Thursday, 30 April 2015

North Lanarkshire Update


Here's what I said on the blog site back in February about equal pay being a peculiar version of the old 'snakes and ladders' board game, except that the women's jobs all seem to have landed on a snake while the men's jobs all enjoyed much better 'luck' 

Funny that.

Especially when you consider the fact that this happened in North as well as South Lanarkshire, both large Labour-run councils of course, which are near neighbours sitting on opposite sides of the M74.

I wonder if that's a coincidence or if it helps to explain why Scottish Labour is getting such a  terrible kicking in the opinion polls?

Anyway, tomorrow is 1st May and the general election is only a week away, so I plan to publish my very own 'manifesto' in 24 hours which will set out my proposals and for carrying out a further re-evaluation of various council jobs in North Lanarkshire.

As regular readers know, this has to be done because of concessions made previously by North Lanarkshire at the Employment Tribunal to the effect that the gradings and evaluation of various jobs, for example Home Carers, were unsatisfactory and not to be relied upon. 

North Lanarkshire Update (12/02/15)


Here's a previous post from the blog site which is about South Lanarkshire Council, but could just as easily been written with North Lanarkshire in mind.

Because the rank order 'test' is the best and easiest way of demonstrating whether a job evaluation exercise (JES) and the new pay arrangements which flow from a JES pass the test of common sense.  

The point of the exercise is simple: at the end of the JES process and before any new proposals are implemented where do all the various jobs sit in relation to each other?

If all the lower paid women's jobs remain stuck at the bottom of the pay ladder relative to the male jobs, where they were before, then there is clearly a major problem.

Especially since a key aim of Scotland's 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement was to end the widespread pay discrimination against predominantly female jobs - home carers and other carers, classroom assistants, catering workers, cleaners and wide variety of clerical roles. 
  

So, as I said yesterday, given that this 'before' and 'after' rank order was a key requirement of the Council's Equality Impact Assessment (requested by the unions), then where is the NLC report-back explaining that virtually nothing had changed as far as the Council's traditional male jobs were concerned?

In other words, how did all the women happen to land on a 'snake' when all the men happily found themselves on a 'ladder'.

Here is the relevant paragraph again from Iris Wylie's letter to Unison (see post dated 9 February 2015) and if you ask me, this could well be the key to unlocking and nailing the whole case.  
  • identify predominantly male or predominantly female jobs in the existing grading structure and confirm how they move within the new evaluated rank order of jobs i.e. upwards or downwards
Because there's no way that having identified this rank order test as a key part of the Equality Impact Assessment that the Council was not fully aware of what it was doing in  deciding to press ahead with new pay arrangements which favoured traditional male jobs.

Which is one of the reasons I think that going back to the Employment Tribunal is no bad thing because it seems to me that the Council is on a hiding to nothing. 

Rank Stupidity (12 July 2012) 

A number of readers from South Lanarkshire have been in touch to ask - whether the council and the trade unions could have avoided the current mess they've got into over equal pay.

Now I would say the answer to that question - is a definite YES.

Because the obvious thing to have done - and anyone could have told you this at the time (back in 2004) - is to construct what is called a 'rank order of jobs'.

Both before and after job evaluation process was carried out - for comparative purposes - which is what equal pay is all about - comparing the actual pay outcomes between male and female jobs.

A 'rank order of jobs' is a basic but vital tool for anyone dealing with a job evaluation scheme (JES) - because it demonstrates very quickly and very vividly what the 'before' and 'after' effect of the JES on people's pay and grading.

If you like it's like one of those fast-track books you see in the shops - except it should be given the title 'Equal Pay for Dummies'.

So given that the whole purpose of the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement in Scotland - was to address the perceived pay inequalities faced by many female dominated jobs.

You would have thought that even the village idiot would have understood the importance of using a 'rank order of jobs' - to assess what was actually going in terms of pay outcomes for the male and female jobs.

Instead we have ridiculous excuses that they didn't compare across the workforce - to see what was happening to different groups of male and female workers.

Or if they did, they didn't like what they saw and decided not to share the information with the workforce - a complete cop out if I've ever heard one.

The point is that if all that happened is that female dominated jobs within the council stayed firmly rooted at the bottom of the pay ladder - then in truth the existing pay hierarchy within the council was being preserved.

