Saturday, 30 November 2013

Freedom of Information


South Lanarkshire Council are up to their old tricks again on Freedom of Information (FoI) and having been around this track once or twice before in recent years - I've decided not to mess about. 

So, I have submitted the following FoI appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner - watch this space for further details.



Rosemary Agnew
Scottish Information Commissioner
Kinburn Castle
Doubledykes Road
Fife
KY16 9DS

Dear Ms Agnew

South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) – FoI Appeal

I enclose an exchange of correspondence with South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) regarding a FOISA enquiry, which I initiated with the council on 20 August 2013. 

I asked for a review of the Council’s initial decision, but remain dissatisfied with their response. I am, therefore, registering an appeal with the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) as I consider the Council’s response to be unsatisfactory for the following reasons:  
  1. In my view, South Lanarkshire Council’s case for non-disclosure comes down to no more that a desire to protect senior officials and council members from the consequences of their poor judgment, over a period of years, in agreeing to pursue this case all the way to the UK Supreme Court where the Council’s appeal was unanimously dismissed, but only after incurring enormous public expense.
  2. My original FoI request in 2010 was rejected by the Council as ‘vexatious’, yet ended up in the highest court in the land where five judges ruled decisively that the information I had requested belonged in the public domain all along. A  decision which supported an earlier unanimous judgment from three senior judges in Scotland’s Court of Session, and an independent adjudication from the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC). 
  3. In 2010 I accused South Lanarkshire Council of engaging in a cynical abuse of the FoI process and of using public money to delay disclosure when the Council had a duty to operate in an open and transparent manner. I said also that South Lanarkshire was the only council in Scotland to behave in this secretive and furtive way, which has proved to be correct as well.
  4. So, what we have here, in my opinion, is a Council which has ‘long arms and deep pockets’ when it comes to spending public money, and I say that the public has a right to know how the Council arrived at its decision/s to fight this case all the way to the UK Supreme Court. In other words the public is entitled to know how the Council got things so spectacularly wrong, especially as further public scrutiny would hold the Council to account for its actions and, I suspect, improve the quality of its decision making in future. 
  5. As far as I can see the recent decision of the UK Supreme Court has resolved all of the underlying legal arguments regarding disclosure. So I reject the Council’s  argument that the release of such information at this stage could prejudice its position going forward, since the information in question is now simply a matter of historical interest.
  6. To my mind the Council has not offered any convincing arguments, never mind evidence, regarding the public interest or the potential benefit to be gained by disclosing the information I have requested. Yet it seems evident to me that the public interest would benefit greatly from a clearer understanding of what drove the Council to spend so much money and effort in fighting a case that was so comprehensively defeated in Scotland’s highest civil court and subsequently in the UK Supreme Court - on both occasions unanimously.
  7. By way of example, I was a member of a public body myself for several years - SLARC (Scottish Local Authorities Remuneration Committee) which advised Scottish Ministers on pay and related issues involving elected local councillors. All Committee papers (minutes, documents and reports) were covered by the FoI regime and in presenting various reports to Scottish Ministers over the years, SLARC was required to explain and detail the evidence on which its recommendations to Scottish Ministers were being made.
  8. In my view, the same standards should apply here. The public interest lies in requiring the Council to explain its decision/s and the decision making process which led to such a comprehensive rejection of its case, so much so that one of the Supreme Court judges described it as resembling something out of Alice in Wonderland after two hours of legal sophistry on the meaning of the word ‘necessary’. And as everyone knows, lawyers only offer advice but their ‘client’ has to make the final decision based on a wide range of factors including the assessment of risk.
  9. My arguments, of course, also apply to the separate ‘risk assessment’ document prepared by senior council officials which is not a legal document at all, but is equally significant from a public interest point of view. Again I say that the public has a right to know how these matters were assessed and whether this was done on a professional and objective basis, which I suspect they were not.
  10. So, if anyone has behaved vexatiously in this matter it is clearly South Lanarkshire Council and in the unique circumstances of this case, I say that the public interest test tilts the balance of the argument in favour of disclosure. In my view there is no evidence that the Council would be prejudiced by disclosure nor is there any evidence to suggest this would compromise the conduct of public affairs. In fact, I say the exact opposite is true and on that  basis I invite the Scottish Information Commissioner to uphold my appeal.     
I look forward to hearing from you in due course and if you require any further details or clarification at this stage, please contact me on my mobile phone number or by e-mail atmarkirvine@compuserve.com

Kind regards


Mark Irvine 

List of enclosures x 4

Original FOISA request to SLC dated 20 August 2013
Initial SLC response dated 17 September 2013
Further review letter to SLC dated 20 September 2013 
Final response letter from SLC dated 21 October 2013

Round the Corner

Helicopter crash on the Clutha pub in Glasgow
The pub, the Clutha Vaults, onto which a police helicopter fell out of the sky last night - is just round the corner from where I live in Glasgow.

In fact, the Clutha is something of a Glasgow institution being one of the few traditional pubs left in the city these days - where free live music is played regularly, often of the folk and blues variety. 

I wasn't in the bar last night, thank goodness, but I was on the night Scotland's smoking ban was introduced - which I remember well because I was enjoying a last cigar to welcome the arrival of smoke free pubs in Glasgow.

Whereas my drinking companion, my old Nupe and Unison colleague, Bob Thomson, was complaining about the harm being down to the human rights of smokers, as he saw things at the time - which he voiced to a journalist from the Sunday Herald who was in the pub  seeking the views of customers on this 'controversial' new policy.

Nowadays, of course, a smoking ban is an accepted part of the furniture in pubs and restaurants worldwide, not just in Glasgow - and I suspect few people, if any, would want to turn the clock back.

In fact it even led to the Clutha installing a beer garden, with nice tables, benches and umbrellas (for the Glasgow weather) - in a previously dilapidated space out the back, so in many ways the smoking ban was a 'win win's situation for everyone.  

Nonetheless, it's almost unimaginable that you can be out for a quiet drink one night, only for a helicopter to fall out of the sky - and on to a building where people are out enjoying themselves.

Just goes to confirm that old saying that as far as life's concerned - you never can tell for sure what's just round the corner.            

St Andrew's Day


Today is St Andrew's Day - Scotland's national day a celebration of all good things that are Scottish.

Although it's fair to say we Scots have a long way to go before we can rival our Celtic cousins in Ireland for the way they have anger put St Patrick's Day on the world map.

So, let me throw in my tuppence worth.

