Saturday, June 30, 2018

South West Coast Path: Newquay to Perranporth Walk

Off message. Drove back today after a lovely week's holiday in Cornwall recovering from UNISON conference. I did of course develop the traditional post conference lurgy but it did not spoil the break.

Yesterday Gill and I had the best walk of the week along a section of the South West Coast Path from Newquay to Perranporth. The weather was marvellous and it took us across drop dead gorgeous Cornish beach after beach.

You had to take your walking shoes off to paddle across some of the breaches and while there was some up and down walking along headlands, there was nothing too strenuous.

Highlight of the walk was watching a colony of seals basking in the sun off Kelsey Head. We counted 18 seals (bottom right of collage - not that you can see easily see them).

Worse thing while paddling was avoiding stepping on evil looking translucent jellyfish on the huge Perran Beach.

The sat nav said we had walked 9.3 miles and we got the 87 bus back to Newquay (google maps on my smartphone was spot on for public transport information). So only another 621 miles to finish the walk! While waiting for bus we had the best ever Cornish dairy ice cream. 

Thoroughly recommend this walk (and the ice cream). 

Friday, June 29, 2018

Triangle Market - A New Market in West Ham


The next market is happening on the 8th of July between 11am-4pm in the Church Street Triangle, also known as Triangle Square, E15 3HX. 

- food - produce - cakes - handicraft - 
- art - flowers - antiques - and more -

- workshops - performances - exhibitions - 

There will also be FREE FACE PAINTING!

The market will include regular performances and exhibitions by local talents as well as a heritage exhibition telling the story of the historically rich area.

The market offers vendors the possibility to sell their merchandise without having to pay for a stall. We will provide a few gazebos and a few tables but encourage those who have their own stalls to bring them.

Please contact us if you are interested or have any ideas or suggestions of how we can make our market into something you would like to go too.

The Triangle Action Group, a community group based in West Ham was recently awarded the Awards for All grant and is now setting up a community market in Triangle Square, also known as Church Square, E15 3HX. 

The idea is to bring life and activity into the square and make it a meeting place for the community, this through the permanent occurrence of events there.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"Shifting Housing’s Overton Window"

Another great article by stevehilditch on Redbrick (even though I had to Google "Overton Window")

"It's a sign of a remarkable comeback for social housing that the new CIH report ‘Rethinking Social Housing’ contains few surprises. Only 3 years ago this report would have seemed a radical contradiction of the dominant narrative. It probably would have been attacked for lacking realism and harking back to the long lost 1970s.

Social housing reached its nadir around and after the 2015 General Election. It was unaffordable, past its sell-by date, consigned to the history books as the government and most of the housing industry focused their concerns on ‘the only game in town’, building homes that did not require grant, at significantly higher ‘Affordable rents’ or market prices, pushing forward with policies (right to buy, 'conversions', market sales) that would feed the development programme.

Housing’s ‘Overton window’ - the range of ideas tolerated in public discourse – had become very narrow indeed and those of us who argued for social housing were made to feel oddballs well outside mainstream opinion. So it was that the very expensive National Housing Federation ‘Homes for Britain’ campaign prior to the 2015 Election choked on the words social housing. Joining the newly formed SHOUT campaign for social housing felt like heading upstream without a paddle.

So, what explains the turn-round between then and now, when the government is allocating funds specifically for new social housing, everyone is reviewing and rethinking the purpose of social housing - coming to the conclusion that it is an essential component of a fair and functioning housing market - and CIH feels confident enough to describe it as 'a pillar of the welfare state' without provoking guffaws of laughter?

Here are several possible factors. First, the refusal of tenants, campaigners, many people working at the grassroots in housing, and a few brave housing leaders, to stop banging the drum for genuinely affordable (as opposed to joke affordable) housing. Second, over-reaching by the Tories so their housing policies and the consequent rise in homelessness just confirmed their lack of empathy for poor and disadvantaged people. Third, the advent of unashamedly pro-social housing Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership, which changed the nature of the debate in the Labour Party. Fourth, the general public, who did not obey the rules of the Overton window because they never lost sight of the simple idea that council housing was a good thing – even if they also thought it was subsidised and not for them. And fifth, Grenfell, which changed everything.

The new CIH report reflects a lot of background work with tenants and the sector and demonstrates that social housing is firmly back within the spectrum of acceptable thought. It identifies 3 key themes:

Social housing, its affordability and the security it offers to people living there, are highly valued
It has much wider value by allowing residents to prosper and thrive, through its contribution to tackling poverty, the success of local and national economies, and individual health and well-being
However, there is stigma attached to social housing as a ‘product’ and to the organisations providing it and the people living in it

And so,

"Social housing has a unique and positive part to play in housing people, helping to create thriving, mixed communities, and meeting needs that the market will not. Done right it does great things. But it isn’t always the case that homes and neighbourhoods are well managed and well maintained and it’s important that we own and address this.