Yet by the simple task of constructing a 'before and after' rank order of jobs - this would have stood out like a sore thumb - for everyone to see including all the women workers who would have realised that nothing had changed.

So if you ask me, I say the whole affair is a complete disgrace - which is why South Lanarkshire Council and the trade unions have a great deal to answer for in 2012.

Because equal pay is not rocket science and comes down to only two things at the end of the day - political will and commons sense.

Essential NLC Reading (29/11/14)


I've written a lot about North Lanarkshire in recent weeks, but here's a brief summary of where things stand as we approach the end of another year in the fight for equal pay.

"Will we win?", people ask me on a regular basis.

Yes, I'm absolutely convinced of that and the reason we will win is that the Council has taken a complete pasting at the ongoing Employment Tribunal which is due to recommence in Glasgow on 19 January 2015.

What has happened is that the Council's defence has been forensically taken apart by the barrister acting for Action 4 Equality Scotland's clients, Daphne Romney QC. Daphne has shown that the Council's claims to have delivered equal pay through it 2007 job evaluation scheme (JES) are complete baloney - from start to finish.

As regular readers know, all that really happened is that the much higher earnings of traditional male jobs were preserved because regardless of their JES scorers, the male jobs were assimilated onto the new pay spine on the basis of their old earnings.

In other words the historical pay discrimination against female dominated jobs was simply rolled forward into the new pay structures which was a very sneaky and naughty thing to do, if you ask me.

To add insult to injury lots of female dominated jobs, such as Home Carers, were 'scored' much lower than they deserved although the Council only admitted this to be the case earlier in 2014 - having had the truth dragged out of them after seven years of denying vehemently that anything was wrong.

Now quite how all of this happened right under the noses of the trade unions is beyond me because it stands to reason that the trade unions must have known how the male workers were being treated, compared to the women.

In any event the Council is now in a giant hole of its own making and while Action 4 Equality Scotland is prepared to reach a negotiated settlement of all outstanding equal pay claims - it will have to be a fair settlement and not one that's on the Council's terms.

At the moment there are no discussion talking place with North Lanarkshire Council and A4ES is preparing for the Employment Tribunal hearing on 19 January 2015 when the Council's head of human resources, Iris Wylie, will be required to give evidence.

In my view, the next couple of months will be crucial because the Council's most senior officials have an awful lot of explaining to do although I am amazed, I have to say, that the same people, by and large, who have made such a mess of equal pay over the past 8 years are still in their very highly paid posts.     

But believe me justice will be done in one way or another, as it was in South Lanarkshire Council, and the looming general election is forcing Labour politicians to sit up and take notice in a way they haven't done for years - because they're all now desperately worried about losing their seats.     

NLC Update (29/04/15)


Here's what I said previously on the blog site about North Lanarkshire's Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) which was supposed to protect the interests of the workforce as the Council introduced new pay arrangements back in 2007.

I cannot emphasise strongly enough the importance of carrying out a 'rank order test' at the end of the JES process and before any new pay arrangements are implemented.

Because if this had been done, the extraordinary pay differences between traditional male and female jobs would have been apparent to everyone, especially the women workers whose jobs had been underpaid for years and who were promised a new deal under the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement.

Now if you ask me this could not possibly have been accidental, since experienced people were involved on both sides and while the whole JES process is important what counts at the end of the day is the outcome and how pay is affected, both individually but also by comparing the pay of one job against others.

For example, if the pay of a hospital cleaner ended up being more than an experienced NHS consultant, it would be immediately obvious to everyone that something had gone badly wrong or that the process was being deliberately manipulated to achieve a particular outcome.

So how did North Lanarkshire end up with so many female dominated jobs still stuck at the bottom of the pay ladder, far behind their male colleagues, and why did the trade unions (who demanded the EIA in the first place) allow this to happen?   

I suggested yesterday that people should ask themselves what's to stop the same thing from happening all over again and I shall have more to say about this in the days ahead.

NLC Update (28/04/15)


Here's the letter from North Lanarkshire's head of human resources, Iris Wylie, which was only made public after a long battle with the Council and an 'order' to release the document following a decision by the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC).

Now if you ask me the intervention of SIC was completely unnecessary, because this kind of information ought to be freely available to anyone who asks for it, especially the workforce in North Lanarkshire whose jobs and livelihoods were being affected by decisions that were being taken behind closed doors.

