Saturday, 11 August 2012

Defending the Indefensible


Here is the original case which I put to the Scottish Information Commissioner - regarding Freedom of Information and Equal Pay in South Lanarkshire.

To my mind the council is now trying to delay the inevitable - while continuing to defend the indefensible.

And in  my view this is a shocking way for a Labour council - yes a Labour council, as Neil Kinnock once observed - to behave.

Dear Scottish Information Commissioner

South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) – FOISA request

I enclose an exchange of correspondence with South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) regarding a FOISA enquiry which I initiated on 17 February 2011.

I asked South Lanarkshire Council to review its initial decision, but I am dissatisfied with their response in relation to Document 1 – a written report to a meeting of the Council’s Corporate Management Team – which the Council has redacted to avoid public scrutiny. As a result, I would like to register the following appeal with the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC).

1. In my view the council have produced no evidence to show that the release of this information would be prejudicial to the conduct of public affairs; quite the opposite in fact, because it would have the effect of holding senior officials and elected councillors to account.

2. The information relates to the introduction of a non-discriminatory Job Evaluation Scheme as required under the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement.

3. Unusually South Lanarkshire Council decided not to implement the tried and tested Gauge JES – which had the national approval and backing of the Scottish local authority employers and the trade unions.

4. Instead South Lanarkshire Council implemented its own ‘in-house’ scheme which is the subject of considerable controversy amongst council staff – and the wider public.

5. The redacted information relates to decisions of the Corporate Management Team in deciding how to implement the 1999 Single Status Agreement which came into effect in July 1999.

6. The underlying issue is whether South Lanarkshire Council was saying one thing in public and a different thing in private. In other words was the advice given to the Corporate Management Team thorough, professional and in accordance with good practice - in terms of job evaluation and equal opportunities?

7. In my view the release of this information would demonstrate whether the council acted properly at the time and, as such, there can be no prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs in 2011.

8. I attach a separate letter to South Lanarkshire Council dated 18 April 2011 regarding an Equal Pay Review instructed by the Council’s Personnel Services Committee in July 1997. The results of this ‘comprehensive review’ were never made public and discussion of the issue effectively disappeared from Council committees between July 1999 and March 2003 – as the minutes show.

9. In my view, this was a deliberate tactic by the Corporate Management Team to avoid proper public scrutiny on a matter of strategic importance. In choosing to deal with the matter in this way South Lanarkshire Council prevented the wider body of elected councillors, the council workforce and the general public from understanding what was going on – in particular the scale and extent of pay discrimination against female council jobs which was kept ‘under the radar’.

10. I believe that the redacted section of the Corporate Management Team minute of 18 November 1999 contains important information regarding South Lanarkshire Council’s attitude towards the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement and the Council’s use of public money.

11. Instead of delivering on its public commitments towards the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement, South Lanarkshire Council secretly decided to maintain the higher bonus related earnings of traditional male jobs - thereby continuing the widespread pay discrimination which existed at the time against predominantly female council jobs.

12. In my view, therefore, there is a compelling case that this information should now be published in the wider public interest and that is the basis of my appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner.

I look forward to hearing from you soon and if I can be of any further assistance, please let me know.

Kind regards



Mark Irvine

Top Secret


The Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) has been in touch to say that SIC is preparing to fight the FOI appeal - which South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) is now taking to the UK Supreme Court.

A ridiculous state of affairs - in my opinion -  which is being pursued at huge public expense since SIC and SLC are both funded by the taxpayer, of course. 

I predict that SLC will lose its appeal - just as it lost the argument with the independent Scottish Information Commissioner - and three senior Scottish judges at the Court of Session.

But you do have to ask yourself - 'If the council has nothing to hide, why doesn't it just publish the information and be damned?'  

Is it because this will let the cat out of the bag?

I suspect so - and isn't it interesting that the trade unions have so little to say on the matter - yet they claim to be great supporters of Freedom of Information.

Openness and Transparency (28 March 2012)

Here's an extract from the decision of the Court of Session - Scotland's highest civil court - in the unsuccessful FOI appeal brought by South Lanarkshire Council.

