Saturday, 26 February 2011

Council Wars

Here's an article from today's Herald - which highlights some rather strange goings on at Inverclyde Council.

Four council officials have apparently been suspended over some madcap scheme that saved Inverclyde Council £250,000 - but cost over £500,000 on external consultancy fees.

Any sensible person will be asking why these officials are not resigning their highly paid positions - instead of being suspended - presumably on full pay.

But in the sometimes crazy world that our local councils live in - they's probably be allowed to retire early - with a healthy boost to their pensions.

"Troubled council elects new leader"
by Gerry Braiden

26 Feb 2011

"INVERCLYDE Council, which has been beset by upheaval and rancour in recent months, has elected a new leader after the previous holder of the post stood down for family reasons.

Iain McKenzie, who was the deputy leader, replaces Stephen McCabe as head of the Labour-led administration.

The move follows a change at the helm of the largest opposition party, the SNP, with Innes Nelson taking the reins there last week and comes a month after four senior officials were suspended from the west of Scotland authority.

Mr McKenzie said: “I feel honoured and privileged to have been elected leader of Inverclyde Council and I am ready to work as hard as I can to continue the transformation of the area, and to build on the many efforts to improve the lives of our communities.”

Mr McCabe said: “I would like to wish Councillor McKenzie the very best in his new and demanding role. I know he will do a very good job.”

Mr McCabe, 46, who has four children under the age of 16 and is a senior official at a housing association, will continue as group whip, having given up the leadership citing family and his career outside politics.

Four senior officials were suspended after a scheme designed to save the authority several million pounds delivered £250,000 despite more than twice that being spent on consultants."

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Celebrity Justice

The celebrity lawyers representing the WikiLeaks founder - Julian Assange - have lost the latest round of their court battle to prevent his extradition to Sweden - to face two complaints of sexual assault.

But in doing so they have launched an extraordinary attack on European arrest warrants - used to extradite suspected criminals - claiming that the warrants represent 'tick box' justice, whatever that means.

Now unless I've got this wrong the UK criminal justice authorities announced - earlier this week - that they've just issued warrants for the arrest of 10 suspected British criminals - including alleged murderers and rapists.

Who all fled to the Costa del Crime in Spain - in an effort to avoid facing justice in the UK.

So what's the big deal?

What's sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander - Mr Assange should face the music and get on the next plane to Stockholm - his endless consipracy theories are becoming boring.

BBC Scotland

BBC Scotland ran a major story last night on the links between the former deputy leader of South Lanarkshire Council - Michael McCann, now Labour MP for East Kilbride - and a wealthy property developer, James Kean

The background to the story is explained in the following article from the BBC's web site.

"Labour MP's friendship prompts council planning concern"

By Mark Daly - BBC Scotland Investigations Correspondent

Councillor faces developer claims


"There has been a demand for a criminal investigation into the planning process of one of Scotland's biggest councils after a BBC investigation revealed relationships between a millionaire developer and senior politicians.

The investigation reveals allegations that Michael McCann, the new Labour MP for East Kilbride, Strathhaven and Lesmahagow, has had an undeclared relationship with local property tycoon and Labour donor James Kean.

Mr McCann did not declare a relationship whilst he was a councillor, serving on the planning and estates committees in South Lanarkshire.

During Mr McCann's tenure numerous applications related to Mr Kean came before committee.

The BBC also learned that as an MP, Mr McCann vigorously intervened in a supermarket planning dispute, from which Mr Kean could end up making millions of pounds.

The MP wrote a letter detailing some 33 questions.

This follows a BBC investigation last year which revealed that Mr Kean was godfather to local Labour councillor Jim Docherty's child.

Mr Docherty, an influential member of the planning and estates committee, has never declared this relationship, despite supporting dozens of Mr Kean's proposals at committee.

SNP MSP Alex Neil has called for a criminal investigation into South Lanarkshire's planning department.

He said: "Very clearly there are legitimate questions to be asked and answered, and my view is, there is enough information made available by the BBC that there is a strong case for a criminal investigation, to establish whether anything untoward has actually happened.

"I'm not saying there has or hasn't, but I think to clear the air and make sure the system is above board in South Lanarkshire, there needs to be a criminal investigation to establish facts."

Mr Kean owns large tranches of land in South Lanarkshire, mainly in East Kilbride.

He is a longstanding Labour supporter, and has made, alongside his brother, donations totalling more than £5,000 to the East Kilbride Labour branch and to the Scottish Labour party.

The BBC understands he has been an associate of Mr McCann's for at least six years.

Mr McCann won a bitterly fought election campaign in May last year.

The BBC understands he held his late night election victory party at Legends Bar, in East Kilbride village, a building owned by Mr Kean.

The BBC has also learned that Mr McCann's daughter stables her horse on Mr Kean's farm.

BBC Scotland asked Mr McCann what the financial arrangements for the stabling of the horse were, but he declined to answer.

There is no mention of it on his parliamentary register of member's interests.

Alex Neil told Mark Daly there were questions to be answered As a councillor, Mr McCann supported numerous applications from Mr Kean's companies as they came through committee, never declaring an interest.

Eddie McAvoy, leader of the council, has confirmed to the BBC that Mr Kean and Mr McCann go "back a long time" but said it was up to an individual councillor to decide whether a relationship should be declared.

Mr McCann's interest in applications involving Mr Kean didn't stop when he left his job as a councillor.

Under Freedom of Information, the BBC has obtained a letter he wrote to Scottish Enterprise (SE) in September last year.

It indicates a forensic interest in its proposal to sell a piece of industrial land at West Mains Road, East Kilbride, to Asda, who want to build a supermarket.

SE's proposal is going head-to-head with another supermarket application, involving Tesco, who want to build on nearby Peel Park, much of which is owned by Mr Kean.

If successful, the land owned by Mr Kean and other companies linked to him could be worth up to £20m.

Only one is likely to go ahead, and the Kean-related bid was granted planning permission in October 2010.

'Perfectly legitimate'

But the developer behind the Asda bid, Dawn Developments, has taken the matter to judicial review, alleging the Tesco bid was given an unfair advantage by South Lanarkshire Council.

Now Mr McCann faces questions about why he got involved in a planning application which could have been in Mr Kean's interest to fail.

Scottish Enterprise refused to answer one of the questions because the information requested was deemed commercially sensitive.

His submission follows a similar letter to SE from his predecessor, former MP Adam Ingram over the same matter.

Mr Neil said: "Given the apparent relationship over a number of years between Mr McCann and Mr Kean, I think there is a case for the Parliamentary Standard's Commissioner in London investigating this case as to why Mr McCann is pursuing this matter.

"There might be perfectly legitimate reasons for him doing so, but I think there is a case for investigation to establish whether he is doing so in his role as a member of parliament, using that role and the powers it gives you legitimately, or whether he is abusing his power."

In East Kilbride, Mr McCann refuses to speak to his local newspaper, the East Kilbride News, which, during a tense election campaign, published questions from opponents about his relationship with Mr Kean.

Mr McCann does, however, write a column for the rival free-sheet, the EK Mail, which rents its office space from Mr Kean. Mr Kean is one of the paper's significant shareholders.

Mr McCann has accused the BBC of peddling "outrageous smears".

In a statement, he said: "This is a rehash of a smear story that appeared during the general election campaign and is simply untrue.

"BBC Scotland has made several unsubstantiated and false allegations, some of which originate from a Tory political opponent and journalist I defeated at the general election.

