Monday, December 31, 2018

Why you didn't get a xmas card from me (again!)

Apologies to friends, colleagues and family who have sent me Christmas cards and have not received any back.

I have made a donation instead. This year to the Housing and Homeless Charity Shelter.

My first role in housing was as a volunteer with the Citizen Rights Organisation in Edinburgh during the late 1980s.

Shelter provides excellent individual advice and advocacy and also leads effective campaigns on housing and homelessness. It is well worth supporting.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

West Ham ILP gives a socialist farewell to Barr Colonists

A few weeks ago this very charming "farewell" was published on "West Ham Labour" Facebook page by William Truscott, who is the Canadian Great Grandson of George & Hannah Truscott.

Modern day William Truscott described how his great grandfather had signed the nomination papers of the first ever Labour MP, Keir Hardie (elected 4 July 1892 for South West Ham) and placed his four sons at the four corners of the stage that Keir was speaking, armed with barrel staves to protect him.

The Independent Labour Party was formed by Keir Hardie in 1893 and eventually become part of the Labour Party.

A quick google search revealed that the family (including 11 children) left West Ham in 1903 to become farmers in what is now known as the "Barr Colony" in Western Canada.

I offered to show William around the Old Town Hall in Stratford where Keir Hardie was actually elected the next time he comes to visit the UK. He has accepted. 

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Moel Famau Christmas Eve circular walk 2018

I am back in London after spending Christmas with family in beautiful North Wales. On Christmas Eve, Gill and I went for a fantastic 8.3 mile circular walk to the Jubilee Tower at the top of Moel Famau, starting and finishing in Llanbedr village.

The weather was wonderful (as always in Wales), mild with clear blue skies, sunshine and light winds. The first part of the walk is a tough uphill slog, mostly on a well used path but the views were marvellous. There was a wide range of families, couples and groups of friends walking up Moel Famau, along the Offa's Dyke path, which we had joined half way up.  There was a lot of friendly banter amongst people going up and down.  I loved the scouse father who encouraged his children by promising that there was "free presents" for all at the top!

Nearly everyone walked up and down the same route. We carried on along Offa's Dyke, then dropped down back to Llanbedr and never saw a soul on the (muddy) way back.

I will post this walk on the Ordnance Survey grid once I work out how to do this (I bought a year's subscription but it doesn't seem to work). If you compare the GPS chart bottom right with a map you can work out where to go in the meanwhile. 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

One of the reasons why we have chronic poverty & homelessness in this country

“Almost one in five of Britain's biggest companies paid not a penny of corporation tax in the UK last year, it can be revealed. 

The Mail on Sunday has managed to obtain the details of the tax paid by 69 of the FTSE 100 group of largest companies on the stock market – many of which do not publish these figures in their annual reports.

The remaining 31 refused or failed to respond to repeated requests to disclose their tax payments.

Where details could be obtained, 13 firms – equivalent to one in five of the 69 that came clean – either paid no corporation tax in Britain or received a tax credit from HM Revenue & Customs.

The list includes household names such as BP, Royal Mail and British Gas owner Centrica ...

Some firms are even paying their chief executives more than they pay in tax. Royal Mail boss Rico Back stands to earn £1.4million this year on top of a £5.8million 'golden hello' for joining the company.”

This is a common theme amongst big business, for example:

“Netflix received a €199,000 (£174,000) tax rebate from the UK government last year and paid no corporation tax, despite making £500m in revenue from British subscribers to the streaming service.”

“Kellogg’s paid no UK corporation tax on its biggest British-based businesses last year ... Accounts show its four trading arms made profits of nearly £40million on £944million of sales.”

“Cadbury owner Mondelez International paid absolutely no corporation tax to the UK taxman in 2017 despite making profits of £185m. The tax bill should have come to £35m.”

That’s before you get to the likes of Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple, who have effective tax rates of less than 1%. 

Analysis has shown that £110 billion of tax giveaways will have been handed to corporations by the end of this Parliament. 

“It’s not a story of individual villains, of bad people, that if we simply replaced them with good people then all the problems with our society would be solved. The problem is to do with a system and the behaviour that it not only encourages, but depends on ... Ernest & Young, this is what they do. Along with other large accountancy firms, they facilitate tax avoidance on an industrial scale...”

