Tuesday, 30 March 2010
Now this is a very odd thing to do - because super-sized unions like Unite are very wealthy organisations indeed - with tens of millions of pounds in their piggy banks.
So much money in fact that they're able to give lots of it away - on a regular basis.
£11 million has gone into Labour party coffers over the past five years - despite the fact that the great majority of ordinary Unite members are not even Labour supporters.
The additional funds are being raised by a levy on Unite’s 3,000 branches - not individual members - but this is the members' money too - who's asking them how it should be spent?
If trade unions like Unite got behind their members with all their resources - and stopped diverting huge sums to the Labour party - they'd be able to support their members properly in the event of a strike.
By a strange coincidence just about half of Labour's front-bench team at Westminster are all members of Unite - so don't expect any rank and file rebellion to start from there.
Sir Ian Kennedy has gone against previous recommendations from Sir Christopher Kelly and the Commitee on Standards in Public Life - by, in future, allowing one family member to be employed per MP.
IPSA took its decision after fierce lobbying from MPs - many of whom have their spouses and/or children on the public payroll.
This widespread practice came under intense scrutiny only after a Tory MP, Derek Conway, was forced into the spotlight - for having several members of his family on his staff - and was rightly shamed for a gross misuse of public funds.
IPSA conducted a public consultation exercise in which 59 per cent of respondents agreed with the proposal to outlaw the practice of allowing MPs to employ family members.
Yet, this new quango decides to go against the views of the wider public - and says that IPSA knows best.
But the fact is that MPs brought all of this public scorn and derision on themselves - it was not a case of a few bad apples spoiling the rest of the barrel.
Because more than half of our MPs were at it - in one way or another - over their expenses claims.
IPSA has done the public a dis-service - the views of MPs should have had no bearing on this issue - they have a such an obvious vested interest.
Monday, 29 March 2010
But after lots of humming and hawing there are signs of progress at last - because an 'in principle' agreement has been reached - for the council to make new offers of settlement.
Falkirk Council now has to approve these proposals formally at a meeting on 28 April 2010.
All being well - they will then be recommended to Action 4 Equality Scotland clients for acceptance.
If the latest proposals are not approved by the council - for any reason - there will be no point in further settlement talks.
The only way forward - in that event - will be to push forward for an early GMF hearing to deal with all the outstanding claims.
So, the message for the moment is to sight tight - and await further developments at the end of April.
Sunday, 28 March 2010
In a former life, Adam Ingram was a trade union official - but he has had nothing much to say about the fight for equal pay with South Lanarkshire Council - which is a major issue for thousands of his constituents.
But he has found the time to earn another £173,000 - on top of his £65,000 MP's salary - by pursuing outside interests such as helping to build a new defence academy for Colonel Gadaffi in Libya.
Read the full article on line at: www.timesonline.co.uk - meanwhile here's a summary of what the paper has to say.
Two more ministerial ‘cabs for hire’
"Two more former Labour ministers have been secretly recorded offering to exploit their government contacts and experience to help commercial clients for fees of up to £2,500 a day.
Adam Ingram, the former armed forces minister, said he could draw on a pool of out-of-work ministers who could be used to harness their government contacts.
The cash-for-access scandal has already claimed three Blairite ex-cabinet ministers, suspended last week by Labour after they were exposed for offering to help clients lobby for fees of up to £5,000 per day. On Friday, John Lyon, the parliamentary commissioner for standards, said he would hold an inquiry into the trio.
This weekend a YouGov poll of more than 1,500 people for The Sunday Times shows that by nearly two to one, 49% to 29%, voters agree with Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, that this is the most corrupt parliament in Britain’s history. Three-quarters of people, 74%, believe there should be an inquiry into claims by former ministers that their lobbying had changed policy.
Today’s disclosures show that former middle-ranking ministers are also willing to use their connections with politicians and officials as they line up work to cushion their retirement from the Commons.
Ingram, who is standing down as MP for East Kilbride at the election, offered to develop a network of former ministers who could be useful for their contacts in different departments.
“There’s going to be a lot of ex-ministers ... and they then become a point of contact in the political network. ‘Who do you know in that department? Who can you suggest to talk to?’ And that becomes a point of contact. So all of that can be established,” he said.
He was happy to help the reporter meet serving ministers after the election, saying there were strict rules preventing him lobbying while in parliament but he could do so as a “non-MP”.
However, he suggested that the fictional company might wish to target civil servants as “they draw up invitations to tender, they then make all the recommendations, which may not cross the minister’s desk”.
When asked if he still had good contacts with civil servants from his time as a minister, he responded “oh yeah”. The reporter asked: “So you would be able to help us develop our relationship with the ministers and civil servants?” and Ingram replied: “I’d do that, I could work at that, yeah.”
Ingram said he was paid £1,500 a day or £1,000 a meeting by companies. He could already make up to £173,000 a year from outside earnings on top of his £65,000 salary as an MP.
The former defence minister revealed he was employed by two British businesses which are helping to establish a new defence academy in Tripoli for Colonel Gadaffi, the Libyan leader. “Gadaffi wanted a defence academy built, and people I’m with have got very good points of contact with the Libyan regime,” he said."
Friday, 26 March 2010
Several Fox Cross witnesses gave evidence to the hearing - low paid council employees who accepted the council's original offer of settlement - back in November/December 2005.
The tribunal did not come to a decision at the end of the week-long hearing - which is quite normal for cases that involve lots of detailed evidence and legal debate.
A written judgment will be issued in due course, but this is may take several weeks - or even a few months - to be released.
In any event, as soon as there is something definite to report - we shall let people know via the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog site.
Thursday, 25 March 2010
Anne Moffat was parachuted into Prestonpans with the help of trade union muscle - but her greatest claim to fame lay in racking up the highest travelling expenses of any MP in Westminster in 2003 to 2004 - no mean achievement.
Here's what The Herald newspaper said back in 2007 - before the extent of the MPs' expenses scandal became public knowledge:
Published on 3 Nov 2007
"Moffat gives up fight to keep details from public"
"A Scottish Labour MP who ran up the highest travel bill of any Westminster politician has had a breakdown of her expenses published after a two-year battle for disclosure.
Anne Moffat's record bill was made up of thousands of pounds' worth of first-class rail and air fares, as well as trips to Malta and Portugal.
She is now being asked further questions about her expensive trips, particularly those to Glasgow and central London.
The landmark decision to publish the claims may open the floodgates for a spate of other revelations about MPs' allowances.
It follows a two-year fight by Green Party activist Michael Collie for publication of Moffat's travel bill.
The Labour MP was criticised after billing the taxpayer for nearly £40,000 in travel costs between 2003 and 2004, the highest claim of the year, Her huge bill led to questions being asked about the nature of her claims and prompted Collie to request more details through freedom of information (FOI) legislation.
The UK parliament's decision to refuse publication of Moffat's claims was overturned by the Information Commissioner, whose judgment was backed earlier this year by the Information Tribunal.