Mr McCann's daughter stables her horse on Mr Kean's farm "Others are linked to an ongoing court case on a planning matter with which I have no involvement, but I am therefore prevented from discussing these outrageous smears in public until the legal process has ended.

"During my time as an elected member of South Lanarkshire Council's planning committee, I never once voted against a recommendation made by officers, I complied at all times with rules rightly imposed upon councillors and I therefore reject any allegation of impropriety whatsoever.

"[The BBC's] claim that I have a relationship with Mr Kean is wildly exaggerated."

Mr Kean's lawyer said his client "vigorously denies any wrongdoing in connection with securing any planning permission from any planning authority".

He also pointed to a report commissioned by Mr Kean and carried out by Mackay Planning, which analysed 50 of his planning applications and concluded that all had been "dealt following the correct procedures and there is no indication of any preferential treatment or maladministration."

A spokesman for South Lanarkshire Council said: "If the BBC is in possession of evidence that shows that any member of the council or employee acted in a way that was illegal, the council asks that this is provided to it as soon as possible, or, if appropriate, to the police.

"All decisions on applications for planning consent must be taken solely on planning merits, and councillors who sit on the planning committee have received appropriate training in this aspect."

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

South Lanarkshire

Unison has again written to its members in South Lanarkshire Council - asking if any members want the union to take up an equal pay claim on their behalf.

Yes, this is the same union that is not even involved in the ongoing South Lanarkshire claims - at the Employment Tribunal in Glasgow.

And yes, this is the same union that hasn't been involved in the fight for equal pay - for the past five years and more.

Anyone who has a claim with Action 4 Equality Scotland - can ignore these ridiculous letters.


Which simply draw attention to Unison's lack action over equal pay - and its all too cosy relationship with many council employers.

Ghosts of Christmas Past

A Glasgow reader - a home carer - has been in touch to say 'good luck' with the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) hearing on 8 and 9 March 2011.

The reader says she felt pressured into signing her compromise agreement because of the lack of information and support - not just from the council, but from the trade unions as well.

"I reckon I lost the best part of £15,000 if all my hours had been taken into account properly", she went on to say.


"We got absolutely no advice or support from the lawyers present on the day and all the union reps had disappeared like snow off a dyke - leaving the members to fend for themselves."

So there you have it - from someone who's given a lifetime of service to the council - and who has a right to feel badly let down.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Hard on the Ears

I did my best to listen to Colonel Gaddafi's speech earlier today - but had to give up when my ears started to bleed.

Now the Colonel may be more than a bit bonkers - he's not the only politician fond of deluding himself - as we know in this country all too well.

But he's been the top banana in Libya for over 40 years - and seems intent on holding onto power for as long as he can.

At one point he said there would be no more violence - then he warned his enemies would be hunted down like dogs - this from a man whose air force has been firing deadly missiles at unarmed civilians in recent days.

Who knows where it will all end?

But you have to admire the raw courage of the people - who are demanding change, democracy and freedom of speech.

Spending Public Money

A kind reader has passed on the following article from the Hamilton Advertiser.

With so many low paid workers in South Lanarkshire Council still fighting for equal pay - isn't it interesting to note that public money is in such plentiful supply - when it comes to senior council officials.

"Director of under-fire finance department on 'gardening leave' for two months"

"The boss of South Lanarkshire Council’s beleaguered finance department has been on PAID ‘gardening leave’ since October, the Advertiser can reveal.

Linda Hardie earned about £120,000 a year as director of the department who were scammed by African fraudsters and miscalculated by £40m the amount of cuts facing the council.

She is unlikely to be back at her desk before April.

By that time she will be 50 and is due to retire... on full pension.

Insiders say her severance package comprises a lump sum of up to £250,000 and an annual pension estimated at between £30,000 and £50,000 a year.

The council will have to pay part of the package because she is leaving for efficiency reasons before the age at which she would normally access her pension.

Council bosses agreed to enhance her pension – at the expense of Council Tax payers – even though her five-year contract as finance director ends in April.

Council chief executive Archie Strang and head of finance Paul Manning have been running the finance department since mid-October.

Days earlier it emerged that a finance department report over-estimated by almost £40m the amount the council would have to slash from their budget over the next three years.

An investigation by the council’s external auditors PWC blamed an “erroneous spreadsheet entry” and “misunderstandings” for the blunder.

It came to light just weeks after the Advertiser revealed how the council lost £102,000 to African conmen.

The fraud occurred when a finance department official fell for a bogus bank details scam."

Ghosts of Christmas Past

The background to next month's Employment Tribunal Appeal (EAT) hearing - involving Glasgow City Council - is explained in the following post from 28 March 2008 - 'Ghosts of Christmas Past'.

The events involved brought shame on a proud city like Glasgow - with the council 'persuading' thousands of low paid women workers to accept poor offers of settlement - while the trade unions deliberately looked the other way.

So let's hope justice finally prevails at the EAT hearing - which is taking place in Edinburgh on 8 and 9 March 2011.


Ghosts of Christmas Past

The Ghosts of Christmas Past are about to pay a visit to Glasgow City Council - and there's no doubt who's being cast in the role of Scrooge!

Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross are about to challenge the Compromise Agreement that around 12,000 employees were forced to sign in 2005 - just to get their hands on their own money. The council described this at the time as a one-off compensation payment, but now their bad behaviour is coming back to haunt them.

In the run up to Christmas 2005 - the timing being very deliberate, of course - council employees were put under enormous pressure to sign this legal document known as a Compromise Agreement.

The 'agreement', in our view, was a very one-sided affair and not a real meeting of the minds - because the people forced to sign it could not appreciate the significance of what they were doing - without proper advice and support.

So, many of the council's lowest paid employees lost thousands of pounds in the process - some well over £10,000!

At the time desperate people did desperate things because:

1 The council refused to explain what individual claims were really worth
2 The trade unions did the council's 'dirty work' - encouraging their members to accept these very low settlements
3 Acceptance meetings had highly paid lawyers in attendance - paid for by the council - but in many cases low paid council workers received no practical advice or help

Shame on them all. But the good news is that you can now challenge what happened in 2005. Glasgow Council employees can make a fresh claim and potentially recover the thousands of pounds that many people lost.

The unions refuse to fight for their members on this issue - no doubt because they're embarrassed by their spineless behaviour when they stood aside two years ago and let their members fend for themselves. Bah humbug!

But Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross will - and a new claim will also cover the period from April 2006 onwards - because the council continues to protect the higher pay of traditional male jobs. So, if you or your friends lost out in Christmas 2005 - the message from Action 4 Equality is:

Don't get mad, get even - join the fightback today!

More information on Glasgow to follow soon - meantime if you need an application form, leave you name and contact details on 0131 667 7956 or send them by e-mail to:
markirvine@compuserve.com


Monday, 21 February 2011

More Equal Than Others

Last week a Scottish 'think tank' came up with a bright idea - or so they thought anyway.

The Centre for Scottish Public Policy (CSPP) suggested that school education would benefit from concentrating teacher training into a single week - at the start of a school year - rather than being spread out in single days over the different school terms.

The benefits of such a policy are pretty obvious - planning and organising training becomes easier - but more importantly the single shut down days could be used for other activities.

But the idea drew a frosty and predictable response from the teaching unions - teachers need 13 weeks holiday a year they declared - the long summer break is essential for teachers to recharge their batteries.

What an insult to other groups of workers - the classroom assistants and nursery nurses for example - who also work with children and young people.

