Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Community Wealth Building Seminar for Labour Councillors 21 July 2018

This well attended seminar sponsored by APSE (Association for Public Sector Excellence) of was excellent. Held in the UNISON centre (HQ) in Euston Road, London.

Speakers Paul O’Brien and Mo Baines, APSE; Neil McInroy CLES, Cllr Matthew Brown, Leader of Preston City Council and Cllr Asima Shaikh, Executive Member for Economic and Community Development, Islington Council.

Chair was Mo Baines who works for APSE but is also a UNISON branch President and member nominated representative on the Greater Manchester Local Government Pension Fund.

Paul O'Brien warned us that the "Barnet Map of Doom" could still happen - social care budgets will rise and rise and soak up all Council budgets! London local authorities depends at the moment on Council Tax for 40% of its income. In 2020 that will be 51%! (a huge problem for Councils who have failed to increase Council tax in the past even by inflation and therefore decimated their tax base)

While Neil McInroy reminded that we live a world were 5 super rich men control 50% of its wealth while workers suffer wage contraction, how we must build wealth locally and stop global capitalism from extracting wealth for the super rich.

Cllr Matthew Brown described the "Preston Model" and long, hard, slog to bring about changes following the destruction of traditional local industries and the failure of private led regeneration schemes to develop the city centre.

Cllr Asima Shaikh explained how Islington Council had won court battles over private developers who had overpaid for land and therefore claimed that they could not provide 50% social housing.

A really positive event. At the end I had a number of very constructive conversations with London Councillors about the possible role of local government pensions funds investing in social housing. Watch this space.

(Hat tip pictures Cllr Sakina Sheikh)

Monday, July 30, 2018

Decent pension provision is not dying out - it's being murdered

A headline in last Friday's "Professional Pensions" was "DB surplus hits record high of £382bn on best estimate basis, says First Actuarial"

It is becoming increasingly clear that the the huge decline in decent pension provision in the UK (employer defined benefit schemes) is mistaken and even completely unnecessary. Millions of workers in this country will retire and die in poverty because of this.

Pension schemes were valued according to outdated and irrelevant accounting measures which pretended that they had huge unmanageable deficits. It was a little bit like telling someone who had just taken out a 25 year mortgage to buy a home that they were really bankrupt since they could not immediately pay off the loan.

6 years ago the AMNT argued that defined benefit schemes were affordable and stopping workers from joining or closing schemes was a nonsense.

Instead of using a broken yardstick to measure present and future costs, First Actuarial, have produced an index based upon a prudent estimate of investment performance. They calculate that the 6000 defined benefit schemes left need an actual return of only 2.6% per annum to pay its pension promises. While the stock market will go up and down, unless you honestly believe that the end of capitalism is nigh, surely in the long run, this return is more than achievable.

Last year there was a series of bitter strikes by University staff opposed to the dismantling of their supposedly bankrupt pension scheme USS. Under best estimate calculation they could have a surplus of £10 billion.

If you think I am angry about this situation then read below Death by Discount Rates

"Discount rate controversy is nothing new. One rarely, if ever, hears people in the industry say that using the yield on high-quality corporate bonds (as accountants do), or a rate just above gilt yields (as most actuarial valuations do) is without problems.

But the flaws are more serious than many realise. The theoretical case for these rates is acutely defective. They have wrecked company balance sheets, caused the misallocation of billions of pounds of corporate resources to plug illusory deficits, distorted scheme investment strategies, and played a major part in the collapse of private DB provision. If a disaster even a fraction of the size had befallen the state pension system, governments would have been voted out of office. It's a national scandal."

Frank Curtiss is the immediate past president of the ICSA and the former head of corporate governance at RPMI Railpen. Tim Wilkinson is the former chief accountant at RPMI Railpen

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Wanstead Flats Fire July 2018

Pictures taken last weekend from the top of a 308 bus showing the recent fires (from the week before). It was probably the worst fire I can remember in 30 years.

