Friday, 30 July 2010

Openess and Transparency

The government's culture minister - Jeremy Hunt - is calling on the BBC, no less, to be open and transparent about pay.

Good for him - maybe he can be persuaded to intervene in South Lanarkshire as well - where the pay arrangements for certain traditional male jobs remain a closely guarded secret.

Because South Lanarkshire is the only council in Scotland - to behave as if it's fine to ignore perfectly legitimate questions - about how the council spends public money.

Jeremy Hunt said recently: "I do want the BBC to demonstrate that when it comes to their management pay they are on the same planet as everyone else”

"We have learned in government that transparency is the best way to solve a lot of these issues because you are saying to the public - 'look, you're grown up, you make up your own mind'."

Exactly - and that's all South Lanarkshire is being asked to do over equal pay.

Put the facts on the table - then people can judge for themselves.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Bonfire of the Quangos

In the run up to Labour's landslide general election victory in 1997 - the people were promised a 'bonfire of the quangos' - if Labour were returned to power.

George Robertson - who is now safely ensconced in the House of Lords - was the Scottish Labour leader at the time - but his promised 'bonfire' amounted to no more than a damp squib.

Because if anything the quango state expanded under Labour - at both the Holyrood and Westminster parliaments - over the next 10 years or so.

Far from fewer quangos - the end result was an even bigger unelected state - with ever increasing budgets and burgeoning numbers of staff.

So, imagine the surprise at the actions of the new coalition government.

For once a government has actually done what it said it was going to do - to abolish quangos wherever possible - and return their functions to ministerial and government control.

And to their credit the coalition has been as good as its word - because to date the government has axed at least 80 quangos and warned many others that they will be merged or simply replaced.

In many cases their work will simply be transferred to existing government departments - here are some that met their fate since the general election in May.

ARTS
*UK Film Council
*Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
*Advisory Council on Libraries
*Legal Deposit Advisory Panel
*Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck S ites

HEALTH
*Health Protection Agency (HPA)
*National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA)
*National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse
*Alcohol Education and Research Council
*Appointments Commission (CQC)
*Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (by end of this Parliament)
*Human Tissue Authority
*Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence (to be made a self-funding body)
*NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement

EDUCATION
*General Teaching Council
*Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency
*British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA)

BUSINESS AND ECONOMY
*All eight regional Government Offices
*Eight out of the nine regional development agencies (the exception being London)
*Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property policy (SABIP)
*SITPRO (Simplifying International Trade)
*Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Advisory Body (WAB)
*British Shipbuilders Corporation
*UfI/Learndirect
*Learning & Skills Improvement Service
*Institute for Learning
*Standards and Verification UK
*IiP UK
*Hearing Aid Council
*Investors in People UK

HOME OFFICE
*National Policing Improvement Agency

ENVIRONMENT
*Sustainable Development Commission (funding withdrawn)
*Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution
*Agricultural Wages Board
*Inland Waterways Advisory Council
*The Commons Commissioners
*Infrastructure Planning Commission
*Commission for Rural Communities

More Kind Words

More kind words from a regular reader in Falkirk:

"Hi Mark,

Over the moon with settlement - once again a big thank you!

Regards


P"

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

MPs To Lose Final Salary Pensions

According to recent press reports Westminster MPs are set to lose their final salary pension scheme - following the recommendations of a public sector pay body.

The Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) is recommending that MPs basic pension be changed from "final-salary" - to an amount based on their average career earnings.

Broadly speaking this means that what MPs' get back out of their pension scheme - will be directly related to what they actually pay in over their working lives - which seems all very fair and reasonable.

Because final salary schemes mean that lower paid workers end up subsidising the enchanced and much more generous pensions of their better off colleagues - see post dated 2 July 2010: 'Robin Hood in Reverse (2)'.

What's striking is that real leadership on this issue is finally being shown by a Conservative - Liberal Democrat coalition government - not the Labour party that was in power for 13 years.

Labour talked the talk for years, of course - 'For the Many Not the Few', blah, blah, blah - but the reality of final salary pension schemes was that the many were actually subsidising the few.

In practice, low paid council workers subsidised the enhanced pension payoffs - of their much more highly paid managers - not remotely a fair concept, never mind a socialist one.

So, it's good to see a government finally having the bottle to refrom the system - which was long overdue.

Local councillors in Scotland have been on a career average pension scheme for years and - as we all know - what's sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.

Especially in these difficult times.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Money's No Object

An enterprising reader recently asked Edinburgh City Council - a very revealing Freedom of Information (FOI) question.

The question was: 'Can Edinburgh City Council confirm how much it has spent on external legal fees - in defending equal pay claims brought by former APT&C staff?'

The answer is a whopping great - £184,759.25 to date - according to the council's Head of Legal Services.

Edinburgh City Council's behaviour in defending these cases has been described previously - by the Employment Tribunal - as 'defending the indefensible'.

Yet the council continues to write cheques for huge sums of money - despite having lost the underlying legal arguments - at every turn.

Just who is giving this advice - how can it possibly be worth £184,759.25 - and why don't senior councillors and officials question whether they are getting value for money?

No doubt Edinburgh's Cook Supervisors, Social Care Workers and Classroom Assistants - will be outraged to hear that such huge sums of public money are being wasted in this way.

The fact is that the equal pay claims of these former APT&C staff groups are perfectly valid - and the sooner the council gets round to settling them the better.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Spotlight on South Lanarkshire

Many thanks to the readers who passed on the copy of the South Lanarkshire Council report on Single Status - see post dated 23 July 2010.

The report referred to in the post is actually dated 23 February 2003 - a full year before the council implemented its Single Status pay and grading structures in April 2004.

In effect, the report betrays the council's real intentions over Single Status.

Because far from delivering on the historic commitment to equal pay - enshrined in the 1999 Single Status Agreement - South Lanarkshire was already planning to protect the old bonus-related pay hierarchy - which favoured the traditional male jobs.

Here's what the report said - for anyone who missed Friday's post:

“Acceptance and implementation of the Single Status package would be on the basis of trying to avoid employees experiencing a reduction in basis contractual earnings, this would be achieved using the Competence Based Grading Scheme.”

“This would include double time payments for Sunday overtime where this is part of employees existing conditions and current shift payments being consolidated and matched across.”

“The aim will be not to disturb protections in place for existing groups of employees which have already been agreed, such as arrangements for holidays, overtime working and how bonus has been dealt with.”

If you have any useful information to share - or thoughts about South Lanarkshire Council's behaviour - contact Mark Irvine at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Democracy and Bananas

The big three public sector unions have spoken - GMB, Unite and Unison - or at least their 'political committees' have made known their recommendations.

Ed Miliband is the man they want to be the next Labour leader - in preference to his brother David who is seen as a 'moderniser' - and is therefore regarded with deep suspicion by union bosses

Ed was previously one of Gordon Brown's inner circle - and is now seen as the only man who can stop brother David from being crowned king of Labour's castle.

Two other candidates - Diane Abbott and Ed Balls - are both much closer to the unions in policy terms.

Particularly Diane Abbott who has always been against the war in Iraq - and has always been in favour of scrapping Trident, Britain's 'independent' nuclear deterrent.

Diane is also the only candidate who was not a minister in the last disastrous Labour government - and who opposed Gordon Brown's disgraceful decision to abandon the 10p tax rate.

Yet despite these impressive credentials Diane has failed to win the backing of the GMB's, Unite's or Unison's political committees - who have all coincidentally declared in favour of the Brother Ed.

So, now millions of trade union members will be urged to vote - for someone they don't know - for reasons they don't understand - and this process will help decide who will be the next leader of the Labour party.

It really is as crazy as it sounds.

But the electoral college system was set up for precisely this purpose - to give union bosses and their faceless political committees - undue influence over the Labour party's internal affairs.