Yet these workers get paid only during the school term - they don't get paid for 52 weeks of the year - 13 of which are classed as holidays, but only if you're employed as a teacher.

While everybody bangs on about fairness at work - it's important to point out that some workers get a much better deal than others - and that simply isn't fair.

Equality at work is about a lot of things - and it's high time that serious questions were being asked about the pay package as a whole - and to take that into account in future pay negotiations.

So more power to your elbow CSPP - the teaching unions may not like people pointing out that they support a 'two tier workforce - where some workers are more equal than others.

But that is the reality of the situation - which the unions do nothing to challenge.

Double Dealing

The decision of the last Labour government to cosy up to Colonel Gaddafi - now looks terribly ill-advised.

The process started under Tony Blair - but was taken up enthusiastically by his successor, Gordon Brown.

As Prime Minister, Gordon Brown pursued a secret policy of currying favour with the Libyan regime - with his covert support for releasing the Lockerbie bomber - while publicly distancing his party and government from the affair.

Dictators are normally associated with that kind of duplicity - not serious minded politicians with a fully functioning moral compass.

Whatever the present UK government has to say - about support for democracy and free speech - will be taken less seriously than it should because of our double dealing in the past.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Weasel Words

Here are some weasel words issued on behalf of the Barclays Group - in response to the revelation that the bank paid tax amounting to only 2.4% of its record profits - in 2009.

"The corporate tax affairs of an organisation with the global footprint of Barclays are complex, and not reducible to simplistic comparisons. Any link between Barclays Group profits and the amount of tax paid to the UK Government is inappropriate. There is no direct comparison between the two."

Barclays UK corporation tax bill in 2009 was £113m - yet the company returned worldwide profits of £4.6 billion in that year.


Even allowing for the fact that some - even a lot - of its profits came from operations outside the UK - that's one hell of a good tax rate.

Wasting Public Money

Some folks will tell you that every pound of public spending - is a pound well spent.

But don't listen to them - because they're either just plain daft - or they've got a vested interest in trying to defend the indefensible

Here's a news story released today by the Press Association.

"The former chief executive of a small district council received a total pay and pension package of almost £570,000 last year - four times the Prime Minister's £142,500 salary - it has emerged.

Philip Dolan was handed £569,000 when he opted for redundancy from South Somerset District Council in March, as part of a restructuring which saw the authority share its chief executive with neighbouring East Devon.

Two other senior executives at the council - the director of health and head of economic vitality - received more than £300,000 each.

After taking voluntary redundancy at the age of 54, Mr Dolan received his normal salary of £157,000, along with a redundancy payment of £167,000 and £6,000 to cover "lost benefits". The council also agreed to pay an extra £239,000 into his pension scheme to cover payments that would have been made had he continued working until 65.

The leader of South Somerset District Council, Tim Carroll, was among a group of Liberal Democrat local authority leaders who wrote an open letter to Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, warning that sharply reduced grants from central government would lead to cuts in frontline services.

Commenting on the South Somerset payouts, Local Government minister Bob Neill said: "These are eye-watering sums of money and raise serious questions about the financial credibility of the council. Bumper pay-offs like this are completely unacceptable and show a breathtaking lack of respect for public money."

The point is that only highly paid officials get this kind of special treatment - not low paid cleaners, carers, catering workers or classroom assistants.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Opting Out and Opting In

Here's something I found out only the other day.

The Labour party's Scottish leader - Iain Gray - is almost the same age as me.


Apparently he was educated at George Watson's College in Edinburgh - before going on to study at Edinburgh University.

Now the last time I looked, George Watson's College was a private school - and I presume the same was true back in the late 1960's and early 1970's.

The fees today are almost £10,000 a year - even more than the student highest fees that the government is proposing for 'elite' universities like Oxford and Cambridge.

But what I find odd is this.

How come some people think it's OK to jump out of the state education system for five or six years - at a cost of £50,000 to £60,000 at today's prices?

Yet also seem to believe they have a right to go on to study at university - only this time at public expense.

Having bought themselves the benefits of a private education - why should the taxpayer subsidise the cost of that same person going on to university - for another four years and more?

Surely public money should be better spent on the students and young people - who really need the financial support.

Elected Dictatorships

The campaign over the Alternative Vote (AV) referendum kicked off in earnest today - with the Prime Minister (David Cameron) and Deputy Prime Minister (Nick Clegg) on opposite sides of the fence.

How refreshing it is to see politicians, at the heart of government, airing their differences publicly - then inviting the voters to decide.

As for me - I'm on the side of the Yes campaign.

Because the AV system will take power away from the politicians - by denying them the ability to lord it over the rest of us - based on a minority share of the popular vote.

The government of Margaret Thatcher enjoyed only 40% at best of the popular vote across the UK - but ruled like an elected dictatorship for 11 years - because of the iniquities of the first past the post system.

So too did the governments that followed - including those led by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown - none of them achieved anywhere near 50% of the popular vote - not even New Labour's landslide victory in 1997.

Who's on the side of the No campaign?

Well David Cameron is - along with the trade unions - who are pouring their members' money into fighting for a No vote - which just goes to show conservative they really are - with a small 'c' of course.

AV is not perfect - it's not truly proportional representation - but it is an improvement on parties having an unbreakable grip on power for four or five years - based on a minority share of the popular vote.

Spilt Milk

The papers reported earlier this week that only 3 out of 19 Scottish councils - contacted in a survey - said they were prepared to guarantee the provision of free school milk.

Interesting - because the news broke without any fuss or bother.

Apparently, Moray Council stopped free milk last year - while Stirling, Angus and the Scottish Borders councils - provide free milk only to to nursery age children.

West Lothian Council also plans to save £123,000 a year - by stopping free milk for early primary school children who do not receive free school meals.

So perhaps it's not a such big issue after all.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Interesting Times

Politics in Scotland just got a lot more interesting - with the publication of an opinion poll in the Times newspaper yesterday.

The poll put the SNP in the lead for the Scottish Parliament elections in May - now only 10 weeks away - on both the Constituency and Regional List vote.

The Ipsos Mori survey of more than 1,000 voters puts the SNP on 37% for the Constituency vote and 35% for the Regional List vote - with Labour trailing behind on 36% and 33% respectively.

My Labour party friends have been telling me for months that the Holyrood election was in the bag - and that all they had to do was avoid any major mishaps - and coast gently towards a resounding victory in May.

But maybe that's not the case now - maybe they've got a real fight on their hands - if the Times poll proves to be correct.

Speaking as someone who is not a member or supporter of any political party - I think's that a good thing for democracy in Scotland - whichever party wins the most votes.

Because in my book, all politicians should have less power - generally speaking - as well as being more accountable to the public.

And being more accountable means much more than just having an election - every four or five years.

Food For Thought

Lord Jeffrey Rooker - the former Labour MP - has been up to mischief in the House of Lords.

The former Labour minister moved an amendment to the government's legislation on electoral reform which - if successful - would have imposed a minimum turnout of 40% in the referendum planned for May 2011.

So if less than 40% of the electorate actually bothered to vote - no matter how big the majority, even a majority of 10 to 1 - the result would have been null and void.

The same argument - about the need for a voting threshold - was used by various Labour MPs in the 1970s to scupper a Yes vote on devolution for Scotland.

Now would Lord Rooker take the same view in trade union strike ballots - for example - where the turnout of union members often struggles to get above 40%?

