Wednesday, November 30, 2022

11th Anniversary of UNISON National Pension Strike 2011

Facebook reminded me this morning that it is the 11th anniversary of the 2011 successful strike action to protect public sector pensions (Facebook immediately lost any thanks for this memory for refusing to allow me to share, since they thought my post of that day was "spam" but nevermind). 

This was a really important day and without a shadow of doubt, this successful, well organised and well supported action forced the government to back down and has protected pensions rights ever since. In fact, in a recent pension training I attended, we were told that 99% of local government staff had actually benefited from the changes to the scheme brought about after the strike action.  Not only that but currently the vast majority of Council pensions funds are now more or less, fully funded. No financial deficits. A significant improvement since 2011. 

Remember that the government wanted to get rid of traditional (defined benefit) public sector schemes on the grounds that they were somehow "unaffordable". I feel so sorry for workers in private sector defined benefit schemes, who were effectively "cheated" out of a decent pension and given this same excuse. 

The day itself started early with branch picket lines in East London (with some jiving to pass the time and keep warm) followed by a TUC lead march through central London followed by a rally.

I was really pleased to hear today that UNISON Health workers have voted to go on strike after another well organised and thoughtful campaign. I wish them solidarity (and good luck!). I will be joining them on the picket line. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Last weeks Keto (low carb diet) highlights


I have been on a Keto (low carb) diet since June and so far it has worked (I have lost 23 pounds with 6 more to go). I have been exercising as well and cheating massively from time to time. I know it is not great to exclude a major food group from any diet but so far this has worked for me with no apparent side effects. 

Top meal of the week was a keto full english at Pellicci's in Bethnal Green (apparently the Kray's favourite cafe). Next was Skinny Chicken, beef burgers, bacon, cheese and salad at Spoons. Pork chops, gravy & broccoli at home. Skinny Sirloin and salad at Spoons (lots of evening meetings at Stratford and East Ham Town Hall which currently have spoons nearby). Tuna, salmon & avocado mixed salad. All yum.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

West Ham Labour canvass & remembering V2 Nazi Rocket attack (Solidarity with Ukraine)


Yesterday I helped organise a Labour campaign session in the ward that I represent as a Councillor in Newham, West Ham with my colleague Cllr John Whitworth. It was great that we had a number of Party  members joining us including Plastow Councillor, John Morris, (so there was 3 John's on the team) local party members and also Jordan, a UNISON Labour Link activist from Camden.

During the canvass we stopped off to honour (see picture) the roundabout in what is now called Marriott Road, which I believe is the impact site of a German Nazi V2 Rocket attack on 1 Feb 1945. 

See an account of the carnage at this site below:-

"In the early hours of 1st February 1945 at 3:03 am, Hitler’s last weapon of terror, a V-2 Rocket, left a trail of death and destruction on the sleeping street. An unmanned, guided, ballistic missile that had a maximum speed of 3440 mph, flying at an altitude of 52-60 miles, and carrying a warhead of 2150lbs of high explosives dropped without warning onto the sleeping Barnby Street, at up to four times the speed of sound. The ultra-high-speed descent meant that no sound was heard by those about to be hit. The effects of the resulting explosion were catastrophic, the explosion and subsequent sonic boom were heard all over London.

On that cold winters night, in just a few short seconds 29 people lost their lives and 15 others were seriously injured. Houses were totally destroyed and the surrounding streets were severely bomb blasted"

A local resident told us that when she moved into her home right next to the roundabout she was told by the housing officer that this was the site of a mass grave of the dead. I told her that I didn't think that this was strictly accurate. 

Marriott Road is also named after a local firefighter who was killed during the blitz. We must do something to remember him and the dead 29 civilians by the next anniversary on 1 Feb 2023. 

After the canvass we went for coffee (and brunch for some) in the Sawmill cafe in West Ham Lane, which is run by a local Ukrainian family. While enjoying my brunch, I will admit that I felt what happened to Eastenders in 1945 must be similar to the experience of so many Ukrainians in 2022. 