Most ordinary union members won't even bother to vote - the great majority of the millions to be balloted - will not take part in the election, and rightly so.

Yet the unions will still cast collectively one third of the total votes - in Labour's most important leadership election.

Now, if that's democracy - then I'm a banana!

Friday, 23 July 2010

Spotlight on South Lanarkshire

Here's a copy of a letter that has been sent today by e-mail to all South Lanarkshire MSPs - a list of South Lanarkshire's Consituency and Regional List MSPs' has been published previously - in the post dated 15 July 2010.

Dear Colleague

South Lanarkshire Council and Equal Pay

I attach a copy of a letter to the Scottish Information Commissioner.

The letter focuses on the refusal of South Lanarkshire Council to publish basic pay information about traditional male council jobs.

The problem stems from a strategic decision taken by South Lanarkshire in February 2003 - which is summarised in the following extract from an official council report:

“Acceptance and implementation of the Single Status package would be on the basis of trying to avoid employees experiencing a reduction in basis contractual earnings, this would be achieved using the Competence Based Grading Scheme.”

“This would include double time payments for Sunday overtime where this is part of employees existing conditions and current shift payments being consolidated and matched across.”

“The aim will be not to disturb protections in place for existing groups of employees which have already been agreed, such as arrangements for holidays, overtime working and how bonus has been dealt with.”

What South Lanarkshire Council did was to preserve on a personal basis the much higher, bonus-related salaries of traditional male jobs.

In my view, the council's actions fatally undermined the commitment to equal pay and fair treatment which were at the heart of the 1999 Single Status Agreement.

No other council in Scotland has behaved in this fashion - nor has any other council tried to bury the evidence by refusing to publish the pay rates for traditional male jobs.

In fact, every other council in Scotland came clean long ago including neighbours such as North Lanarkshire Council and Glasgow City Council.

The issue at stake here is openness and transparency - versus deliberate concealment and obfuscation.

The point is that people are entitled to know how public funds are being used - the workforce is entitled to know how male council jobs are paid compared to their female counterparts.

In truth, these details should be freely available - and at nil cost.

Instead the information is being dragged out of South Lanarkshire - bit by bit - with the council using its huge resources to obstruct the spirit and intention of FOISA (Freedom of Information Scotland Act).

So the issue is simple: should a major public institution such as South Lanarkshire Council be allowed to thumb its nose at FOISA and the Scottish Parliament's freedom of information regime?

I am encouraging readers of the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog site, especially those in South Lanarkshire with equal pay claims, to raise these issues with their MSPs.

My own appeal is currently with the Scottish Information Commissioner, but this does not, of course, prevent MSPs from speaking out on the issues and making clear where they stand.

MSPs are not being asked to indicate support for individual claims or groups of cases - the point is to challenge the council's behaviour which is making a mockery of its public 'support' for the principle of freedom of information.

Equal pay is all about comparators, as you know.

To my mind the best comparator for South Lanarkshire Council's behaviour is the former Speaker's Office in the House of Commons - which fought an unprincipled, but ultimately futile, battle to prevent the public from understanding the true extent of the MPs' expenses scandal.

Kind regards


Mark Irvine

Thursday, 22 July 2010

'If You're in a Hole, Stop Digging'

Denis Healey, the old Labour war-horse, had a favourite saying for friend and foe alike - "If you're in a hole, stop digging".

Unite could do worse than to reflect on Healey's sage advice as it contemplates the result of an internal union ballot - over a pay offer from British Airways (2.9% this year and 3% next year).

The unions says it balloted around 11,000 members over the offer - which sounds a bit casual and vague - was it 11,001 or 11,999?

In any event the result was less than impressive - because only 5,105 members bothered to vote - much less than half of the total (whatever it was).

Apparently 3,419 members voted to reject the offer - while 1,686 voted to accept.

So, on paper the union has a clear 2 to 1 rejection - but on a very poor turnout - which is why union leaders should now pause for thought.

Some union activists take the view that - a majority is a majority - and that 50% plus just 1 extra vote - is tantamount to a democratic mandate.

But this school of thought is clearly bonkers - because crucial to any ballot result is the context - how many people voted, has the issue been hyped up - what are the likely consequences of any action?


What Unite leaders know is that in a consultative ballot there is nothing to lose - whereas in a strike ballot things are very different.

A consultative ballot could be held on the proposal that - 'The moon is made of green cheese' - but a vote in favour of such a proposition is meaningless - no one loses anything on the outcome.

Consultative ballots are often used as a form brinksmanship - as a means of demanding more.


But a full blown strike ballot would raise the stakes - it would be subject to much more scrutiny - and the result would put Unite's leadership on the spot.

Would they call a strike on the basis of a narrow Yes vote - but on a very low turnout - perhaps much lower than 50%?

Because a strike ballot will always produce a 'worse' result than a consultative ballot - as people's doubts and concerns come into play.

And who would call for a strike anyway - when the workforce has been offered 2.9% and 3% in the present economic climate?

If Unite does, they will be inviting trouble - because a strike will raise big questions about union democracy - a can of worms best not opened under this government.

British Airways says that Unite has lost the "moral authority" to represent the views of its members.

A bit on the harsh side probably - but if Unite makes the wrong call now - they will opted for spades and shovels - over the wise words of Denis Healey.

A Bit Weird

The Guardian had a quirky piece in the paper the other day - listing 10 things that people didn't know about the Labour party. Here's one of them:

Research in the 1980s concluded Labour party members were "a bit weird". Deborah Mattinson says that she commissioned a study to enable the party to learn more about its membership. The woman who conducted the research spoke to party members all around Britain and made a worrying discovery. This is what she told Mattinson:

"Basically, they are all a bit weird. I mean, what they had in common wasn't their political opinions – they covered the whole spectrum, from centre-left to far left – they weren't united by any ideology or political belief.

No, it was that they were all slightly strange people ... strange personally, I mean. They were people who really did want to spend their evenings sitting in church halls or community centres agonising over quite arcane points of detail.

And they weren't just doing it that night, but every night – the committee for this, the committee for that, the council, whatever. They were sort of lonely and socially odd."

Who knows whether things have changed - but it does go to show that democracy is too important to be left to the 'committed' activists of any party - not just Labour.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Ongoing Claims

A reader from North Lanarkshire dropped me a note earlier today regarding her ongoing claim - here's my response which may help to answer similar queries from other readers:

"Dear Colleague


North Lanarkshire Council - Ongoing Claims

Yes, you do indeed have an ongoing claim against North Lanarkshire Council - which Action 4 Equality Scotland is already pursuing on your behalf.


The reason for your ongoing claim is that the council was only prepared to settle your claim up until the date that the council introduced new Single Status pay arrangements.

In North Lanarkshire's case this took place at the end of December 2006 - so you have a further claim from January 2007 onwards - because the council continued to protect the much higher earnings of the big bonus earning jobs.

You do not need to do anything about your ongoing claim at this stage - this is already well in hand.


Please ignore any desperate attempts by the trade unions to tell you otherwise - because they are simply untrue.

We will be in touch as soon as there are any developments.

Kind regards


Mark"

An Abuse of Public Funds

The press reported recently that the House of Commons had been using public funds - to track down the 'mole' who helped expose the MPs' expenses scandal.

Apparently, £16,000 was handed over to a private intelligence firm, Deltica Limited - owned by the arms manufacturer BAE - but the investigation proved unsuccessful.

The highly paid mole hunters did not find the mole - but no doubt held onto their £16,000 fee - despite failing so miserably in their appointed task.

In my view the person who leaked the information deserved a medal - and our grateful thanks - not an investigation by the House of Commons.

Because s/he shone a light on the widespread abuse of the expenses system and - in doing so - performed a truly valuable public service.

