Saturday, 29 January 2011
The deal cost the Scottish government (and taxpayers) over £800 million at the time - and this enormous figure became built into the base budget.
So if you want to know why the budget of Scottish councils doubled in the ten years to 1997 - and where this money went - part of the answer lies in the huge cost of things like the McCrone Agreement.
Now I'm all in favour of good conditions for council workers - including teachers.
But I don't agree that some workers - should be more equal than others - how can that be fair?
Some people have already called for Scottish teachers work longer hours - because at the moment they are required to teach for only 64% (22.5 hours) of their working week - the other 36% is reserved for lesson preparation.
And of course teachers are not required to be at work during the school holidays - which means they get more annual leave than anyone else - albeit at fixed periods during the year.
So a government review of the McCrone Agreement is both timely and sensible.
The pay and conditions of Scottish council workers should be set in a way that is fair to everyone - be they a part-time cleaner or the council's chief executive.
Giving preferential treatment to one group - teachers or anyone else - is simply ridiculous in this day and age.
Friday, 28 January 2011
The former cabinet secretary in Tony Blair's government - regrets there were not more open discussions amongst senior ministers.
He especially regrets the fact that members of the cabinet were not provided with the full text of the Attorney General's advice - on the legality of the invasion - which he ultimately backed.
Asked about the failure the failure to provide this information Sir Gus O'Donnell said:
"The ministerial code makes it clear that if there is a legal issue, the full text of the attorney general's opinion should be attached (to discussion papers)."
But a more important point is that if members of the cabinet wanted the full text of the Attorney General's advice - if they felt it to be of such crucial importance - why didn't they just demand to see the document.
After all these were all very senior and experienced Labour politicians - paid large sums of money from the public purse to do their jobs.
Surely it's reasonable to expect them to stand up and be counted - on occasion.
The truth is that if they wanted the information so badly - any one of them could simply have threatened to resign - and that would have put the cat amongst the pigeons.
Yet as it turns out - they all seemed to sit on their hands - and be wise after the event.
As time goes by the Iraq Inquiry seems like a terrible waste of time and money - with people queuing up to excuse their actions - with the great benefit of hindsight.
Apparently some Cordia workers have already written to their employer - making it clear that they are not agreeing to the changes that are being imposed.
But others are scared of the consequences - fearful that they might lose their jobs.
Now this is nonsense - of course.
Because Cordia and Glasgow City Council would be in big, big trouble - if they were foolish enough to punish people - just for standing up for their rights at work.
One way round the problem - if people really are are anxious - is to write to employer as a group - with people all saying the same thing - and signing the same letter.
As the saying goes - there's safety in numbers.
A recent visitor was Lord Levy - the main Labour party fundraiser while Tony Blair was leader - and very successful he was too by all accounts.
But the man who spent so much time trying to maximise Labour's donations now wants them capped for all parties.
Levy said said that even if donors genuinely wanted nothing in return for their gifts - political honours would always attract suspicion.
Lord Levy also suggested that all union members tick a box - which would determine which - if any - party gets their contribution.
What a great idea - because it is fair, democratic and allows freedom of choice.
How could anyone possibly object?
And any union member who doesn't want to have part of their dues handed over to a political party would save money - because they would pay less in union contributions
The Committee on Standards in Public Life will publishes its ideas on political funding this spring - then the fun will start.
Wednesday, 26 January 2011
If his comments at the weekend weren't bad enough - his fate was sealed with more embarrassing footage of the football pundit.
In which he made a fool of himself with a woman colleague - young to be his daughter.
Wasn't this all just innocent banter?
Didn't look that way to me certainly - not least because the 'blokes' involved were the only ones laughing - at their own ridiculous antics.
Remember as well that these 50 plus men were 'big cheeses' at Sky Sports - authority figures who would have been difficult to complain about - if you objected to their behaviour.
So they should have known better - they were at work for goodness sake - not at home or in the pub - and they had a responsibility to set a much better example.
Maybe they were stitched up by a disgruntled member of staff - who knows?
But maybe they were serial offenders - with lots more to come out in the wash - if push ever comes to shove.
Can anyone imagine the 'voice of rugby' - Scotland's Bill McLaren - speaking or acting in that way?
Of course not - and that's why, sadly - Andy Gray has got his just deserts.
His wife Gail made a defiant statement outside the court today - declaring that the real reason her husband has been sent to jail - is because of his fight against injustice and inequality.
Which is of course - complete nonsense.
Because he has gone to prison for telling lies in court - not least against fellow members of the Scottish Socialist Party.
Whom he accused of entering into the most unlikely conspiracy - with the News of the World and the Lothian & Borders Police Force.
The end result is that the Tommy Sheridan breakaway party from the Scottish Socialists - Solidarity - now resembles a religious cult like the Moonies - where blind faith has replaced logic, evidence and reason.
The 'Socialist' vote in Scotland has been dealt a grievous blow - by the antics of these self-appointed, messianic leaders.
Leaders who appear more concerned with their own giant egos - and appearing on Celebrity Big Brother - than they are with the day-to-day problems facing ordinary working people.
Tuesday, 25 January 2011
A jury at Southwark crown court found him guilty - of dishonestly claiming £11,277 in allowances.
The Tory peer resigned the whip after the allegations were made - but denied six charges of false accounting between 2006 and 2007.
Lord Taylor was released on unconditional bail - and will now be sentenced at a later date.
Taylor's downfall was that he made false claims - after registering a home in Oxford as his main address.
But his only home was in Ealing - in west London - he never lived or stayed at the Oxford address.
Taylor claimed that many other noble lords were guilty of dodgy practices over their expenses claims - which might well have been true - yet was ultimately no defence to his own dishonest actions.
It's a shame that people's lives are being ruined by their own greed and stupidity.