Both victims of vile Nazi aggression. That picture of devastation and death in the collage is the same as so many modern day pictures in Ukraine. 

Solidarity to Ukraine in their fight against Putin fascism!

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Sign up for TUC Pensions Conference 2023

I have just booked a place. Usually an excellent pension conference for trade unionists. Not sure why on St David's Day? Hope they have Cawl for lunch!

"Sign up for TUC Pensions Conference 2023

Congress Centre, London | 09:30 to 16:30 |1 March 2023

Registrations are now open for the TUC Pension Conference 2023. This event is intended for trade union members and officials, pension fund trustees, and anyone with an interest in pensions policy.

The conference will explore how workers’ pensions can be protected from the impact of the cost-of-living crisis and recession.

Join us at Congress Centre in central London to hear from a range of expert speakers, including shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth".

Register for your place here 

Thursday, November 24, 2022

A Stratford & West Ham Champion for women and children - Newham Voices Dec 22

 Another great local newspaper edition from Newham Voices.  This article celebrates amazing two women (one very local) who made a difference in local politics and in art. 

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Canning Town South Canvass with Lyn Brown MP


On Saturday I went canvassing in Canning Town South ward with our local MP, Lyn Brown and Unmesh Desai, our local London Assembly member and Councillors Rohit Das Gupta and Alan Griffiths.  

The ward has been transformed in recent times by the building of so many blocks of flats. However, there are still many traditional low rise homes such as Jude Street. I always enjoy knocking on doors and talking to people. 

We did get an ear bashing from one resident about the failure to deal with damage done by tree roots to pavements and driveways but there was clearly a problem. Apart from that, it was a very successful canvass (also no rain!) which was followed by coffee and chinwag. 

Great to see new faces on the campaign trail. 

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Newham Street Count: 17.11.22


Picture is of local volunteers, Council officers and Councillors about to go out at midnight on Thursday to take our part in the UK annual nationwide street count of people sleeping rough. We also had observers to verify our results from the civil service and academia. 

While this national survey takes place once a year, in Newham, we also carry out mini surveys every 2 months. 

This time I was a driver/lead of a team of 3, with Tim who is a volunteer from the "NewDay" project and Burt, who is a senior lecturer in the London School of Economics. 

We went to a Newham postcode and local park that I have been to on previous counts many times. Despite the recent awful wet and rainy weather, we found 4 people sleeping on the streets in a doorway. 3 of whom were still awake and content to speak to us about their situation and what help they need. We took details which we passed on at the end of the count to enable outreach workers to go out and speak to them that morning (their shift started at 5.30am). 

I don't know what the other teams found but the local and national results will be published soon. 

Many, many thanks to Council manager Ajitha and her team for their hard work and commitment.  

Thursday, November 17, 2022

"An Avoidable Death"


The death of  this tiny toddler is shocking but this account by housing lawyer, Giles Peaker, should make very uncomfortable reading for all housing staff and Councillors. 

"Every death was avoidable" said Richard Millett KC at the closing submission to the Grenfell Inquiry. Now we know from the inquest verdict into the death of two year old Awaab Ishak's that this death was also thoroughly avoidable,and we know the catalogue of failures that caused the tragedy.

Awaab died from a respiratory condition caused by exposure to mould in his home, the Coroner found. The landlord, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, had been getting complaints of mould in the flat from the family since 2017, but no action had been taken, even after a pre-action letter, nor after reports from a health visitor and early years worker of the conditions in the flat and the risk to Awaab's health. 


The Coroner was clear, and we should be too, that the landlord's failure to meet its obligations under section 9A Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 (as amended by Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018) led to the death of this child.


The Coroner was also clear that the property had inadequate or non functioning ventilation, such that normal use produced significant condensation and mould growth. (We'll come back to tenant use below).


I am not going to set out the full litany of failings. The Manchester Evening News has done an excellent job of reporting those here. But there are some things I want to pick out in particular, as being common failings across the social housing (and indeed private) sector. There are also some issues about some tenant claimant solicitors' practices that need to be raised, because they also played a secondary part.


