Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Things Go Better With Coke

Good to see Scotland supporting our neighbours in England.

As the English FA tries - albeit belatedly - to inject some openness and accountability into the world footballing association - FIFA.

The business of electing a new President stinks to high heaven - with Sepp Blatter's only rival suspended - and allegations of bribery and corruption swirling around delegates from different countries.

So the heat is turning up on the big World Cup sponsors - companies like Coca Cola, Adidas and Emirates Airlines - who don't want their hard won reputations to be tarnished.

Let's hope the money men insist on getting a bigger bang for their bucks - because the present situation is out of control and will only get worse - if FIFA doesn't mend its ways.

Modern public-facing, organisations - should be prepared to act openly and transparently at all times.

If they don't, you know for sure - they have something to hide. 

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Here's a great story from today's Daily Telegraph.

Let's see what the male MPs are now made of - because if they've any sense, they'll stand shoulder to shoulder with their female colleague.

Female Tory MP barred from playing football with men

"A female Conservative MP has complained at the "ridiculous" new rules which prevent her from playing football for the Parliamentary football team because she's a woman.

Tracey Crouch, 35, the MP for Chatham and Aylesford in Kent, is a right winger or centre forward who has played for both the 11-a-side and five-a-side teams alongside her male colleagues.

However, the Football Association recently took over the running of the 11-a-side team and under its rules only girls aged 13 or under can play in mixed teams.

Miss Crouch, a keen Tottenham Hotspur fan, said: "I don't want there to be an exemption for me but it seems ridiculous that adult women can't decide if they want to play alongside men if they're good enough.

"It's right that girls can't play alongside boys over 13 - the physical factors are too obvious - but it's ridiculous to apply those rules to something like the Parliamentary football team."

She insisted that she could hold her own against her male counterparts, who include Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, Andy Burnham, the shadow education secretary, and Karl McCartney, the Tory MP for Lincoln.

Asked to give an example of how her skills compared, she said: "Well, I once nutmegged [put the ball through the legs of] Jim Murphy, which might give you a hint. Besides, the Parliamentary team is hardly the Premier League.

"The men's game is fast, more pacey, but women can be more technically adept. If you put a member of Arsenal Ladies team into a men's Sunday League team, I think the men would be surprised."

Miss Crouch is also a qualified football coach and FA referee and has managed Meridian Girls U13s in Kent for three years.

The FA agreed to increase the age at which girls can play in mixed teams from 11 to 13 after Emily Lewis-Clarke, a schoolgirl from Devon, won a battle on the topic.

The 11-year-old, who plays for Newton Abbott 66 Football Club, got more than 6,000 signatures before handing her petition in to the FA - which agreed the new rules last week and will bring them in next year."

Free Union Advice

I find myself in a strange position today - I've been contacted by a trade union branch secretary down in England - for some advice and information about equal pay.

Now the chap's name and details will remain private - to prevent any repercussions from his less enlightened union colleagues.

But it gives me something of a dilemma - because I don't know him or anything about him - and why should I help the trade union anyway - given the way they've behaved over the years?

Yet on reflection this union branch secretary is clearly trying to do the right thing by his members - unlike many other trade unions reps I know - who lined up with the employers a long time ago.

So I will help him and provide the information he's looking for - even though there's nothing in it for me or for Action 4 Equality Scotland.

I only hope it does some good for low paid council workers in another part of the country - whether they are union members or not - makes no difference to me.

So good luck mystery union man - and if there's anything else I can do to help, just let me know.

Blazing Saddles

If there's been a better comedy film than Blazing Saddles in the past 30 odd years - I've yet to see it.

Mel Brooks riotous western has a lot going for it - other than bean-fuelled cowboys - the story is overtly racist, sexist, offensive and way over the top - on just about every front imaginable.

But that's the whole point.

Because the film pokes fun at the establishment and stereotypes of all kinds - allowing people to laugh at the absurdities of the modern world - through the eyes of the Waco Kid and the Sheriff of Rock Ridge.

Imagine a society ruled over by religious fundamentalists - of any description.

A film like Blazing Saddles would be banned for being subversive - because that's exactly what it is.

Maybe that's why I like Private Eye so much - there's nothing quite like it for making fun of the 'great and the good'.

Here are a couple of items from the latest edition:

NUMBER CRUNCHING
15 months - Prison sentence of Timothy Harris, a thug from Northamptonshire, for benefit fraud which cost taxpayers £54,000.

1 week - Time for which David Laws, a former cabinet minister from Somerset, has been excluded (on full pay) from the House of Commons after paying back £56,000 he wrongly claimed from taxpayers in benefits.  
-  

The Irish Banquet for the Queen
Menu in Full

Potato Soup
***
Baked Potato with Mash
Chips
Potatoes Dauphinoise
Sauteed Potatoes
***
Potato Ice Cream
***
Petit Potatoes
***
To drink:
Potcheen 1846  

Monday, 30 May 2011

FIFA, c'est moi!

Louis XIV of France got his head chopped off - for not moving with the times. 

The Sun King believed he was the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful Monarch of France -  accountable to absolutely no one but himself - until, of course, the French Revolution decided he had rowed his boat out just a bit too far.

Sepp Blatter - President of FIFA - seems to suffer from the same overbearing arrogance - as the last King of France.

I just watched a press conference - fronted by this septuagenarian megalomaniac - which could have been organised by Louis XIV's public relations advisers.

Because Blatter's blunt message to his critics was simple and to the point: 'FIFA, c'est moi' - and what are you all going to do about it?  

He even trotted out the old line that Jim Callaghan - the former Labour Prime Minister - allegedly used when the country was going to the dogs in the 1970's - during the Winter of Discontent.

'Crisis, what crisis', Blatter said through his crocodile smile - batting or Blattering other questions away insouciantly - and in similar vein.

To say the press conference ended with more questions than answers - is the understatement of the year. 

