Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Rally to Remember - Where you there?

Check out this great video featuring some of the 100,000 plus protesters who were marching in Central London and elsewhere for Fair pay on 18 October.

This is a UNISON video (featuring members of my branch) but it is a representative record of so many ordinary working people that day protesting peacefully but demanding a better deal for them and their families.

Politicians of all parties ignore them at their peril. We need Fair Pay for all and we need to create a fairer society to do this. 

Remember "Britain First" is a Nazi front

Just a gentle reminder that this is the time of year that the fascist organisation currently known as "Britain First" shares seemingly patriotic posts on Facebook and twitter which appear to be in support of British troops and our Remembrance Sunday.
Please do not share these posts. A number of people have been taken in. So called "Britain First" is a fascist and Nazi organisation formed after a split in the racist BNP. 

Remember that the fascists in this Country supported Hitler during the second world war and wanted the Nazi to win who would have turned Britain into a concentration camp. 

So it is completely hypocritical of them to pretend that they are in anyway a "patriotic" party supporting our military veterans.  

The only "veterans" they will support are Nazi SS murderers of brave British commandos and prison of war escapees who were tortured and then shot in cold blood in World War two. 

Check out what a genuine British combat veteran thinks of "Britain First". 

(picture of recruiting poster for British Nazi's during World War 2)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Holding your Board to Account" fringe NAPF 2014

I am still catching up on posts about the NAPF (National Association Pension Funds) annual conference earlier this month.

This fringe was one of the better ones. Governance manager, Ashley Hamilton, from Royal London Asset Management (RLAM) spoke about how investors should hold company boards to account and what lessons should we learn from past corporate scandals.

I knew Ashley when she use to work for Pension governance consultants PIRC.  RLAM is part of Royal London which is the UK's largest mutually owned insurance company.

Ashley explained that companies are starting to recognise that investors see good governance as a a means to add value. In Japan it is also seen as a market advantage. Such standards help protect the integrity of the London market and stop certain international companies listing here.

Many investors are "passive". This means they are exposed to all companies in an index. Poor governance does have financial consequences.  For example Olympus's unlawful "kickbacks" and Newscorp, which lost $7 billion in market value in 4 days after the phone hacking scandal was exposed.

Reporting and transparency is not a means to an end.  Need to also look at corporate culture and leadership.

Tesco ticked all of the boxes of standard corporate governance. So what went wrong? the Board lost touch with customers and suppliers. It is now sending executive back to the shop floor.

Barclay's Bank also ticked all the boxes and complied with codes. Lord Turner thought it's problems were a due to a pattern of behaviour, complex structures and aggressive regulatory approaches. There needs to be cultural reform. A recognition that making excess profits at the expense of stakeholders or customers is wrong and self defeating.

Investors should be aware and look out for "Governance hot spots".  Such as a dominant or aggressive CEO who does not welcome debate or discussions: when there is no real "succession plan"; ask does the Chair of the remuneration committee really understand what and why they pay Executives or do they just leave it to the consultants to explain? 

Does the organisation have diverse pools of talent? Good governance is an indicator of risks and of opportunity. Governance is an art not a science.

RLAM vote all UK shares in Annual General meetings and if against or abstain, they will write to companies and explain why. They will take part in collective engagement and as a last resort will make a public statement.  Engagement is best pre-crisis, not post.

Her fund manager colleagues at RLAM recently thanked Ashley for her report on poor practises at the troubled retailer, Sports Direct. They took notice of her concerns and sold out of the company which then went on to lose 20% of its value.

There are of course limits of engagement. An index fund will have to hold shares in companies with bad practises; there is a "free rider problem" and absentee proxy votes still swamp AGMs.  There is also concentration of company AGMs in April and May which means there is time and resource constraints.

Corporate governance is important but not a panacea. Cultural problems are more serious than non-compliance. Trustees should be asking questions of fund managers and consultants. Actively vote your shares and facilitate information flows.

I asked Ashley the question was there empirical proof that companies that are held to account produce superior long term returns?

Ashley responded by saying that there is not that clear data but there is plenty of evidence of what happens when things go wrong.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"The most common reason for unfair dismissal"

I found this advert for an Acas training course interesting. Over the years I have come across some
appalling investigations. Often the main reason is that the investigator simply hasn't a clue what they are doing.

"One of the most common reasons for a dismissal to be found unfair is that an employer has failed to carry out a reasonable investigation. But what exactly is a reasonable investigation?

The Acas Code of conduct on disciplinary and grievance procedures, used by Employment Tribunal Judges, to assess the fairness of a dismissal, says: "Employers should carry out any necessary investigations, to establish the facts of the case".

"The nature and extent of the investigations will depend on the seriousness of the matter and the more serious it is then the more thorough the investigation should be. It is important to keep an open mind and look for evidence which supports the employee’s case as well as evidence against."

So do you need to interview the employee concerned? Do you need to interview all witnesses? Can the same person that carries out the interviews carry out any subsequent disciplinary hearing?