The crux of the issues is that the Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) was supposed to ensure that the Council's new pay arrangements were fair, objective and no longer discriminated against predominantly female jobs.

But as everyone now knows that is not what happened and the new NLC pay arrangements introduced in 2007 continued to favour traditional male council jobs which is astonishing, I have to admit.

Even more astonishing is the fact that the Council has not instigated an investigation to discover how this happened and report its findings to elected councillors - and the workforce, of course.

Gerry Crawley, by the way, is or at least was a regional officer (full-time official) with Unison and I'm sure that all of these issues, and more, were discussed in great detail by the local trade unions. 

More to follow in the days ahead, but the big question for the workforce in NLC to ponder is: 

"If this could happen once, what's to stop it from happening all over again?"


North Lanarkshire Update (09/02/15)



I promised to share the letter from North Lanarkshire's head of personnel services  setting out the terms of reference for an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) of the Council's new pay proposals back in 2006. 

Now it's pretty clear that this EIA didn't do the trick because what we've ended up in North Lanarkshire with is a 'dog's dinner' of a mess and more equal pay claims that you can shake a stick at.

I will have more to say on the contents of the letter in the days ahead, but in the meantime here is what the Council wanted to prevent people from seeing - a letter from Iris Wylie (now head of human resources) to Gerry Crawley of Unison. 


From:      Head of Personnel Services
Sent:       07 March 2006 12.10
To:           'g.crawley@unison.co.uk'
Cc:          Chief Executive; Director of Administration; Dinwoodie Linda; Selkirk Brian
Subject:  JOB EVALUATION - EQUALITY IMPACT ASSESSMENT

Gerry,


The Chief Executive has passed to me a copy of your e-mail of 6 March, 2006 in response to the Council's final offer. You have confirmed your request for an Equality Impact Assessment to be carried out by the Council with a jointly agreed independent pay expert being commissioned to undertake this assessment.


You have not specified the areas you would wish to have covered in the impact assessment. Could I suggest that the Equality Impact Assessment focus on the following areas:-

  • for the pay model overall, identify the number of males and females who are green, white and red circles as well as the proportionate percentages
  • within each of the 18 grades within pay model NLC 5C, identify the number of males and females within each grade as well as the proportionate percentages
  • within each grade identify the number of males and females who are green circles i.e. moving up the rank order as well as the proportionate percentages 
  • within each grade identify the number of males and females who are red circles i.e. moving down the rank order as well as the proportionate percentages 
  • identify predominantly male or predominantly female jobs in the existing grading structure and confirm how they move within the new evaluated rank order of jobs i.e. upwards or downwards
  • check whether any predominantly female jobs are close ti the upper boundary of a grade
  • check whether any predominantly male jobs are close to the lower boundary of a grade
Unless there are any other points which you feel are essential to cover in the Equality Impact Assessment, I would suggest that the work be taken forward as specified above. If you wish to revise the specification in any way, please let me know by close of business today if at all possible.

From the discussions which you had involving John O'Hagan, Director of Administration, last week I understand that Rosie Docherty, consultant to the Cosla Job Evaluation Consortium would be an acceptable independent expert to undertake this work. I should be grateful to receive your confirmation and I shall then engage Rosie to undertake the work specified above.


I look forward to hearing from you.



Iris  

NLC Update (27/04/15)


As regular readers know I fought a long Freedom of Information (FoI) battle with North Lanarkshire Council (NLC) in order to discover more about the Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) which was carried out before the Council finally implemented new pay arrangements in January 2007.

Now the Equality Impact Assessment had been demanded by the trade unions and the terms of reference were agreed with the trade unions via the Council's head of human resources, Iris Wylie.

The declared purpose of the EIA was, of course, to ensure that all jobs were treated fairly and that the principle of 'equal pay for work of equal value' was at the heart of  the new pay arrangements which flowed from the Council's job evaluation scheme (JES).

As everyone now knows, this is not what happened and the new pay arrangements favoured traditional male jobs which is astonishing if you ask me, especially as the simple common sense test of looking at the 'rank order' of jobs would have shown that many predominantly female jobs had lost out during the whole JES process.