I find it odd that great foodstuffs which is quintessentially Scottish such as venison, rabbit, hare and duck are so hard to find in Scotland - outside of fine dining restaurants.

Whereas in Spain and France equivalent products are widely sold in supermarkets and local shops - wild boar, jamon, rabbit, local sausages, cuts of meat and pates of all kinds.

Not just that but people are fiercely proud of the quality of their products - and are keen to sell you as much of it as they can.

If you ask me, St Andrew's Day will start to take off when we see some of these items appearing more regularly - in our local supermarkets.         

Making the Weather

The SNP seem to be making the political weather since the launch of their White Paper on Scottish independence, if this article by Fraser Nelson in the Telegraph is anything to go by.

I didn't the debate between Nicola Sturgeon and Alistair Carmichael, but Fraser Nelson has no reason to exaggerate what looks to have been a comprehensive victory for a champion of the Yes campaign - over a defender of the Union and Better Together.

I noticed the same mood on the BBC's flagship Question Time programme the other night when the supporters of independence certainly seem to have their tails up.

Whether this will last is anyone's guess, but for the moment at least there seems to be a wind of change in the air.

Scotland: The case for the Union is still strong – so why not make it?


Alex Salmond and the SNP are being given a free hand to blame London for their own mistakes on health and education

Conventional wisdom in Westminster is that Alex Salmond has already lost next year’s independence referendum. Some of the Prime Minister’s chief strategists argue that the battle is lost and that a Yes vote is not only possible but probable. Photo: PA



By Fraser Nelson

It was way after the watershed but there was still something indecent about the way Scottish Television broadcast coverage of a man being eaten alive on Wednesday night. It was supposed to be a debate, between the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon and Alistair Carmichael, the Scotland Secretary. Instead, viewers saw a genteel Liberal Democrat being disembowelled by a ferocious and merciless nationalist. She seemed to quite enjoy it. This gruesome spectacle was only beamed into Scottish households – a shame, because David Cameron really ought to have seen it. It would have shown just how much trouble the Union is in.

Conventional wisdom in Westminster is that Alex Salmond has already lost next year’s independence referendum. His White Paper, launched this week, was widely derided in London as fatally wounded by its rich mixture of fantasy, mendacity and cliché. But this misses the point. The White Paper was never intended to be read: that’s why it is 670 pages long. It exists to help the SNP duck questions, not answer them. “That’s page 216 onwards,” said Sturgeon, when asked about Scotland’s future in the EU. But there are no answers on page 216, or any other page: the White Paper creates the fiction that answers exist.

The EU question, incidentally, ought to have crushed her. The prime minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, had just reminded Scots that breakaway countries must reapply for EU membership – which needs unanimous approval by 28 member states. Spain can be expected to wield its veto: if it allows Scotland back in the EU, then it can expect the Basques and Catalans to attempt a similar manoeuvre. The SNP’s key assumption – of automatic EU membership – had been comprehensively demolished. Yet that night, the flailing Mr Carmichael failed to make even this point.


When it was Sturgeon’s turn to cross-examine the Secretary of State, it was as if her political career had been a preparation for that one, sadistic moment. Carmichael looked stunned, as if he’d expected a fireside chat and found himself in a boxing ring. Three times, he pleaded for the debate chairman to intervene and save him from Sturgeon’s blows. He was shown no mercy. It was a pitiful spectacle – and yet Carmichael’s bewildered, slapped face is the one that Cameron’s Government is presenting to Scots as the face of the Union.

In 10 Downing Street, all this is being watched nervously. The Tories have just one lonely Scottish MP, so there’s not much choice but to let Liberal Democrats like Carmichael do the fighting. Unfortunately, Lib Dems are not particularly good at referendums, as the AV battle showed. Alex Salmond, by contrast, is a formidable late-stage campaigner. Two months before the 2011 Holyrood election, he languished 15 points behind in the polls; his Yes campaign is just nine points behind now. He knows from experience that his opposite numbers are capable of blowing this.

Officially, Cameron’s Government is making no contingency plans for Scotland’s secession. But unofficially, the mood is bleak. Some of the Prime Minister’s chief strategists now argue that the battle is lost and that a Yes vote is not only possible but probable. This would change everything. If Ed Miliband wins in 2015, he could lose his majority when Scottish MPs vanish (the putative date for this is March 24 2016), which might trigger a new general election. While there is much admiration in No 10 for Alistair Darling, who is running the Better Together campaign, there is deep concern about the efficacy of his team. In effect, it is run by Scottish Labour – out of whom Salmond made mincemeat two years ago.

Once, the Labour Party machine was unbeatable. In the mid-Nineties its “Excalibur” operation would instantly destroy any exaggerated Tory claim (and even entirely well-founded claims). Where was this famed machine this week? The SNP White Paper is a confidence trick, intended as a fat prop to be brandished in debates. It ought to have been torn to shreds by the unionists – yet the Better Together campaign seemed able only to rehearse dreary statistics (Scots would be £977 a year worse-off, etc). Its rebuttal seemed pathetic.

Carmichael was backed by the combined might of the British government machine – so it should have sent him into that debate armed to the teeth with examples of the White Paper’s most egregious defects. His dire performance was a symbol of another deeply alarming trend: it seems the UK Government is not really trying.

There was much he could have got stuck into. Among the grievances listed in the SNP’s White Paper is the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils in state schools. It is certainly a scandal: studies show that, in Scotland, the richest fifth are educated as well as Finns and the poorest as badly as Turks. But it’s hard to blame London: education has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament for 14 years. It rejected Tony Blair’s reforms, and the notion that pupils should be able to escape to new academies or free schools. This is the paradox of devolution: home rule has meant less freedom.

The SNP’s White Paper also bemoans the appalling health outcomes in Scotland. Again, rightly: life expectancy in certain Glasgow sink estates is lower than in Afghanistan. It’s not genetic: a boy born in the city’s lush suburbs can expect to live as long as a Swede. But health, too, has been devolved for 14 years. The Scottish Parliament used its powers to reject modernising measures and keep NHS Scotland in its unreformed glory. The result? A 2010 study by the London School of Economics found that NHS hospitals in the North East of England treat “about twice as many patients as hospital doctors and nurses in Scotland”.