Acas Investigations training courses will answer these questions and more, covering:

The legal background and burdens of proof
Purpose and stages of disciplinary procedures
The responsibilities of the employer
The rights of the employee
The stages of an investigation
Listening and questioning techniques
The role of suspension
Case for dismissal
Writing the report and presenting findings

Monday, October 27, 2014

Reminder: A Manifesto for Labour 2015: Newham Compass Tuesday 28 October

Jon Cruddas MP and Steve Terry from UNISON Labour Link in a debate on the Labour Manifesto for 2015

Chaired by Lyn Brown MP.

Tuesday 28 October 2014 at 7.30pm in West Ham Supporters Club, East Ham.

Emma Reynolds MP speaks at West Ham GC - turn Benefits into Bricks

Last Thursday evening Labour Shadow Housing Minister Emma Reynolds MP was our guest speaker at the West Ham General Committee (GC) meeting which was open to all Party members.

Emma started by thanking our MP Lyn Brown (right of picture) for her advice and support in becoming an MP.

She then said she realised that in somewhere like West Ham housing was a top issue.

The recent Lyons Review for the Party recognised housing is a key priority. Ed Miliband understands this and that is why her role is now in the shadow cabinet.

Housing is fundamental to everything we do in a future government. If we can't get housing right, we won't get anything right. Especially in the private sector. Ed's mission is to double the number of homes being built.

For over 3 decades we have not been delivering anywhere near the number of homes needed. We now have the lowest level of new build since the 1920s. We did  many good things in past Labour government but can't pretend that we built enough.

The construction industry is dominated by big builders, who also build the smallest houses in Europe. Families in the UK don't need less space to live in than those in Germany or France?

We need to bring more land into use to be built upon, more power to councils to allocate planning specifically for 1st time buyers. Emma use to work and rent in Belgium for 6 years. You don't have to go to "Venezuela" to see that there are different models of private renting. Labour will introduce 3 year tenancies, cap the rise of rents and ban fees for letting agencies. Private sector regulation needs to be expanded.

In the Q&A I introduced myself as a UNISON Housing Association delegate. I told Emma while I think that the scale of housing crisis is such that local authorities will have to take the lead in building homes. I do believe that Housing associations have a role but I am deeply concerned about the governance of many housing associations and their lack of accountability for public money.

Some have little or no effective tenant and resident involvement; secret remuneration committees that increase their chief officers pay by huge amounts while cutting the pay of its front line workers. Despite being registered charities some refuse to recognise trade unions and one, Catalyst Housing Association, has recently responded to complaint of bullying against its HR by attempting to de recognise UNISON. Housing Associations have got to get their act together.

Emma said that she shares my concern about housing associations. There are some very good ones who are doing excellent things but she is worried that due to the 60% cut to grant by this government, they are being forced to take part in revenue raising schemes such as shared ownership and market rents.  Some are in danger of losing their social ethos since they are indeed supposed to be charities. She said that she is worried about what is happening in Catalyst and will speak to me about it later.

It was not a good night for Housing Associations, since another GC delegate who is a shared ownership resident, spoke about his "corrupt" housing association and its "bullying and intimidating managing agents" Shared ownership leases are feudal and enables landlord goons to send threatening letters. To them we are just peasants.

Emma said she was determined to do something about this if Labour is elected, she hears this story too often. I later asked the delegate who the housing association was and it turns out it was one of the few in the G15 who refuse to recognise trade unions. Landlords who don't respect the human rights of their staff won't treat their residents well either.

She finished off by saying that she wants to turn "benefits into bricks". If you pay people properly and not have them to rely on state benefits it is empowering. The Mansion tax is a fair way to help the NHS.  On the question of building on brownfield sites v green belt. She agreed with Lyons that it should be brownfield first but this was not the whole answer in areas of high demand. Swapping land in and out of greenbelt could be an answer.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Focus 15, Occupation and the Carpenters Estate

It was good to read on Friday that Newham had managed to let out some of the long term void properties on the Carpenter Estate to homeless residents.

I had received a large number of complaints by ward constituents and many other people about the way that the Council had dealt with the occupation by Focus 15 mothers and their supporters of 4 flats on the Estate.

At the Full Council meeting on 29 September, Cllr Rokhsana Fiaz OBE and I raised emergency formal questions to the Mayor, Sir Robin Wales.  After the meeting there had been unacceptable violent and aggressive scenes outside East Ham Town hall by some supporters of the occupation.

Later that week on the way home from work, I went to visit the occupation with my fellow West Ham ward Cllr, John Whitworth. A number of Newham Councillors had visited the site.  Relatives of Councillors and local Labour Party members were also assisting the occupation.

John and I spoke to Focus 15 Mums and supporters in what turned out to be a 30 minutes long outdoor discussion on the future of affordable housing in London (and elsewhere).  This debate was at times passionate and pretty lively but generally polite and constructive.