Would he take the same view in the ballots to elect trade union leaders - or in the votes to set up an affiliated political fund - in which only 10-15% of union members normally bother to vote?

I think we should be told - because otherwise people like Lord Rooker just look like hypocrites.

Worse still - from Lord Rooker's point of view - he might have actually given the coalition parties and the government - some food for thought.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Two Tier Workforce

The headteachers' trade union in England and Wales - the National Association of Headteachers - is threatening industrial action over plans to introduce career average pension schemes.

How predictable - because final salary schemes mainly benefit the better paid council employees - and do nothing for the low paid.

In fact the final salary arrangement means that low paid workers - are actually subsidising their much better paid colleagues.

Because the average pay of a school cleaner, a school meals worker or a classroom assistant - stays pretty constant over the course of their working lives.

Whereas a headteacher might become a 'heedie' for only ten years - yet their pension benefits are calculated on the much higher final salary - both the tax free lump sum and monthly pension payments.

How can that be fair?

Well the answer is that it's not remotely fair or sensible - and that's why a career average scheme would put everyone on the same footing.

Under a career average scheme you get out roughly what you put in over the years - whereas a final salary scheme clearly favours the higher paid.

Now I can see why the National Association of Headteachers is defending the present set up - because it directly benefits their members - and they're not looking beyond the length of their own noses.

But why do all the other unions remain silent - where are all these left-wing socialists when you need them - to rise up and speak up about the unfairness of it all?

Nowhere to be seen.

Wacky Races

Have you noticed anything strange driving about Glasgow these days?

What I see are cars weaving all over the road - in a west of Scotland version of Wacky Races - as drivers try to avoid mammoth potholes.

In some parts of the city these are truly dangerous - the size of small cars - hence the reason for drivers taking equally dangerous evasive action.

So today's Audit Scotland report on the state of our roads is to be welcomed.

Because it highlights the fact that over £2.2 billion of essential repairs are needed - to bring our highways and by-ways up to an acceptable standard.

The report explains that an extra £1 billion has been added to the repairs bill over the past six years - at a time when council budgets were growing - so spending cuts can't be blamed.

In fact council budgets in Scotland more than doubled over the 10 years to 2007.

So the real question is why has keeping our roads in order - been such a low priority for councils for all this time?

Maybe as the Audit Scotland report suggests - it's time for the Scottish government to step in - to give some much need leadership and national direction.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

South Lanarkshire - Hearing Dates

The next round of hearings involving South Lanarkshire Council gets underway in March - and the first two days have been arranged as follows:

Dates
- Monday 7 and Tuesday 8 March 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 Carol Fox who will be there on behalf of the Fox Cross legal team.

Where Are They Now?

A regular reader has been in touch with a query about a recent post - 'Back in the Fold' - dated 14 February 2011.

"Isn't that Councillor Tommy Williams the same firebrand socialist and supporter of Militant - from the 1980's?", the reader asks.

Well if it's the same person I'm thinking of, then - yes - I believe that's correct.

Because Tommy Williams was indeed a supporter of Militant - a controversial Trotskyite group that operated inside the Labour party for years.

Most of the Militant supporters in Scotland followed their leader - Tommy Sheridan - into the Scottish Socialist Party.

But some joined the more mainstream Labour Party - including Renfrewshire MSP Hugh Henry, if I remember correctly.

As many people know, the Scottish Socialist Party has since split - over Tommy Sheridan's court antics and his decision to set up a rival socialist party - Solidarity.

So it's a funny old world, as they say.


If you have a query - or some information to share - drop Mark Irvine a note at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Party Funding

So the Scottish bus tycoon Brian Souter has declared his intention to give £500,000 to the SNP - but only so long as other party supporters match his donation - pound for pound.

An interesting idea - but one that has drawn a predictable response from other parties - notably Labour who are crying foul.

Well at least you can say it's Brian Souter's money - unlike the millions of pounds that flow into the Labour Party's coffers every year from their own sugar daddies - the trade unions.

And, of course, the union funds involved belong to ordinary members - funds which could be spent on vital issues for the members - such as fighting for equal pay

Personally, I believe there should be a cap on all party donations - and that political parties should work much harder to persuade individual supporters and potential voters - to part with their hard earned cash.

Because that way political parties would be more likely to listen - to what their grassroots supporters have to say.

But of course union donations to Labour are not from individual members - nor do they represent the politics of grassroots members.

Instead they reflect the political views and prejudices of union bosses - which is why no one gets a look in other than Labour.

Imagine the unions saying - we'll give a pound to Labour for every pound donated by individual union members - now that really would be revolutionary.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Skinning Cats

I have to admit - I can't get too worked about about this votes for prisoners malarkey.

At one level it's plainly ridiculous that the civil rights of prisoners are a big priority - after all it's their own behaviour that sent them to jail.

On the other hand - prisoners are not exactly clapped in leg irons these days - they get to smoke to their hearts content, watch unlimited satellite TV and - allegedly - drugs are more easily available inside the pokey than out on the streets.

So what's the big deal about giving prisoners a postal vote - at least those who are not jailed for longer sentences and violent crimes.

Very few would bother to vote - as everyone knows - and it's hardly likely to make a real demand on prison resources.

But the real problem is that MPs are trying to curry favour with the public - by talking tough and coming out with this 'over my dead body' nonsense.

All that is likely to achieve is a lot of bogus damages claims - from prisoners who say their civil rights are being infringed.

Which some did successfully over slopping out and - more recently - about being interviewed by the police without a lawyer present.

So there's more than one way to skin a cat - if you ask me - which is why our politicians should approach the issue thoughtfully and carefully.

Back in the Fold

The Sunday Mail reported yesterday that a councillor who fiddled £26,500 in false wages claims - has been welcomed back into the the Labour Party.

Tommy Williams admitted submitting false time sheets to claim wages from Glasgow City Council - despite not doing any work.

Because at the same time as he was submitting time sheets in Glasgow - he was also drawing a full-time salary - as a Labour councillor in Renfrewshire Council.

Williams was forced to repay the cash - but walked away from court with a 'not proven' verdict - claiming that his boss at Glasgow City Council had sanctioned his bogus wages claims.

The Labour group on Renfrewshire Council last week agreed that Williams would be welcomed back into the fold - which is truly bizarre.


The standard of proof in a criminal court is different from that used in civil proceedings - or in most disciplinary procedures - where the test is based on the balance of probabilities.

Whatever Tommy Williams may have claimed about other people's actions - he admitted the false claims over a long period of time - and was forced to repay the money involved.

How can any political party believe that someone like that - is a fit and proper person to remain as a councillor?

Glasgow - Diary Dates

As regular readers know, a legal challenge is underway to the Compromise Agreements used by Glasgow City Council - in connection with people's equal pay claims back in 2005.

The appeal hearing has now been listed and will be heard at the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Edinburgh - on 9th and 10th March 2011.

Readers who signed a 2005 Compromise Agreement at one of the signing meetings in November or December 2005 - may wish to attend.

The EAT address is 52 Melville Street, Edinburgh EH3 7HF - a short walk from Haymarket Station.

Action 4 Equality Scotland clients will be represented by Jonathan Mitchell QC.

The hearing will take place before a senior Judge - who will consider all the legal arguments and issue a decision in due course.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Kind Words

A regular reader from Midlothian has been in touch to say:

"Dear Mark

I finally received my settlement offer yesterday.

It's been a long time coming, but was worth the wait in the end.

Many thanks for all your hard work.