I will have more to say about this issue in the days ahead because NLC will have to review the grades of various Council jobs and if you ask me, it is essential that this further process is conducted in a completely transparent manner.

So that NLC employees can see what's going on for themselves and understand how the current failings of the JES are to be addressed, otherwise there's a very real risk of things being done behind closed doors and without proper scrutiny which is precisely what happened before, of course.    

More on this subject to follow.  
  

FOI and NLC (31/01/15)


I am due to hear from North Lanarkshire again on Monday 2nd February 2015 the date by which the has to disclose the information so ordered by the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC). 

Yet again North Lanarkshire argued that the release of these details would be 'prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs', but SIC gave the Council's case short shrift and agreed with me that this was nonsense.

I said to SIC at the time that North Lanarkshire was really just trying to shield senior officials from proper scrutiny and I think I've been proved right.

So let's see what arrives on Monday - I can hardly wait.  

NLC and FOI (4 December 2014)


The Scottish Information Commissioner has been in touch to confirm that an appeal I registered against North Lanarkshire Council will now proceed to a formal investigation.

As regular readers know this involved a refusal by the Council to release details of an email setting out the extent of the consultation which took place between the Council and the trade unions over an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA).

I will share the contents of my appeal to SIC in due course, but in the meantime here's what I had to say to North Lanarkshire Council back in September in support of my case that this information belongs in the public domain.    

Curiouser and Curiouser 4 (5 September 2014)


Here's my FoI Review Request to North Lanarkshire Council regarding its refusal to release details of an Equality Impact Assessment (EIS) carried out back in 2006.

Now I don't know what the Council has to hide, but if you ask me the Council does not have a valid reason to withhold this information and, as such, is in danger of turning itself into a laughing stock.

Maybe someone from within the Council will leak this information because other people must know what went on, for example Unison must know who was involved on their side and the extent of the consultation with the trade unions.

September 2014

June Murray
Executive Director of Corporate Services
North Lanarkshire Council

By email
Dear June

FoI Review Request

I refer to the attached letter from North Lanarkshire Council's Freedom of Information Coordinator, Angelene Kirkpatrick, and would like to register the following Review Request in accordance with the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.
  1. First of all, I have to say that it is completely absurd for the Council to suggest that the release of information regarding an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) carried out in 2006 is in any way prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs in 2014. 
  2. In my view the exact opposite is true and the release of this information would allow people (including the council workforce) to see for themselves how the terms of reference of the EIA were drafted and the extent of the consultation that allegedly took place with Unison.
  3. North Lanarkshire Council has not offered any evidence to demonstrate how the release of this information would impact adversely on the ongoing Employment Tribunal or any settlement discussions taking place outside of the Employment Tribunal, but as far as I am concerned the two things are entirely unconnected.
  4. Furthermore, I would say that instead of acting in an open and transparent manner the Council is in danger of being seen to be trying to shield senior officials from proper scrutiny, on a matter which affects large numbers of staff and involves the use of significant amounts of public money.
  5. So taking all the issues into account I hope you will reverse the decision to reject my initial FoI request because the Council is bound to lose this argument, in my view, if I have to appeal this matter to the Scottish Information Commissioner.
I look forward to your reply and would be grateful if you could respond to me by email at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Kind regards


Mark Irvine     

Curiouser and Curiouser (3)



I don't know who is calling the shots over at North Lanarkshire Council 's Freedom of Information (FoI) operation these days, but if you ask me whoever is in charge has taken leave of their senses.

Because the Council has just refused my FoI request asking for details of the Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) which the Council carried out back in 2006 on the ridiculous grounds that disclosing this information would "prejudice substantially the effective conduct of public affairs".

But I have to ask myself in all seriousness - 'How can it possibly prejudice anything in 2014 to be told who Iris Wylie was talking to in Unison back in 2006 and how can people knowing more about the EIA terms of reference possibly do the Council any harm?"

Unless the Council has something to hide of course which is why I'll be submitting a Review Request pretty damn quick - so watch this space.


Gavin Whitefield
Chief Executive
North Lanarkshire Council



Dear Mr Whitefield

FOISA Request 

I would like to make the following request under the Freedom of Information Scotland Act 2002.
Please provide me with a copy of the e-mail from the Council's Head of Personnel to Unison dated 7 March 2006 which sets out detailed terms of reference for the Equality Impact Assessment conducted by the Council over its plans to implement the 'single status' agreement with effect from 1 April 2006.