My basic argument was that it had been accepted that Newham Council had not always acted properly with the Focus 15 Mums (the Mayor has apologised) the problem of affordable housing is a wider political issue. To make housing affordable in a high rent area such as London someone has to subsidise the cost. In the past the State used to accept responsibly for ensuring that its people had access to safe, secure and (truly) affordable homes. Even the Tories in the 1950s used to compete with Labour on who could build the most homes each year on a social rent (50% of market rent).

Councils and Housing Associations can always manage their stock and developments better but until the State puts its hand in its pockets and takes its responsibly to people seriously again then we will not solve the housing crisis in this Country. Instead of wasting money on housing benefit we should be investing this in homes but this will not be enough. Subsidy requires money....lots of money. This is a political truth that we will all have to grapple with.

Unfortunately John and I were not able to actually visit the block since by the time our discussion was over the campaigners were holding an urgent meeting to discuss legal issues regarding the pending court case by the Council to recover the properties.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Gregg McClymont MP at NAPF Conference 2014

Labour Shadow Pension Minister Gregg McClymont spoke (with a smile) about the previous speaker Bob Geldof being his "warm up act" this year. 

Gregg has now been coming to the NAPF Conference as Shadow minister for the last 4 years.

He has four key points.

1. There has been successful pension changes and measures which have been delivered with consensus.
2. We all need to deliver on pension promises
3. The Government is currently in the wrong place
4. It may have made decisive policy but not with the necessary checks and balances

His thoughts on these points

1. The new universal flat rate state pension and the successful launch of two million people into auto enrolment  was achieved by consensus.
2. The Government under pressure from the Labour Party and the NAPF have introduced a charge cap and the "disclosure" of transaction costs.
3. Where the Government is in a wrong place, is in the governance of pensions schemes. Where there are not independent trustees, workers are unlikely to see value for money in workplace pensions. Pensions of all types including contract schemes should be governed by independent trustees with an obligation to act in their best interests.
4. Soon many workers will be able to take out all their pensions in a lump sum (after paying a possible massive tax) but what will the guidance look like to stop people being ripped off and the likely take up by individuals is just not known.

Labour priorities are for value for money and to get this we also need to promote the scale of pension funds.  Larger pension schemes are more likely to delivery value for money.

In the Q&A I asked Greg would he agree that independent trusteeship of all pension schemes is also about re-establishing trust in the industry after decades of financial scandals.  People would save more if they were more confident that their money was being looked after by genuine beneficiaries trustees who will be acting on their behalf and making sure they are not being ripped off .

Greg thought that greater trusteeship would help establish checks and balances which is especially important since millions of people have been auto enrolled by the state and there is even a greater  responsibility to make sure the money is looked after properly.

Friday, October 24, 2014

UNISON Members vow to fight Union busting at Catalyst Housing Association

"UNISON members at Catalyst Housing Association reacted with shock to the news that the Head of People and Organisational Development received a 28% increase in salary last year whilst they received a mere 1%.

The members were attending a large, boisterous union meeting called to discuss the Chief Executive, Rod Cahill’s, decision to derecognise UNISON.

A letter of de-recognition was issued last week in response to a letter of complaint from UNISON about bullying of stewards and the unfair treatment of union members at Catalyst.

Members expressed their anger and concerns about their employer’s anti-union stance and are prepared to even consider industrial action in their fight to retain trade union recognition at Catalyst.

When a legitimate complaint about serious concerns results in an instant letter of de-recognition, you do wonder about that organisation’s governance and accountability”, commented Regional Organiser, Colin Inniss. “Does this mean that Catalyst tenants who complain automatically face eviction?

All Catalyst workers deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect as the organisations’ tenants and stakeholders; this is shabby treatment by an employer that is supposedly striving to go from good to great.”

Housing Association Branch Secretary John Gray said "Catalyst have refused to even meet with us to discuss our complaint or their concerns and have given out false and inaccurate information about membership levels.

They claim to have a strong Information and Consultation Committee that was voted in by 100% of the workforce; in actual fact less staff members voted for it than are in the union.

We have also taken legal advice and it is clear that Catalyst has acted unlawfully under international law and human rights.

UNISON always wants to talk to employers and seek agreement where possible. I call on the Board of Catalyst to meet with UNISON and settle this dispute before it gets ugly.

For Further information or comment please contact:

UNISON Regional Organiser, Colin Inniss

UNISON Housing Associations Branch Secretary , John Gray

Notes for Editors

1. UNISON’s represents over 60,000 members in the Community and Voluntary sector.
2. UNISON has recognition agreements with most of the G15 Housing Associations – London’s 15 largest housing associations.

3. Catalyst Housing Association own and manage over 21,000 properties in London and the South East

4. In 2013/14 Directors of Catalyst received pay increases ranging between 28.7% and 6.8%; frontline staff received a 1% increase in pay.

(hat tip London UNISON Press release)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Happy Diwali

Best wishes to all those celebrating Diwali, which spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair....

(What a fantastic set of values - Hat tip Tower Hamlets Labour Party e-newsletter)