A scary time for many local residents who live adjacent to the flats and it caused massive disruption when surrounding roads were closed (my own car was trapped in Capel Road by a huge emergency water hose for a few days. A minor inconvenience in the scheme of things).

Many thanks to the London Fire Brigade and the City of London Staff.

It looks a little bit like a war zone but there has nearly always been fires every hot summer and the heath will recover and grow back.

This morning I went for a run through the flats and you could see some tiny green shoots, here and there, following the recent rain. Nature is amazing. 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

July 19th - Pension Board, LAPFF AGM, UNISON HAB, West Ham Labour GC (Sarah Jones MP Shadow Minister Housing)

Belated report on a busy Labour movement day last Thursday 19 July.

I started the day with a quarterly meeting of the London Borough Tower Hamlets Pension Board as an UNISON appointed representative.

The £billion plus fund is doing well and we are planning to try and safeguard very significant financial improvements against any possible future stock market crash.

Afterwards I went to the AGM of the Local Government Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) in Westminster with my Newham hat. I was late due to the Tower Hamlet clash but appreciated the touching tribute at the meeting to the former forum Chair, Cllr Kieran Quinn, who died unexpectedly late last year.

Kieran was a proper working class socialist who had a traditional grassroots trade union background but was also an effective Council leader, a tolerant and decent man who wanted to bring about change for the better. He is missed.

After LAPFF I went to my UNISON Housing Association Branch in Holloway to speak to staff and sign stuff as branch secretary. A member of our small team is now also a London Labour Councillor and Deputy Cabinet member for housing!

In the evening there was the General Committee meeting of West Ham Labour Party. We had Shadow Housing minister, Sarah Jones MP as our guest speaker.

Sarah gave a great speech and Q&A. She reported on the really welcome change in public opinion polls towards housing issues and that Labour policy is now 12% ahead of the tories (like the NHS).

Our West Ham MP, Lyn Brown, also joined in with the Q&A.

Afterwards a few of us retreated to the nearby garden of the historic Black Lion pub to rehydrate after a very long and hot day. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

Race, gender, class in the "Mother of Parliaments"

Recently I went to a late afternoon event in the House of Commons then afterwards had a drink (or three) with a colleague in a nearby pub.

The pub and road outside became full with drinkers enjoying the end of the workday and the glorious sunshine.

The picture right was taken later but there was probably around 100 people at its peak.

My colleague had worked in and around Parliament for many years and was very entertaining about the various MPs, Lords, journalists, lobbyists and party hacks who passed us by while we enjoyed our beers. Some of whom greeted him warmly. Some didn't. The vast majority of drinkers had some direct or indirect connection with Government.

I must admit that the lack of of diversity was pretty damn obvious. At a peak I only saw about 5 black men and no black women. I wonder how many of the 100  (or so) were working class from state schools? I suspect very few.

We still have a long, long way to go to making our society fairer and more inclusive.


Thursday, July 26, 2018

What have the Trade Unions done for us?

"Ever wondered what the trade union movement in Britain has done for us? Equal pay, equal opportunities, maternity pay and flexible working hours".

A great update for the young by the TUC on an old idea.

Watch the original monty python inspiration. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7tvauOJMHo

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

London Region at UNISON National Labour Link Forum 2018

Picture College of the London delegation at work and at play while at the national forum earlier this month in Newcastle for the UNISON Labour Link political fund that supports the Labour Party.

I am the London Regional Chair but was at forum as an elected representative of the NEC on the National Labour Link committee.
I was really pleased how many London speakers spoke at the forum. Not just the usual suspects this time (but how many times did Doreen speak?)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

"Labour councils working with Trade Unions"

This is good news agreement for the Labour movement family.  We should never forget that one of the reasons why the Labour Party was ever able to win power in the first place was that they were able to prove that they were on the side of the workers when in power in local government by paying decent wages, pensions and other terms and conditions.

"The Local Government Association (LGA) Labour Group has developed and formally adopted a ‘Labour Local Government and Trade Union Principles’ document, in partnership with the local government unions – UNISON, GMB, and Unite. The agreement is designed to help establish and strengthen the dialogue between Labour council leaders and councillors and local staff trade unions.

