Saturday, 31 October 2015

Question for Jeremy

Jeremy Corbyn appears to be persisting with his tactic of asking questions at Prime Minister's Question Time (PMQs) which are sent to him by 'ordinary' voters.

So I thought I'd draw one from a typical reader of the blog site in Lanarkshire.

Jeremy Corbyn:

"Prime Minister, I received a email from Margaret in Lanarkshire who says that poor advice led to her trade union making a complete horse's arse of her equal pay claim, resulting in the loss of thousands of pounds which she can ill afford as a low paid worker in Labour-run council".

"Do you think that Margaret should be able to complain about the handling of her claim to an independent referee with the power to make her financially whole again, by imposing a fine on her trade union, if necessary?"

David Cameron:

"Well, Jeremy, that's the most sensible thing I've heard from the opposition benches in a long time and I think the vast majority of union members would agree that this would be sensible and fair, brining trade unions into line with other areas of public life."

"So, I'll have my officials consider the suggestion and we'll come back to the House with proposals for taking the matter forward, on a cross-party basis."

"In the meantime, I'm sure we all feel badly for Margaret in Lanarkshire but what I don't understand is why Margaret's trade union hasn't apologised and offer to compensate her and anyone else affected in the same way."

Let's see what happens. 

Empty Words

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Jeremy Corbyn is up in Scotland for the Scottish Labour Party conference and yesterday delivered his first 'leader's speech' which I found dull and boring because it was full of vacuous words like these:

"To me, socialism is simple. It’s about everyone caring for everyone else.

"This is a kinder, more caring politics … we don’t compete, we co-operate.

"But it is a politics fired by our passion for fighting injustice, in our belief that an injury to one is an injury to all … the concept of solidarity."

Now I don't remember Jeremy, or the kind of people who share his politics, having anything of significance to say during the fight for equalpauy that has been raging in Scotland over the past 10 years.

In fact, some of the worst offenders have been the big Labour councils who presided over pay arrangements that discriminated against female dominated jobs: carers, classroom assistants, cleaners, clerical and catering workers.

Not only that, of course, because the Labour-supporting trade unions were often in cahoots with the employers and in some cases actively discouraged their members from pursuing claims for equal pay.

Socialist, my arse.   

North Lanarkshire Update

I was contacted by a GMB member a little while back who is now retired, but worked previously for many years with North Lanarkshire Council.  

The chap had just returned from holiday to find a letter from Digby Brown (the GMB's solicitors until recently) which said that they (i.e. DB) had been informed by the GMB that his union membership had lapsed, as he was no longer paying membership fees via his council wages.

As a result, having retired in 2012 this long standing member was told 
that the GMB would only continue with his equal pay claim against North Lanarkshire Council if he agreed to pay £441.05 in union membership arrears.

Now I said at t he time that I thought the GMB's behaviour was completely outrageous, a modern-day version of highway robbery.

Not least the union could easily have regarded the chap as a 'retired' member which would have allowed the GMB to continue representing his interests without demanding any further payment of union fees.

So I'm pleased to report that having stood up for himself and complained vigorously the GMB has now backed down and dropped its ridiculous demands.

Which is a small victory for common sense even though the union has, of course, made a terrible mess of handling its members equal pay claims against North Lanarkshire Council. 

Glasgow Kiss

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The BBC reports that a transgender woman, Tara Hudson, has lost her appeal to be sent to an all-male prison.

Now the Beeb doesn't go into detail about the 'headbutt' and the assault on a barista which left the chap's teeth damaged, but with incredibly violent behaviour like that I doubt Tara has much to worry about being banged up in an all-male male prison for 12 weeks.

That said, it seems like the prison service has had second thoughts and has now agreed to move Tara to a women's prison after all, but what a waste of public money.

Transgender woman Tara Hudson loses all-male prison appeal

BBC Somerset

Image copyright - Tara Hudson Image caption - Tara Hudson was sent to an all male prison after admitting assault

A transgender woman who was sent to a men's prison has lost an appeal against her sentence.

