Sunday, 31 October 2010

Ginger Nuts

Harriet Harman travelled all the way from London to Oban - to deliver a calculated and childish insult against government minister and Scottish MP, Danny Alexander.

But by calling the minister a 'political mutant' and 'ginger rodent' - all that Harriet has achieved is to make herself look ridiculous.

Her subsequent apology is meaningless - because this was no throw away, off the cuff remark - but part of a speech to the Scottish Labour party conference.

Maybe Neil Kinnock - the flame-haired Welshman and former Labour leader - will have a quiet word in her ear - or better still Gordon Brown.

Remember all the fuss - when celebrated petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson called the then Labour Prime Minister 'a one-eyed Scottish idiot' - while filming a TV programme in Australia?

So Harriet has more in common with the Top Gear presenter than you might think - but at least Clarkson doesn't harbour any ambitions about running the country.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Golden Goodbye for MPs

MPs who resigned or lost their seats at the general election received more than £10.3 million in controversial 'golden goodbye' payments - on top of their already generous pensions.

The maximum payment is one year of an MP's salary - £64,766 at the last election - the first £30,000 of which is tax free.

And dozens of MPs who were caught out making ludicrous expenses claims - have benefited from this windfall.

Including, for example, Margaret Moran - the former Labour MP for Luton South - who claimed £22,500 on dry rot at her seaside house - a hundred miles from her constituency

A total of 220 politicians received the payouts - which have to be claimed by MPs - as opposed to being paid automatically.

Sir Alistair Graham, the former public standards chief, condemned the payments saying:

"I am sure there will be continued public anger that MPs seem to want to continue to milk the system even though they know it will strengthen public feeling about previous abuses of public funds.

Martin Bell, the former independent MP and anti-sleaze campaigner, said:

"I do not see there is any justification in paying those who are standing down. They have got a pension anyway. There is no cause for a payment for an MP who is standing down, none whatsoever.

The House of Commons authorities explained that the grant is intended to assist ex-MPs - with the transition back into a non-parliamentary life.

Former Labour ministers received severance pay when they left office - this group alone received more than £1 million of the total.

So, there you have it - how the other half live.

And just be relieved that if Ann Widdecombe falls on her arse - during tonight's episode of Strictly Come Dancing.

She'll have a big fat financial cushion to break her fall - and help her make the 'transition back into non-parliamentary life'.


Friday, 29 October 2010

Spotlight on South Lanarkshire

Here's a recent FOI review request to South Lanarkshire Council - following the release of certain information about the early retirement of the council's former Executive Director of Corporate Services - in March 2006.

The first review request asks the council to explain why a senior official had his pension benefits enhanced by almost £300,000 - using public money, of course - simply because his fixed term contract came to an end.

The second review request asks the council to explain why the official's pension package was boosted by 7 years and six days - when regulations (Para 51. 2) require employers to choose the shortest or less costly option - in this case 6 and 243 days.

Another curious aspect of the case is that the post of Executive Director of Corporate Services was replaced - at a further cost of @ £120,000 a year - as opposed to being made redundant.

So, South Lanarkshire Council has some explaining to do - watch this space for further details.

By e-mail to – foi.reviews@southlanarkshire.gov.uk

Dear Colleague

South Lanarkshire Council – FOI Review Request

I refer to the letter from South Lanarkshire Council dated 13 September 2010. I am asking for a review of the Council’s initial decision because it fails to explain properly key aspects of my original FOI request.

Original FOI Request 3
If so, what were the reasons for allowing the Executive Director to retire early, when did the council approve his early retirement and on what date did his retirement take effect?

South Lanarkshire Council’s answer
The principle of fixed terms contracts for Executive Directors was approved by the Executive Committee (of South Lanarkshire Council) on 27 February 2002 and Alan Cuthbertson’s employment was terminated on 31 March 2006.

Review Request (1)
I note that the council terminated the Executive Director’s employment on 31 March 2006, i.e. the day before the pension scheme regulations changed. But the Council’s answer does not explain the actual reasons for allowing this employee to retire so early and instead merely points to the mechanism by which this was facilitated, i.e. by a previous decision of the Executive Committee on 27 February 2002.

The outstanding issue is therefore what this report contained and how it was used to approve and justify the subsequent and much later early retirement of the Executive Director - in the run up to 31 March 2006.

My review request is for the Council to explain the decision making process fully and properly, and to provide me with a copy of the 2002 Executive Committee report along with any later reports that may have had an impact on this decision.

I do not understand how a decision of a Council Executive Committee can override the rules of the local government superannuation scheme which require employees who are less than 55 years of age to be made redundant before early retirement benefits can be accessed. The normal definition of redundancy is that the post in question is not replaced - yet this post was replaced.

Original FOI Request 4
If so, did the council agree to enhance the Executive Director’s early retirement package and what effect did this have on the officer’s pension benefits?

South Lanarkshire Council’s Answer
Mr Cuthbertson was awarded maximum compensatory added years in line with the pensions regulation. This had the effect of increasing Mr Cuthbertson’s pensionable service by 7 years and 6 days

Review Request (2)
I note the Council’s response, but in my view this is not a full or complete answer because it does make sense in terms of the Local Government Pension Scheme (Scotland) Regulations 1998 - the relevant section of which is reproduced below for easy reference:

Power of employing authority to increase total membership of members leaving employment at or after 50


51.—(1) An employing authority may resolve to increase the total membership of a member who leaves his employment on or after his 50th birthday.

(2) The additional period of membership must not exceed–

(a) the member’s total membership on the date he leaves his employment (“the relevant date”);
(b) the period by which that period falls short of 40 years;
(c) the period by which that period would have been increased if he had continued as an active member until he was 65; or
(d) 6 243/365 years,


whichever is the shortest.

My review request is for South Lanarkshire Council to explain why 7 years and 6 days was added in this when the regulations clearly require an employing authority to choose the shortest (and least expensive) number of added years, which in this case would have been option (d) – i.e. six and two thirds added years.


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


Mark Irvine

More Kind Words

More kind words from another regular visitor to the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog site:

"Dear Mark

I am writing to thank you and all concerned for all your hard work in securing my equal pay settlement, it came as a big surprise after nearly six years.

I would also like to inform you that the small rural school which I have worked at for the last 28 years is being closed pemanently as part of the council's cost cuttting measures.

Many thanks for all your hard work

SA"

Think of the Children

Scottish Ministers appear to be showing interest, albeit belatedly in the suggestion that the McCrone Agreement should be revisited - as a way of protecting schools and children from the worst effects of budget cuts.

The McCrone Agreement was introduced ten years ago - and governs the pay and conditions of Scottish teachers.

Education Minister - Michael Russell - has apparently told the Scottish Parliament’s education committee it is time - for the 2001 McCrone deal to be 'revisited' - which is a very interesting development.

Mr Russell said: “I am not going to start that negotiating process in public, but one thing is absolutely clear; there are very substantial financial pressures that are coming on Scotland’s local authorities and education is 40% of the costs of those local authorities and salaries are 50% of that.

Earlier this year, Councillor Gordon Matheson - leader of Glasgow City Council - wrote to Mr Russell asking him to reopen the McCrone agreement - which guarantees teachers more than 12 hours a week on preparation.

Mr Matheson suggested increasing the amount of time teachers spend teaching by 30 minutes a day – at the expense of preparation time – would save Glasgow £15 million annually and prevent cuts to frontline education services.

The cost of the McCrone Agreement was estimated at £800 million in the year 2000 - with that sum being built into council's base budget in successive years.

So the same Scottish councils that complain about the costs of equal pay - clearly had plenty of money to deliver a costly new pay and conditions package for teachers.

'Fairness at work' is a principle that should apply right across the whole workforce - not just for elite or selective groups.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Being Two Places At One Time

One of the new intake of Tory MPs - Priti Patel - has been having some fun by exposing the antics of some in the trade unions.