Without that information being leaked and published by the newspapers - we would still be in the dark today - which suited MPs just fine.

We would be clueless about the floating duck ponds, phantom mortgages, dog food and whole host of other ludicrous claims - which honourable members felt entitled to bang on their expenses.

The new Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, ended the investigation - judging it not to be in the public interest, saying:

“I do not believe that one moment of public time or one penny of public money should be wasted on such a cause.”

Good for him - and hats off to the mole as well - let's hope we see their likes again.

More Kind Words

More kind words from another reader in North Lanarkshire:

"Hi Mark,

Just had to write to thank you and all the team for all the hard work on our behalf - the settlement is now in the bank.


At times we wondered if it would ever end like this - so once again THANK YOU ALL so much.

Would you be so kind and thank the Fox-Cross team for their hard work also.

Kind Regards


HL"

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Falkirk Settlements

The settlement process for Falkirk Council is getting underway - individual letters will start going out this week.

As in other areas the settlement goes up to the date that Falkrik Council introduced its new Single Status pay arrangements - which was on 18 December 2006.

The council is only prepared to settle cases up until this date - at the moment - so everyone has an ongoing claim from 18 December 2006 onwards - for a period of up to three years.

The ongoing claim is because of the protection period that the council applied to the big bonus earning male jobs - which had their earnings protected for a further three years after the new pay arrangements came into play.

Action 4 Equality Scotland is already taking this claim up on your behalf - there is no need for you to do anything - just sit tight and this additional part of your claim will be settled in due course.

We are continuing to fight for the rest of the money people are owed - and will let you know as soon as there are any developments.

In the meantime, everyone should just relax - and wait on their letters working their way through the system.

Sending e-mails every two or three days - or ringing the office asking for an update - doesn't speed the process up.

In fact it just slows things down - because staff are diverted from the main task in hand - which is to check and process all the paperwork.

The aim is to complete everything as quickly as possible - but this will take time to do properly - so people's patience and continued co-operation is essential.

More Kind Words

More kind words from another reader in North Lanarkshire - after so many years of being kept in the dark - it's great to see people finally getting their just reward.

As ever, glad to have been of service:

"Hi Mark,

I would just like to say a great big thank-you to you and all your team for doing a great job in getting us our settlement with North Lanarkshire Council.

I received my cheque on Saturday, so thanks a million.

CA"

25% Cuts

When Unison came into being in 1993 - it was a shotgun marriage, a wedding of convenience - a financially driven merger of three formerly independent unions - COSHE, NALGO and NUPE.

One of the first things the new union announced, after an initial spending splurge - was that budgets had to be cut - which would mean 25% fewer staff.

Because the new organisation had to tighten its belt to survive.

No longer could the new union simply - spend, spend spend - otherwise members' contributions would have to go through the roof - and that solution was completely unacceptable.

A new era had arrived which meant tough choices and hard times ahead - relatively speaking at least - compared to the salad days of the past.

Now there were trade unions inside Unison, of course - representing the interests of different groups of staff - and the foot soldiers, as ever, were not responsible for creating the financial crisis.

Nonetheless the strategy of slashing spending was implemented - forcefully and with absolute determination.

Budgets were scaled back without hysterics - and without anyone mounting the barricades - because there was, quite simply, no other choice.

People went about the task of fitting square pegs into round holes - building again for better times in the future - and all this had to be done without damaging 'front-line' services to union members.

So while trade unions are great experts at telling everybody else what to do - or what not to do - even they would have to admit that sometimes people have to live within their means - even the unions themselves from time to time.

Monday, 19 July 2010

'Privatisation - the answer', says GMB

Desperate times call for desperate measures - so they say.

So the GMB must be dire straits indeed - to suggest that some of Glasgow's finest works of art should be auctioned off - to pay for budget shortfalls and bring an end to a long-running industrial dispute.

Normally, the big public sector unions are keen to promote the idea of - Private Bad, Public Good.

But on this occasion they appear to be making an exception.

According to the Sunday Herald, the GMB is calling for works of art to be sold off - presumably to individual private buyers - with the proceeds being used to persuade union members to stop taking strike action in Glasgow's museums and galleries.

In recent days strike action has closed Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the People’s Palace and the Gallery Of Modern Art – three of ­Glasgow’s leading visitor attractions.

So, there we have it - one of the UK's biggest unions supports the privatisation of public assets - when it suits its own narrow, sectional interests.


If this sounds a bit too surreal, just remember that one of Scotland's finest works of art - Dali’s world-famous painting 'Christ Of St John Of The Cross' – has its home in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery.

Who'd have thought the GMB capable of conjuring up a more bizarre image than the Spanish master of surrealism - Salvador Dali.

More Kind Words

More kind words - this time from one of our male readers in North Lanarkshire.

"Hi Mark

Just a quick thank you to you and all your team for fighting our cause.

Received my revised offer from North Lanarkshire Council yesterday.

Very much obliged.

N".

Model of Democracy

Henry Ford, with typical American chutzpah, is said to have sold his revolutionary Model T Ford with a firm pledge to potential customers: "You can have any colour you like - so long as it's black."

Well, the trade unions could teach the arch-American capitalist a thing or two - about the hard sell of politics - a hundred years later.

Union members can support anyone they like when it comes to party politics - but union bosses will continue to act as if their members all vote Labour.

Take Unison's political fund, for example - unlike other Labour affiliated trade unions - Unison has two political funds.

One is called the Afffiliated Political Fund and channels all its money into the Labour party - the other is the General Political Fund and is used for more general political campaigning.

The two political funds came about becaue Unison merged from three former unions - COHSE, NALGO and NUPE - in 1993 but before then NALGO did not affiliate to the Labour party - while both COHSE and NUPE did.

So, the solution was a third way - a twin political fund in one union - whereas the other big beasts in the union jungle, e.g. UNITE and GMB, retain just one fund - which only supports Labour.

But, of course, this freedom of choice only extends so far - witness what the following Unison recruitment leaflet has to say:

4 Political Fund
It is important that you indicate a choice of funds by ticking one of the boxes below. Your subscription above includes a political fund payment so you do not have to pay any more by being in one of the funds.

In the following section, members are given the 'choice' of ticking one box - for either the Affiliated Political Fund or the General Political Fund - no mention is made of the fact that members can, of course, choose not to pay into either fund.

The bold statement that - 'you do not have to pay any more by being in one of the funds' - is also untrue and deliberately misleading.

Because by 'opting out' to pay into the political fund - a member's union subscriptions would be around 8% less - a significant saving.

So, the very different worlds of selling cars and politics - are more alike than you think - or at least they were - since times have changed in the motor industry since Henry Ford was in his pomp.

Now you really can get a new Ford - in any colour you like.


But sadly, the trade unions are still stuck in the last century - they say reflect their members' views when it comes to party politics - but only so long as they are pro-Labour.

Friday, 16 July 2010

South Lanarkshire and MPs' Expenses

South Lanarkshire Council is becoming an embarassment over its hypocritical behaviour on Freedom of Information - even the council's staunchest supporters are beginning to question its conduct.

Here's what the council says about its attitude towards Freedom of information on its web site:

"Freedom of Information legislation is designed to ensure openness and accountability. This means that wherever possible, we will make the information you request available to you."

And here's my latest appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner - the 64,000 dollar question remains the same: If South Lanarkshire Council has nothing to hide, why is it so desperate to keep these details from public scrutiny?


"Dear Scottish Information Commissioner

South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) – FOISA request (LSO 3 – SCP 25 etc)

I enclose an exchange of correspondence with South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) regarding a FOISA enquiry, which I initiated with the council on 10 May 2010.