The full judgment can be read online - via the following link to the Scottish Courts Service:

http://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/opinions/2012CSIH30.html

I'm sure many readers will have come to the same conclusion as me - which is that South Lanarkshire Council is a complete disgrace - for dragging things out for so long - and for presiding over this terrible misuse of public money?

[7] So far as the matter of specification of “legitimate interest” is concerned, it is true that the Commissioner’s findings in para 44 of his Decision leave something to be desired but, reading, as we must, the Decision as a whole, we are satisfied that as a “freelance writer” who published a “blog” specialising in, inter alia, issues of “Equal Pay” the Requester did have such an interest.

[8] As to the second question, there is little doubt that the Commissioner did, as the Appellant submits, view the issue of “necessity” as being inextricably linked with that of proportionality. For instance, at para 34 of the Decision he says:

“There are, therefore, a number of different tests which must be satisfied before condition 6 can be met. These are:

(a) Does Mr Irvine have a legitimate interest in obtaining the personal data?

(b) If yes, is the disclosure necessary to achieve these legitimate aims? In other words, is the disclosure proportionate as a means and fairly balanced as to ends, or could these legitimate aims be achieved by means which interfere less with the privacy of the data subject?

[10]..We say that because, having regard to the Commissioner’s findings looked at as a whole, we are satisfied that even applying the stricter test the Commissioner could only have concluded that necessity was made out. In particular, he held that the Requester’s own interest coincided with a widespread public interest in the matter of gender equality and that it was important to achieve transparency on the subject of Equal Pay. No better means existed to achieve that goal than by releasing the information in question.

[11] In all the circumstances, therefore, we shall refuse the appeal.

Note the judges' remarks that my own interest (in requesting the information) coincided with a widespread public interest in the matter of gender equality and that it was important to achieve transparency on the subject of Equal Pay.

Now that's what I call justice - I couldn't have put it better myself.

Red Faces

Nude Woman in a Red Armchair, 1932
In an effort to brighten up Edinburgh Airport, airport bosses put Pablo Picasso's painting - Nude Woman in a Red Armchair - on display.

But then promptly withdrew the painting in a panic response following complaints from a number of passengers - whose identities remain a mystery.

Now I can take or leave some of Picasso's paintings - he can't do faces as Tony Hancock once famously said.

Scotland and Edinburgh were about to become a laughing stock in the eyes of the world - at this craven example of censorship.

Only to be rescued by a welcome change of heart by airport management - who have now put the painting back on display.

Talk about the Scottish 'cringe'.

Questions and Answers


A regular reader from South Lanarkshire has been touch - to say that she attended a local Unison meeting on equal pay during the week - but was 'disgusted' at the union's attitude.

Apparently, the meeting was a waste of time with only a handful of people present - and their questions were simply batted back and/or blamed on South Lanarkshire Council.

Now the council is ultimately responsible for the pay arrangements within the workforce - but the fact of the matter is that these pay arrangements have not been secretly imposed on the trade unions.

Instead they have been negotiated and agreed over a period of years - so the unions do know 'where the bodies are buried', so to speak - and cannot simply wash their hands of the whole affair.

Here are some questions that the trade unions can and should answer - because a positive response can only benefit the interests of ordinary union members.  

Questions and Answers (4 August 2012)

Lots of regular readers have been in touch to say that the local Unison branch in South Lanarkshire is holding a series of meetings starting next week - to explain to members what's happening on equal pay.

Now some would say that this is much too little and much too late - myself included.

Not least because Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) was holding such meetings several years ago - as far back as 2005/06 in fact.

As you would expect the A4ES meetings highlighted the huge pay gap between male and female jobs council jobs - the all too obvious problems with South Lanarkshire's 'in-house' job evaluation scheme - and people's ability to pursue equal pay claims against the Council.

So here are some questions that local union members might like to ask at these meetings - especially as the Employment Tribunals have decided that the Council's 'in-house' job evaluation scheme does not comply with the 1970 Equal Pay Act:

1 Will the trade unions now withdraw their support for the Council's local 'in-house' job evaluation scheme (JES)?

2 Will the trade unions demand the introduction of a tried and tested JE scheme - such as the Gauge scheme which has been specifically developed for use by councils in Scotland and which has national trade union support?

3 Will the trade unions demand that the Council now produces a rank order of jobs to show the before and after effect of the 'in-house' JES - on traditional male and female jobs?