It sets out the standards which the LGA Labour Group believe should be met by Labour councils in their relationships with the unions and their policies, and covers austerity, good industrial relations, exemplary employment practice, the LGPS, promoting equality and in-house services, opposing academisation, and the Trade Union Act.

The document is reviewed annually, and was formally adopted by the LGA Labour Group in July 2018".

Hat tip Keith from UNISON

Monday, July 23, 2018

Councillor Report to West Ham Ward 1.7.18

"Dear Members, Firstly, may I apologise for the lateness of this report. The past few months have been exceptionally busy (for all of us).

Many thanks to all everyone who supported Cllr Whitworth and myself to be reselected as your candidates in the elections in May and for all your help in us being re-elected with such massive majorities.

Welcome to our new ward colleague Cllr Charlene McLean and at the same time best wishes to my former West Ham colleague, Cllr Freda Bourne upon her retirement.

Congratulations to Cllr Whitworth on being elected by Newham Labour Group to be a Chair of Scrutiny and Cllr Mclean upon her appointment as Deputy Mayor by our new directly elected Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz.

Shortly after the election I was also appointed by the Mayor, as Cabinet member for Housing Services and Chair of the Investment and Accounts Committee.

I have taken a leave of absence from my employer to carry out the role which so far, at least, I am finding fascinating but extremely challenging. Newham has nearly 26,000 households on its waiting list; private sector rents and house prices have shot up and arguably, we have the highest rate of homelessness in the country. While we will not solve the housing crisis in Newham without a change of government there are significant steps we can take to make a real difference.

Surgeries and case work

I have attended 2 surgeries per month in Vicarage Lane Community Centre and Brassett Point Residents Association room. However, from next month due to the problems with Vicarage Lane (see “ward issues”) I am changing location and times as below :-

· Stratford Library – 1st Saturday in every month 10am-11am

· Brassett Point – 1st Wednesday in every month 5pm-6pm.

Examples of recent casework involve overgrown trees, disabled adaptations disrepair, “Right to buy” dispute over valuations, boundary wall disputes, home visits about damp/disrepair. I have made a number of repair reports via “Love Newham” app, I am still unimpressed with repair failures in the Church Street block run by One Housing Group despite a second meeting with management and residents.

Ward Issues

Planning application in Abbey Road
An application for a huge private tower block next to the DLR station has now been submitted. Many residents are extremely concerned about the development. I have met with residents and developers and have submitted the concerns of residents. There will be future meetings. Cllr Whitworth is now on the Strategic Planning committee so will have to step back on this issue.

Durul Jannah Community Centre, E15 – Planning permission
Unfortunately a change in planning permission for this centre was refused and trustees are considering an appeal.

Apart from this set back there was a very successful awards event at the centre.

New Lifts
I have attended an evening LBN consultation meeting on lift renewal

Other Issues.

Workers Memorial Day 2018
On Saturday 28 April 2018 we had the most well attended event for many years. Many thanks for Lyn Brown MP and the Mayor (then a candidate) for attending and laying wreaths remembering all those killed at work or who have died of work related ill health at the Three Mills Green Memorial.

Rebecca Cheetham Nursery School
Due to time constraints I have been forced to resign as a School Governor but I have assured the school that if they need any help or assistance that they can still contact me. After 8 years it is probably time that they have someone new to replace me.

Lewisham By-election
With West Ham Labour colleagues I went on a canvassing session to this by election.

If any member wishes to contact me about this report to discuss any aspect please do not hesitate to do so.


John Gray
West Ham Ward Councillor

Sunday, July 22, 2018

NHS 70 : Celebrate and Defend Party in Gateshead

Belated picture collage from NHS 70th Birthday Party held on 5 July in Gateshead. UNISON Labour Link Executive was meeting nearby "across the water" to prepare for the National Forum which started the following day and we volunteered to join the celebration.