"It’s time to reclaim the role of social housing as a pillar of the society we want to be, along with free health care and education – and it must be at the centre of government plans to solve the housing crisis. And, having ‘reclaimed’ the role of social housing, we need to push on – creating an ambitious vision of what a plentiful supply of social housing can do help people thrive in communities that prosper."

Some of the information in the report might surprise a general reader. For example, registered unemployment amongst social housing tenants is only 8%. The vast majority are either in work, retired or unable to work due to physical or mental disability or carers. Homeless people also take up around a quarter of lettings, far fewer than might be imagined.

The report contains a helpful discussion of the question ‘who is social housing for?’ based on a wide range of views from the public and the sector. The answer seems to be that ideally people want the sector to be ‘for anyone’ but that pragmatically it will remain highly rationed for many years to come. Given the vital role that security of tenure plays in enabling people to become established in their neighbourhood and having a platform on which to build their future, it is remarkable to note that there are still widely differing views on whether social housing should be a long term solution or, given scarcity, a short-term, reviewable, stepping stone.

CIH look forward by identifying six areas for further action, with some detailed proposals attached to each - including, for example, a call to suspend the right to buy which might become the headline proposal for the report.
  • there should be a new definition of social housing to get away from the current confusion.
  • tenants must have a greater voice.
  • there should be an increase in the supply of ‘genuinely affordable’ homes.
  • everyone should be able to afford a place to call home, with a move towards income-related rent-setting.
  • homes and neighbourhoods should be better managed.
  • there should be greater efforts to challenge the stigma and stereotyping attached to social housing.
It’s a reasonable agenda. And given the general drift back to accepting the importance of social housing it will be fascinating to see how far the government is willing to go when it releases its Green Paper before the summer recess.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

UNISON Labour Link nominate Faiza Shaheen for Chingford & Woodford Green

Greater London UNISON Labour Link have  given a supportive nomination to Faiza Shebeen to be the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the seat. There were a number of excellent UNISON members seeking nomination. I have seen Faiza speak at a number of Class events (the Labour movement think tank where she works as its director) and I think she will make a great local PPC to take the seat away from Ian Duncan Smith.
"UNISON does phenomenal work fighting for public sector workers in the face of Tory attacks. Years of cuts and pay freezes must end - and we need a Labour government to turn it around.
As the candidate for CWG, I will be working closely with UNISON members to campaign for fair pay and public sector investment, and I am really grateful for their support in this selection".

Monday, June 25, 2018

Life after Conference in Beautiful Britain

Been recovering from UNISON conference. After 4 days locked in a large shed in Brighton it is great to get out and about.

We live in an unequal and imperfect country but it is also staggeringly beautiful.  

Sunday, June 24, 2018

#UNDC18 Motion 59.1 Privatisation and PFI - Building the Campaign (aka No to Moody Mutuals)

President, Conference. John Gray, NEC, speaking strongly in favour of amendment 59.1 and against the privatisation of our public services by so called "Public Service Mutuals".

To be clear Unison is a supporter of the Co-operative movement and I happen personally like many people here, to be a longstanding member of the Co-operative Party and try whenever possible to shop and buy from coops and genuine mutuals.

However, "Public Service Mutuals" are not and never can be genuine co-operatives. Real co-operatives are bottom up, formed by grass root workers in order to tackle exploitative employers not to replace democratic and accountable public services. The international definition of cooperatives states that a real Coop is an “association of persons united voluntarily”. Note the word voluntary, staff are being forced into Public Service Mutuals against their will so they can never be cooperatives and no one in the Co-operative movement should support them.

There is one reason and one reason why the Tories are planning these dodgy Mutuals and that is a political one. The Tories want to privatise all public Services. councils, schools, health services - everything. This attack is ideological.

And let us spell this out to our friends in Co-operative movement who may be taken in by this. In unison we have a long, first hand and bitter experience of what happens when you privatise under whatever name you want to call it. Workers pay, their pensions, their holidays, their sick pay is cut, cut and cut.

Cutting pay, terms and conditions of its is the only way they will save money and if they didn’t they will go bust and be snapped up by bigger for profit privateers.

Ironically, in recent years there has been a minor revival in directly employed public services. With many local authorities (even Tory Councils) realising that they can save money by economies of scale and take control of services by bringing them in house. Direct Labour organisations such as APSE have produced stacks of reports and evidence on how you can keep services in house, improve quality and save money.

Conference, we want to work with the cooperative movement and we want to support and grow genuine cooperatives but we will not tolerate or accept privatisation however it is dressed up and we will call it out and tell it as it is.

Conference, please support this amendment.

#UNDC18 UNISON National Delegate conference 2018 Thursday

Day 3 of UNISON National Conference. 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Friday, June 22, 2018

#UNDC18 “Housing Affordability is a growing concern for public services”

My speech to UNISON National Delegate Conference on behalf of National Executive

“Conference, President, it is unacceptable that public service workers continue to be priced of the housing market.