Tara Hudson, 26, from Bath, was jailed and placed at HMP Bristol for 12 weeks after admitting assault.

Her case prompted a campaign, backed by thousands of supporters, to get her moved.

During an appeal hearing at Bristol Crown Court, the judge asked for consideration to be made about where she serves her sentence.

More than 140,000 people have signed petitions calling for her to be moved, with supporters claiming she has been placed in danger of sexual violence.

Hudson has had reconstructive surgery and lived as a woman all her adult life but is still legally a man.

Last Friday, she was jailed after admitting headbutting a barman in Bath, causing damage to his teeth.

Previously, the Prison Service said it was a longstanding policy to place offenders according to their legally recognised gender

What a Coward!

Harry Clarke arrives at court

The Glasgow bin lorry driver whose collapse at the wheel of his vehicle caused the deaths of six people has resigned, rather than face a disciplinary hearing where he would have been asked to explain his failure to report his dangerous driving history.

What a coward!

Glasgow bin lorry crash: Driver resigns from council job

The driver of a bin lorry which crashed in Glasgow, killing six people, has resigned from his council job.

Harry Clarke, 58, was due to attend a disciplinary hearing on Friday but the council received his resignation letter earlier in the day.

The hearing was called after it emerged at the inquiry into the crash that Mr Clarke failed to tell his employers and the DVLA of his history of blackouts.

He was unconscious when the lorry went out of control on 22 December 2014.

Erin McQuade and Jack and Lorraine Sweeney, from Dumbarton, West Dunbartonshire, Stephenie Tait, 29, and Jacqueline Morton, 51, both from Glasgow, and Gillian Ewing, 52, from Edinburgh, were killed when the lorry veered out of control during a routine rubbish collection in Glasgow city centre.

Image caption (Clockwise from top left) - Jack Sweeney, Lorraine Sweeney, Erin McQuade, Jacqueline Morton, Stephenie Tait and Gillian Ewing were killed in the crash

The fatal accident inquiry (FAI) into the crash was adjourned at Glasgow Sheriff Court on 28 August by Sheriff John Beckett who is due to report his findings next year.

The inquiry heard that Mr Clarke was unconscious at the wheel when the Glasgow City Council bin lorry veered out of control in Queen Street.

Before it crashed into the side of the Millennium Hotel in George Square, the lorry had killed six people and injured 15 others.

The FAI heard that Mr Clarke had suffered blackouts before - one of which was at the wheel of a bus in 2010.

He did not fully disclose this incident to his own doctors, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) or on application forms or medical declarations for council jobs.

The council is understood to have initiated disciplinary proceedings against Mr Clarke after it emerged at the inquiry that he had not fully disclosed his health issues.

The 58-year-old resigned before the hearing was due to take place on Friday.

Bin Lorry Driver (06/10/15)

The news media was awash yesterday with reports on the arrest of the Glasgow bin lorry crash driver, Harry Clarke, who is accused of driving a car while banned. 

Presumably, if this allegation is true then he must also have been driving while uninsured which is another selfish and irresponsible act.

Says a lot about the character of a man who was given the benefit of every doubt at the time of the accident, especially on social media.

Yet the families of those killed and injured must feel completely let down by Scotland's justice system.

Worst of Both Worlds (21/08/15)

The BBC reports that a former senior prosecutor, Brian McConnachie QC, has added his voice to the criticism of COPFS for ruling out any possibility, months ago, of bringing charges against the driver in the Glasgow 'bin lorry' crash.

The most obvious point to have emerged from all the evidence given to the Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI), so far, is that the driver (Harry Clarke) was not fit be be behind the wheel and while the driver did not set out to harm anyone that day, his behaviour in concealing his medical history from Glasgow City Council was a threat to public safety.  

Glasgow City Council can also be criticised for failing to follow up Harry Clarke's references and had they done so rigorously, it seems highly unlikely that the driver would ever have been employed, in a driving job at least.  