Our system is purposefully designed to facilitate such behaviour and is protected by complicit tax dodging politicians. Take a look:

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

‘Heart Unions Week’ 2019 - Banning Zero Hours Contracts

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Four old ideas on how to build new Council Homes

Hat tip Room 151 - Sometimes the old ones are the best

"Chris Buss suggests four ways to stimulate the building of council housing.

(photo East Ham, Newham)

Earlier in the year the government issued a Green Paper on social housing; since then the world has gone Brexit crazy and little has been heard from central government on how they intend to proceed.The document itself quotes from the 1950s, a time when both major parties believed in the construction of council housing for rent. I have used the phrase “council housing” deliberately as it was at that time not synonymous with social housing.

Up until the 1970s council housing was not seen as a safety net but as an aspirational step up. It wasn’t stigmatised, but seen as a move up the ladder from poor-quality private rented accommodation. In fact, to get council housing, you normally had to be of good standing, in work and be able to pay the rent without assistance. That, however, changed, largely due to several apparently unconnected government decisions from the late ’70s and early ’80s which have led to the stigmatised view of social housing that exists today – not my words, but those of the prime minister.

A look at the statistics for the period from 1945 to 1979 show that this was the boom or golden era for building council housing. Much of that building was to replace stock damaged or destroyed by the Luftwaffe, but there was also much slum clearance. The quality of the replacement stock was variable, with much of the stock built in the 1950s and early 1960s being of good quality and is still in demand today. However, much of the stock built from the mid-1960s onwards was of lower quality and fits perhaps the more stereotypical image of council housing – high-rise, often system-built and poorly built and designed. Much is now the focus of regeneration schemes.

Since 1979, governments of both major parties have almost without exception turned their back on building new council housing. Both parties have, until very recently, almost actively encouraged councils to divest themselves of their stock to either housing associations or to arm’s length management organisations. Funding for new build has been virtually extinguished until recently and, in the light of that, the considerable expertise that councils had in council house building and delivery has virtually disappeared as the demand for those services has been eliminated.

The Green Paper and subsequent announcements from central government appear to be a step towards a small renaissance in council house building. So let’s make sure we learn from the golden era, to ensure the next generation of council housing doesn’t become the regeneration scheme of the 2060s. We should, I believe, look at the following: funding, place and people. In this piece I will only look at funding.

Although the system changed over time, virtually all council house building before 1979 had significant subsidy attached to it. This was in the days before the ring-fenced housing revenue account where any increase in costs of borrowing or running the stock would, if not met from rents, fall to the general rate payer i.e. the local tax payer. The subsidy was normally a revenue subsidy to reduce the cost of borrowing to the local council. It must be remembered that in those days the cost of a house was significantly less if inflated to current prices than a property is today, particularly in London and the South East.

In the present day, the subsidy available for social housing delivery is a cost per unit grant to reduce the capital cost,with the balance being met from borrowing or other resources. Most of the social housing currently produced is in effect a by-product of the planning system that tries to ensure that social or affordable rent housing is produced as part of private for-sale schemes, and again most of this housing is provided and managed by housing associations, not councils.

This is a far cry from the pre-1979 arrangement where councils brought forward their own schemes supported by central government subsidy. A return to those days is perhaps impractical but there are some steps that could be taken that would have minimal impact on wider government finances yet would prove the government is serious about encouraging councils to build a new generation of council housing for rent.

For councils the normal source of borrowing is the Public Works Loans Board (PWLB) which, in effect, is a loan from the government. One way of reducing the cost of housebuilding to councils would be to reduce the mark-up, or profit, that the government makes from lending to councils. Most councils borrowing at present from the PWLB would be paying the certainty rate of +80 basis points over gilts. One option would be for government to authorise the PWLB to reduce the mark-up for social housing to +40 basis points, a dispensation given once before as part o fthe HRA subsidy buy-out deal in 2012.

In high-cost areas of the country like London this would make some of the more marginal schemes deliverable. If government were serious about helping councils to deliver more social housing,this would be a very quick win.

The second step towards greater freedom is the use of right-to-buy (RTB) capital receipts. I won’t go into the rights and wrongs of RTB here as that’s the subject of a piece all by itself. However, on the acknowledgement that RTB in some form will remain, current restrictions on when councils can spend RTB receipts lead to potentially long-term decisions.