BG"

Labour and the Unions

The Herald published an interesting letter yesterday - about how the unions use their influence to secure the Labour party nomination in local selection contests.

Except it doesn't always according to plan and sometimes - as the author of the letter explains - it sometimes ends up in choosing a candidate who's a complete dud.

The answer is to take the union muscle out of the picture - then at least the process would select somone who genuinely reflects local party opinion.

"You’re right in your editorial today to deplore the behaviour of the now convicted fraudster Jim Devine.

The most extraordinary thing about the MPs’ expenses scandal has been the way in which many of our elected representatives have been shown to live in cocoons, sheltered from the realities of the world. The sheer arrogance of their petty pilfering has been astonishing and I’ve been left feeling let down by some Labour MPs in particular, who really should have known better.

All parties have a mixed bag of MPs and MSPs. Most are honest, able and hard-working; a fair few, you wouldn’t ask to go for the messages. We like to think that we, the voters, choose our representatives; but in safe constituencies, ones with huge majorities, the MP or MSP is in effect selected by the party holding the seat, and I have experience of how that works in the Scottish Labour Party.

In the run-up to the 2001 Westminster election, I sought selection as Labour’s candidate in two safe seats. The first was East Lothian, where Labour had a majority of 14,000; I was narrowly defeated in the selection by Anne Moffat, who was president of Unison at the time. She went on to win the seat, and for the next nine years the local Labour Party fought a bitter campaign to oust her, which saw them being suspended by Labour’s ruling executive committee at one stage.

Undaunted, I then sought selection in Strathkelvin and Bearsden, where Sam Galbraith held the seat for Labour with an even bigger majority. After an eventful hustings meeting, I was selected by local party members as their candidate by one vote; but then was rapidly de-selected by the Scottish Labour Party, for reasons they wouldn’t share with me. The re-run was a farce, with a sackful of postal votes and the count held in private. The winner and candidate for the next election was John Lyons, who worked for Unison.

He survived one term as an MP and then was defeated by Jo Swinson of the Liberal Democrats in the 2005 election; from a 16,000 majority to defeat in four years – quite a record.

DM,

Dunblane."

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Fox Cross Solicitors

Regular readers will no doubt be delighted to learn that Carol Fox - from Fox Cross Solicitors - has been shortlisted for the Scottish Legal Awards in 2011.

Carol's nomination is fin the category of Specialist Lawyer of the Year - which is not surprising given her wide experience and credentials - in employment law and discrimination work.

The winners will be announced at an Awards Ceremony on Thursday 17 March 2011 - at the International Conference Centre in Edinburgh.

St. Patrick's Day - unless I'm mistaken.

So if Carol wins I hereby promise to buy her a lovely pint of Guinness - as there could be no more appropriate beverage to celebrate such an splendid occasion.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

More MPs' Expenses

As expected, the former Labour MP and Unison official - Jim Devine - has been found guilty of dishonestly claiming £8,385 in expenses - by using false invoices for cleaning and printing work.

Devine will be sentenced in four weeks - and faces a maximum jail term of seven years - although he is unlikely to put him away for that length of time.

The court heard that the case against Devine was "very straightforward" - and that the former MP had made dishonest, fraudulent claims.

Meanwhile another former Labour MP - Eric Illsley - was sentenced to a year in jail after pleading guilty to dishonestly claiming £14,000 in parliamentary expenses.

The claims were made in relation to the MP's second home - between 2005 and 2008.

The trial judge said that Illsley's offences were less serious as the former MP had not created 'false documents to support the claims - which bodes ill for Devine when he returns to court for sentencing.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

More MPs' Expenses

Things are not looking good for Jim Devine.

The former Labour MP and Unison official is back in court today - for possibly the last day of his trial over parliamentary expenses.

But by all accounts it's not looking good - the explanation given in court has been full of holes and inconsistencies - so the outcome may well be another MP being found guilty of false accounting.

Meanwhile another Labour MP and former NUM official - has finally resigned his seat in the House of Commons.

Eric Illsley, MP for Barnsley - previously pled guilty to similar charges over his expenses claims - and goes back to court tomorrow for sentencing.

Unlike Jim Devine, Illsley was allowed to stand as a Labour candidate - and fight his seat at last year's general election.

Ever since then he has been drawing his MP's salary - at public expense of course - but there will now finally be a by-election.

WikiWars

The WikiWars saga continues.

Julian Assange is back in court trying desperately to prevent his extradition to that widely despised rogue state - with a supposedly weak legal system and poor track record on human rights - more commonly known as Sweden.

The celebrity legal team defending Julian Assange has flown over a retired Swedish judge - Brita Sundberg-Weitman (a woman) - to give evidence against the Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny.

The retired judge reportedly criticised the prosecutor for being a "radical feminist" and described her behaviour as "malicious", "peculiar" and displaying a "bias against men".

But when cross-examined - the retired judge admitted that she had no direct knowledge of Ms Ny's (the prosecutor's) conduct.

Confused - because if so, you're in good company?

Instead of this ridiculous legal circus - Mr Assange should do us all a favour and hop on the next plane to Stockholm.

Where he can deal with the case allegations made against him - in a proper manner.

Crystal Clear

Sir Gus O'Donnell's report on the early release of the Libyan bomber - al Megrahi - from prison makes fascinating reading.

Here's an extract from Page 90 of the report - a submission from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office - on how the UK government should play its hand.

David Miliband was the Foreign Secretary at the time - and the submission was dated 22 January 2009.

"Megrahi‟s health remains a key high risk issue. We do not want him to die in a Scottish jail, with the likely negative consequences for our relations with Libya. That he is prepared to abandon his appeal is a significant step – we should now work hard to enable transfer under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement."

The UK government's view at the time was crystal clear - Megrahi should not be allowed to die in a Scottish jail.

So why did they behave so completely differently - when he was finally released?

Common Sense and Council Services

The Herald published an excellent letter from a retired firefighter the other day.

Here's what he had to say - and you have to admit it's the perfect riposte to council bosses and bureaucrats - with their overblown 'respect' agenda.

A little less 'respect' and a big injection of common sense then - as the retired firefighter says - we'll start getting somewhere.

"Firefighters care about saving lives, not which authority employs them"

"As a retired member of the Fire and Rescue Service, I must reply to Pat Watters and his assertions concerning a Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (“Cosla chief: Government lacks respect”, The Herald, February 1).

I worked for more than 30 years in a Glasgow city centre station and at no time worried whether Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service or Glasgow City Council paid me, what the name on the engine was, or the construction of the eight Fire Boards in Scotland. I did have concerns about the number of fire fighters, what equipment we carried and whether we could be mobilised and arrive at an incident in time to make a difference.

The political parties in Holyrood say the status quo is not an option, the Fire Brigade Union say it will be easier to protect front-line posts if we start the process now but the chief officers and the fire board conveners are determined to find a way that protects themselves.

It is time for this game to end. During my service, nearly all matters relating to the fire service were dealt with by the chief officer, with the board rubber-stamping his decisions.

This begged the question, why were the boards there at all?

On querying this with a councillor, I was told: “We’re not qualified to second guess the chief.” Yet there are eight chiefs with some 100-odd councillors spending their time and our money duplicating lots of actions across Scotland. They do this as a stand-alone part of the local government family, where even the full council cannot make them change their minds. So much for local accountability.

The Fire Service in London protects 11 million people, in Scotland we have eight separate services to protect five million of us, with 50% of the population covered by one service.