Sadly the truth is they knew what they were doing all along - and only have themselves to blame - for their sudden fall from grace.
Various preliminary matters need to be resolved before the Employment Tribunal can reconvene.
So if you were planning a visit later this week - then think again.
The next round of South Lanarkshire hearings is due to resume in March 2011 - and the details will be published nearer the time.
Yet someone like Andy Gray gets paid £1.7 million a year as a football pundit - but feels free all the same - to spout offensive nonsense about a young woman just doing her job as an assistant referee.
And doing it rather well at that.
Now Andy's £1.7 million works out at about £33,000 per week - which seems terribly overpaid if you ask me - compared to low paid care workers, catering workers and classroom assistants.
If he has any sense, he should apologise personally to the young woman involved.
And recant publicly and convincingly - his foolish comments from the other night - before events take a turn for the worse.
No doubt the judge will have something to say about the antics of the female juror - who posted wild comments about the trial on Facebook, the social networking site - which were widely reported in The Herald newspaper.
The female juror was not be named for legal reasons - but posted claims that the former MSP was innocent - and that fellow members of the jury were “scum bags” for convicting him.
In decidedly dodgy language she described her fellow jurors as “dirty low life b*******” for finding Sheridan guilty - before going on to say that she hoped they “choke in their f****** sleep, scum bags they are”.
The Herald went on to report that:
"On a public Facebook group linked to Sheridan, the female juror wrote: “Hi tommy i was one off youre jurers.”
She revealed how the jurors had voted and commented on whether Sheridan was guilty or not.
The post, which was written on January 4, then said: “Dont know if this letter gets too you personally but id be grateful if you can get back too me please.”
She continued: “Hubby is 1000% behind you and so am i dawl ok i really think strong for you dawl and youre going to appeal against these idiots.”
She finished by describing where she sat in court and said: “please please tommy get back to me or tell gail too do it let me know how you are ok pal take care.”
Now juries are supposed to be objective - to weigh the evidence before them carefully - to respect the privacy of the jury room - and set their personal views or prejudices to one side.
Wonder what happened here?
Monday, 24 January 2011
In any event these two Sky Sports broadcasters have been made to look completely ridiculous - because of their inane comments about women in football.
Both spoke in disparaging terms about a woman 'linesman' in a weekend fixture between Wolves and Liverpool - and were insulting about women in general and their ability to understand the laws of the game.
Before going on to insult Karren Brady - one of Alan Sugar's key advisers on the BBC's Apprentice programme and - ironically former chief executive of Birmingham City FC and current vice-chair of West Ham United!
Gray and Keys have since been forced to apologise for their remarks - and have been relieved of their duties for tonight's televised game between Bolton and Chelsea.
Good for Sky Sports - because these two gentlemen were at work when they made their stupid comments - and what they said deserves to be taken seriously.
When fellow commentator Ron Atkinson made an off-air racist remark a few years back - he was dropped like the proverbial hot potato - and the gaffe finished his TV career.
Sian Massey - the assistant referee and target of the sexist comments had the last laugh - because she got the biggest decision of the night absolutely right - which allowed Liverpool to score.
So the lesson is that casual prejudice has not gone away - it's alive and kicking in all walks of life - and in the most surprising places.
It's like discovering that some key figures in local councils - politicians, officials and trade union reps - don't really support equal pay, despite what they say publicly.
Which is why people need to stand up and challenge this kind of behaviour - wherever and whenever it raises its head.
Now no one is seriously suggesting that Gordon Brown and his allies created - the economic crisis the country faces today.
But he did allow the UK economy to overheat spectacularly - particularly in the housing market - and he did encourage an enormous credit boom - which was then followed by the mother of all busts.
So the charge that can be fairly levelled at Brown and Co. - is that they took their eye off the ball - and left the UK economy in a weaker state to weather the storm - than many of our key competitors.
And up until just before the general election - Gordon Brown's solution was to spend our way out of trouble - without the need to tackle the enormous public spending deficit built up under his premiership.
But the truth is Gordon Brown couldn't even convince his own chancellor - another Scot, Alistair Darling - to follow him down the path of the 'deficit deniers'.
Because Alistair Darling declared that cuts in public spending were vital and necessary - albeit on a slower and less ambitious scale - to the one now advocated by the coalition government.
In opposition Labour has come over all shy about what it would do - specifically - to reduce public spending while taking practical steps to encourage economic growth.
But that is exactly what the mainstream political parties are all committed to - to a greater or slightly lesser degree.
All now accept that public spending needs to be re-balanced, reduced or cut back - depending on your choice of language - yet there's a nervousness that maybe Ed Balls is not fully on board.
Time will tell whether the Labour leader's decision turns out to be a case - where two Eds really are better than one.
Nothing remotely to do with equal pay of course - just an everyday tale of a man (albeit not any old man) with a terrible, debilitating stammer - confronting then controlling his personal demons.
Now I'm no royalist or admirer of the monarchy - but the brilliance of The King's Speech is that ultimately it's very human tale - very sad and poignant at times - yet told with great humour and affection.
The two hours simply sailed by - with scarcely a special effect in sight - instead the film relies on a rattling good script and good old-fashioned acting - particularly from Colin Firth who plays the lead role of King George VI.
A nice touch is that Derek Jacobi - the eponymous stammering hero of the BBC's 'I, Claudius' many years ago - appears as the Archbishop of Canterbury, though without stumbling over his lines this time.
Geoffery Rush nearly steals the show in his role as the King's confidante and speech therapist - Lionel Logue - as does Helena Bonham Carter who plays the Queen Mum.
But the film belongs to Colin Firth for a virtuoso performance - of such enormous humanity and warmth.