4 Will the unions now demand that the Council publishes the pay information relating to male and female jobs - so that the workforce can see for itself how all of these jobs are paid?

5 Do the trade unions accept that this information is essential for people to understand how the Council's pay arrangements operate - and what the pay differences are between male and female jobs?

6 Will the trade unions call upon the Council to abandon its ridiculous appeal to the UK Supreme Court regarding such pay information - having previously been instructed to disclose the details by the Scottish Information Commissioner and Scotland's highest civil court, the Court of Session?

7 Will Unison now publish the details of the independent review which made criticisms of the Council's local 'in-house' job evaluation scheme?

Now that would seem to be to be enough to be getting on with - a starter for 10 if you like - but if readers have any other suggestions to make, feel free to drop me a note - and I'll share these on the blog site.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Much To Be Modest About


I enjoyed an article in the latest edition of Private Eye - which poked fun at the shameless behaviour of Westminster MPS on the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Now I'm all in favour of giving the great and good a hard time - where appropriate - because people in the public eye should be held to account for their actions.

But the sight of MPs trying to speak from the moral high ground is enough to make you laugh out loud - especially where people like Keith Vaz are concerned.  

So here's what the Eye had to say.

Han-z-z-zard

Select Committee for Media, Publicity and Self-Promotion

Keith Vaz (Hinduja West, Lab) 
We have the huge pleasure today of welcoming to our committee Mr Nick Buckles, the chief executive of G4S, so that we can demonstrate just how clever we are and, incidentally, guarantee extensive coverage of ourselves on tinight's TV news.

All: Hear, hear.

Enter bespectacled man in suit with silly haircut, looking rather worried.

Vaz: I will ask my honoured colleague, David winnick, to begin the humiliation of our witness.

David Winnick: (Bordering-on-Insufferable, Lab) 
Mr Buckles, would you describe your company's performance as the most shambolic, inept, outrageous, shocking, useless example  of incompetence ever seen in the history of the world?

Mr Buckles: That's probably a fair description of it. I'm very sorry.

Winnick: Answer yes or no, Mr Buckles.

Vaz: The witness wil answer the question. Are you a totally incompetent idiot or not?

All: Answer, answer.

Buckles: Yes, if you say so.
Ms Lorraine Fullbrook (Total, Con):

That's simply not good enough. Are you guilty or not gulity? That's what the entire nation wnats to know.

Buckles: Guilty.

Vaz: How dare you come here and admit that you got it all wrong - thus deliberately depriving this Committeee of the chance to set new Olympic records for self-righteousness.

Buckles: I can only apologise for my previous apology.

Vaz: Well now we're forced that humiliating apology out of you, Mr Buckles, I think we've done enough to get star billing on Mr Jon Snow's admirable Chanell 4 News at the very least. So, sadly, there won't be any time for our Committee to interview any further witnesses in an effort to find out which of our fellow politicians were responsible for this ludicrous contract to your firm, and why they only noticed yesterday that your form had been cocking the whole thing up for the last five years.


Much to be Modest About (13 July 2011)

I watched most of the yesterday's TV coverage from Westminster - where a House of Commons Committee questioned a variety of police officers over the phone hacking scandal.

Inquisitor-in-chief was the committee chairmperson - Keith Vaz - a former Labour minister and long-serving MP for Leicester East.

Now it seemed to me that Mr Vaz took great pleasure in being rude to some of the witnesses - even if one one of them (Andy Hayman) was his own worst enemy.

In any event, I was struck by the arrogance of the Leicester MP - a man who has much to be modest about, as they say.

So I looked up what the Telegraph had to say about his record on MPs' expenses - and here's the newspaper's report from 9 May 2009.

"Keith Vaz: £75,000 for a flat 12 miles from home"

"Keith Vaz, the senior Labour backbencher, claimed more than £75,500 in expenses for a flat in Westminster despite his family home being a £1.15 million house just 12 miles from parliament.

Mr Vaz, the chairman of the home affairs select committee, also switched his designated second home from the £545,000 flat to a house in his Leicester East constituency and back again in the space of a year.

