Sunday, 20 April 2014

FOI and NLC

I sent this Freedom of Information (FOI) request to North Lanarkshire Council (NLC) on Friday which speaks for itself really.

Because with the Council's job evaluation scheme and its pay arrangements in so much trouble I think there's big public interest in people knowing much more about the way these matters were handled back in 2006.

I will probably submit a few more FOI requests to NLC before this is all over and if readers have any suggestion to make, drop me a note at: markirvine@compuserve.com  



18 April 2014
Gavin Whitefield
Chief Executive
North Lanarkshire Council


Dear Mr Whitefield

FOISA Request 

I would like to make the following request under the Freedom of Information Scotland Act 2002.

I understand that North Lanarkshire Council carried out an 'Equality Impact Assessment' in 2006 in connection with the Council's job evaluation scheme and would be grateful for the following details regarding this matter:

a) the cost of conducting the exercise in terms of fees paid to an external adviser

b) the identity of the Council official who oversaw the process and signed-off its subsequent recommendations

c) the names of the trade unions who were consulted over the Equality Impact Assessment and the dates on which this consultation took place

I look forward to your reply and would be grateful if you could respond to me by e-mail to: markirvine@compuserve.com
    
Kind regards



Mark Irvine

Focus on Inequality


The Labour Party has hired an adviser from America, David Axelrod, to help sharpen its focus on inequality according to The Guardian.

Now I can do that for free if Ed Miliband is willing to listen, for example by pointing out that in the year 2000 Labour in Scotland prioritised a landmark pay deal for teachers (the McCrone Agreement) at a cost of £800 million a year while reneging on a earlier 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement aimed at low paid council workers which had a much lower price tag of £400 to £500 million a year.

So what Labour needs to address if you ask me, is how the party can get itself into a position where it is long on rhetoric about standing up for the underdog but when push comes to shove, time and again, they simply fail deliver.    
    

Ed Miliband signs up top Obama adviser David Axelrod for UK election

US president's right-hand man, who masterminded back-to-back election wins, to sharpen Labour party focus on inequality

By Patrick Wintour - The Guardian

David Axelrod, pictured with Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign, said Miliband had impressed by taking on ‘some powerful interests’. Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters

Barack Obama's most influential adviser during two presidential victories has been hired to advise Labour on its 2015 election campaign, ensuring that Ed Miliband will put inequality and the break between family finances and economic growth at the centre of his election campaign.

David Axelrod has been given the title of senior strategic adviser and told the Guardian that Labour's political and economic analysis was similar to the central themes deployed in Obama's successful re-election campaign.

The political guru said that he had signed up "because I have had some long conversations with Ed Miliband over the course of the past year and it was less about politics, and more about this issue of how in the 21st century you create healthy economies in which opportunity is broadly available, and people can stay ahead of the cost of living".

His arrival on the British scene will pit him against the Australian Lynton Crosby, the Conservative campaign consultant, who is one the toughest campaign operators. But he will not be as hands-on as his rival: he will first visit the UK in May, and Labour's overall campaign structure, the subject of recent leaks and rivalries, remains unchanged.

It also, more intriguingly, pits him against a former Obama colleague, Jim Messina, who has been hired by David Cameron. Axelrod was reluctant to discuss Messina, except to promise he had the capacity to surprise.

The deal was finalised last week by Douglas Alexander, the Labour election co-ordinator, and involved what is being described as a six-figure sum to pay for the services of Axelrod and the firm, AKPD, until the general election in May next year.

Axelrod was integral not just to Obama's two presidential victories in 2008 and 2012, but also to Obama's election as a senator in 2004. He has been described as a lobe of the Obama brain.

He comes at a time when Labour still holds a consistent poll lead, but there is an expectation that the lead will narrow as the economy improves and wages start to rise faster than prices, the point of crossover that the Conservatives will argue means the living standards crisis is over.

Axelrod said: "Miliband understands that a growing economy demands that you have to have broad prosperity. We can't just have prosperity hoarded by a few where people at the top are getting wealthier and wealthier but people in the middle are getting squeezed. This is a problem not just for Britain but everywhere in advanced economies, including here in the US.

"That is how we won in the US. Barack Obama articulated a vision which had, at its core, the experience of everyday people. And everyday people responded, they organised and they overcame the odds. I see the same thing happening in Britain."