Rejecting reform has come at high price for Scots – and yet this is precisely what the SNP proposes now. It wants more money, less reform. Its White Paper threatens to halt Universal Credit, a revolutionary welfare measure aimed at ensuring that work always pays. It’s hard to portray this as an English plot: the agenda can be traced to Iain Duncan Smith’s visit to Easterhouse, an East Glasgow housing estate. There, he saw how an unreformed welfare state was incubating the very poverty it was intended to eradicate. Abandoning these people by deeming welfare reform too difficult, as the SNP proposes, is the most anti-Scottish policy imaginable.

Alistair Carmichael could have said more about this. Yes, it’s easier to give up on welfare reform, but is it patriotic to do so? And are the poor of Dundee really so different to those of Liverpool? If you were to list the top 20 problems that Scotland faces, not one of them would be rectified by independence. This is the great weakness in the SNP’s argument – it promises a world of constitutional pain, for no benefit. It has no credible solutions, and is trying to disguise the fact under 670 pages of bluster.

The case for the Union is far stronger than that for separation – but that won’t matter, if it cannot be articulated with the requisite passion and force. The coming referendum is not about the Barnett Formula, or dividing oil wealth. It’s about saving the most extraordinary country ever created, whose joint intellectual and military endeavours exported the modern notion of freedom and won two world wars. Unless David Cameron’s Government can get this point across, there is a horribly large chance that he will be the last British prime minister.

Fraser Nelson is editor of 'The Spectator’

A Resigning Matter

Well here's something I didn't know until the other day - that the former general secretary of UCATT, Alan Ritchie, resigned from his post last year just as an investigation into his expenses claims was about to get underway. 

Alan the landed a job as a special adviser to a House of Commons committee chaired by a Glasgow Labour MP, Ian Davidson - as I reported on the blog site the other day. 

So, here are two reports on people resigning - one from The Herald newspaper and the other from The Guardian - now I can understand why the Latvian Prime Minister decided to resign, but that's about all.    

Ex-union official accused of £100,000 expenses false claim

The Herald - Wednesday 27 November 2013

FORMER trade union chief Alan Ritchie is being accused of falsely claiming up to £100,000 in expenses.

During his tenure as general-secretary of UCATT, Mr Ritchie is alleged to have misused his credit union card while making unentitled claims.

When elected, he continued to be based in Glasgow while UCATT rules say the general-secretary must be based in London.

Mr Ritchie claims the union offered him an accommodation allowance and agreed to cover travel costs.

In addition to claiming for travel to and from Glasgow, he is also accused of claiming on stays in Europe.

He denies any wrongdoing and described the accusations as "frankly amazing".

He added that his visits to Europe were 'always on union business'.

Mr Ritchie resigned last year, just before a union hearing to investigate the matter was due to start.


Latvia's prime minister resigns over supermarket roof collapse

Valdis Dombrovskis has resigned after the collapse last week of a supermarket roof in Latvia's capital, Riga. Photograph: Ints Kalnins/Reuters

The Guardian - Wednesday 27 November 2013

Latvia's prime minister has resigned after accepting political responsibility for the collapse of a supermarket roof in the capital that killed 54 people.

Valdis Dombrovskis' decision means that his center-right government automatically falls. He was the longest serving prime minister in Latvia's history.

"Considering the ... tragedy and all the related circumstances, the country needs a government that has a majority support in parliament and can solve the situation that has arisen in the country," Dombrovskis told journalists after meeting President Andris Berzins.

Last week's collapse of the Maxima supermarket was the worst disaster since Latvia declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and has caused outrage among Latvians.

Police have opened a criminal investigation into the cause of the disaster. Possible explanations include a flawed design, substandard construction materials, and corruption.

Berzins has accepted the resignation and is now searching for a candidate who will need to put together a new coalition, the president's office said.

Dombrovskis came to power in 2009 as Latvia's economy was sinking into a deep recession and was charged with leading harsh budget cuts and tax increases while at the same time implementing tough structural reforms demanded by international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund.

Dombrovskis was re-appointed twice as prime minister since then, and is widely credited with preventing the small Baltic nation from going bankrupt.

Latvia's economy has returned to growth and was the fastest growing in the European Union over the past two years.

On January 1, Latvia will become the 18th member of the euro area.



Scottish Affairs (28 November 2013)



Here's an interesting article from the Times newspaper which tells the tale of a former union leader, Alan Ritchie, who had to stand down from his role as UCATT general secretary - only to resurface as a 'special adviser' to the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee which is chaired by the Glasgow MP, Ian Davidson.  

Now two things jumped out to me about this report.

The first being that in an age of mobile telephony how can an MP not be available for comment just because he's travelling between Glasgow and London?

The second is that it seems more than a little strange that the Scottish Affairs Committee has refused to explain what its special adviser is paid - in fact I would go further, I'd like to know the way in which he was recruited.   


Ex-union chief ‘falsely claimed £100,000’

Alan Ritchie is now facing legal action Andy Barr/NGN
By Michael Glackin

A former trade union chief, who is now a paid adviser to the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee, is facing legal action after being accused of falsely claiming up to £100,000 in expenses.

Glasgow-based Alan Ritchie, the former general-secretary of construction union UCATT, is being taken to court by the union following an internal investigation. A claim has been filed by the union lawyers and is in the court listings awaiting a hearing date, likely to be early next year.

Mr Ritchie is a paid adviser to the Scottish Affairs Committee, whose chairman, Ian Davidson, is MP for Glasgow South West.

UCATT is understood to have written to Mr Davidson informing him of concerns raised about Mr Ritchie’s expenses claims after his appointment as an adviser for the committee’s examination of blacklisting in the construction sector. He was appointed in May of last year.

A clerk for the select committee confirmed that Mr Ritchie was a “special adviser” but would not disclose how much he was being paid.

Mr Ritchie said last night that he is contesting the case and denied any wrongdoing. “My lawyers are talking to the union’s lawyers. I’ve done nothing wrong,” he said.

The news comes hard on the heels of the expenses scandal revolving around Paul Flowers, the former Labour councillor and Co-operative Bank chairman, who is on bail after being arrested in connection with a drugs investigation. He resigned as deputy chairman of the Co-op Group in June amid concerns about his expenses. Mr Davidson was travelling between Glasgow and London yesterday and unavailable for comment.

UCATT also declined to comment.

Union sources alleged that Mr Ritchie “misused” his union credit card and also allegedly claimed other expenses to which he was not entitled.

When Mr Ritchie was elected general-secretary of the union he continued to live in Glasgow and commuted weekly to UCATT’s London headquarters, claiming the travel costs and accommodation on his expenses. He is also understood to have claimed for several stays in Europe. Under UCATT rules the general-secretary is supposed to be based in London.