Keith Vaz Mr Vaz's main home is a house in Stanmore, north-west London, that he bought with his wife Maria for £1.15 million in November 2005. They live there with their two children.

The house is less than a mile from Stanmore underground station, which takes passengers directly to Westminster on the Jubilee Line. According to Transport for London, the 14-stop journey should take about 37 minutes.

His living arrangements will leave him open to the same questions asked of Tony McNulty, the employment minister, who claimed for a house about the same distance away lived in by his parents.

Documents filed with Commons officials showed that between 2004 and April 2007, Mr Vaz claimed more than £69,000 for expenses at the flat in Westminster, which he bought in 2003. He moved in shortly after selling another for £312,000.

His claims included monthly mortgage interest payments of between £1,500 and £1,750, £200 in monthly grocery bills and £50 per month for a cleaner.

On May 1, 2007, shortly after claiming for the flat's £2,073 service charge and £1,022 council tax bill, he began renting it out and designated the Leicester property as his second home. He had no mortgage on it and so used his allowances to fit it with furniture.

In all, Mr Vaz made claims of about £16,000 relating to the house, including more than £480 on 22 cushions, most of them silk, from John Lewis.

He claimed £2,614 for a pair of John Lewis leather armchairs and an accompanying foot stool; £1,000 on a dining table and leather chairs; £750 on carpets; and £150 on a lamp and lampshade.

Commons guidelines said MPs should "avoid purchases which could be seen as extravagant or luxurious".

Throughout the year, Mr Vaz also regularly made monthly claims of exactly £200 for repairs, £200 for service or maintenance and £200 per month for a cleaner. At the time, MPs did not need to submit receipts for claims totalling less than £250.

Mr Vaz also claimed twice for his food, utilities and cleaning bills in June 2007. He later repaid the money after the fees office pointed out his error.

In May 2008, Mr Vaz ceased renting out the London flat, reverted to designating it as his second home and resumed claiming the interest on its mortgage. In the first two months of the last financial year, he claimed a further £6,567 on the flat.

Mr Vaz's claims highlighted the ability of MPs to switch the property they designated as their second home for expenses purposes whenever they liked, simply by notifying the Commons fees office.

A spokesman for Mr Vaz said: "Stanmore is not central London. Like many MPs, he has a flat in central London that is close to the House of Commons."

She added that Mr Vaz had changed the designation of his second home "for personal reasons", and that his London flat "was not available for his use between May 2007 and May 2008". "Mr Vaz's claims have always been in accordance with the spirit and rules of the Green Book," she said. "If they were not within the rules the claims would not have been paid."

Job: Chairman, Home Affairs Select Committee

Salary: £78,805

Total second home claims
2004-05: £20,795
2005-06: £21,271
2006-07: £22,110
2007-08: £20,787"
Even More to be Modest About (15 July 2011)



I found another interesting report about Keith Vaz - Labour MP for Leicester East - and the current Chairperson of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee.

Now I'm all in favour of tough questioning - but sometimes it's important to know where the people firing all the bullets - are coming from.

The report dated 8 February 2002 is from the BBC's web site - and as I recall MPs went on to force the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner (Elizabeth Filkin) out of her job - because she was widely regarded as giving them too tough a time.

Just a pity she didn't hang around - in my view - because with Elizabeth Filkin in post we might have avoided the worst of the MPs' expenses scandal.

"Keith Vaz was elected MP for Leicester East in 1987, and became the first Asian minister in the Commons in 1999. But his recent career has been dogged by accusations of financial wrongdoing.

February 2000: Parliamentary standards watchdog Elizabeth Filkin is asked to investigate allegations of undisclosed payments to Mr Vaz from businessmen in his constituency.

25 January 2001: Opposition MPs begin to question the role the minister for Europe may have played in helping the billionaire Indian Hinduja brothers - linked with a corruption probe in India - to secure UK passports.

26 January 2001: Prime Minister Tony Blair backs Mr Vaz on the Hinduja affair, saying he does not believe he has done anything wrong.

4 February 2001: Allegations in Sunday newspapers of financial irregularities in the funds of Mr Vaz's local Leicestershire East Labour Party.

Opposition MPs call for him to resign, but he is supported by several government ministers.