The old rascal even tired to take credit for the Champions League Final on Saturday - between Barcelona  and Manchester United. 

Now let me think.

Are the any similarities between Sepp Blatter and Scottish councils - when it comes to equal pay?  

Whistleblowing

FIFA - the world football organisation - finally seems to be getting some real stick.

After a 'whistleblower' from the inside the machine - finally shines a light on what's been going on - but has been hidden from public view up until now.

A good thing too - if you ask me.

Because FIFA seems like completely shameless organisation - the exact opposite of open and transparent body - with procedures that are seen to be fair.

Various FIFA bigwigs are now fighting like rats in a sack - which always happens when the worm turns in these kind of situations.

Suddenly the tables turn - and the once all powerful bosses are no longer in control.    

Whistleblowers and whistleblowing in in the UK is afforded legal protection - so long as there is a 'public interest' defence.

So if you have something important to say about equal pay or anything else - then don't have any qualms about standing up and speaking the truth.

Just be sure to get good advice in advance of making a move - to be on the safe side.

But an employer would be in big, big trouble if they tried to bully or victimise an employee - for speaking up about some wrongdoing - which the organisation is effectively covering up.

Sometimes when desperate people do desperate things - the only way to bring it all to a shuddering halt - is to blow the whistle on their bad behaviour.

Nou Camp - here we come!

I watched the Barcelona v Manchester United game again today.

And I have to say it is even more impressive in the cold light of day - than when first seen amidst all the swirling emotion and excitement of Saturday night.

Barcelona simply played Man U off the pitch - with a relentless and essentially simple passing game - interspersed with moments of sheer flair and individual brilliance.

Which is what football is all about at the end of the day - passing the ball to your team mates and keeping possession - until an opportunity to score comes along.

On Saturday night, Barcelona gave a masterclass in how to play the beautiful game - skill and  sportsmanship were in abundance - even from the Man U team who were so comprehensively beaten in the end.

Scotland has much to learn - not just from the quality of the football - but also from the absence of sectarian singing, violence and hatred - that often accompanies the Scottish game.

But that kind of behaviour is now very firmly in the public spotlight - and is high on the Scottish government's agenda - which is a big step forward.

To end on another positive note - I think I'll treat myself to a visit to Barcelona and the team's Nou Camp stadium - when the new football season gets underway later this year.

Debating South Lanarkshire

A regular reader from South Lanarkshire has been in touch - with what I think is an interesting  suggestion.

'How about holding a series of local meetings in the area - to debate publicly the issues surrounding Single Status, Equal Pay and Freedom of Information?'

Well, I think I'd be up for that - all we'd need are some suitable local venues - ones that are not controlled by the council in case there are any difficulties about booking the facility.

I imagine local polticians would be interested in coming along - councilllors, MSPs and MPs.

Maybe we could challenge some of the key players to an open public debate - for example, the leadership of the council along with local trade union leaders - and so on.

So let me know what you think?

A series of public meetings would take a bit of organising - but I'm all in favour of freedom of speech and an open public debate - on the big issues of the day.

Let's see who else is up for it as well.

Rotten Boroughs

Private Eye - the fortnightly satirical magazine - has a regular column entitled 'Rotten Boroughs' which shines an occasional light on the behaviour of local councils in the UK.

Here's a interesting story from the latest edition of the magazine - a snip at only £1.50 every two weeks.

"Twits on Tyne"

"As if secret multi-million pound bonuses paid to bosses of Newcastle Airport as part of a refinancing deal hadn't cost councils in the region enough, South Tyneside council is now spenmding thousands in vindictive pursuit of a councillor who helped bring the scandal to light.

Newcastle Airport is majority-owned by seven councils in the north-east. When the £377 million refinancing deal was agreed in 2006, the aiprport's executive directors, John Parkin and Lars Friis, were each paid a percentage of the loan as a personal bonus.

Between them they trousered more than £8.5 million with the agreement of the airport's remuneration committee, which included South Tyneside's Labour leader, Iain Malcolm. The bonuses were not made public. The airport company recouped slightly more than half the money in an out-of-court settlement in 2008. Parkin is now chief executive at Leeds-Bradford airport; Friis has since died.

Much of the information about the deal recently reported in the Newcastle Journal was gathered by South Tyneside Independent councillor Ahmed Khan. The Journal's revelations prompted Newcastle MP and former minister Nick Brown to calll for a police investigation.

Last month legal action was launched by South Tynesdie council in California, trying to force Twitter, which is based in San Francisco to hand over information relating to accounts belonging to Cllr Khan and others, including all deatils of his communications with other users. Cllr Khan believes the council is trying to identify the whistleblowers who sent him information about the airport deal. The council has also filed a defamation action in the Californian courts against an unidentified Tyneside blogger "Mr Monkey", who ceased posting in 2009, because the Wordpress blogging service is based there.

South Tyneside's chie exec did promise to tell independent councillors how much all this legal action is costing, especially given the use of pricey international law firm McDermott, Will and Emery. So far, no information has been forthcoming."  

Local Politics

The Herald reports today that local politics in Scotland are in a real state of flux at the moment - following the recent elections to the Holyrood Parliament.

Tom Gordon - the newspapers political editor - tells of two more councillors who have switched their allegiance to the SNP. 

The moral of the story is that it's always useful to share your point of view with local politicians - whether on equal pay - or anything else.

Local councillors, MSPs and MPs are elected to serve the interests of local voters - and should respond to anything you raise with them - in a serious and professional manner.

So don't be backwards - about coming forwards.

Two more councillors switch to the SNP

"Two Scottish councillors shifted their allegiance to the SNP last night, including a former election agent for Labour peer Lord Foulkes.

The SNP are now predicting more defections ahead of next year’s local elections.

The decision by independent councillors Glynis Sinclair in Highland and Douglas Campbell, in South Ayrshire, to join the SNP brings the number of new council recruits to four since the SNP’s landslide win in the Holyrood elections.