I think I know where the public would want any compulsory savings to be made.

JD

Glasgow."

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Don't Get Mad - Get Even

A reader from South Lanarkshire has been searching the blog site - for a previous post on equal pay.

Sometimes this can take a while - if you don't know the date you're looking for.

So to make life easier all round - here's the post in question - Don't Get Mad - Get Even - from 19 November 2010.

As far as I know, no one has yet seen the Unison assessment - referred to in bullet points 1 and 2.

Does it really exist?

Who knows - but when I find out - you'll find out.


Don't Get Mad - Get Even

As regular readers know - after years of being in denial - Unison has suddenly decided that some of its members in South Lanarkshire - might have an equal pay claim after all.

See previous post dated 16 November 2010 - Unison in Turmoil.

Sounds a little odd to me - especially as South Lanarkshire Council claims that Unison has been at the heart of local negotiations over single status - since 1999.

But set that aside for a minute and consider what Unison is actually saying - to its members in South Lanarkshire:

'We recently commissioned an assessment of the scope for equal pay claims in South Lanarkshire - and we believe that as in other areas there may be some potential for some members being able to pursue equal pay claims'.

Now Unison members who have loyally followed the union's advice - by doing nothing about equal pay for all these years - should be asking Unison some pointed questions:

1 When was this 'assessment' carried out?

2 Who did the 'assessment' - and what are its key conclusions?

3 How do I get a copy of the 'assessment' so I can see for myself what it ?

4 What is Unison going to do about the 5 years I've wasted - by following the union's advice not to lodge an equal pay claim - up until now?

5 Does Unison intend to compensate me for the money I've lost - which runs potentially thousands of pounds?

If you're one of the many members let down by Unison in South Lanarkshire - contact Mark Irvine and Action 4 Equality Scotland for advice - 0131 652 7366 or markirvine@compuserve.com


Don't just get mad - get even!

A Dirty Business

Politics is a dirty business - war without guns, as they say.

And never more so than over the early release of the Libyan bomber - al Megrahi - who is now dying (albeit slowly) in the care of his family - rather than alone in a Scottish prison cell.

But the report of the cabinet secretary - Gus O'Donnell - lays bare what a sordid business this whole affair has been.

Because we now know that the last Labour government was doing all in its power to secure Megrahi's' early release - as Gus ODonnell's report makes clear.

Yet while this secret diplomacy was underway - the UK government was giving completely the opposite impression - to victims' families - on both sides of the Atlantic - and to the people of Scotland.

Now politicians are guilty sometimes of saying one thing - then doing another - although on this occasion the duplicity was taking place at different ends of the Labour party.

While Gordon Brown and David Miliband (foreign secretary at the time) were privately working for and supporting Megrahi's early release - the Labour leader in Scotland was attacking the decision for all his worth.

If that sounds like playing politics with people's lives - then that's exactly what it is.

Whether you support the decision to release Megrahi or not - it's this kind of self-serving, double-dealing - that gives politics and politicians a bad name.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

South Lanarkshire and Equal Pay

South Lanarkshire Council has been blowing its own trumpet this week - with an announcement about a possible pay rise for some council workers.

Now don't get too excited.

Because the council is talking about a small pay rise for some employees - which would take them to £7.16 per hour - or an increase of £250 a year (£4.80 a week) if an employee already earns more than £7.16 an hour.

Council employees paid more than £21,000 a year - will get no pay rise at all.

But of course this has nothing to do with equal pay - nothing at all.

Why?

Because if there was equal pay in South Lanarkshire Council - between male and female jobs - then the low paid women workers would have been getting paid substantially more than £7.16 an hour - several years ago.

And that is what people's equal pay claims in South Lanarkshire are all about - recovering the money that many council workers have been underpaid for the past ten years.

The council's announcement does not deal with the issue of people's back pay claims for equal pay - which go back to 2000 or 2001 in most cases.

The council's announcement also does nothing to address the pay gap between traditional male and female jobs - so it's really nothing to get excited about.

Although to read the comments in the local papers - you'd think the council and the unions had discovered a recipe for world peace!

Council leader - Eddie McAvoy is quoted as saying:

"It's unfair that the bankers have caused all these problems yet they go home with millions of pounds in bonuses but people on low wages have to put up with pay freezes and benefit cuts."

Local Unison branch secretary - Stephen Smellie - welcomed the announcement saying:

"At a time when people are worrying about pay freezes, this means the low paid will get a rise."

The back slapping between the council and the union comes as no surprise - they're like two peas in a pod - two sides of the same coin.

But in reality the absence of equal pay in South Lanarkshire means that low paid workers council workers - have been losing out for years.

And that's what people's equal pay claims are all about - not just a few pennies here and there.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Conflicting Advice

The Unison branch in South Lanarkshire has issued another of its briefings on equal pay - but the content is as predictable as ever.

Unison has written to all members in South Lanarkshire - saying that they might have an equal pay claim after all - after years of advising people not to take up claims against the council.

As a result many members are spitting mad at the union - and its contradictory advice over the years.

In the recent letter to members - Unison advised that it had carried out an assessment of potential claims in South Lanarkshire.

But the union has not provided members with any details of this new assessment - or explained why the Unison is having second thoughts about its original advice.

The problem for Unison is that members who failed to take up an equal pay claim because of the union's earlier advice - may well have a significant claim against the union itself.

Because these members are being asked to think again - but five years too late.

South Lanarkshire employees who have taken up a claim with Action 4 Equality Scotland - have already protected their position - and these claims are all at an advanced stage.

Action 4 Equality Scotland charges a success fee of 10% + VAT - for providing clients with a professional service.

Unison doesn't charge a separate fee - but on the other hand hasn't provided members with any kind of service.

In fact quite the opposite - since Unison has provided members with conflicting advice for years - then stands on its head without explanation.

So if you think you've been led up the garden path by Unison - then drop Mark Irvine a note at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Rogue Factors

I put a post up on the blog site ages ago - about how to deal with a rogue factor - but forgot to follow this up.

So here are some practical steps that people can take - if you are dealing with one of these cowboy factors.


The key thing is to set up a Residents Association and draw up a list of demands - for everyone to organise and rally around.

In this case a 'Charter' - which had the effect of running the rogue factor out of town - in double quick time.

Like many other things in life the answer is: educate, agitate, organise!


1 Meetings
We believe that there should be at least two owners meetings per year with the Factor – one of which will coincide with the Residents Association Annual General Meeting (AGM) – and all owners will be invited to attend

2 Annual Budget
We believe that the annual Maintenance Budget should set at the AGM by the owners – having received a written report and any further advice from the Factor, as necessary

3 Consultation
We believe that Factor should work with and consult the Residents Associations in between meetings – as the need arises - to deal with any ongoing and unforeseen issues

4 Year End Accounts
We believe that the Factor should present proper Year End Accounts to the Residents Association and the owners – showing all monies collected and how these funds were spent

5 Services and Charges
We believe that Residents Association and all owners should be consulted on the level of and cost of various services (e.g. cleaning) – to ensure proper value for money

6 Invoices
We believe that the Factor must allow the Residents Association and the owners to inspect all invoices – on request

7 Remuneration
We believe that the Factor is entitled to be properly remunerated for providing a professional service to the building and the owners

8 Property Managers Association
We believe that the Factor should be a member of the Property Managers Association (Scotland) – and agree to abide by their Code of Practice and disputes procedures

9 Going Forward
We are prepared to with any Factor who is prepared to sign up to this Charter. We are asking the owners in the building to give the Residents Association their support – and to put these effective arrangements in place.