I asked the council to reviews its initial decision, but remain dissatisfied with their response. I am now registering an appeal with the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC). In my view, the council’s response is unsatisfactory for the following reasons:

1. I submitted an earlier request for information relating to the pay of specific council posts (LSO 3) on 9 May 2009. At the time the Council did not argue that my request was vexatious which speaks for itself.


2. Instead the Council answered the first part of my request, but went on to claim that the other questions were exempt under Section 38 because the answer could breach people’s privacy and constituted a breach of data protection principles.

3. I asked for a review of the Council’s initial decision and then appealed to SIC. The case dragged on for months until I was contacted in May 2010 by a Freedom of Information Officer, who advised me that the Council had suddenly changed its ‘defence’.

4. In May 2010 the Council claimed a new exemption under Section 12 of FOISA, on the grounds of cost, and the advice of the Investigating Officer was that this defence would succeed.

5. So, I decided to re-submit the request in a different way by breaking up the original request into a series of individual requests or questions, to prevent the council claiming an exemption under Section 12.

6. In doing so it should be noted that South Lanarkshire Council will have spent considerably more than £600 in refusing to answer my original request, for a period of almost 12 months over 2009/10. Nonetheless, the council had the bare faced cheek to argue that my request was exempt because the cost exceeded £600.

7. In my view, the Council’s latest arguments are dishonest and bogus. My request is patently not vexatious, but focuses on the way South Lanarkshire Council uses public money to treat traditional male council jobs more favourably than their female colleagues.

8. I believe there is a serious public interest in this matter because gender equality is a fundamental human right. A corner stone of exercising this right effectively is the need for transparency in pay arrangements a requirement that other councils in Scotland are happy to observe.


9. But what South Lanarkshire Council is doing is trying to keep its pay arrangements secret, both to conceal the truth from its largely female workforce and as a means of avoiding public scrutiny.

10. To my mind South Lanarkshire Council’s behaviour is a cynical abuse of the FOI process. In effect, the council is really just behaving in the same obstructive manner as the Speaker’s Office in the House of Commons - when faced with unwelcome questions over MPs’ expenses.

I look forward to hearing from you in due course and if you require any further details at this stage, please e-mail me at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Kind regards

Mark Irvine"

A copy of my letter to the Scottish Information Commissioner will be circulated shortly to all South Lanarkshire MSPs.


Let's see what they have to say about the council's behaviour - after all it's their legislation the council is thumbing its nose at.

Mad, Bad and Dangerous

The press is having a field day over the publication of (Lord) Peter Mandelson's memoirs - which provide proof positive, as if proof were needed - that politics is a poisonous old business.

Gordon Brown was apparently 'mad, bad and dangerous' according to Tony Blair - or so says Peter Mandelson.

And who are we to disbelieve such a 'noble' politician - who was elevated to the House of Lords and then brought back into government - by none other than Gordon Brown himself.

So, the New Labour project has finally ended with its three principal architects - Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson - all stabbing each other in the back.

But the fun of having these giant egos laid bare and open to such public ridiclue should not obscure a much bigger truth - the complete mess that Labour ended up making of the economy.

What Peter Mandelson exposes is not just the enmity between the big beasts of the jungle - he also confirms the serial mismanagement of the UK economy - fueled by a government-led credit boom.

So, when the banking crisis finally came to a head - the UK economy was already perilously weak - its energy sapped by a seemingly ever-rising and ever-expanding private housing market - which the UK government allowed to get completely out of control.

The housing bubble may have finally burst because of the 'sub prime' mortgage market in the USA - but there were culprits on this side of the pond as well.

The truth is that the Labour government of the day was just as culpable as the one led by American President - George Bush.

George Bush's chief economic advisor - during his two terms in office - was a supposedly 'wise old owl' named Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve between 1987- 2006.

Interestingly, Alan Greenspan was first appointed to this key economic post by Ronald Reagan - and he remained there throughout Bill Clinton's presidency as well.

And who was one of Alan Greenspan's greatest fans for many years - well none other than Gordon Brown, of course.

Equal Opportunities Employer?

Readers in Edinburgh continue to keep up the pressure on the city council - over its ridiculous refusal to make settlement offers to all groups of staff.

Up until now, the council has stubbornly refused to recognise the perfectly valid claims of male workers in predominantly female posts - Home Carers and Cooks, for example.

Yet women workers doing these jobs were made settlement offers long ago.

Edinburgh City Council is the only council in Scotland to make this distinction - which any fool can see is blatantly discriminatory.

How can a male Home Carer or Cook doing exactly the same job as a woman - be treated so differently?

The council is on a hiding to nothing over this issue - yet the council has been dragging things out and refusing to face up to reality.

But readers in Edinburgh have been fighting back - they've been making their views known to the council leader and other local politicians such as MPs.

Goood for them, because Edinburgh City Council is making a mockery of its claim to be an 'equal opportuntities employer' - and the sooner the council wakes up to that fact the better.

More Kind Words

More kind words words from a reader in North Lanarkshire - whose settlement offer was held up for some reason, but thankfully the problem has now been resolved.

"Hey Mark,

Just writing to thank you guys for sorting the problem out with North Lanarkshire Council.

I hadnt received any offer and was getting into a bit of a panic.

Anyway offer has now arrived and accepted. And just want to say thanks a million to you and your team for all the hard work you guys have put in.

I am more than happy with my offer.

SM"

Thursday, 15 July 2010

South Lanarkshire MSPs

Here's a list of Holyrood MSPs covering the South Lanarkshire Council area.

Constituency MSPs
The following constituency MSPs all cover specific geographical areas of the council - and will normally only deal with constituents living in their local constituency - are five all Labour party MSPs.


Karen.Gillon.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
- Clydesdale

James.Kelly.msp@scottish.parliament.uk - Rutherglen

Andy.Kerr.msp@scottish.parliament.uk - East Kilbride

Tom.McCabe.msp@scottish.parliament.uk - Hamilton South

Michael.McMahon.msp@scottish.parliament.uk - Hamilton North

Central Scotland - List MSPs
The Central Scotland group of List MSPs covers the bulk of the South Lanarkshire Council area - and can raise issues on behalf of constituents living in area.

The idea of a list MSP is to achieve political balance across the country - to provide local people with a choice of whom to contact for advice and support - in case one single party dominates the constituency MSP section - as Labour does in South Lanarkshire.

Jamie.Hepburn.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
- SNP

Linda.Fabiani.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
- SNP

Christina.McKelvie.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
- SNP

Margaret.Mitchell.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
- Conservative

Alex.Neil.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
- SNP

Hugh.O'Donnell.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
- Lib Dem

John.Wilson.msp@scottish.parliament.uk - SNP

Experience suggests that MSPs are reluctant to criticise their local council if it is controlled by their own party.

South Lanarkshire is Labour controlled with the support of the Conservatives - strange as it seems - but people will need to make up their own minds about how to proceed and whom to contact.

A full list of all MSPs - along with contact phone numbers - can be obtained from the Scottish Parliament web site - http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/


Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Self-Help in South Lanarkshire

Readers in South Lanarkshire are in touch regularly to ask:

"Why is equal pay taking so long to resolve in our council - when so many other councils have already reached settlements, or partial settlements at least?"

Well the answer is that South Lanarkshire is doing everything in its power - to frustrate and delay people's claims.

The council refuses to provide proper pay information about traditional male jobs - then uses public money to slow the process down - at every turn.

The council says it has nothing to hide - then behaves as if its life depends on preventing local pay arrangements from coming under proper scrutiny.

So, what can people do to help themselves?

1 Get angry at the council's behaviour
South Lanarkshire's behaviour is disgraceful - no other council in Scotland has behaved this way over equal pay - its refusal to operate openly and transparently is a serious public issue.

2 Get organised - raise the issue with your local MSP
At this rate there is every chance the fight for equal pay will still be taking place next May 2011 - in the run-up to the Scottish Parliament elections.

