid to the GLA for grants to deliver up to 1000 homes to be built for our residents at social (council) rents.

This was a key part of the newly elected Newham Labour Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz's, manifesto commitment. 

We are also looking at building other homes at social rent outside GLA grant.

The Council will be consulting on changing our planning policy to have a minimum 50% of all future developments at social rent as well.

I must admit to being a bit of a sour puss at the meeting by reminding everyone that it was fantastic that we are aiming to build 1,000 homes at social rent but we do have 27,000 households in Newham on our waiting list (probably a vast underestimate of those in real housing need).

It will be great for those we are able to house but we have to manage expectations.

We will only be able to house all of our people in need when we have a Government in power that will commit to housing all people in safe, secure, social rent & low cost owner occupier homes.

This government will also (most importantly) have to give us the subsidy needed to deliver this.

Without some sort of subsidy you will not get any sort of affordable homes in high cost areas.

Someone has to make up the gap between the cost of building a home and a social rent. 

Monday, September 03, 2018

Old ladies tell off kids playing in London council estate 1970s

An age old problem. It hadn't changed that much when I first started working in Council Housing in the early 1990s in Bethnal Green and still goes on in Newham and elsewhere today.

hat tip "From the Kinolibrary Archive Film collections. To order the clip clean and high res or to find out more visit http://www.kinolibrary.com. Clip ref CC8"

Shot on the Loraine Estate and Holloway Estate, Holloway Road. Which by coincidence is near to where my UNISON Housing Association branch office is located.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

"Len McCluskey hits out as he joins fellow union bosses in urging party to adopt full IHRA definition"

Well said! elected General Secretary of UNITE, Len McCluskey who gave support in advance of the Labour Party NEC meeting on Tuesday, where the issue regarding the IHRA definition will be discussed and hopefully begin to be resolved.

I also agree with Len that some of the anti-labour responses by some Jewish leaders have been seemingly ridiculous and over the top but if  my neighbours had been murdering my Grandparents and turning their skin into lampshades and soap then perhaps I would also react in a similar manner.

I watched this morning a clearly distressed, John McDonnell MP, on the  Andrew Marr show give a sensitive but powerful response to the interview comments by the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. 

I agree with John's response that there are profound misunderstandings afoot but also his implicit assurance that this mess will be dealt with and that Labour will (and should in my view) adopt the full IHRA definition and all the examples, as does UNISON, GMB and UNITE.

As a grassroots trade union steward for over 30 years, while I understand the genuine concern about adopting all the "examples" I simply do not accept that this will restrict me or anyone else from calling out the Israeli state for murdering unarmed civilians, building illegal settlements, carrying out collective punishments while being clearly racist towards Palestinians.

Unless we lance this boil and return to our natural moral high ground on all forms of racism we will destroy the Labour movement and also destroy our chances of getting rid of this completely vile Tory Government and electing Jeremy as our Prime minister. 

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Walter Tull & 11 November 2018

A couple of weeks ago I went to Folkestone (via the high speed rail link in 46 minutes) for a Friday night beer and curry with an old mate. The following morning hangover cure was a brisk walk along the beach and back along the prom.

Near the town War Memorial on the prom there was an information board which featured a Newham connection (above). Walter Tull was born in Folkestone 1888 but he was also one of the first UK black professional footballers and was first spotted playing for Forest Gate based (Now London Borough Newham) Clapton FC.

After the outbreak of the First World War he joined the British Army in 1914 and was commissioned as an officer in 1917. Arguably the first ever Black commissioned officer despite apparently military regulations forbidding it. He was killed in action in Northern France 8 March 1918. His body was never recovered.

My Taid (Welsh for Grandfather) Captain Frederick Matthews MC RND, another working class volunteer, also fought in the Western Front during First World War. He survived.

The Folkestone War memorial is next to what is now called the "Road of Remembrance". During the First World War troops used to get off trains at a nearby depot then march down that road to the port below then take the military ferry to France. I suspect that Walter and my Taid had marched at different times up and down that same road several times during the War.