I look forward to your reply and would be grateful if you could respond to me by e-mail to: markirvine@compuserve.com
    
Kind regards



Mark Irvine


Curiouser and Curiouser 2 (18 August 2014)

I wrote recently about the Equality Impact Assessment Impact (EIA) carried out by North Lanarkshire back in 2006, the purpose of which must have been to ensure that the Council's job evaluation scheme (JES) was operating in a non-discriminatory way.

In other words not treating male jobs more favourably than their women colleagues.

Yet that is exactly what appears to have happened in North Lanarkshire, if recent developments at the Employment Tribunal are anything to go by because the Council has been forced to concede that many jobs have been wrongly graded and that the bonus payments of male workers were into account when these jobs were moved over on to new pay structures.

So I was amazed I have to say at the following comments from the EIA report which is marked "Private and Confidential" and is dated 14 March 2006"

"Implementation Strategy"

"While I have not been asked to review the entire implementation proposal I understand that pay equality in the new pay and grading structure is underpinned in the proposed NLC arrangements for:
  • assimilation to the new structure
  • incremental progression
  • improved detriment protection beyond the provisions of the SJC 'single status' agreement
  • addressing pay inequality arising from bonus payments to male manual workers"   
Now I'm almost lost for words at complacency involved because what was the point in asking someone independent of the Council to review the impact of the JES and the pay arrangements that flowed from the JES, if that person did not actually complete the job?

If you ask me that is and was a completely crazy state of affairs which is why I've submitted a further FoI request about the EIA's terms of reference which appear to have been set by Iris Wylie, the Council's head of human resources.   

Coloured Map



The Telegraph published a coloured map the other day showing what Britain might look like after next Thursday's general election.  

Looks quite pretty if you ask me and that's before the latest opinion poll predicting a Labour wipeout in Scotland which would eliminate even the few red dots you can see within a sea of SNP yellow.

Not Guilty




Now here's a passionate, articulate open letter from a young student, Ione Wells, who was brutally attacked as she made her way home one evening.

Apparently, the 17-year old man who carried out the assault is due to be sentenced next week, on 6th May, but I take my hat off to Ione for refusing to become just a 'victim' and staying focused on all the good things in her life.

A letter to the man who sexually assaulted me

You violated the truth that I will never cease to fight for – that there are infinitely more good people in the world than bad


By IONE WELLS - The Independent



I cannot address this letter to you, because I do not know your name. I only know that you have just been charged with serious sexual assault and prolonged attack of a violent nature. And I have one question.

When you were caught on CCTV following me through my own neighbourhood from the Tube, when you waited until I was on my own street to approach me, when you clapped your hand around my face until I could not breathe, when you pushed me to my knees until my face bled, when I wrestled with your hand just enough so that I could scream. When you dragged me by my hair, and when you smashed my head against the pavement and told me to stop screaming for help, when my neighbour saw you from her window and shouted at you and you looked her in the eye and carried on kicking me in the back and neck. When you tore my bra in half from the sheer force you grabbed my breast, when you didn’t reach once for my belongings because you wanted my body, when you failed to have my body because all my neighbours and family came out, and you saw them face-to-face. When CCTV caught you running from your attempted assault on me… and then following another woman twenty minutes later from the same tube station before you were arrested on suspicion. When I was in the police station until 5am while you were four floors below me in custody, when I had to hand over my clothes and photographs of the marks and cuts on my naked body to forensic teams – did you ever think of the people in your life?

I don’t know who the people in your life are. I don’t know anything about you. But I do know this: you did not just attack me that night. I am a daughter, I am a friend, I am a girlfriend, I am a pupil, I am a cousin, I am a niece, I am a neighbour, I am the employee who served everyone down the road coffee in the cafĂ© under the railway. All the people who form those relations to me make up my community, and you assaulted every single one of them. You violated the truth that I will never cease to fight for, and which all of those people represent – that there are infinitely more good people in the world than bad.

This letter is not really for you at all, but for all the victims of attempted or perpetrated serious sexual assault and every member of their communities. I’m sure you remember the 7/7 bombings. I’m also sure you’ll remember how the terrorists did not win, because the whole community of London got back on the Tube the next day. You’ve carried out your attack, but now I’m getting back on my tube.