They keep local authority, education, community, our utilities, police and health services running efficiently.

They are the heart of our public services and we depend on them to manage our lives.

Yet, their housing needs are frequently overlooked by central government policy.

Real term cuts to public service pay and the government’s failure to tackle the housing crisis has led to an under-supply of truly affordable housing and spiralling housing costs, making housing unaffordable to public service workers on low to middle incomes.

Conference, the Grenfell tragedy rightly changed the debate on housing.

It highlighted that the government needs to listen and act on the concerns of tenants and residents about the safety of their homes.

It brought into sharp focus the state of the nation’s housing crisis and the need for the government to invest more in maintaining our national housing stock as well as building quality social rented homes to meet rising housing demand.

But while the housing narrative has shifted, government policy has not.

It remains wedded to stimulating private sector house development, which only benefits the privileged few. That is those on higher incomes and the wealthy.

While the low paid, vulnerable, young, single adult men and women, elderly and homeless are left to chase fewer low quality homes at the bottom end of the market.

Conference, it is a scandal that government policies continue to attack, dismantle and stigmatise social housing.

Funding for social rented homes has been drastically cut since 2012 in England.

While in each of the devolved nations – housing investment has increased.

In 2016/17 just 1,102 , 1, 102 homes were delivered for social rent with government grant in England, leading to the lowest number of new social rented homes since records began.

While at the same time more than 150,000 homes for social rent have been lost since 2012.

These losses have happened because the government have tried to stop housing associations and councils from building homes at social rents.

It has happened because the government promotes the controversial policy of converting existing social homes to rents at 80% of market rates, which isn’t affordable at all.

It has happened due to increased sales of homes through the Right to Buy policy.

No wonder that social housing is now the smallest sector, making up just 17% of households after private renters (20%) and owner-occupiers (63%).

Conference, do not be complacent about this if you happen to live in a relatively low rent area. Due to the crazy zombie market economy we live in things can change very rapidly. I have lived in East London for the past 30 years in a borough that traditionally had the lowest property prices and rents. In the last 6 years rents have risen by a staggering 47%. While house prices have gone up by 344% since 2000. Ask yourself Conference. Where will your children and Grandchildren live in the future?

Our members work tirelessly to keep our public services running and efficient.

They deserve the right to access a decent, affordable home near their place of work.

Conference, the motion outlines key demands to end the dismantling of social housing, and for a fairer housing and welfare deal, which will ensure a safe, secure, decent and affordable housing for all – and not just the privileged few.

Please support the motion.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

#UNDC18 - UNISON National Delegate Conference 2018. Day one Tuesday

Day one of the 25th UNISON conference in Brighton. Pictures of UNISON NEC, There For You Charity AGM, and my branch delegates. More to follow.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Newham Full Council Meeting 18 June 2018 - 3 minute update on Housing Services

Picture from the new style Newham Full Council meeting at East Ham Town Hall yesterday evening. The most people I have ever seen at a normal Council meeting I think?

As the Cabinet member of Housing Services I gave a 3 minute report on what I had been doing (see below) and answered 4 written questions from the public. 

"Chair, Like my cabinet colleagues, I have had a busy few weeks going walkabout around Newham estates, blocks, housing schemes and projects; talking to residents, service users, management, officers from the GLA, other councils, the local voluntary sector and front line housing staff about the good and the bad in Newham Housing.

Nearly everyone recognises we have a housing crisis and it is not only a crisis in London but a national crisis up and down the land. 

Yet, in Newham, We have our own challenges and opportunities, including having the longest Council waiting list in London with 26000 households chasing around 570 vacent properties every year. For every single social rent home that comes available, there are 44 households who want a move. 

We also have the highest number of homeless in London and we have thousands of residents in social housing, in the private rented sector and in owner owner occupation, who suffer from overcrowding and poor quality homes.

I have had children taking exams contact me because they have no where to go at home to study and revise. We have grown up children in their 30s and 40s, still living with their parents, not through choice, but because they cannot afford to move out and find their own homes. 

We will continue to campaign and press the Government to work with us to eliminate slum landlords, overcrowding and homelessness, while looking to transform how we deliver housing services in Newham. Residents will be at the heart of this.

In the Autumn, we will start a review from top to bottom of the borough allocations policy and then look at a rebirth of Tenant and Residents representation and participation in our borough 

Following on from the first anniversary of Grenfell disaster, today, I agreed in consultation with the Mayor, to spend £10 million on essential fire safety contracts and to spend a further £10 million on fire safety by end of the financial year. Details to be published. 

We expect the Government to live up to its promises to fully fund these essential fire safety works. Even though the money that they have promised councils so far appears to be inadequate. If we don’t get our money we may have another fight on our hands. 

Thank you Chair. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Essex Way: Epping to Chipping Ongar

Off message. Last year Gill and I finally finished the London Loop walk (which took us 3 years to complete in stages) but on 10 June we started our next long distance walking challenge, the 82 mile (130 km) Essex Way. Which starts in Epping and finishes in Harwich. There are 10 stages, first is  Epping to Chipping Ongar.