3 Let your MSP know how you feel about the council's antics
Send an e-mail - get a group of friends together - request a meeting with your MSP and ask for their support. The issue is concealment - the council's refusal to explain its use of public funds.

4 Encourage people to speak out and come forward
Within the council are people who can explain how traditional male jobs were singled out - for special and more favourable treatment than their female colleagues.

5 Speak up and tell the truth
A few individuals could make all the difference - they may still be employed by the council, they may have retired or left the council recently - but their insight could be crucial.

6 Pass on any documents about Single Status in South Lanarkshire
Readers have already passed on internal documents about Single Status - from both the council and the trade unions - keep them coming.

If any reader has a practical idea or suggestion to make - feel free to fire away - many hands make light work, as they say - the more people who are pulling together and playing their part the better.

More Kind Words

More kind words from another reader in North Lanarkshire:

"Hi Mark,

Many thanks to you, Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross Solicitors.

My settlement (gained by you) from North Lanarkshire Council was considerably more than first offered.

Thanks again.

A grateful Home Support Worker"

Dutch Courage

Once upon a time, Johan Cruyff was the best football player in the world - but there's some real steel as well as talent about him - as he spoke out about his team's tactics during the World Cup Final.

While some of the Dutch team sought comfort in blaming the 'English' referee - Cruyff spoke up and spoke the truth - denouncing the Holland players over their attempts to physically intimidate and bully the opposition.

Who knows how this went down in Holland - but it's a safe bet that Cruyff's comments were not universally popular - as he described his own team's play as 'dirty', 'ugly' and 'anti-football'.

Cruyff deserves a medal for standing up and being counted - for being unafraid to call a spade a spade - for refusing to make mealy mouthed excuses for his own side.

The same is true in all walks of life - whether over football or equal pay - doing the right thing is never easy - sometimes you need to take your courage in both hands - and stand out from the safety of the crowd.

But as Martin Luther King once said:

"The time is always right - to do the right thing".

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Elephant in the Room

Trust the GMB to miss the elephant in the room - and to go off on a tangent about something of no real importance to their members.

The GMB is banging on about some head teacher in London - who earned over £200,000 last year - which the GMB has uncovered using the Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation.

Now one person - even a high flying head teacher - should not be earning two full-time salaries from two separate full-time jobs - out of the public purse.

Even though MPs and other politicians have been getting away with doing just that for years - two wrongs don't make a right.

So, the GMB makes a fair point - but just where has the union been all these years?

Where was the union in exposing the big pay differences between male and female council jobs - which directly affected the interests of its own members?

Instead of dealing with the real issue - the elephant in the room - the GMB takes the easy option and has a pop at some head teacher in London.

Well that won't win them many brownie points with low paid members in South Lanarkshire for example - which is an equal pay free zone for the unions Scotland - including the GMB.

The fact is that the GMB is completely uninterested in the big pay differences between male and female council jobs - in places like Hamilton or East Kilbride.

Yet the union is as keen as mustard - apparently - about exposing unlikely looking pay arrangements in the heart of London.

GMB members in South Lanarkshire will be scratching their heads in confusion - over the strange priorities of their union leaders.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Spanish Practices and Party Funding

The old regime that is still in control of the Labour party is beginning to feel the heat - as the issue of party funding comes under scrutiny.

Labour now raises most of its money from the unions that affiliate to the party - via a 'Spanish practice' known as the political fund.

The political fund allows the unions to divert part of a member's contributions - normally around one week's contributions out of every 13 - into the fund which is then used for a range of activities to support the Labour party.

The political fund is a scam - because it top slices relatively small amounts of money which grow into significant sums - as they are gathered from millions of unwitting union members.

Few members understand how the political fund operates - members can only opt out - they are not asked to make a conscious decision to opt in - or to support a specific political party.

Which is how Scotland - where multi-party politics has been the norm for years - it transpires that around 99.9% of GMB members, for example, pay a political levy to Labour - most of them unknowingly.

How crazy is that?


Because union members vote the same way as everyone else in Scotland - they certainly don't all support Labour, as the union bosses would have us believe

Former Justice Secretary Jack Straw has raised Labour fears that the coalition government may use its majority in Parliament - to force through contentious legislation on union funding of the Labour Party.

About time too - for anyone with a passing interest in trade union democracy.


Surely union members deserve to be given an informed choice about which - if any - political party they want to support.

Jack Straw is reported as saying that it would be a "constitutional monstrosity" for unions to be required to act as "collecting agents" for parties they oppose.

But this of course is complete baloney - because it's the employers that collect the money under the 'check-off' system which means that money is deducted directly from people's pay.

So, it would be very easy for a new system to be designed that gives people more choice - and the employers could even charge a reasonable fee - for performing this valuable service to the parties that stand to benefit.

Come to think of it - why doesn't the government tells us how much these 'check off' collection arrangements cost now?

Let's hope they're not being subsidised out of public funds.

Follow the Money

In the heady days of the Watergate scandal that led to the forced resignation of President Richard Millhouse Nixon - the advice of 'Deepthroat' (the mysterious Whitehouse mole) was: 'Follow the money'.

Sounds like good advice when it comes to Labour's leadership contest - with David Miliband outstripping all of his rivals - including brother Ed.

The press reports that David Miliband has money pouring into his campaign coffers to the tune of £185,000 - which has been raised since the general election.

An amount that puts the shadow foreign secretary way ahead of his four rivals - Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott.

In fact, David Miliband has been so successful - he has easily exceeded Labour's campaign cap of £150,000.

So, this is all shaping up as a rather ill-matched contest.

Because while Ed Balls and Ed Miliband have raised £28,419 and £15,000 respectively - poor old Andy Burnham and left-winger Diane Abbott, have raised nothing, apparently.

Now where are the trade unions when you need them - with their oodles of cash and connections - to help the underdogs by levelling the playing field.

As things stand - the candidates whose policies are closest to the trade unions - are in for a severe drubbing.

South Lanarkshire - hearing dates

The next hearing dates involving South Lanarkshire Council are at the Employment Appeal Tribunal on the following dates

Thursday 29 July 2010

Friday 30 July 2010

The venue on both days is the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Edinburgh - at 52 Melville Street, Edinburgh, EH3 7HF - a short walk from Haymarket Station.

Individual claimants are able to attend if they wish - the hearings are likely to start at 10am.

If you do go along make yourself known to Carol Fox who will be there on behalf of the Fox Cross legal team.

The hearing is required because South Lanarkshire Council has appealed an earlier order from the Employment Tribunals - to release information about the pay of traditional male jobs.

Unlike other councils in Scotland - South Lanarkshire has refused to release this information voluntarily.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Attack Dogs

It's a true saying in politics - that people's deadliest political enemies are often to be found within their own ranks - not from rival parties.

Take the recent exchanges between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown supporters - inside the Labour party.

Lord Mandleson - who has a book coming out this week - speaks the truth and admits the worst kept secret of the past 15 years.

That Gordon Brown and his loyal lieutenants wasted valuable time and effort - over many years - trying to undermine their own party leader and Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

So what?

But then Mandelson ramps up the debate - no doubt with his book sales in mind - by the deliberate use of inflammatory language - describing the Prime Minister as dealing with an 'insurgency next door', i.e. from the Chancellor's office at No 11 Downing Street.

Next thing you know, Gordon Brown's most loyal attack dog and former spin-doctor - Charlie Whelan - is unleashed.

Whelan savages Mandelson for his handling of the general election campaign - calling it the worst in Labour's history - 'a disaster from beginning to end'.

No wonder these people are no longer in government - their childish and often hateful behaviour towards each other is truly contemptible - the voters did the right thing by turfing them out of office.