The real King's speech - which gives the the film its name (and declares war on Germany) - is very short and direct by modern standards - in fact all substance and no spin.
But at the time few could have foreseen the horrors about to be unleashed - in the fight that followed against the Nazis - and their fascist allies.
Saturday, 22 January 2011
Originally, the workers were protesting about fewer staff being allocated to BA flights - but now it is about travel perks - so people are now planning more strikes in an effort to recover what was taken away - as a result of striking in the first place.
Predictably, Unite - the union representing the cabin crew - have welcomed the strike vote.
"For the fourth time in 13 months, BA cabin crew have voted overwhelmingly in support of their union and expressed their dissatisfaction with management behaviour," said Unite's leader Len McCluskey.
"Indeed, the turnout and the majority on this occasion are much greater than in the last ballot.Surely BA management must now wake up and listen to the voice of their skilled and dedicated employees", McCluskey went on.
But BA say that Unite does not have "majority support" for strike action.
"Of our 13,500 crew, only 43% voted in favour of strike action in this ballot," the airline said.
"Unite has lost about 2,500 cabin crew members since this dispute started, as crew have voted with their feet. Even with a smaller membership, the proportion of Unite members supporting disruption continues to fall, contrary to the union's claims.
"We urge Unite to return to the deal we negotiated, which guarantees pay rises for the next two years and secures terms and conditions for our existing crew that are the best in the UK industry."
So who's right?
Well the truth is that BA cabin crew seem to be turning their backs on their union - many people say that Unite has lost control of the dispute.
In the latest ballot Unite members voted by a big majority (5,751 to 1,579) of 78.5% - in favour of more industrial action - with 10,220 members eligible to vote - a turnout of 72%.
But BA is pointing out - quite sensibly - that the workforce is actually 13,500 strong - and that those in favour of striking represent less than half of the total cabin crew.
If you look at the results of previous ballots - Unite's predicament becomes all too clear.
In the first ballot (December 2009) more than 90% voted in favour of strike action - on an 80% turn-out of the 12,780 ballot papers issued.
In the second ballot (February 2010) just over 80% backed strike action - based on an 80% turn-out of the 11,691 ballot papers issued.
An internal non-binding 'consultative' ballot (May 2010) claimed turnout of 71% - with 'around 81 per cent' voting to reject a peace deal.
Another consultative ballot (July 2010) resulted in a much poorer turnout - with only about half of the potential 11,000 valid cabin crew taking part - voting 3,419 to 1,686 to reject a peace deal.
Now the number of ballot papers being issued is now down to 10,220 - so it's clear that the workforce is voting with its feet - by leaving the union or deciding not to join in the first place.
And if the strikes continue - this trend will only get worse.
As Labour's Denis Healey was fond of saying - 'when you're in a hole, stop digging'.
Unite's leaders would do well to follow that advice - and negotiate an end to the dispute - because more strikes can only weaken the union's position.
A lot of people are involved - Cordia employs over 10,000 workers and admits that the changes to terms and conditions affect around 20% of the workforce.
So around 2,000 low paid workers have seen their pay and conditions cut - with barely a murmur from the trade unions.
The picture is still not clear - the unions may not be making much of a noise - but have they actually endorsed the changes?
Time will tell.
In the meantime, the workers affected should tell Cordia - preferably by letter of e-mail - that they don't accept the changes to their pay and conditions.
Because they have been introduced unilaterally - and without agreement.
Something along the following lines should suffice:
I would like to confirm that I do not accept the changes to my pay and conditions because these changes have been introduced unilaterally - without my agreement - and as far as I know without the agreement of the recognised trade unions.
I reserve my right to challenge these changes - if necessary by taking legal action to protect my interests.
It is likely that Cordia's actions affect low paid women workers disproportionately - in which case there may be a complaint of sex discrmination as well.
If you do write to Cordia - keep a copy of your letter or e-mail - and any response you receive.
Friday, 21 January 2011
But whatever your politics it's hard not to feel sorry for Alan Johnson - who has decided to resign his position as Labour's Shadow Chancellor - for personal reasons.
Alan Johnson is an avuncular, likeable kind of guy - too self-effacing and nice for his own good probably - but in a former life he was a general secretary for the Post Office workers union.
A committed trade unionist all his life - yet fair minded and decent - a Labour loyalist to be true - but not a boring ideologue or completely blinkered and partisan in his views.
A decent human being in other words - so let's hope he finds some peace - and is allowed to sort out the problems in his personal life - away from the glare of the media.
Unite - the union that represents cabin crew staff - is due to announce the result of yet another strike ballot today - and here are a couple of extracts of what the BA pilot had to say:
"If the ballot result is against further strikes, we should see a calm acceptance from the airline, with a magnanimous offer to implement their last or most generous position during the dispute accompanied by an offer to start work on improving relations with Unite. This would signal that their priority now was to return to high service standards and a normalised relationship with their employees.
If the vote is in favour, but without a real majority of the membership in a small turnout, it is Unite's response which will be more instructive. Would it argue that a mandate had been provided by that minority of loyal or foolhardy members, despite the majority being too apathetic or disillusioned to vote? If so, the union would be driving its members further down the current blind alley."
Strike action is a very blunt instrument - as any sensible trade unionist knows - and has produced diminishing returns in this damaging dispute - which has dragged on for far too long.
So let's hope there's an outbreak of common sense - because more strikes will make things worse not better.
'The Nurture Room' - a two hour documentary by Matt Pinder - told the story of three young children with special education needs - whose lives get turned around by staff at three Glasgow Primary Schools.
The hard work and dedication of the teaching and teaching support staff - made me proud to be a Glaswegian - because it showed the very best of the people who live and work in this big sprawling city.
The idea of The Nurture Room - no doubt controversial with some people - is to avoid the easy option of excluding children from mainstream classes - because of their behaviour.