The current restriction of spend within three years of their receipt doesn’t reflect the reality of how long sites take to come to fruition – site assembly, design and procurement alone require an absolute minimum period of at least five years. And it goes without saying that 100% of receipts should be applied. I would add that I’m in favour of a restriction that RTB receipts should only be applied to new-build properties and not, as can happen at present, to acquisitions, many of which involve the buying back by the council of ex-RTB properties! This restriction would incentivise councils to look at building new units.

The third step is to create a more generous and less conditional grant regime. On this I speak from a London perspective, where the mayor and GLA control the purse strings rather than Homes England. At present in London the maximum grant available is £100,000 for a property which is on, or below the London affordable rent cap which is currently £158.84 per week for a two-bedroom unit. When this is translated into the cost of financing the debt, managing and maintaining a unit, it means a unit of accommodation particularly in inner London can only be built where the council owns the site and there is little need for demolition or buying out of other units. Where there are significant acquisition costs, this then makes social housing virtually impossible to deliver without either greater public subsidy or private subsidy, either through the planning system or through arrangements with the private sector, or building direct for sale. This to me is unsatisfactory – if the government is serious about austerity being over, then it should seriously look at increasing grant in high spend areas.

When talking about conditional grant, I am referring again to London where grant on regeneration schemes is conditional on a residents’ ballot. I would have thought following the Brexit ballot in 2016 that politicians would want to be very careful about having a single-issue vote as it sometimes finishes up with a perverse result! As an alternative, I would suggest that any grant should be conditional on those tenants and resident leaseholders displaced as part of a regeneration scheme having a guaranteed right to return and a single move policy.

My final point is for greater flexibility between the HRA and general fund. Ideally, I would like to see a return to the pre-1989 position of no HRA ring-fence, but realistically I know this will not happen. However, there is one area where greater flexibility would assist and that’s on the transfer, or appropriation of land between the two sides of the statutory ring-fence.

This land transfer is often necessary to facilitate regeneration or development. Under the rules as they stand at present any appropriation is required to transfer at market value, the impact of which can at times be to add additional costs to the HRA, which may make a build project less viable. Based on my experience, much of the land in question, particularly that held in the general fund, was initially acquired by the council well before the HRA ring-fence was established under the 1989 Local Government and Housing Act, and was often acquired initially under broad housing powers, such as slum clearance.

The council would then have undertaken a wholescale housing redevelopment which may have included the building of a facility such as a day nursery or old people’s home (that’s what they were called in the 1960s).

At that time there was no financial transaction required to reflect the differing uses of the site as both council housing and the other facilities were accounted for wholly in the general fund. That’s not the case now, though, but by enabling land to move freely from the general fund to the HRA without a technical finance transaction getting in the way, councils will avoid pre-ring-fence history scuppering a scheme’s overall viability.

Even if all four of these options were adopted they would, I accept, only impact the supply of council housing at the margins, but that’s a good start. What’s really needed is a significant boost in funding, a return to much more direct intervention by central government, moving the emphasis on housing support from personal support (welfare benefits) to the subsidy of bricks and mortar so that councils can build more housing that is affordable to rent.

To do that in the short term will mean an increase in overall expenditure, but unless this is done there is little hope of reducing the queues for social housing and curtailing demand for benefits. Building council houses is a true spend-to-save initiative – an old idea, but sometimes the old ones are the best ones.

Chris Buss is ex director of finance and deputy chief executive at London Borough of Wandsworth

Friday, December 21, 2018

Mayor gives Christmas Cheer to Newham Council Staff

A good news story for Christmas. The new Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz and the Finance Cabinet lead, Cllr (Red) Terry Paul have agreed to recommendations that the past administration Xmas working pay cuts to our staff are revised (as below).

Well done to all the recognised trade unions for their work on this and in particular, UNISON branch chair, Kim Silver, (UNISON is by far the largest union in Newham Local Government) who has been bending my ear on this topic (and others) for many a day.

Check out Newham website

"Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz has listened to the views of Newham Council employees and asked that pay enhancements to some staff which were reduced last year, are reinstated to their former level. ​

​In June 2017, the payments made to approximately 300 employees required to work on Bank Holidays and on extra statutory days such as the close down period between Christmas and New Year, were reduced as part of a review into terms and conditions of employment.

