Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Glasgow - So Many vs So Few



One of the few surprising lines in Nicola Sturgeon's speech to the SNP's annual conference was her reference to the British 'bulldog spirit' and famous words of the country's wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, whom Nicola paraphrased as follows:

"It brings to mind those immortal Churchill words about the sacrifices of the RAF in World War 2 –"

“Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”


So let me have a go at putting these words into context, in terms of the fight for equal pay in Glasgow, and the role played by the city council's senior officials:

Never in the history of Scottish local government, have the interests of so many been betrayed, by the poor judgment and incompetence of so few.

  

Glasgow - Advice and Accountability (25/10/18)



Here's the first instalment in what is likely to become a series of posts explaining why I believe it is perfectly fair for Annemarie O'Donnell, Glasgow City Council's chief executive, to be be asked to resign her post.

First and foremost is the question of accountability and the fact that very senior, highly paid officials ought to be held responsible for their professional advice - because that's why they are paid such big salaries in the first place.

Now the fact of the matter is that Annemarie has been defending the Council's WPBR pay arrangements for many years and as chief executive she was directly responsible for the Council's legal strategy in the build up to the Court of Session hearing in 2017 - which resulted in three senior judges deciding unanimously that the WPBR was (and is) 'unfit for purpose'.

The political leadership of the Council, at the time, could have challenged and tried to overturn the chief executive's strategy, but they would in all likelihood have faced the threat of 'surcharge' for going against the strong legal advice of their own senior officials.

So the Labour leadership played safe and backed the chief executive's position since the threat of surcharge meant they could potentially be held personally and financially responsible, if the things went badly wrong and blew up in the Council's face.

Yet that's exactly what happened anyway - the City Council 'bet the house' on winning at the Court of Session but lost in a devastating, landmark judgment which condemned Glasgow's WPBR pay scheme as 'unfit for purpose'.

By this time (August 2017) the City Council was under new political leadership in the shape of a newly elected  SNP administration who were visibly keen on a negotiated settlement.

However, instead of facing reality and admitting that she had got things terribly wrong, the chief executive's advice was to fight on and seek 'leave to appeal' the Court of Session's decision - to the UK Supreme Court in London.

I presume the political leaders of the Council were again warned about the possible risks of surcharge, if they 'ignored' their own legal advice and tried to enter into settlement talks while another appeal was pending in the Court of Session, Scotland's highest civil court.

Predictably, in December 2017 Glasgow lost its 'leave to appeal' case in another unanimous judgement at the Court of Session before elected Councillors finally exerted their authority, on a cross party basis, and squashed the attempts of senior officials to continue with their plan of a further direct appeal to the UK Supreme Court. 

Against this background I think it is reasonable to criticise the chief executive's advice and judgment because she has been backing the wrong horse for years and even now defends the role of senior officials who oversaw the introduction of the WPBR in 2007 by claiming that they acted in 'good faith'.  

For the life of me, I can't see how someone who comes from a legal background and who is paid such a high salary (more than the First Minister and Prime Minister) can't see that the WPBR's notorious 37 hour rule blatantly discriminates against the City Council's largely female workforce. 

Which is why I believe that the chief executive has zero credibility with Glasgow's 12,000+ equal pay claimants -  because the lowest paid workers within the Council were badly let down by the very people who were supposed to be looking out for and protecting their interests.

So while Annemarie has enjoyed a long and lucrative local government career, she will probably be best remembered for defending so stoutly, and for so long, Glasgow City Council's indefensible pay arrangements.

More to follow - next up is Annemarie's role in the great Cordia debacle.