We took the 58 bus to Leyton Station then the Central Line to Epping. Went the wrong way out of Epping station but soon found our way on the well signposted route. Lovely rolling countryside but some noise at first from M11. Crossed over M11 on footbridge and then soon found ourselves in timeless beautiful rural essex.

There are a couple of nice looking pubs on the way but to me the best part of the walk was stopping off at the ancient Saxon Greensted Church (see collage above) which is believed to be the oldest wooden church in the world.

After their pardon and return from transportation in Australia, the trade union Tolpuddle Martyrs, settled in this area and were given land to farm. Two of the Martyrs married in this church but the local vicar is blamed for forcing them to leave and most of them later emigrated to Canada.

Stage one finished at Chipping Ongar (8 miles). We got 410 bus back to Epping then Central Line to Leyton and 58 bus back to Forest Gate.

A lovely and quiet country walk. Recommended. I am also thinking of whether we can enter a Newham Labour team into the relay race on Sunday 2 September when teams will complete the entire 82 miles in one day.

Watch this space. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

120k kids in B&Bs, Grenfell Tower; 200k Tenants abused; NHHG Fashion, Rutting Stags, Tackling Fuel Poverty - Labour Housing Group AGM 2018

This morning I went to the AGM of the Labour Housing Group which took place at Camden Town Hall. The LHG is a socialist society affiliated to the Labour Party, which as the name suggests, is a forum concerned with the political development of Labour housing policies and issues.

The Chair, Paul Eastwood, gave a powerful introduction stressing the national housing crisis we face with 120,000 children living in bed and breakfast, Councils spending £500 million on temporary accommodation, 200,000 private sector tenants reporting being abused or harassed by their landlords and tenants being described as "vermin" by so called "eviction services".  I can only agree with his comments with regard to Grenfell that "the sad fact is that it seems people have to die before housing gets the attention it deserves".

Treasurer Ross Houston reported that the LHG is setting up a new website where members will be able to join online.

I asked the officers how we can set up at Newham Branch of the LHG and was very encouraged by the positive reaction. I will email the secretary to start this off.

Our first guest speaker was Alastair Mcintosh, Chief Executive of the Housing Quality Network who is always a provocative but entertaining speaker. His beef is with the dismal and sectarian nature of English housing players which are dominated by "rutting stags" compared with the more collaborative approach of for example Welsh housing professionals. He (like me) wondered what is going on with Notting Hill Housing Trust holding a fashion launch on the same day as the first anniversary of Grenfell?

The next speaker was Michael Ware from a corporate finance practice on the role of the public sector tackling fuel poverty by micro generation and energy storage. This presentation was very powerful but completely new to me so I think I need to get advice from our officers on this but it seems something that all of us in the public sector need to think very seriously about it.

I had to leave early to go on a visit to a resident so missed the after lunch sessions (guest speaker Nicky Gavron from London Assembly) but have stolen the pictures from Cllr Ross Houston on his facebook. I have also added pictures to the above college from Stratford Town Hall being Green for Grenfell and the UNISON campaign against violence at work.

Friday, June 15, 2018

"Councils face replacement property drought"

"Two-thirds of councils will be unable to replace all the homes sold under Right to Buy without significant reform of the system, according to the Local Government Association.

The LGA this week released research it commissioned from property consultancy Savills which showed that more than 60,000 homes have been sold off in the last six years at, on average, half the market rate. The sales leave councils with enough funding to build, or buy, just 14,000 replacement homes. The LGA is calling on the government to allow all councils to borrow for building new homes, keep 100% of all sales receipts, and have the power to set Right to Buy discounts locally. Martin Tett, LGA housing spokesman, said councils needed “urgent” support to replace the homes sold off under the Right to Buy scheme. “Without a pipeline of new homes, future generations cannot benefit from the scheme,” said Tett.

I thought the tories promised "like for like" replacement of Right to buy properties sold?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Why Pensions are so important and organising to defend the Local Government Pension Scheme

Today I had a record breaking 3 meetings on Pensions. First I chaired a meeting of Greater London UNISON reps who sit on local Council Pension Boards (see group picture of Forum members above).

UNISON has cross service group national and regional forums on the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). The overriding purpose of these forums is to defend and improve the LGPS which 4 million UK workers depend upon and has £250 billion in assets.

