Friday, 21 March 2014

Glasgow City Council

Glasgow City Council have just lost an important appeal at Scotland's highest civil court, the Court of Session.

In the Inner House Lords Brodie, Drummond and Philip this morning handed down a major decision affecting more than 2,500 Action 4 Equality Scotland clients with equal pay claims against Glasgow City Council. 

In April 2009 Glasgow City Council set up new bodies known as ALEOs (Arms’ Length External Organisations (ALEOs) and transferred female staff to these organisations such as Cordia (Services) LLP. 

The Council then argued that these female employees could no longer compare themselves to male comparators who remained in the employment of the Council - the plain purpose of the Council's strategy being to try and evade responsibility for equal pay claims. 

But the the Court has firmly rejected Glasgow's that the Council was not the ‘single source’ responsible for pay inequality - in plain language the Court has decided that ALEOs are effectively an extension of the Council and that Cordia employees, for example, can compare their pay to workers in other parts of Glasgow City Council.  

The ALEO claimants will now join the other A4ES clients in Glasgow (5,500 in total) and all of these cases will now proceed together to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Welcoming the decision Carol Fox of Fox and Partners Solicitors said:

“This sends out a very important message to public authorities that it is not acceptable to set up complicated organisational structures in order to escape equal pay liability. We call upon Glasgow City Council, the largest public authority in Scotland, to rethink their strategy and to finally address gender pay inequality in Glasgow"
Stefan Cross QC added on behalf of Action 4 Equality Scotland:

"We began this litigation back in 2005 and over the past 10 years we have witnessed Glasgow City Council enter into complicated and costly avoidance measures to escape their responsibilities to low paid women. 

"I hope the Council now sees sense and engages in settlement discussions. There is an outstanding appeal but all of these cases could be resolved now if all interested parties sat round the table and engaged in constructive discussions. The Council cannot win these cases. The great pity is that the litigation takes so long. Our focus is always upon the interests of our claimants and early settlement where possible."

And here's some background to the whole ALEO business which I've written about on the blog site many time before.

Glasgow's Top-Ups (30 January 2013)

Here's little walk through previous posts from the blog site - which explain the long-running scandal involving significant top-up payments to elected councillors in the city of Glasgow - for sitting on ALEOs (Arms Length External Organisations).

The practice has now been stopped, thankfully - but not because of any political leadership shown by the city council it has to be said.

No, the practice was stopped because the council's behaviour was exposed in the press - and because a critical report by an independent Scottish Government advisory body (SLARC) recommended that the payments be outlawed.

Recommendations which the Government's Finance Secretary - John Swinney - finally acted upon in June 2011.

Shameful behaviour from the city's 'socialist' Labour administration - if you ask me.

Toothless Tigers (8 October 2012)

As regular readers know, I have a very low opinion of Scotland's public spending watchdogs - the Accounts Commission and Audit Scotland.

As far as I can see they are just 'toothless tigers' - who are treated with disdain by COSLA (the 'voice' of Scottish local government) and individual councils - when it suits their purpose.

Over the weekend I read somewhere that the retired Auditor General - Bob Black - who threw his tuppence worth into the 'future of public spending debate in Scotland' recently - had been championing this cause for years.

Well if he has, then I have to say it's news to me - and I've taken a keen interest in these issues for a very long time.

So let me give you one example of outrageous public spending - which to my knowledge went completely unchallenged for years by Audit Scotland and the Accounts Commission - Top Up Payments to Councillors in Glasgow.

The story ran in the Sunday Herald over several months - in a series of excellent articles by Paul Hutcheon - who essentially pointed out that councillors in Glasgow were being paid twice for the same job - at a cost to the local taxpayer of over £260,000 a year.

So what did Audit Scotland or the Accounts Commission have to say on the matter over all this time - what did their annual inspections and teams of accountants throw up?

Nothing as far as I can recall - which doesn't sit to well with any claim that these two regulatory bodies speak up and speak their minds - loudly and clearly - when it comes to wasteful public spending.