Westminster authorities stepped up their defiance by taking the matter to the High Court, an extraordinary move which they only backed down from last month. Collie was handed a breakdown of Moffat's expenses on Friday."
Not surprisingly ordinary Labour party members became convinced their MP was a dud - and finally decided to deselect her last week by 130 votes to 59.
Note how long and hard the parliamentary authorities fought - using large sums of public money when it suited them - to stop these details being released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Action 4 Equality Scotland, Stefan Cross and Fox Cross Solicitors all feature prominently - as our readers would expect - and we also have the best quote of the day - which is reproduced below in its original form:
"Action 4 Equality Scotland has forced employers to take equal pay seriously after so many years of councils turning a blind eye to the problem.
Some of the biggest councils still have their heads stuck in the sand, but one by one these employers are having to face up to reality and settle their outstanding claims.
What is incredible is that people have had to fight so long and so hard to enforce rights - that were first enshrined in law 40 years ago through the 1970 Equal Pay Act.
The upside is that council workers are now much better informed, more aware of their rights and more willing to fight for them in the courts."
Many of the politicians who have presided over the equal pay debacle for the past decade and more - regard themselves to be progressive, left-wing, socialist even - but always great supporters of equality and equal opportunities.
Just goes to show that some folks are easily deluded.
The Inverness based company operates in both Scotland and Wales - and most of its 100 staff will lose their jobs unfortunately.
The background is all a bit sketchy - there's not much information about what has going on behind the scenes - but all of a sudden the administrators (PricewaterhouseCoopers) were called in - with little if any prior warning.
The position with Highland Airways employees may well be the same as for Globespan staff - see post dated 4 January 2010.
If the workforce has been left high and dry - they may have potential claims to the employment tribunals.
If you know if anyone in this position - tell them to ring Action 4 Equality Scotland on 0131 652 7366 or drop Mark Irvine a note at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, 24 March 2010
Vince is responsible for the most effective put down of any politician - during the lifetime of the present parliament.
But one of the real highlights came during a PM's question time when Vince invited Gordon Brown to comment on - "the Prime Minister's remarkable transformation Stalin to Mr Bean".
The House of Commons was almost in tears - as if such a thing could happen - with MPs falling about laughing at a genuinely good gag.
Now Vince is at it again with his damning summary of Labour's last budget before facing a general election on 6 May - he said earlier today:
"It's not much of a budget when the highlight is a tax treaty with Belize".
Well said Vince - pithy and to the point.
The budget is significant only for delaying most of the painful medicine - until after the general election.
The council is adopting a mind bogglingly stupid position on the Social Care Workers - and other groups as well - here's a post from 11 February 2010 that explains the background.
The good news is that a date for the Edinburgh appeal has now been set - and this will take from 13 to 15 April 2010 at the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Melville Street, Edinburgh.
Individual claimants are entitled to attend - and should try and do so if possible - you don't need to be there for all three days.
Leading barrister (Jane McNeil, QC) who dealt with the original tribunal hearing - on behalf of Action 4 Equality Scotland clients - will also be handling the appeal.
"Edinburgh City Council"
"Edinburgh City Council is still refusing to settle outstanding equal pay claims - for significant groups of staff.
The groups include male workers in predominantly female jobs (such as male carers and catering workers) - and also former APT&C groups such as social care workers and cook supervisors.
Edinburgh's attitude is mind bogglingly stupid - because many other councils reached settlements for these groups long ago.
But for some reason Edinburgh still has its head stuck in the sand - and believes (wrongly, we say) that there is something worth arguing about - in respect of these claims.
Edinburgh tried previously to prevent former APT&C employees from being treated the same way as their former manual colleagues.
But after a major ten-day hearing at the Employment Tribunals - Edinburgh City Council lost this case by a country mile - which described the council at the time as 'trying to defend the indefensible'.
Unfortunately, the council appealed this decision to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) - delaying things yet again and wasting large amounts public money in the process.
We are currently awaiting the outcome of the EAT hearing - as soon as there is any news it will appear on the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog site."
Monday, 22 March 2010
After the sleazy years of the Tories - Tony Blair proclaimed that, as Prime Minister, his government and ministers would be different - in fact they would be 'whiter than white'.
So, it's all the more shocking to see three former Labour ministers - who were at the heart of the Labour government until relatively recently - all jostling hard to get their noses in the trough.
"I'm like a cab for hire", said Stephen Byers - former Transport Secretary - to undercover reporters from the Times newspapers and Channel 4 Dispatches programme - which is being shown at 8pm tonight.
And at up to £5,000 a day - would you believe - expenses not included!
Former Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, and former Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon - are mired in similar allegations - and they both have extensive 'outside interests' as well.
But all three of them claim to have done nothing wrong - as most MPs' did over their expenses, of course - they now say they were just musing about life after the general election - when they will no longer be MPs.
Just who do these people think they are?
The New Labour slogans as the party came to power and took office in those heady days - now seem like a sick joke.
"For the many, not the few"
"Say what you mean and mean what you say"
"Things can only get better"
Aye, right - D-Ream on.
No response has been received as yet - but any further news will be reported on the blog site.
Claimant V Globespan Group plc (in administration) & Others
The Claimant was employed by the Respondents in an establishment in Scotland.
The Respondent were part of a group of companies which were associated employers controlled by the same person.
The Respondent’s financial difficulties arose from its relationship with E-Clear. The problems were known about from at least July 2009 – 5 months before it went into administration.
The Claimant was dismissed without notice and without any fair procedure being followed and without payment of her/his contractual and statutory entitlements.
The Respondents have no recognised union for the Claimants group of staff and no steps were taken by the Respondents to appoint workers representatives and no information was provided to staff and no consultation took place in accordance with the 1992 Act
The Claimant therefore claims:
1 Protective award
2 Unfair dismissal
3 Wrongful dismissal
4 Failure to pay redundancy
5 Failure to pay outstanding holiday pay
6 Failure to pay notice pay
Saturday, 20 March 2010
"Councils can borrow £65m to fund equal pay claims
Scottish councils have been given the go-ahead to borrow almost £65m to fund the costs of equal pay deals.
The funding has been approved following a decision by Holyrood to relax rules preventing councils from using capital borrowing to fund rising equal pay settlements. These are normally paid from revenue expenditure.
Details of the consents – awarded to nine of Scotland’s 32 councils for borrowing in 2010/11 – emerged as the Scottish Parliament local government committee was told that more than 44,500 claims had been lodged with employment tribunals.
At a meeting on March 17, members of the all-party committee were concerned at the delay in settling claims and in implementing a single-status agreement drawn up more than a decade ago.
One committee member, Scottish National Party MSP John Wilson, said it was a ‘scandal’ that claims had still not been settled 11 years after an agreement had been made.
Convener Duncan McNeil added: ‘There seems little, or no, momentum or impetus to settle the claims… that is our disappointment.’
