Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Newham "was the hardest hit" Council after Tory spending cuts

From Inside Housing "The poorest parts of England have endured spending cuts 16 times greater than the country’s
wealthiest areas since the last election, Labour Party analysis has shows.

The London council of Newham was the hardest hit, where £1,002 was lost per household.

A Labour analysis of council spending between 2010/11 and 2015/16 shows that the budget in the 10 most deprived local authority areas in England has been slashed by £782 per household, while more affluent households experienced just a £48 fall.

The London council of Newham was the hardest hit, where £1,002 was lost per household. Its neighbour, Hackney, lost £973 per household.

The research showed some local authorities in Surrey enjoyed a rise in spending power: Elmbridge spent £41 more per household and Waverley £26".

No surprise really. Tories doing to the poorest and most vulnerable what Tories always do.

Nicholas Russell 1968-2014 - Labour Movement & Disability Activist

I was shocked to hear of the sudden death at age 45 of Labour movement and disability rights activist Nicholas Russell.

Nick was a former member of UNISON London Labour Link committee, Chair of SERTUC disabled workers network and was also a Councillor in Waltham Forest. 

I think it is fair to say that every single meeting I ever went to with Nick, he would champion the rights of the disabled.

He was the grandson of Philosopher and Nobel Prize winner, Bernard Russell, and was like him, also a strong supporter of CND. He once described to me this support as "the family tradition".

My condolences to his fiancee Georgina, his family and close friends. His brother John and sister-in-law, Jane have posted a tribute to Nick here and have invited all those who knew or worked with him to the funeral at the North Chapel, City of London Cemetery, Alderbrook Road, E12 at 3.15pm Thursday 4 September.

(picture of Nick running the Co-operative Party stall, London Labour Party Biannual Conference, Old Town Hall Stratford, 2010)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) Governance Regulations 2014

(These are my personal comments I sent on 15th August to the Department Communities and Local Government consultation on their proposed LGPS draft regulations on governance. These regulations are due to be in force by October 2014. For what it is worth - I think they are a complete dogs dinner. Read why.)

"I have been an observer then member nominated representative on a London Local Government Pension fund since 1996 (and contributor since 1993). Lately I have also been an admitted body representative on that fund. I have also been an elected Councillor member of another London pension committee since 2010 and an employer nominated trustee on a private sector open defined benefit scheme.

I am responding as an individual and these comments are in my personal capacity only.

I must admit to being surprised at the statement next to the "impact assessment" that these regulations have no impact on business nor the voluntary sector.  As someone who also works in the voluntary sector I think that for organisations who are admitted bodies of the LGPS (including private employers) that the possible impact of these regulations is significant.  Especially on deficits and employer contributions. I understand that up to 25% of LGPS members do not work directly for local authorities.

I must confess to being very disappointed with the draft regulations. Instead of adopting the proven private sector pension trustee model of employers and employee representatives being jointly responsible and working in partnership to run their schemes, we are going to have overlapping and confusing 2-tier governance arrangements.

The proposed draft regulations themselves are contradictory and conflicting.  The overriding purpose of pension boards was supposed to be about making sure that the local government pension scheme as a whole is transparent, run efficiently and gives value for money. Unless the scheme nationally contains costs and maximises a responsible return then good funds will be brought down by the badly managed funds.

Employers will only pay a maximum of 13% contributions for future service and if nationally this cost ceiling is breached then this means that employee contributions will have to rise or benefits reduced. Which will then result in employees leaving the scheme and put its long term future at risk.

The huge cost of meeting existing liabilities must be kept to a minimum as local authorities face further cuts to budgets.

While not being too restrictive the regulations must ensure that the pension boards meet at regular times, are accountable, have sufficient resources to do their job and most importantly must have the legal powers to make sure that the funds are run properly.

I understand that there are potential legal challenges to the whole governance structure due to a failure of the government to implement European directives on pension funds?  If this happens this whole process could prove to be a waste of time and money.

I do not understand why there can't be one governance board with 50/50 employer and employee representation as was originally intended? There are far too many barriers to the Secretary of State approving joint committees.  Even if s/he does then the inherent contradictions of holding a "decision making" and "assist" (or even scrutiny) meeting at the same time are likely to prove insurmountable.

Nor can I understand why councillors cannot be members of the board as employer representatives? What is the conflict?