In the immediate aftermath of the result, Mike Dillon and Marie McGurk defected from the Liberal Democrats to the SNP on Renfrewshire Council.

The collapse of the LibDem vote on May 5 has raised hopes in the SNP of more councillors changing sides before next May, in order to qualify for SNP candidate selection.

Sinclair, who was a LibDem before turning independent, said: “It is never easy to change to another political party but it became clear long before the Westminster election that the Liberal Democrats were losing touch and I have long seen that the SNP reflected the values of both myself and my constituents more directly.”

Campbell, a former leader of the Labour group at South Ayrshire Council and an election agent to Lord George Foulkes when he was an Ayrshire MP, said he no longer recognised the Labour Party, but praised “the dedication of the local SNP group and SNP Government in delivering positive measures for the communities of north Ayr.”

McGurk added: “I’ve been thinking about this for some time. There are changes in Westminster and decisions made by the LibDem leadership which have left me unable, in all conscience, to continue my membership of the party.”

Aileen Campbell, the local government minister, said: “Locally and nationally these four councillors represent many people turning to the SNP as their natural party.”

The SNP was the biggest winner at the last local election in 2007, returning 363 of Scotland’s 1222 councillors, followed by Labour on 348, the LibDems on 166 and Conservatives on 143."

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Millions Wasted Fighting Equal Pay Claims

Here's an interesting article on equal pay - from yesterday's Scotsman newspaper.

So the same councils that claim to be strapped for cash - seem to have deep pockets when it comes to hiring expensive outside lawyers - to fight equal pay claims from their own staff.

In many cases the employers are simply defending the indefensible - but with taxpayers money, of course. 

The comment from COSLA is - as usual - both ridiculous and self-serving.

Because the reason there are large numbers of claims today - is that councils failed to deliver on their promises over Single Status and Equal Pay - which they made back in 1999. 

'Town halls 'waste' millions fighting equal pay claims'. 

"Public bodies have splashed out millions of pounds in legal fees in recent years to fight equal pay cases against their own staff.

It was branded a "bonanza" for lawyers by one MSP yesterday, who also hit out at councils for failing to address an issue which has been "rumbling on for years".

About £3.5 million has been paid out by councils, which also covers tribunal cases brought by disgruntled workers, a Freedom of Information request by The Scotsman has revealed.

The biggest payout came in Midlothian, which had a bill of £496,000 over the past five years, while Aberdeen paid out £459,000.

Among the law firms to benefit were MacRoberts, which was paid just over £1.3 million by councils. Brodies took in £923,000, while MacLay, Murray and Spens was paid £245,000, the figures from 22 of Scotland's 32 councils show.

Conservative chief whip David McLetchie said: "These figures are the tip of an iceberg by comparison with the hundreds of millions of pounds paid to date in meeting these claims, with many more still in the pipeline.

"This bonanza for lawyers is a small part of a much bigger equal pay scandal which has been rumbling on for years for which both councils and trade unions bear the primary responsibility, aided and abetted by governments which have refused to intervene despite repeated warnings about the scale of the problem."

A report by Holyrood's local government and communities committee two years ago found there were still 35,000 equal pay cases lodged with tribunals with "no resolution in sight".

It found the total bill for equal pay claims in Scotland had been estimated at £540m, of which about £169m was still owed to staff. The latter figured only covered 22 of Scotland's councils, meaning the final bill was likely to top £200m.

Single status agreements were made between councils and unions in 1999 to harmonise manual and non-manual workers' terms and conditions, but councils took years to do this.

A series of legal rulings in the intervening period on equal pay led to thousands of workers lodging claims with tribunals.

Two of Scotland's biggest councils, Glasgow and Edinburgh, did not provide figures, meaning the real figure is likely to be far higher. Midlothian says it has a small in-house legal team and must "buy in" specialised advice from external firms.

A spokesman for local government body Cosla said: "There is no doubt that we find ourselves in much more of a claims culture in the UK now. "Councils have to get this right. They are legally obliged to. Secondly, we cannot be responsible for the numbers of claims that are coming our way; we just have to deal with them."

THE top ten councils for legal fees in tribunal cases were:

Midlothian £496,746
Aberdeen £459,292
South Lanarkshire £410,000
Argyll and Bute £376,962
North Ayrshire £284,000
Clackmannanshire £218,899
North Lanarkshire £180,395
West Lothian £125,451
Dumfries and Galloway £106,799
Shetland £77,034
Glasgow and Edinburgh Councils did not provide figures"

Barca Boss Britain's Best

Barcelona are a joyous team to behold in full flight.

Last night  they stamped their authority all over their match with Manchester United - before running out easy winners in the end.

The Catalans turned an old sporting adage on its head - 'that a good big 'un, will always beat a good little 'un' - as Messi, Xavi and Iniesta ran Man U ragged - and not for the first time either.

So maybe there's still hope for Scotland - we shall see.

But it's encouraging that sheer skill and effort has triumphed on the world stage - yet again - as the Spanish national side did in the World Cup.  

The Champions League Final also proved to be a great showcase for the game - which was played in a great spirit on both sides.

Even Sir Alex Ferguson - not one of football's good losers - was generous with his praise at the end of the match - in which his own side gave a good account of themselves. 

The best team won on the night - by a country mile.

And in Barcelona's style of play - it's easy to see why football is often called - 'the beautiful game'.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

The Big Match

Barcelona versus Manchester United at Wembley stadium tonight - has all the hallmarks of a great football match.

So let's hope it lives up to expectations - and serves up a real treat.

Barcelona are the best team in the world - according to most pundits, but this is a one-off game - anything can happen and in football it often does.

Who would ever have thought lowly Wimbledon would have beaten mighty Liverpool - in the 1980 something FA Cup Final?

Certainly not me.

So I'll be glued to my screen watching the match - along with half the population of Europe, so it seems.

In fact - I might even have a little bet at the bookies.