Friday, 9 July 2010

People in Glass Houses

Dave Prentis has been elected to a third term as Unison's general secretary - apparently.

The good news was reported recently in the press - with little fanfare and sparse details about the ballot result.

Even a vist to the Unison web site throws little light on the subject - beyond the number of votes cast for each candidate - which are reported as follows:

1 Dave Prentis 145,351 (67.2%)

2 Roger Bannister 42,651 (19.7%)

3 Paul Holmes 28,114 (13%)

What's not available is information about the national turnout - or a breakdown of how votes were cast region by region, for example.

Elsewhere on the Unison web site - the union proudly boasts to have in excess of 1.3 million members - how much in excess is not explained.

So, what does this mean in terms of turnout for the general secretary's election?

Well, 1.3 million divided by 216,116 (the total number of votes cast for all 3 candidates) - equals a turnout of 16.6% of the entire union membership - at the very best (since using 1.3 million instead of 'in excess of 1.3 million' inflates the percentage share).

Taking the votes cast for Dave Prentis on his own - 1.3 million divided by 145,351 - equates to the support of just 11.2% of Unison members - again at the very best.

The trade unions are secretive and sensitive about these issues - for obvious reasons.

What they have to face up to is that a very low turnout in a union election - means just the same as it would in any other election - a poor and questionable mandate for the winner.


So, as the trade unions' self-declared 'war' over public spending hots up - no doubt some will challenge the mandate of the coalition government to carry out its programme.

But before they start throwing stones at other people - Dave and his chums should check on their surroundings.

More Kind Words

More kind words from two regular readers of the blog site.

"Dear Mark

"We appreciate greatly what you have done for us in reaching this settlement from our employers and understand the amount of work that has been put into all our cases.

Well done and thanks

J"

And again - this time from a retired reader.

"Dear Colleagues

I am writing to thank you for all the good work, time and effort you put into dealing with my equal pay claim against Glasgow City Council.

I have receive my settlement from Glasgow City Council which would not have been possible it it hadn't been for your help.

Once again thank you

Yours sincerely

HW"

Stop (One Third of) the Cuts!

David Aaronovich is a political journalist - a commentator who writes a regular column for the Times newspaper.

Like others of his trade, you can take or leave what Aaronovich has to say - depending on your views or your mood - on any given day.

But as a long-time Labour supporter - Aaronovitch deserves a hearing for speaking honestly as a critical friend - for telling it as it is, or as he sees it at least - without serving up the usual stale diet of slogans and party propaganda.

Here's a slightly abridged version of what he had to say yesterday - on the looming battle over cuts in public spending.

"But here's the problem. There is more than just a hint of the the old red elastic in the way Labour figures are now discussing politics. They are being pulled back into the comfortable Thatcher-era Labour politics of "stop the cuts" and "support the fightback" activism.

Yet, by its own estimate, some two thirds of the cuts being made by the coalition would have been made by a Labour government. And the electorate knows it.

If oppositions were once cut slack for having no plans of their own, I suspect that those days are gone. Should ... Labour ... demand an expansion in higher education, say, but oppose any measures including increased tuition fees to fund it, they'll simply look ridiculous.

Labour will have to say what it would have cut, what it would have saved, and why."

Precisely.

"Stop the Cuts!" - may be what Labour says.

But - "Stop One Third of the Cuts!" - is what Labour really means.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Openess and Transparency

The Taxpayers Alliance has been having some fun at the expense of union leaders - by publishing a 'rich list' showing that some of them enjoy very healthy salary packages.

For example, Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, is reportedly paid a salary and benefits package worth £127,436 a year.

Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigades Union receives £115,804 - while Mark Serwotka of the Public and Commercial Services Union earns £111,112 - apparently.

Unison in responding to the Taxpayers Alliance said that Mr Prentis 'is worth every penny that he is paid - and it is not taxpayers' money'.

A spokesman said: 'He has 1,500 staff, a turnover of around £160 million and has a lot of meetings with chief executives who are paid in the gazillions.'

Now, I've met more chief executives in the public sector than I care to remember - but I have yet to meet one who is paid in the 'gazillions'.

In any event, the comparison is not very apt - what's the price of mince got to do with the price of mangoes?


Chief executives and senior officials come in all shapes and sizes - some are responsible for tens of thousands of staff - others may be involved in life or death decisions.

So, in terms of pay it's horses for courses - and pay arrangements need to be justified on their own terms - so that public money or union members' money is properly spent.

But what should underpin everything when it comes to pay arrangements - is a willingness to be open and transparent - as opposed to secretive and furtive.

Even the BBC is moving in this direction - with a commitment to go further than ever before in providing details about its top stars' earnings - so that some form of public scrutiny is brought into the equation.

As ever - 'daylight is the best disinfectant' - as the scandal over MPs' expenses showed.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Macho Men

The Guardian has an interesting piece today about the quality of leadership in one of the main civil service trade unions - PCS.

The article written by a former PCS member, David Calder, criticises the union's general secretary - Mark Serwotka - for refusing to face up to reality and negotiate sensiblly on behalf of ordinary PCS members. Here a summary of the key points.

"Mark Serwotka should go"

"The PCS's swaggering failure to negotiate has left its members exposed to terrible, and preventable, redundancy cuts."


And so that Ozymandias of the trade union movement, Mark Serwotka, has his "victory". Look on his works, ye mighty host of unfortunate civil servants, and despair.

Civil servants are now, thanks in no small part to the tactical clod-footedness of Serwotka's Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), facing a 67% cut to their redundancy entitlements under the Civil Service Compensation Scheme (CSCS).


As yet, the finer details of the changes are unclear, but what we know from Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude is that the maximum paid out in the event of compulsory redundancies will be 12 months' gross pay, down from the current limit of three years'.

Still not a terrible settlement, particularly by comparison with the statutory redundancy pay cap of £11,400, but certainly a significant drop for those of long service soon to be among the 600,000 out the door.

The tragedy for civil servants is that it didn't have to be like this. One single word from Serwotka four months ago could have secured those hit by redundancy a deal twice, in some cases thrice, as generous as what is now being imposed.


In his twilight in office, Maude's predecessor Sir Gus O'Donnell strove to reform the CSCS, offering the unions a deal which, after months of negotiations, promised increased entitlements to most civil servants earning under £20,000, and a not inconsiderable £60,000 or two years' salary (whichever was the higher) as the maximum redundancy payout for those earning above £20,000.

Five of the six civil service unions agreed that these outcomes were "fair", proclaiming themselves "very pleased" that the settlement took "further account of the position of the low paid". PCS took a different tack.

Firstly there was the staggeringly dishonest strike campaign, where PCS peppered low-paid civil servants with propaganda warning terrifyingly of cuts to the redundancy pay of the lowest earners, not merely misrepresenting but wholly subverting the reality of the proposals.
Those who stood to lose most were the highest earners.

PCS turned truth on its head and engineered the perversity of those earning £14,000 a year surrendering two days' pay in striking for managers on £50,000 to keep a £150,000 payoff.

Did the strikes make a difference? The poor and unemployed took a whack. But to the government, both outgoing and incoming, all the strikes showed was that PCS was a union unwilling or unable to negotiate in the real world.


Ever since Gordon Brown belatedly admitted that cuts were a-coming regardless of the colour of the next government, the CSCS was ripe for picking, and PCS should have made it its mission to hammer out a settlement. The five other civil service unions acknowledged this, and battened down the hatches before the rain came. PCS, engrossed in the myth of its own importance, chose to pick a fight, tearing up those hatches and throwing them into the howling winds.

In doing so, PCS has left its members, of which I was until recently one, exposed to the inevitability of harsher cuts than they ever imagined. If PCS had put the long-term interests of its members first, we might not have found ourselves in this situation. PCS' actions constitute a gross dereliction of duty, both to its members and to its understandably furious sister unions, whose 18 months of hard negotiating is now all for nothing.