But to give them intensive support in smaller groups - The Nurture Room - where they can develop the confidence and skills they lack.
The results were truly remarkable - and the people behind the project deserve every bit of praise they get - though I imagine they're not looking for praise or rewards - because it's why they do such jobs in the first place.
Thinking differently and doing things differently - can improve public services enormously - and that's what these three Glasgow schools seem to have achieved - though I'm sure it's not a magic cure for every problem.
I imagine that these schools have not seen their budgets doubling over the past ten years - and it reinforces the point about the importance of being able to see - how public money is spent year on year.
Who gets what and why?
Because I'd far rather see public funds going towards caring and education services that make a real difference - than paying for inflated salary and pension packages for senior council officials.
Thursday, 20 January 2011
Tuesday 25 January 2011
Wednesday 26 January 2011
Thursday 27 January 2011
Friday 28 January 2011
Monday 31 January 2011
The hearings are open to individual claimants and members of the public - and are normally held between 10.00 and and 4.00pm - at the Glasgow Employment Tribunal.
The Glasgow Employment Tribunal is at 215 Bothwell Street Glasgow, G2 7TS - a short ten minute walk from Central Station.
If you do go along, make a point of introducing yourself to Carol Fox - who will be there with the Fox Cross solicitors legal team.
One of the key issues at stake is the government's proposal to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600 - and to equalise the size of MP constituencies.
Sounds fair enough.
Because the demand for MPs' constituencies to be of equal size has been around for many a year - and at last a government is doing something to put everyone on the same footing.
But more to the point - cutting the number of MPs by 50 is a modest reform - which will save the public purse a tidy sum - especially at a time when public finances are so badly stretched.
So why is the Labour party in the House of Lords fighting against such a sensible measure - surely it makes sense to reduce the number of MPs in this world of modern communications.
How can 650 MPs be needed to do the job - when so many of them find additional paid work in addition to their day jobs?
The 650 figure was set decades ago and is no longer fit for purpose - and after the scandal of MPs' expenses the House of Commons should be setting an example and cleaning up its act.
In fact so should the House of Lords - maybe they're afraid that the spotlight will fall on their noble lordships next - which would be a cause for great celebration.
The latest example is Sir Paul Beresford - a high profile Tory MP this time - who works three days a week as a dentist would you believe - whilst being paid a public salary of £64,766 a year to represent the good citizens of Mole Valley in Surrey.
Here's an extract of what The Telegraph had to say about the antics of this particular MP:
"Sir Paul Beresford, a Conservative MP who works up to three days a week as a dentist, designated his west London property, which includes his surgery, as his second home on his parliamentary allowances.
Sir Paul, who was named last year as the 34th most “influential” dentist in the country, worked out a deal with the House of Commons fees office whereby he put three quarters of the running costs of the property on the taxpayer.
The MP for Mole Valley in Surrey, who served as an environment minister under John Major for three years while retaining his successful dental practice, insisted that the arrangement was cheaper for the taxpayer.
But the understanding with the fees office is certain to raise further questions about the lax policing of MPs’ expenses, after it emerged that officials did not visit the surgery to assess Sir Paul’s designation of his property, or ask to see floor plans.
Before his election to Parliament in 1992, the property — two floors of a Georgian town house above a hairdressing salon in Putney, south-west London — was registered with the local council as 50 per cent residential and 50 per cent business.
He had set up two surgeries within the flat, which were served by three dentists.
On becoming an MP, Sir Paul said the fees office suggested that he purchase a second home but he decided instead to reduce his practice and go part-time.
As the council and some utility companies charged him separate business rates, he said he decided that “roughly” three-quarters of the costs of the flat were related to his parliamentary duties and so should be borne by the taxpayer.
This included mortgage interest payments of £350 a month, ground rent and other bills.
Sir Paul said that, at this stage, he had only one surgery and no associates, and that the patient waiting room doubled as his private lounge in the evenings. However, it appeared that his assessment was not independently scrutinised by officials.
The MP decided to increase his practice in 2007 and took on a larger share of the running costs, putting 50 per cent on the taxpayer.
Last year, he began to convert the surgery back to its original state, and stopped claiming second home allowances altogether. He said he would not claim again in future. The Putney practice bears a gold plaque reading: “Sir Paul Beresford, Derrick Donald and associates dental surgery.”
Now Sir Paul Beresford is not the only backbench MP to have other paid interests outside of his day job - there are many others whose activities don't bear much scrutiny - both now and in the past.
The important point to be made is that being an MP is supposed to be a full-time job - otherwise it would not receive a full-time salary.
So it seems perfecly reasonable that MPs should be prevented from taking on additional paid work - what do you think MPs would say if a senior civil servant said he was taking up a part-time and demanding job as dentist?
Cordia is an arms length body set up by Glasgow City Council - to deliver much of the council's front-line social care and education services.
Cordia - via Glasgow City Council - employs over 10,000 people covering a wide range of services including: Home Carers, Catering Workers, Cleaners and Janitors.
As part of Glasgow's drive to reduce spending - Cordia has been discussing a package of possible 'cuts' with the trade unions which include:
1 a self-financing pay rise of 0.65%
2 the removal of premium rates for overtime working - beyond 37 hours per week
3 the removal of premium rates for bank holiday working.
What readers are asking is: "Can Glasgow City Council and Cordia get away with this?"
Well the answer is - No - they can't introduce new pay arrangements unilaterally - the employer has to seek agreement from the trade unions and/or the agreement of individual employees.
If the employer introduces these changes without such agreement - then their actions are open to challenge.
The fly in the ointment - as so often - is that trade unions have the power to vary people's contracts of employment - through collective bargaining with employers.