Mr Ritchie said: “I had an agreement with the previous general-secretary that I would have an accommodation allowance of £48 per night during the week when I stayed in London and that the union would pay for my travel to and from Glasgow. The previous general-secretary took out an interest-free loan to buy a house when he moved to London, I didn’t.

“After doing that for seven years, the union suddenly said it was against the rules and they didn’t know I had been claiming for these things. It’s frankly amazing. They’ve also said that other expenses I claimed for, such as office equipment, were not authorised, yet the accountants signed off on all my expenses every year.”

Mr Ritchie said European travel and hotel accommodation expenses that he claimed during his time as general-secretary were “always on union business” in his role within the European Federation of building workers to which UCATT is affiliated. Mr Ritchie resigned from UCATT last year after being barred from standing for re-election amid allegations within the union that he had misused expenses. He announced his resignation minutes before a union hearing into the matter was due to commence.

He had to stand down as general-secretary in 2011 after the Certification Officer, the independent trade union watchdog, declared his 2009 leadership election win “void” following complaints from the losing candidate.

Then he was given a role working out of the union’s Glasgow office but in October 2011 he was suspended from that job on full pay when UCATT began its investigation of his expenses.

Mr Ritchie was paid a salary of about £75,000.

A union source said staff and officials at the union failed to confront Mr Ritchie about his expenses because they were “reluctant” to challenge him.

They said Mr Ritchie had initiated a number of internal investigations and hearings into union officials who had disagreed with him.

Politics and Football

Celtic supporters at the Champions League encounter against AC Milan
I see that Celtic Football Club are threatening to take tough action against the so-called Green Brigade - a small but vocal group of supporters who try to exploit match days for their own political ends. 

Last Wednesday the Green Brigade unfurled political banners during a Champions League tie against AC Milan which will get the club into trouble again with the European footballing authority, Uefa, and is likely to result in another heavy fine.

To my mind these fans are 'Grade A' idiots and having been warned in the past the thing to do now is to withdraw their season tickets - because they clearly believe they are bigger than the club and a law unto themselves.

I was at Parkhead a few years ago when the Green Brigade staged a noisy protest in the stadium against Celtic FC marking Remembrance Day - a sombre act of respect to UK armed forces, past and present, who have lost their lives or been injured down the years.

Now I can respect someone who chooses not to wear a red poppy or decides not to mark Remembrance Day in some other way - but that's quite different from being deliberately disrespectful to others who do - a bit like disrupting a minute's silence with noisy booing and hissing.  

So I support the club in tackling the Green Brigade because a football ground is not a place for peddling political arguments - these individuals don't speak for the vast majority of fans and the GB's behaviour is costing Celtic money that should be spent elsewhere.

If they want to hold protests or political meetings, let them do so outside the stadium - although the Green Brigade knows, like me, that if they did so virtually no one would turn up. 

  
Champions League: Uefa charge Celtic over banners

Disciplinary proceedings have been opened against Celtic for an incident of "non-sporting nature" during the Champions League defeat by AC Milan.

Banners with a slogan depicted Scottish warrior William Wallace and Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands.

The case will be dealt with by the Uefa Control and Disciplinary meeting on 11 December.

Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell described the banner as "nothing more than clear disrespect for the club".

“The club don't want it, our manager and our team don't want it, our supporters don't want it and the football authorities don't want it - it has to stop”Peter LawwellCeltic chief executive

Celtic were previously fined by Uefa over a banner displayed during a Europa League tie against Udinese in 2011.

A penalty was imposed for supporters setting off fireworks during a Champions League qualifier this season.

Celtic have previously warned supporters in section 111 of the stadium, known to house the Green Brigade, over their future conduct or face being relocated.

The Green Brigade is a self-styled "ultras" group of fans known for banner displays and chanting and Celtic have made it "abundantly clear" that "only football-related displays would be permitted and that any political display would lead to a Uefa charge".

"There have now been a number of Uefa charges made against the club during the last three years, relating to behaviour, displays and pyrotechnics - it cannot go on any further," added Lawwell in a statement.

"Let's be very clear. Following the actions of a small minority, these charges are made against the club. It is the reputation of Celtic, our great club and our great fans which is damaged, while others carry on indulging in such behaviour.

"Our supporters do not want this any more. We are a non-political organisation, a top football club in fantastic shape, aiming to play its part as a major football club on the European stage.

"Regardless of the political views people hold, football stadia, whether it is Celtic Park or anywhere else, should not be used to promote these. This is something which all football authorities, including Uefa, have stressed for some time and something well known by all supporters.

"The club don't want it, our manager and our team don't want it, our supporters don't want it and the football authorities don't want it - it has to stop."

Ajax were earlier this month fined £21,000 for fans displaying an offensive banner at their Champions League against Celtic in Amsterdam.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Decisions, Decisions


The latest 'bombshell' to explode in the Scottish independence debate is that the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has offered a thoughtful reminder that new members of the European Union (EU) must be accepted by all existing members of the EU - before they can join the club.

And this sage advice from Spain is now being waved around triumphantly by the No camp  as proof positive that Scotland is effectively trapped within the UK - because no one can guarantee 100% that some rogue nation, Spain perhaps, might object to Scotland joining the EU club as an independent country from the UK - or to be precise what would be left of the UK.

Now to my mind this is just stuff and nonsense - it's the same old line about things being too difficult or uncertain, so unless you have a crystal ball to hand - the best thing to do is to sit tight and do nothing, otherwise the sky might fall on your head.

I've been here before I have to admit and while it's nothing to do with independence, I was put on the spot years ago when the whole business of equal pay took off - as I attended lots of meetings around Scotland to explain the big pay gap between traditional male and female jobs - and that the way to tackle the situation was for people to pursue a claim to the Employment Tribunals.

Now the forces who had turned a blind eye to this huge pay gap for years (the council employers and the trade unions) didn't take this lying down - they quickly rustled up cash offers of compensation which were worth far less that the true value of people's claims - although in order to get the money potential claimants had to sign away their future employment rights.

The first Council to go down this path was labour-run Glasgow - the largest in Scotland - and the council's buy out strategy was supported by the Labour supporting unions who had been virtually silent on the issue of equal pay for years.

The maximum offer Glasgow made was £9,000 and that was for a full-time worker with at least five years service - and they called the workforce to a series of 'acceptance' meetings attended by 'independent' lawyers paid for by the Council which encouraged thousands of low paid workers to sign their rights away in the run-up to Christmas 2005 - tempting timing to say the least.