The following might get intemperate at times. If it does, I apologise, but I am very, very angry.


Landlord's first reaction to a report of mould. A housing officer


told Mr Abdullah he 'would have to paint over it' - but he never said to use specialist anti-mould paint, or gave any other advice.


A standard response at a time when the landlord had no legal liability for condensation related mould. Naturally, the mould returned a year later in 2018, but further complaints produced no action. I am only surprised that the family were not told to 'open a window and keep the heating on'.


The there was RBH approach to reports and complaints. There were several different computer systems, and the one CRM system that everybody was supposed to be using wasn't being used by everybody. The health visitor's letter wasn't on that system and other officers were unaware that Awaab even lived at the flat, including Mark Wrigley, the disrepair manager. This will be familiar to all those acting for tenants. The systems and training of the landlord's staff are simply inadequate. There is no proper system for response, monitoring and checking.


In 2020, the family contacted a claims farmer through a Facebook ad. They were passed to Anthony Hodari Solicitors, who sent a pre action protocol letter in June 2020. When RBH's officer, Mark Wrigley, inspected in July 2020. (This was after Fitness for Human Habitation came into force for this tenancy in March 2020, and RBH had had 15 months notice that this would be the case). He concluded the problem was 'lifestyle issues'. Wait for it...


Cooking and bathing were believed to be adding to moisture in the property by RBH - including claims that 'ritual bathing' involving a 'bucket' was taking place, although the court heard workers never asked the family about this directly, while Mr Abdullah insisted it did not take place.


Oh, for heaven's sake, that tired racist allegation. It gets trotted out with pretty much every complaint of damp, or raised as an accusation where there is a leak into the flat below, where the tenant is African. Here, apparently, concluded as being a cause without even asking the tenant. Housing officers have to stop with the racist assumptions, they really, really do.


(Again, remember that things like cooking and washing are the kind of things that people reasonably expect to be able to do in their homes without being accused of being at fault. And the property was belatedly found to have inadequate ventilation, such that normal use would produce the condensation and mould).


So, the housing conditions pre-action protocol is apparently underway. What does RBH do about remedying the defects?




In 2020, RBH had a policy not to carry out remedial works on properties which were subject to legal claims, until they had secured agreement to the works from the tenant's solicitor. It meant that Mr Wrigley visited Awaab's home on July 14, 2020, to draw up a list of repairs that needed carrying out, but the work could not take place until the green light had been given by Anthony Hodari.


*Deep breath*. Who came up with this 'policy'? It is a nonsense, and harmful for both the tenant and the landlord. There is no, zero, nada requirement in the pre-action protocol for the landlord to hold off on works until they are agreed. From the landlord's position, it actually makes sense to do the bloody works as quickly as possible, both to minimise the damages period, and to reduce the chances of the claim actually being issued, because it would quite possibly be a damages only small claim, so saving both ongoing damages and legal costs. It also makes sense for a landlord that actually, hypothetically, putatively cares about its tenants' living conditions to sort things out as quickly as possible.


Sure, there might be arguments over elements of works later on, but that is a much smaller problem.


So, legally and objectively, this is a damn stupid policy, and one that would have the potential (as terribly played out here) to cause harm. Any other landlord having a similar policy should reconsider it immediately (and get proper legal advice).


Now, I am well aware that some tenant claimant acting firms routinely try to insist to landlords that no repairs should be carried out without their agreement, and some firms even advise tenant clients to refuse access to the landlord at least until there has been an expert inspection. (NB for clarity, I have no idea if the firm involved in this case, Anthony Hodari Solicitors, do or did this, so this is not a specific accusation.)


Any firm that does this is engaging in poor practice. There is, again, no legal basis for this. Moreover, it creates a significant risk of reducing claimable damages for the tenant client, as i) the landlord can raise refused/delayed access, and ii) delaying works casts a negative light on how serious the impact of the defects is on the tenant if they are prepared to delay.


In view of this, I would go so far as to say such advice and approach could be conduct bordering on negligence.