Michael Cook, human resources spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, told the committee it was up to individual claimants and local authorities to take forward the cases.
Councils had sought more than the sum granted, he said, but the ability to borrow to fund settlements would aid progress.
The largest sum – £25.7m – has been awarded to the City of Edinburgh Council."
Friday, 19 March 2010
11 days have already been spent in a Pre-Hearing Review on the council's job evaluation scheme - and a further 17 days are listed, starting again in May 2010.
The council's position is that it delivered equal pay in April 2004 - but the way in which South Lanarkshire implemented the 1999 Single Status Agreement - was unlike any other council in Scotland.
Pay information - about the differences in pay between male and female jobs - is freely available in other Scottish councils.
But not in South Lanarkshire Council.
South Lanarkshire Council used its own 'in-house' job evaluation (JE) scheme - instead of the national scheme recommended by COSLA and the trade unions.
But the council refuses to explain where this JE scheme came from, who created the scheme and what credentials - if any - the authors of the scheme possessed.
South Lanarkshire Council is also refusing to fully disclose all the relevant pay information - that would explain the differences in pay between male and female job groups.
South Lanarkshire's behaviour raises is a fundamental issue - do employees have the right to information that can show whether they suffered pay discrimination - at the hands of their employer?
The answer to that question should be obvious - especially as it comes down to how public money has been spent by a major, public-sector employer - a Labour-led council that says it supports the principles of Freedom of Information.
The underlying issue is about openness and transparency on one side - versus concealment and obfuscation on the other .
Maybe it's time to complain to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
Thursday, 18 March 2010
I would like to thank you and all the staff working for Action 4 Equality Scotland - and Stefan Cross, of course
I am a male working for North Ayrshire Council who received my cheque last week - and I must say myself and other staff are over the moon with what Action 4 Equality Scotland has done for us.
Without you and Mr Cross we would have been none the wiser - as the unions are totally hopeless when it comes to equality.
Once again a heart felt thank you and good luck with all your claiments.
I know you wont let them down .
Wednesday, 17 March 2010
It's rather too long to reproduce here in full - so go out and buy a copy, or it read online at: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/
Here's a edited (shortened) version of what Mr Finkelstein has to say
"Unite workers! You’re in Mr Brown’s pocket"
"The story of how, 30 years ago, Labour first lost power and then its marbles has many such moments of farce.
There was another sense in which those years in the early 1980s were a remarkable period in Labour history. They were the years, almost alone in the entire century, that the unions turned to the left and away from the party leadership. It is hard — but very important — to remember that these years were the exception rather than the rule. For if this is not understood, then the importance of Unite’s involvement in the Labour Party won’t be understood either. We’ll all make a whole load of fuss about Unite, its co-ordination of the BA strike and its funding of the Labour Party, but miss the point entirely.
From the earliest moments of the Labour Party, from its birth, the unions were the obstacle to the Left rather than its vehicle.
The reason that the unions took this position is not because they were particularly moderate or that they put the national interest first. It was rather the opposite. They wanted power to advance the sectional interests of their members even if that clashed with the Left’s idea of the common good. They exercised this power without much reference to their members, who had little idea of what was being said on their behalf.
Labour’s history is littered with tragi-comic misunderstanding. Again and again idealists like Michael Foot turned to the unions expecting co-operation to further the good society. Again and again, they were greeted with hard-nosed intransigence and a demand for a pay rise.
So how does this history explain the relationship between Unite and the Labour Party? (Incidentally, before we go on, isn’t Unite a fabulous name for a merged union that couldn’t even get its two leaders to attend the same launch because they hate each other so much?
Anyway, the history tells us two things. The first is that the money that Unite donates to Labour is only part of the story. Unite is not a donor to the party. It is the party. The vast unions that used to dominate Labour conferences have now merged to establish this super union. From white collar to blue collar to dog collar, Unite represents a bewildering variety of workers. And its sheer size, more than two million members, gives it a big say in how Labour operates.
The way Labour’s constitution has evolved gives Unite power in its policy forum (there are more than three times the number of union representatives elected to the forum than parliamentary reps), power in the selection of candidates, and a large share of the most crucial of all decision making bodies — the electoral college that chooses Labour leaders.
And, as in the past, Unite does all this despite what its members might think. A Populus poll of Unite members last year showed the majority preferring David Cameron to Gordon Brown and opposing Unite donations to Labour.
History also tells us how this influence is being exercised. Not in pursuit of airy-fairy ideals. In pursuit of hard-edged sectional interest and of political dominance. Just as it always has been."
Unite is using its personnel, its money and its local muscle to win seats for its supporters and its officials in Parliament. And it will use those seats and that sway to help shore up Gordon Brown until the moment when the power can be used to help Ed Balls become leader of the Labour Party.
If you follow its campaigns in local selections it often squeezes out hapless Blairites. But just as often it squeezes out leftists too. It favours the more traditional union men it can rely on to toe the line when toeing the line is required. And it is doing this on behalf of the leadership, not as a rebellion against it.
Unite has not taken Gordon Brown prisoner. It is more like the other way round."
So, step forward Danny Finkelstein and take a bow - you've hit the nail right on the head.
Trade unions like Unite are stuffed to the rafters with Labour hacks - who dominate all the senior positions - the views of ordinary unions members are much more diverse - but don't really count.
Apparently, the MSP says this is a personal matter - so it's not appropriate to get involved - and anyway the trade unions are in talks with the council - so hopefully this will sort things out.
What a load of old baloney!
Equal pay is about the law of the land - it’s not a personal matter.
It’s a public policy issue - about pay differences between groups of men and women workers - which the council and the trade unions did nothing about for years.
It's also true that the unions kept their women members deliberately in the dark about equal pay –keeping secret the big differences in pay between different male and female jobs
So why would anyone go to the unions now - for help and advice?
The motto of the story is don’t just accept at face value what an MSP - or MP for that matter - has to say.
Use your knowledge, experience and common sense - about equal pay - to discuss and debate the issues.
For example, the vast majority of claimants in North Lanarkshire are with Action 4 Equality Scotland - as the blog site reports - the trade unions represent a minority of claimants.
Because the unions behaved so badly in the past - and that's why they've lost all credibility in North Lanarkshire - and lots of other areas into the bargain.
Tuesday, 16 March 2010
Apparently, the MP said that equal pay was not a matter for the Westminster Parliament - and that the enquiry should be referred instead to the local MSP.
Well it just goes to show you that some people have very short - and selective - memories.
Maybe - with a little encouragement - MPs will recall that Dr John Reid, MP publicly opposing the closure of Monklands Hospital Accident & Emergency Department.
Despite the fact that the NHS is and was the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament at the time -and not Westminster!
Double standards or what?
The truth is that MPs are perfectly free to speak out on equal pay.