12 March 2001: The Filkin report clears him of nine of 18 allegations of various financial wrongdoings.

But he is criticised for blocking her investigation into eight of the allegations. And he is censured for one allegation - failing to register two payments worth £450 in total from Sarosh Zaiwalla, a solicitor whom he recommended for an honour several years later.

14 March 2001: William Hague, the then Conservative leader, calls on Mr Blair to sack Mr Vaz.

21 March 2001: Mrs Filkin announces a new inquiry, focusing on whether or not a company connected to Mr Vaz received a donation from a charitable foundation run by the Hinduja brothers.

29 March 2001: Mr Vaz collapses while filming a television interview, and goes on extended sick leave.

5 June 2001: A BBC investigation suggests Mr Vaz did not disclose all his property interests to Mrs Filkin's previous inquiry.

11 June 2001: Mrs Filkin says she is widening her Vaz-Hinduja inquiry to cover the disclosure of property interests.

12 June 2001: Mr Vaz resigns and is replaced as Minister for Europe in the post-General Election reshuffle.

8 February 2002: The second Filkin inquiry rules Mr Vaz should be suspended for one month for "serious breaches" of the MPs' code of conduct, and a contempt of the House of Commons."

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Pin Money


Pin Money (2 July 2012)

The trade unions are getting themselves into to terrible fankle over equal pay in South Lanarkshire - if my mail box is anything to go by.

Apparently lots of members are up in arms about the comments of the one union branch secretary - Stephen Smellie - which I reported on the blog site yesterday (via the Hamilton Advertiser).

See post dated 1 July 2012 - 'Foot And Mouth'.

One angry union member dropped me a note to say:

"I have never contacted you before but I was appalled at the comments from Stephen Smellie. I cannot believe his negative comments regarding the female workforce. It is like something from the dark ages. Does he not have a mother, wife or daughter? To think that this fight is all to do with a new three piece suite shows us what he thinks of women."

I was rather taken aback at the comments as well I have to admit - in fact it reminded me the old phrase 'pin money'.

Which was a term used in the 1960s by people who derided the fight for equal pay - because they wrongly labelled women as working for 'pin money' - or the little extra things in life.

The implication being that male jobs were more important - because men were the real breadwinners in the household.

Anyone who has seen the film 'Made In Dagenham' will know what I mean - where the fight for equal pay in 1968 against the Ford Car Company (and some in the unions) - led directly to the 1970 Equal Pay Act.

South Lanarkshire Council's job evaluation scheme (JES) - which is how the council decides to pay male and female jobs of course - has recently been declared as unfit for purpose or 'not to be relied upon' by the Employment Tribunals.

In other words the council's JES does not comply with the 1970 Equal Pay Act - which is exactly what I've been saying for years.

Exploding Cigar


South Lanarkshire (26 June 2012)

Lots of readers have been in touch to ask about the Employment Tribunal's decision in respect of South Lanarkshire Council (SLC).

The key point to note is that South Lanarkshire Council's job evaluation scheme (JES) has been declared 'unfit for purpose' – because it does not satisfy the most basic requirements of the UK's equal pay legislation including the 1970 Equal Pay Act.

The Glasgow Employment Tribunal - in a quite devastating judgement – determined that the in-house SLC job evaluation scheme ‘is not to be relied upon’ as far as equal pay is concerned.

So where does that leave South Lanarkshire Council?

In a dirty great hole and one entirely of its own making - I would say - though many of the senior people responsible for this mess have now left South Lanarkshire Council - some with big fat pensions, of course.

The council put all its eggs in one basket - it relied upon its 'in-house' job evaluation scheme as a complete defence to employees' equal pay claims - but now that strategy has blown up in the council's face.

"So what should people do now?” – is the question on many readers’ lips.

Well if you already have an equal pay claim up and running with Action 4 Equality Scotland - then you should do nothing other than sit tight – because your claim is already well underway.

But if you do not, then you should consider raising a claim against South Lanarkshire Council - straight away.

You can do so either by sending Mark Irvine your name and full postal address by e-mail to: markirvine@compuserve.com

Or phone the Action 4 Equality Scotland Edinburgh office - on 0131 652 7366.

In any event I would definitely resist any invitation to take up a claim with one of the trade unions.