The Mayor, following consultation with the Interim Chief Executive and the recognised trade unions led by branch officers from Unite on behalf of colleagues from Unison and GMB, has asked that the pay for those offering essential services to some of the borough’s most vulnerable residents, is reinstated to its original 2017 level for those eligible employees who work on the days between Christmas and the New Year, and other Bank Holidays.

The Mayor said: “I am committed to putting people at the heart of everything Newham Council does, and that includes our employees as well as our residents.

“I respect and value the work of all of our staff. They do a brilliant job in providing the services that residents have told me are important. This is not just the work they do every day, it also includes Bank Holidays and extra statutory days.

“I thank everyone who is supporting me in delivering the priorities of this new administration, but following conversations with many of them, and our trade unions, I have listened to their views and have asked the Interim Chief Executive to reinstate the statutory day payments back to their 2017 level for those who are eligible.”

The new level of enhanced payment comes into effect immediately. Those employees who are eligible can expect to receive the additional entitlement with their salary from February 2019.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Newham Council Xmas 2018

A number of diverse events to celebrate Christmas in Newham during the last few days including some fantastic parties for our staff;  winning Labour SME "Mayor of the Year" award, a lobby of Pension committee by local carbon divestment activists (including carol songs and sustainable mince pies) and a great Christmas meal & night out with cabinet & Mayor office colleagues at Tippys in East Ham

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Fit for the future: TUC Pension Conference 2019

Why are women left so much worse off than men in old age? Can pension schemes invest in infrastructure in a way that is compatible with trade union values? What will be the big political moments for pensions in the year ahead?
These big questions and many others are being tackled at the annual TUC pensions conference taking place on February 5th at Congress House in London.
The event provides trade unionists, and those interested in a trade union perspective on pensions, with an opportunity to consider how well pension schemes, and the wider pensions system, is catering for members’ needs. There will also be practical sessions for trustees and others.
Keynote speakers this year include:
• Pensions Minister Guy Opperman
 Debora Price, Professor of Social Gerontology at The University of Manchester
• Chris Roberts, National Director, Social and Economic Policy Dept, Canadian Labour Congress
Others speaking at the event include Sue Ferns, Senior Deputy General Secretary of Prospect trade union; Gregg McClymont, Director of Policy at B&CE, Hilary Salt, founder of First Actuarial; Rosalind Connor, partner at ARC Pensions Law; David Brooks, Technical Director at Broadstone; Christopher Brooks, Senior Policy Manager at Age UK; David Leese, Analysis Manager, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Christian Seymour, Head of Infrastructure – Europe at IFM Investors, Stephen O’Neill, Head of Private Markets and Investment Proposition at NEST, and Gavin Merchant, head of real assets at USS.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

"Newham residents raise £1,600 for the Magpie Project"

Hat tip Newham Council Website "Money was raised through a collection at Newham Council’s music extravaganza Under the Stars with many residents providing generous donations. Additional donations were also collected through Newham Council staff participating in Christmas Jumper Day on 14 December.

The Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz and Councillor John Gray, Deputy Mayor (statutory) and Lead Member for Housing Services, presented a cheque to the project for £1,600.

The Magpie Project provides a safe and fun place for mothers and under fives who are in temporary or insecure accommodation. They provide art activities, messy play, nutritious snacks, a healthy lunch and other refreshments. The project also works with other services such as housing charity Shelter, health and law organisations and Newham Council’s Workplace to help mothers who visit get the advice and support they need.

Mayor Fiaz said: “I am a huge admirer of the Magpie Project and in awe of the volunteers – many of them mothers themselves – who give up their own time to provide this service. A service such as this should not be necessary. I am committed to tackling homelessness with compassion and care and I am looking at how we can provide different forms of temporary accommodation which is more appropriate and provides some stability as well as increasing the number of homes at social rents.

“As that work is still in the early stages, I am grateful for what the Magpie Project provides which is a lifeline to many and I would like to thank those residents who have made generous donations so we can present this cheque. We are looking at how we can help the project in other ways too – we have undertaken an assessment of the Lodge, the building the Magpie Project uses, to see what improvements we can make. I will also be meeting with the project in the new year to deal with issues raised around how mothers in temporary accommodation are treated by Newham Council.”