More MPs' Expenses

One of the reasons that MPs' expenses are back in the headlines again is that IPSA - the expenses watchdog - has published a list of rejected claims.

And MPs don't like being 'named and shamed' - particularly when 125 honourable members had claims rejected.

The list published by IPSA includes the ministers Ed Davey, Ed Vaizey Maria Miller and Peter Luff - along with well known and experienced Labour MPs including Jack Straw and Harriet Harman.

The Conservative MP for Hereford - Jesse Norman - had the largest sum of £1,504.01 rejected for office furniture.

Overall, the rejected claims amounted to just £15,352 - out of the total £3.64m expenses bill for September and October.

But under the new system MPs who have their expenses rejected are being named - which they don't like one little bit.

The publication of all expenses claims for September and October 2010 revealed that:

# 71 MPs had 154 individual claims fully rejected, with a total value of £11,500.


# Another 69 MPs had 94 claims partly rejected - with a total value of £3,800.

# Overall, 248 claims from 125 MPs were either partly or wholly rejected

# Four ministers were refused payments after failing to provide sufficient evidence in the form of receipts to make claims.

# Employment minister, Ed Davey, was refused £115.64 for a phone bill.

# Culture minister, Ed Vaizey, was refused £4.75 to cover the cost of an intern's lunch.

# Jack Straw had £609 from his business rates claims withheld after providing insufficient evidence.

# Harriet Harman was refused £75 for the hire of a hall for a constituency surgery for the same reason.

Now some of these claims will have been made in good faith - and rejected simply because the MP concerned has not provided enough detail.

But others - such as buying lunch for an MP's intern - are simply ridiculous.

So it seems that what MPs are really angry about is that IPSA is doing a good job - which involves asking MPs tough questions - and holding them to account.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Midlothian Council

Lots of readers from Midlothian have been in touch in recent days.

Apparently rumours are sweeping the council - about possible developments on equal pay.

An update letter will be sent out to Action 4 Equality Scotland clients - in Midlothian Council - next week.

So in the meantime - sit tight.

And don't rely on the rumour mill for your news.

Edinburgh's Trams

A reader from Edinburgh has been in touch to point out that the huge cost of the 'Auld Reekie' Trams Project - was foisted on the present government - by a vote in the Scottish Parliament.

See post dated 2 February 2011 - Spending Public Money.

And that's correct, I think - my memory of events is that all the other parties (Labour, Lib Dems and Tories) ganged up and forced a vote - which gave the government no choice to stump up the £500 million cost.

£500 million which now seems to be rapidly going down the drain.

So some politicians do seem bear more of a responsibility for this fiasco than others - that seems a fair statement.

But if anyone knows better - then drop me a note as I'm always happy to set the record straight.

Quite how the politicians involved will be held to account for making such a hash of things - is another matter.

Someone should call for a stewards' enquiry - because £500 million is one hell of a lot of public money to waste.

MPs' Expenses

MPs' expenses are back in the news again.

But this time because our elected representatives are complaining about being held too closely to account by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA).

IPSA was set up in the wake of the MPs' expenses scandal - and has introduced a new and much tougher regime - which MPs don't like one little bit.

The Leader of the House of Commons - Sir George Young - has released a highly critical statement of IPSA - here's an extract of what he had to say:

''I believe that the current expenses scheme, as designed, implemented and administered by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, is failing in many respects adequately to support MPs to undertake their responsibilities.

''There are some highly unsatisfactory features of the scheme that are at best distracting, and at worst impeding, MPs from doing their jobs.

''In addition, some aspects of the new regime are in danger of deterring people from less affluent backgrounds from becoming - and in some cases remaining - Members of Parliament and are also placing undue pressure on some MPs' family lives".


What a load of old tosh - what exactly does the Leader of the House mean - because he provides no evidence or examples to back up his complaints?

The real problem is that MPs don't have an employer or boss - in the normal sense - who oversees what they do and ensures that they follow the 'rules'.

In fact there are precious few rules - which is why some MPs are allowed to go swanning about - doing other paid work - instead of earning the salary for their day job.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Spending Public Money

The Accounts Commission for Scotland and Audit Scotland - have just released a report on the future of Edinburgh's trams.

The upshot is that they asking the Scottish Government to consider stepping in - to try and rescue the ailing project via Transport Scotland - the government's national transport agency.

Some of the key points in the report are:


Utilities diversion works are 97 per cent complete and almost three-quarters of the tram vehicles have been purchased.

But due to the contractual dispute - between Edinburgh City Council and the contractor - only 28 per cent of infrastructure work has been completed.

The actual target was for 99% of infrastructure work to be completed - by the end of December 2010.

So far, £402 million of the total budget has been spent on Phase 1a - which is intended to run from Edinburgh Airport to Leith Waterfront.

£402 million represents 74 per cent of the total funding budget currently available - with only 28% of the infrastructure completed.

The total approved budget is £545 million - which means that the project will not be completed within the agreed terms of reference.

So when politicians insist that public money is being well spent - take what they say with a great big pinch of salt.

Union Contacts

A number of readers have been in touch asking about the best way to raise issues with Unison.

Well I'm a great believer in not beating about the bush.

So if you are a Unison member or have a query about the union - I would go straight to the top.


By contacting the new regional secretary in Scotland, Mike Kirby - who for years was a well-known figure in the union's Glasgow branch.

Mike details are available from the Unison web site - but are also reproduced below for easy reference:

Mike Kirby

Tel: 0845 355 0845

E-mail: m.kirby@unison.co.uk


I always thought these 0845 numbers were expensive to ring from a mobile.

But maybe I'm wrong - or maybe
something more user and member friendly is now being put in place.

MSPs and Equal Pay

Here's an e-mail from Michael McMahon MSP - sent in response to a reader who raised an query about equal pay in South Lanarkshire Council.

Seldom have I read so much self-serving, ill-informed nonsense - and from an MSP who is apparently Scottish Labour's spokesperson on Local Government.

"Dear Colleague

I am very much aware of this issue and have taken part in debates in the Parliament and held numerous discussions with local authority trade unions in relation to this matter.

Unfortunately, it is a fact that a resolution to this issue rest with each individual council following discussions with the appropriate trade unions, although the Scottish Parliament has the responsibility for ensuring that the Scottish Government provides the necessary resources for agreements to be met.

Council’s should have settled this matter a long time ago but most failed to do so in spite of having been provided with additional resources from the previous Scottish Executive for that purpose. Councils which failed to find a solution to the problem during that time now have an even more difficult challenge in addressing the issue. The recent Scottish Government budget has seen local authority funding squeezed by the current Scottish Government and this is making the problem worse.

The huge local authority budget shortfall in the coming financial year which will result in the loss of thousands of local authorities jobs across Scotland and this will further exacerbate the problem caused by the Scottish Government’s to provide additional funding for equal pay settlements in its local authority finance settlements for the past three years. I think that it is significant and regrettable that John Swinney MSP, the Finance Secretary, has so far refused requests from trade unions and oppositions parties to facilitate discussions with local authorities aimed at progressing this matter.

I appreciate that the politics of this is not your problem and that you will only be interested in seeing low paid workers properly paid for the valuable work that they do. I believe that the buck passing has gone on far too long and can assure you that as Scottish Labour’s spokesperson on Local Government I have resolution of this issue very high on my agenda.