The Daily Telegraph reported the other day that Priti Patel - who entered the House of Commons in May - used an alias to e-mail a number of senior union officials.

Ms Patel set up a bogus email account and contacted the officials - asking them whether it was possible to attend demonstrations on 'facility time' - i.e. the paid time off that union reps are allowed to conduct official union business.

One union official advised she could be “economical with the truth about your use of the time - you may be able to claim facilities time”.

While another suggested she could “pop it down as a union meeting - and be creative about how you spend your union time”.

Ms Patel told the newspaper: “The hard working law abiding majority will be disgusted to see trade union officials suggesting ways that their members can fiddle the system and act dishonestly to get time off".

"It is unacceptable for taxpayers to be left footing the bill for trade unions' political campaigning and union members abusing the system in this way should be regarded with the same disdain as crooks, fraudsters and benefit cheats."

A bit of a wake up call for the trade unions - if you ask me.


Just like South Lanarkshire Council - the unions need to get better at spotting bogus e-mails - though to be fair at least they didn't get conned out of £100,000.

More Kind Words

Here are some more kind words - from two regular readers in North Lanarkshire:

Dear Action 4 Equality

Received offer and I must say I was really over the moon at the amount.

It has been a long time, and at times I despaired, but I really must thank you for the work you have done in bringing this long saga to a conclusion.

Many, many thanks from a grateful client.

EG


Hi Mark

Just a wee note to thank you for all the hard work you have done to get the Equal Pay.

Well Done.

SB

Law Society Gazette

Here's an interesting report from the Law Society Gazette about Thompsons Solicitors - the law firm that acts for a number of big trade unions - including Unison and Unite.

"Thompsons reprimanded over miners’ claims"


"The chief executive of national trade union firm Thompsons has been reprimanded by the Solicitors Regulation Authority for the firm’s mishandling of sick coal miners’ government compensation claims.

In a regulatory settlement agreement signed on 30 September, Stephen Cavalier accepted a severe reprimand on behalf of five Thompsons partners, and the firm agreed to pay £88,000 in costs.

An SRA investigation found that five current and former partners – Michael Antoniw, Philip King, Anthony Patterson, Geoffrey Shears and Robert Wood – committed numerous breaches of the Solicitors Code of Conduct when handling miners’ claims under the coal health compensation scheme.

The SRA said that recourse to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal was not necessary because the firm had acted quickly to correct its mistakes.

Cavalier said today in a statement: ‘The agreement brings to an end over five years of investigation of Thompsons by the SRA. Thompsons and the mining unions played a crucial role in pursuing the test cases which led to the establishment of the scheme and the coal claims handling agreements. Despite achieving better results than any other firm, including the highest average damages for our clients, and believing at the time that our approach was consistent with professional standards, we have accepted that our advice in the early period of the claims was deficient. We took substantial steps to mitigate our conduct, but as current chief executive I have accepted responsibility on behalf of the firm for those deficiencies.’

The SRA noted in its decision that the involvement of some solicitors’ practices in miners compensation claims ‘has attracted widespread public concern and as a consequence has damaged public confidence in the legal profession’, but said that ‘the level and degree of misconduct varies between the firms as does the level of involvement of individual parties’.

Thompsons received case referrals from several miners’ unions and Newcastle firm Russell Young.

Under agreements between the unions and Thompsons’ miner clients, fees were deducted from miners’ compensation awards in the form of administration charges, and paid to the unions. These charges varied from a fixed fee of £50, to 7.5% of the first £13,333 of damages.

Thompsons’ Newcastle and Cardiff offices received approximately 23,500 miners case referrals from the unions. The firm deducted and paid to the unions administrative charges totalling £10.9m.

In 1998, Thompsons acquired 469 miners’ claims from Russell Young for approximately £37,500. Thompsons deducted and retained success fees from the damages received. Success fees were initially 10% of compensation up to a maximum of £2,000; and then subsequently, on a sliding scale of £50 for a settlement of £500 to £999, and up to £200 for a settlement over £3,000.

With regard to the union claims, Cavalier admitted that Thompsons failed to act in the best interests of its miner clients by failing until February 2005 to advise them that they were free to instruct solicitors of their own choice; by failing to advise them on the merits of paying the administration charges under potentially misleading agreements; and acting or continuing to act in conflict of their interests.

Cavalier also admitted that Thompsons accepted introductions and referrals in breach of solicitors’ rules, and failed until February 2005 to provide miner clients with adequate costs information, in particular about the effect of entering into the union agreements and the deduction of the administration charge from damages, and about alternative methods of funding the claim.

With regard to the Russell Young claims, Cavalier admitted that Thompsons failed to act in its miner clients’ best interests by charging success fees; charged contingency fees when such agreements were not permitted by law; and failed to provide clients with adequate costs information.

In mitigation, Cavalier said Thompsons had been ‘very proactive’ in addressing the criticisms made against the unions and the firm’s involvement in miners’ claims. Cavalier pointed to a number of initiatives Thompsons had undertaken, such as contacting clients and giving them further costs information; persuading one of the unions to make its administration charge voluntary for all outstanding claims or refund the charge on completed claims; mailing former clients under Legal Complaints Service guidance to offer repayment of deductions paid to the unions, which involved refunds totalling £3.6m on 6,304 claims; and voluntarily refunding success fees taken in the Russell Young cases.

The SRA’s decision was published on 18 October."

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Unions and Legal Advice

Trade unions like to pretend that they provide legal services to members' 'free of charge' - but this simply isn't true.

What happens is that trade unions pay a mixture of internal and external lawyers for advice - and to represent members in certain circumstances.

But the relationship is always controlled by the union - not the individual member - who has little say in what's going on.

In practical terms - the union bureaucracy acts as the 'client' - and therefore calls all the big shots.

The trade unions also pay their external lawyers from union funds which - of course - come from many thousands of union members - paying their individual contributions week in and week out.

So, while individual members don't pay at the point of delivery - they have already paid 'on account' for any legal services they receive.

But over which they have virtually no influence - and precious little control.

Speak to the Hand

Jonathan Powell's memoirs - "The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World" - is a fine example of gift that keeps giving.

See post dated 9 October 2010 - 'Whom the Gods Would Destroy'.

His latest revelation is that while he was Chief of Staff at 10 Downing Street - and the Prime Minister's right hand man - the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Gordon Brown) refused to speak to him.

Powell reveals that Gordon Brown would only speak to him via one of his loyal henchmen - Ed Balls - a candidate in the recent Labour leadership election.

Apparently the Iron Chancellor could sometimes be heard in the background - as he directed Balls on what to say to Jonathan Powell on his behalf.

Now politics is a nasty old business a lot of the time - but this is the business of running and governing the country - reduced to the most childish and petty behaviour from those in charge.

So it just goes to show that you should always take what politicans say - with a big pinch of salt.

While they all like to talk of grand ideas and noble causes - the reality is rather different.

Fairness at Work

Labour's education spokesperson in the Scottish Parliament - Des McNulty - has come up with a barmy idea - if the party wins next year's Holyrood elections.

He wants to throw money at teachers - through a new early retirement and 'winding-down' scheme - to allow older teachers to work part-time in their final years - without losing their full pension rights.

Now at a time when everyone is banging on about 'fairness' - how ridiculous is it to suggest that one of the better paid groups of council workers - should be singled out for such special treatment?

At the moment Scotland's teachers enjoy better pay and conditions - than most other local government employees - for ten weeks a year they're not even required to be at work.

So why not have scheme for the lower paid groups - who always lose out when it comes to improving or enhancing people's pension packages?

You don't hear of many classroom assistants or school cooks or home carers - getting extra years added to their pension - or being allowed to retire early.