The Equal Pay 1970 and subsequent regulations are part of UK wide employment legislation – which MPs know full well
So, MPs have every right to stand up for their constituents on equal pay - hiding behind non-existent, bureaucratic parliamentary protocols - is no way for our them to behave.
Monday, 15 March 2010
Money, of course, that's been raised from ordinary union members - the great majority of whom don't even vote Labour at election time.
If any of these vast sums have gone towards promoting the cause of equal pay - then the members should be asking for their money back - because it's not been well spent.
Labour run councils up and down the country - have said one thing then done another when it comes to equal pay.
Some of them are still trying to pull the wool over people's eyes.
The council employers have been dragged 'kicking and screaming' - into implementing the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement.
Not because of the trade unions - but because Action 4 Equality Scotland took up the challenge of equal pay.
All this money being shovelled into the coffers of just one political party is undemocratic - because it does not reflect the politics and views of ordinary union members.
Unite members should be asking what their £11 million has been spent on.
The reason being that Fife Council has to observe certain procedural issues - which will not now be concluded until 18 March 2010.
So the original timetable has slipped a little - because of the council's need to seek final approval from senior politicians.
But as soon as this happens next week - further information will be issued to all Action 4 Equality Scotland claimants.
This will explain the next steps - and the dates by which various documents require to be issued - and returned.
So, for the moment - sit tight and await further information - which will follow soon.
Sunday, 14 March 2010
City Building is part of Glasgow City Council - Scotland's largest council - yet it has been allowed to spend taxpayers money in an alarming fashion.
The whole thing stinks to high heaven - and would give Tammany Hall politics a bad name.
Here's an edited (shortened) version of a report in today's Scotland on Sunday - by David Leask.
"Call for inquiry into company where salaries ballooned and thousands spent on hospitality."
"A CONSTRUCTION quango created by troubled former Glasgow council leader Steven Purcell more than doubled its wage bill for executives in just two years, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.
City Building – previously a department of the local authority – allowed salaries for senior managers, some closely associated with the Labour Party, to balloon after it became a much-feted "arms-length" company wholly owned by the public.
The firm, whose managing director is Willie Docherty, the husband of Glasgow Labour councillor Sadie Docherty, was last night facing calls for an inquiry into whether it provides good value for council taxpayers.
Scotland on Sunday has learned that City Building executives:
1 allowed the wage bill for senior staff to more than double from at least £730,000 in 2007 to at least £1.5m in 2009, in the first two full years of nominal independence from the council;
2 approved a vehicle leasing scheme that allowed executives to rent luxury cars, including Mercedes Benz, from the business;
3 spent nearly £20,000 in a single year on 18 dinner events, 11 of which were attended by Labour councillors;
4 took a table at the cost of £2,000 at a Labour Party fundraiser, where it entertained senior Labour figures, including Scottish leader Iain Gray and his wife, despite long-standing conventions that public bodies do not make contributions to political parties.
5 agreed a salary hike from at least £110,000 to at least £140,000 for Docherty.
City Building was set up in 2006 as an "arms-length" company to take over the work of the council's former building services department and offer its services beyond the city boundaries. In 2008-9, it turned over £179m worth of business, making it one of the biggest operators of its kind in Scotland.
But opposition politicians have questioned the company's close links to Labour. Three of the four councillors on its board are Labour appointees and the former general secretary of Scottish Labour, Lesley Quinn, was made a senior manager at the firm in 2008.
They are now criticising the escalating salary bill at a time when the economy was going through a severe downturn."
It really does beggar belief that these people still have anything to do with running the country - instead of recovering the tax payers money and showing these 'nobles' the door - the political establishment effectively covers their tracks.
And because their Lordships are not elected - voters have no say in the matter either.
"A shameful day for the House of Lords"
"When the history of the parliamentary expenses scandal is told, several names will feature prominently, including David Chaytor, Jim Devine, Elliot Morley and Lord Hanningfield, three MPs and a peer who sat in the dock on Friday charged with theft. One name that should also be on the roll of dishonour is Michael Pownall, clerk of the parliaments. By his actions he has allowed peers who abused expenses to escape legal action.
For months this newspaper has investigated peers who abused the expenses system. They included Baroness Uddin, the first female Muslim peer, who claimed an empty flat in Kent as her main residence while she lived in Tower Hamlets, just four miles from Westminster. Before she bought the two-bedroom flat in Maidstone in 2005, she told the Lords authorities that her brother's house in Essex was her main home. This allowed her to rack up £200,000 in expenses by claiming the £174-a-night allowance.
It was cut and dried until Mr Pownall’s intervention. Extraordinarily, he issued a statement saying it was up to peers to choose what they designated as their main residence “as they see fit”. In further guidance in February, Mr Pownall said peers need visit a property only once a month for it to qualify as their main residence.
The Sunday Times established that Lord Paul, Labour’s multi-millionaire non-dom donor peer, claimed as his main residence an Oxfordshire flat where he had never stayed the night. This enabled him, like Baroness Uddin, to claim tens of thousands of pounds in overnight expenses. He, too, was let off the hook. Not only did he get off, but he also claimed that critics of his non-dom status had been “caught with their pants down”.
Mr Pownall will claim he did not act alone. The Lords committee at which this new and generous interpretation of peers’ main residences was decided was chaired by Baroness Hayman, the Speaker. Readers may recall she has claimed £200,000 in expenses by having a “main residence” in Norfolk, despite having lived in the same house in London for 35 years.
Anger about this establishment stitch-up is not confined to the public and media. Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, could barely contain his frustration at his inability to prosecute Baroness Uddin thanks to the Lords authorities.
“In any criminal proceedings it would almost inevitably be necessary for the prosecution to prove, to the criminal standard, that any peer in question had not even visited the address they deemed their ‘only or main’ residence once a month,” he said. “That presents a very real difficulty and we considered whether it would be open to the Crown Prosecution Service to advance a different definition of ‘only or main residence’. However, after careful consideration, we concluded that such a course would not be open to us.”
The story will not necessarily end here. Baroness Uddin will still be investigated by the Lords authorities. Given the whitewash so far, however, it would be a minor miracle if anything emerges from that.
Britain’s political leaders are keen to show that the House of Commons has entered a new era. Most of the more obvious expenses abusers will step down at the election. New rules will be in place to ensure duck houses, moats and dodgy videos no longer appear on claims. The Lords will no doubt say their reforms will also clamp down on abuses. They, however, will still be there following the election, after fiddling while respect for parliament burns."
Saturday, 13 March 2010
Friday, 12 March 2010
The good news is that while Baroness Uddin may have escaped charges in the courts - the House of Lords is apparently launching its own inquiry into her mind-boggling expenses.
Let's hope they throw the book at her - because all that public money down the drain for no good reason - is a complete disgrace.
"Labour peer Baroness Uddin ESCAPES charges over £100,000 expenses thanks to loophole in Lords' rules"
"A Labour peer who pocketed around £100,000 in overnight allowances despite living just four miles from Parliament will not face criminal charges, it was announced today.