And without a word of protest from the trade unions, of course - certainly none of the major industrial 'hoo hah' that was so evident at Grangemouth, for example, where the employer was accused of issuing the workers with 'sign or die' letters.

The tactics of the employer were to frighten people into believing that they would lose everything if they didn't sign up - and I was often asked at local Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) meetings - could I guarantee 100% that people would do better throwing their lot in with A4ES.

And I always gave an honest answer - that life doesn't work by those kind of guarantees, that I was completely convinced the Council's offer was a terrible deal, that the workers were being cheated out of what they were really entitled to - and that their claims were worth a great deal more.

I also said that if you asked that question of an airline or coach or train company - that before I buy my ticket, can you guarantee 100% that I will arrive safely and on time - then people would never leave the house.

Because accidents happen everyday, people die crossing the road for goodness sake, yet that's not a reason for living your life under the duvet cover - so use the evidence of your own eyes and ears and make the best decision you can.

And that's the reason why so many people in Glasgow and elsewhere are pursuing equal pay claims with Action 4 Equality Scotland - and why the trade unions are not trusted by so many of their own members.    

As for Mariano Rajoy, he's the most right wing conservative Prime Minister has had since Spain became a democracy and said goodbye to General Franco - and he's engulfed by an expenses scandal and slush monies paid to members of his political party, the Popular Party or PP.

In other words not the kind of person to buy a second hand care from, not if you ask me anyway.    

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Scottish Affairs

Here's an interesting article from the Times newspaper which tells the tale of a former union leader, Alan Ritchie, who had to stand down from his role as UCATT general secretary - only to resurface as a 'special adviser' to the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee which is chaired by the Glasgow MP, Ian Davidson.  

Now two things jumped out to me about this report.

The first being that in an age of mobile telephony how can an MP not be available for comment just because he's travelling between Glasgow and London?

The second is that it seems more than a little strange that the Scottish Affairs Committee has refused to explain what its special adviser is paid - in fact I would go further, I'd like to know the way in which he was recruited.   


Ex-union chief ‘falsely claimed £100,000’

Alan Ritchie is now facing legal action Andy Barr/NGN
By Michael Glackin

A former trade union chief, who is now a paid adviser to the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee, is facing legal action after being accused of falsely claiming up to £100,000 in expenses.

Glasgow-based Alan Ritchie, the former general-secretary of construction union UCATT, is being taken to court by the union following an internal investigation. A claim has been filed by the union lawyers and is in the court listings awaiting a hearing date, likely to be early next year.

Mr Ritchie is a paid adviser to the Scottish Affairs Committee, whose chairman, Ian Davidson, is MP for Glasgow South West.

UCATT is understood to have written to Mr Davidson informing him of concerns raised about Mr Ritchie’s expenses claims after his appointment as an adviser for the committee’s examination of blacklisting in the construction sector. He was appointed in May of last year.

A clerk for the select committee confirmed that Mr Ritchie was a “special adviser” but would not disclose how much he was being paid.

Mr Ritchie said last night that he is contesting the case and denied any wrongdoing. “My lawyers are talking to the union’s lawyers. I’ve done nothing wrong,” he said.

The news comes hard on the heels of the expenses scandal revolving around Paul Flowers, the former Labour councillor and Co-operative Bank chairman, who is on bail after being arrested in connection with a drugs investigation. He resigned as deputy chairman of the Co-op Group in June amid concerns about his expenses. Mr Davidson was travelling between Glasgow and London yesterday and unavailable for comment.

UCATT also declined to comment.

Union sources alleged that Mr Ritchie “misused” his union credit card and also allegedly claimed other expenses to which he was not entitled.

When Mr Ritchie was elected general-secretary of the union he continued to live in Glasgow and commuted weekly to UCATT’s London headquarters, claiming the travel costs and accommodation on his expenses. He is also understood to have claimed for several stays in Europe. Under UCATT rules the general-secretary is supposed to be based in London.

Mr Ritchie said: “I had an agreement with the previous general-secretary that I would have an accommodation allowance of £48 per night during the week when I stayed in London and that the union would pay for my travel to and from Glasgow. The previous general-secretary took out an interest-free loan to buy a house when he moved to London, I didn’t.

“After doing that for seven years, the union suddenly said it was against the rules and they didn’t know I had been claiming for these things. It’s frankly amazing. They’ve also said that other expenses I claimed for, such as office equipment, were not authorised, yet the accountants signed off on all my expenses every year.”

Mr Ritchie said European travel and hotel accommodation expenses that he claimed during his time as general-secretary were “always on union business” in his role within the European Federation of building workers to which UCATT is affiliated. Mr Ritchie resigned from UCATT last year after being barred from standing for re-election amid allegations within the union that he had misused expenses. He announced his resignation minutes before a union hearing into the matter was due to commence.

He had to stand down as general-secretary in 2011 after the Certification Officer, the independent trade union watchdog, declared his 2009 leadership election win “void” following complaints from the losing candidate.

Then he was given a role working out of the union’s Glasgow office but in October 2011 he was suspended from that job on full pay when UCATT began its investigation of his expenses.

Mr Ritchie was paid a salary of about £75,000.

A union source said staff and officials at the union failed to confront Mr Ritchie about his expenses because they were “reluctant” to challenge him.

They said Mr Ritchie had initiated a number of internal investigations and hearings into union officials who had disagreed with him.

Weasel Words


Here's a article from the Sunday Herald which caught my eye at the weekend - for the weasel words about Scottish Labour being allegedly unable to work alongside the Scottish Conservatives.

Now the example given is about the Better Together campaign - an uncomplicated single issue campaign which is opposed to the proposition that Scotland should become an independent country.

Yet while the Chairperson of Scottish Labour babbles on about Scottish Labour's inability to work with the 'toxic' Tories - there are of course plenty of examples of Labour in Scottish councils doing deals with the Conservatives to form joint administrations - coalition councils along the same lines as the Coalition Government at Westminster.

South Lanarkshire, Stirling, Falkirk, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, East Dunbartonshire, and East Lothian Councils - for example.

And as for Labour not working with the Tories because of a 'cuts' agenda what sense does that make when the Labour leadership itself admits that if the party were back in power now - Labour would be making £7 out of every £8 worth of spending cuts planned by the Coalition Government at Westminster.

So, Bah Humbug' is all I can say, given the time of year.     