The Magpie Project is located at The Lodge Forest Lane Park, Magpie Close and is open Mondays and Wednesdays between 10am and 2pm during school term times only. For more information visit​

Monday, December 17, 2018

Record recruitment figures announced at UNISON NEC meeting (and I am standing next year for another term)

I really enjoyed this UNISON NEC meeting and I thought the debates and discussion was mostly excellent. I had to leave slightly early to go to LAPFF Pension conference but was pleased that we managed to grow as an union and that we should have a fairer NEC election process in January.  We cannot allow people who are not members of UNISON to influence our internal NEC lay led democracy.

In the debate on our Grovember campaign I shared with the NEC a story about successfully recruiting a new UNISON member via a mobile phone (while in a pub - but alcohol did not play a meaningful part in this process - honest).

I will be putting my name forward as a candidate again for the UNISON Community NEC General seat 2019/2020. The nomination process starts next month.

"UNISON’s final NEC meeting of 2018 opened with “good news to end the year on and a great way to start 2019”.
A report on the month-long campaign for growth that the union ran in November – or Grovember as it was dubbed within the union – showed every region and every service group in growth.
Assistant general secretary Liz Snape reported that November was a record recruitment month, with 18,000 people joining the union. And 75% of them joined online in a process that now takes less than three minutes.
At the same time, 12,380 members left, giving a growth of just over 5,700 members in November and put the union firmly on track for “gradual, consistent and sustainable growth” topping 6,000 for the year.
That is an incredible achievement for a union that has been up against it for a decade, the NEC heard.
It dispels the myth that unions aren’t popular and that young people won’t join – with young members featuring strongly among our new recruits.
Going into next year, the union will also set up a project looking specifically at retaining members so the union doesn’t just grow through increased recruitment but also through better retention.
General secretary Dave Prentis acknowledged the hard work of branches and staff in delivering this. “It’s a great result – I can’t thank the people involved enough. This shows what our union can do when we all work together.”
In his report to the NEC, Mr Prentis said the union had to continue to challenge the government’s narrative that austerity is over. “It is not,” he said. “It is a wrecking ball that continues to ruin our members’ lives.”
And he paid tribute to UNISON branches who were fighting and winning disputes through industrial action across the UK.
The NEC also:
  • agreed an updated policy on Brexit to oppose Theresa May’s proposed deal as not meeting the union’s six tests and calling for a general election
  • received an update on pay campaigns and industrial action across the union’s service groups;
  • agreed the union’s objectives for 2019;
  • agreed the budget for 2019 and approved the management accounts for the past 10 months;
  • approved the election procedures for next year’s NEC elections;
  • agreed policy on motions not reached at the 2018 national delegate conference.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Roding Valley Walk (Newham to Barking)

I can't believe that it was 8 years ago that Gill and I went for a 3 hour walk along the River Roding way (North) from Wanstead to Roding Valley underground station.

For whatever last minute whim reason, we decided today to go from Newham along the Roding River (South) towards Barking. There is a vague (and largely inaccurate) map online here

We walked through Wanstead Flats and alongside the City of London cemetery (and overhead train track to Ilford) to join the Roding War path in Little Ilford. There are signs pointing out the path but they are somewhat "sporadic".  Cross over Romford Road and make your way along Walton Road (including Susan Lawrence House named after one the first female MPs). You lose the signs at Little Ilford Park but go straight across and you will pick up the trail again.

Just before Barking we lost the signs again but made our way to  Barking town centre and had a late liquid brunch at the Barking Dog ,Wetherspoons. We walked 4.19 miles in 2 hours 19 minutes (including stops and breaks). Will finish off Barking to River Thames walk another time soon.

I raised on route a number of reports of fly tipping/litter on "Love Newham" app and will raise member enquiries on footpath signage, right of way blockage, fly tipping, litter and other issues I came across. It will be good to go "walkabout" with local Councillors, Council Officers and residents along this route in the near future. 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Fire Tones - 'Do They Know It's Christmas? (Feed the World)' [Offici...