Baroness Uddin allegedly said her main home was an empty flat in Maidstone, Kent, so that she could claim the £174-a-night allowance offered to peers who have to stay in London. The set-up meant she could claim nearly £30,000 a year towards the cost of staying at her other address, a three-storey house in Wapping, east London.
Scotland Yard launched a probe after neighbours in Maidstone claimed she was never there but today prosecutors said they could not bring charges because of an extraordinary loophhole in House of Lords' rules.
Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said there was a 'very real difficulty' in interpreting the definition of 'only or main' home for peers.
Under House of Lords rules, the accommodation allowance is available to any peer 'whose main residence is outside greater London and who maintains a residence in London for the purpose of attending sittings of the House'.
Crucially, they do not define 'main residence' but Clerk of Parliaments Michael Pownall decided last year that peers could register it 'as they see fit'. Then, in February, it emerged this included a property they visit as little as once a month.
The move, condemned as a 'cosy stitch-up' at the time, effectively scuppered any chance of a prosecution against various peers who have pocketed expenses on long-established homes in London by saying their main home is elsewhere.
Mr Starmer said today: 'On that interpretation, in any criminal proceedings, it would almost inevitably be necessary for the prosecution to prove, to the criminal standard, that any peer in question had not even visited the address they deemed their "only or main" residence once a month.
'That presents a very real difficulty and we considered whether it would be open to the Crown Prosecution Service to advance a different definition of "only or main residence" in any criminal proceedings. However, after careful consideration, we concluded that such a course would not be open to us.'
Neighbours and utility firms used by Lady Uddin were quizzed but prosecutors decided they could not prove she had visited the house less than once a month.
Mr Starmer said: 'After careful scrutiny of all of the available evidence, we have decided that, in applying the definition of "only or main residence" adopted by the House committee, there is insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against Baroness Uddin and we have today advised the Metropolitan Police to take no further action."
West Dunbartonshire Council is in turmoil at present - after a damning report from the Accounts Commission - led to newspaper headlines describing West Dunbartonshire as the most inept council in Scotland.
But that's no excuse for the council having its head stuck in the sand over equal pay.
So, the priority is to get West Dunbartonshire to a GMF hearing - where the council will have to explain and justify its discriminatory pay practices.
Contact details for Councillor Robertson and local MPs/MSPs will follow.
Action 4 Equality Scotland
44 York Place
Councillor Iain Robertson
Leader of West Dunbartonshire Council
Dear Councillor Robertson
West Dunbartonshire Council and Equal Pay
As you may know, Action 4 Equality Scotland is currently pursuing 91 equal pay claims, in the Employment Tribunals, against West Dunbartonshire Council.
The majority of these cases are known as RAE (rated as equivalent) claims because the jobs involved have already been rated or valued under a common job evaluation scheme; in this case the one contained in the old Manual Workers Green Book.
The Local Government and Communities committee of the Scottish Parliament recently urged councils in Scotland to address these RAE claims on a pragmatic basis because the underlying legal issues involved are very straightforward and, broadly speaking, the employers have little, if any, chance of successfully defending their position.
We are currently pressing the Employment Tribunal to set a date for a GMF (Genuine Material Factor) hearing of the West Dunbartonshire Council cases. At this hearing, the council will be required to explain and justify what it now accepts were the discriminatory pay arrangements that applied previously (to these RAE claimants) in low paid, predominantly female, manual worker jobs.
Action 4 Equality Scotland has negotiated settlements with various other councils in the recent past including: Glasgow, Edinburgh, North Lanarkshire, North Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, Aberdeenshire and East Ayrshire. Active settlement discussions are also underway with Falkirk and East Lothian councils
I am approaching you in the same spirit to see if West Dunbartonshire Council is prepared to reach a fair and reasonable settlement of the outstanding claims. If so, then a GMF hearing may not need to proceed, thus saving the council considerable time and expense.
MSPs and MPs have shown an interest in this subject. I am copying this letter to those in the West Dunbartonshire Council area, so they know that Action 4 Equality Scotland is prepared to act responsibly and negotiate on behalf of clients in West Dunbartonshire, as elsewhere.
If council officials are interested in taking up this offer, we are happy to meet on an informal ‘without prejudice’ basis in the first instance, to assess what progress can be made.
cc David McMillan, Chief Executive - West Dunbartonshire Council
Thursday, 11 March 2010
The committee (comprised of other MPs) said the couple claimed money for a second home to which they were not entitled - because their main home was empty and uninhabitable.
Incredibly the committee concluded that not all the money should be repaid because the Commons authorities told them twice that their arrangements were acceptable.
But the truth is that the Commons authorities approved lots of claims that were patently ridiculous - and that should have been as obvious to MPs then - as it is now to the general public.
Alan Keen, MP for Feltham and Heston, and his wife Ann, a health minister and MP for Brentford and Isleworth, own a house in Brentford - which is less than 10 miles from the House of Commons.
In 2002 they bought a flat near parliament - which they funded using the second home allowance - quite why this was necessary is not explained anywhere.
In May 2008 the Keens began to renovate their Brentford home and began to spend most of their time living in their central London flat.
In December 2008 they had their Brentford home boarded up and did not stay there overnight again until October 2009.
John Lyon, parliament's commissioner for standards, launched an inquiry into a complaint that they continued to claim the second home allowance - when their central London property had to all intents and purposes become their main home.
Lyon said that, even though the Commons authorities approved the claims - the Keens were ultimately responsible for what they did - and that they had committed "a serious misjudgment".
Quite right too!But the committee (made up of MPs) which considered Lyon's report, said that it was taking "a more lenient view" and that the Keens should only have to repay £1,500 - instead of the full £5,678 they had claimed.
The fact that these two MPs could have travelled in and out of Westminster by public transport - thus saving the need for any 'second homes' expenses - seems to have escaped the committee's attention.
An Independent Pay Review body recommends a 2.25% pay increase for senior managers in the National Health Service.
Quite rightly - the government refuses to implement the proposal - because the economy has gone to hell in a handcart - and those at the top need to lead by example.
But along comes another Independent Pay Review body that recommends a £1,000 increase for MPs - whose collective performance in this parliament has been the worst in living memory.
What does the government do?
For readers of a certain age - just think back to the 'good' old days of Robert Maxwell for Labour and Jeffrey Archer for the Tories - from the 1970s and 80s.
More recently the Tories have been under fire for accepting massive sums of money from Lord Ashcroft - but as the following article from the Times points out - it's not just the Tories who work the system in a cynical way.
The trade unions have been pouring millions of pounds into Labour coffers for years - despite the fact that only a minority of members actually vote Labour at election time.
Here's a summary of what Rachel Sylvester had to say the other day in the Times - the full article can be read on-line at: http://www.times-online.co.uk/
"It’s not just the Tories."