We now have the worst of both worlds in the sense that criminal charges have been ruled out by COPFS, albeit wrongly in my view, while the FAI descends into farce with the driver refusing to answer questions that may incriminate him in the unlikely event of a private prosecution going ahead.

Glasgow bin lorry: Former prosecutor says driver should have been charged

By Reevel Alderson - BBC Scotland
Harry Clarke has been advised not to answer many questions so as not to incriminate himself ahead of any future private prosecution

A former senior prosecutor has strongly criticised the decision not to charge the driver at the centre of the Glasgow bin lorry tragedy.

Brian McConnachie QC said there was sufficient evidence to prosecute Harry Clarke.

He said the Crown Office had "jumped the gun" in not pressing charges.

Mr Clarke has begun giving evidence at a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) - but declined to answer many questions for fear of incriminating himself.

Lawyers for the family of one of the six victims of tragedy have applied to the High Court for permission to bring a private prosecution against Mr Clarke.

If it went ahead, anything Mr Clarke said in the FAI could be used against him in a subsequent trial.

An attempt by his QC to have the FAI adjourned while legal moves surrounding the possible private prosecution were considered has been rejected by the sheriff.

The Crown Office said two months after the December 2014 incident that no charges would be brought against Mr Clarke or his employers, Glasgow City Council. 

Brian McConnachie QC is a former senior prosecutor at the Crown Office

The inquiry has heard allegations Mr Clarke lied about his medical history to doctors, the DVLA and his employer

Speaking to BBC Scotland, Mr McConnachie, who was principal advocate-depute (prosecutor) in the Crown Office from 2006-2009, said that the decision now appeared wrong.

He said: "On the basis of what we have heard from the inquiry, it does seem to be the case that they have very much jumped the gun in making the decision not to prosecute the driver.

"I don't know whether they felt there was some urgency because of the circumstances of the tragedy that happened that caused them to take that decision so quickly.

"But with hindsight, I would be very surprised if they are not now thinking that it was not perhaps their best idea."

Mr McConnachie said on the evidence heard at the FAI there was a prima facie case to have charged Mr Clarke with causing death by dangerous driving or the lesser charge of causing death by careless driving.

But he admitted that when they took their decision, it was unlikely that Crown counsel considered the possibility of a private prosecution - a device only used twice since 1909. 

(Clockwise from top left) Jack Sweeney, Lorraine Sweeney, Erin McQuade, Jacqueline Morton, Stephenie Tait and Gillian Ewing were killed in the crash

The prospect of such an action has meant the FAI is likely to conclude without the sheriff and the bereaved families having heard any significant evidence from Mr Clarke, the man at the centre of the tragedy.

Mr McConnachie said this could have been avoided by prosecuting him, and letting a jury decide if he was guilty of any charge, and then holding an FAI afterwards.

The Crown Office said its position had always been that it was aware of evidence that would be led at the inquiry. It added that the relevant information had been taken into account regarding a decision not to prosecute.

A spokesman said: "It is clear on the evidence at the time that the driver lost control of the bin lorry, resulting in the tragic deaths, he was unconscious and therefore not in control of his actions.

"He did not therefore have the necessary criminal state of mind required for a criminal prosecution.

"In addition, the Crown could not prove that it was foreseeable to the driver that driving on that day would result in a loss of consciousness.

"This still remains the case and all the relevant evidence regarding these points was known to Crown Counsel at the time the decision to take no proceedings was made."

Dizzy for Decades (02/08/15)

The BBC reports that the driver of the Glasgow bin lorry which killed six people had been suffering from spells of dizziness and fainting for decades before being behind the wheel on the day of this fatal accident.

Now it's impossible not to feel a degree of sympathy for Harry Clarke because he will have to live with the consequences of what happened for the rest of his life, but nonetheless the fact remains that he lied to his new employer, Glasgow City Council, when applying for the job as a driver.

Not only that Glasgow City Council then failed to check his employment and medical history properly and, arguably, Scotland's largest council failed in its duty of care towards the public.