Great speeches in defence of NHS from our President, Gordon Mckey, Ian Lavery MP, UNISON regional secretary, Clare Williams and Deputy Regional Convenor, Linda Hobson (both Gordon and Linda are NHS nurses).

The birthday cake was delicious.

It was great to be reassured that the sun always shines in Gateshead :)

"Tell Esther McVey MP not to scrap the pensions dashboard"

I have already about 10 different defined benefit and defined contribution pensions. It is ridiculous in this day and age that we cannot have a single dashboard to control them.
"Do not scrap the promised pensions dashboard, a website that would help millions of people keep track of their pensions
Why is this important?

The Welfare Secretary Esther McVey wants to "kill off" a new government website which would help millions of people keep track of their pensions throughout their careers, because she thinks it's not the government's job to help. Without it millions of pension pots are at risk of being lost.

According to estimates by the Department for Work and Pensions, 50 million pension pots will be lost by 2050 without an official website to help workers to keep track of savings through their careers.

The website has already been successfully tested, and was due to be rolled out nationally soon. It's all the more urgent because new laws to boost pensions have led to 9 million workers being automatically enrolled on to workplace schemes in recent years.

A huge petition signed by thousands of us will show the government we expect them to keep their promises and continue to roll out the pensions dashboard.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Philosophical Belief Discrimination

Interesting.... (no known relation)

Philosophical Belief Discrimination

"Can an employer discriminate on grounds of philosophical belief where the employee is the only person to hold such a belief?

No, held the EAT in Gray v Mulberry.

Ms Gray worked for Mulberry. She refused to sign a standard contract clause assigning copyright in her work to her employer, fearing it would give them ownership over a novel and screenplay she was writing (even though the contract was amended to exclude them). She was eventually dismissed.

She claimed her belief in the sanctity of copyright law was a philosophical belief and thus a protected characteristic. The Employment Appeal Tribunal, after considering the necessary limbs for establishing a philosophical belief, held that the tribunal was entitled to conclude that the belief lacked sufficient cogency to qualify under the Equality Act 2010.

Of more interest, the EAT held that even if it was wrong, there could be no indirect discrimination because Ms Gray was (as far as the evidence went) the only person known to hold such a belief. Accordingly there could be no disadvantaged group, as she was not part of any group. Thus her indirect discrimination claim had to fail. Permission has been granted to appeal to the Court of Appeal". hat tip www.danielbarnett.co.uk 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Letting the government off the hook over removal of housing subsidy

Hat tip Redbrick (shame because Dispatches have a good track record)