My community will not feel we are unsafe walking back home after dark. We will get on the last tube home, and we will walk up our streets alone, because we will not ingrain or submit to the idea that we are putting ourselves in danger in doing so. We will continue to come together, like an army, when any member of our community is threatened, and this is a fight you will not win.

Community is a force we all underestimate. We get our papers every day from the same newsagents, we wave to the same woman walking her dog in the park, we sit next to the same commuters each day on the tube. Each individual we know and care about may take up no more than a few seconds of each day, but they make up a huge proportion of our lives. Somebody even once told me that, however unfamiliar they appear, the faces of our dreams are always faces we have seen before. Our community is embedded in our psyche. You, my attacker, have not proved any weakness in me, or my actions, but only demonstrated the solidarity of humanity.

Tomorrow, you find out whether you’re to be held in prison until your trial, because you pleaded ‘not guilty’ and pose a threat to the community. Tomorrow, I have my life back. As you sit awaiting trial, I hope that you do not just think about what you have done. I hope you think about community. Your community – even if you can’t see it around you every day. It is there. It is everywhere. You underestimated mine. Or should I say ours? I could say something along the lines of, ‘Imagine if it had been a member of your community,’ but instead let me say this. There are no boundaries to community; there are only exceptions, and you are one of them.

This article was originally published in Cherwell Life, to launch a campaign under the theme of #notguilty. The campaign will to address assault, victim-blaming and community. 

Submissions to lifestyle@cherwell.org

Tax Avoidance

Image result for tax avoidance + images

The Times reports on what appears to be terrible hypocrisy on the part of Margaret Hodge who has used her position as head of the public accounts committee in the House of Commons to attack tax avoidance.

Yet she claims not to have understood the nature of company shares held in the tax haven of Liechtenstein even though she was a major beneficiary.

Amazing and yet another example of double standards and political hypocrisy from someone who should know better. 


Labour chief given £1.5m shares from tax haven


Margaret Hodge has made her name taking on tax avoiders as head of the public accounts committee - Ben Gurr/The Times

By Harry Wilson - The Times

Labour’s fiercest critic of tax avoidance and “secretive” offshore funds has received more than £1.5 million in shares from the tax haven of Liechtenstein. The money came through a controversial scheme that lets wealthy Britons move undeclared assets back to the UK without facing criminal action.

Margaret Hodge, who made her name taking on tax avoiders as head of the public accounts committee, was among the beneficiaries in 2011 of the winding-up of a Liechtenstein trust that held shares in the private steel-trading business set up by her father.

The Times has discovered that just under 96,000 Stemcor shares handed to Ms Hodge in 2011 came from the tiny principality, which is renowned for low tax rates. Three quarters of the shares in the family’s Liechtenstein trust had previously been held in Panama, which Ms Hodge described last month as “one of the most secretive jurisdictions” with “the least protection anywhere in the world against money laundering”.

The veteran Labour MP was accused of sheer hypocrisy. She has repeatedly attacked big businesses and bankers who used offshore arrangements, but has not declared that she benefited from an offshore trust.

Ms Hodge’s Stemcor shares were transferred onshore using the Liechtenstein Disclosure Facility (LDF), a tax deal signed between Britain and the principality to allow thousands of wealthy individuals to move billions of pounds back to Britain in return for paying the tax owed and a penalty.

The LDF was established in 2009 to encourage people with undeclared income or unpaid taxes to repatriate their assets from Liechtenstein by offering favourable terms. Tax liabilities under the scheme need be declared back to only 1999, rather than the standard 20-year period. Users must pay the back taxes due, plus interest for the period, but the penalty is set at 10 per cent of the sum owed, rather than 100 per cent, and there is no threat of criminal prosecution.

Last month the public accounts committee, led by Ms Hodge, raised doubts over the LDF. The MPs questioned whether it “struck the right balance between prosecuting tax evaders and allowing them to settle their affairs”.

A report by the committee said: “We are concerned that the current system still causes the odds to be stacked in favour of tax evaders using offshore accounts when the worst that will happen if they are caught is that they will pay the tax they owe and a fine.”