'For the many not the few' - is a favourite Labour campaign slogan - someone ought to point that out sharpish - to Des McNulty.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Spotlight on South Lanarkshire

As regular readers know, I submitted an FOI request to South Lanarkshire Council about the early retirement of its former Executive Director of Corporate Services - see post dated 25 October 2010.

Here's the gist of the council's response:

"Dear Mr Irvine

Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) - Request for Information

1 The employment of the Executive Director, Corporate Resources, Mr Alan Cuthbertson was terminated on conclusion of his fixed term contract with access to pension benefits in line with the Local Government Pension Scheme (Scotland) Regulations 1998 as amended.

2 Mr Cuthbertson was 51 years of age on the date his employment terminated.

3 The principle of fixed term contracts for Executive Directors was approved by the Executive Committee on 27 February 2002 and Alan Cuthbertson's employment was terminated on 31 March 2006.

4 Mr Cuthbertson was awarded maximum compensatory added years in line with pension the regulations. This had the effect of increasing Mr Cuthbertson's pensionable service by 7 years and 6 days.

5 The capitalisation cost was £291,990.

South Lanarkshire Council"

So the upshot is that South Lanarkshire Council spent almost £300,000 - of public money - in allowing one of its senior officials to retire early - boosting his pension package by 7 years and 6 days in the process.

But what the council fails to explain are the reasons behind this decision - and whether or not they conform with the rules of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS).

I have since asked the council for a review of its initial response - watch this space for further details.

Knocking Down Walls

Pat Watters - President of COSLA - had an article in Scotland on Sunday at the weekend - in which he argued the case that local government should have 'parity of esteem' with the NHS.

Essentially Pat Watters was saying that many council services are 'lifeline services' - and are every bit as vital as those delivered by hospitals - and a range of community-based health services.

So 'ring fencing' and protecting current spending on the NHS - doesn't make much sense - because the NHS does not operate in isolation from other vital council-run services.

But a lot of other things don't make any sense either - and what was missing from the COSLA President's argument - was some plain speaking about reforming and improving public services.

For example, Pat Watters said nothing about the fact that council budgets effectively doubled - since the Scottish Parliament was created in 1999.

Yet the council employers still failed to address the issue of equal pay - not least in Pat's own council, South Lanarkshire - where most female jobs remain stuck at the bottom of the pay ladder.

Nor has COSLA been leading the debate - about the enormous duplication involved in providing public services.

Why do we have so many councils, for example?

Why do we have separate council-run and NHS-run public services - with the huge bureaucracy that these separate structures create?

Surely it is possible - in this day and age - to deliver vital public services through a single public service provider - by knocking down the walls that divide local government and the NHS.

Not only will it produce better local services - a more sensible structure will save vast amounts of public money - into the bargain.

Another Fine Mess

Edinburgh has got itself into another fine mess - this time over the pay protection arrangements that should apply following the introduction of Single Status.

Under the 1999 Single Status Agreement - any employee whose pay drops as a result of the job review - is entitled to three years pay protection.

But no one seems to have sat down and worked out how this should be done.

So the council has taken the easy way out and just used people's P60s from last year - which show the total amount of an employee's earnings.

Problem is that if someone was off sick for a long spell - or on unpaid maternity leave - then a P60 is not representative of a person's normal earnings.

As usual the unions are making a mountain out of a molehill - threatening industrial action - and disruption to services.

But the problem has more to do the unions' failure to iron out these important details - in negotiations with council managers.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Spotlight on South Lanarkshire

Here's a recent Freedom of Information request to South Lanarkshire Council - the council has now responded, but has not provided all of the information requested - further details will be posted on the blog site tomorrow.

Archie Strang
Chief Executive
South Lanarkshire Council

BY E-MAIL
Dear Mr Strang

FOI Request

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

1. Did South Lanarkshire Council allow its Executive Director of Corporate Resources (who was in post at the time of Single Status in April 2004) to retire early from the council's service?

2. If so, what age was the Executive Director at the time he was allowed to leave South Lanarkshire Council’s service?

3. If so, what were the reasons for allowing the Executive Director to retire early, when did the council approve his early retirement and on what date did his retirement take effect?

4. If so, did the council agree to enhance the Executive Director’s early retirement package – and what effect did this have on the officer’s pension benefits?

5. If so, what was the actual cost of these enhancements in terms of the 'additional strain' payments to the Strathclyde Pension Fund that would have been required under the rules of the Local Government Superannuation Scheme?

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


Kind regards



Mark Irvine

Payback Time

Baroness Uddin - the Labour peer suspended by the House of Lords for making false expenses claims - says she can't afford to pay the £125,000 she has been ordered to pay back.

Last week the House of Lords suspended the Baroness for 18 months - until Easter 2012 - but after that she will be free to return and claim her £300 a day 'attendance allowance'.

See the previous post dated 18 October 2010 - 'Lording It Up' - for all the gory details.

The House of Lords apparently felt sorry for the Baroness - because they overturned a harsher recommendation from a sub-committee which said she should be banned for at least three years and not be allowed to return until she had paid the full amount back.

Incredibly the Baroness told the appeal that "she does not have the means to repay" the money - despite owning three homes - including subsidised social housing in London, a flat in Maidstone and a large family villa in Bangladesh.

The Sunday Times reported yesterday that Baroness Uddin was not at her London home or flat in Kent and that her lawyers - Thompsons Solicitors - did not return calls.

Made in Dagenham

Made in Dagenham - a film about the fight for equal pay in the 1960s - has received an unexpected boost - from the government's Equalities Minister.

Lynne Featherstone - a London MP - has called on the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) - to lower the film's 15 rating to 12A - which would allow any young person over the age of 12 to see it unaccompanied.

The film was given a 15 rating by the BBFC - because of the amount of swearing it contains.

Lynne Featherstone said: "I've seen Made in Dagenham and, while I'm not a fan of bad language, it strikes me that the use of the f-word is completely in context."

"I also think it's important that young people see this film to understand the fight for rights which went on then and how some of these battles are still being fought."

Quite right too!

Young people should be know about the issues raised by Made in Dagenham - because 40 years on many women are having to fight the same fight all over again.

And as for swearing - you hear worse during one of Gordon Ramsay's cookery programmes.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Protecting Jobs and Services

The leader of Glasgow City Council - Councillor Gordon Matheson - has come up with an idea on how to protect Scotland's schoolchildren - from the worst impact of spending cuts.

Councillor Matheson has suggested that teachers should spend longer in the classroom - to help ease the impact of "brutal" cuts, as he sees the situation.

Now this wouldn't affect teachers pay in any way - but it would mean them spending 30 minutes more every day on classes - by taking 30 minutes out of their preparation time.

At the moment Scotland's teachers work 35 hours - with 22.5 hours spent teaching - under a national agreement known as the McCrone Agreement.

Glasgow's leader wants Scottish ministers to re-open talks on the McCrone Agreement - to free up valuable resources at a very difficult time for all the public services.

Councillor Matheson said: "We face brutal choices and I believe this is a reasonable request to make, which would still leave sufficient time for preparation.

"The options in front of us are not only politically very difficult, but threaten the quality of teaching and learning in our schools. This is one way we could offset those cuts."

So far, the government has poured cold water on the idea - but you never know.

One reason the private sector stopped unemployment going through the roof at the height of the recession - was by reaching agreements with employees on new ways of working - not on a long term basis necessarily, but as a way of preserving jobs and protecting services.

Unsurprisingly, the teaching unions are not keen - yet teachers are one of the better paid groups of local government workers - with broader backs than their lower paid colleagues.


So instead of a knee jerk response - how about some leadership from the unions - for a change.

Strange But True

Isn't it strange that the Holyrood Parliament is run by a minority SNP government - while the Westminster Parliament is governed by a coalition?