Although trade unions have a duty to properly consult their members - before agreeing to any significant changes - which on occasion they conveniently ignore.
So, the big question is - What have the trade unions done? - the employers says that the unions have been consulted - but what have they said officially on behalf of their members?
Have the unions - probably GMB and Unison - said that they flatly reject the plans to cut the pay and conditions of already low paid workers?
If anyone knows the answer - then get in touch with Mark irvine at: firstname.lastname@example.org
It's possible that these proposals affect women workers more than men and - if so - that could also leave them open to challenge.
The First Minister's comments come on the back of similar plans announced by the Westminster government for England and Wales - also designed to tackle the cheap booze culture.
Admittedly the Westminster scheme is less ambitious than the one put forward originally by the Scottish government - but it is a start, a recognition of the scale of the problem - and the need to tackle it with deeds and not just words.
So the First Minister is asking - metaphorically speaking of course - how come the 'faintheart' parties at Holyrood turn into such 'bravehearts' at Westminster?
Seems like a very reasonable question to me.
Wednesday, 19 January 2011
Local politicians traded insults about who should take the blame - Holyrood v Westminster - the last Labour government or the new coalition government.
The trade unions got involved as well - with their usual one-sided pro-Labour stance - while issuing the same old dire warnings about possible strike action.
So far, so predictable - but the real question people should be asking is: "Where has all the money gone?"
Because in the decade from 1997 to 2007 - council budgets, including Glasgow's, actually doubled in size - as did the budget of the Holyrood Parliament.
So where have all these extra funds gone - and what have they achieved?
I can't say myself that I've seen any major improvements in the more visible public services - like refuse collection or roads maintenance - for example.
The talk in Glasgow is about cutting back on the pay and conditions of of front-line workers - but why should that be necessary and how can it be fair?
Especially as no one understands the big picture - about how all this extra money has been used over the past ten years - certainly not on equal pay that's for sure.
The answer to the council spending squeeze is not to attack the pay and conditions of already low paid workers - but to examine what spending and services are really necessary.
For example, which areas of council spending have seen the biggest increases over the last ten years?
Another good question would be: "How much money has gone on generous pension packages for already well paid council officials?"
So let's hope the press and media start to ask Glasgow - and other councils - some more serious, probing questions.
The council is reluctant to explain its reasons for offering such generous and unusual retirement terms to a former senior official - even though it seems a perfectly reasonable question for a member of the public to ask.
Particularly when equivalent retirement packages are not made available to much lower paid council workers - carers, classroom assistants and catering workers - for example.
As usual, the unions have little to say on such matters - despite their spending power and political links to many of the Labour-led councils in Scotland.
Now why would that be?
Scottish Information Commissioner
Dear Mr Dunion
South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) – FOISA request
I enclose an exchange of correspondence with South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) regarding a FOISA enquiry which I initiated on 11 November 2010. I asked South Lanarkshire Council to review its initial decision, but I am dissatisfied with their response and would like to register the following appeal with the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC).
1. In August 2010 I submitted a FOISA request to South Lanarkshire Council part of which was subsequently appealed to the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC).
2. Having discussed the case with the SIC Investigating Officer I agreed to withdraw the appeal on the basis that the original FOISA request was unlikely to succeed, as the points in dispute were not stated in sufficiently clear or precise terms.
3. I then submitted a further and separate FOISA request on 11 November 2010 (Annex 1) and specifically asked South Lanarkshire to provide the information which would explain the Council’s decision to allow a senior official to retire early with the use of significant public funds to boost his pension benefits.
4. South Lanarkshire Council refused my initial request (Annex 2) and I asked for a review of that decision on 25 November 2010 Annex 3).
5. In their response to my review request (Annex 4) South Lanarkshire Council finally released the Executive Committee Report (Annex 5), but continued to refuse my request for the information which explains the basis of the council’s decision to grant early retirement on such generous and unusual terms.
6. South Lanarkshire’s position is that the request is a repeated request and/or that they do not actually possess the information that I have requested.
I dispute the council’s answer for two reasons:
a) South Lanarkshire Council has a fiduciary duty to act with absolute propriety in such sensitive matters and is required to keep proper written records of its decisions – not least because of the significant sums of public money involved.
b) I have been in separate correspondence with the Council’s Chief Executive, Archie Strang, on this matter (Annex 6). I enclose an exchange of e-mails with the CEO which confirms that the information requested does indeed exist – but within a general body of circulars that regulate the Local Government Pension Scheme. The problem is that South Lanarkshire Council refuses to explain which of these circulars have been used to justify such generous treatment towards one of its own senior officials.
In my view, South Lanarkshire Council must be able to explain which of these regulations influenced the decision making process and were used to determine the final outcome.
Because it looks decidedly odd to reward a senior council official with a greatly enhanced pension package simply because his fixed term contract came to an end – and then to incur the additional expense of immediately replacing such a highly paid post.
In my view, South Lanarkshire Council has no valid reason for refusing my FOISA request – hence my appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner.
I look forward to hearing from you in due course and if you require any further details at this stage, please let me know.
George was predictably rude about the present intake of MSPs at his press conference - calling them 'Stumblebums' amongst other things - with his typically lurid language and fondness for purple prose.
Now I'm all for a bit more colour in the Scottish Parliament - and presumably GG and his Respect party think are up to the task - as do the Scottish Socialists, Solidarity, etc etc.
But electing a candidate from the Monster Raving Loony Party - would also inject some extra spice into parliamentary proceedings - though to what purpose is another thing.
George's greatest claim to fame comes down to his crazy pussycat antics with Rula Lenska on Celebrity Big Brother - which completely ruined his credibility in many people's eyes.
So what it comes down to - as I said in my previous post dated 2 December 2010 (Fishes and Bicycles) is that while George might need Holyrood - but Holyrood doesn't need George.
