Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Investment Association gets bitten by Loch Ness Monster

I am catching up on my reading and have been enjoying the rather brutal kicking that the UK fund managers "trade body" the Investment Association (IA) has recently received following its nonsensical claim that their fees don't matter. The IA claimed that concern by pension trustees and other shareholders about the hugely excessive fees that fund managers charge is the same as a belief in the Loch Ness Monster. 

As a trade body looking after their interests, the IA makes the most militant UK trade unions look like pussycats. However, their arrogance and incompetence is becoming truly legendary. 

They sacked their former Chief Executive who was trying to get the industry to even admit there was a problem with their fees. Now they have shot themselves in the foot by trying to "monster" critics with a "report" decribed by the following as :-

Con Keating, Head of Research, BrightonRock Group

“I have read many hundreds of empirical financial studies and reports, perhaps even thousands. This report is by far the worst – so bad that it is offensive, insulting both our common-sense and intelligence.”

Gina Miller, True & Fair Campaign

“It was the IMA under Richard Saunders that produced an intellectually bankrupt and thoroughly amateurish piece of research in 2012 that we proved was totally misleading.

“The tone then, as now, was a PR exercise to show how wonderful the UK fund management industry is, how there are no hidden costs to speak of and how amazing all active funds are.

“Now under new management and a new name, the IA is still producing nonsense. This new research paper is not worth the paper it is printed on.”

Andy Agathangelou, Transparency Task Force

“I just don’t think the IA press release endears them to the market at all, and given the avalanche of adverse publicity they had when Daniel Godfrey’s ceased to be their chief executive, you’d think the IA would have learned a few lessons about how to avoid adverse publicity by now.

“I’m not so sure they have; but I am sure that if I was a fee-paying member of the IA I’d demand to know who signed off that press release, it’s just so churlish and needlessly provocative, in my opinion.

“If the IA are convinced it is complete then perhaps the IA would be willing to stand by it and guarantee to pay compensation to any investor that ever has, or ever will, pay any kind of charge beyond what is disclosed in this research?”

Henry Tapper, Pension Playpen

“The Investment Association has no earned authority, no integrity and has no place at the policy debate.

“It has always called upon the solidarity of its membership to provide the powerful lobby to ensure it retained control of the costs and charges debate. It relied either on a Labour Government with insufficient gumption to take them on, or a Conservative Government with too many fingers in their pie.”

(Hat tip http://www.evidenceinvestor.co.uk/lies-damned-lies-and-trade-body-pr/. Check out more @RobinJPowell)

It makes me despair that not only am I paying for the membership fees of the IA through my pension fund but this money is being wasted on those who clearly could not organise the proverbial at a brewery. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

"Madness to spend £9 billion of taxpayers money lining the pockets ofprivate landlords"

Well said David Orr. Not that often I say that.

"Landlords paid £9bn in housing benefit
A study from the National Housing Federation (NHF) shows that private landlords are being paid £9.3bn in housing benefit this year, up from £4.6bn in 2008. In the same period the number of private renters receiving housing benefit has climbed 42% from 1.05m to £1.49m. The study shows that it costs £21 a week more to house a family in a privately-rented property home than in a social home, £110 on average compared with £89. The total housing benefit bill has risen from £17.4bn in 2004/5 to £24.7bn in 2014/15. David Orr, chief executive of the NHF, said: "It is madness to spend £9bn of taxpayers' money lining the pockets of private landlords rather than investing in affordable homes.”


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Whether you love a Big Mac or Not. Ask McDonalds to stop pumpingantibiotics into cattle

Dear John,

McDonald’s is contributing to a public health crisis that affects every person on this planet – whether you love a Big Mac or not. The fast food giant is serving meats that are pumped with antibiotics, which are fueling resistance to the antibiotics we need to treat even minor surgeries and common medical issues.

Click here to ask McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook to stop supersizing antibiotic use in its livestock.