We discussed:-

  • Support appropriate take up of the 50/50 option, especially for low paid workers who would otherwise leave the LGPS. Point out you still get full life insurance cover with 50/50
  • Recruiting and training for new reps; 
  • LGPS fund manager Baillie Gifford refusal to talk to trade unions about manufacturer Tesla's appalling  health & safety record.
  • Indemnity insurance for Pension board members. The saga continues. Why do some funds have it but others say it is not necessary? 
  • How to challenge inaccurate calculations of pensions (a rep reported that there has been some awful big mistakes made); 
  • Poor governance arrangements on some London Pension boards; 
  • Member representation on the London Pension Fund Authority
  • Access to UNISONs financial advice partner Lighthouse; 
  • Carbon divestment campaign. Branches and Climate campaigners need to work together. 
  • Carbon Neutral investment; 
  • New Minister for Local Government Pensions (who knows his stuff); 
  • 2018 LGPS PLSA conference; 
  • Millions of pounds of savings already made by London Pension funds due to UNISON's work on exposing excessive fees:
  • Problems with the London Collective Investment Vehicle (especially with Governance and ESG)
  • Disaster. The government wins legal appeal that they can force LGPS to invest in line with the whims of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. What could possibly go wrong?  
  • We finished with a minutes silence for the victims of Grenfell. 

Green For Grenfell

"Lighting up the Old Stratford Town Hall & East Ham Town Hall at @NewhamLondon to mark our respects to the victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy one year on. And our enduring condolences to their loved ones. #greenforgrenfell" Hat Tip Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Magpie Project

I spent some time this morning at the Magpie Project in Forest Gate talking to families using the centre & volunteers. I was so impressed. A fantastic respite & haven for mums and children living in temporary accommodation in and around Newham London

Check out :-

Welcome to the Magpie Project

We can’t solve the housing crisis, but we believe in making children’s lives better during their time in temporary accommodation.
We provide practical support and advice to mothers and children under five in temporary or insecure accommodation in Newham.
We believe all children have a right to a secure, safe place to play, healthy food, engaged parents, and access support no matter what their family circumstances

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

"What it's like to be on the receiving end of a violent attack..." Lynn's Story and UNISON Charter on Violence at Work

Yesterday there was a Parliamentary launch of the UNISON Violence at Work Charter for the 3rd Sector (Housing Associations & Charities). There was a number of MPs and employers who turned up to support the launch. The contribution by UNISON Member, Lynn Gillespie, at this event about her violent assault at work will be unforgettable to anyone who heard it. 

"Hi. My name is Lynn Gillespie. I work for WM Housing and I’m a proud UNISON member and workplace rep. I’m here today to tell you what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a violent attack as a result of my work.

It is an accepted fact that those of us in public service have to, on occasion, deliver bad news or do something that may not be liked by our clients or customers . Sadly, this means there are occasions when people react in a violent or aggressive manner.

When I was a homeless officer I had a telephone, a chair and other miscellaneous objects thrown at me. I’ve also had a punch thrown at my face.

Thankfully, my husband was nearby and was able to protect me. As a result he received severe bruising to his back. I dread to think what might have happened had we not been rescued by two off duty firemen who saw the attack and shouted and as a result the assailants ran off.

That was in 1999, I was a tenancy enforcement officer by that time taking action against perpetrators of serious anti social behaviour. The impact on my family was more hurtful that my injuries as I could not see my daughters aged 5 and 7 for nearly a week as my face was so horribly bruised with a broken nose and cheekbone. They were spun a tale of mummy having ate something that did not agree with her that had given her an allergic reaction. They cried when they eventually saw me and that hurt even more.

What did help, was that I was totally supported at work by my manager who came to see me at home on the Monday as I had been due in Court and he took my court case from me and went to court himself. He was also armed with the largest bunch of flowers I had ever seen which as he pointed out would not take away the horror of the attack but hopefully would cheer me up.

My employers have always taken assaults on staff very seriously and we have an excellent internal reporting system in place for all assaults be they near misses, verbal abuse or threats or actual physical harm which thankfully does not happen too often. We do not hesitate to take action against the perpetrators and if they are our tenants we take action against their tenancy.

I am also proud to say that my employer, WM Housing, was the first organisation to sign up to the Violence at Work Charter having already put in place everything on the list.

Sadly, the stories from UNISON members in the Third Sector is that nowhere near enough employers take this responsible approach. Too many workers in the sector are being expected to put up with violent and aggressive behaviour, being told that it is part of the job. The Violence at work charter is my union’s attempt to draw a line in the sand. We say enough is enough. Committed charity and housing association workers, in fact, no workers, should be assaulted as a result of their public service.

Please go back to your employers and encourage them to sign if they have not already as we have to take a stand against this unfortunate fact of working life that affects far too many of us working in our sector.

Thank you for listening".

Monday, June 11, 2018

Doing business the right way benefits everyone

"I don't always agree with Conservative ministers, but I did at the launch of a report last month on the Workforce Disclosure Initiative (WDI), where minister for international development (who funds the WDI in partnership with Oxfam) Harriet Baldwin MP said: "If we want to eliminate poverty in all its forms then the world needs to create jobs and that creation happens by investment. 

But those jobs must be good jobs without labour rights abuses. Too many people in the world are physically and mentally impacted negatively by work. Doing business the right way benefits everyone." 