Monday, 17 January 2011
So, for all the readers who have been in touch over the past week - it will take a day or two to deal with the backlog of queries.
Meantime, if you're ever thinking of taking a short break to Seville in Southern Spain - it's definitely worth the trip.
The fourth largest city in Spain has a lovely climate - lots of interesting buildings and architecture - and more cafes and bars than you could ever visit - even if you stayed for a whole year.
The best way of getting around is to stroll along the maze of narrow streets - particularly in the old town - but there is also a very impressive network of cycle routes - conveniently and safely located on the pavements.
Something else you can't help but notice is that the city is completely covered with orange trees - with the fruit just left to fall to the ground - which seems like a terrible waste, but there you are.
Monday, 10 January 2011
Certainly Bob Crow - leader of the RMT union - doesn't hold back with his comments.
Here's a recent example of Bob's hyperbole:
“If David Cameron thinks he can batter working people into the dirt through his undiluted brand of fiscal fascism, then he’s got another think coming.”
Now I'm all in favour of freedom of speech - but it seems to me that Bob has lost the plot - taken leave of his senses even.
Because to describe government policy as 'facist' is an insult to the brave men and women - who fought against facism during the Second World War - at such a terrible cost.
Last night's football clash between Manchester United and Liverpool brought together two giants of Scottish football - Alex Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish.
But the game was marred by the deliberate cheating of United's Dimitar Berbatov - who conned the World Cup Final referee (Howard Webb) into giving a ridiculous penalty.
Now there was some contact between Berbatov and the Liverpool defender.
But football is a contact sport - and the contact involved was of the slightest kind - the United striker was not even knocked off his stride.
Yet he went down as if he'd been shot by a sniper - in preference to staying on his feet and playing the ball - which he was perfectly able to do.
A live action replay would have allowed the referee to make the correct decision in a matter of seconds - no penalty and a booking for Berbatov - for diving.
Sunday, 9 January 2011
But maybe Mr McCann was just too busy to comment on these revelations before the Hamilton Advertiser went to press - let's hope he speaks out and explains his position sometime soon.
"MP McCann in council payments row"
"MICHAEL McCann has pocketed allowances of over £5500 from South Lanarkshire Council since his election as an MP on May 6.
The former South Lanarkshire councillor and MP for Strathaven and Lesmahagow is entitled to an MP’s salary of £65,738 plus expenses linked to his Parliamentary work.
However, he received payments from the council for five months following his election to Westminster in May.
He claimed from the council remuneration for “about 85 hours of work” a month for May, June, July, August, and September.
Following his election as MP, 47-year-old Mr McCann cancelled his council surgeries and was replaced on committees.
In May, he stepped down as deputy council leader and in September he resigned as councillor for the town’s EK West ward.
Details of Mr McCann’s remuneration from the council were published last week on the House of Commons Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
The website reveals that between May and October last year, Mr McCann received six payments for council work. They were as follows:
l £1890.12 net in May.
l £1119.28 net in June.
l £1235.34 net in July.
l £622.67 net in August.
l £647. 17 net in September.
A final payment from the council of £20.88 was registered by Mr McCann in October.
During these months, Mr McCann was spending much of his time in London.
His Parliamentary expenses for the period May to August, published last month by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), totalled £8352.25 for travel to and from the capital and accommodation.
After his election, Mr McCann appointed his wife Tracy to run his constituency office.
According to IPSA, the salary range for her post is between £26,000 and £37,000.
Mr McCann’s entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests also detail donations to East Kilbride Constituency Labour Party.
There were payments of £3300 from Bellshill-based Strathclyde Truck and Plant Ltd, and £2500 from the union GMB Scotland.
Mr McCann also made donations totalling £350 to a local charities.
These are believed to be payments for taking part in surveys.
Before we went to press on Wednesday, Mr McCann had failed to respond to a request for a comment."
In common with other MPs who leave the House of Commons - Chaytor is entitled to a 'golden goodbye' payment - to help him 're-adjust' back into public life.
Quite why Chaytor needs an extra public handout worth £54,000 - when he is able to draw on his MP's pension - will be a mystery to most people.
Another mystery is why Chaytor was allowed legal aid - which cost the public £21,000 to argue his non existent 'case for the defence'.
Especially when David Chaytor owns a portfolio of no less than five private properties - which Parliament's generous housing allowances no doubt helped to build up - again at public expense.
Let's hope the authorities wake up and recover these costs - otherwise people will be entitled to draw the conclusion - that crime really does pay.
Saturday, 8 January 2011
But in the case of former Labour MP, David Chaytor - a jail sentence is most definitely deserved - because his theft of public money was deliberate and carefully planned.
In fact, you could argue that he got off rather lightly.
For someone who denied any wrongdoing until very late in the day - and who ultimately had no defence against the charges he faced.
MPs are not above the law - as David Chaytor now knows to his cost.
But the truth is that Chaytor would never had been caught - were it not for the Daily Telegraph newspaper - and the the Freedom of Information campaigners who helped expose the terrible scandal over MPs' expenses.
Friday, 7 January 2011
Over the last nine years - even after allowing for inflation - the average consultant is £28,000 better off than they were in 2000 - with an annual salary of £120,900.
And that figure doesn't take into account other generous payments consultants receive - such as merit awards - which can boost their earnings by tens of thousands of pounds a year.
So the question is this:
"Why should a low paid hospital cleaner (on £10,000 a year) contribute to the cost of an NHS consultant's medical degree - when the medical profession ends up being so generously rewarded?"
Because that's what's happening just now - low paid workers who never go near a university are subsidising those that do - and who end up in these highly paid jobs.