We were shocked to learn that almost 50% of antibiotics used in the UK and 70% in the US are given to the livestock used by companies like McDonald’s. The World Health Organization has warned that we are headed towards a ‘post antibiotic era’ [1] and the overuse of medically important antibiotics in farming is a key reason for that.

McDonald’s began leading the way in tackling overuse of antibiotics in poultry. [2] But this is only partial progress. We need to make McDonald's go further to raise standards across the fast food sector. McDonald’s investors are already calling out the company on its overuse of antibiotics. [3] CEO Steve Easterbrook has been slow to respond so it’s time for us to ramp up the pressure.

Will you take 2 minutes to call for an end to the overuse of antibiotics in McDonald’s meat supply chains?

As a global market leader, if McDonald’s improves its standards, the wider industry will follow suit.

Thank you,
Mara, Clare, Colette and the rest of the team at ShareAction

[1] Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, "Antimicrobial resistance – why the irresponsible use of antibiotics in agriculture must stop": http://www.saveourantibiotics.org/media/1466/antibiotics-alliance-40pp-report-2015-final-artwork-1.pdf

[2] McDonald’s already has a policy in place to curb the overuse of antibiotics in its poultry. Chickens for meals sold in North America are raised without medically important antibiotics and the company is planning to phase out use of ‘highest priority critically important’ antibiotics in Europe by 2018, though this still leaves significant room for improvement.

[3] "Shareholders to Press McDonald's on Antibiotic-Free Meat at 5/26 AGM," ICCR (24 May 2016): http://www.iccr.org/shareholders-press-mcdonalds-antibiotic-free-

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Jeremy Corbyn Rally: Newham Tuesday 23 August 7.30pm

On Tuesday evening Labour Leadership candidate, Jeremy Corbyn MP, will be at a rally in Manor 
Park. Other local and national speakers will also be present. I understand that it is open to everyone and is not ticketed. 

The Royal Regency is a very large venue within walking distance of Manor Park station and close to many bus routes. 

Hat tip Don Na Marie.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Some good news about LOBOs but...

See recent report below from Financial advisors "Vedant Hedging" below. While this is on face value welcome, Joel Benjamin, from LOBO campaigning group "Debt Resistance" thinks there are more cynical motives behind this move.

"Whilst there is PR value in Barclays cancelling the lenders option, as a "concession" to LAs and HAs, in reality it is nothing of the sort, and there is little tangible benefit to these clients, whose annual accounts must now reflect they are stuck with expensive, fixed rate loans.

In reality, rather than charity from Barclays - it means in banks cold business assessments, there is slim to no chance of interest rates returning to pre-2008 levels, so the LOBOs revert to a standard fixed rate, with the councils still locked in by the high breakage costs.

The banks have to keep less capital in reserve against the loans if they cancel the options, so Barclays appear to be doing this for solely regulatory reasons".

I suppose the good news for Councils such as Newham is that we do not have to keep huge cash reserves on option dates in case the Banks decide to increase interest rates (ironically earning little interest to cover loans which cost up to 7% per year).

However, this will do nothing to protect Newham residents from the growing burden of the £238 million of so called range LOBOs (loans whose interest rate goes up when standard rates go down) that Barclays sold to us at the same time as its traders (and "house"'funds) were conspiring to drive down the Libor rate.

Vedant Hedging

"We received some good news recently; Barclays Bank PLC has agreed to waive the option of increasing interest rates on a set of LOBO loans taken out by housing associations in the wake of the financial crisis. This news comes as a direct result of the investigations led by Vedanta Hedging and Debt Resistance UK in a Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ documentary which looked into these controversial bank loans. You can find more information and a recording of the episode here.

This is good news as a step in the right direction because Barclays realises that these were unfair and inappropriate contract terms, and decided to remove them rather than face potential litigation regarding these derivatives. This shows the power of campaigning on this issue by Vedanta Hedging, Debt Resistance UK and others. The important question remains why Barclays though that these were appropriate in the first instance!