Here are some previous posts from the blog site which explain what was going on - but suffice to say the whole disgraceful practice was brought to an end - though not through any action taken by Audit Scotland or the Accounts Commission.

I might also add that none of the local Labour MSPs spoke out against these payments at the time - including Johann Lamont, the Scottish Labour leader - whose partner/husband Archie Graham was, and still is, a senior Labour councillor in Glasgow.

Government Turns Off Glasgow Top Ups (4 June 2011)

The Herald reported yesterday that Finance Secretary - John Swinney - is putting an end to 'top up' payments enjoyed by many councillors in Glasgow.

True to his word during the Scottish election campaign - John Swinney is now putting a stop to the practice which has been widely condenmed - as a ridiculous waste of public money.

Here's what the Herald had to say:

Needless councillor cash 'to stop'

"Finance Secretary John Swinney said new regulations would end controversial payments to some city councillors.

Regulations to end a system which saw city councillors pocket an "unnecessary" quarter of a million pounds have been announced.

Finance Secretary John Swinney said the new rules will end payments to councillors who sit on bodies known as arms-length external organisations, after a Holyrood committee discovered that Glasgow councillors had claimed £260,000 between them.

The Scottish Local Authority Remuneration Committee (Slarc) found Glasgow to be the only council area in which significant payments of this kind were made.

The regulations come into force on July 1 subject to parliamentary approval, although councillors will still be allowed to claim for "associated expenses".

The move implements one of the recommendations of the Slarc report, published earlier this year.

Swinney said: "It can't be right that a limited number of councillors can receive additional payments to help deliver broadly the same services as delivered by their own councils. In effect, some councillors are being paid twice.

"The Slarc report highlighted that only Glasgow City Council had a policy to pay additional monies and confirmed that 40 councillors were sharing £260,000 in additional payments for serving with boards of arms-length bodies.

"I agree with Slarc that this completely undermines the principles of the existing councillor remuneration scheme, and that's why I have today laid regulations to stop the practice."

The SNP said its councillors on the Labour-controlled local authority sought to end the payments at a meeting of the city council but Labour and the Lib Dems blocked them.

Before the recent Holyrood election, Mr Swinney criticised the council for not ending the "unnecessary" payments voluntarily. He promised to take steps to end the payments himself if re-elected."

So that's £260,000 or so that can go towards something useful in Glasgow - instead of just lining the pockets of Labour councillors.

But what you've got to ask is this:

"Why did the Labour councillors in Glasgow not show some leadership and put an end these payments themselves - why did they wait for the newly elected Scottish government to put Glasgow's house in order?"

Glasgow Top Ups (12 February 2012)

I came across another post from the blog site - about the long-running scandal over Glasgow's 'top up' payments to local councillors.

How refreshing it is to see the good citizens of Glasgow - like Douglas Thomson - standing up and speaking out against this kind of hypocrisy.

The council's leaders and senior officials should be ashamed of the role they played in introducing these payments - and for wasting £260,000 of taxpayers money every year.

Yet no one has been held to account - so far at least.

Glasgow Top Ups (June 5th 2011)
The Herald ran an excellent letter the other day - from a Glasgow reader - who rightly condenmed the Labour-led City Council for its practice of 'topping up' the pay of councillors - who sit on 'arms length organisations'.

Regular readers will be familiar with this subject - which essentially involves Glasgow City Council paying its councillors twice for doing the same job - at a cost of @£260,000 to the public purse.

So well said Mr Thomson - whoever you are.

A welcome end is in sight to system of political patronage.

"You report moves by the Scottish Government to formally end the much-criticised system of local authorities rewarding councillors with additional payments for representing the council on the boards of arm’s-length external organisations, also known as Aleos (“Council double pay axed”, The Herald, June 2).

Such belated action can come as no surprise. That Glasgow City Council was singled out as the main culprit is equally unsurprising, given that Glasgow is the only council in Scotland with a formal policy to pay councillors additional remuneration for serving on Aleos. The Scottish Local Authorities Remuneration Committee (SLARC) had recommended in their report in March that such payments should be ended.