If there is a risk of works being done before an inspection, then the time to instruct an expert can be curtailed under the protocol in order to preserve evidence, after all.


Then, if the firm has such a practice of delaying access and insisting works must be agreed, it cannot be a general one. It ought to be quite rapidly apparent in a situation like this one that an interim injunction should be considered, at least to remove the immediate risk. Here, there was the health visitor's letter/report to that effect.


But turning back to this case, it then turns out that Anthony Hodari Solicitors dropped the case in September 2020. We don't know why, so I won't speculate. It looks like a clear cut fitness for human habitation claim, albeit with at that time very limited damages (from March 2020 only), but there can be many reasons why a claim doesn't proceed. However, Hodari didn't tell RBH that they weren't acting any more at the time. RBH apparently continued on the basis of their (wholly misguided) policy that they wouldn't do any works until agreed with the claimant's solicitor, without knowing that the solicitors weren't acting.


This was apparently a policy of Hodari not to say when they stopped acting.


Stephen Lund, director at Anthony Hodari, told the inquest the firm had in fact dropped the case in September 2020, weeks before Awaab died. Mr Lund explained the firm has its own policy not to inform housing associations when cases are dropped to avoid prejudicing other legal action involving the tenant.


This completely mystifies me. Simply informing the landlord that you are no longer instructed can't prejudice other legal action. It also leaves a continuing obligation on the (ex)claimant solicitor to pass on communication from the landlord to the former client, which is a waste of everyone's time. I hope that policy is changed, because in this case, it appears to have a factor in further delay (albeit primarily due to the landlord's misguided policy).


There were partial works in November 2020, but by December 2020, Awaab was dead. More ventilation works have since been carried out.




As Karen Buck MP put it on twitter this evening


When @justinbates28 @nearlylegal and I got the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act through in 2018 we knew we needed more: investment in social housing, enforcement capacity, legal help and an end to victim blaming. But how-how!- could anyone ignore conditions like these?


It is a cause for rage and despair that even after Fitness for Human Habitation came into force for existing tenancies on 20 March 2020 (and after landlords, including social landlords, having had effectively two years warning about what it meant), a social landlord failed to respond to complaints of dire conditions, blamed the tenant (with racist stereotyping thrown in) and then adopted a catastrophically stupid approach to legal cases - which it had to admit had no legal basis in the inquest - while leaving the tenant and family in conditions even the landlord's own surveyor came to categorise as unfit for habitation.


Perhaps the tenant should have turned the heating on and opened a window.


That the landlord was so organisationally incompetent that some key officers weren't aware of there being a family in the property, despite it being known to the landlord, or unaware of the health concerns about the child being raised with the landlord by health workers, is sadly not a surprise in the slightest.


The same mess lies behind every social landlord refrain of 'this was a regrettable one off incident that slipped through our system. We are learning lessons.' (Predictably RBH are 'learning hard lessons'. There is no evidence of any of the 'lesson learners' yet passing post lesson exams.)


But I am so tired of the excuses and the 'we are so sorry we fell below our usual high standards on this occasion' nonsense. There are hundreds of thousands of rented homes in England with severe condensation damp and mould problems. Double that with other damp issues. Landlords, the time has come to finally stop being crap at this, You are, awfully and tragically, killing people.


Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Mining and Human Rights: LAPFF Chair Returns from Brazil Tailings Dam Trip

Check out this press release by the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (I am Joint Vice Chair) on the recent visit by our Chair to Brazil. Many thanks to Doug and our engagement partners, PIRC, for all their work during this important visit. 

Some Progress Noted but Lots of Work Still to Do

"LAPFF Chair, Cllr Doug McMurdo, returned from Brazil recently where he spent three weeks investigating the progress of reparations following tailings dam collapses in Mariana (2015) and Brumadinho (2019). This trip was part of LAPFF’s broader work on mining and human rights. The context for the trip is available in the mining and human rights report LAPFF published in April 2022.  The motivation for the trip reflects LAPFF’s view that social and environmental impacts by investee companies are financially material for investors.