LOBOs are very complex, long-term loans which contain embedded derivatives. Abhishek Sachdev of Vedanta Hedging also gave live evidence on this important issue to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee – which you can view here

In the released statement, Barclays was quoted as saying;

“Over a hundred local authorities and housing associations will benefit from greater certainty that their borrowing costs will not rise in future. They will also enjoy reduced break costs than there would have been had Barclays retained its right to change the interest rate. Also they will know that the original value they secured when taking out the loan at rates lower than those available publicly at the time, is now locked in for the lifetime of the loan.“

Want to read more about Barclays Bank waiving the right to increase interest rates on LOBO loans? Then click here.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Triathlon Training 2016: Five weeks to go

Thurs 11 Aug
Ran to Olympic pool E20
32 mins
Max Pace 2.7
2.61 miles
Pace 12.5
Slow but steady
4.8 mph
Early Morning Swim lesson Aquatic Centre
45 mins
 25m Training pool
Mostly backstroke, but did Butterfly legs work & tumble turns 
Sub Coach worked us pretty hard
Ran back
24 mins
Max Pace 1.33
2.23 miles
Pace 10.8
feeling knackered and bit painful
Ken Bike Liverpool St Stn To Unison Centre 
20 mins (estimate)
4.14 mile?
994mph apparently
(Sportrate app not working)
Ken Bike back to Liverpool St Stn
21.2 mins
Max Pace 1.23
3.43 mile
Pace 6.19
 tired and stiff
Now just less than 5 weeks to g before my self organised Olympic distanceTriathlon on Sunday 18 September. 

This was from my training programme from Thursday. I was so shattered the following day that I had to take the Friday off exercise. Which shows how much I have got to raise my game during the next few weeks. 

My aim is to swim 1.5k at the Aquatic Centre in the Queen Elizabeth Park in Stratford then Cycle 40k up and down in Newham then return to the Olympic Park and complete a 10k run. 

I will be raising funds for the UNISON charity "there for you" and the "Greece Solidary Campaign". 

If you wish to sponsor me for "there for you" click here and/or the GSC then click here

Friday, August 12, 2016

Sports Direct AGM: Vote FOR resolution 19

Check out this post by Tom P (see below). If you really think that Sports Direct is acting in a
disgusting and inhumane way to its workforce then contact your pension or insurance provider and ask them to  make sure their fund managers vote for Resolution 19.

Look at your latest statement and find an email or telephone number and let your savings providers know what you think they should do if they own shares in this workhouse.

"I've blogged quite a bit about Sports Direct previously, now it's your chance to do something about it.

The Sports Direct AGM takes place on 7th September, and the company has just issued its notice of meeting. Resolution 19 has been filed by Unite and Trade Union Share Owners in response to the appalling workplace practices that have been exposed at the company's ShireBrook facility.

The resolution calls for the company to undertake a genuinely independent review of its workforce practices, using an organisation or person acceptable to both the board and workforce. This review should look at issues such as the Living Wage, secure employment (the split between temporary & permanent), training and development and union recognition.  

Given everything that has happened at Sports Direct over the past year there is nothing at all controversial in what is being asked for. This is a sensible resolution, with a clear and reasonable ask at a company which has demonstrably failed to manage its workforce properly. Any responsible shareholder should Vote FOR Resolution 19.

If you are a trustee, you need to ask your asset managers how they intend to vote on the resolution NOW. And if you don't like what they say you should instruct them how to vote.

To all colleagues in the labour movement please do all you can to raise awareness of the vote, and to encourage those who are shareholders to make sure they vote in favour.

Vote FOR resolution 19

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Jeremy Corbyn nominated by UNISON Labour Link Committee

This lunchtime I attended a meeting of the UNISON Labour Link (also known as the "APF") National Committee at our headquarters in Euston.

The meeting was to decide whether or not to make a supportive nomination for the next leader of the Labour party and if so, would it be for Jeremy Corbyn or Owen Smith.

I was there as one of the UNISON National Executive Committee representatives.

UNISON had carried out a consultation of 200,000 Labour Link fund members we had email addresses (out of a total of 400,000) and a clear majority had wanted the union to make a nomination and 58% wanted that nomination to go for Jeremy Corbyn.