Now NHS consultants are entitled to be well paid for what they do - clearly there's lots of training, skill and dedication involved - before they reap the financial rewards of a six figure salary.
But what's unfair is that they should expect other workers - much lower paid workers - to help subsidise their chosen career path - particularly as it's so well paid.
Labour started to tackle this unfairness when in government - by first introducing and subsequently raising tuition fees to more realistic levels - as part of its policy of encouraging wider access.
The logic being that those who actually benefit from a state subsidised higher education - should pay much more of the actual cost involved.
Quite why that has become such a bad idea just because Labour lost the election - is beyond me. Ed Miliband needs to get his priorities right.
Because when all is said and done - a lowly paid NHS cleaner should not be asked to subsidise the next generation of highly paid NHS consultants.
Another 'story' which broke over the festive period is that the new Labour leader - Ed Miliband - apparently plans to sever his party's 'big money' ties with the trade unions.
Now call me cynical if you want.
But if someone is serious about such an important and long overdue reform - do they really leak it on an unattributed basis - while everyone's getting stuck in to their turkey and mince pies?
I think not.
Yet Miliband junior - or at least his friends says he will distance Labour from its union paymasters by diluting the party's financial dependence on them - and reducing their role in electing the party leader.
Well let's see what happens.
Ed Miliband also wants to change the way the Labour party chooses its leader - by making things more not less complicated - would you believe.
Instead of just going for One Member One Vote - Miliband apparently plans to give 25 per cent of the votes to non-party members who register as Labour supporters.
So the great reform would be an electoral college with four instead of three sections:
1 Individual party members
2 MPs and MSPs
3 Trade Unions
4 Registered party supporters
Each of the four sections would have a quarter of the votes - instead of a third as at present.
At this rate - the labour party should just have a 'raffle' or 'tombola' to decide who should be leader - because that would make just as much sense and be just as fair - given different weights of different votes.
But a raffle or tombola would have the great advantage of raising party funds - instead of costing the party money.
The latest example being trumpeted is in relation to Scotland's current eight police forces - which are reportedly to become a single, unified national police force.
More complex maybe - but consider the fact that a unified Metrpolitan Police Force in London covers 32 London boroughs - and serves over 11 million citizens of the UK's capital city - plus oodles of tourists and visitors.
So the argument goers that a leaner Scotland wide police force would free up all the time, energy and resources that are wasted - by having parallel management and other structures in place - in eight different parts of Scotland.
Another example - a favourite of mine - is the lovely county of Ayrshire - birthplace of Rabbie Burns and home to no less that 3 Scottish councils: North, South and East Ayrshire.
Take one part of these 3 councils - let's say education - so we have 3 directors of education (all on handsome salaries and big pensions) plus all their deputies, assistants and other staff.
When - in fact - all that's needed is just one - even then all three councils combined would be barely half the size of Glasgow.
So why has it taken all these years for politicians - both local and national - to wake up to the fact that all this unnecessary bureaucracy - has been wasting money for years?
Thursday, 6 January 2011
So should the managers of the Scottish Ambulance Service and trade unions - who negotiated an agreement that effectively puts people's lives at risk.
Because the Tomintoul ambulance person insisted on having his break - another crew from Granton on Spey was dispatched - which took 21 minutes to reach a 33 year woman - who was dying from a suspected heart attack.
Apparently, a management/union agreement states that ambulance crews are entitled - absolutely - to an undisturbed 30 minute break.
But staff can choose to opt out of the arrangement - in return for an annual payment of £250 plus a payment of around £5 - for every time they have to respond to an emergency - during one of their scheduled breaks.
Now this seems completely crazy to me - what has money got to do with an emergency response?
How can life and death situations be left for different individuals - sometimes working in pairs - to decide for themselves - whether or not to respond to an emergency call?
The ambulance worker involved will apparently be required to undergo further training before returning to his post - but in truth he should be reflecting on whether he's in the right line of work.
Meantime the Scottish Ambulance Service should scrap any absolute entitlement to an undisturbed 30 minute break - with union support - because it would end the currently lottery of what amounts to a 'two tier' emergency service.
When I was at school I used to find it hard to get my head around what the saying actually meant - but here's a perfect illustration.
A man who jumped from a 9th floor window in New York - survived the fall after landing in one of the large heaps of rubbish - lying uncollected on the pavements.
No, not because of strike action by the NYC bin men - but because of the blizzards which hit the Big Apple right after Xmas.
The unfortunate jumper - Vangelis Kapatos - has now been released from a psychiatric hospital after making a full recovery.
His aunt - Katarina Capatos - said:
"Everyone's complaining that the trash hasn't been picked up - but me, I'm just thankful it wasn't".
Needless to say the unions are making a big song and dance - pulling out all the stops.
The planned industrial action has support from the very top - national publicity and resources - and all because the interests of their male union members are threatened.
But contrast the unions' behaviour in Birmingham - with their track record over the past decade.
For 10 years and more the unions they failed to strike a blow in anger over equal pay - for the most part they just looked the other way - with not a single national protest or strike in sight.
As many people inside the trade unions know - for years women members were kept in the dark - as they were routinely paid only £6.00 an hour or so for their labours.
While their male colleagues - doing less skilled and responsible jobs - were getting £9.00 and £10.00 an hour.
So whatever the dispute in Birmingham is about - it's not about fairness and equal pay.
Tuesday, 4 January 2011
Yesterday Royal Mail apologised after it emerged that customers in Scotland made 84,169 complaints - over lost, mis-delivered and damaged mail - between January 2009 and January 2010.
In more than half the complaints (42,731) - the Royal Mail ended up paying compensation to more than 30,000 individual people.
Now I was one of those 30,000 people - and let me tell you, from my own personal experience - the Royal Mail complaints service absolutely stinks.