With the council leader, Gordon Matheson, taking no action over the matter, it shows how increasingly isolated the top team at City Chambers have become. The council will now be forced to end the system that many have identified as nothing other than reward for political patronage.

It will be of interest to see how many of the councillors currently serving in these posts will continue to do so without the supplementary payments. Without the additional financial incentive, the expectation must now be that councils throughout Scotland with Aleos will be obliged to ensure that only the most suitably qualified councillors are nominated for such roles and that such appointments are independently scrutinised. Such corporate governance backstops are already employed successfully in the private sector and for appointments made to Scottish Government agencies.

At the same time, the role of Aleos is likely to be examined in the forthcoming report from the Christie Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services. Aleos must either prove themselves to be a vital part of squeezing more from less in the tight spending environment we are currently entering, and if so be aggressively rolled out nationally. Or, be seen as nothing more than an example of local government excess at its worst.

More disturbingly for local democracy are the findings contained within the SLARC report that the average councillor is white, male and aged 54. Meanwhile, the Electoral Reform Society identified that in the 2007 local government elections, only 21.6% of councillors being elected were women. This outcome has shown little change in the progress of diversity in those representing local communities over the previous decade.

With the battle lines already drawn for the local elections next May, it is perhaps already too late to address this electoral imbalance, but it is clearly necessary for Holyrood to take note. After all, 22 of the new intake of MSPs came from the ranks of local councillors, which in itself is hardly a ringing endorsement of diversity within the Scottish Parliament.

Douglas A Thomson,


Glasgow Loses Big Appeal (30 January 2013)

Glasgow City Council has lost a big appeal case, I'm pleased to say - over whether or not thousands of council workers transferred to various arms length bodies (known as ALEOs) - can continue with their equal pay claims.

The good news is that they can - so hip, hip, hooray - for the 2,700 claimants from Action 4 Equality Scotland who are affected by this decision!

Last year Glasgow City Council managed to persuade an Employment Tribunal that these ALEOs were not an 'associated employer' - in employment law terms.

The significance of which was that these ALEO workers effectively lost their ability to continue with an equal pay claim - once they had been 'TUPE transferred' to one of the new Arms Length External Organisations (ALEOs for short).

Now that always looked like a crazy decision - since the council controlled all of these bodies and even paid some of its councillors extra 'top-up' payments for overseeing the ALEOs - which to many people, myself included, seemed like money for old rope.

My view has always been that Glasgow created these ALEOs in a cynical attempt to evade their responsibilities over equal pay.

Because the council calculated - wrongly as it now turns out - that by putting many of its low paid women workers into a separate, artificially created box (Cordia) - that the women would no longer be employed alongside higher paid male workers who were  comparators for equal pay purposes.

Since the men - according to this train of thought - were all placed in their own ALEO  (City Building) which was not the same or even an associated employer - so the was 'off the hook' as far as future equal pay claims were concerned.

All I would say is that whoever dreamt up this despicable plan - should be sacked forthwith by Glasgow's ruling 'socialist' Labour administration - that is if they have not already departed the scene with an generously enhanced tax-free lump and final salary pension.     
The Action 4 Equality Scotland clients were represented by Fox and Partners Solicitors - and Daphne Romney a leading QC who also represented A4ES during the successful GMF hearing against Glasgow City Council back in 2007.

Action 4 Equality Scotland now represents 5,500 clients in the ongoing equal pay claims against Glasgow City Council - whereas the trade unions represent only penny numbers.

As regular readers will recall, the unions in Glasgow kept their members in the dark about the huge pay differences between traditional male and female council jobs - and originally sided with the council when these big pay differences were exposed by A4ES in 2005.

So the trade unions have a credibility problem because of their behaviour in Glasgow  which remains to this day - since the trade unions Glasgow also failed to put up any serious resistance over the creation of ALEOs either.

The case against Glasgow City Council reconvenes in the Glasgow Employment Tribunal on 4 February 2013.

So watch this space for news.