Jumping on Bandwagons

No sonner has the Daily Telegraph published its piece - highlighting examples of outrageous council spending - than other newspapers jump on its bandwagon.

Witness the following extracts from an article in today's Independent newspaper - in similar vein.

"The details were obtained by The Daily Telegraph under the Freedom of Information Act and included flights to Thailand, Kenya and Bermuda and hotel stays at the Four Seasons in New York, the Pan Pacific in Singapore and the Athens Hilton.

Gifts have been bought from Tiffany jewellery, Gucci products and pure silk ties.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: "It appears that for years, some councils have been enjoying the high life paid for by you and me.

"Now that we are forcing councils to release details of their expenditure, the culture of wild overspends and excess which became the norm under Labour, will hopefully become a thing of the past."

Cornwall Council in particular had a total credit card bill of almost £9 million, including £1,145,160 on hotels, since 2008.

The expenditure included travel to Goa, India, Bangkok, Thailand and Kyoto, Japan and £81,000 on hospitality and restaurant meals.

Cornwall's Liberal Democrat opposition leader, Jeremy Rowe, said: "At a time when Cornwall's lowest paid workers are having their pay frozen it is outrageous that the - often handsomely rewarded - people on the top floor at County Hall are lavishing vast sums on travel, hotels, home cinema systems and even £1,000 on 'pure silk ties'."

Spending Public Money

The Daily Telegraph has a big article today - on how public money is being spent by some of our councils.

Here's an extract of what the paper has to say today - and given its track record on MPs' expenses - I think the Telegraph may be on to something.

"Council staff refused to explain their expenditure further when contacted by The Daily Telegraph earlier last week.

In contrast, 48 councils did not issue the credit cards while several others only incurred bills running into thousands of pounds.

The rules on the cards are not clear with each council thought to have drawn up its own guidelines. Whitehall officials are understood to be increasingly concerned that there was little oversight on the expenditure with few checks made on the use of taxpayers’ money.

The revelations are likely to spark public fury at a time when councils are axing more than 170,000 jobs, closing libraries and cutting spending on care for the elderly. Council tax has more than doubled over the past decade as local authorities have insisted they are cash-strapped.

However, the documents show that officials used the council cards to treat themselves to iPads, Macbooks and iPhones, with more than £100,000 spent on Apple products alone.

Thousands more went on shopping sprees at John Lewis, Debenhams and Marks & Spencer.

The cards were used to fund leisure activities totalling more than £600,000 including theatre trips, paint-balling excursions and visits to theme parks such as Alton Towers and Flamingoland.

Tens of thousands of pounds were spent across several councils on games consoles including Nintendo Wiis and Xboxes as well as video games such as Guitar Hero.

The documents also disclose how the credit cards were used to buy a bizarre array of miscellaneous items including beer mats, leather passport covers, dog food, breast examination kits, snow machines and jacket potato ovens.

Lewisham Council in south London paid £73,000 to Swedish Body Armour, a Scandinavian company that sells protective clothing including bomb-proof trousers and stab vests.

Horsham Council in West Sussex spent £1150 on two llamas to graze on communal land along with a small flock of sheep. They also spent £575 on live fish for a council pond.

Aberdeenshire Council in Scotland spent more than £3,500 on cheerleading pom poms and more than £4,000 on professional hair and beauty products for a “hairdressing classroom” at a local school.

East Lothian Council, near Edinburgh, spent thousands of pounds on mountain biking accessories, which it was unable to explain, and wetsuits as well as a £500 payment for “beekeeping”.

Essex Council spent around £4,000 on “birds for a pet barn”, a chicken run and an “incubator for the new hatchery” at Marsh Farm Country Park in 2010 and 2011.

Despite being ordered by Mr Pickles to publish all spending over £500 by January, 252 of the councils contacted claimed to be unable to disclose their credit card bills when contacted by The Daily Telegraph.

The 186 councils that replied were unable to account for more than £20,000 that had been spent on their cards, where receipts were not provided."

You Heard It Here First

No sooner have I finished my thoughts about Ed Balls - that I read an excellent article in today's Guardian newspaper - some extracts of which are reproduced below.

I absolutely agree with the point that if Ed Balls were still in office today - he would be forced to resign by yesterday's damning judgment from the Court of Appeal.

Ed Balls has a reputation for throwing his weight around and - on this occasion - he has also played fast and loose with public money.

If he applied the same standards to himself - he would do the decent thing and stand down from his role as shadow chancellor.

Because his reputation is now in tatters.

"The court of appeal was extremely clear where blame lay for the way Ms Shoesmith was dismissed. It lay with Mr Balls for rushing his fences too eagerly and Haringey for following him over them too blindly. As soon as the horrific Baby P criminal case ended in November 2008, Mr Balls got Ofsted to conduct an urgent report on the state of the obviously compromised child safeguarding arrangements in Haringey. That was sensible, given the seriousness of the case and Haringey's reputation, though it was inevitably a bit of a rushed job.

But, three weeks later, as soon as he received Ofsted's critical report, Mr Balls threw judgment to the winds. He called a press conference at which he publicly dismissed Ms Shoesmith. Haringey immediately suspended her and then, a few days later, fired her without compensation or payment in lieu of notice.

Very few people who have studied the Baby P case in detail will be in much doubt that Ms Shoesmith bears a very serious share of responsibility for the Baby P case failings and for the unacceptable state of child services in her borough at the time. If proper procedures had been followed it is unlikely she would have remained long in her post or have had any case against her dismissal.

But Mr Balls, with Haringey in his wake, should not have blundered in the way that they reacted to the scandals. Ms Shoesmith was entitled to be treated in a procedurally proper way. Mr Balls brushed all that aside. He was too ready to do the bidding of the media, which wanted Ms Shoesmith's head immediately on a platter. He put his political convenience above his ministerial responsibility. Haringey followed where Mr Balls led. Incredibly, their cavalier approach to law has turned Ms Shoesmith into a victim.