We are a group of Fire Service Personnel from fire stations around the U.K. who have come together to release a charity Christmas single in aid of The Firefighters Charity and The Band Aid Trust.
You can pre-order your CD now via our website
Follow The Fire Tones on...
Official Website:
Written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure
Produced by Steve Osborne
Published by Chappell Music Ltd (PRS)

Newham Council Cabinet December 2018

I am honoured to be appointed as a Deputy Mayor and congratulations to my new Cabinet Colleagues. 

has announced some changes and additions to her Cabinet who will support her in ensuring that residents are at the heart of everything Newham Council does, and accelerate the pace of change required to deliver on her manifesto pledges.
​At a meeting of the Council at Stratford Town Hall on Monday, the Mayor unveiled:
  • ​Councillor Sarah Ruiz – Cabinet member for children’s social care
  • Councillor Zulfiqar Ali – Cabinet member for sustainable transport and highways
  • Councillor James Beckles – Cabinet member for crime and community safety.
In addition, the Mayor said that Councillor John Gray has been asked to assume duties as Deputy Mayor (Statutory) alongside his responsibilities as Cabinet member for housing services. 

Councillor Charlene McLean now has duties as Deputy Mayor (Community) and also becomes Cabinet member responsible for community neighbourhoods.

The other members of the Cabinet remain the same:
  • ​Councillor Terence Paul – finance and corporate services
  • Councillor Julianne Marriott – education
  • Councillor Susan Masters – health and adult social care
  • Councillor Rachel Tripp – environment.
The Mayor also announced a number of new Assistant Cabinet member roles to support the Mayor’s agenda. They are:
  • ​Councillor Firoza Nekiwala – supporting health and adult social care 
  • Councillor Carleene Lee-Phakoe – supporting children’s social care
  • Councillor James Asser – supporting environment and the sustainable transport agenda
  • Councillor Shaban Mohammed – supporting housing services.
Mayor Fiaz said: “I am very pleased to announce these appointments as members of the Cabinet as lead or Assistant members. They reflect the talent of a new generation of councillors to help me accelerate this administration’s bold, ambitious and radical vision to change our borough for the better and help me deliver the promises I made in my election manifesto.

“I look forward to working with my new Cabinet colleagues and all our elected members to continue our conversations with residents so that they can help us shape our future priorities and have confidence and trust in the way this council works on their behalf.”

Friday, December 14, 2018

Showing solidarity at UNISON stall Newham Council Dockside Building

I stopped yesterday at the UNISON stall at Newham Dockside building to chat with colleagues and especially our top UNISON Branch Chair, Kim Silver. UNISON is by far the largest trade union in Newham (and of course the best) and is also now the biggest union in the country with some 1.3 million members.

We discussed the exciting news that after so many years of UNISON campaigning and also thanks to the commitment of our new Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, Newham will finally become not only a London Living Wage employer but also sign the UNISON Ethical Care Charter.

Up to 1000 Newham care workers, mostly female and black residents, who are currently suffering poverty pay will have a pay rise of up to £100 per week, proper training and occupational sick pay. All new Newham Council contracts will require a London Living wage. Newham will become a Community Wealth Building Council and campaign for all employers in Newham to stop paying poverty wages.

Kim is Newham Custom House born and bred. As well as being a UNISON branch officer, anti-poverty and disability advocate she is also a local magistrate! She is your genuine grassroots Labour movement activist.

I am so proud to call her my comrade, even though in our new respective roles, we will not always agree and no doubt she will give me a severe ear bashing (or far worse) from time to time. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A "People's Budget" for Newham

Mayor and Cabinet members agree 2019/20 budget proposals

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz and her Cabinet members have listened to the views of residents and put forward proposals for how Newham Council intends to spend money on what people say is important.​

The Mayor presented her initial 2019/20 people’s budget proposals to Cabinet which include:
  • ​Investing £3m to pay our care staff the London Living Wage 
  • Investing £1.4m into youth services to keep our young people safe
  • ​Investing £6.3m so that primary school children continue to eat for free
  • Investing £10.6m into Children’s Services
  • Investing £1.3m to support children with Special Educational Needs
  • £1.4m to support 19,000 lowest income households by cutting the cost of their Council Tax
  • Investing £390,000 for free bulky waste collections
  • Accelerating social housing delivery with an additional £500,000
  • Investing £250,000 to ensure residents are at the heart of our decision making process.
The proposed investment is influenced by what residents have said, during Citizens’ Assemblies, is important; what councillors say residents have told them are the things they value; and from discussions with partner organisations. The final proposals will be considered by Full Council in February.

Mayor Fiaz said: “Over the past six years, the Government has drastically reduced the funding that we use to deliver services for our residents by almost £91m. In 2019/20 we will need to save at least another £8m lost from Government funding, and we can expect to have to save more in the years after that.