Because for years the unions were telling their own members that they had no equal pay claim – and actively discouraged people from raising claims in South Lanarkshire.

The reality is that the unions have been supporting the council all this time and – as far as I’m concerned - it's pretty clear that the trade unions can't be trusted to do the right thing by their members.

It’s possible that lots of council workers in South Lanarkshire may even have a case against their own trade unions.

Because if you were discouraged from pursuing an equal pay claim in the past – on the advice of your trade union – any claim registered in 2012 will be worth less than those lodged in 2006.

Famous Last Words


Famous Last Words (24 June 2012)

I am currently trawling through the blog site archive searching for interesting articles about the equal pay debacle in South Lanarkshire Council - here's one I came across from 27 August 2011.

I have highlighted a couple of comments from the council leader - Eddie McAvoy - who, in my considered opinion, is understating the problems facing the council by a very long way.

Because South Lanarkshire is now in a much deeper hole - than its neighbour in North Lanarkshire.

So the real question for South Lanarkshire is: 'When will the council finally stop digging and making its equal pay problems even worse?'

"Bitter Equal Pay Battle"

Here's a good article on the ongoing fight for equal pay in South Lanarkshire - which appears in this week's edition of the Hamilton Advertiser.

The piece might well be published in other local papers - which are part of the same newspaper group.

Readers will note that the Hamiton Advertiser is asking its readers what they think of the 'equal pay battle' in South Lanarkshire - either via the telephone (01698 283200) or by e-mailing the paper at: hamiltonadvertiser@s-un.co.uk

So this is a great opportunity to let a local newspaper know what people in South Lanarkshire really think - about the way in which council and the trade unions have behaved over equal pay.

To my mind the Labour-led council and the Labour-supporting unions have been far too close to each other - in each other's pockets effectively - and the people who have lost out are the lowest paid council workers - mainly women of course.

If readers contacting the newspaper are worried about using their own names and personal details - just say that you do not want to be identified - because the paper will withhold this information.

"South Lanarkshire Council locked in bitter equal pay battle"

"SOUTH Lanarkshire Council are currently locked in a bitter battle with their own staff over equal pay.

No fewer than 2133 employees and former staff – most of them women – have lodged claims under the Equality Act and sex discrimination legislation.

The women believe the council pay them less than men, even though their jobs are of equal worth and, in some cases, require higher qualifications.

Lawyers have been instructed to represent the claimants at an employment tribunal pre-hearing which resumes later this month.

It has been going on intermittently since September, 2009, and is likely to conclude in early October after hearing over 54 days of evidence. It’s one of the longest pre-hearings on record.

Lawyers engaged by the council have finished presenting their case and, from August 31, the claimants’ solicitors will give their evidence.

The tribunal panel, chaired by employment law judge Frances Eccles will then have to decide whether the way in which the council evaluated jobs, following the introduction of equal pay legislation, was fair. A decision is expected before Christmas.

If the council lose the case, they will have to fork out millions of pounds in back payments – stretching over the last 10 years – to the claimants, many of whom are low-paid frontline workers in schools and social work.

South Lanarkshire Council are one of the last authorities to settle their claims under equal pay legislation.

North Lanarkshire Council in April last year agreed to pay out £16m to hundreds of workers who were threatening legal challenge.

A year earlier, Glasgow City Council paid out £26m to 4000 female workers who had equal pay claims outstanding.

South Lanarkshire Council thought they had settled their equal pay issues in 2003 when they concluded a so-called ‘single outcome agreement’ with unions.

But the row has rumbled on since then, with employees claiming that the agreement graded jobs unfairly in comparison to others.

Bosses at the council have continually resisted releasing information – on how the council evaluated traditionally male-dominated jobs in the authority – to lawyers acting for the female claimants.

Earlier this year, they lodged an appeal to the Court of Session against a decision by Scottish Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion ordering them to release the data. The court has yet to hear the council’s appeal.

That Freedom of Information request was lodged by Mark Irvine, the independent consultant and former senior union official, who is representing many of the claimants on a no-win, no-fee basis.

Mr Irvine, who runs the Action 4 Equality Scotland website, instructed Edinburgh-based labour law specialists Fox Cross Solicitors to represent claimants at the employment tribunal.