"Follow the money, Deep Throat said to Bob Woodward. But in fact what matters in politics is power. Money is only important if it brings influence. The real issue is who controls candidates, policies and ultimately results.
Nowhere is this more true than in the marginal seats that will determine who wins the election.
Much has been made of Lord Ashcroft’s role in the Tory marginals campaign. What has been underplayed, however, is the increasingly effective Labour operation being run in key seats by Unite, the trade union whose political director is Charlie Whelan, Gordon Brown’s former spin doctor.
Like Lord Ashcroft, Unite has been generous financially, contributing £3.6 million to Labour last year, nearly a quarter of the total donations the party received. Since March 2007 it has given more than £11 million. Two years ago Labour was able to get its accounts signed off and avert bankruptcy only by getting a written guarantee from Unite that it would continue to provide significant funding. It has been there for the party in its darkest days, just as Lord Ashcroft was for the Tories.
But like the peer’s, the union’s most important role now is organisational rather than financial. Unite has set up a “virtual phone bank” to canvass people in marginal seats, urging them to vote Labour. Every Thursday thousands of members volunteer to contact other members as part of a campaign known as Unite4Labour. They log in to a computer database and are given names, phone numbers and a script to read asking how the person intends to vote.
Between now and polling day the campaign will intensify, as the union tries to increase turnout among potential Labour supporters using information gathered during two years of direct mail shots and e-mails. It’s a strategy of “peer to peer marketing” borrowed from Barack Obama in the United States.
“You can spend billions on glossy leaflets and posters but what really matters in a modern election is convincing people,” Mr Whelan says. “If you ring up from a political party they won’t listen, but if you ring up from a union, and they’re a member of the union, they’re more likely to take notice of what you say.”
Ministers detect Mr Whelan’s influence over policy, such as the decision to shelve the part-privatisation of the Royal Mail, which his union opposed. Insiders believe he has returned the favour to Mr Brown by keeping Unite at the negotiating table with British Airways in an attempt to avert strike action in the run-up to the election.
Meanwhile, just as Lord Ashcroft did, the union has fought a highly successful campaign to get its people selected as candidates in safe seats. Harriet Harman’s husband, Jack Dromey, Unite’s deputy general secretary, is standing for Labour in Birmingham Erdington and last week John Cryer, a political officer for the union, was chosen in Leyton and Wanstead.
Both Lord Ashcroft and Mr Whelan are playing hardball. But politics is more than a game. If the voters in marginal seats realise who is trying to pull the strings they might be even less inclined to vote for either man’s party."
Wednesday, 10 March 2010
A big crowd turned up - 60 to 70 people - to hear all the news about the forthcoming GMF hearing in April - and to share their experiences about lobbying their local MPs and MSPs.
No one had a good word to say about North Lanarkshire Council, by the way.
Not surprisingly many people were angry at the way the council has dragged things out - and tried to treat the Home Carers, for example, differently to other groups of manual workers.
Apparently, lots of council workers have already contacted their MPs and MSPs - though some have been much more helpful than others.
But the key message has hit home - don't be fobbed off with nonsense that tries to tell you that local politicians can't get involved.
Of course they can - all they have to do is to weigh up the arguments about equal pay - and then speak up for one side or the other.
It's not rocket science, just plain common sense - and local people are entitled to expect their local MP or MSP to express a clear view - one way or the other.
If you want to organise a similar meeting in North Lanarkshire - in the run up to April's GMF hearing - drop Mark Irvine a note at: email@example.com
The purpose of the regional list is to bring political balance to an area - where one party dominates in the 'first-past the post' elections.
But regional list MSPs have exactly the same standing - as their constituency colleagues - the only difference is that they cover a wider area - not just North Lanarkshire Council, or part of the council area.
So, here are the contact details for regional list MSP's covering the North Lanarkshrie Council area.
If your local MP or constituency MSP is not supportive over equal pay - or any other issue for that matter - you may wish to take things up with one of the regional list MSPs.
Let us know how you get on.
Alex Neil MSP - Central Scotland Region (SNP)
Tel: 0131 348 5703
Margaret Mitchell MSP - Central Scotland Region (Conservative)
Tel: 01698 282815
Fax: 01698 281533
Linda Fabiani MSP - Central Scotland Region (SNP)
Tel: 0131 348 5698
Jamie Hepburn MSP - Central Scotland Region (SNP)
Tel: 0131 348 6573
Christina McKelvie MSP - Central Scotland Region (SNP)
Tel: 0131 348 6680
Hugh O'Donnell MSP - Central Scotland Region (Liberal Democrat)
Tel: 0131 348 5795
John Wilson MSP - Central Scotland Region (SNP)
Tel: 0131 348 6684
Tuesday, 9 March 2010
The case is now known as Connor & Others v Glasgow City Council and the hearing is scheduled to last for 5 days - from Monday 15 to Friday 19 March 2010
The venue is the Glasgow Employment Tribunal Office (details below) which is 10 minutes walk from Central Station – west along Bothwell Street towards Finnieston.
Glasgow Employment Tribunal Office
215 Bothwell Street
Phone: 0141 204 0730
Fax: 0141 204 0732
Tribunal hearings normally run from 10am to 1pm and from 2pm to 4.30pm – but if you want to sit in on the hearing - you don’t need to stay for the whole day’s session.
Anyone attending should make themselves known to Carol Fox - who will be there on behalf of Fox Cross Solicitors.
Many people have commented on the strong stance taken by Alex Neil, MSP - who has apparently written to the council supporting the cause of employees - Home Carers and others - who are still waiting for their equal pay claims to be properly addressed.
The comments made by Alex Neil just go to show that MSPs and MPs are not barred from speaking out on sensitive issues - when push comes to shove that's what their jobs are all about.
Alex Neil is a regional list MSP - and there are several others covering the North Lanarkshire Council area - so we'll publish their contact details for information as well.
Monday, 8 March 2010
Action 4 Equality Scotland gave both written and oral evidence to the Committee - which we put up on the blog site at the time - copies can still be sent to readers by e-mail.
The Committee subsequently published a detailed report which can be read on-line at the Scottish Parliament web site: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/
Here are a few of its observations - which might come in handy if you are discussing equal pay with local councillors, MPs and MSPs.
"The Committee shares the concerns expressed by other parliamentary committees that it has taken so long to implement Single Status and believes it is not surprising that a number of legal rulings and case law have developed in the intervening period which have impacted on the number and complexity of equal pay cases.
The Committee is also concerned that these delays may have led to low-paid women workers losing out. These workers might have been entitled to upgrading and backdated compensation but, as a result of the delays in settling, may have left or retired without being aware that they could make a claim or may not have received sufficient compensation for the years of unequal treatment, because of the five year time limit.
In evidence to the Committee, all parties expressed a willingness for the issues to be resolved, however there did not appear to be agreement over how to take things forward.
The Committee believes this is deeply regrettable and serves no-one well, least of all the claimants.