If Mr Balls had still been in office, yesterday's ruling should have forced his resignation. Instead, he insisted that he would have handled the case in exactly the same way if he had his time over again. This is not just foolish but worrying."

Politics and Self-Interest

Ed Balls - the former Labour minister - appears to have cost tax payers hundreds of thousands of pounds.

How so?

For his role in sacking the a senior official in Haringey Council - over the death of Baby Peter -  whose neglect and abuse shocked the nation only a few years ago.

Three Court of Appeal judges agreed yesterday - unanimously - that the senior official (Sharon Shoesmith) had been unfairly sacked from her £133,000 a year job.

The former senior is now likely to receive hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation - but the taxpayer will pick up the tab - not Ed Balls or his government advisers.

Which is often the way of these things.

Because the politicians want someone's head on a plate - in fact anyone's head on a plate - so long as it's not their own.

And the same politicians are also happy to act 'tough and decisively' - safe in the knowledge that if it all goes wrong and costs the taxpayers a fortune - then they won't be held to account for their actions.

Someone else will be to blame - of that you can be sure.

So this terrible tale has ended as it began - in complete chaos.

Sadly, no one has emerged looking as though they had anything - but their own narrow self-interests at heart.

Hold the Front Page!

Two of Scotland's teaching unions - the EIS and NASUWT - are at loggerheads, the newspapers report today. 

Wow, what a shocker - hold the front page!

The EIS (Educational Institue of Scotland) and NASUWT (National Association of Schooolmasters and Union of Women Teachers) have apparently fallen out over one of the big issues of our time:

Changes to the way supply teachers are paid.

Now I can't say, myself, that I've noticed this great subject being the 'talk of the steamie' - as I go about my life's daily routine.

But apparently it's a big deal - to some teachers at least - who think they should be paid at a higher rate if they go back and do supply teaching at a school - having previously retired from duty.

Such teachers 'are up in arms' - as I understand the dispute - because they want their 'old' rate of pay, i.e. the one they enjoyed before retiring - as opposed to a new entrant's rate of pay.

Which of of course would mean different teachers receiving different rates of pay - for doing what amounts to exactly the same job.

Confused?

Well so am I - I only wish someone would explain to me what this is really all about - and if they do I'll happily share the details on the blog site. 

Meantime the NASUWT have written to the Education Secretary - Mike Russell - complaining about the make-up of the teachers negotiating body - and calling for changes to be made.

I imagine this will be given very short shrift - taking all the circumstances into account. 

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Biting the hand that feeds

Figures released today by the Electoral Commission - show that the trade unions provided the Labour party with 87% of all its donations - in the first three months of 2011.

Now all political parties rely on donations simply to exist - because they don't receive direct state funding - and have no other sources of income - beyond the generosity of party members and supporters.

But things appear to be going from bad to worse - because even under Gordon Brown the figure stood at 56%.

So the party is becoming ever more reliant on the unions - financially speaking - with Ed Miliband as Labour leader.

Now this is not so surprising in one sense at least.

Because the only section of Labour's  electoral college in which Ed Miliband received more  votes than his brother David Miliband - was the trade union section.

Where a relative handful of of trade union activists cast the same 'one third' of the total electoral college - as did individual party members.

Now there's something fundamentally wrong and undemocratic - about the way Labour selects its leaders.

I suspect Ed Miliband agrees with that assessment - but his problem is that to do something about it, to tackle the vested interests involved  - he has to bite the hand that feeds him.

Life Imitating Art

I watched a remarkable TV programme the other night - which reminded me of the film Escape from New York - directed by the one and only John Carpenter.

The TV documentary was made by none other than Louis Theroux - a true English eccentric - who keeps putting himself in harm's way - even though he look as though he couldn't fight his way out of a paper bag.

The subject of Louis's film was a jail in America where prisoners are left to more or less fend for themselves - once they have been safely locked behind bars by their guards.

So differences between the prisoners are often settled by violent fights - which the authorities make no attempt to break up - presumably because in one way or another the prisoners 'have it coming'.

What's remarkable is that this very scenario is what was foreseen in Escape from New York - a film where the whole of Manhattan Island has been sealed off - as a high security prison.

And the flotsam and jetsam of of America's underclass gets dumped there - with no hope, no future and no way out - so they take great pleasure in beating each other up - often to a bloody pulp.

The only thing missing from Louis Theroux's film was an interview with John Carpenter - but maybe Louis has not even seen Escape from New York - and is blissfully unaware of its famous anti-hero, Snake Plissken.

Someone should tell him, pronto.

What a scoop.  

A Passage to India

Former Labour MP - David Chaytor - left prison today for fiddling his parliamentary expenses - after serving only five of his eighteen month sentence.

But as one door opens another maybe about to close - because former Tory peer, Lord Hanningfield now faces a jail term - after being found guilty of fraudulently claiming nearly £14,000.

Lord Hanningfield claimed £13,379 in parliamentary expenses - for overnight stays in London but which involved nights when he was not actually in the capital.

His dishonest claims included one occasion in February 2008 - when he was actually on board a flight en route to India.

How the other half live - and how deluded they are because the noble lord continued to protest his innocence as he left court, telling reporters:

"I'm devastated but I have no regrets. I did nothing wrong."

I hope the judge throws the book at him when he returns to court for sentencing - in a few months time.

Lang may yer lum reek!

A regular reader from Stirling has been in touch.

One of the male janitors who listened to Action 4 Equality Scotland on equal pay - and disregarded the duff 'advice' coming from the trade unions.

Here's what he had to say:

"Dear Mark,

First of all I'm sorry that it's taken so long, but THANKS.

Thanks for all your hard work 
Thanks for all your patience 
                   and
Thanks for the money"

The letter goes on to provide the means by which I can procure for myself - a nice bottle of red wine - which is a very kind gesture and much appreciated.

The letter ends by saying.

"Once again THANKS.

Yours

WA

PS Lang may yer lum reek!" 