On 11 November 2018 it is the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. Time to remember and reflect on everyone (regardless of class, race and nationality) who fought in this bloody, dreadful War. 

Saturday, August 25, 2018

ANEURIN BEVAN Dealing with the Housing Shortage

Well said Nye in 1946. While nowadays we have not gone through anything like total war we are suffering from 8 years of Tory misrule on housing (in particular but also practically everything else. Have we ever had such a useless Government?)

Hat tip Tides of History 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

My first Cawl

Off message. Ashamed to say that for the 1st time ever I cooked a traditional #Welsh #Cawl

Salt Marsh Lamb, carrots, spuds, parsnips & of course leeks. Forgot the swede. 

With wholemeal bread, welsh butter, caerphilly cheese, pickled red cabbage. 

Hat tip Jamie Oliver who uses 5 times world Cawl champion, Sue Jones recipe. 

Only salt and pepper seasoning. I didn't leave the dish overnight as recommended. 

Cheese and lamb went surprisingly well.

Lovely, even if I say so myself. Will cook my more usual #scouse next week to compare.

Lots of interest on Facebook about this post. Lamb stew in all its forms is very important to lots of people. I found it fascinating that one person remembered that the father had the lamb pieces while the children had mince. I wonder what the mother (and cook) had?

Working class home cooked food is as interesting (or more so to me) as all these posh professional cooking shows.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Strike over Staffordshire University cheating low paid workers out of a decent pension

Good luck to UNISON members in Staffordshire University striking again tomorrow to save their pensions.

The University is planning to get rid of its existing pension scheme for its low paid workers and replace with a rubbish scheme that will mean they will retire and die in poverty.

How on earth can parents and students support an institution that cheats its low paid workers of a decent pension?

Sunday, August 19, 2018

21 floor "walkabout" Brassett Point

On Friday I went on a "walkabout" with residents and Newham Housing officers from the top to the bottom of Brassett Point in my ward.

It is always encouraging when you see residents who actively care about their homes and their environment. They have collected a petition, which 90 out of the 120 flats have signed, calling for improvements in communal repairs and stopping anti-social behaviour.

A number of actions were agreed and there will be follow up inspection later in the year.

The sister block nearby, David Lee Point (see picture left who also sent a resident representative) will be next.

By coincidence it was good to meet up with former colleagues from Tower Hamlets Council. I used to work with Agnes, now a local resident, (2nd from right above) when she was a Homeless Officer and Bob, a local caretaker (not in picture) we met on the walkabout who used to work with me on the Ranwell East (Roman Road) estate.

The longstanding Leather Gardens TRA rep, Ted Nolan (1st on left), was there as ever, to keep things moving along and all of us in order.

The residents will be handing in their petition at the next full Council meeting and are planning to send in a delegation to speak at the meeting. They are also going to set up a Facebook page for the block.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Mears Cat Action August 2018

Mears Cats Action Aug 2018_ from Hero Austin on Vimeo.

Video from yesterday's action by Newham residents at Housing Contractor, Mears PLC headquarters in Enfield.

Newham Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz and I joined the action to show solidarity with our residents and also to hand deliver a letter to the Mears Chief Executive Officer, David Miles, calling for a urgent meeting with him and the Mayor. 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

"Shocking picture shows Jeremy Corbyn with extremist leader of rogue island nation"

"A shocking new picture has emerged of Jeremy Corbyn appearing to converse with the extremist leader of a rogue island nation that sells weapons to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

The picture allegedly shows Jeremy Corbyn talking to Theresa May, the barely-elected leader of Britain.

Britain is a rogue island nation that has been selling weapons to terrorist states for decades. It’s currently in the middle of trying to leave the European Union.

‘Britain is one of the most dangerous nations to the safety of the world and here we see Jeremy Corbyn having a cosy little chat with its leader. It’s an absolute disgrace,’ said one furious centrist.

The under-fire Labour leader has admitted that he was once in a room with Theresa May.

‘I was present when Theresa May tried to converse with me, but I don’t think I was involved,’ he claimed."