During his trip, Cllr McMurdo met with communities affected by the 2015 Mariana and 2019 Brumadinho dam collapses. BHP and Vale own the Mariana Fundão dam through their joint venture operator, Samarco. Vale owns the Córrego do Feijão dam that collapsed in Brumadinho. Water quality and delays in house building in Mariana are the two major concerns cited by affected community members with whom LAPFF spoke.

After meeting with affected community members, Cllr McMurdo spent two days with the Chair of Vale and senior executives from the company. LAPFF extended an invitation to meet a BHP representative during Cllr McMurdo’s trip, but the invitation was declined by the company.

At the end of the trip, Cllr McMurdo met with a number of Brazilian investors led by ESG-focused asset manager, JGP Asset Management, with whom LAPFF has been partnering on this project for a couple of years. Collectively, the investor group worked with senior executives of Vale to set in motion a process to increase the pace and quality of reparations following the tailings dam collapses.

Quote from LAPFF Chair: “It is clear that Vale has taken steps to improve its corporate culture and its dam safety practices. LAPFF’s objective is to be a critical friend to the company in fostering better and faster delivery of required reparations and dam safety measures.”

The largest impediment to completing reparations in Mariana quickly enough and to an adequate standard appears to be the Renova Foundation. Vale, BHP, and Samarco – but no affected community members – sit on the board of this organisation which was established to provide reparations following the Mariana tailings dam collapse in November 2015. The Foundation has an overly complex structure, similar to that of a joint venture, and does not have adequate independence in its governance. Both shortcomings have led to poor and drawn-out execution of reparations.

Quote from JGP Asset Management: “Unfortunately, we cannot go back in time and avoid the two disasters that Vale was involved in. However, Vale can act today to become the reference point for an ESG standard in mining, a critical industry for the global energy transition. As investors, we keep engaged with the company on several fronts, but especially in corporate governance and relations with the communities where Vale has operations.”

Quote from Vale: “Vale is enhancing its dialogue and engagement with shareholders, communities and society, in order to act in greater alignment with their expectations. I was pleased to personally welcome LAPFF’s representatives in Brazil and to show Vale’s efforts on reparations initiatives and dam safety. I want to thank LAPFF for its feedback and I would like to renew our commitment to building a better company. It is a long way to travel and we will continue to act attentively in making Vale one of the safest and most reliable mining companies in the world.”


Sunday, November 13, 2022

West Ham Remembrance Sunday & When the Guns Fell Silent

This morning I attended the Remembrance Day service at All Saints Church in West Ham, the ward I have represented as a Councillor since 2010. It was a marvellous and moving service, attended by our local MP, Lyn Brown, our local British Army TA unit, G Company 7 Rifles, Metropolitan Police, Parishioners, Royal British Legion and my Newham Council Councillor colleagues. 

Many thanks to Revd. Simon Nicholls (and his "West Ham team") for the service. I was particularly struck by the playing during the service of the above audio soundtrack of an authentic recreation of the actual end of the First World War at 11am on 11th November 1918. The artillery shells stop - and the birds start singing. 

Saturday, November 12, 2022

White Notley and Cressing Walk

 It has been a while since I have been for (or posted) a country walk for various reasons. Today Gill and I took advantage of a dry and warmish weather forecast to go for this 7.5 mile circular walk in Essex. A map and description is in this Essex Walks Pathfinder booklet. You can also access the walk online if you subscribe to the Ordnance Survey app (which is largely brilliant but not perfect. £4.99 pm or less for an annual payment)

It was rather flat and cloudy (so no big Essex skies) but nice to get out in the countryside, enjoy the fresh air and the relative solitude. There is a longer version of the walk which includes a visit to the historic Cressing temple which we didn't have time for today.  

Check out further pictures and comments on this walk via my Facebook page.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Armistice Day - Newham Central Park Cenotaph 2022 (and searching for Alf Wells, Clarion Cycles, KIA 1914)


This morning I attended yet another very moving Armistice Day memorial at the Cenotaph in Central Park. As well as the usual suspects (myself included) there was I think around 200 children from local schools gathered around Cenotaph, many of whom actively participated in the ceremony. 