Axelrod said: "I have been really impressed by him [Miliband]. He has taken on some powerful interests." Miliband had little choice but to do so because of "powerful interests stacked against him that benefit from current policies, but those polices conspire against the majority".

But he attempted also to downplay the significance of his own arrival: "This is bigger than the strategists and the operatives. It is about the ideas, and on the biggest issue facing every mature economy, how do you create broad prosperity and opportunity, Ed is on the right side of that fight, and he will display passion. That is what will make the difference, not some nuance from me."

Asked if he grasped the specifics of British politics, Axelrod said: "I do not want to say too much before I enter the political arena but from what I have read the Ukip movement has dragged Cameron to the right on Europe, and we have seen some of the same impact on the Republican party from the Tea Party."

The similarity of argument suggests that Axelrod's arrival will reinforce Labour's existing strategy, rather than change it. He also hinted that he was willing to attack the Tories as the party of the elite in the same way as he unbalanced the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, in 2012.

"The Conservatives are going to be hard put to say they are in touch with the experience of everyday people. They have a philosophy that is warmly received in the circles in which they travel. That is if the people at the top prosper, if the powerful people at the top, the bankers and others prosper, the whole country will prosper, and that is an attitude that is ingrained," Axelrod said.

The former senior adviser in Obama's White House will arrive on 14 May in London for two days of strategy meetings with Miliband and other senior shadow cabinet members. He is being joined by veterans from the Obama for America campaign Larry Grisolano and Mike Donilon, who will further strengthen Labour's campaign with their expertise.

The political guru argued that Labour needs to mobilise ordinary people in the same way as Obama did. "I have said that campaigns are like an MRI scan for the soul – you find out a lot about people in campaigns."

He also said that he understood the levels of distrust in politics. "You have to recognise there is scepticism about politics and not every solution is a government solution. There are ways to stimulate private investment, or stimulate links between universities and business. But if you ask people, should governments make smart investments in education and training to lift incomes, people overwhelmingly support that."

Alexander said Axelrod had three great strengths: he had shown an ability to win the middle class over to a progressive cause; he knew how to build large majorities; and he was an expert in handling negative campaigning.

Labour aides insisted that Axelrod and his team would be integral to the campaign, and not be taking money just to provide stardust.


Who Gets What and Why? (1 April 2014)





The Sunday Times reported the other day that if Labour wins the next year's general election, the Party will cut university tuition fees in England by at least £3,000 and as much as £5,000 a year - which will cost the public purse between £1.7 billion and £3 billion a year.

Now I think this is what Ed Miliband calls standing up for the 'squeezed middle'.

But what I'd like to know is how Labour can find all this money for middle income families - when party leaders show none of the same conviction when it comes to delivering equal pay for low council paid workers?

Brass Neck (24 March 2014) 


The business of politics requires a 'brass neck' - the ability to make claims that you know are exaggerated or even untrue, but this nonsense from the Scottish Labour leader about equality really takes the biscuit.

Because the fight for equality would have taken a huge leap forward if Labour councils in Scotland had kept their promises to deliver equal pay over the past 15 years, as required by the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement.

Now as I've explained before on the blog site the 'problem' was never about money or resources since the the Labour led Government at Holyrood and the big Labour councils managed to fund a major new pay deal for Scottish teachers (the McCrone Agreement) in the year 2000 which cost a mammoth £800 million a year.

Yet the same people and politicians turned a blind eye to the ongoing scandal in Scottish councils were traditional females jobs (carers, cooks, classroom assistants, cleaners and clerical staff) were all being paid much less than comparable male jobs.

Now funding the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement would have cost a whole lot less than the teachers pay deal, £400 to £500 million a year, but Labour councils reneged on their commitment despite the Labour led Coalition Government at Holyrood (until 2007) and the Labour Government at Westminster which had an overall majority between 1999 and 2010.

Johann Lamont was a school teacher before she stood as an MSP and she has been a full-time MSP ever since 1999, so the Labour leader must understand the underlying issues, yet I've never heard Johann say anything of significance about the long fight for equal pay in Scotland's councils, even though her seat (Glasgow Pollok) lies smack within the boundary of Glasgow City Council, the largest council in Scotland.   

Shameless behaviour, if you ask me.