Mark Serwotka should go."

Yes, it all sounds so familiar - particularly the bit about low paid union members being used as cannon fodder - to defend the interests of their much higher paid colleagues.

North Lanarkshire - Settlement Process

Lots of calls and e-mails are still coming in from readers in North Lanarkshire - about the settlement process which is well underway.

Yet again a significant number of claimants have not been made revised offers - for reasons that are not fully understood - because the council has still to explain its position.

But there is no need to panic or worry.

Because as far as Action 4 Equality Scotland is concerned all valid claims - i.e. for people in predominantly female former manual worker jobs - are covered by the recent agreement reached with North Lanarkshire Council.

At this stage the council is not willing to settle the claims of former APT&C employees - nor those of male workers in predominantly male posts, e.g. school janitors - so these cases will continue through the Employment Tribunals until a settlement is achieved.
.
As things stand every individual settlement query has already been recorded - and has already been raised with North Lanarkshire Council.

The ball is on the council's court at the moment - they have to respond and confirm their intentions - but things are clearly complicated because of the holiday period which is in full swing.

In addition there are lots of queries raised by claimants (who have been made offers) about their hours - and again these issues have all been recorded individually and then raised with the council.

But queries about hours will need to be properly investigated by the council - and will take some time to resolve - weeks rather than days, if pay records and other documents need to be checked.

In the meantime, everyone should sit tight and wait on these various issues working their way through the system.

Sending e-mails every two or three days or ringing the office - asking for an update - won't speed the process up - in fact it just slows the process down.

Everything that can be done is being done - to resolve all the outstanding queries as quickly as possible.

Union Blues?

Here's an e-mail from a frustrated reader in North Lanarkshire - who's fed up at the lack of feedback and information from her trade union, Unison.

My normal advice to people in this situation would be: "Don't give up - make the union do its job properly".

But if you're at the end of your tether - then why not consider transferring your case to Action 4 Equality Scotland.

For further information about how to do this - contact Mark Irvine at: markirvine@compuserve.com


"Hi Mark

I have been reading your website with great interest over the past few weeks and have been glad to see that your organisation has successfully won equal pay cases for home carers up and down the country.

I have an equal pay claim currently lodged with Unisons' solicitors Thompsons and I am frustrated at the lack of information from Unison.

I have accessed their website but there is nothing current re our equal pay fight and was advised by two different members of staff at Unison that they did not have any info on my equal pay claim and advised me to contact their lawyers for the latest information, which I found quite astonishing.


The only information I have been receiving has been obtained from your website and I wondered if you have any information you could pass on to me.

I do obviously appreciate that my case has not been taken up by you but by Unison but my frustration at a lack of information from them has led to me contacting you.

Yours sincerely

D"

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Cutting the Cost of Politics

The coalition government has announced plans to cut the number of Westminster MPs - from 650 to a mere 600 honourable members.

Good for them - at last an outbreak of common sense - if a bit too modest - when you consider that this involves a cut of less than 8% on the current number of MPs.

Apparently this will save the country £12 million a year - to spend on more important and useful things - which is not to be sniffed at in the present financial climate.

But in Scotland it smacks of political leaders waking up to reality - at long last.

Why?

Because a Scottish Parliament was created in 1999 along with an additional 129 MSPs - who then assumed responsibility for 'devolved' areas of work - previously overseen by Westminster MPs.

The Scottish Parliament is now responsible for health services, local government - including education and social work, police and fire services, agriculture and so on.

Around half of what Westminster MPs did previously - was handed over to the Scottish Parliament - so why do we need all these Westminster MPs?

The honest answer is we don't - and while the present number of MPs (59) has been slightly reduced from its 1999 levels - there is still plenty of room for cutting the political classes down to size.

Handing half their workload over to the Scottish Parliament - but then keeping broadly the same number of MPs - sounds like a job creation exercise, rather than good government.

So, two cheers at least for the coalition government - this is a win-win situation and long overdue.

A Short History of Equal Pay

Here's the companion piece to the letter published in yesterday's post - on Local Government and Equal Pay.

A Short History of Equal Pay

"Action 4 Equality began its activities on equal pay in Scotland in August 2005 - but before we arrived on the scene equal pay was dead a dead issue.

The landmark 1999 Single Status Agreement had still not been implemented in Scotland and had missed two implementation deadlines in 2002 - and again 2004.No significant activity was taking place in the employment tribunals over equal pay.

The trade unions had always said that legal action against the employers would follow - if collective bargaining failed to deliver change - but nothing happened as the original agreement was allowed to slowly wither and die.

In reality, both the trade unions and the council employers lacked the political will to end the widespread pay discrimination in Scottish local government – which they had both promised to sweep away in 1999.

In 2005 Action 4 Equality Scotland began to explain - for the first time - the huge pay gap between men and women’s jobs – and the ability of women workers to pursue equal pay claims to the employment tribunals.

At first, the employers insisted that they had no equal pay issues - but as more and more employees voted with their feet by signing up with Action 4 Equality Scotland.

In response, the unions and employers hastily cobbled together a new National Framework Agreement - issued as Scottish Joint Council Circular SJC/22 - which recognised there were ‘many valid equal pay claims in the workforce’.

Where had they been all this time?

The SJC circular proposed compensation payments ranging from a minimum of £6,937 to a maximum of £13,875 (based on 37 hours and a maximum of 5 years service). Significantly, these figures were agreed without consultation with union members or the wider workforce.

Yet, the original 1999 Single Status agreement was struck only after individual membership ballots - in all three signatory trade unions (GMB, Unison and Unite).So, the unions were effectively dancing to the employers' tune - but without a mandate from their members.

Glasgow City Council (Scotland’s largest council) led the way in making settlement offers to their employees – in the form of one-off cash buy-outs which diluted even the proposals contained in circular SJC/22.

The employers refused to explain the basis of their offers- but often they were worth much less than 50% of the real value of people’s claims - in some cases around only 30%.

In every case where Action 4 Equality Scotland has achieved a settlement – the value of the Action 4 Equality Scotland settlement has been significantly higher than that proposed by the employers and trade unions under circular SJC/22.

The background to equal pay in Scotland should be seen in the context of a period of substantial growth - council budgets effectively doubled over the 10 years up to 2007/08.Yet equal pay never became a big enough priority for the employers or the unions during this period - despite their alleged support for equal opportunities and equal pay.

The truth is that Action 4 Equality Scotland has been the catalyst for change - and the great thing is that well over 100,000 low paid, predominantly female, council workers have benefited - as a result."

Monday, 5 July 2010

Local Government and Equal Pay

Last year, the Scottish Parliament produced a report on equal pay - following a lengthy enquiry by the Local Government and Communities Committee (LGCC). More recently the committee invited further views - here's a summary of what I had to say.

"Dear Convener

Local Government and Equal Pay

I refer to your letter dated 15 April 2010.

Action 4 Equality Scotland, in conjunction with Fox Cross Solicitors, has negotiated settlements with several councils over the past six months and our experience is that employers are becoming much more willing to settle cases when faced with a GMF (Genuine Material Factor) hearing.

A GMF hearing is where the employers have to explain, but also be able to justify their discriminatory pay practices. Because by the time a GMF hearing is held the pay gap between traditional male and female job groups has already been established as a matter of fact.

Faced with this situation at a GMF hearing, the employers, to be perfectly candid, have to either put up or shut up because there is nowhere left to hide.

Settlements in Glasgow City Council, North Ayrshire Council and Fife Councils followed once the GMF hearings were underway. In reality, the councils involved could all see which way these cases were going and, in the absence of any credible defences, they decided to settle on agreed terms rather than fight on all the way.