Because the Holyrood Parliament was designed to ensure that no single party could easily win overall control - the aim was to promote more compromise and consensus - recognising that no political party had all the solutions.

And for two terms of the Holyrood Parliament that's exactly what happened - Labour struck a deal with the Liberal Democrats - and a programme for government was agreed - on the basis that no single party had a mandate from the electorate.

In the third term of the Holyrood Parliament, the same thing happened - only this time the SNP turned out to be the largest party - and decided to govern as a minority administration since they could not make an agreement with the other parties.

But while the SNP administration has done some good things - and been a breath of fresh air from years of Labour dominance - I think it is stretching credibility to say that minority government has been a roaring success.

So, if Scotland wants stable government - and to get things done after next year's May elections - a coalition looks like the only game in town - just as it is in many of Scotland's local councils.

Meanwhile in Westminster - where the first past the post system is designed to deliver a strong 'winner takes all' government - we have a coalition in place.

The opposition howl that the coalition has no mandate to govern - no mandate from the people on key policies - without facing up to the crucial fact that Labour and other opposition parties have no mandate either.

Because of course they lost the election - the plain truth is that voters didn't trust any of the political parties sufficiently - and that's why we are where we are today.

With all the attendant difficulties and problems - my money's on coalition government returning to Holyrood - after the next round of elections in May 2010.

North Lanarkshire Enquiry

A reader form North Lanarkshire has been in touch to ask - if it's too later to take up an equal pay claim with Action 4 Equality Scotland.

The reader - a Home Support Worker - is fed up with her trade union's antics - the general lack of information - and refusal to explain things in clear and simple terms.

So, the straight answer is - No, it's not too late.

It's easy to start up a new claim with Action 4 Equality Scotland, if you haven't done so already - and you can also transfer a union claim that is currently underway.

All I need are a few details to set the ball rolling - and if you need any help, just drop me a note at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Wasting Public Money

As the row over public spending rumbles on - I find myself agreeing with the comments of Scotland's top judge - who has effectively slammed his fellow lawyers for wasting public money.

Here's a summary of a story in today's Herald - which shines a light on Scotland's legal profession - along with the 'workings' of our courts and legal aid system.

Judge’s fury as lawyers pocket £1m in case fees

by Carolyn Churchill

"Scotland’s most senior judge has criticised lawyers for allowing a “straightforward” case to turn into “protracted” proceedings, with 52 days of evidence earning lawyers £1 million in fees.

Lord President Lord Hamilton, sitting with Lord Carloway and Lord Hardie, spoke out in an appeal judgment following a case at Stirling Sheriff Court involving a father’s wish for access to his 10-year-old son. Sheriff Wyllie Robertson had denied the request for contact and the father appealed to the Court of Session.

In their opinion upholding the sheriff’s decision, the judges said the boy’s mother had given evidence lasting 17 days, while her former partner had been questioned and cross-examined for seven days.

Lord Hamilton said the judges had been told the length of time was not uncommon in family law cases and he described it as a “highly unsatisfactory state of affairs”, adding that the proceedings, not including judicial costs, had cost about £1m – most of which would be paid for by the public purse through legal aid.

He said: “Cases of this kind are often difficult but their objective must be, in the interests of the child or children, an expeditious disposal. The primary responsibility for achieving such a disposal lies with the parties’ professional advisers, solicitors and counsel.”

Lord Hamilton said Sheriff Robertson had made “trenchant” criticisms of both parents. The father was said to be “often sanctimoniously dogmatic and insensitive” while the boy’s mother had lied about her academic qualifications and made misleading statements to the Child Support Agency."

Para Handy Saves the Navy

The good folk of Scotland will sleep sounder in their beds tonight.

Safe in the knowledge that one of the world's most sophisticated submarines - has been rescued by a commercial tug boat.

Apparently, HMS Astute - which ran aground off the coast of Skye - makes less noise in the water than a dolphin as it prowls the seas - in search of terrorists and other threats.

Now, I'm no expert - but it does strike me that being stuck on a mudbank under the Skye Bridge - is not the best of vantage points - from which to defend the UK from a nuclear missile attack.

So let's just rejoice that a tugboat was on hand to save the day - and our country from its deadly, unseen enemies.

And in celebration I hereby propose that the HMS Astute should be immediately renamed - The Vital Spark.

Marches and Protests

The Scottish TUC is apparently holding a march and rally in Edinburgh today - in protest at the impact of planned cuts in public spending.

The specific aims of the event are unclear - but no doubt the unions are trying to focus attention on those who are the biggest 'losers' - from the forward spending review.

Now this is all very interesting - commendable even, up to a point.

But as far as I can recall there has never been a national march and rally by the Scottish trade unions in the past 10 years - over the scandal of equal pay.

The people losing out the most were largely women workers - to the tune of thousands of pounds a year - tens of thousands even, for someone with five or six years service.

So, the impact on all of these women workers was enormous - yet the trade unions hardly said a cheep for years - never mind a word in anger.

The truth is - that the trade unions just turned a blind eye to what was going on.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Glasgow Unison

A number of regular readers have been in touch - about the unsolicited letters they've received from Unison in Glasgow.

Here's the earlier post to the blog site dated 19 October 2010 - explaining the background


But this is just the usual old baloney from the unions - if you are already an Action 4 Equality Scotland client - your claim in respect of 2007 to 2010 is already underway.

So you have nothing to get excited about

Action 4 Equality Scotland is also challenging the city council's WPBR - which the unions have been completely silent about all this time - to their shame.


As usual - the unions are at the coo's tail!

Glasgow Unison


A reader from Glasgow reports that she has received an unsolicited letter from Unison - showing a belated interest in equal pay.

I haven't seen the letter yet, but have asked the reader to pass a copy on - by e-mail or post.

In the meantime I've said just to ignore what it says - because it's almost certainly one of the occasional mass mail-shots the unions send out to members.

The reason the unions do this is to try confuse and worry their own members - in an effort to poach clients from Action 4 Equality Scotland.

But as I always remind people - these are the same unions that abandoned their own members when they most needed help - and encouraged them to accept poor offers of settlement from the council.

So, existing clients of Action 4 Equality Scotland can safely ignore these letters - your outstanding claim against the council is well underway - and there is no need for you to do anything at this stage - no matter what the unions say.

On a similar note, I've been reading the press reports about trade union support for a 'living wage' of £7.00 + per hour.

Better late than never I suppose - but the fact of the matter is that the unions should have got their fingers out years ago - because that's exactly what Single Status was all about back in 1999.

For the past 10 years and more - there's hardly been a traditional male council job earning less than £9.00 or even £10.00 an hour - it's the women's jobs that have all been low paid.

And the unions have been quite happy to turn a blind eye to that scandal for all these years - but get excited it seems only when the Scottish Parliament elections appear on the horizon.

Spending Public Money

Here's a recent FOI request to South Lanarkshire Council - asking about the terms on which a senior official left the council a few years ago.

South Lanarkshire is behaving very strangely it has to be said - not that long ago the council was blowing its own trumpet - singing its own praises over Single Status - to anyone that would listen.

Now the council won't say who created its controversial 555 'in-house' job evaluation scheme - was it the former Executive Director of Corporate Services, for example?

In any event, why was such a senior official allowed to leave the council early - and at what cost to the tax payer?

In my view these are matters of public interest and importance - surely a straight question deserves a straight answer - unless, of course, South Lanarkshire Council has something to hide.

Archie Strang
Chief Executive
South Lanarkshire Council

Dear Mr Strang

FOI Request

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

1. Did South Lanarkshire Council allow its Executive Director of Corporate Resources (who was in post at the time of Single Status in April 2004) to retire early from the council's service?

2. If so, what age was the Executive Director at the time he was allowed to leave South Lanarkshire Council’s service?

3. If so, what were the reasons for allowing the Executive Director to retire early, when did the council approve his early retirement and on what date did his retirement take effect?