“What we decide now will provide us with a new and different type of budget. It is set to be truly transformative and would allow us to make some of the most radical changes this council has seen in years to the benefit of Newham residents. As well as delivering on manifesto promises, what is being proposed is what residents are saying are priorities; it is a people’s budget.

“And we cannot just think about next year; this has to part of a people’s budget process across the whole four years of this administration. The 2019/20 budget is a transitional one and, if approved, will be a balanced budget.”

To support the 2019/20 proposals, the council needs to make some tough decisions, including a proposed increase in Council Tax of 2.9 per cent alongside a two per cent rise in the precept towards the costs of providing adult social care, while at the same time reducing the burden on those least able to pay.

Councillor Terry Paul, Cabinet member for finance, said: “In terms of cold hard cash, this would mean asking residents for just 89p extra per week at Band D properties to cover the proposed increase in the Newham element of Council Tax. But this continues to give residents access to a whole raft of additional benefits in services as well as not having to reduce what we spend on libraries, parks, street lighting and cleaning, road repairs and leisure services for example.

“Newham Council hasn’t asked for any extra Council Tax from residents for the past ten years. This has meant £82m has been unavailable to us that we could have spent on vital services. Whatever we decide, we will make sure the right support is available for the families who are the least able to pay. We will also continue to save as much money as we can by being more efficient in everything we do.”

To protect vulnerable residents against the proposed increase, the Mayor is looking to increase the support available to 19,000 lowest income families with a variety of measures including extending support to tenants dealing with bad landlords and making care leavers exempt from paying Council Tax until the age of 25. There are also proposed changes to the Council Tax Reduction Scheme, which could reduce the amount eligible residents have to pay in Council Tax to just 10 per cent of the bill, potentially saving them almost £120 per year.

Listening to residents is part of the council’s commitment to openness and culture change within the authority. Mayor Fiaz added: “Our successful Citizens’ Assemblies have told us what our residents value. We have listened and this budget will enable us to build on what we offer.”

There will be Citizens’ Assemblies in January for residents to have conversations about the budget proposals. Details will be published at​ 

Residents can offer their views on the proposed change to the Council Tax Reduction Scheme through an online survey until 16 January. Currently, households eligible for the scheme pay a minimum of 20 per cent of their Council Tax bill. The consultation will ask whether this should be reduced to 10 per cent, 15 per cent or stay the same.

To take part in the consultation, visit or if you have any questions or would like to request a paper copy of the questionnaire please email​

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Proud to be London LGPS Pension Geeks!

I chaired a lively meeting this morning of Greater London UNISON Local Government Pension Scheme reps from 10 different funds helping to look after some £15 billion of funds. Huge range of important issues to wade through including Climate Change, deficits, asset allocation, London CIV Governance, Auto-enrolment, excessive fees and charges, training, equity protection, tax charges, 50/50, discount rates etc

Who says pensions are boring!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

My NEC Report to UNISON Community Service Group Executive (SGE) 28 November 2018

Dear SGE Members

Further to my last NEC report to SGE on 3 October 2018. Apologies for the lateness of this report and that I will only be able to stay for a short while at this meeting since I will have to travel to Birmingham to attend another UNISON meeting (in order to ensure that quorum is met).

In this report I hope to outline my attendance and activities as an NEC member on National sub-committees and other bodies that I am a member of due to my position as a lay elected NEC member.

TUC Congress in Manchester 9-12 September

This year I was a UNISON delegate to TUC congress. The annual “Parliament” of the Trade Union movement which took place in Manchester to honour the 150th anniversary of the first ever Congress. I have made various reports on my personal blog for example

Policy Development and Campaigns Committee (PDCC)

This is one of the most important strategic UNISON NEC committees. As is suggested by its name it researches, debates and recommends to the NEC on our key policies and campaigns. We met last week and discussed over 40 reports and recommendations including Brexit, Housing policy, privatisation, anti-racism etc.

UNISON Industrial Action Committee (IAC)

I was elected as Vice Chair by NEC colleagues of this important committee. The Chair and Vice Chair (both of us are lay members) approve all requests by Branches and Service Groups for industrial action (including Strikes). I am pleased that we have never rejected any request, however that doesn’t mean that we don’t have some comradely exchanges from time to time with branches and officials on the detail of some requests.