Nigel Mills, the Conservative candidate for Amber Valley, said last night: “To criticise that disclosure process while using it yourself appears hypocritical. Any reader of the committee’s report would want to know that someone involved in preparing it had used [the process] themselves. It would seem there are questions to answer here.”

As chairwoman of the committee, Ms Hodge attacked Stuart Gulliver, the chief executive of HSBC, last month for paying millions of pounds in bonuses through a Panamanian company.

“Indeed, you did take advantage of one of the most secretive jurisdictions, Panama, which the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] has said has the least protection anywhere in the world against money laundering,” she said. “You could have set up an account in a north of England building society if you had wanted secrecy. You didn’t have to have this intricate system.”

However, evidence uncovered by this newspaper shows that the majority of the shares awarded to Ms Hodge and her relatives four years ago had once been held in Panama.

Using publicly available documents filed at Companies House by Stemcor, and advice from tax experts, The Times established that Ms Hodge and her four siblings were the beneficiaries of the Link Steel Foundation (LSF), a Liechtenstein-based company that in 2011 disbursed nearly 480,000 shares in Stemcor, then worth about £7.7 million.

Stemcor’s shareholder register shows that three quarters of LSF’s shares were transferred from Manselle Co SA, a Panamanian-registered company, between 1994 and 1995. It is not clear who set up Manselle and why its assets were moved to Liechtenstein. Ms Hodge would not comment.

She has always declared her holding of Stemcor shares — equal to about 10 per cent of the company, if trusts are included — in the parliamentary register of members’ financial interests but has made no public statement about the use of offshore vehicles or the Liechtenstein Disclosure Facility.

Philip Davies, the Conservative candidate for Shipley, said: “It is the sheer hypocrisy that we have become used to from Labour politicians.”

Ms Hodge, Labour’s candidate for Barking and Dagenham in east London, said that she had “no role in setting it [LSF] up or running it, and was not a beneficiary of the foundation until 2011, when the shares were brought onshore via the Liechtenstein Disclosure Facility, ending the structure my relatives created. At that point I then inherited additional UK shares in Stemcor. I was of course aware of this transfer and the increase in my shareholding.

“As a shareholder I have on a number of occasions sought and received assurances from the executive that the company always paid the appropriate tax. All I could do as a shareholder in a company not run by me, and over which I had no influence or control, was to ensure that any shares I held were above board and that I paid all relevant taxes in full. Every time I received any benefit from the company this happened.”

Ms Hodge said the LSF had been set up in 1970 by her “extended family: Jewish refugees who fled Austria and Germany for France and the United States”. Her immediate family, including her German-born father, moved from Cairo to Britain in 1948.

Dividends paid by Stemcor from 1995 until the Link Steel Foundation was wound up in 2011 would have totalled £1,418,166.56, of which Ms Hodge’s share would have been £283,633.31. A tax expert consulted by The Times said that in the 1990s it was common for dividend income to be paid offshore, in some cases to an account in another jurisdiction — to minimise tax. It is not known whether this was the case with Ms Hodge’s family foundation. From 1995-2011 dividend tax amounted to about 25 per cent in Britain.

Queen of Mean (11/03/15)

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I lived and worked in London for much of the 1980s and as a full-time official with NUPE I was aware of Margaret Hodge's role as the Labour leader of Islington Council.

So I'm always puzzled that senior figures who go before the Public Accounts Committee don't do more research on Margaret's very mixed track record as a senior public official; instead of standing up for themselves they seem to curl up into the foetal position and meekly accept a good kicking.

Which is all good fun and a bit of political theatre, but as Matthew Norman points out in this column for The Independent the Queen of Mean is no great shakes herself.    

With a past like hers, Margaret Hodge might show a bit more humility

In the Eighties Hodge was aware of previous child sex abuse in the care homes for which she was responsible, and did nothing about it


By MATTHEW NORMAN - The Independent



Has there ever been a more spectacular political reinvention than that of Margaret Hodge? The sun never sets on her Indian summer as headline-pillaging chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee. Watching her reprise the Torquemada act on Monday, with Rona Fairhead of HSBC and the BBC Trust on her rack, I caught myself reflecting on this metamorphosis and the staggering chutzpah that was its catalyst.

If anyone cheering Hodge on as she chirpily eviscerates tax-dodging CEOs, obfuscating civil servants and the persecutors of whistleblowers has forgotten her distant past, they are in splendid company. Hodge apparently remembers nothing of it herself.