When I look back on what's happened over the past five years - I take great satisfaction in seeing the difference our work on equal pay has made - to so many people's lives.

And the secret of that success has been in telling the truth - plain and simple.

While avoiding all the party politicking - that so bedevils relations between the employers and the trade unions.

Is it safe?

I always seem to get caught up in this Icelandic ash cloud business.

First coming back from Canada last year - and now in this latest disruption - which badly affected Scotland's air space earlier this week.

And I have to say I think I'm on the side of Michael O'Leary and Willie Walsh - who both claim the threat to air travel safety is being completely overblown - by the scientists and boffins.

Because the restrictions placed airlines are all based on computer programmes and theoretical projections - rather than on practical tests - which both Michael O'Leary and Willie Walsh have carried out.

And they reported no adverse effects on the planes which went up into the sky.

So why the big shutdown?

Now no airline is going to take risks with passenger safety - in this day and age.

But surely the way to decide the significance of the risk involved - if any - is to put a plane in the air and take decisions based on real empirical evidence. 

Red Dust Road

I've just finished reading Red Dust Road - the life story so far of Jackie Kay - one of Scotland's best known poets.

Jackie has an interesting 'hinterland', as they say - adopted soon after she was born by John and Helen Kay, lifelong socialists from Glasgow.

Jackie's birth mother was a young Scottish woman from Nairn and her birth father was a young Nigerian student - whom she met briefly while he was studying in Aberdeen.

Red Dust Road tells the story of Jackie's life with John and Helen Kay - and her subsequent search for her birth mother and father.

The book is a delight - funny, sad, powerful and poignant - all at the same time.

The opening chapter tells the story of Jackie's reunion with her birth father Jonathan in Nigeria - where he has become a born-again Christian - and she tells the 'hilarious' tale with remarkable honesty.

As she does when speaking of her birth mother - whose Mormon beliefs convinced her that adopted people ask to be adopted - while still in the womb.

Apparently, her mother believed that Jackie had found the perfect parents - in John and Helen Kay - because her birth mother had prayed for this to be so.

Jackie recalls: "I tried to picture the embryonic me, knocking on the wall of her uterus, shouting: Oi, you, can you get me adopted?"

I knew Jackie's father John Kay - he was the Industrial Organiser of the Communist Party in Scotland for many years - and knew everything there was to know about the trade unions in those days.

A fine man - who would have scoffed at all this religious mumbo jumbo - some of which has clearly rubbed off on his daughter, Jackie.

But the amazing thing is that Red Dust Road is not in the least bitter or resentful - just thankful and hopeful for the future - which I think sums up the true spirit of John and Helen Kay as well.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

CENSORED in South Lanarkshire

Here is the 'guts' of the document censored by South Lanarkshire Council - following my freedom of information request about Single Status and Equal Pay.

The council has removed or redacted a whole section of Paragraph 2.2.1 - presumably because this lets the cat out of the bag - in terms of what council officials were really up to back in 1999.

What's amazing is that elected councillors appear to have left the whole business of Single Status and Equal Pay - up to the most senior officials who sat on the Corporate Management Team.

Incredibly, the subject of Single Status and Equal Pay - the biggest issue facing the council - is not discussed at any council committee - between the summer of 1999 and the spring of 2003.

So much for local democracy.

Which appears to have been casually cast aside to suit the council's Corporate Management Team - who now want to keep their deliberations secret.

But that's what the House of Commons tried to do as well - in relation to MPs' expenses.

And look whwhat that did for MPs - and the House of Commons. 

"1 Purpose of Report
1.1 To outline the principles of Signle Status and seek the Corporate Management Team's approval for a strategy to implement Single Status in the Council.

2 Background

2.1 The introduction of Signle Status removes the divisions in conditions of service between APT&C and Manual employees and provides the Council with an opporuntiy to re-engineer the organisation and re-configure our workforce.

2.2 Alternatives Available for Implementation of Single Status

2.2.1 Achieve Single Status through the Existing Organisation

CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED 
CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED 
CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED CENSORDE CENSORED
CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED
CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED
CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED

2.2.2 Achieve Single Status through an Organisation for the Millennium

THIS SECTION CONTAINS LOTS OF WAFFLE - BUT NOTHING REALLY IMPORTANT

3 Proposals

THIS SECTION CONTAINS LOTS MORE WAFFLE - BUT AGAIN NOTHING REALLY IMPORTANT 

4 Recommendations

4.1 It is recommended that implementation is progressed on a phased basis by initially approving these principles (under Paragrpah 3), with further reports submitted to the Corporate Management Team outlining each specific stage. As part of the first stage, Corporate Personnel Services will liase with the Trade Union side to obtain their agreement of the principles. and progress implementation thorugh a partnership approach.

4.2 The next step will involve rolling out the principles of Single Status to managers and this would be achieved through the delivery of a series of Corporate Road Shows.

4.3 Following this, a further report will be submitted to the Corporate Management Team by 31 December 1999, detailing the proposed timetable for implementation.

4.4 It is recommended that the Corporate Management Team agrees the principles of Single Status and the proposals for roll out as outlined."

More to follow - so watch this space.

'A code that you can live by'

I travelled down to London in 1974, I think - to watch Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young play a live concert at Wembley Stadium - the warm up act was Joni Mitchell.

Now I'm not sure how many teachers were in the audience of 70,000 or so fans.

But as the song says: - Teach Your Children Well - because they must have a code that they can live by.

Don't we all?


Teach Your Children (CSNY)

You, who are on the road must have a code that you can live by.

And so become yourself because the past is just a good bye.

Teach your children well, their father's hell did slowly go by,

And feed them on your dreams, the one they picked, the one you're known by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you you would cry,

So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.


And you, of the tender years can't know the fears that your elders grew by,

And so please help them with your years, they seek the truth before they can die.