Site visit and residents meeting - 10 Victoria Street

Following a visit to residents homes with officers from Newham Council I spoke yesterday at a lively but constructive residents meeting in Stratford Library.

Lots of things to do to improve our service and offer. 

Many thanks to housing campaign Group  @FocusE15 for helping to organise and Chair the visit and meeting. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Newham Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz reflects on her first 100 days in office

"Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz reflects on her first 100 days in office and pledges to continue to drive the change that Newham needs and for the benefit of all"

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

If a Police Officer can have his pension scammed then is anyone safe under Tory "Pension freedoms" ?

Check out this BBC report about a serving Police Officer who was cheated out of his pension but managed to win £135,000 compensation from the Ombudsman for his fund's failure to properly warn him about risks.  The Police Officer had been "persuaded" by his financial advisor to transfer his very safe and secure government backed Police pension into a completely dodgy scheme which it appears was then "lost or misappropriated".

While some may argue that a Police officer should know better, to me this shows that if a Police Officer can be conned out of their pension, then anyone can and that the Tory (and Lib Dem coalition) so called "Pension freedoms" have enabled con merchants to pray on ordinary peoples lifelong savings.

Since I used to work in financial services I know first hand how convincing and sophisticated these fraudsters are and also how extensive institutional corruption can be. I think that my personal views on institutional LOBO and LIBOR rips offs are well known.

Today there was also reports about the average loss is £91,000 for such pension scam victims and that
  • The Financial Conduct Authority's Financial Lives report suggested that 107,000 people aged 55 to 64 could potentially have been victims of pension scams last year

What a complete and utter mess. No wonder ordinary working people have little confidence in our financial services and its regulation.

I am appalled that Sir Steve Webb, the former Penision Minister, who introduced "Pension Freedoms" and now works for the industry is also quoted as blaming pension schemes for these cons and not apparently taking any responsibility himself for the "Pensions freedoms" policy which is facilitating even more cons to happen. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Being Scrutinised at Scrunty

Recently as Cabinet member for Housing Services I was called to answer questions by the Newham Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

This is a statutory committee of Newham Councillors whose role is to hold the Councils Executive members to account and make recommendations. 

As a backbencher Councillor for the previous 8 years, I had been a member of various scrunities (some longer than others) but this was the first time I had appeared as a member of the Executive. 

The Chair asked me to first give an outline of my housing brief for the benefit of the Committee. 

I explained that the present housing structure in Newham had been drawn up by the previous administration who had intended that all Councils services should be "outsourced". The new Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, has put a stop to all "outsourcing" and ordered a rethink and corporate redesign.  So things will change.

My housing brief is currently in 3 parts:- 

1. Traditional Council social housing management of our stock: repairs, rents, voids, allocations, residents engagement, Anti social behaviour (ASB), fire safety, right to buy, tenancy and leasehold enforcement. The Mayor has reserved the regeneration, planning and strategic delivery portfolio.

2. Homelessness and temporary accommodation (although not rough sleepers. The published minutes need correcting slightly on this), assessment, advice, support and prevention.

3. Private sector rental licensing and enforcement, including houses of multiple occupation (HMOs), advice and support. We really want to work with and support landlords but we won’t hesitate to drive bad and criminal landlords out of Newham and into the Courts. 

There are still a few grey areas (pardon the pun) about the scope of my brief due to the fragmented nature of the current structure.

Some Key issues

Number one is fire safety in our blocks including the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding. This is costing us a huge amount of money (waking watches) and it would appear that the Government will not reimburse anything like our total costs.

Review our entire allocation policy including the suitability of the offer for homeless temporary accommodation in light of the new Mayoral priorities and also changing Government policy. We have nearly 27,00 households on our waiting list and nearly 5,000 households in temporary accommodation. I suspect due to "sofa surfers", homes with grown up children who cannot afford to find a place of their own as well as all those private sector tenants, who have to spend most of their income on rent that the real figure of those in housing need is far higher.