"With reporter Antony Barnett driving between sites in a flash open top and very sporty white car, trying to link a number of disconnected stories under the disingenuous title of ‘Getting rich from the housing crisis’, the Dispatches programme on housing associations on Monday had the kind of sensationalist style that gives TV documentaries a bad name. I broadly agree with Carl Brown’s comprehensive analysis of the programmes' deficiencies on Inside Housing - principally that the government was totally let off the hook.
antony barnett
Dispatches' Antony Barnett and his irritating sporty white car. (Pic Channel 4)
Executive pay in housing associations is of course an issue – especially large redundancy pay-outs - but the media obsession with it is a pain and rather hypocritical when you look at how much people in the media get paid (the last CE of Channel 4 – a public corporation – received a package of £1m in his last year, and don’t get me started on BBC executive pay). To reduce the motivation for housing association activities – good and bad – to a single driver – pay – is absurd. It would also make a change for the press or TV to take a wider look at people who get rich from housing – the developers, the financiers, the private providers of temporary accommodation and the rest. There is a lot of leakage from residents’ rents and mortgage payments to very rich people, and housing association chief executive pay is only a small part of it.
The programme has been widely condemned in the sector, but a little defensively. The answer to a simplistic attack that you’re doing a bad job is not to simply assert that you are ‘doing a great job, a really great job’ (to quote Donald Trump). Because there is another side to the coin and there are issues that need to more honestly addressed.
Stripping aside the overly-dramatic style of presentation and the crude and untrue linking theme of people 'getting rich', the actual issues selected by the programme should not be lightly dismissed. For example, the Clarion redevelopment of the Sutton Estate in Chelsea has been widely criticised, not just in this programme, estate ‘regeneration’ schemes in general have often led to a major reduction in social rented homes (although more homes overall) and the non-delivery of promises, and the practice of selling hundreds of formerly social rented homes in high value areas at auction is little short of a disgrace even if it has been encouraged by this government. The contributions from Tom Murtha asking if associations have lost sight of their original ‘mission’ to provide homes for the poorest, and from Karen Buck MP about disinvestment in the high value but also high need communities she represents, asked reasonable questions of the sector.
The programme failed to get to the heart of the debate about housing associations. The removal of subsidy by government – the main culprits - has led many associations, and especially the largest ones, to maximise their surpluses to enable them to grow their development programmes and to provide an element of cross-subsidy to keep rents in new homes below market levels. Some councils have done the same thing. Practice varies of course – some associations refused to do ‘conversions’ (whereby empty social rent homes are converted to much higher 'affordable rents' before re-letting), others have maximised the practice – but the bottom line is that surpluses from existing activities have grown. Some of the new homes are being provided by making bigger surpluses from existing tenants, but with virtually no debate about the pros and cons.
Within the new business model, associations have clearly done very well. They have kept housing production going and have expanded their output. They have reapplied large development profits to produce more homes rather than see the money leak out as dividends as it would with private developers. The issue is whether they could have done more a) to oppose the worst aspects of government policy and b) to maintain a bigger flow of homes for social rent even if that meant fewer homes overall. Not all associations have made the same choices and there has clearly been more than one possible outcome. Although we are used to needs analysis for social lettings, I never see a serious assessment of who benefits from the rising proportion of new homes at market or near-market prices. There should be far more debate about the implications of losing so many of the cheapest homes to feed a development programme that comprises more expensive homes.
We should start from the principle that tenants should not be paying – in rent and reduced services – for the government’s failure to provide funding for additional affordable homes. I talk to a lot of people in the business and for several years it was hard to get anyone senior in a big association to talk about tenant services rather than development. At strategic level, housing management seemed to be reduced to little more than a growing source of cash. It was hard to get anyone to talk about social rent – still the only genuinely affordable tenure for people on low incomes – rather than total output and ‘affordable housing’ - often a cover for producing homes that were not affordable at all.
Grenfell changed the terms of the debate, forcing a greater focus on existing social housing and the deal that social tenants get. Groups like CIH and Shelter are reviewing social housing and concluding that providing homes at lower rents for poorer people is a very important policy. Labour has shown the way forward with its Green Paper, and the government’s own Green Paper is due to be sneaked out before the Parliamentary recess. Whether they will put more grant into new social rented homes is the critical thing to look out for. If they do, the way the sector then responds will tell us much more about the mettle of housing associations than how much their chief executives are paid.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Labour Friends of Local Government

Great first meeting at Portcullis House Westminster on Wednesday. Labour in Local Government is determined to punch its weight in our national political life. "MPs and Councillors at this Parliamentary reception to mark the formation of Labour Friends of Local Government - bringing the Parliamentary Labour Party and Local Government family together".

Picnic in the Park - West Ham & Stratford Labour Party Sumer Social Friday 27 July

Should be good! 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Charlbury House Walkabout - 17 July 2018 with local Little Ilford Councillors (Art in Blocks)

Picture collage from this evening when I did a home visit to Charlbury House with local Little Ilford Councillors, Councillor Riaz Ahmed Mirza and Councillor Pushpa Dipaklal Makwana about an ongoing leak in the block affecting a number of flats that needs sorting.

We did a "walkabout" from top to bottom afterwards and around the outside. The block was generally clean and in good repair but I will be making a number of on-line communal repair & cleaning reports via #LoveNewham app and also assist Cllr Mirza in the chase up of the leak.  

I forgot to discuss with the ward Cllrs about "Art in Blocks" but it would appear that there is already a secure notice board (bottom right) that perhaps we can use? 