Labour's Johann Lamont claims SNP fails on equality

By Andrew Black
BBC Scotland news
Johann Lamont will criticise the Scottish government - and pledge to make high earners pay more tax

Scotland's Labour leader will compare Holyrood's SNP government to the Tories, saying it has failed to deliver equality.

Johann Lamont will tell her party's conference that, despite seven years in power, Scottish ministers had failed to distribute wealth from rich to poor.

Branding the Scottish government "Osborne Max", she will pledge to ensure the rich pay their fair share.

Ms Lamont's speech comes ahead of the Scottish independence referendum.

On 18 September, voters in Scotland will be asked the Yes/No question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

Ms Lamont will tell delegates in Perth: "Seven years of nationalism in Scotland - and not one policy which distributes wealth from rich to poor - in fact the opposite.

"Those in the richest houses saving most. Those with the most getting more. Those with the least getting less.

"That isn't just a betrayal of social justice - it is a betrayal of everything we believe Scotland stands for."

The Scottish Labour leader will urge members of the party faithful to "look beyond the saltire and plaid", to what she argued the SNP planned to deliver.

"While we will ask the rich to pay their fair share - the nationalists tell us that would put Scotland at a disadvantage," Ms Lamont will say.

"Social injustice is what puts Scotland at its greatest disadvantage and restoring the 50p tax rate will start to fight injustice.

"We have a nationalist government which refuses to reverse Tory tax cuts for millionaires - and a nationalist government which votes against giving workers on government contracts the living wage."

She will tell the conference: "Forget the talk of indy lite - this nationalist government is Osborne Max."


Politics of Equal Pay (2 August 2013)


I am often drawing readers' attention to interesting and/or thought provoking article in the newspapers and here's a real doozy which lays bare  the politics of Equal Pay in today's Herald - from none other than little old me!


So, go out and buy yourself a copy of the Herald, share it with your friends and use the information in the article to good effect - kick up a great fuss - for example, by posing a few awkward questions to your local councillor, MSP or MP.
Because when it comes to equal pay - Scotland's politicians, particularly its Labour politicians, have a great deal to answer for, if you ask me. 

Agenda: Political will, not economics, has stalled equal pay


There are still battles being fought on equal pay.
Earlier this week, I called on Eddie McAvoy, leader of South Lanarkshire Council, to resign after the authority lost a three-year legal battle which has cost the public purse more than £168,000 so far.

The Supreme Court in London ruled that the council wrong to withhold information from me. I wanted to check whether women workers at the authority were being discriminated against. 

The way in which Scottish councils chose to deal with equal pay has important implications for areas of social policy.

The business goes back to 1999 when a new national agreement was struck (the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement between Scotland's council employers and the unions. The stated aim was to sweep away years of historical pay discrimination against many female- dominated jobs which were paid much less, typically £3 an hour less, than traditional male jobs.

The way equal pay was to be achieved was by raising the pay of women workers to the same as the men. The costly price tag was around £500m a year: 90,000 women workers at £3 per hour x 30 hours a week (on average) x 52 weeks = £421m. 

You might well ask how Scotland's councils could afford to spend so much on equal pay. The answer is that the annual budgets of Scotland 32 councils and that of the Scottish Parliament doubled in size during the period between 1997 and 2007. So, money was never the problem – the problem was political will.

Because in the year 2000 Scotland's 32 local councils with the enthusiastic support of the Scottish Government, implemented a much more expensive agreement on teachers' pay, the McCrone Agreement, with a far weightier annual price tag of £800m. Now this pay deal gave Scottish teachers an unprecedented 23.5% increase in a single year, whereas other very low- paid council workers were still waiting for the promises of their 1999 Equal Pay Agreement to be honoured.

Nowadays Labour and the unions are demanding a so-called Living Wage, yet I am struck by the thought that a rate of £9 an hour could and should have been achieved years ago. Not only would this have put more money into the pockets and purses of thousands of low-paid women council workers, but equal pay would also have eliminated the need for the crazy and complex system of working tax credits.

Those who failed to keep their promises in 1999 were the Labour councils who dominated the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) at the time and the Labour trade unions who decided not to cut up rough on behalf of their lowest-paid members. Instead this was done by Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES), which arrived on the scene in 2005 and began to explain the big pay differences between male and female council jobs, which led to an explosion of equal pay claims in the Employment Tribunals. 