UNISON Staff Pension Scheme Trustee

I am a trustee of this scheme as an employer (NEC) representative and Chair of its Investment & Accounts sub committee. The scheme is in my view a model of pension good governance with 50% of the trustees appointed by the employer (UNISON) and 50% by its staff (the recognised trade unions). I think that all pension trustee boards (including the Local Government Pension Scheme) should have similar governance arrangements.

National Labour Link Committee

I am elected as a NEC representative on this committee by those who are Labour Link political fund levy payers which also met recently and discussed regional reports, impact of trade union bill, Labour Party business and Parliamentary work.

UNISON Welfare Board of Trustees

UNISON has its own self-help charity for its members called “There for You”. I am one of the NEC Trustees for the Board (and new link Trustee for Wales). “There for you” gives fantastic support for our members who are going through health, personal or financial crisis’s and its work makes me so proud of our union.

Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) Service Group Liaison Forum

I am currently Vice Chair of this forum via the PDCC which is dedicated to protecting and promoting the LGPS and Capital Stewardship issues.

NEC meeting

Due to another calendar clash I was not able to attend the UNISON EC meeting on 17 October 2018 but there is a very good report on the UNISON Website here

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you wish to discuss any aspect of my report or any other NEC related issue.

John Gray
NEC Member Community (General Seat)

Monday, December 10, 2018

Newham will become a London Living Wage Employer AND sign the UNISON Ethical Care Charter

This is great news! At tonight's Newham Council meeting it was agreed by Councillors to endorse the decision by our Executive Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz,  for us to become a London Living Wage Employer and to sign (and become) a signatory to the UNISON Ethical Care Charter. 

Rokhsana had pledged to Newham Citizens in April 2018 that if elected she would introduce a Living wage for all Newham directly employed staff and contractors. 

The Labour campaign for such a Living Wage was started on 22 February 2007 (check this blog for mentions of "Living Wage") by members of Newham TULO (Trade unions for Labour). 

After a long 11 years I am so pleased (and personally feel quite emotional) that Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz, is delivering on our campaign after so many years and introducing a London Living wage AND signing the UNISON Ethical Care Charter. 

After next April we will have up to 1000 low paid predominantly local care worker being given FTE pay rises of around £100 per week (and £5000 per year) 

This charter is a "Living wage plus" for care workers, making sure that as well as a living wage they get occupational sick pay, training and paid time for travelling and expenses. 

This proposal will still need to be agreed at the 2019 Full Council budget meeting (which due to Tory Austerity cuts will be eye wateringly painful but I cannot think that any Councillors will want to put this item at risk).

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Newham Council to invest £120m in improving existing council homes

"Newham Council’s housing stock will be improved as part of a £120m investment programme, to drive up standards for residents and ensure our council homes are safe and well maintained.

The commitment was set out as part of the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) business plan approved at Cabinet (4 December). The business plan was recently reviewed to align with commitments made by the Mayor of Newham in her Housing Delivery Statement and her pledge to ensure all council homes are fit for habitation.

The capital investment will be made over the next five years and will include a rolling stock survey to identify what major works are required. Major works include replacing windows, reroofing and improving building structure. Boilers, bathrooms and kitchens that are out of date will also be upgraded as well as wider work such as decoration, pathways and lighting in and around estates to improve liveability and offer an inviting, safe and secure environment.

The Mayor of Newham last month announced her Housing Delivery Statement, the first part of a wider strategy detailing how the council will transform housing. Over the next four years, she will build at least 1,000 new council homes with 100 started in her first year. As set out in the business plan, the HRA will deliver up 409 social homes as part of this target.

Further to this, 456 homes will be acquired by 2023 to be available at social rents through the use of existing council reserves and receipts from council homes purchased by tenants using the Right to Buy.

To further supplement this work, the council will also put in a bid to the Mayor of London’s Homebuilding Capacity Fund, for up to £750,000 revenue funding. This funding can be used for councils to develop the skills, capacity and expertise to deliver new approaches to increasing housing supply.

Councillor John Gray, Cabinet Member for Housing said: “We are committed to ensuring all our council homes are safe and well maintained and so I am happy we can announce this £120m investment. We intend to survey every home over the next five years to check what improvements can be made, to enhance the lives of our tenants.

“Our primary focus must be on building desperately needed new homes for our homeless residents but we must not forget our existing housing stock. Every council tenant should be living in a warm, well maintained home and with this funding, we will take whatever action is necessary to make this possible.”