There was also a clear majority across all regions in UNISON (London was 62%)

The meeting took reports from National officers, the General Secretary, our Labour Party NEC members and UNISON regional delegates.  We agreed to support Jeremy (again) as the Leader of the Labour Party. 

I think that this decision accurately reflects the views of UNISON Labour Link members (and probably the 900,000 non Labour Party affiliate members, who mostly vote Labour).

I was really pleased that the UNISON press statement (see below) announcing the decision made it so clear that the Party must stop the current nasty and destructive infighting and must unite to fight the real common enemy - which is the Tories!

"The committee decision follows discussions at regional and national level, and a consultation of UNISON members who are affiliated to the Labour party. The consultation was carried out online.
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:

“Jeremy Corbyn retains the backing of a majority of UNISON’s Labour supporting members. That’s why the committee supported his nomination again.

“However, a significant minority backed Owen Smith. Their views will always be respected in our union- that’s our proud tradition.

“It’s healthy for people to hold alternative views on the future direction of the party. What’s toxic though is for abuse, threats and aggressive language to be considered acceptable- or the norm. Labour is in danger of becoming the new ‘nasty party’ if this behaviour continues unchecked. There’s no place in the party for witch hunts against MPs, councillors and party staff.

“The decent hard-working people we represent don’t want a party riven by infighting. They want a united opposition that stands up for public services which are facing intolerable pressures.”

Around 30,000 UNISON members are registered as Affiliated Supporters of the Labour Party and eligible to vote based on their personal choices in the election".


Tuesday, August 09, 2016

"Almost one in three people have experienced mental health issues while in employment"

This is an important report by the professional body for HR. I think that the background research is absolutely accurate. But - its recommendations - on how to deal with the issue are just pious nonsense. It will never happen in the real world. There is no mention of trade unions.

Without independent trade unions in the workplace, representing and advocating staff individually and collectively, then this important issue will never, ever, be dealt with properly.

If employers do not recognise trade unions then they do not recognise internationally agreed codes on basic human rights. Employers cannot pick and choose which human rights they recognise.

Discrimination in the workplace happens when you have no democracy in the workplace. You cannot have democracy in the workplace without independent trade union recognition. Full stop.

Almost one in three people have experienced mental health issues while in employment

New CIPD research finds employers are taking a reactive approach to employees’ mental health issues, when preventative steps make better business sense 

According to new research, the number of people saying that they have experienced mental health issues while in employment has climbed from a quarter to a third over the last five years. Despite this, the majority of employees still don’t feel that people experiencing mental health issues are supported well enough at work. 

In response, the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, is calling on organisations to take a more preventative approach to employees’ mental wellbeing, encouraging a culture of openness in their workplace, whilst at the same time, training line managers to provide and signpost support for employees, in order to create healthier, more engaged and more productive workplaces.

The new research from the CIPD found that in 2016, almost a third (31%) of the over 2,000 employees surveyed said they have experienced a mental health problem at some point during their working life, compared with a quarter (26%) in 2011. Of those who have had poor mental health at work, more than four in ten (42%) have experienced a problem in the past 12 months specifically, to the extent it has affected their health and wellbeing. 

Despite this increase, the number of respondents who say their organisation supports employees with mental health issues either ‘very’ or ‘fairly well’ remains less than half (46%). While this is a significant improvement of nine percentage points since 2011 - when just 37% of respondents said their organisation was able to support employees either fairly or very well - it highlights that there is still a significant way for employers to go to better support staff with mental health issues. Worryingly, just four in ten employees (44%) would currently feel confident disclosing unmanageable stress or mental health problems to their current employer or manager, a similar proportion as reported five years ago (41%).

Rachel Suff, Employment Relations Adviser at the CIPD, comments: "With people’s experiences of mental health problems at work on the increase, it’s disappointing not to see more employers stepping up to address them. Mental health should get just as much attention, awareness and understanding as physical health, and employers have a responsibility to manage stress and mental health at work, making sure employees are aware of, and able to access, the support available to them. 