4. If so, did the council agree to enhance the Executive Director’s early retirement package – and what effect did this have on the officer’s pension benefits?

5. If so, what was the actual cost of these enhancements in terms of the 'additional strain' payments to the Strathclyde Pension Fund that would have been required under the rules of the Local Government Superannuation Scheme?

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


Kind regards


Mark Irvine"

Opting-Out Made Easy

In a recent post I promised to provide contact details - for any readers wishing to opt out of paying a political levy to the Labour party.

Now the official way to do this is very cumbersome and involves tracking down some local union rep within your branch - whom no one knows - and who may not even understand what you're talking about.

So the best and quickest way to do this would be simply to send an e-mail to your union regional secretary - and politely ask that person to sort things out on your behalf.

Here are the people you may wish to contact:

GMB - Harry Donaldson:
harry.donaldson@gmb.org.uk

Unite - Fiona Farmer: fiona.farmer@unitetheunion.org

Unison - Matt Smith: matt.smith@unison.co.uk

All you need to do is to say something along the lines of:

"Dear Regional Secretary

Labour Party Political Levy

I would like to stop paying a political levy to the Labour party with immediate effect - and would like to union to return this money to me in future.

My union membership number is - xxxxxxx

My address and post code is - xxxxxxxxx

My union branch is - xxxxxxxx

Please action this request on my behalf.

Yours sincerely


A Member"

And that's about all you need to say really - just remember to date the e-mail and include your union membership number etc.


For obvious reasons - keep a copy of what you send for future reference.

The unions should not be putting any obstacles in your way - if you wish to exercise your right to opt-out of paying the political levy - if they do, let me know.

Messages for Miliband

A reader has been in touch about the recent post dated Friday 15 October - asking how to get in touch with Labour's new leader - Ed Miliband.

Well you could send a letter through the post to Labour's HQ in London - but you can also drop him an e-mail quite easily at the following e-mail address: milibande@parliament.uk

Here's the earlier post for information.

Message for Miliband

An enterprising reader has written to the new leader of the Labour party - Ed Miliband - with some thoughts about equal pay. Here's what she had to say:

"Dear Mr Miliband

Congratulations on your election as Leader of the Labour party.

I listened with interest to the announcement made at the Labour party conference regarding a living wage of £7.00 per hour.

I support any moves to tackle low pay, but thought I would point out that we have been waiting on the council employers in Scotland to deliver equal pay since 1999 - which they agreed to do in signing up to the 1999 Single Status Agreement.

If they had lived up to their promises all female council workers in Scotland would have been earning more than £7.00 an hour many years ago - and up until 1997 most of the larger councils were Labour controlled.

The fact is that every traditional male council job - Refuse Workers, Gardeners, Streetsweepers, Gravediggers - has been earning £9.00 or £10.00 an hour for many years - while female dominated jobs such as Home Carers, Cooks, Classroom Assistants, Clerical Workers and Cleaners - have all been losing out to the tune of thousands of pounds a year.

The council employers and the trade unions turned a blind eye to the problem - and to my mind they don't have the interest of low paid women workers at heart

Many women council workers in Scotland have outstanding equal pay claims which are awaiting settlement - I hope you will encourage Labour leaders in Scottish councils to settle these outstanding claims as quickly as possible - because up until now they have let their women workers down.

On another note I would also like to say - especially at this time when spending cuts have to be made - that as a council tax payer I am appalled at the hundreds of thousands of pounds Scottish councils are paying out on external legal fees defending the indefensible.

Of all the things that your party now get that the British public have been saying, I hope this has now been added to the list.

Kindest regards

SM"

Now that's what I call getting your point across.

Council Wars

The Herald reports today on the first casualty of the 'civil war' between senior councillors and senior officials - in South Lanarkshire Council.

See previous posts dated 08 and 18 October 2010.

So, South Lanarkshire's Executive Director of Finance and IT has decided to quit - it seems - in the wake of a series of scandals which involved:

1 claims of widespread fiddling by councillors - over travelling and other expenses

2 a gang of west African criminals somehow conning the council out of £100,000

3 a £40 million hole in the council budget - which no one noticed for months

Someone should ask the council (under an FOI request if necessary) about the terms of Ms Hardie's departure - because it's not unusual for councils to reward senior officials by boosting their severance packages - with large sums of public money.

Whether that would be justified in this particular case remains to be seen - but in the present climate the council should be required to explain what's going on - both to local council tax payers and the wider public - especially when the public finances are so tight.

"Finance director quits troubled council"

by Gerry Braiden

"One of Scotland’s most senior council officials is to her quit her post after the authority was conned out of more than £100,000 by west African criminals and amid moves by the ruling administration to have a number of top staff removed.

Linda Hardie is to retire as executive director of finance and IT at South Lanarkshire Council next April, one month after the authority said it paid cash to criminals who had posed as suppliers. The council then had to pay the same amount to the real suppliers.

It also comes weeks after the council over-estimated the scale of the cuts it faces by £40 million, sparking a row between its political leadership and officials.

Ms Hardie’s departure was confirmed by chief executive Archie Strang.

Claiming that a recent list of savings identified had not covered senior officers, Mr Strang said:


“The corporate management team knows that it can’t put all these options forward and itself remain unchanged and has been clear that there must be proposals to reduce the scale of senior management for consideration as part of those options presented to members.

“I’ve been discussing the future shape of the corporate management team and heads of service with each director. As part of those discussions, the executive director (finance and IT) will be retiring from April 2011.”

However, it is understood that Ms Hardie, who had held her post for more than a decade and who many had predicted would succeed Mr Strang as chief executive, is so far the only senior official whose position has been axed.

Pressure has been mounting on senior officials at the council following the £40m error earlier this month, with former Scottish minister and South Lanarkshire leader Tom McCabe calling for sackings."

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Members Left in the Lurch

Lots readers have been in touch recently to complain that a trade union has made a complete mess of their equal pay claims. Here's a typical tale:

"I have been a trade union member for many years.

I took up an equal pay claim via my local union branch - for a long time heard nothing and just assumed all was well - that my case simply taking a long time to reach a conclusion.

Then out of the blue, I was told that my case would not be proceeding - because the union hadn't actually registered my case with the Employment Tribunals - and as a result my claim is now time-barred.

In other words, the case can't proceed because the union, or someone acting for the union, dropped the ball.

But why should I pay the price when the union is clearly at fault - not me.


Can Action 4 Equality Scotland help?

Well the answer that it depends on the circumstances of each case.


But if you've been let down in this way - contact Mark Irvine at: markirvine@compuserve.com

If I can help, I will - but what I need first of all are the bare facts of the case:

1
What exactly happened?

2 When did this happen - include all the key dates?

3 Have you kept any paperwork or documents from the union?

4 Have you already complained to the union and if so, what was their response?

Claim and Counter Claim

The newspapers today are full of claims and counter claims - about the impact of the government's spending review.

Some papers claim that the middle classes will lose out as a result of spending cuts - others that the less well of will bear brunt, presumably due to the planned changes in the welfare budget.

The Herald, for example, says that Scottish spending will be reduced by about 10% in real terms - while the UK total is cut by about 11%.

While in the background, special interest groups - including the trade unions - claim doomsday has finally arrived - and that we're all going to hell in a handcart!

Well the reality is likely to be slightly different - even though the impact of spending cuts on a personal level is likely to be painful - for some at least.

Because the reality is that public spending in Scotland effectively doubled over ten years - from £15 billion to begin with to well over £30 billion now.

And during that decade - council budgets also doubled in size - so a cut of 10% or so - over four years - is hardly the end of civilisation.

What it does throw up is some awkward questions, for example:

"How come councils in Scotland received all this extra money and yet still failed to keep their promises to deliver equal pay?"