What the WDI has done in its pilot year is to ask 75 global companies how they manage their workers and, by this disclosure, it hopes to mobilise institutional investors to push companies for better jobs. One of its recommendations was that there should be as much reporting by companies on how they treat their workforce (including their supply chain) as on climate change.

The launch was not only about treatment but also the future of work itself. The opportunities from technology but also the dangers. I enjoyed the ‘tale' by the WDI executive chair, Richard Dickinson, who in his opening remarks said: "A Ford motor manager shows a union leader around a new car assembly line made up of robots. The Ford manager says he would be interested to know how the union will get union dues from robots. The union leader replies by saying he would be interested to know how robots will buy cars."

The initiative seems to be gaining momentum. In July 2017 the campaign had the backing of 79 investors with $7.9trn of AuM. In April 2018, 96 investors with $10trn AuM were backing the WDI. I am a trustee of a pension fund that has backed the initiative. The companies that responded to the initiative are commended in the report for their efforts and providing examples of good practice.

Despite the perceived success of those who did participate, only 34 out of the 75 global companies agreed to take part, which as an asset owner makes me wonder why? There could well be legitimate reasons but, for the life of me, I can't understand why they would not support an initiative funded by the British government, supported by respected international organisations and backed in many cases by their own shareholders?

At the meeting, Janet Williamson from the Trades Union Congress (who is also a pension trustee) said: "There is a high road to profitability and a low road. In the short term you can make profits from treating your workers badly. The high road is better. Sustainable profitability is via the high road."

If, going forward companies, still refuse to participate in the WDI then you need to question whether or not they are suitable for your fund to invest in. Obviously, you will have to take professional advice, but if they don't want transparency with regard to the way they treat workers then you have to consider are they equally keen to avoid scrutiny on other important governance issues such as boardroom pay or environmental impact?

One thing that I did point out at the launch is that while the UK is clearly not as bad as many developing countries in the way companies treat workers, we must get our own house in order as well.

In my daytime job as a trade unionist, I represent workers in the UK who live in poverty, have insecure employment, awful housing and feel hopeless and betrayed. Unless we clean our own house, concern for those overseas may be seen as crocodile tears.
Finally, I assume it was not coincidentally that the launch was on May 1 - otherwise known as International Workers' Day.
 John Gray is a pension trustee and chair of a local authority pension committee. He is writing in a personal capacity only.

Hat tip Professional Pensions (and Eve for stealing from her excellent notes of the meeting)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Over a million people on Council waiting list. Let's turn Benefits into Bricks?

Many thanks to Shelter for their report highlighting the National Housing waiting list crisis. There is more than a million people on UK Housing waiting lists. Newham is highlighted as having proportionally the worse crisis in the entire country. 

For every home in Newham that we were able to supply last year there were 44 households waiting to be rehoused. We have only in total some 18,000 tenanted homes in the borough and 25,729 households on our waiting list.

But only 588 homes were available for social rent in 2016/17.

So do the maths.

Even worse we are still being forced to sell off our best family homes under right to buy. 46.7% of homes sold under right to buy are sublet in the private marker. The Government now has to pay huge amounts of housing benefit to pay these exorbitant rents to private landlords. Which do not produce a single new home.

According to another Shelter report last year we also have the worst homeless crisis in London with 13,566 in temporary accommodation. 

The new administration in Newham under Executive Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, and all Labour Councillors are absolutely committed to dealing with this crisis.

Watch this space. There are things we can and will do.

In the meantime another public report last week said that Newham spent £90 million on housing benefits for homelessness during the last 2 years.

How many social rent homes could that £90 million provide if spent on bricks and building new homes? Never mind the even more huge amounts spent on subsidising private landlords housing benefit for low paid working households.

Let's turn benefits into bricks and build homes. Are you listening Prime Minster "One Nation" Theresa May? 

Saturday, June 09, 2018

West Hammers "on the knocker" for Janet in Lewisham East

Picture collage from this afternoon's campaigning by (mostly) West Ham Labour in support of Janet Dady, Labour Parliamentary candidate for the Lewisham East by election.

Our team was joined by our MP Lyn Brown (and by Cara - her Labour Attack Dog). Ealing Central & Acton MP Rupa Haq also joined us. It was great to have 2 UNISON member MP's campaigning for the election of another UNISON Labour candidate.

The canvass returns for Janet were very good apart from a very few residents unhappy at Labour policy over Brexit. Which as a committed "remainer" I personally can understand but I also find incredibly frustrating since Labour is the only party with a chance of power who is committed to a pragmatic "soft" Brexit.

The vast majority of people I spoke to did not mention Brexit at all and were more interested in traditional Labour issues such as opposing cuts to Schools and the NHS. 

Friday, June 08, 2018

Tower Hamlets Community Housing Strike over Pay

Early this morning I went to the UNISON picket line outside the headquarters of Tower Hamlets Community Housing (THCH) to show solidarity and support for the strikers. In my roles as UNISON London Housing Associations branch secretary, Regional Council Officer and NEC member for Community.  I also passed on a message of support from last night's ward meeting of Forest Gate North Labour Party.