For these reasons, the Committee has recommended that all the relevant parties should enter into discussions to resolve these issues and that these discussions should be facilitated by the Scottish Government.
Where it is possible to achieve a negotiated settlement, every effort should be made to reach one."
Unison has written to all of its members in North Lanarkshire Council - about 'action' that the union plans to take in connection with equal pay.
The letter states:
"You will be sent a form so that we can gather relevant information from you and, if appropriate, start process of taking legal action."
The point is that Unison has known about the equal pay problem for years - for a decade and more.
Yet the unions kept their women members in the dark - about the huge pay gap between male and female jobs - but are now looking to re-write history.
Because the trade unions negotiated the higher (bonus-related) pay for the male groups - the employers certainly never did this on their own.
So, when it comes to equal pay - take what the unions have to say - with an extra large pinch of salt.
Friday, 5 March 2010
Please note that the Edinburgh office has to check - and double check - every individual offer on an individual basis.
Each offer also has to be accompanied by an individual letter of advice - so there is a lot of work to be done in the office before the offers of settlement can be released.
The aim is to complete this process by the end of next week - so please be patient and rest assured that every effort is being made to get the job done as quickly as possible - without cutting any corners.
In the meantime, please resist the temptation to ring the office for an update on the Edinburgh settlements - as it just diverts staff resources away from the main task in hand.
"Financially stricken North Lanarkshire Council is facing the nightmare scenario of being forced to stump up a whopping £15million in equal pay claims to hundreds of disgruntled employees – according to Action 4 Equality Scotland, an equal pay campaign.
The organisation has accused the local authority of “dragging its heels” over settling the claims – some of which stretch back many years – from 1808 dissatisfied workers.
Already, a significant number of Scottish councils – including Glasgow and Edinburgh – have settled their outstanding claims and Action 4 Equality Scotland has played an instrumental role in negotiating these resolutions.
However, the equal pay group claim no such settlement has been agreed by NLC and because of this, an employment tribunal will be held in April to hear the North Lanarkshire cases and a top QC has been instructed by the campaigners to represent the local claimants.
Mark Irvine from Action 4 Equality Scotland told the Wishaw Press: “North Lanarkshire Council has had its head stuck in the sand for years. The hard-working staff who have suffered are vital groups such as home carers and classroom assistants which other councils, notably Glasgow, settled with long ago.
“Workers feel especially strongly about the council’s delaying tactics, which include raising procedural points and unnecessary appeals, only for these issues to be abandoned at a later date without ever being tested in an employment tribunal.”
He concluded: “Let's hope the council comes to its senses soon, otherwise it will be wasting even more public money at a hearing in April, where council managers will have to justify what they now accept were discriminatory pay arrangements.”
The hard-up authority has already been forced to make a commitment to save £15million this year through a series of penny-pinching budget cuts and aims to claw back another £60million by 2014.
MSP Alex Neil has slammed the council over the authority’s ongoing failure to resolve the claims.
The SNP Central Scotland representative told the Wishaw Press: “North Lanarkshire Council is one of the last local authorities in Scotland to sort out its equal pay claims, it is time it took its responsibility seriously.
“I have written to the Council Leader Councillor Jim McCabe and Chief Executive Gavin Whitefield to make this point clear and support Action 4 Equality Scotland."
“I have a number of constituents who have been pursuing claims with North Lanarkshire Council for years, and they have been dragging their feet for too long. The situation is unacceptable and amounts to an abuse of the council workforce.”
North Lanarkshire Council’s website highlights the authority’s commitment to parity through its Equality and Diversity in Employment Policy.
The aims of this policy are to promote equality of employment opportunities; to eliminate unfair, unlawful or inappropriate discrimination in employment in the council and to provide positive action measures where appropriate and permissible by legislation.
John O’Hagan, Head of Corporate Services at NLC said: “It is factually incorrect to describe the council as one of the last authorities to sort out equal pay claims. The council has already engaged in extensive settlements with key groups of staff and will continue to be guided by the emerging case law as it develops in assessing its liabilities for various categories of claim.
“To meet all such claims on their face value would not be acting in the best interests of the council tax payers of North Lanarkshire. A balance has to be struck between the legitimacy of certain claims and preserving the limited public funds available to meet them.”
The council declined to comment on the claim that the possible payout figure could cost as much as £15million.
The following statement has been issued to disgruntled workers who have contacted Motherwell and Wishaw MP Frank Roy for advice: “Mr Roy has asked me to acknowledge your email on his behalf, and to advise you that he has contacted NLC in regard to your equal wage claim. He has been informed that those employees who did not accept the earlier offers have had their case referred to the Employment Tribunal System where the claimants will be represented by solicitors.
“As such he would not be able to be involved as this is clearly between your trade union and the council. “Mr Roy has also been informed by the council that the progress of the claims through the Employment System is not in their direct control, but he understands that some hearings are due to take place with all claimants' legal representatives being in attendance.”
THE Wishaw Press has been contacted by two equal pay claimants who have expressed their disgust over the way they feel they’ve been treated by the local authority.
The workers – who do not wish to be named, have between them almost 40 years of unstinting service – first learned they may be getting unfairly paid after watching a television programme about the Action 4 Equality campaign.
That was years ago and they’re still waiting on a settlement.
Worker A said: “I think it’s terrible that people have been getting paid more than us for doing an easier job. I’m disgusted that the council could treat its workforce in such a way. Even with my considerable length of service they will only look to backdate my loss of earnings over a five year period.
When I weigh up how much money I’m due it runs into thousands. If I was behind with my council tax I’m sure they wouldn’t be long in letting me know."
Employee B told the Wishaw Press: “When we first complained about the inequalities of our pay we were offered what I consider to be a derisory sum, probably just 10 per cent of what’s actually outstanding. Who’s going to accept that?
“The claimants have been disappointed by the lack of support we’ve received from elected members and the union hasn’t helped much either.
“What we want now is for the matter to be settled at next month’s tribunal. This will hopefully get us what we are due and we can achieve some form of closure and get on with our jobs.”
The BBC report says - with typical understatement - that the 1.5% increase follows uproar over the MPs' expenses scandal.
The government says that ministers will turn down the rise - but what does this matter since the increase will flow through to staffing and other allowances - and crucially into MPs' 'gold plated' pensions.
So, at a time when many workers in the private sector - have had to accept cuts in hours and pay to keep their businesses afloat - MPs are to benefit from a 1.5% pay rise.
Similarly, workers in the public sector face a difficult period ahead - with employers arguing there there should be a pay freeze for the next two years - for all but the lowest paid workers.
MPs have failed to set and example - yet again.
So why doesn't the government should step in - and refuse to implement the increase - while the economy remains in such a state?
Thursday, 4 March 2010
Now this is nonsense, of course - from start to finish - because council budgets in Scotland actually doubled in the ten years from 1997 to 2007.