"How come the unions are all up in arms over 'cuts' - threatening strikes and 'street protests' even - when for years women council workers in Scotland were routinely earning £3.00 an hour less than their male colleagues?"

Life is full of unfairnesses - some big, some small - the key thing is to be consistent about challenging them - and not to turn a blind eye to those that are difficult or embarrassing.

West Lothian Council

A CMD hearing involving the outstanding West Lothian Council cases - took place in Edinburgh on Monday 18 October 2010.

The outcome of the CMD is that a GMF hearing will take place on dates to be confirmed - during the period April to June 2011.

While that is still some months away - the good news is that the council has run out of road - and will finally have to face the music.

In other areas, the prospect of a GMF hearing - where the employer has to explain and try to justify its discriminatory pay practices - has led to new offers of settlement.

Whether the same is true of West Lothian Council remains to be seen - but the council now has a few months to come to its senses - if it doens't, the GMF hearing will proceed.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Supreme Waste of Money

Here's an excellent report from today's Scotsman - which explains the latest attempts by three former Labour MPs - David Chaytor, Jim Devine and Elliott Morley - to avoid facing a criminal trial.

The three MPs are all receiving legal aid - and will not pay a single penny towards the costs of this legal pantomime.

But can you imagine the public expense involved - for all these judges and lawyers to hear the plainly ridiculous argument - that MPs should somehow be treated completely differently - to the ordinary man or woman in the street.

Supreme Court hears ex-MPs' privilege plea


by Stephen Howard

Three former Labour MPs accused of fiddling their expenses went to the highest court in the land yesterday in a final attempt to avoid criminal trials.

Former Livingston MP Jim Devine, David Chaytor and Elliot Morley, who deny theft by false accounting, claim that any investigation into their expenses claims and the imposition of any sanctions "should lie within the hands of Parliament".

Nigel Pleming QC, representing Devine and Chaytor, told a panel of nine Supreme Court Justices that the Parliamentary expenses scheme was part of proceedings in the House.

As such, the men are protected by Parliamentary privilege.

Mr Pleming added: "I also wish to emphasise as firmly as I can on behalf of these former MPs that this is not, and never has been, an attempt to take them above or outside the law."

He said the House had "the power to punish, and to recover any monies wrongly claimed, and is well capable of investigating allegations, including allegations of dishonesty, made against its members".

Mr Pleming said it had been recognised in the courts below that the case raised important issues of principle and was without direct precedent.

"So far as we are aware these are the first criminal prosecutions of Members of the House of Commons in relation either to a statement made in or to Parliament or its delegates, or based on a member's dealings with Parliament - for over 300 years."

He added: "These proceedings have been brought, and conducted, against an extremely adverse, even hostile, media and political background."

It may be some time before the Supreme Court has the chance to consider the scope of Parliamentary privilege, he said.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, heading a panel of three Court of Appeal judges, earlier this year upheld a ruling by a judge at Southwark Crown Court in central London that they were not protected by privilege.

Lord Pannick QC, representing the Crown Prosecution Service, will be arguing during the two-day hearing that Parliamentary privilege or immunity from criminal prosecution has never been attached to ordinary criminal activities by Members of Parliament.

Former Bury North MP Chaytor, 61, of Todmorden, West Yorkshire; ex-Scunthorpe MP Morley, 58, of Winterton, north Lincolnshire; and Devine, 57, of Bathgate, West Lothian, formerly MP for Livingston, are all on unconditional bail and due to face separate trials at Southwark Crown Court."

Tilting at Windmills

In the famous book Don Quixote, the eponymous Spanish hero makes a prize fool of himself - by declaring his intention to do battle with a band of giants he sees in the distance.

Sancho Panza - his loyal servant and companion - saves Don Quixote from his own stupidity.

By pointing out that the 'giants' are actually windmills and pose no threat to the gallant knight - or anyone else for that matter.

But it seems as if the spirit of Don Quixote is alive and well - among present day politicians - as far as defence policy goes.

First of all they place orders for two new aircraft carriers - that no one needs or wants.

Later it becomes clear that there are not enough aircraft to operate these hulking behemoths successfully - to fly on and off in sufficient numbers - to bomb some real or imaginary enemy into submission - in some far-flung foreign land.

The previous Labour government commissioned the two aircraft carriers - and the coalition government seems to have little choice by to continue with the project - because they are too costly to cancel.

But Lord Guthrie, former chief of Defence Staff, says that the Royal Navy will regret pushing for both vessels because of the costs.

"I think they are a bad use of money but they may have been impossible to cancel", Lord Guthrie explained. "I would not be surprised if the Royal Navy doesn't come to rue the day that they fought for two expensive aircraft carriers."

Spending vast sums of money on these vanity projects is a terrible waste - of all the other countries in Europe - only France is bonkers enough to pour public money down the drain in this way - and they have a reputation as 'cheese-eating, surrender monkeys' .

What's plain as the nose on your face - is that politicians have got their priorities all wrong.


Because two new aircraft carriers is just about the last thing the country needs - at the present time.

Equal Pay Meeting - Monday 18 October

Readers in South Lanarkshire are beginning to get in touch about the equal pay meeting held by Alex Neil MSP - in Hamilton yesterday.

Apparently, the event was very lively and well attended.

By all accounts, so far at least, people went away fired up and determined to step up the campaign - for openness and transparency on the part of South Lanarkshire Council.

If you were present and have something to say, drop me a note and I'll share it with others - via the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog site.

Personal details will be withheld - for obvious reasons - so there's no reason to be backward about coming forward: markirvine@compuserve.com

More Bobbies on the Beat

The Sunday Times reported at the weekend that more than 1,000 police officers are to be stripped of their office-bound desk jobs.

Freed from pen pushing and other administrative tasks - the officers will be sent out onto the front line - under a shake up by Scotland's largest police force.

Apparently, the chief constable of Strathclyde Police - Stephen House - has ordered that 1,100 officers be re-assigned to community policing to tackle crime - and catch criminals.

The move comes after an internal review found that hundreds of officers - were needlessly stuck behind their desks.

The number of 'bobbies on the beat' will increase from 1,400 to 2,500 - a rise of almost 80%.

So, well done Stephen House and Strathclyde Police - but it does beg the rather obvious question - why were all these police officers stuck behind desks in the first place?

At a time when political debate is all about cuts in spending - it's good to see a public service focusing on the real issues that affect people - instead of just complaining and wringing their hands.

Glasgow Unison

A reader from Glasgow reports that she has received an unsolicited letter from Unison - showing a belated interest in equal pay.

I haven't seen the letter yet, but have asked the reader to pass a copy on - by e-mail or post.

In the meantime I've said just to ignore what it says - because it's almost certainly one of the occasional mass mail-shots the unions send out to members.

The reason the unions do this is to try confuse and worry their own members - in an effort to poach clients from Action 4 Equality Scotland.

But as I always remind people - these are the same unions that abandoned their own members when they most needed help - and encouraged them to accept poor offers of settlement from the council.

So, existing clients of Action 4 Equality Scotland can safely ignore these letters - your outstanding claim against the council is well underway - and there is no need for you to do anything at this stage - no matter what the unions say.

On a similar note, I've been reading the press reports about trade union support for a 'living wage' of £7.00 + per hour.

Better late than never I suppose - but the fact of the matter is that the unions should have got their fingers out years ago - because that's exactly what Single Status was all about back in 1999.

For the past 10 years and more - there's hardly been a traditional male council job earning less than £9.00 or even £10.00 an hour - it's the women's jobs that have all been low paid.

And the unions have been quite happy to turn a blind eye to that scandal for all these years - but get excited it seems only when the Scottish Parliament elections appear on the horizon.