When calling on Fairhead to resign from the BBC Trust for failures of oversight over HSBC’s enabling and encouragement of tax evasion, she fashioned the Morton’s Fork that sits beside the plate at feeding frenzies of the kind with practised ease. “Either you were incompetent, completely and utterly incompetent, in your oversight,” she told her, “or you knew about it.” 

These words would apply equally to an earlier scandal in British public life. As leader of Islington Council, a post she held from 1982-92, Hodge was aware of previous, horrendous child sex abuse in the care homes for which she was responsible, and did nothing about it. This was not an either/or. She was incompetent, completely and utterly incompetent, and she knew about it.

She was guilty of rather more than a casual failure of oversight. She dismissed the detailed, accurate reporting of the London Evening Standard – whose editor, Stewart Steven, battled with typical ferocity to hold her to account – as “a sensationalist piece of gutter journalism”. Not content with shutting her eyes to his front pages, our latter-day champion of the whistleblower closed her ears to the courageous whistle-blowing of a social worker, Liz Davies. In an open letter to the BBC after it investigated a range of monstrous abuse (child prostitution, torture, alleged murders), Hodge libelled one of its victims as “seriously disturbed”.

Years later, in 2003, she was forced to pay Demetrius Panton £10,000 in damages for that, though understandably he was not assuaged by her apology. In a prescient echo of her words to Fairhead on Monday, he called on Hodge to resign. By then, her friend and neighbour Mr Tony Blair had seen fit to promote her to – what else? – minister for children. 

Her transformation from Islington’s Enver Hodgea (the Red Flag was raised over the town hall and a bust of Lenin imported on her first day as council leader) to relentlessly on-message New Labour parrot was complete. Blair gave her his unconditional support, and unlike the generic football club chairman, he meant it. She did not resign.

Reflecting on that appointment, the visceral shock bubbles up anew. A local politician who had heard the gravest imaginable allegations about the maltreatment of children, refused to examine them on budgetary grounds, smeared a victim, attacked the newspaper that did its duty by investigating, and finally – after years of running for cover – offered the dismal excuse that people knew less about child abuse back then, became the national politician with responsibility for children. 

As the starting stalls open for the History’s Satirical Historic Public Appointments Stakes, we find children’s minister Hodge going off as the 2-5 favourite, with Middle East Peace Envoy Blair at 7-1, and Caligula’s horse the rag of the field at 66-1.

On one level, albeit of a depth almost too cynical to plumb, you doff the cap to her ungodly resilience. Surviving a scandal like that requires a core of reinforced concrete. If most of us were exposed for a failure of oversight on that epic scale, I suspect that we would crawl away wounded from public life, and perhaps devote the rest of our days to charitable atonement on the John Profumo template. With an absolute confidence in her own rectitude that is either admirable or a symptom of a psychiatric disorder, Margaret Hodge brazened it out.

Now we find her reborn once again, at 70, as a folksy folk hero, you-guys-ing the tax-shy guys from “Don’t Be Evil” Google as she tells them that they do evil, proselytising the whistleblowers to whom she cocked a deaf ’un when they blew a screeching whistle on evil of an altogether different order, and lecturing others about the need for 20-20 oversight where once she was wilfully blind.

Never does Hodge let her personal history temper her contempt for those whose failures seem so trivial compared with her own, or permit a shard of self-awareness to put the tiniest puncture hole in her titanium shell of righteous indignation. It is as if she regards the Hodge of Islington (if she ever existed at all) as an entirely different Hodge from the PAC’s gushing font of moral authority.

You have to say it’s magnificent, the turn the grandstanding Queen of Mean performs at the committee as she dismisses the likes of Rona Fairhead as the weakest link. But publicity-grabbing condemnation without a scintilla of responsibility is the prerogative of the meretricious political opportunist down the ages. So she is hereby reminded that she does have a history of exercising power, that it is anything but flawless, and that she should delve into it from time to time and allow it to inform her present. Even generally decent and well-meaning people can be prey to arrogance, incompetence and – she will forgive the Hodgean bluntness – stupendous hypocrisy. Recognising this with a hint of humility might be an idea for Margaret Hodge, even at the expense of the occasional headline.