Labour can't stick working with toxic Better Together



By Tom Gordon

MANY Labour activists "simply cannot stomach" working alongside the Conservatives in the pro-Union Better Together campaign, the chairman of Scottish Labour has admitted.

In comments which expose the tensions between the main partners in the No camp, Jackson Cullinane also claimed Scottish Labour had been "bounced" into its unwanted partnership with the Conservatives on the issue, and warned the alliance could come back "to haunt Labour in electoral terms".


And he said there was "frustration" that Better Together was seen to offer the status quo as the alternative to independence, when most people wanted greater devolution for Holyrood.

Cullinane last night stood by the remarks, which were made earlier this year but have only now emerged in a video posted on YouTube.

The comments also help explain why Labour and the Tories both have their own one-party No vehicles outside Better Together.

The Conservative Friends of the Union group was established last year, while United with Labour was created earlier this year.

The Cullinane video is another headache for Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, already under pressure over the selection debacle in Falkirk. She helped launch Better Together with Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson in June 2012.

When she also helped launch Better Together Glasgow in August this year, Lamont underlined the unity of the campaign, saying: "Division is not a great Scottish tradition. But solidarity is."

However, speaking in February at a left-wing seminar, Cullinane, 51, who is also a political officer for the Unite union, said Better Together was a "source of frustration … in particular the fact that the Labour Party leadership appeared to bounce the party into that position.

"There was very little consultation with people beforehand … there certainly wasn't any in-depth discussion or consultation with the Scottish Executive Committee of the party."

He described the "concern" that the Better Together campaign aligns Labour with the Tories, saying: "At a local level, that's something that people just simply cannot stomach, that they've got to align themselves with people who have been taking potshots at them for very many years.

"The Tory brand is toxic in Scotland. At a time of deep cuts, at a time where the Thatcherite agenda is being promoted by them, [that] is something that may come back to haunt Labour in electoral terms."

A senior Tory said the party's activists felt Labour were "more tribal" than Conservatives, and Labour supporters were often reluctant to engage with others on Better Together.

"It seems a bit of a farce so far. And next year there's the Euro elections, when parties will be even less focused on Better Together."

SNP MSP Linda Fabiani said: "This attack on Johann Lamont's project by her own party chairman is a challenge to her authority.

"It shows that Labour are split from top to bottom by their alliance with the Tories in the No campaign. The reality is the No campaign is Tory-led and Westminster-led."

Cullinane last night stressed the remarks were made in a "personal capacity" and that there was no division between him and Lamont.

However, he confirmed that many party activists "can't bring themselves" to work with the Tories, and so a pro-devolution, Labour-only alternative had been created, in the form of United with Labour. He said he was not helping Better Together himself as his trade union, Unite, had not taken a position on the referendum.

He added: "As a trade unionist I do have concerns about being in any campaign alongside the Tories at a time when trade unions and communities are suffering under their austerity cuts agenda."

Responding for Better Together, Anas Sarwar, deputy leader of Scottish Labour, said: "Better Together is a cross-party and no-party campaign which brings together people who share the view that the best future for Scotland is working in partnership with our friends and colleagues in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"However, we recognise we need a distinct Labour voice in this campaign and that is why we launched United with Labour.

"The Labour movement has always believed in an idea bigger than independence and that is the pooling and sharing of resources so that we have services based on need, not nationality."

Sisters With Solicitors


I think this is a good time to publish a previous post from the blog site - one from April 2010 which features an article written by Zoe Williams a regular contributor in the Guardian newspaper.

I heard Zoe the other night on some TV programme and she has lost none of her edge or her ability to call a spade a spade.

To be sure the trade unions have a terrible track record on equal pay and - in certain parts of the country - they have lost all credibility whatsoever.

Sisters With Solicitors (29 April 2010)

Here's an article on equal pay by Zoe Williams from the Guardian newspaper - the sections in bold have been highlighted by me - but you can read the full story on-line at:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/

"On equal pay, sisters with solicitors must do it for themselves"

"The Birmingham case shows just how much Labour and the unions have let women down.

The news about Birmingham city council is in its way as big a deal, as cataclysmically bankrupting, as Greece. Unlike Greece, it has a massive, Erin Brockovich feelgood factor. I feel sure we'd be talking about it much more if it weren't for bigot-gate.

The tribunal's finding is this: women employees have been systematically underpaid and discriminated against by this council, for as long as the Equal Pay Act has been in force. Female staff on the same pay grade as men (cleaners versus bin men, for instance) could expect to earn much less, to start with, and go on to be paid much less in bonuses. The starkest example given was one case of a refuse collector taking home £51,000 in one year, while women on his level received less than £12,000.

Paul Doran, of the firm Stefan Cross that successfully brought this case, told me: "The bonuses were a sham, there was no monitoring, they were paid simply for men turning up to work, doing their jobs properly." The council plans to appeal (of course it does), and there are appeals due to be heard in September from Sunderland and Bury councils, fighting similar cases. But if it proceeds according to the judgment as it stands, this will lead to payouts worth £200m. It is, in short, a wonderful day for equal pay, better than any manifesto promise: legislation has shown its teeth, and there isn't a council in the country that can afford to ignore it.

Nevertheless, the abiding sense I'm left with is not triumph but outrage, not least at the GMB union, which, solicitors say, was just as culpable as the council in maintaining this exploitative status quo. The GMB had the unbelievable brass neck to put out a press release yesterday morning claiming this as their victory. Technically, in terms of representing the litigants, this may be – but historically it's quite a different case.

Female staff, attempting to right the iniquities in the pay scale, weren't just poorly represented by their union, they were systematically bullied (this is all documented in the Allen v GMB appeal of 2008, which found against the GMB and which the GMB, brazenly, never mentions).

Doran recalls: "The Equal Pay Act was enforced from 1975. In spite of that, councils started paying bonuses in the 70s and 80s, which was driven by the unions. The bonuses are paid to male-dominated groups. The councils quickly realised that the bonuses would have to be scrapped, so the unions, rather than fight for equal pay for the women, spent a lot of their time preserving the bonuses for the men."

This included actively encouraging women to settle for pitiful sums (£2,000 to £7,000 in cases where the claims were for as much as £50,000) and publicly briefing against the women on the basis that their claims would lead to job losses or would bankrupt the council. Socialism and feminism aren't synonymous, and we all know that: but the misogyny of the left is almost more poisonous, more depressing, than the rabid materialism of girl power. I remember people saying this about Thatcher: that one of the reasons why she was rarely hauled up on those of her policies that were actively bad for women was that she had, at least, smashed the unions: and that was worth quite a lot of free milk.