Management are attacking pay at THCH and have obviously wound up staff so much that they have voted for 2 weeks of all out strike action. Which is pretty much unheard of in the sector. Most of the strikers were delivering leaflets on the dispute to the surrounding THCH estates.

There is a solidarity picket on Monday morning from 8am (11 June - at THCH HQ which is 285 Commercial Road, E1 2PS near Watney Market). There is also a public meeting at 4.15pm Tuesday 12 June at Oxford House, Derbyshire Street, Bethnal Green, E2 6HG London.

It was also good to meet former colleagues again who used to work with me in Tower Hamlets Council.  

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Newham Cabinet Meeting Monday 5 June 2018 - Free Schools & Scrutiny

This was the first cabinet meeting of the new administration which I thought went really well. Making actual executive decisions is a very different experience to being a backbencher Councillor.  It is a more than a little strange how quickly you get use to change.  I also like the fact that four of us took a bus to this meeting from Newham Dockside.

See what the Newham Recorder thought about some of the key issues below:-

Newham Council to rethink £660,000 rugby pitch plan in West Ham

At Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, members rescinded the cash earmarked to build the pitch at the Memorial Recreation Ground in West Ham.

The plans were passed under the borough’s former mayor Sir Robin Wales weeks before May’s election.

However the plan was called in by the scrutiny committee when councillors suggested the huge sum could be “better spent” elsewhere.

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz, who was a member of scrutiny under the last administration, approved the recommendations and said the council will be looking at alternatives ways of spending the money.

Cllr John Gray, cabinet member for housing, said this was the first time the scrutiny committee had been successful in stopping something in its 12-year history.

He added that it was good to see the committee “have some teeth”.

(JG It was made clear that the Rugby club may still get the money pending a new review of Parks and Leisure. The monitoring officer said that Scrutiny structure had been in place for 17 years!)

New free school in Royal Wharf development ‘reluctantly’ approved by Newham Council

"Newham Council has “reluctantly” passed plans to build a free primary school to serve one of the borough’s largest new developments.

The new free school at Royal Wharf was given the green light by mayor Rokhsana Fiaz on Tuesday night.

The school will serve the Royal Wharf development, which will have more than 3,300 homes when finished.

The Britannia Education Trust, a charity which also set up the Britannia Village Primary School in Silvertown, has signed on to run the facility.

Free schools are a type of academy set up by parents, teachers, charities or businesses and funded directly by central government but independent of local council control.

Earlier this month Ms Fiaz said she had “significant concerns about the government’s policy of academisation and the lack of accountability this type of school structure creates for local communities”.

However, the cabinet said it was “urgent” the school was set up to take its first intake of pupils by September 2019 and the free model was the only way of achieving this.

Councillor Julianne Marriott, cabinet member for education and children, said: “This development already has around 2,000 people living on it and will have roughly 8,000 people by the time it is finished.

“We have no choice to agree this proposal to ensure our children can attend a school near their home and we fulfil our duties as an education authority. But it is a travesty that the only way we can have new schools in the borough is through free schools.”

Ms Fiaz added: “We will be bringing forward the full council motion on academies to the July cabinet.

“We will be asking government to enable us to build our own schools where demand determines it, give local authorities more powers to take over failing academies and to enable schools to return to local authority control.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Paying homage to Keir Hardie at West Ham

Yesterday I took my fellow UNISON NEC member (and NHS hospital worker) Mary Locke on a whistle stop tour of the Old Town Hall in Stratford. 

Mary was re-elected in May as a Labour Councillor in Birmingham. 

Mary is a huge fan of Keir Hardie who was the first ever Labour Member of Parliament. He was elected as MP for West Ham South on 4 July 1892. 

In this town hall during the 1892 the election count took place in the main hall and Keir made his acceptance speech from its outside balcony to people gathered below in the Broadway. He was then taken on a victory procession to Canning town. 

The old West Ham Council debating chamber is now called the "Will Thorne" chamber (see photo bottom right) in honour of another local MP (and Mayor) who was also a founder of the GMB union. Ironically, one of the founders of UNISON's predecessor union, NALGO, Herbert Blaine, was also a West Ham Council officer but he was also a Conservative Party National Agent! 

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

West Hammers helping out at Lewisham East this Saturday 9 June 2pm at Lee Station: Vote Janet Daby

West Ham Labour Party are organising a campaigning event to support the Labour Candidate (and UNISON member), Janet Daby, in the Lewisham East By Election. 

We are meeting outside Lee Station at 2pm on Saturday 9 June.

To get there you can meet West Ham CLPers outside ticket barriers Stratford Station (NOT Westfields side) 12.50 sharp to travel together to Lee station (only 36 minutes) or drive/cycle to 
SE12 9JG.