Monday, July 16, 2018

London Stadium Report & LOBO legal action: Newham Full Council Meeting 16.7.18

Tonight's Newham Full Council meeting was dominated by two key announcements by Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz in her report to Council.

Firsty, she announced the result of a QC investigation on the London Olympic Stadium debacle where Newham Council lost at least £54 million in a failed investment in the stadium. 

Why did Newham go ahead with the original £40 million investment when even our financial advisors warned against it? Full report published tomorrow.

Secondly, the Mayor announced that Newham Council is pursuing legal action against Bank(s) over the selling to us of toxic LOBO loans, which is separate to the Court challenge announced by 14 other local authorities yesterday. Matter now "sub judice".

Not often I can say this but today was in my view a great day for Newham. Getting to the truth, holding people and institutions to account, seeking justice, learning from what has gone wrong while standing up for the interests of our residents. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

La Marseillaise: 'The Greatest National Anthem in the World, Ever' - BBC...

"Historian Simon Schama explains why La Marseillaise is the greatest national anthem in the world, while artist Andrew Park reimagines Delacroix’s iconic painting Liberty Leading".

La Fête Nationale. Joyeux Quatorze Juillet ((aka #BastilleDay in UK but not interestingly in France where it is just known as their national holiday)

Friday, July 13, 2018

"Sleep-in shifts judgment is a huge mistake"

This judgement is bad news for hundreds of thousands of low paid care workers (including my

Being paid not even the national minimum wage for work is simply a disgrace. I hope UNISON lawyers can find a way forward on this.

If not we need to campaign to force employers to pay. Local authorities can play a role in this as well as unions. See UNISON press release below. 

"The legal decision today (Friday) not to count sleep-in shifts as working time is wrong, and is at odds with legal precedents and a common sense understanding of what counts as work, says UNISON.
Today’s Court of Appeal judgment in favour of Mencap overturns a previous ruling at an employment appeal tribunal in April 2017.
UNISON took the initial case to an employment tribunal on behalf of care worker Claire Tomlinson-Blake. It argued that sleep-in shifts should count as working time, and should be paid at hourly minimum wage rates or higher.
The union argues that most care workers on sleep-in shifts aren’t sleeping. Most nights they have to get up to care for people, are on constant call, and are not free to come and go from their place of work.
Commenting on the case, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “This judgment is a mistake, but let’s be clear where the fault lies. The blame for this sorry state of affairs that’s hitting some of the country’s lowest paid workers must be laid at the government’s door.
“Ministers are so consumed by Brexit that they’re ignoring huge problems around them. Social care is in crisis, and this situation wouldn’t have arisen if the government had put enough money into the system and enforced minimum wage laws properly.
“Sleep-in shifts involve significant caring responsibilities, often for very vulnerable people. With too few staff on at night, most care workers are often on their feet all shift, only grabbing a few minutes sleep if they can.
“That’s why it’s such a disgrace that workers have been paid a pittance for sleep-ins – with some getting just £30 for a ten-hour shift.
“As a society we should value care staff and the work they do, but unfortunately we don’t. After this judgment who could blame care workers for leaving in their droves.”
As a result of the judgment, UNISON is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Notes to editors:
– Last autumn the government introduced the social care compliance scheme. This aims to ensure that companies and charities providing care services to the elderly and vulnerable adults settle the back-pay owed to staff for sleep-in shifts that haven’t been paid at minimum wage rates.
– Most workers have not yet received any of their backdated wages, and it’s not clear what today’s ruling means for staff owed money.
– More information on UNISON’s position on the social care compliance scheme is available here.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Forest Gate Festival - this Saturday 14 July 2018 (Bastille Day!)

@FGFestivalE7 FREE 🎉 street festival 🎉 on Saturday 14th July Osborne Road in the heart of #ForestGate #newham #forestgatefestival

 Check out theforestgatefestival.com

 (there will be a Labour Party stall outside 27 Osborne Road 10-2pm)

Inaugural meeting of Newham Homelessness Forum

Picture collage of yesterday's well attended initial meeting of stakeholders from across Newham, including residents who have experienced homelessness, faith groups, Government agencies, NGOs and Council officers.  It took place in the historic former Borough of West Ham Council chamber in the Old Town Hall Stratford.