Yet another Scottish council fails to produce crucial documents which clearly should have been kept on a secure database - a scenario that people fighting for equal pay will be all too familiar with, sadly.

To make matters worse the Crown Prosecution Service (a useless organisation in my view - based on my personal experience) announces that the CPS has already decided that there will be no criminal prosecutions because senior lawyers deem the incident to be a 'tragic accident'. 

Which is true, of course,but only in the sense that Harry Clarke did not deliberately drive his huge bin lorry into the people who lost their lives; in legal parlance he lacked the 'mens rea' or intent necessary to be charged with a crime.

Yet the truth is that he was behind the wheel of a potentially deadly vehicle only by misrepresenting his medical history which means, sadly, that Harry has to be culpable if you ask me. 

Because people who drive while completely drunk, for example, do not set out to cause fatal accidents intentionally although that does not excuse such behaviour under the criminal law in Scotland, or elsewhere.

So as much as it pains me to say so, Glasgow does not come out of the whole sorry business terribly well.

Glasgow bin lorry crash driver had 'dizziness for decades'

BBC - Glasgow & West Scotland

Harry Clarke blacked out at the wheel of the bin lorry which crashed in Glasgow killing six people

The Glasgow bin lorry inquiry into the deaths of six people has heard the driver Harry Clarke suffered episodes of dizziness and fainting for decades.

Mr Clarke, 58, was unconscious when the bin lorry veered out of control and hit pedestrians on 22 December 2014.

The inquiry has now heard he reported bouts of dizziness in 1976, fainted at work while a lorry driver in 1989 and suffered dizziness for months in 1994.

His own GP was unaware he allegedly fainted at the wheel of a bus in 2010.

The Crown Office has already concluded that there will be no criminal prosecution over the crash, with senior lawyers deeming it a "tragic accident".

In a statement on Friday, the prosecution service said Mr Clarke was unconscious when the bin lorry veered out of control in Glasgow city centre "and therefore not in control of his actions".

The Crown Office statement said Mr Clarke did not "have the necessary criminal state of mind required for a criminal prosecution".

It also said that all the relevant evidence was known to the Crown counsel at the time the decision to take no proceedings was made.

The eighth day of the Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI), which is being overseen by Sheriff John Beckett QC at Glasgow Sheriff Court, has been hearing more details of Mr Clarke's medical history.

Not disclosed

The inquiry has previously heard that he allegedly suffered a blackout at the wheel of a First Bus vehicle on 7 April 2010 and that this information was not disclosed by Mr Clarke when he joined Glasgow City Council in 2011.

During cross-examination of Glasgow City Council human resources manager Geraldine Ham, it emerged that Mr Clarke's own GP was unaware that he allegedly passed out at the wheel of a bus.

Dorothy Bain QC, who is representing the bereaved Morton family, produced records of Mr Clarke's appointment with Dr Gerard McKaig at Baillieston Health Centre.

These stated that Mr Clarke told his GP he had lost consciousness at the First Bus depot canteen. They make no mention of fainting at the wheel of a bus.

Six people were killed and 15 others injured when the council bin lorry crashed in the centre of Glasgow

Mr Clarke is reported as saying that he was in a hot environment in the canteen and that he felt slightly disorientated for a short period and was then fine. There were no warning signs.

The medical notes said that paramedics attended and Mr Clarke was advised the incident was "vasovagal" - a heart-related condition that can cause fainting.

Ms Bain also brought forward medical information which stated that Mr Clarke reported episodes of dizziness in 1976.

His records show a vasovagal (fainting) attack in 1989 at work, when he was employed by Tennent Caledonian Breweries as a lorry driver.

Recurring dizziness

In 1987, when he was working as a bus driver, he sought a medical note because of a nervous condition.

In 1994 he reported recurring dizziness over an 18-month period to his GP.

The FAI heard that he was told not to drive in 2003 as he was complaining of dizziness. It is understood that he was working as an oil tanker driver at this time.