Reform RMS repairs: (our in house repairs maintenance service). We have a number of good staff but the repair service is currently not good enough. RMS also has a limited new build module housing capacity which could be used more to build new homes on unused areas in estates.

Reduce Homelessness: Prevention is key. We spend far less than other boroughs which may be the reason why we have such high levels of homelessness. We need to educate residents about the scale and the real reasons for the housing crisis. We need more "joined up" thinking between housing and social services on these homeless issues which might result in financial savings to the Council and a better service for the people in Newham

Anti-social behaviour (ASB): While enforcement is not the only tool it is important. Too many residents live in fear of a tiny number of violent and abusive residents.

Fragmented caretaking service: This has been hived off the control of housing management. This has made it difficult to do anything about these services, particularly those services in estates, as I have no authority to manage these services.

Tackling housing poverty by supporting residents getting advice about benefits and support into decently paid work. We need to make sure "that work pays". This will reduce evictions and homelessness.

The need for Culture change and Resident Representation: There had to be a culture change on the part of both Members and officers in the way in which they interacted with residents, if residents were to be "at the heart of everything we do". There are practically no tenant and/or resident representation in Newham and while an annual citizens assembly on housing would be a good thing, it would not be a substitute for a proper democratic and accountable TRA. While we did not want to return to the “bad old days” when in some cases a small number of tenants had dominated the Tenants’ and Residents’ Associations (TRA’s) for their own ends. We need to carry out a review of tenants’ and residents’ representative structures as soon as possible.

Private Sector Housing Licensing - Enforcement: There will be an increase in the number of housing inspections undertaken to ensure that landlords were complying with the terms and conditions of their licences. Inspections and enforcement action are key to ensuring compliance and making landlords aware that non-compliance would not be tolerated. I am not at all opposed to properly managed private rented sector accommodation and I would expect any Councillor who rents property to be an exemplary landlord.

Planned Maintenance: We need to have planned maintenance and refurbishment programmes for Council properties. They are much cheaper than carrying out emergency repairs and better for residents. The “Decent Homes” programme ended eight or nine years ago. Therefore, there was a need for a properly planned programme. A housing stock survey is about to take place which will guide this.

Housing Associations: My own casework had shown me that the management performance of a number of housing associations within the borough had been abysmal. Therefore, if housing associations wished to work in partnership with the local authority, and I welcomed partnership working, it was necessary for poorly performing housing associations to improve.
In the Q&A with Councillors afterwards

In response to a question about the high cost and poor quality of some temporary accommodation I explained long-term lease agreements with decent landlords may provide an alternative form of accommodation and would do away with the requirement to pay a expensive “nightly” rate for private sector temporary accommodation.  Landlords want long term security of income. There are now a greater number of Council inspections of such accommodation. We are also thinking of buying and leasing properties.

Regarding the adverse effects that bad landlords had on their tenants, neighbours and good landlords, I hoped to see an increase in the number of prosecutions of bad landlords and an increased number of costs orders in the Council’s favour. Also, in the case of illegal evictions, I would want to see if necessary, custodial sentences for landlords to change their behaviours.

(picture college of some of the housing visits and inspections I have undertaken in last week). 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Go Get Him Girls!

Boris Johnson's worse nightmare. This is a great piece of contemporary political art in Southend, Essex. Hat tip Colin Nickless. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

“Why Labour must adopt the full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism”

I agree with UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, in this article published yesterday in the NewStatesman where he calls for the Labour Party to adopt the "full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism including all the examples" 

As an experienced trade union rep who has been defending members accused of breaching discipline procedures and codes of conduct for many years I cannot see a problem with the “examples”. As an elected lay member of the UNISON National Labour Link committee, I voted with colleagues to support the definition and include the examples. 

I understand that many members do not have confidence in the internal Labour Party discipline process but that is a very different (but still important) issue.  This lack of confidence is being tackled by the NEC and the new General Secretary, Jennie Formby. 

Time for us to move on and unite around attacking the Tories and not giving our enemies sticks to beat us with.

"The language of priorities is the religion of socialism”. Seventy years on from the establishment of our NHS, those words resonate just as loudly today as when the great Nye Bevan first said them.