I asked what happened to the gifts I had bought and chosen so carefully - before wrapping them up and sending them abroad - as a special birthday present for my daughter.
What explanation did I get?
None - the Royal Mail was not remotely interested - and told me that they didn't even bother to investigate or report back on individual complaints.
Sure I got my money back - eventually, months later - but everything else involved was completely ruined: the planning, the shopping, the excitement and the anticipation of a parcel finally arriving in some far off land.
But according to the Royal Mail - the parcel post never made it out of Glasgow.
The Royal Mail - an efficient, modern, customer focused public service?
Don't make me laugh.
The payments are desinged to help politicians return to life outside of Holyrood - and mean that the maximum payment of a year's salary (£57,520) is made after 12 years - rather than 15 years service.
Also the minmum payment of £28,760 is now due to be paid after 6 years - rather than 10 years service.
At first glance, the notion that MSPs should be entitled to a 'resettlement grant' - sounds quite reasonable - because it's meant to help them adjust to a new life - following a period of public service.
But what if the MSP is stepping down because they are retiring altogether - why do they need another £57,520 from the public purse - if they are also entitled to their MSP pension?
What if they're stepping down voluntarily to pursue some other career - why do they need a big cash handout from the taxpayer?
In the real world - if workers take advantage of a generous voluntary severance package - the cost is covered by making savings elsewhere - so there is an overall benefit to the organisation picking up the bill.
Yet all these departing MSPs will have to be replaced - so where's the saving to the public purse?
The Scottish Parliament would do well to re-visit and re-think these proposals.
Because the case for such across the board increases looks to be deeply flawed - and in the present economic climate - they simply cannot be justified.
Mine was undoubtedly 'Alexander' - a film from Holywood top gun director Oliver Stone which told the epic tale of one of history's most intriguing warrior kings - Alexander the Great.
But far from telling a great tale - this was laughable nonsense from start to finish - full of poster boys saying portentous things - most of them in Irish accents for some peculiar reason.
It felt as if the cast from Father Ted had managed to elbow their way on to the set - and taken over proceedings somehow - minus the six packs and scantily clad women, of course.
No wonder this little gem has passed me by up until now - must have gone straight to DVD from its cinema release - and ever since has been mugging unsuspecting souls on TV freeview channels.
Yet I only have myself to blame - so I am even more determined that ever to live up to my New Year resolution for 2011 - which is to read more books.
Monday, 3 January 2011
The author clearly believes that trade union hierarchies do not accurately reflect or represent the views of ordinary members - because of their obvious bias towards the Labour party.
Speaking as someone who does not carry a torch for any political party - I think it's fair to say that Mr Falconer from Galashiels - makes a valid point.
Trade unions should transcend party politics - but in reality the new 'super unions' reflect the tired old politics of the union establishment - not the politics of ordinary grassroots members.
"Right unions are all wrong"
"It should have been a bizarre experience reading Dave Watson of Unison’s opinion piece in the Sunday Herald’s Business Comment arguing in favour of the Tory council tax and against its replacement by a local income tax – a form of taxation universally regarded as the fairest and most progressive method of raising Government finance.
There was a time when I believed that unions stood for the interests of their members and workers generally. Now we see organisations like Unison funding and openly campaigning for a party which enthusiastically supports not only Tory taxes, but also obscenely expensive nuclear weapons, privatisation of public services, and the disastrous PFI/PPP finance initiative, the payments for which are costing public bodies in this country many millions of pounds each year. How many public services and public sector jobs could this have funded?
It should have been bizarre, but it was not. We have grown used to the “super-unions”, such as Unite and Unison, using the resources of their members to campaign against and undermine the current SNP government – which in health, housing, education, environmental policy and public finance is certainly the most progressive Government we have had here since 1945, and in its anti-nuclear defence policy much more so.
Are Watson’s members happy with this use of their money to shift Scottish governance to the right? I cannot believe that, after a moment or two’s reflection, they can be. If I am wrong then the world truly has turned upside down.
How come people are entitled to know what salary is paid to South Lanarkshire Council's chief executive?
Yet people are not entitled to know - according to the council anyway - what a gardener or refuse worker in South Lanarkshire gets paid?
For those who don't already know - South Lanarkshire Council pays its chief executive £146,502 a year.
The chief executive's salary details are published regularly in the Scottish press - and are freely available - as any right minded person would expect.
But incredibly South Lanarkshire refuses to explain what traditional male jobs are paid - in an age of freedom of information.
South Lanarkshire's pay arrangements do not operate in an open and transparent way - as they should - and that issue will be put to the test as 2011 gets into full swing.
Dates - 17, 19, 20 and 21 January 2011
Time - 10 am onwards
Venue - Glasgow Employment Tribunal, Eagle Building, 215 Bothwell St, Glasgow G2 7TS
The Glasgow Employment Tribunal is a short ten minute walk from Central Station - and individual claimants from South Lanarkshire Council are entitled to attend.
If any readers do go along - make yourself known to one of the legal team from Fox Cross Solicitors.
Sunday, 2 January 2011
This year promises to be yet another big year in the ongoing fight for equal pay - with lots of important cases coming down the track including:
- The challenge to Glasgow's Workforce Pay and Benefits Review (WPBR)
- The Equal Value claims still outstanding in many councils - on behalf of former APT&C workers
- The former Manual Worker claims still to be settled by some councils - including Midlothian, West Lothian, Argyll& Bute, Highland and Clackmannanshire Councils
- The Male Worker claims in Edinburgh City Council - dates for a GMF hearing have now been set
- The appeal over the Compromise Agreements used by Glasgow City Council in 2005
- The ongoing fight for transparency, openness and equal pay in South Lanarkshire Council - with more hearings due in January 2011
Watch this space for further news.