"This agenda needs to be championed from the very top by business leaders and senior staff – either through role-modelling or open conversations about their own experiences. There’s also a clear role for HR professionals and line managers to ensure that employees are getting the support they need and feel they can speak up. It’s crucial that organisations work to promote an open and inclusive culture so that employees feel confident about disclosing mental health issues and discussing the challenges they are experiencing. Promoting good mental health also makes good business sense, as employees are likely to be more engaged and productive if they work for an organisation with a workforce wellbeing strategy that emphasises the importance of both good mental and physical health."

The CIPD’s survey also asked employees what types of support their employer currently provides to manage and help people with mental health problems. The most common provisions were phased return to work (32% of employees), access to flexible working arrangements (30%), access to occupational health services (27%) and access to counselling services (27%). The least common provisions were mental health first aiders* (3%), mental health champions** (5%), and training for line managers in managing and supporting people with mental health problems (10%).

Suff continues: "We’re seeing a distinct trend of reactive measures when it comes to how employers support people with mental health issues. These are very important, but we also need to see more preventative steps to promote good mental wellbeing. Where possible, employees with mental health problems should be able to access support before problems escalate to a point where they struggle to manage work and their illness, and need to take time out of work. Of course, there will be occasions where people experiencing a mental health problem will need to take time off work and then it’s important that the right framework, including occupational health services and phased return to work, is in place to support them in that situation.

"It’s particularly disappointing to see such a low level of training by employers for line managers in how to manage and support people with mental health problems. Line managers play such a crucial role in an employee’s experience of work, and are often the first line of defence in terms of spotting problems and supporting individuals should they ask for help. Therefore, their management style, the relationships they have with staff, and their ability to implement policies are all paramount to how supported people feel at work. A lot of it is simply about employees feeling that their line manager cares and will support them if they say ‘"I need to talk". However, line managers are not counsellors and will need training themselves if they are to feel confident and competent to create this ‘open’ culture and support and manage employees with mental health issues. This should be the starting point for employers."

Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing, at mental health charity Mind, said: "It’s clear that there’s a high prevalence of mental health problems among employees. It’s good to see more people feeling comfortable enough to let their workplace know when they’re struggling with their mental health, which is likely to be an indication that employers are fostering an open culture where staff feel able to disclose their problems. However, it’s vital that employers also have good support in place for all staff, including those experiencing unmanageable stress or poor mental health. Employees need to be reassured that if they do put their hands up, they’ll be met with understanding, and additional support if necessary.

"Creating mentally healthy workplaces needn’t be difficult or expensive, often it’s about putting in place small adjustments, such as regular communication and flexible working hours. Being able to identify and support a colleague struggling with poor mental health can also make a big difference, which is why Mind delivers mental health awareness training to line managers. We’re also launching a Workplace Wellbeing Index – a benchmark of best policy and practice which will enable employers to recognise the good work they’re doing when it comes to promoting good mental health at work, as well as highlighting areas for improvement."

The CIPD recommends three important ways that line managers can make a difference:

  1. At the beginning of a new working relationship, be clear that no problem is too big, small or personal for an employee to raise

  2. Work to create a culture of openness and encourage staff to discuss their challenges. Make time to have conversations that go beyond a person’s immediate and short-term workload and discuss their role, responsibilities and opportunities more generally

  3. Know when and how to direct people to access specialist help either internally through the organisation, such as counselling and/or occupational health services, or externally via mental health groups and charities.

* Mental health first aid training is designed to improve people's understanding of mental health and provide a basic level of training to help these first-aiders to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental health problems so that they can respond in an appropriate way when people need help.

** Mental health champions are trained and supported by their organisation to help reduce stigma and build awareness about mental health issues to encourage an open and inclusive culture around mental health issues.


CIPD Press Enquiries

Helen Ablett / Ben Rathe / Katie Flynn

Tel: 020 8612 6400