MPs' Expenses

Earlier this year, BBC Scotland reported that a former MP and Unison official - John Lyons - had been asked to repay almost £19,000 that he had over claimed in expenses.

At the time, Mr Lyons insisted he had done nothing wrong - claimed never to have received any correspondence from the House of Commons authorities requesting repayment - and said he would be demanding a full apology.

At the weekend the newspapers reported - quietly and without fuss - that John Lyons was paying back the monies requested of him by Sir Thomas Legg - who looked into MPs' expenses claims going all the way back to 2004.

Sir Thomas Legg originally recommended that John Lyons - former Labour MP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden - repay £18,780.80 in mortgage interest payments.

Meanwhile another former Unison official and Labour MSP - Jim Devine - has been ordered to pay £35,000 to his former office manager in damages - following a complaint for breach of contract and unfair dismissal to the employment tribunals.

Employment judge - Judge Jane Porter - said: "The claimant (Marion Kinley) showed great fortitude through her employment, during which it can only be said the claimant was subject to a course of bullying and harassment by the respondent (Jim Devine)."

Jim Devine and two other Labour MPs (David Chaytor and Elliot Morley) - still face criminal charges over their MPs' expenses claims - a case which is slowly working its way through the courts.

Monday, 18 October 2010

First Class Fiddling

The local newspapers in South Lanarkshire are full of reports about councillors fiddling their expenses - on an industrial scale allegedly.

Fiddling expenses was 'rife' among South Lanarkshire councillors - according to the leader of the council’s SNP group.

Apparently, South Lanarkshire councillors claimed the cost of first class rail tickets - but then routinely travelled by car - sometime's even in the cars of council officials - and just quietly pocketed the difference.

A similar scam operated on accomodation at conferences and other events.

Councillors were paid a standard allowance - but were then free to do whatever they wanted with the money - including staying with friends at nil cost - and spend the windfall on themselves.

No receipts were ever required - or proof of actual costs incurred.

The system has now changed - but it just goes to show what can happen to public money - when the public interest and effective, independent scrutiny get pushed aside.

South Lanarkshire Council has now called in external and independent auditors to examine councillors’ expenses - and not before time it would seem.

Lording It Up

According to newspaper reports three peers of the realm face suspension from the House of Lords - over their expenses claims.

The 'noble' lords in question are Lord Paul and Baroness Uddin (both Labour peers) and Lord Bhatia Photo (a cross-bencher) - who has previously donated money to the Labour party.

Baroness Uddin is apparently set to be suspended for between a year and 18 months - and has agreed to pay back £125,000 in 'wrongly claimed' expenses - on an empty house, would you believe.

Lord Bhatia faces a ban of between six and 12 months - and is to repay voluntarily £27,000.

Lord Paul - a big friend of former PM Gordon Brown apparently - has been recommended for a suspension of between four and six months - and has agreed to pay back £40,000.

All three were investigated by the sub-committee on Lords' interests - Lord Paul and Lady Uddin were referred to the committee - after criminal investigations into their cases were dropped.

The investigation followed complaints over alleged abuses of the expenses system in the House of Lords.

The old system included an "overnight" allowance of £174 to cover the cost of staying in London - if a member's "main home" was outside the M25 - no receipts were required.

The bottom line is that the 'noble' lords were claiming these expenses without actually incurring any costs - and simply pocketed the money involved.

Does the punishment fit the crime?

Not in my book - having served their suspension these people will become legislators again - able to influence and pass laws that affect the rest of the us.

Instead of being allowed to return to the fawning and cosseted world of the House of Lords - they should be stripped of their peerages - and unceremoniously run out of town, metaphorically speaking at least.

The laugh is that the new expenses regime in the House of Lords will allow all peers to claim a lump payment of £300 a day - just for for 'clocking in' at Parliament.

The system is wide open to abuse because it offers no safeguards against peers simply 'signing in' - then and sloping off for the rest of the day - at public expense, of course.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Spotlight on South Lanarkshire

A number of readers have asked me to explain the history of equal pay and Single Status in South Lanarkshire - given the activity that's underway in terms of local meetings with MSPs.

So here's a brief summary of the key events:

1 In 1999 Scottish employers and trade unions introduced a new Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement - which aimed to eliminate the historical pay discrimination facing many female dominated jobs

2 Prior to Single Status most female dominated jobs (Cooks and Home Carers, for example) were concentrated at the bottom of the pay ladder - earning much less than the traditional male jobs such as refuse workers and gardeners.

3 Single Status was supposed to tackle this problem and ensure female jobs received a fair deal in future - going forward from 1999.

4 The key to achieving a fairer deal was a nationally developed and jointly recommended Job Evaluation Scheme (JES) - which the unions and employers were committed to and which was supposed to be in place by 2002 (later moved to 2004).

5 Scottish councils, including South Lanarkshire, spent £250,000 of public money developing the JES - but for reasons that have still to be explained, South Lanarkshire bailed out and implemented its own 'in-house' JES.

6 To this day South Lanarkshire Council refuses to explain the reasons for withdrawing from the national JES - or the identity of the authors of its own 'in-house' JES scheme.

7 The end result is that workers in South Lanarkshire Council are prevented from understanding how other council jobs are graded and paid - and it's fair to say that no other council in Scotland behaves in this secretive fashion.

8 Unsurprisingly, Single Status in South Lanarkshire Council has simply reinforced the historical pay differences between male and female dominated jobs - that existed prior to 1999 - with female dominated jobs still concentrated at the bottom of the pay ladder.


9 What happened is that the higher pay of traditional male jobs - including bonus and overtime payments - was simply Incorporated into new and higher annual salaries - which were then protected for life in April 2004.

10 The end result is that traditional male groups were treated much more favourably than their female colleagues - and they continue to reap the benefit - both in terms in terms of future earnings and higher pensions following retirement.

If you need any further details or information, drop me a note at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Trouble Brewing in Unison

Reports from readers in South Lanarkshire suggest that trouble is brewing in the local Unison branch.

According to local people in the know, the Unison branch secretary is to be called as a management witness - in the ongoing equal pay claims against South Lanarkshire Council.

Now this will put the branch secretary - Stephen Smellie (pronounced Smiley not Smelly) - in the strange position - of giving evidence against the claims of his own members.

Local union members are up in arms apparently - because they've still to receive a proper explanation about just where Unison stands in relation to equal pay.

Women members have been demanding answers to a variety of important questions - but have yet to receive any sensible answers from the union hierarchy. For example:

1
Did Unison agree to lifetime pay preservation - for male dominated jobs?
2 If so, why were other Unison members not consulted - or asked for their views?
3 Why did Unison agree to new grades that place the majority of women's jobs - at the bottom of the pay ladder?

If you have something to say about what's going on within union ranks in South Lanarkshire - drop Mark Irvine a note at: markirvine@compuserve.com

MPs' Expenses Scandal - Saga Continues

Denis MacShane - former Europe minister in the last Labour government - is the latest MP to have his expenses claims reported to the police.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards was investigating a number of claims made by MacShane - on his tax payer funded office expenses.

Including £20,000 a year for an office - based in the garage of his South Yorkshire home.

I imagine even Chief Inspector Jacques Closeau would find something odd and questionable - about an MP shelling out £20,000 a year to rent his own garage.

Who benefited from this arrangement - is the obvious question?

The Labour MP also submitted more than a dozen invoices for research and translation work undertaken by the European Policy Institute (EPI) - a body controlled by his own brother.

As well as that he claimed for eight laptop computers - in no less than three years.

Mr McShane denied any wrongdoing - but bas been suspended until the question of criminal proceedings has been resolved

Another MP - Bill Wiggin, a Tory this time - was told by the Standards and Privileges Committee to repay £4,294 and apologise to the House of Commons - presumably for being a very naughty boy.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Sincerest Form of Flattery

Trade unions are often expert at doling out advice to other people - telling employers how to run their business or governments how to run the country.