Kind Regards

Michael McMahon MSP"

A few points are worth mentioning.

Firstly
- Michael McMahon keeps banging on about the trade unions - but the unions have never taken up any equal pay cases in South Lanarkshire - much to the anger of ordinary union members.
Secondly - Labour was the main party of government in Scotland between 1999 and 2007 - as part of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats - but they did nothing to resolve the issue of equal pay during that period.

Thirdly - the present SNP government has made additional 'borrowing consents' available to councils to help meet the back pay costs of equal pay - but South Lanarkshire Council has not made a bid to be allocated any of these funds.

Contacting your MSP is a really good way of raising these issues - just don't accept that politicians always know what they're talking about - sometimes they're very tribal and partisan.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Fat Cat Pensions

The newspapers report today that the Governor of the Bank of England - Mervyn King - has had an extra £1.4 million added to his pension pot.

Now this is the same man who is telling the rest of the country to tighten its belts - but clearly he has no intention of leading by example.

Apparently when Mervyn King leaves his position in 2013 - he will be eligible to draw an annual pension equivalent to £198,200 today - more than the Prime Minister's annual salary.

What his tax free lump sum will be - is nobody's business - but you can bet your house on the fact that it will be an awful lot of money.

So why the Governor needs a £1.4 million top up - is as clear as mud.

The Court of the Bank which decides such matters - offered no explanation for its very generous behaviour to an already highly paid official.

Sound familiar?

In a speech last week, Mervyn King said disposable incomes will fall to 2005 levels - as wages fail to keep pace with inflation and tax rises and benefit cuts bite.

Let's see if we can find out - who's on the Court of the Bank - that might make interesting reading.

More Moonlighting MPs

The Sunday Times ran an interesting article about the outside earnings of former Prime Minister - Gordon Brown MP.

In addition to making highly paid speeches - one in Nigeria last year earned him £62,181 for four hours work - Gordon Brown has also been appointed to a new position at New York University,.

As a 'distinguished global leader in residence' GB is to be paid £75,554 for agreeing to spend two weeks a year - attending and addressing public functions at the university's New York campus.

In addition the MP for Fife has to free up a second week for duties in Abu Dhabi - and a fourth week to attend one of the university's 12 'study abroad' sites.

So that's a month in total - for more money than his MP's salary of £65,738 a year plus expenses - not counting his other speaking engagements of course.

The Labour party used to criticise the Tories for having highly paid second and third jobs outside parliament - and quite rightly so.

Why should an MP be paid as a full-time job - if some of them are getting away with working only part-time hours?

The weird thing is that if Gordon Brown just stood down as an MP - like his old chum Tony Blair - he'd be free to do what he likes with his time - no questions asked.

Accounts Commission for Scotland

Good news - the Accounts Commission for Scotland - an independent public body that oversees council spending - has agreed to investigate a complaint I made about South Lanarkshire Council.

The Accounts Commission has referred the matter to South Lanarkshire's external auditors - PwC (Price Waterhouse Coopers). Here's what my complaint said:

"Dear Accounts Commission

South Lanarkshire Council

I would like to register a complaint with the Accounts Commission for Scotland regarding the behaviour of South Lanarkshire Council.

My complaint is about the huge cost incurred by the council in releasing a former Executive Director of Corporate Services - whose fixed term contract came to an end on 31st March 2006.

I wrote to South Lanarkshire Council asking for an explanation of these events, but the chief executive has offered no explanation or justification of the council’s behaviour - other than to point, in very general terms, towards the Local Government Pension Scheme regulations.

From my reading of the correspondence, South Lanarkshire Council is arguing that its decisions were justified on the grounds of ‘business efficiency’. Yet at no time does the council explain what these efficiency gains were – taking into account the fact that the post concerned was actually replaced.

Nor does the council explain why it chose to spend £291,990 in allowing a senior official to access his pension benefits early – simply because his fixed term contract came to an end.

In my view, South Lanarkshire Council’s behaviour is inconsistent with its general duty to seek value for money for the taxpayer and, more specifically, its obligation to ensure ‘best value’ in managing council funds.

I have not received a proper explanation from South Lanarkshire Council despite my recent letter to the chief executive, Archie Strang. As a result, I am now raising my concerns with Accounts Commission for Scotland and would ask you to investigate the matter on my behalf.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards


Mark Irvine

Enclosures x 2
1 Letter to Chief Executive dated 28 October 2010
2 Response from South Lanarkshire Council dated 11 November 2010"

I now plan to enquire about the timescale for PwC reporting back - since the actions of the council go back to 2006.

Union Hypocrisy Over Pensions

The Guardian published a thoughtful article by Phillip Inman the other day - highlighting trade union hypocrisy over public sector pensions.

Here are some of the key points from the piece:

"With pension reforms on the way, the public sector unions must not defend the better-off in the name of ordinary workers.

Who would be a public sector union leader? The pay might be decent, but the axe-wielding this week and Lord Hutton's report on public service pensions means it's going to be a tough two years.

If George Osborne marries his spending cuts with Hutton's message of higher pension contributions, lower benefits and longer working, Unison's Dave Prentis and his fellow union leaders will be forced to square up. On the face of it the unions have a strong hand. Militancy should be guaranteed.

Yet two barriers stand in the way. Job cuts, which are already underway, will be piecemeal, without any obvious flashpoint for industrial action. Then there is the pensions debate, where unions have found themselves preparing for battle after their leaders have fallen over themselves to vacate the high ground. The high ground, in this case, relates to the case for a sustainable retirement system.

If Prentis et al defend final salary pensions they lay themselves open to Hutton's charge that unions seek to defend the generous salary linked benefit rewards management above those of shopfloor workers. Arguably, it is the overly generous promises to the higher paid in the public system that is helping send costs through the roof.

The main beneficiaries are those in the higher echelons of the NHS, the teaching professions and the police. If a worker's entire retirement income is calculated on their last pay cheque and their length of service, a long unbroken record of service and escalating pay rises in the last 10 are crucial to a lucrative retirement income.

Step forward the male middle manager. And there are plenty of them. If they retire on £50,000, which is not uncommon, they could receive a pension of £30,000 a year. Compared to a banker's bonus it sounds modest, but to provide a pension at that level costs at least £1m.

When Hutton says we need to think about moving all public sector workers to a career average scheme or its equivalent, he is explicitly attacking the huge sums paid to these managers. A clerical worker, by contrast, could spend most of their working life on £16,000 a year and retire on the same amount plus the occasional inflation-linked pay rise. A career average pension would pay them roughly the same as a final salary scheme.

So why are the unions prepared to man the barricades for the public sector's fat cats? A cynic might say leaders such as Prentis are conscious of their own super-sized pensions. Public sector senior directors sitting on the other side of the negotiating table also want to keep the final salary link for their own benefit.

A more generous interpretation puts the union leaders at the top of a pyramid of members who fear changes to their pension as simply a way to replenish the exchequer without attacking the banks. That may be so. However, the contradiction in the union's stance will undermine public support and play into the coalition's hands.

Mark Serwotka, head of the Whitehall union PCS, agreed to a career average scheme for 450,000 civil servants. Can unions, most of whom privately agree final salary is dead, avoid fighting for the better off in the name of ordinary workers?"

So there you have it - and from the pages of the Guardian no less.

The bottom line is that the union hullabaloo over pensions is all about protecting the position of higher paid groups - b
ecause low paid workers get no real benefit from a final salary scheme.