He said: “What we have been trying to do is to get South Lanarkshire Council to explain how they went about putting together the new pay structures."

“South Lanarkshire are unique among Scottish councils in not being willing to tell people what rates of pay are for specific jobs."

“It seems to be a state secret in South Lanarkshire.”

Mr Irvine, who has had to used the Freedom of Information Act to extract pay data from the council, said the local authority’s appeal to the Court of Session would cost thousands of pounds of public money.

“Why are they trying to keep that information under wraps if they don’t have something to hide?” he added.

Mr Irvine said the claims being processed by Fox Cross and Action 4 Equality came from home carers, cooks, catering assistants and teaching assistants, some of whom had retired since the proceedings began.

He added: “You can have a cook in charge of a school kitchen who is managing a staff of 10 and requires qualifications for her job."

“She can be paid less than traditional male manual jobs, typically a refuse worker, gardener or driver.”

Many of the female claimants say their jobs did not attract the ‘bonus’ payment paid to those in male-dominated posts such as binmen and roadworkers. These further skewed rates of pay in male and female-dominated sections of the council.

Council Leader Eddie McAvoy estimated that if they lose the case they will probably have to pay about the same required by North Lanarkshire to settle their cases.

He added, however: “The council’s position is that the deal struck by the council with the union took care of all the (pay inequalities).

“The lawyers, including counsel, hired by the council to represent them in these cases are very confident that the council have no case to answer.”

What do you think of the council staff’s equal pay battle? Let us know by contacting editorial on 01698 283200 or by sending an email to hamiltonadvertiser@s-un.co.uk

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

You Heard It Here First


When I read the piece in the Daily Record about South Lanarkshire Council's amazing  generosity with public funds - I just knew I had said something about this on the blog site before.

See post dated 6 August 2012 - 'Mired in Scandal'.

So having done a quick search through the blog site archive - I discovered the following post from October 2010 which - spookily enough - predicts the very outcome and cavalier use of public money reported by the Daily Record.

Which has now been criticised of course by the nation's public spending watchdog - Audit Scotland.

Council Wars (22 October 2010)

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

See previous posts dated 08 and 18 October 2010.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Finance director quits troubled council"

by Gerry Braiden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thunderbirds Are Go!

I think the problem with the Russian President - Vladimir Putin - might be that he has no sense of humour, no sense of the ridiculous - and that he takes himself far too seriously.
Virgil Tracey
For example here's a picture of Virgil Tracy - another all action figure (daring Pilot of Thunderbird 2 of course) and star of the hit TV show and movie - Thunderbirds.

Vladimir Putin
Now to my mind there's an uncanny resemblance between Virgil and Vladimir - they're both square-jawed, all-action figures - their names both begin with V - and they both like pointy hats and silly uniforms.

So why not lighten up a bit Vlad - laugh at yourself a little bit - the world (including Russia) would be a much better place.  

Bit of a Mystery


A number of readers from Edinburgh have been in touch - mystified by a recent communication from their trade union.

Apparently the message is that trade union claimants in Edinburgh - in the former APT&C  category - are not to be made settlement offers by Edinburgh City Council.

Despite the fact that the same category of Action 4 Equality Scotland clients - were made settlement offers months ago.

'Can I shed any light on the situation?', people want to know - but unfortunately I can't as I'm not exactly privy to what the City Council is telling the trade unions - or vice versa.

What does suprise me though is why no explanation is provided by the trade unions - surely they must know what the issue or problem is - so why don't they just share this information with their members in Edinburgh?

It's all a bit strange - a bit of a mystery - if you ask me.

So if anyone has their ear to the ground, drop me a note - in complete confidence of course - at: markirvine@compuserve.com

More Kind Words


Here are some more kind words from a regular reader from Edinburgh - as ever, glad to have been of service.  

Hi Mark,

Edinburgh and Equal Pay

I am writing to let you know that I have just received my settlement from The City of Edinburgh Council -  words cannot express how grateful I am to all staff involved in all the work that has made this possible.

It has been a long time since I first registered with Action 4 Equality Scotland in September 2005.

I hope that sometime soon the councils in other area will realise that this is not going to disappear and that in the not too distant future everyone will get the monies that they so rightly deserve.

Once again my very, very sincere thanks.

Regards,


A