I chaired the meeting and our guest speaker was our newly directed elected Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz. She made it clear that as a Council we are committed to address the scandal of homelessness in our borough in collaboration with all stakeholders.

After introductory speeches we broke into workgroups which debated terminology, terms of reference, code of conduct and next steps.

I thought that the meeting went really well even though there is clearly a trust issue with the Council which I hope we are on the way to overcoming. To be clear, we are not going to be able to solve the homelessness crisis in Newham until we have a Government in power which remembers its duty to ensure that all its people has access to decent and truly affordable housing. Yet we are convinced in Newham that by working together we will make a significant difference to the crisis.

This does not mean we will always agree on everything but should mean we share common goals,  common aims and objectives to do what we can to challenge the scourge of homelessness in all its forms.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Is there going to be a market crash? Do we or don't we derisk our pension fund? London CIV and Carbon Divestment

This evening I chaired my first Newham Investment & Accounts committee (Local Government Pension Scheme) meeting. I really pleased that we were able to able to wade our way through stacks of often complex business.

Many thanks to the new members of the Committee who despite being thrown into the deep end held our officers and advisors to account.

Councillor Veronica Oakeshott was elected Vice Chair.

Tonight I invited observers from Newham Carbon Divestment to address the next meeting of the Committee.

A number of major issues were discussed including our concerns about the London CIV (Collective Investment Vehicle) where we are (maybe) effectively outsourcing Newham's £1.3 billion pension assets while still retaining responsibility for all its pension liabilities. Watch this space.

Another big issue was what should we do about the risk that the equities market will crash as most (not all) commentators are now suggesting will happen? Watch this space as well. 

Monday, July 09, 2018

Newham Stand up to Racism - No to Trump & Oppose Tommy Robinson

Picture taken this evening before Labour Group meeting in the Old Town Hall Stratford.  Newham Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz and Labour Councillors supporting the March and Rally this Friday against the visit of US President Donald Trump and the "Oppose Tommy Robinson" demo on Saturday. 

Hat tip Cllr Rohit Dasgupta

Thursday, July 05, 2018

London Region at UNISON National Labour Link Forum 2018

Lovely picture of the London delegation at work and at play while at the national forum earlier this month in Newcastle for the UNISON Labour Link political fund that supports the Labour Party.

I was really pleased how many London speakers spoke at the forum. Not just the usual suspects this time (but how many times did Doreen speak? :)

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Local Government Association Conference 2018

This post is a little late but some thoughts from a first time delegate to the annual Local Government Association Conference in Birmingham. I arrived late due to attending Newham Cabinet meeting.  My Newham Cabinet colleague, Terry Paul, was there to greet me and give me the benefit of his extensive views on the first day of conference and the day ahead.

Below is based upon my tweets on the second day of LGA Tuesday 3 July.

"At #LGAconf18 with Lord Richard Best (respected independent peer in House of Lords) making an opening speech about the "Revolution" in #housing since 2015. The failure of UK house builders is key to this revolution. UK House builders are a "hopeless industry". He detailed 10 significant complaints about the industry which made (mostly) sense to me. I will try and find a link to his speech.

I asked a question to Lord Best about why getting access to all "right to buy" receipts & changes in regulation is all well & good but it is tinkering on the edges. We have 26k Households on our waiting list in Newham. The only way to really deal with housing crisis is for the Government to put its hands in their pocket & provide public subsidy.

Lord Best agreed!

Next was a plenary with @NewhamLondon Mayor @rokhsanafiaz and other panel members. There seemed to be some agreement that  #housing is our number one priority.

There was some heckling from Tories as Rokhsana tried to put forward a reasoned argument about why social care provision needs to be paid for by the state rather than sound bites. An aggressive journalist chair of the panel, was trying to paint Labour as the Loony left "tax and spend" Party.  Rokhsana was not having none of this.