Public services are in crisis. Our NHS faces year-round crises, not just a winter crisis. Local government has been cut to the bone and beyond, with the mismanaged mess of Northamptonshire Council emblematic of austerity’s logical end point.

Police staff, care workers and teaching assistants are under incredible pressure – continually forced to do more with less. Global challenges abound such as climate change, conflict, the refugee crisis and the rise of far-right populism.

Meanwhile, our departure from the EU looms on the horizon, just over six-months away. Yet this bungling government still can’t guarantee your rights at work or the security of your pension. Whether medicines will still be available in our hospitals, or whether food will be available in supermarkets.

Truly, 2018 feels like a year for strict prioritisation of the national to-do list. And yet what is it that fixates the Labour Party? It is – somewhat remarkably – an attempt to rewrite a widely-used, internationally accepted definition of anti-Semitism.

Two years ago I was warning that “a small but significant minority engage in misogyny and anti-Semitism” in the pages of a national newspaper. It’s hard to argue that subsequent events, regardless of their intention, have lessened those concerns. Either in the Jewish community or the country at large.

This issue is already costing Labour votes, as I saw for myself when campaigning in Barnet this year. But worse than that, it's harming Labour's historically close relationship with the Jewish community. And it's costing us the moral high ground from which to oppose all forms of racial hatred and oppression.

Racism is a deep scar on our nation’s soul. Many would like to pretend that it’s in decline, but that’s not the case. Whether whipped up online by often anonymous trolls or marching through our streets, buoyed by the success of Trump and the alt-right, the racists are on the march. Those of us on the left need to meet them head on wherever they appear, but we also need to be beyond reproach when it comes to tackling race hate in all forms.

Instead, when Boris Johnson shed his court jester act this week to engage in flagrant Islamophobic bigotry, too many of his supporters were able to wave away criticism of the former foreign secretary by saying “what about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party?”.

For Labour supporters – the overwhelming majority of whom are lifelong anti-racist campaigners – that response, even when used as a deflection tactic, should be a cause for genuine sorrow. As John McDonnell has said: “how have we got ourselves in this situation?”

Yet it isn’t too late for the party to chart a different course and begin repairing that damage as Jeremy Corbyn is clearly attempting to do. Anti-Semitism in Labour didn’t start under Jeremy, but I am confident that under his leadership it can be dealt with once and for all.

UNISON’s position on this is clear. Our National Executive Council earlier this year spoke with one voice against all forms of racism and, explicitly, anti-Semitism. We have committed ourselves to oppose it in all its forms - all of the smears and tropes that come with it – within our union, our movement, our party and in wider society. Our Labour Link committee, made up of Labour members and activists from across our union, has adopted the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition, with examples, and supported calls for Labour to do the same.

Of course, in this debate, there is always an elephant in the room – the oft-repeated assertion that you can’t criticise Israel without being accused of anti-Semitism. I hear it a lot, but I’m not buying it.

I’m not buying it as a regular critic of the Israeli government, settlements, expansionism and the blockade of Gaza. I’m not buying it as general secretary of a union that has always been committed to the rights of the Palestinian people, proudly supports the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and supports Palestinian trade unionists as they face daily oppression.

I’m not buying it as someone who has repeatedly called out the murder of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli army – including the shooting of unarmed civilians earlier this year. I’m not buying it, because it’s not true. If you’re not capable of criticising Israel without being anti-Semitic, then you’re an anti-Semite – and we should make no special exceptions for you.

The truth is, this should never have become such a divisive issue, an unnecessary schism in a party that on so many issues is genuinely united.

A Labour Party that has so much to prioritise must always make winning the next election our number one goal. It’s the only party which can be trusted to stand up for the many yearning for change against the few who profit from poverty and decline.

Right now, adopting the full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism including all the examples, removing those guilty of racism from our party and putting the issue of Labour and anti-Semitism to bed as quickly as possible is critical to doing so".

Dave Prentis is the general secretary of UNISON