I suppose if there's an ancillary point here, it's that unions can fight and win some quite improbable battles, at least for a time; so it's worth joining, as long as they are on your side – not just taking your money and stamping on your face.

By coincidence, yesterday's ruling was made on the same day that Harriet Harman and Theresa May faced off at the Fawcett debate, What About Women? Harman is a wonderful speaker; she took May apart, and I say that without agenda (I was rather taken with Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green). But "Sisters!" she cried, talking about an extant 20% pay gap between the sexes. "Do we really think we're 20% stupider than men, less able, more lazy?" Everybody clapped. She talked about mandatory pay audits, and how they would ensure that bad employers have nowhere to hide. It was all incredibly inspirational, except for the fact that this government has already been in power for three terms, and we are standing here, gasping in amazement that anyone's managed to enforce some equality legislation that was passed in 1970.

It makes you think: first, that the Labour party, for all its big talk, is not necessarily the best for women. Of Harriet Harman's personal commitment to equal rights, I am in no doubt. But the forces working against her, in her own party or certainly their cohorts, the unions, are just as powerful and destructive to equality as anyone painting poor old Theresa May into the corner where she has to argue the married man's tax allowance until she's pink with embarrassment.

Second, maybe we don't need more legislation, at the moment, in this area. Maybe we do not need the Equality Act, until there is proper, rigorous implementation of the Equal Pay Act. And lastly, a moment to congratulate the solicitors: they don't campaign or (I doubt) call anybody "Sister". But they get it done."

Freedom of Information














South Lanarkshire Council are up to their old tricks again on Freedom of Information (FoI) and having been around this track once or twice before in recent years - I've decided not to mess about. 

So, I have submitted the following FoI appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner - watch this space for further details.


Rosemary Agnew
Scottish Information Commissioner
Kinburn Castle
Doubledykes Road
Fife
KY16 9DS

Dear Ms Agnew

South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) – FoI Appeal

I enclose an exchange of correspondence with South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) regarding a FOISA enquiry, which I initiated with the council on 20 August 2013. 

I asked for a review of the Council’s initial decision, but remain dissatisfied with their response. I am, therefore, registering an appeal with the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) as I consider the Council’s response to be unsatisfactory for the following reasons:  

  1. In my view, South Lanarkshire Council’s case for non-disclosure comes down to no more that a desire to protect senior officials and council members from the consequences of their poor judgment, over a period of years, in agreeing to pursue this case all the way to the UK Supreme Court where the Council’s appeal was unanimously dismissed, but only after incurring enormous public expense.
  2. My original FoI request in 2010 was rejected by the Council as ‘vexatious’, yet ended up in the highest court in the land where five judges ruled decisively that the information I had requested belonged in the public domain all along. A  decision which supported an earlier unanimous judgment from three senior judges in Scotland’s Court of Session, and an independent adjudication from the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC). 
  3. In 2010 I accused South Lanarkshire Council of engaging in a cynical abuse of the FoI process and of using public money to delay disclosure when the Council had a duty to operate in an open and transparent manner. I said also that South Lanarkshire was the only council in Scotland to behave in this secretive and furtive way, which has proved to be correct as well.
  4. So, what we have here, in my opinion, is a Council which has ‘long arms and deep pockets’ when it comes to spending public money, and I say that the public has a right to know how the Council arrived at its decision/s to fight this case all the way to the UK Supreme Court. In other words the public is entitled to know how the Council got things so spectacularly wrong, especially as further public scrutiny would hold the Council to account for its actions and, I suspect, improve the quality of its decision making in future. 
  5. As far as I can see the recent decision of the UK Supreme Court has resolved all of the underlying legal arguments regarding disclosure. So I reject the Council’s  argument that the release of such information at this stage could prejudice its position going forward, since the information in question is now simply a matter of historical interest.
  6. To my mind the Council has not offered any convincing arguments, never mind evidence, regarding the public interest or the potential benefit to be gained by disclosing the information I have requested. Yet it seems evident to me that the public interest would benefit greatly from a clearer understanding of what drove the Council to spend so much money and effort in fighting a case that was so comprehensively defeated in Scotland’s highest civil court and subsequently in the UK Supreme Court - on both occasions unanimously.
  7. By way of example, I was a member of a public body myself for several years - SLARC (Scottish Local Authorities Remuneration Committee) which advised Scottish Ministers on pay and related issues involving elected local councillors. All Committee papers (minutes, documents and reports) were covered by the FoI regime and in presenting various reports to Scottish Ministers over the years, SLARC was required to explain and detail the evidence on which its recommendations to Scottish Ministers were being made.
  8. In my view, the same standards should apply here. The public interest lies in requiring the Council to explain its decision/s and the decision making process which led to such a comprehensive rejection of its case, so much so that one of the Supreme Court judges described it as resembling something out of Alice in Wonderland after two hours of legal sophistry on the meaning of the word ‘necessary’. And as everyone knows, lawyers only offer advice but their ‘client’ has to make the final decision based on a wide range of factors including the assessment of risk.
  9. My arguments, of course, also apply to the separate ‘risk assessment’ document prepared by senior council officials which is not a legal document at all, but is equally significant from a public interest point of view. Again I say that the public has a right to know how these matters were assessed and whether this was done on a professional and objective basis, which I suspect they were not.
  10. So, if anyone has behaved vexatiously in this matter it is clearly South Lanarkshire Council and in the unique circumstances of this case, I say that the public interest test tilts the balance of the argument in favour of disclosure. In my view there is no evidence that the Council would be prejudiced by disclosure nor is there any evidence to suggest this would compromise the conduct of public affairs. In fact, I say the exact opposite is true and on that  basis I invite the Scottish Information Commissioner to uphold my appeal.     
I look forward to hearing from you in due course and if you require any further details or clarification at this stage, please contact me on my mobile phone number or by e-mail at markirvine@compuserve.com

Kind regards


Mark Irvine 

List of enclosures x 4

Original FOISA request to SLC dated 20 August 2013
Initial SLC response dated 17 September 2013
Further review letter to SLC dated 20 September 2013 
Final response letter from SLC dated 21 October 2013

Who Gets What and Why?


You know something's gone badly wrong when an organisation called the Resolution Foundation - is much more radical than the country's trade unions.

I've written many times about the intention behind the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement - which was to sweep away years of pay discrimination against so many council jobs (done predominantly by women) - on the grounds that they had been undervalued and underpaid for years. 