Aome people criticise A4ES because we charge clients a success fee of 10% (not 25% as some have suggested), but I've always regarded that as great value for money. The same people wrongly claim that the unions represented their members "for nothing", which is nonsense because they were, of course, taking millions of pounds in union contributions from these members –while turning a blind eye what was going on right under their noses.

So the fight for equal pay continues because certain councils decided to preserve the historically higher pay of traditional male workers when introducing job evaluation, which means that women workers have a potential ongoing claim while these pay differences continue. 

Other councils have cynically reduced male workers' pay to avoid the likelihood of claims from women employees, yet this was never the aim of the original Equal Pay Agreement: the problem was never that men were paid too much, but that women were paid too little. 

Mark Irvine was chief union negotiator in the 1999 Scottish agreement which was meant to deliver equal pay for women.

Scotland and Equal Pay (24 January 2014)


Here's another post about the politics of equal pay which I've decided to re-publish in light of the speech by Labour's Margaret Curran on Women and Independence.

If you ask me, Margaret Curran's comments are ill-informed and ludicrous because the main reason that the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement was not implemented properly - was down to the role of the big Labour councils which controlled CoSLA at the time and the failure of the Labour supporting trade unions to stand up for the interests of low paid women workers.

Money was never the stumbling block because the Labour-led Scottish Government along with CoSLA (the umbrella body for local councils) managed to find £800 million to fund the McCrone pay deal which in the year 2000 handed an eye-watering 23.5% pay increase to another group of council employees - Scottish school teachers.  

Now this £800 million was built into the Scottish Government's base budget which means that it costs the country and extra £800 million every year to pay teachers a good salary - at the level determined by the historic McCrone Agreement. 

But the McCrone Agreement somehow leapfrogged and took precedence over the cost of implementing the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement which, at the time, was estimated to be £400 to £500 million a year.

Interestingly, the Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement would have benefited well over 90,000 very low paid council workers, most of them women, while the McCrone Agreement gave an unprecedented pay increase to a smaller group of around 70,000 teachers.  

So, why was the money found for teachers and not other employees much further down the pay ladder?   

I don't know, but the answer to that question lies with the Scottish Government, the council  employers and the trade unions - all three organisations being dominated by the political priorities of Labour Party.  

Politics of Equal Pay (20 August 2013)

I came across this article on equal pay which I missed for some reason - when it was published in The Herald back in January 2013.

Now the writer involved - Ruth Wishart - is an experienced journalist, so I was both surprised and disappointed that the piece contained so many inaccuracies and mistakes.

For a start to use the words 'pay anomalies' to describe what was going in Glasgow  back in 2005 is an abuse of the English language - as if there were just a few wrinkles here and there.

Because what was taking place in Glasgow (and elsewhere) - right under the noses of the trade unions and seasoned journalists like Ruth Wishart - was widespread pay discrimination against thousands of low paid women.

Women in caring, catering, cleaning clerical and classroom assistant jobs - who were routinely being paid thousands of pounds a year less than relatively unskilled male jobs such as refuse workers or gardeners.

When Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) arrived on the scene in 2005, things began to change because we  explained to women workers exactly what was going on - and the fact that council employers and trade unions in Scotland had promised to sweep away this widespread pay discrimination as far back as 1999.

And this was during a 10 year period between 1997 and 2007 - when the budgets of councils in Scotland actually doubled in size, of course. 

But the employers and the unions failed to keep their promises which is why so many of these cases ended up in the Employment Tribunals - as union members voted with their feet and decided to pursue their equal pay claims with A4ES.

So much so that A4ES clients outnumber the trade union backed cases by a ratio of 10 to 1 - not 4 to 1 as Ruth Wishart wrongly suggests - and A4ES charges a its clients a success fee of 10% which Ruth would also know if she had bothered to check her facts.

Another glaring error is Ruth's reference to a Scottish Joint Council Job Evaluation scheme which she says was still under negotiation - but the truth is that a nationally approved Job Evaluation scheme specifically developed for Scottish councils had been available for use since 1999 - and this scheme was supported by the trade unions.

So Glasgow's decision to use a different scheme had nothing to do with choosing a quicker option - quite the opposite in fact.       
        
I find this all the more amazing because Ruth is (or was until recently ) a member of the Leveson Expert Group - whose advice on how to implement the Leveson Report in Scotland was quickly binned by the Scottish Government.