Next I was at the workshop "Building the Right Homes in the Right Places" with Nick Walkley, the "man from the ministry" (CEO of Homes England NB not the regulator for London) as a panel speaker.

My question to this panel was on the possible role of Council #pension funds in provision of social housing & market rents (not forgetting pensions should be run first and foremost in the interests of beneficiaries)? The panel answer was "yes, good question but we haven't yet got total answer but "power to your elbow" for asking.

Make of this as you will but I thought positive?

After lunch we had a brilliant plenary speech by my long standing UNISON colleague and now Shadow Secretary of State for Education @AngelaRayner MP. "90 children entered care everyday. Lack of funding is dangerous and should be a National scandal".

Conservative Minister @RishiSunak spoke next about digital services revolution. He mentioned Hackney Council who had worked out that each physical visit by residents to the Council cost £12. While it cost £4 for each telephone call but only 30p for each online visit. He also said that research showed that 60% of social workers time is spent simply inputting data. He called for local government to "Fix the digital plumbing".

I asked him a question that while I totally get the benefits of digital we must never forget the large number of vulnerable residents who cannot access digital. We need to retain the human touch. He said he agreed & said you can recycle digital saving into providing frontline services.

Hackney Mayor, Philip Glanville, followed my question to him with a further one that a) we should be creating genuinely human centred services (local govt better @ this than Whitehall) & b) he needs to change attitudes in Govt, data sharing isn’t good enough, platforms need to be truly open & systems like Universal Credit are inhumane. (I don't think that Philip got a full reply).

I had to leave that evening for a UNISON forum in Newcastle. I must admit being on the whole impressed with the conference, the speeches, seminars and exhibitions. It is good to get out of your silos from time to time and be exposed to new ideas and views.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Newham Council Cabinet Meeting 2 July 2018

A busy agenda but great news that we agreed at the cabinet meeting that the Champions Statute should remain in East Ham and also a programme to oppose further school academies in Newham.

Check out Facebook Live is you want to watch the actual meeting (a great cure for insomnia I understand).

After the meeting finished I had to travel to Birmingham for the Local Government Conference. 

Green Point inspection and walkabout - the good, the not so good and art in tower blocks

Last week I went on an 8am "walkabout" in Green Point, Water Lane, E15 with local residents in response to complaints about the failure to repair the communal front entry door, which had led to strangers getting into the block to take drugs and causing pretty unpleasant anti social behaviour.

The door has now been repaired but it had taken far too long and while now secure, it still needs further works. I took the lift up to the top of the block with 2 residents (before they had to go to work) and the block caretaker (who was there doing his morning clean and not because he knew I was coming).

There is a problem with the communal bin chutes on the 10th and 8th floor, which are closed off and I which I need to investigate (there are working chutes on 9th and 7th); gaps in pigeon netting on communal balconies; a broken communal window that was reported in April; some strange seemingly redundant appliances; fire exit gates with FB locks? the ubiquitous abandoned Morrison's shopping trolley; an overflowing recycling bin; 3 redundant contractor bins on ground floor and faulty communal bulkhead lights.

We need to do better on communal repairs to this block and I will be asking for reports on recent repairs but the good side of the walkabout was that the block was gleaming and there was only 1 piece of litter in the entire block. Credit to the local caretaker Alex and his colleagues.  Generally the block did appear to be in a good repair condition.

I want the same standard of cleaning in all housing blocks, estates and streets in Newham and repairs to the same high standard.

I talked to the residents about having "Art in Tower Blocks" (Newham Council owns a large number of paintings and other art works which are stored out of public view and I have often wondered whether we could not exhibit this art safely in the foyers of our housing estates?).

They were interested but were rightly concerned with getting repairs right first.

While I must agree, I can't see why we can't do both? 

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Glorious: UNISON turns 25

An excellent video that was played for the first time at UNISON Conference. We need to get this message out to the millions of workers who don't understand what trade unions are about.