Who indeed can be "employer representatives" on a pension board? Since if council officers are to be the employer representatives there is a possible further conflict since I understand that officers cannot be members of council committees? Has there been legal advice on this point?

The requirement that members of the board have relevant experience and capacity is unnecessary and counter productive.  Why should public sector pension schemes be treated differently that private sector? In the private sector all trustees have up to 6 months to gain relevant skills and knowledge. You do not need to be a financial expert or professional to be effective on a pension board. There is too much "herding" in the LGPS. In fact it is an advantage to have non professionals who will challenge the status quo and ask difficult questions.

I think that as a matter of principle we should be supporting equality duties being part of our remit and I do not think that this will be a too onerous a commitment.

While it is an improvement on the existing ad hoc system I think that the proposed structure and regulations is frankly a mess. While there is a time tabling issue due to enacted legislation the national pension board ought to be reviewing the whole issue of governance as a matter of urgency.

The recent legal advice that found there is no statutory under pinning of the LGPS if a fund was to fail is yet another powerful reason to make sure that all funds are run efficiently and  are well managed.

John Gray

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Britain Deserves a Pay Rise - Demo Sat 18 October 2014 (and I'm back)

Back from 2 weeks holiday in Ireland. Will post soon on my impressions of history and politics from a fantastic time in both Dublin and County Kerry.

Feeling very refreshed and relaxed, looking forward to busy year ahead (this feeling will not last very long of course!)

There is a Council by election in Beckton to help fight; a load of trade union and local political issues and the national TUC demo on pay in October to promote (see UNISON poster on left). Last, but not least, will be the the General Election in 2015. Now less than 9 months away.

As the Agent for West Ham CLP, I think it is really important that we do not take anything for granted locally but unless Ed Miliband becomes the next Prime Minister - all of us in West Ham and the country will be stuffed. So we have to help out in the targeted Labour marginals that West Ham have been allocated.

A busy time for all.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Saturday, August 09, 2014

The Best of Old Labour Should Now Be New Labour

Please read this excellent post by Tom Powdrill at Capital & Labour on his holiday review and modern day comments of the book "Economic Priorities for a Labour Government" by Roy Hattersley, which was published in 1987.

Compare our present economic model to what Roy was recommending.

No wonder countries which have greater equality and industrial democracy such as Germany, Norway, Finland and Sweden have more successful economies than us.

It appears to me at least that the Labour Party under Ed Miliband must continue its journey to re-balance British politics and economics away from the view that unfettered neo-liberalism is best.

Those of  us who genuinely believe in a mixed economy ought to shouting out loud that "the emperor has no clothes".

Friday, August 08, 2014

Beckton By Election Labour doorstep

Last night I joined the Labour Candidate for the Newham Council Beckton By election, Tonii Wilson, for a doorknock in the Windsor Park Estate. Tonii will make an excellent candidate for the ward. Local MP Stephen Timms also joined us

It was touching that so many residents told us how upset they were at the unexpected death of Cllr Alec Kelloway. Many people knew him and recounted what he had done to help them.

I went with local Councillor David Christie.  There was a very positive Labour response. While there was a number of complaints about local social landlord, East Thames Housing Association, failure to maintain the local environment, I actually thought that there had been an improvement to the area in recent years but obviously there needs to be more done.

I understand that there has been a number of high profile evictions of criminal residents in recent years which have had a significant positive impact. Good.

I must admit to being intrigued about the unusual street names in the area such as "Warwell" and "Horse Leaze". No-one seemed to know why. I am sure Alec would have known and told me exactly why.

I spoke to a very sensible young man who had been born and brought up on the estate who agreed that there had been improvements but thought that there needs to be more youth services in the area. I see the local community centre has now been closed by East Thames?

I'm sure that Tonii and the current Councillors, David and Ayesha will be doing what they can to improve services.

I will post a personal tribute to Cllr Alec Kellaway in the near future.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Reclaim the Media - Stop Murdoch - Sign the EU Petition


"Three companies, control 70% of our newspapers here in the UK. One of them, Murdoch, has just been thwarted in his ambition to takeover Time Warner, home of HBO, and it's likely he'll now return to his unfinished business of getting full control of BSkyB (which he had to abandon when the hacking scandal broke).

This level of control over the media prevents debate, provides the media control over our politics and police and is bad for democracy.