At the end I searched the Cenotaph for mention of Alf Wells, who was a member of the local branch of the Clarion Cycles Club, who was killed in action in 1914. This was for a UNISON colleague interested in Labour history.  There was 2 surnames with Wells on the cenotaph but no one with an initial with "A". However, "Alf" could have been a nickname or even a middle name. I will continue to search for Alf.

Many thanks to the Royal British Legion, the local Newham Schools , their staff and especially historian, Lee Skeggs, for making this such a special and important event. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

UNISON Labour Link Parliamentary Reception for London Councillors hosted by David Lammy MP


Picture collage from last weeks reception in the Jubilee Room in Westminster Hall. Many, many thanks to Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy MP and his staff for hosting this event and for David giving a passionate speech and Parliamentary report to UNISON members present, who are elected Councillors from all over London.

As Chair of Greater UNISON Labour Link Committee (and on behalf of our wonderful Vice Chair, Yvonne Green) , I welcomed and introduced speakers. After David gave his keynote speech, our new(ish) UNISON Regional Secretary, Jo Galloway, gave a cracking overview of politics and the union in London. Especially all the campaigns that should unite us, about tackling low pay, health and safety and training. 

Next was our also new(ish),  Political Secretary and UNISON Regional officer, Joel Bodmer. He laid out specific asks of Councillors regarding adopting our UNISON Ethical Care charter and Residential Care charter. 

UNISON National officer, Gavin Edwards, also spoke about our Social Care campaigns and what Councillors can do to support some of the most vulnerable workers in Local Government. 

Afterwards  there was a chance to take some photos and have a chat and gossip in the finest traditions of UNISON and Local Government. 

Due to Data Protection issues we cannot match UNISON members against Labour Party membership lists, so apologies that the invite to this event was a bit hit and miss. This will be the first of many events and all invitees will also be contacted with dates of campaign sessions to support UNISON nominated Prospective Parliamentary Candidates. 

Watch this space. 

Monday, November 07, 2022

John at 60

I am amazed at being 60. I still don't feel at all "old" (whatever that means nowadays) but how on earth did this happen - 60??? 

I have my London + 60 free travel card and I am also now due to receive a small pension from a past employment, so I will officially be a "pensioner"! Crikey. 

I still have 7 years until I reach state retirement age, a very demanding full time job, trade union and Councillor responsibilities and "touch wood" reasonable good health. So still got lots and lots of things to do and achieve. 

So in spite of being 60 - watch this space. 

Many thanks to my lovely wife Gill for this wonderful Collage. 


Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Newham Voices - November 2022 & Congratulations to our Young Cllr of the Year!

Congratulations to my Newham Councillor colleague,  Mariam Dawood, who has been given this national award. 

Subscribe and check out latest editions of "Newham Voices" here

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Why join UNISON


(hat tip our number one recruiter Joseph and his standard email to potential members)

"Hi Fellow Worker

Further to our discussion, you can join UNISON online via the link below:

Signing up is very straight forward.

Once you’re a member feel free to seek any work related advice you may need from me or John Gray who is the Clarion UNISON Convenor. I have copied him in for reference.

Please note you will not be able to get any legal representation (cases requiring referral to the Trade Union branch or being lodged at Employment Tribunal) regarding any work related issues that occurred prior to you being a member.

It is after being a member for four weeks and any work related issues arising after this period, that you would be able to get legal representation.

During the four weeks you can only get email and telephone advice about work related issues.


7 reasons to join UNISON

 Each of our 1.4 million members has their own reasons for joining UNISON.

 But every one receives our help and support.

Legal Help – For you at work and your family at home

2.    Financial Assistance – And debt advice in times of need

3.    Compensation – For you and your family

4.    Discounts – Including money off cars and holidays

5.    Helpline –  Our helpline is open until midnight weekdays, and 4pm on Saturdays, closed on Sundays

6.    Training – To help develop your career

7.    Support – We’ll be with you when you need it most