Contact me if you planning to go so I can let the local organisers know numbers.

Appeal by Mayor of Newham to find boy's killers

A really heartfelt plea by the Mayor for help in finding the murderers and reassurance that everything possible will be done to protect our young people in Newham.

"Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz has appealed for residents to come forward with any information that could lead to the arrest and conviction of the killer or killers of a 14-year-old boy.​

Today (Monday 4 June) is nine months to the day that Corey Junior Davis, known as CJ, died as a result of a shooting incident in Forest Gate. The Mayor’s appeal on the council’s website comes ahead of a reconstruction of his death set for BBC1’s Crimewatch Roadshow programme on Tuesday (5 June) at 11am. 

Said Mayor Fiaz: “Corey’s death horrified us all. He and others like 18-year-old student Sami Sidhom whose moving and touching funeral service I attended on Friday, were part of Newham’s bright future until they were brutally attacked and taken from us. In the case of Sami this was a result of a knife attack back in April and also in Forest Gate.

“This borough is a poorer place for the loss of both of them and the other young people who have fallen victim to senseless attacks that have occurred in our borough over the past year. I can’t begin to imagine the pain that their respective families, friends, and others who knew them, are feeling. But I can understand that these incidents are making our young people feel frightened and our communities anxious about how we can keep them safe.”

The Mayor has put tackling violence and making young people feel safe at the very heart of her plans. She said: “There have been too many young victims in Newham this past year and this has to be stopped. Too many young people have been killed or injured, and too many are scared. We will not allow it to continue. We all have a responsibility to protect our young people and keep them healthy and well.

“My decision to emphasise the importance of youth safety as part of my mayoralty isn’t a consequence of recent events. For so many of our young people, feeling unsafe has been a feature in their lives for far too long.”

In meetings Mayor Fiaz has had with young people so far, they have told her they want to be safe. They say youth services and youth clubs are important places of safety, but they fear being in streets and in parks.

Added the Mayor: “But despite everything, they say they love this borough. They embrace its diversity, its vibrancy, and its dynamism, but what they want is to be listened to. They want us as adults, be it parents, teachers, carers, neighbours, police officers, council services or community organisations, to step up and make them feel safe. That’s why I’ve pledged to involve them in making the decisions to create a safer and more engaging environment for young people to grow up in.

“In the meantime I encourage anyone who may know something about Corey’s tragic death to speak up. His killers are still out there. Contact the dedicated incident room number of 020 8345 3775 or to give information anonymously contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. Let’s break down the wall of silence. We owe it to Corey and his mother who we need to help.”

Monday, June 04, 2018

Carpenters Estate Stratford

On Saturday I mobiked through the Carpenters Estate to meet a friend at the Olympic stadium and on route had a chance to do an unofficial walkabout. While I thought that the poppies and flowers displays were lovely and well kept, I know that there are problems on the estate.  I need to meet up with local residents, Councillors and stakeholders about housing services, while the Mayor is clear that she wants a resident led masterplan for the future redevelopment of the area. 

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Women of Westminster Walking Tour: 26 July 2018

Newham Youth Council & Cabinet meeting

On Friday afternoon the Newham Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz and her Cabinet (including yours truly) met the Newham Young Mayor ,Tomiwa Akintunde and the Youth Council

After introductions were made we talked about the Young Mayor's projects especially the support for students studying for exams and also mental health issues affecting young people. I offered to attend a future meeting of the Youth Council to discuss housing for young people in Newham. 

We then had a meeting in the Mayor's office to discuss the forthcoming review of Newham Council ward boundaries to reflect changes in population. While overall the population has risen, I was astonished that the population of Royal Docks ward had decreased by 20% since 2008. 

I wish that I was as articulate and confident as these young people are when I was a teenager. They do Newham proud. 

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Early Parliamentary Selection: Chingford & Woodford Green

Dear member,

Applications are now open for Chingford & Woodford Green Parliamentary seat. This is Ian Duncan Smith's seat and Labour has a real opportunity to take it from the Tories.

In 2017, Labour cut the Tories majority in this seat to under 2,500 and it is crucial that Labour wins this in the next General Election.

This is an all women shortlist. Click here for information how to apply

Deadline to apply is Thursday 7 June, good luck!

Best wishes,

London Labour

Reproduced from an email sent by London Labour. Promoted by and on behalf of London Labour both at Southside, 105 Victoria Street, SW1E 6QT

Friday, June 01, 2018

Damp or Condensation? is it caused by "lifestyle" or is it actually overcrowding?

Yesterday evening I went on an inspection of 8 flats with Newham London Housing management and technical officers to this block in Plaistow following some horrendous reports of disrepair & damp in the block. 

A list of repair actions was agreed with residents but while there are things that residents and Landlords can do to mitigate condensation damp, it is no coincidence that overcrowded households tend to suffer the most. We need to build more and better homes to solve this.

Many thanks to the London Renters Union for supporting residents on this and helping to bring this to our notice