Sometimes what the unions say is reasonable and makes sense - at other times it lacks credibility - because they say one thing - then go on to do something completely different themselves.

Here's an example sent in by one of our regular readers - who is a member of Unite.

Unite - Results for the year

The pie chart set out below shows the make up of the expenditure of the Union in this year:

As a consequence of the plunging stock markets values caused by the recession, Unite’s net pension liability increased from £52.1 million to £137.3 million.

The worsening in the Union’s net pension liability was the overriding reason why Unite’s net assets fell from £181 million at the end of 2008 - to £103.4 million at the end of 2009.

In order to continue to generate a surplus from contribution income, the Union has undertaken a restructuring not just in respect of the number of employees - but also locations, systems, methods of operation and procedures.

At its meeting in May 2009, the Executive Council also approved the first increase in member contributions in three years at a rate less than the increase in average earnings over the period.

While the EC recognised that the middle of a recession is not an ideal time to ask members to
pay more, it was felt that the rise was justified in light of the industrial advantages provided by Unite for members and the hike in the level of dispute benefit which will allow members to better fight the battles they face daily.

One of the principles that the Union has set itself is to "live within its means" and to continue to be in positive territory only taking into account members' contribution income and without reliance on other income is an achievement, especially in the face of the onslaught of recession. This is also the basis upon which the financial strategy of the Union going forward over the next three year period is based.

In plain English, Unite is saying that the union is going to cut staff - improve efficiency, eliminate waste and duplication - and essentially refuse to live beyond its means.

So when Unite says the union is 'restructuring' - this is really just code language for big spending cuts - which are needed to safeguard the union's future.

In other words Unite acting in much the same as the government when it comes to balancing the books and - as we all know - imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Outrageous Attack on Pensioners?

The coalition government has announced that tax relief on pensions is to be reduced - with the new annual tax free limit to be cut drastically from £250,000 a year to £50,000 a year

Well about time too.

Because the overly generous arrangements applied to only the most wealthy people in the land - and were hugely subsidised from the public purse to boot.

In fact this tax relief scam was another example - as with final salary pensions - of the many subsidising the few.

I am waiting to hear with baited breath if the Labour party and Ed Miliband - consider this to be an outrageous attack on pensioners.

Because that would be consistent with Labour's attack on removing child benefit from top rate tax payers - which it has described as an outrageous attack on children.

So much for the end of Punch and Judy politics.

Message for Miliband

An enterprising reader has written to the new leader of the Labour party - Ed Miliband - with some thoughts about equal pay. Here's what she had to say:

Dear Mr Miliband

Congratulations on your election as Leader of the Labour party.

I listened with interest to the announcement made at the Labour party conference regarding a living wage of £7.00 per hour.

I support any moves to tackle low pay, but thought I would point out that we have been waiting on the council employers in Scotland to deliver equal pay since 1999 - which they agreed to do in signing up to the 1999 Single Status Agreement.

If they had lived up to their promises all female council workers in Scotland would have been earning more than £7.00 an hour many years ago - and up until 1997 most of the larger councils were Labour controlled.

The fact is that every traditional male council job - Refuse Workers, Gardeners, Streetsweepers, Gravediggers - has been earning £9.00 or £10.00 an hour for many years - while female dominated jobs such as Home Carers, Cooks, Classroom Assistants, Clerical Workers and Cleaners - have all been losing out to the tune of thousands of pounds a year.

The council employers and the trade unions turned a blind eye to the problem - and to my mind they don't have the interest of low paid women workers at heart

Many women council workers in Scotland have outstanding equal pay claims which are awaiting settlement - I hope you will encourage Labour leaders in Scottish councils to settle these outstanding claims as quickly as possible - because up until now they have let their women workers down.

On another note I would also like to say - especially at this time when spending cuts have to be made - that as a council tax payer I am appalled at the hundreds of thousands of pounds Scottish councils are paying out on external legal fees defending the indefensible.

Of all the things that your party now get that the British public have been saying, I hope this has now been added to the list.

Kindest regards

SM"

Now that's what I call getting your point across.

Glasgow - Compromise Agreement Challenge

I reported earlier in the week that the Glasgow Compromise Agreement Challenge has now been referred to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) - see post dated 12 October 2010.

Here's the post from May 2010 which explains the background to the case - and highlights some of the comments of the employment judge.

So, the upshot is that there appear to be good grounds for an appeal to the EAT - and that process is now underway.

Readers will note the comment that the "agreement (with Glasgow City Council) had been discussed and agreed with the unions".

If so, then clearly no one thought it necessary - to ask ordinary union members for their views.


Glasgow - Compromise Agreement Challenge

The Employment Tribunal recently issued a written decision on the challenge to the Compromise Agreements used in Glasgow - the case of McWilliams and others v Glasgow City Council.

The news is disappointing because the employment judge found ultimately in favour of the council - and the claimants' case was not upheld.

The employment judge made some interesting comments on the case - here are a some extracts - that might be of interest to readers:

"Glasgow City Council will pay £1,000 plus VAT in respect of each adviser (to a maximum of 5) who attends and advises clients at 3 group advisory sessions (each approximately 2 hours duration) on the same day."

"Mr Bowers (for the council) submitted that advice is not an abstract concept. Here the agreement had been discussed and agreed with the unions."

"The claimants undeniably did not get the advice they wanted and had reasonably expected to get. However unfortunate and uncomfortable that maybe, it is not the question I have to address."

"Mr Mitchell (for the claimants) asks that I interpret that requirement (to give advice on the Compromise Agreement) to mean to give such advice as will allow the employee to make an informed decision. That is clearly desirable but with some reluctance I have concluded that that is not what section 77 requires."

"I say, with reluctance, as it seems to me that generally the point of getting legal advice is to get some guidance as to what course of action is in your best interests that this is what the claimants quite reasonably expected and they did not get it."

"I conclude that all that is required by section 77 is that the claimant is advised what the terms of the compromise agreement are and what they mean."

" If I am wrong in my conclusion that the presentation formed part of the advice, then I would have found that the individual sessions in isolation were not sufficient for the requirements of advice on the 'terms' of the compromise agreement and therefore the compromise agreements would not have fulfilled the requirements of section 77."

"Without the presentation, the individual meetings amounted to not much more than 'this is the amount on offer', 'you can take it or leave it, it's up to you but if you sign you won't be able to bring a claim.' That, I agree with Mr Mitchell is not advice on anything other than the effect of the agreement and that is not enough."

While the news is a big setback - Action 4 Equality Scotland will now consider if there are reasonable grounds to appeal the decision - to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Pay Protection for Life

The BMA (British Medical Association) is a trade union - well resourced and influential - given the make-up of its membership.

But a trade union all the same - just like all the rest.

The BBC has run a story about lifetime bonuses for NHS consultants - a practice that dates back to 1948 when the NHS was created.

The bonuses are worth a lot of money - nearly 20,000 consultants benefit from these payments apparently - which are worth up to £75,000 a year on top of a basic annual salary - of almost £90,000.

But what the BBC has uncovered is that these big bonuses cannot be taken away from doctors - incredibly they are protected for life.

In effect the bonuses - or to be precise the higher salaries incorporating the bonuses - are guaranteed until the doctor's employment comes to an end.

But they continue to reap the rewards - because the higher salary also makes a huge difference going forwards - by giving a huge boost to the employee's pension benefits.

Now this is not a good use of public money - and if the scheme disproportionately favours male doctors - then it is blatantly discriminatory into the bargain.

Predictably the BMA defends the scheme - instead of considering the bigger picture - and the impact on the rest of the workforce.

Lifetime pay protection is about using public money to benefit higher paid, male dominated jobs - how can that be fair, just or lawful?