Yet the original Leveson Report was concerned with journalistic standards in the press and media - such as the importance of behaving with integrity and getting your facts right even when writing an opinion piece.

For example, Ruth's comment that "The unions, however dozy, went into bat for nothing" is plainly wrong - because the unions charged their low paid women members millions of pounds in contributions (membership fees) over this period - yet let them down miserably when it came to sweeping away years of pay discrimination.   

I was genuinely taken aback to such an ill-informed and unbalanced piece, so I decided to write to Ruth Wishart recently and invite her to meet with Mark Irvine and Carol Fox - to set the record straight.

Sad to say that offer wasn't taken up, but there is still an open invitation for any journalist who - like Ruth - appears to be struggling to grasp the basic rights and wrongs of equal pay.   

No easy answers in the struggle for equal pay

By Ruth Wishart (22 January 2013)

On one level it sounds so simple.

People should get the same pay for work of similar value regardless of gender. The Treaty of Rome said so way back in 1957. The UK law enshrined it when the Equal Pay Act came fully into force in 1975. What could go wrong?

Pretty well every thing as it happens. From dodgy employers in the early days who thought it smart practice to promote every single bloke on the payroll, to mass re-writing of job descriptions, to assembly lines being re-jigged to make them single sex.

And even when the rogues were rounded up, the earnings gap stubbornly persisted. Still does. But now all these years of underpayment have come back to bite cash-strapped local authorities who, not exactly obstructed by male-dominated unions, continued to preside over arrangements which turned out to be institutionally discriminatory.

A landmark judgment at the end of last year found Birmingham City Council on the wrong end of a court case brought by more than 170 women claiming back pay over six years. It is likely to open the floodgates for hundreds, if not thousands more.

Meanwhile, next month sees Glasgow City Council at a second session of an employment tribunal – there's a third scheduled for May – defending the arrangements it has come to after a process which began way back in 2005. A process which has already cost it over £50 million in compensation packages to female employees.

But this is not a straightforward tale of winners and losers, nor for that matter heroes and villains. When Glasgow City Council did its job evaluation exercise seven years ago there was no shortage of pay anomalies tumbling out of the woodwork.

As was the case with other councils, pay rates had grown up which made the casual assumption that outdoor dirty jobs like refuse collection and grave digging were intrinsically worth more than indoor manual work like cooking and cleaning. No prizes for guessing which of these categories employed more men than women and vice versa.

On top of that was an extraordinary bonus culture which widened the pay gap quite dramatically. As one executive explained "it seems that in some areas bonuses were being paid for turning up to work". And a lack of transparency around who got paid what and why meant that many of the disadvantaged women had no notion just how poorly paid they were by comparison with similar or poorer male skill levels.

The workforce pay and benefit review was designed to examine and eradicate these anomalies. Glasgow decided not to use the Scottish Joint Council Scheme still under negotiation, but used the Greater London Provincial Model on the grounds it would be a faster option than re-inventing the wheel. This entailed putting diverse jobs into 13 "job families" depending on the working context and skills.

The exercise meant higher pay for almost 25,000 employees, but loss of earnings for just under 4000. Under the deal anyone losing more than £500 would be offered skills development and there would be pay protection for three years.

The unions had several complaints about this, suggesting – among other complaints – that employees having to sign on the dotted line before being compensated for previous inequities was a form of blackmail.

But their cages were also being rattled by a new breed of specialist lawyers who saw the fight for equal pay as a lucrative niche market.

Their pitch was that on a no-win-no-fee basis they could get the women a better deal than union reps who, they suggested, had been asleep on the job in order to protect the incomes of their male membership.

Since the lawyers' cut of a successful action involved anything from 10% to 25% of the women's compensation packages, it seems somewhat disingenuous to suppose the main motive was a lofty crusade against injustice and discrimination. The unions, however dozy, went into bat for nothing.

In the event, four times as many Glasgow employees plumped for a private law firm than for Unison, though not the least of the ironies in this saga is that many of the lawyers involved had previously worked for Unison.

But, as I said, this is not a simple tale. Righting previous wrongs is important. Equal pay for work of equal value is essential. Yet all of this unfolds against a backdrop of budget cuts inevitably resulting in job losses.

It's not so much being careful what we wish for, more a dispiriting calculation on benefits versus costs.