Teach your parents well, their children's hell will slowly go by,

And feed them on your dreams, the one they picked, the one you're known by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,

So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

Teach Your Children Well

Here's the post I wrote about Scotland's teachers and the McCrone Agreement - back in January 2011.

Scotland's 'comprehensive' system of education is based on the principle that no one person is better than anyone else - and that we all deserve the same chance or start in life.

What anyone makes of the chance their given - is then up to the individual.

So what's sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander - Scotland's teachers simply ain't entitled to better conditions of service than other council workers. 

And I'm surprised that the some teachers - aided and abetted by the trade unions -  should be setting such a bad example to school students and young people.   

More Equal Than Others (29 January 2011)

The Scottish government has announced a review of the McCrone Agreement - which gave Scottish teachers guarantees on pay and conditions back in 2001.

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.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

More Equal Than Others?

If you believe the news headlines, Scotland's teachers are up in arms - over planned changes to their conditions of service.

Now these changes haven't been explained in any detail as yet - but as far as I can see they would simply involve bringing teachers into line - with other council employees.

So what's the fuss all about - surely teachers don't believe that they are entitled to better, more favourable treatment than everyone else - simply because they're teachers.

What kind of example would that set for Scotland's children and young people - being schooled in concepts such as fairness, equality and social justice?

I'm sure I wrote something about teachers' conditions of service recently - I must dig the post out and publish it again.

Because we're bound to bombarded with a load of old baloney from Scotland's teaching unions - on why teachers deserve to be treated as 'more equal' than others.

But let's face - do the trade unions believe that a Teacher deserves better conditions of service than a Classroom Assistant or a Nursery Nurse?

And if so, why?

Differences in pay are one thing - as these reflect different skill levels and responsibilities between different jobs.

Differences in conditions of service can't be justified in the same way.

Because they are normally about discriminating unfairly in favour of one group - at the expense of another.

Guff and Hot Air

John Rentoul had an amusing piece about political gobbledegook the other day - on his blog site hosted by the Independent newspaper.

Poking fun at the ridiculous gobbledegook politicians come up with sometimes - in their rush to persuade voters to give their party a second look.

The article is reproduced below - but the bit I like best was - 'we will address the new inequality by hard wiring fairness into the economy'.

I think I'll write to Ed Miliband and ask him to do the simple things first - like telling Labour-led South Lanarkshire Council to get its finger out - and to stop censoring pay information about traditional male jobs.

Now that would be a small practical step forward - instead of all this guff and hot air.

"Perhaps it was a little harsh to compare Ed Miliband to Harold Camping, the millennarian who said the world was going to end yesterday.

After all, lots of people had already accused him of making a fool of himself by calling for Ken Clarke’s resignation (including Suzanne Moore, Steve Richards, Mary Dejevsky and Christina Patterson).

Why could I not pay attention to the substance of an important speech he made to Progress yesterday, some of my readers have complained? It was trailed in advance, so I did pay attention to it here, suggesting that the Labour leader had got his history wrong.

But what about the rest of it?

Instead of comparing Miliband to a doomsday cultist I could have taken his cliché-ridden verbiage seriously.

Labour needs to “own the future”, apparently.

All David Cameron offers is “a shrivelled, pessimistic, austere view of the future”. Ed Miliband, on the other hand, has this compilation of the Banned List’s greatest hits:

'In the future the Labour offer to aspirational voters must be that we will address the new inequality by hard wiring fairness into the economy'.

He wants to deliver “better, optimistic politics”.

Give me strength.

He’ll be making another important speech tomorrow. You will understand if I refrain from further comment until about 2014."

Unofficially Campaigning

I read a strange report in the papers the other day - about the moves to replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn as head of the IMF (International Monetary Fund).

The report said that nameless allies of Gordon Brown - the sometime MP for Fife - were accusing the government of a 'petty blocking exercise' motivated by personal dislike of the former Labour leader.

Yet the government - according to GB's nameless friends - were well aware that their man was 'unofficially campaigning for the job'.

Now I could swear I heard GB saying quite the opposite on live TV - while he was stomping around South Africa last week.

So what's the government supposed to do - because if you don't ask, you don't get.

And anyway, GB already has a full-time job - representing the interests of the good people of Fife - even though he appears to spend relatively little of his time and energy in the House of Commons.

If the job of being an MP is not big enough for the former Iron Chancellor - he should do the decent thing and resign - then he can throw his hat into the ring for any job he likes.

But trying to have your cake and eat it at the same time - is no way to win friends and influence people.

As it happens the Westminster government has now formally nominate a French woman as the replacement for DSK - Christine Lagarde.

If successful - she will become the first woman to head up the IMF.

No doubt unsuspecting chambermaids all across New York - will be breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Politics and Equal Pay

The Herald newspaper reports today that the penny may have finally dropped - for the many Labour councillors in Glasgow.

Suddenly it's dawned on them that Labour might actually lose control of Glasgow City Council - for the first time ever - at next year's local elections in May 2012.

Here's something I posted recently about Single Status and Equal Pay.

But what I say about the trade unions - is equally true of the Scotland's big councils - which were all Labour controlled at the time. 

Because these councils betrayed their lowest paid workers - every bit as much as the Labour supporting trade unions.

And as the employers they had even more responsibility - arguably - to keep their promises on  equal pay.

So I'm not surprised that Labour councillors in Glasgow are now very anxious about the future - because the Labour party's name is 'mud' amongst many of its own employees.

For the way the Labour-led council - and Labour councillors - behaved over Single Status and Equal Pay.

Action 4 Equality Scotland is currently pursuing the best part of 5,000 equal pay claims - on behalf of low paid workers in Glasgow City Council.

I can't imagine any of those people - or their families - will look favourably on the role that  Labour councillors have played on equal pay - when it comes to the 2012 local elections.

The same will be true in other councils - where Labour has ruled with an 'iron rod' for years - and taken people so badly for granted.  

So wake up and smell the coffee - all you Labour counciilors in Glasgow and elsewhere.