Please sign an EU petition to trigger a directive to curb the power of media moguls (it's just got 10 days to run) and it would be great if you could tweet or RT too (@hackinginquiry or @Media_Pluralism)

Hacked Off has just posted a blog http://hackinginquiry.org/comment/murdoch-now-has-his-eyes-fixed-on-europe/"

Hat tip Julianne Marriott 

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

London Triathlon 2014

Off message but I have now just about recovered from completing the London Triathlon on Sunday.

I got "talked into" taking part by my very enthusiastic Newham Councillor colleague, "Red Terry" Paul, who had completed in other triathlons and was trying to get Councillors and officers to take part. I was the only one foolish enough to agree!

I must admit it seemed a great idea in January when it was ages away but less so as the day of the event approached.

We had entered the Olympic distance event which is a swim in the docks for 1.5km, followed by a 40km bike ride and then a 10km run. The open water swimming was the thing that worried me the most. I hadn't swam for about 10-15 years following an accident and while I knew I could swim that distance in a swimming pool, I was unsure about doing so in open water and while wearing a wet suit.

I also did not have a bike, Terry resolved this problem by selling me his old one last month.

Sunday started very early at 4am for me and at 5am I was cycling through the streets of Forest Gate to meet Terry and his brother-in-law, Andy Townsend (who was also competing) at his home in Canning Town. At 5.15 we were all cycling to the venue.

Our start time for the swim was 7am and we were expected to be at venue in the ExCel centre for 5.30am. We got there, collected our tracking "chip", "racked" our bikes and laid out our kit on the floor for the various "transition's" (from swim to cycle then cycle to run). We met up with Labour MP Gareth Thomas who was also taking part and in our "wave".

At around 6.30 we put on our wet suits and went off to the assembly area. There was 380 men in our wave which the organisers thought was too many for safety reasons so they separated us into 2 groups. Eventually we went down and jumped into the water in Royal Victoria Docks.

The docks water was actually cleaner than I expected and not salty. I didn't join in the mad rush at the start and actually had quite a slow but enjoyable swim around the docks. The great thing about wet suits is that not only are you warm but you are very buoyant in the water so even if you are not the greatest of swimmers, you feel quite confident.

The 40k bike ride was also better than expected. The weather was lovely and cycling past the Tower of London and along the Thames to almost the Palace of Westminster was a treat. The only downside was the hordes of people who flew past me. At times I felt I was on a stationary exercise machine. The super fast guys with the very expensive carbon bikes sounded as if they were on motor bikes and who shouted to everyone to get out of their way - "move to your left!" or "on your right!".  Needless to say I was always "on the left" and didn't need to move.

The 10k run at the end was tough and didn't feel I had anything more in me than a slow steady jog. The finish was brilliant not only because the pain stopped but you had a free pint of cold (non alcoholic) German beer. My time was - Swim 00:44:43, Bike 01:29:30, Run 01:03:20, Total 03:29:42 which could have been better but I was really pleased to just finish and not feel ill afterwards.

At the end we met up with Terry's partner Sarah (known to us in Newham for obvious reasons as "Saint Sarah") and her sister (Andy's wife) Rachel and their lovely children Rowan (aged 2) and Princess Lucy (aged 3).

We all walked back to Caning Town pushing our bikes and I then cycled back home to Forest Gate.

I had been really dreading the day but ended up (mostly) enjoying it. It was much, much better (and far less painful) than the running half and full marathons I have done in the past. It was also great to start swimming and cycling again.

Hope I keep up with the exercising and I am now actually looking forward to my next Triathlon.

Monday, August 04, 2014

4 August 2014 - 100th anniversary of the start of World War One

This morning at 11am I went to the Cenotaph at East Ham Central Park for a Newham Council ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War One.

A British Legion representative laid the first wreath followed by the Mayor and representatives of the former boroughs of East and West Ham.

One lovely spontaneous touch was as the wreaths were being laid, a passerby stopped and started singing a beautiful lament to the fallen "Sleep on Beloved, Sleep on and take your rest".

My Grandfather, Frederick John Matthews MC, Royal Naval Division, fought in the First World War. On 5 August 1914 he was still an apprentice "mechanical engineer and draughtsman" in a South Wales Steel works. He left to join up on 2 September 1914 and returned to work (briefly) in January 1919.

I hope in the coming years to follow in his footsteps a hundred year later, starting off next  year at Gallipoli in Turkey then the trench battles of France and Belgium.

hat tip picture Cllr Ayesha Chowdhury,