The medical notes also show that he was off work with stress in November 2009. 

(Clockwise from top left) Jack Sweeney, Lorraine Sweeney, Erin McQuade, Jacqueline Morton, Stephenie Tait and Gillian Ewing were killed in the crash

Ms Ham told the inquiry that the council was unaware of any of this medical history.

Ms Bain put it to Ms Ham: "On analysis, the bond of trust between the council and Mr Clarke is non-existent. He should never have been employed by council."

Ms Ham agrees that Mr Clarke would never have been employed by the council if he had told the truth about his medical history on his application form and medical declarations.

The witness also agreed with Ms Bain's assertion that six people would not have died and no-one would be at the inquiry if Mr Clarke had told the truth. 

References 'satisfactory'

Earlier, the FAI heard that Mr Clarke was suspended from his previous employer, First Bus, in December 2010 and started work with Glasgow City Council on 5 January 2011.

Mr Clarke's First Bus employee exit form stated that there were no issues with his attendance, performance or conduct and he was suitable for re-engagement with the company.

The inquiry was also told that the council could not locate any references from Mr Clarke's previous employers on his personnel file but an email was located stating that the authority was "satisfied" with the references given.

The FAI heard that Mr Clarke had filled out a medical questionnaire as part of his application to the council, but this could not be found either.

In a health assessment for the council in 2010 he declared one period of sickness, totalling seven days, in the previous two years.

The court heard that his First Bus employment record showed a total of 33 days absence in the previous two years.

Ms Ham told the inquiry that withholding relevant information could have led to a job offer being withdrawn.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Second Class Women?

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I've often wondered why Old Labour types attach so much more importance to 'going the extra mile' for traditional male jobs when the problems facing women at work are every bit as harsh and difficult to overcome.

Take this article by Kevin McKenna in The Observer, for example, in which he argues that 270 potential job losses in the Scottish steel industry (concentrated in Lanarkshire) should be put on a par with previous national disasters caused by foot and mouth disease and by the great British banking collapse which nearly crashed the UK economy.

Now I have every sympathy for the predicament of the steelworkers and their industry which is trying to cope with stiff competition from around the world and a dramatic fall in the price of steel; conditions not unlike those facing Scotland's oil industry.  

But just the other day North Lanarkshire received news of even more potential jobs losses - 1,100 jobs done predominantly by low paid women council workers who face the chop because the Council's bosses have mismanaged its affairs for years, the long fight for equal pay and a controversial bonus scheme for chief officials being just two obvious examples.

Yet I've not noticed any angry comment columns form Kevin McKenna, calling for heads to roll and the Council's Labour leadership to resign.

Which is odd because North Lanarkshire's budget almost doubled in the 10 year period between 1997 and 2007, so where has all the money gone and how has the Council dug itself into a big financial hole that now requires £45 million worth of budget savings to just balance the spending books?

I read another comment piece by Kevin recently in which he bemoaned the existence of laws on taking strike action which go back to the early 1980s and, according to Kevin, are preventing the trade unions from defending their members.

Yet I can't remember a single strike over equal pay in the past 10 years, in Lanarkshire or anywhere else for that matter, despite the fact that tens of thousands of low paid women council workers were being 'cheated' out of thousands of pounds every year.

Now this kind of behaviour rates highly on my own personal 'scandalometer', but it seems to have passed Kevin by even though he has plenty to say about the challenges facing the UK's manufacturing industry which I wrote about years ago in a comment piece for the New Statesman titled 'Govan No More'.

I'll re-post Govan No More on the blog site, but in the meantime have a read at what Kevin has to say about the steelworkers and contrast that with his 'Trappist monk-like' stance on the problems facing low paid women workers in Scottish councils, many of them run by Old Labour types who can't see the wood for the trees.

One law for steelworkers. Another for farmers

By Kevin McKenna

The government needs to be as generous with the steel industry as it was with banks and farmers 

The Tata steelworks In Lanarkshire. Photograph: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images