Because the time is always right - to do the right thing.  


Spineless Trade Unions (18 May 2011)

A number of Unison members from South Lanarkshire have been in touch - having attended a union meeting the other night.

What they can't understand is why their union keeps sticking up for their employer - South Lanarkshire Council - instead of standing up and doing the right thing by their members, so they say.

Well, I don't know the answer to that mystery - I'm afraid - all I can say is that the trade unions are far too party political and partisan - for my liking.

Which is why I decided to leave Unison many years ago.

Trade unions should transcend party politics - in my opinion.

But what we get these days is an insidious, dishonest relationship - where the unions often look at the big issues on the basis of what is good or bad for their friends - in the Labour party.

And to be honest that is why the issue of Equal Pay hit a roadblock after the 1999 Single Status Agreement in Scotland - the big Labour controlled councils (at the time) took fright at the cost - and lost their bottle.

And the Labour supporting trade unions - lacked the political will and courage to take these Labour councils on.

So instead of the trade unions in Scotland relating to council employers in a truly independent way - without fear or favour - we get a relationship between the two that is by turns 'corrupt' and 'corrupting'.

In my opinion, of course.

So the message to union members in South Lanarkshire is - don't give up or give in - just redouble your efforts to make your trade union reflect the views and wishes of its members - instead of simply trotting out the old party line.

For example, demand that the unions tell you what traditional male jobs get paid.

Because the trade unions know the answer to that question - as well as South Lanarkshire Council.

More Shock Jocks

A regular reader has been in touch to say that George Galloway comes across as an 'arrogant bully' in his radio programme - in which he describes a young caller as an 'ignoramous'.

See post dated 22 May 2011 - 'Shock Jock'.

I couldn't agree more - because that's no way to speak to people - unless they're being completely rude and offensive.

But the young chap involved was perfectly polite and reasonable.

What George seemed to dislike is that the young caller was standing his ground -  and refusing to roll over - to an experienced, professional politician. 

Now they say that all publicity is good publicity.

Yet there's always and exception that proves the general rule - and this might just be one of them.

No wonder the voters of Glasgow sent GG packing.

I suspect that after this episode - he won't dare to darken the doors of the voters in Glasgow again.  

Now there's a strange thing

As the former head of the IMF - Dominique Strauss-Khan - sits in the $5 million Manhattan apartment owned by his wife, surely the obvious question is:

'Why didn't the old tomcat just get his head down there the other night - instead of staying in a very expensive $1,000 a night hotel?'

Now the answer to that may be obvious - depending on what you think of DSK. 

But it's not just his predatory sexual behaviour that is called into question - while on official IMF business - it's the casual attitude towards spending what is effectively public or government money.

It's like an MP living in central London - claiming on expenses for staying at the Ritz.

Mind you - until recently - a lot of them would have been happy to do exactly that.

And the public would have had no right to know what the buggers were getting up to - with our money.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Secrets and Lies - and FOI

The MPs' expenses scandal may finally drawing to an close with the jailing of former Labour MP and ex-government minister - Elliot Morley.

After initially pleading his innnocence - and stringing the whole court process out for months - Morley suddenly admitted fiddling his parliamentary expenses - and was sentenced to 16 months in jail yesterday.

So justice has eventually been done but what a sorry way for any MP or government minister to behave - Morley dishonestly claimed more than £30,000 over an extended period.

Morley pled guilty last month to making excessive claims for mortgage costs from 2004 to 2007 - also for claiming on a mortgage that had been paid off.

When the allegations against him first surfaced - Morley claimed it had been a genuine mistake - and that he would prove that he was not guilty of deception.

Famous last words.

But it's worth reflecting that Morley would have escaped 'Scot-free' - if the House of Commons authorities got their way on Freedom of Information (FOI).

Because the bureaucrats at Westminster refused all FOI requests over MPs' expenses initially - and even tried to censor or redact important details - which, of course, finally led to MPs like Elliot Morley being exposed.

Shock Jock

Scottish Parliament hopeful - George Galloway - is getting pelters on the internet for the treatment of a young caller to his live radio programme.

For some reason GG loses his temper - and calls the young chap an 'ignoramous' - would you believe.

Which having listened to the exchange on You Tube - is shamefully rude and over the top - in my opinion.

But then maybe George is just trying to turn himself into some kind of 'Scottish Shock-Jock' - having been firmly rebuffed by voters in the good city of Glasgow.

All I can say is that once you've reached the 'heights' of Celebrity Big Brother - it's normally down hill from there.

Make up your own mind - and listen to You Tube yourself - here's the link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UR5hEEJZwyo&feature=related

Barry McGuire - Eve of Destruction

In 1965 Barry McGuire had a smash hit on both sides of the Atlantic with his famous protest song - Eve of Destruction.

Here are the lyrics - almost 50 years on some things have changed more than others.

But it just goes to show you that there's still money to be made - from telling tales of the Apocalypse. 

Eve of Destruction

"The eastern world, it is exploding
Violence flarin', bullets loadin'
You're old enough to kill, but not for votin'
You don't believe in war, but what's that gun you're totin'
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin'.

But you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve
of destruction.

Don't you understand what I'm tryin' to say
Can't you feel the fears I'm feelin' today?
If the button is pushed, there's no runnin' away
There'll be no one to save, with the world in a grave
[Take a look around ya boy, it's bound to scare ya boy].

And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve
of destruction.

Yeah, my blood's so mad feels like coagulatin'
I'm sitting here just contemplatin'
I can't twist the truth, it knows no regulation.
Handful of senators don't pass legislation
And marches alone can't bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin'
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin'.

And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve
of destruction.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
You may leave here for 4 days in space
But when you return, it's the same old place
The poundin' of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace
Hate your next-door neighbor, but don't forget to say grace.

And… tell me over and over and over and over again, my friend
You don't believe
We're on the eve
Of destruction
Mm, no no, you don't believe
We're on the eve
of destruction."