The City of Edinburgh and North Lanarkshire Councils have both followed suit - albeit on the eve of their respective GMF hearings.

The reluctance of the council employers to fight their cases all the way to an adjudicated settlement reflects the weakness of their case – both individually and collectively. If they had any realistic prospects of success, they would have soldiered on, but chose not to do so presumably based on their own legal advice and assessment of the risks involved.

As the Committee will recall, Action 4 Equality Scotland stated in its written and oral evidence last year that the legal issues involved in these cases are very clear and always have been since the Single Status Agreement was introduced in Scotland in 1999.

Sadly, the council employers refused to face up to their responsibilities and have dragged the process out to the detriment of thousands of low paid employees who should have benefited years ago from the introduction of Single Status.

The trade unions have had a major a role in this debacle and in the recent case involving Birmingham City Council, the trade unions admitted that they had been a barrier to change for many years. Ironically, the priority of the unions has always focused on defending the position of traditional male groups – rather than on improving the position of low paid women who make up the great majority of the workforce.

However, the Employment Tribunal in Birmingham in a landmark judgment decided that the employers are ultimately responsible for their own actions; they cannot hide behind the trade unions and use trade union intransigence as justification for widespread pay discrimination within the workforce.

Having worked closely with Scottish local government over the years, in my former role as Head of Local Government for Unions (Scotland), I would say that councils have been poorly served by COSLA's lack of leadership on equal pay. I attach a recent article from the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog site – A Short History of Equal Pay – which committee members might find of interest.

As far as future settlements are concerned, I would observe that several councils have applied to the Scottish Government for additional borrowing consents to meet the back pay costs of equal pay. My view is that these councils should be closely monitored to assess what progress is being made to resolve their outstanding cases.

One employer does merit special mention, South Lanarkshire Council, which claims to have implemented the Single Status Agreement in 2004. But pay discrimination is still widespread in South Lanarkshire and predominantly female jobs remain stuck firmly at the bottom of the pay ladder. South Lanarkshire refuses to publish basic pay information to explain the big pay gap between traditional male and female jobs. Because of the council’s refusal to behave openly and transparently 11 days were spent in the Employment Tribunals last year and a further 23 days have been set aside in 2010 – over what is essentially a very simple point.

Finally Action 4 Equality Scotland would be happy to attend any discussion – either at council level or Scotland wide – which is aimed at focusing on key strategic issues and potential test cases that could help speed the process up and bring the outstanding cases to a speedy conclusion

Kind regards


Mark Irvine"

Road to Nowhere

Scotland on Sunday ran a rather strange article yesterday - with blood curdling threats from trade union leaders which were all made on an anonymous basis - here are a few extracts from the piece written by Hamish Macdonell.

"Scotland is facing a 21st-century "winter of discontent" with strikes, demonstrations and industrial unrest on a scale not seen for a generation, union leaders have warned.

One senior Scottish union leader claimed yesterday that a massive wave of public sector strikes was now "inevitable" following the UK government's decision to impose massive cuts on the public sector.

Unions are waiting until October before deciding exactly how best to fight the cuts, but they have started putting private plans in place now for the strike ballots, demonstrations and protests they believe are inevitable.

One Scottish union leader said: "I do think strike action is inevitable. That will not be the first port of call. We don't want to go there but we are starting to see real redundancies, compulsory redundancies. There will be demonstrations, protests and strikes."

Now why would these people want to remain nameless and faceless?

If they have something to say, why not just come out into the open and say it - union leaders should have nothing to fear by way of any reprisals from employers.

The trade union movement sounds more and more like the industrial wing of the Labour party - incapable of independent thought or action.

A campaign of strikes and industrial action is a road to nowhere - one that may boost the egos of a few trade union leaders - but it will do nothing for ordinary union members.

Friday, 2 July 2010

More Kind Words

More kind words from a long-standing reader in North Lanarkshire Council - glad to have been of service.

"Dear Action 4 Equality Scotland

I would just like to let you know that on checking today I find the council has processed the agreed amount for my equal pay claim - bringing this first part of my claim to a successful conclusion.

Can I take this opportunity to say a huge thanks to Mark for taking the time to meet Home Support Workers in my area - so they could hear first hand what they should consider - when we were offered our Compromise Agreements from the council.

I would like to thank everyone involved with the Action 4 Equality Scotland team without exception - there were times when the workforce doubted just how this would turn out - but hard work and dedication has paid off.

Thanks so much.


ML"

Robin Hood in Reverse (2)

An interested reader has been in touch about the 'Robin Hood in Reverse' post - dated 22 June 2010.

While agreeing with the contents of the article - the reader goes on to ask about the many council officials who are allowed to leave the service - with a generous added years boost to their pension packages.

How come this only ever seems to apply to middle ranking and senior council officials - why do the lower paid groups never seem to get the benefit of added years? - the reader asks.

Good question.

I bet if you asked a Freedom of Information (FOI) question or three of Scotland's councils - along the following lines - you'd get a very interesting reply:

1 How many council staff have been allowed to leave in the 'interests of the efficiency of the service' in the past five years?

2 How much did this actually cost - in terms of added years and boosting people's pension benefits?

3 Of those who received enhanced pension benefits, how many earned more than £20,000 per year - and how many less than £20,000 per year?

Because the truth is that hardly any low paid workers are amongst those allowed to leave their council's service - on these generous, enhanced terms.

Such benefits are reserved for the higher paid groups - who already do much better than their low paid colleagues - from the final salary pension scheme.

Yet another illustration of how the local government pension scheme is a fine example of Robin Hood in Reverse - because the lower paid end up subsidising the much higher paid.

Here's a copy of the original post for information.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

"Robin Hood in Reverse"

"The final salary pension schemes operated by Scotland's councils - are a fine example of Robin Hood in reverse.

Why? Because they take from the 'poor' and give to the 'rich'.

What happens is that low paid employees - end up subsidising much higher paid groups - including many senior and middle ranking officials.

In effect, the part-time cleaner is subsidising the lifestyle - of the council chief executive.

The system works in favour of senior council staff of all kinds - including many teachers.

Let's take an example to illustrate the point - a chief executive paid £150,000 a year - now the person doesn't actually work at that salary level throughout his or her council career.

But their pension is based on this final salary - even if they've only done the job for a relatively short time - as part of their overall service which can be a maximum of 40 years.

The pension scheme rules changed in April 2009, but for the great majority of employees (i.e. those in post before April 2009) - the maximum pension is still worth half of a person's annual salary - plus three times their annual pension as a tax free lump sum.

So, a chief executive on £150,000 and a maximum service would receive - £75,000 annual pension plus £225,000 as a tax free lump sum, i.e. 3 x £75,000.

The new post-April 2009 rules provide for an even bigger pension - worth two thirds of a person's final salary - 25% of which can be converted into a tax free lump sum.

But under both sets of benefits and rules - the reality is that other lower paid council workers (and other tax payers) - are helping to subsidise the scheme - for the benefit of the better paid staff.

Why? Because the higher paid take out much more than they pay in - over their working lives.

Meanwhile - at the other end of the pay ladder - the scheme is not so generous.

Because most low paid workers remain relatively low paid - by and large they don't have a career path - or many opportunities for promotion.

For most low paid workers - their pensions reflects what they pay in to the scheme over the years - because their pay rises only very slowly and mainly through an annual 'cost of living' pay increase.

Now what would be much fairer - and more progressive - is a scheme based on average salary.

So that people get back roughly what they put in over their working lives - this could even leave a bit of room to boost pension benefits - in favour of the lower paid.

The unions like to pretend they're on the side of the low paid when it comes to pensions - but in truth they're propping up a system that favours the relatively better paid.

Does this remind anyone of how the trade unions behaved over equal pay?"

Posted by Mark Irvine at 00:19