So, when you've finished reading the article by Jill Sherman which appeared in the Times recently - have a look at the opinion piece I wrote for the Herald newspaper earlier this year.

If you ask me, the unions should hang their heads in shame.  

Almost five million trapped in low pay for 10 years

Of the 4.7 million people who were low paid in 2002, 27 per cent did not see their income rise at any point during the decade Dominic Lipinski / PA


By Jill Sherman Whitehall Editor

Nearly five million workers have been trapped in a cycle of low pay for more than a decade, according to a report published today.

Research by the Resolution Foundation, an independent think tank, shows that almost three quarters of Britain’s workers who were on low pay in 2002 were unable to climb up the earnings ladder over the next ten years.

The report, which examines social mobility, shows that of the 4.7 million people who were low paid in 2002, about 1.3 million (27 per cent) did not see their income rise at any point during the decade and a further 2.2 million (46 per cent) cycled in and out of low pay but had failed to escape it for good by the end of the decade.

Only 800,000 workers escaped low pay - two thirds of median incomes - by moving up the earnings ladder without slipping backwards by 2012. A further 400,000 workers retired or left the labour market.

The study also showed that women are much more likely to be stuck on lower incomes than men. Of the women who were low-paid in 2012, one in three were locked into low pay for ten years, compared to one in five men.

Workers in the North East were the most likely to be stuck in low pay with one in three on stagnant salaries for ten years. The East Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber and Wales were the next worst affected areas. Social mobility was much more likely in London and the Southeast where fewer than one in four people stayed on low incomes for a decade.

Gavin Kelly, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, said living on low pay in 2013 was tough, but being stuck on it for years on end was harder still. “This report shines a light on the persistent nature of low pay for millions of workers and shows that women, those in regions such as the North East, the East Midlands and Wales, and people working in sectors like administration are far likelier to be stuck in low pay than others,” said Mr Kelly.

The standard definition of low pay in today’s prices is £7.32 per hour - two thirds of the median earnings of £10.98 per hour.

Who Gets What and Why? (3 October 2013)


As the fight for equal pay continues - in South Lanarkshire and elsewhere - I think it's important to remember that when the powers that be really want to deliver a result - they can always find the resources.

How else to explain the the fact that the Scottish Government, council employers and the trade unions found the money required to fund a landmark pay deal for Scottish teachers - back in the year 2000 - which cost the public purse £800 million a year.

Far more, of course, than the cost of implementing the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement in the way that was originally intended - by raising the pay levels of many female dominated jobs which had been badly undervalued for years. 

So why did Scottish teachers win out while Scotland's lowest paid council workers lost out? 


Now that's a question for the employers and trade unions - but money wasn't the problem since the budgets of councils in Scotland doubled in the decade up to 2007.

And if the employers and trade unions had done what they said they were going to do - back in 1999 - there would be no need for this belated campaign for a Living Wage because the lowest paid council workers would have been earning more than £9.00 an hour for years.

Politics of Equal Pay (2 August 2013)


I am often drawing readers' attention to interesting and/or thought provoking article in the newspapers and here's a real doozy which lays bare the politics of Equal Pay in today's Herald - from none other than little old me!

So, go out and buy yourself a copy of the Herald, share it with your friends and use the information in the article to good effect - kick up a great fuss - for example, by posing a few awkward questions to your local councillor, MSP or MP.

Because when it comes to equal pay - Scotland's politicians, particularly its Labour politicians, have a great deal to answer for, if you ask me.


There are still battles being fought on equal pay.

Earlier this week, I called on Eddie McAvoy, leader of South Lanarkshire Council, to resign after the authority lost a three-year legal battle which has cost the public purse more than £168,000 so far.

The Supreme Court in London ruled that the council wrong to withhold information from me. I wanted to check whether women workers at the authority were being discriminated against. 

The way in which Scottish councils chose to deal with equal pay has important implications for areas of social policy.

The business goes back to 1999 when a new national agreement was struck (the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement between Scotland's council employers and the unions. The stated aim was to sweep away years of historical pay discrimination against many female- dominated jobs which were paid much less, typically £3 an hour less, than traditional male jobs.

The way equal pay was to be achieved was by raising the pay of women workers to the same as the men. The costly price tag was around £500m a year: 90,000 women workers at £3 per hour x 30 hours a week (on average) x 52 weeks = £421m. 

You might well ask how Scotland's councils could afford to spend so much on equal pay. The answer is that the annual budgets of Scotland 32 councils and that of the Scottish Parliament doubled in size during the period between 1997 and 2007. So, money was never the problem – the problem was political will.

Because in the year 2000 Scotland's 32 local councils with the enthusiastic support of the Scottish Government, implemented a much more expensive agreement on teachers' pay, the McCrone Agreement, with a far weightier annual price tag of £800m. Now this pay deal gave Scottish teachers an unprecedented 23.5% increase in a single year, whereas other very low- paid council workers were still waiting for the promises of their 1999 Equal Pay Agreement to be honoured.

Nowadays Labour and the unions are demanding a so-called Living Wage, yet I am struck by the thought that a rate of £9 an hour could and should have been achieved years ago. Not only would this have put more money into the pockets and purses of thousands of low-paid women council workers, but equal pay would also have eliminated the need for the crazy and complex system of working tax credits.

Those who failed to keep their promises in 1999 were the Labour councils who dominated the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) at the time and the Labour trade unions who decided not to cut up rough on behalf of their lowest-paid members. Instead this was done by Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES), which arrived on the scene in 2005 and began to explain the big pay differences between male and female council jobs, which led to an explosion of equal pay claims in the Employment Tribunals. 

Aome people criticise A4ES because we charge clients a success fee of 10% (not 25% as some have suggested), but I've always regarded that as great value for money. The same people wrongly claim that the unions represented their members "for nothing", which is nonsense because they were, of course, taking millions of pounds in union contributions from these members –while turning a blind eye what was going on right under their noses.

So the fight for equal pay continues because certain councils decided to preserve the historically higher pay of traditional male workers when introducing job evaluation, which means that women workers have a potential ongoing claim while these pay differences continue. 

Other councils have cynically reduced male workers' pay to avoid the likelihood of claims from women employees, yet this was never the aim of the original Equal Pay Agreement: the problem was never that men were paid too much, but that women were paid too little. 

Mark Irvine was chief union negotiator in the 1999 Scottish agreement which was meant to deliver equal pay for women.