So, having the money to meet the costs of equal pay was never the issue - and councils knew about their obligations as far back as 1999 - when the Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement in Scotland was signed.
Funny how women standing up for their rights - seems to infuriate some people.
Yet the same people have had nothing to say about the fact that so many women's jobs - were so badly undervalued and underpaid - for so many years.
As everyone knows, talk is cheap - so why not just abolish the House of Lords - and throw all of its ermine-clad nobles on to the scrapheap.
What use are they anyway?
The major talent of their noble lordships seems to lie in racking up tax free expenses - while pouring money into the Labour and Tory parties - in return for their peerages.
The House of Lords has not added anything to the government of the UK in the past decade - lots of countries around the world get by quite happliy - without a second 'revising' chamber.
Their lordships have had no influence over the state of the economy, over the war in Iraq - or on important social policies such as care of the elderly.
So, what purpose does the House of Lords serve?
None is the honest answer - and getting rid of it would make a dent in the national debt - and free up large sums of public money - that could be put to far better use.
Here's an article from the Guardian newspaper inviting readers to quiz their local MPs about the funding of the Tory party - a good story for a Labour-leaning paper, to be sure.
But the principle is just the same when it comes to North Lanarkshire - and other councils - that are dragging their feet on equal pay.
What do the local MPs and MSPs have to say - they have strong views on everything else under the sun?
So, let's hear their views on equal pay - on North Lanarkshire's treatment of Home Care workers.
North Lanarkshire Council may be Labour-controlled, but - as the Guardian article implies - that's all the more reason for Labour MPs and MSPs to speak out.
"Get Involved: ask your MP difficult questions
The Guardian has been trying for three days to get William Hague to spell out what he knew about Lord Ashcroft's tax affairs and when he found out he was a non-dom. As Tory leader from 1997-2001, Hague lobbied hard for his peerage (see the letters between Hague, Tony Blair and the honours committee).
But so far Hague, along with other senior Tories, has refused to respond to us in any way. What we would like is if you could put our questions, below, to your local Tory MP or candidate and let us know what responses you get, or if they too get ignored.
Please email what you find to firstname.lastname@example.org with "Ashcroft questions" (or similar) in the subject field. You can find your Tory MP or candidate and their contact details on the Conservative's website.
And here are the questions:
1. In 1999 William Hague wrote to Tony Blair assuring him that Lord Ashcroft would change his tax status by the following financial year with the effect that he would pay "tens of millions a year in tax". Did Lord Ashcroft indeed pay tens of millions a year in UK tax since becoming a peer?
2. How is Lord Ashcroft's non-dom status consistent with his "solemn and binding" undertaking to become a permanent UK resident?
3. When did William Hague become aware that Lord Ashcroft was not domiciled in the UK for tax purposes?
4. When did David Cameron become aware that Lord Ashcroft was not domiciled in the UK for tax purposes?
5. Do you believe Lord Ashcroft misled William Hague when he promised to become a permanent resident as a condition for receiving a peerage?"
Wednesday, 3 March 2010
The statement was warmly received across the floor of the chamber and outside - for a welcome change tribal party differences were put to one side.
Nicola Sturgeon apologised for mishandling aspects of a specific case - but she won the day by making it clear where her loyalties stood - in terms of her day job as an MSP.
Here are a few extracts from what the Deputy First Minister had to say:
"Let me therefore be clear about my understanding of the duties of an MSP when asked for help by a constituent.
I believe that, when a constituent asks for my help, it is my duty to make such representations as I am asked to make, so long as those representations are reasonable, legitimate and appropriate.
There is no doubt that being health secretary is a job that, with the permission of the Parliament, I look forward to getting on with, but I believe that the first and overriding duty of an MSP is to represent their constituents.
I also believe that it would be wrong for any of us to decide what help to give or not to give a constituent simply on the basis of how it might later look for us."
Let's hope that MPs and MSPs in certain Scottish councils - were hanging on every word.
"Thanks for the update on our ongoing saga with West Lothian Council - Council of the year 2006.
A council that throws cash away willy nilly - for instance on new lamposts all over the county - in the same holes they took the old ones out of!
Yet they refuse to honour their home carers - with their rightful rates of pay.
We look forward to your next update.
West Lothian Carers"
"North Lanarkshire Council
All of Scotland's 32 local councils have behaved appallingly over equal pay, but undoubtedly the Dunce's Cap should be awarded jointly to the management and trade unions in North Lanarkshire Council.
First of all, the council agreed a Job Evaluation scheme with the trade unions, but then they both refused to share the details with the workforce. So, exactly how were staff expected to have any confidence in the outcome, especially if they could not see or understand the scores and how the new grading structure rewarded different groups of workers?
Maybe they were supposed to to take it on trust from the same people who had kept them in the dark for all those years.
Then the council put the scheme to the workforce in a democratic ballot - a wizard idea supported by the best brains amongst the unions. However, things did not go according to plan and to the enormous shock of the council and the unions, the ordinary union members very sensibly voted the package down - and by an absolutely overwhelming majority.
Next the council made one-off 'buy-out' offers to sections of the workforce - some but not all of the manual workers - although these compensation payments were just about the lowest across the whole of Scotland (for Home Carers especially), and simply added insult to injury.
Soon afterwards, the council decided just to ignore the workforce ballot that it was so keen to hold only a few months before - on the basis that it would impose the new pay and grading structure by issuing staff with new contracts of employment. Many people on the ground believe this was done with the unions tacit approval because the unions certainly did little to stop the council in its tracks.
Needless to say, the unions went along with the general strategy and effectively did the council's dirty work by failing to give their members proper advice or support at crucial times - which is why so many of them decided to pursue and equal pay claim with Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross.
Now, as so often happens in life, things have come full circle and finally, if very belatedly, the unions have at last seen the error of their ways. Unison is now advising members of their rights to take up an equal pay claim - albeit 7 years too late.
A letter from the local Unison branch secretary dated 2 February 2007 advises members that they have 6 months from 6 November 2006 (the date of the new North Lanarkshire contract) to register an equal pay claim. The letter is not terribly enthusiastic, it has to be said, and deliberately puts the onus on individual members to decide whether they have an equal pay claim - instead of the union explaining the size and nature of the pay gap with the men - which the unions' know fine well because they negotiated these pay agreements with North Lanarkshire Council.
Instead of offering leadership, advice and practical help the letter goes on to detail a long and bureaucratic procedure for members to follow in submitting a claim, which seems designed to make life difficult for ordinary members with no experience of dealing with such issues.
However, this letter simply begs the question: "Why did the Unison North Lanarkshire Branch not issue this advice to members in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004. 2005 and 2006?"
The unions failure to act has cost its low paid members dearly - and that's why so many are now suing for the money they've lost through their unions negligence and incompetence.
In addition, many hundreds of workers either left or retired from the North Lanarkshire Council during the past 8 years. Sadly, these individuals have lost the right to register an equal pay claim because of the 6 month time limit."