Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Cutting the Cost of Politics

The Times has an interesting report today on another aspect of MPs expenses - their £10,040 a year 'communications allowance' - which has come in for scathing cross-party criticism.

Here's a brief summary of the article which can be read on-line at: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/

"MPs have forced a U-turn over plans to shut their publicly funded websites and abolish their £10,040-a-year communications allowance.

Last month Harriet Harman told the Commons that from the new year the allowance, a fund for sitting MPs to publicise their constituency work through leaflets and websites, would be scrapped.
Limits on spending by political parties come into force on January 1, until the general election. Public money for political purposes is more tightly controlled during this period.

“The proposal is that the use of the communications allowance should end on December 31, after which the new election expenses limits will come into force,” Ms Harman, the Leader of the House, said.

The allowance has been criticised for giving sitting MPs an unfair advantage over challengers of other parties. Tony Wright, Labour chairman of the Public Administration Committee, has called it “wretched”, and Sir Christopher Kelly, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said it was used only for self-promotion.

In May David Cameron said at Prime Minister’s Questions: “Let us be honest: taxpayers are effectively paying out thousands of pounds so we can all tell our constituents what a wonderful job we are all doing. We have all done it; we all know the facts. Is not this a gigantic waste of money?”

But MPs were furious that the allowance was to go and protested to party whips and Ms Harman’s office. “MPs were spitting that this allowance was to be removed. They have been fighting tooth and claw to keep every bit of it that they could,” said a source close to the negotiations.

Now Ms Harman appears to have bowed to pressure from MPs."

Having visited more than a few of these web sites - it is hard to disagree with the view that they are a complete waste of millions of pounds of public money.

Fife Council - GMF Hearing

A GMF hearing has now been set for Fife Council - and will take place in February and March 2010.

The exact dates and other arrangements will be publicised on the blog site early in the New Year - so watch this space for further news.

Meanwhile Fife Council has been invited to consider its position - having tried unsuccessfully to have the GMF hearing postponed.

A negotiated settlement of the outstanding claims is still possible - but only if Fife Council is prepared to put forward revised and more realistic settlement proposals.

If that does not happen - the GMF hearing will proceed as planned.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Here Comes Santa Claus

Yet another government minister has come untusck as a result of the MPs' expenses scandal - this time the junior culture minister, Sion Simon.

Over the festive period, The Daily Telegraph reported that Mr Simon secretly paid more than £40,000 in taxpayer-funded expenses to his sister. Here are some extracts from the article which can be read on-line at: www.telegraph.co.uk

Mr Simon told parliamentary officials that a rented north London property was his “second home” for expenses purposes - but it was owned by the his sister, Ceri Erskine, a management consultant.

MPs have been explicitly banned since April 2006 from renting properties from family members at taxpayers’ expense and the practice is considered to have been unacceptable since 2004. However, Mr Simon continued to make improper claims of £1,000 a month until 2008.

After being confronted by The Daily Telegraph, Mr Simon claimed that he had inadvertently broken the rules and agreed to repay £21,000, one of the biggest repayments made by a minister during the expenses scandal. He apologised “unreservedly”.

His admission cast doubt on the rigour of Sir Thomas Legg’s audit of expense claims made by every MP since 2004. Sir Thomas was understood to have failed to uncover Mr Simon’s questionable claims.

It will also be embarrassing for Gordon Brown because Downing Street thought that the worst abuses of the expenses system by Labour MPs had been identified already.

Between 2004 and 2008, Mr Simon claimed £81,000 in allowances for the flat, including £44,000 in rent and another £37,000 to pay for household bills and food. Overlooking Regent’s Park, the property is in one of London’s most expensive areas.

In contrast, Mr Simon’s “main home”, which he funds, is a modest £135,000 terrace house in his Birmingham constituency.

Mortgage interest payments on the house are likely to have been substantially less than his rent claims. From April 2004, Mr Simon claimed £1,000 a month in rent for his sister’s London flat. She lives with her husband in Hampshire.

He also claimed £150 a month for cleaning, £100 a month for council tax, £50 a month for telephone bills and the maximum £400 a month for groceries, as well as up to £250 a month for other utility bills.

Most MPs submitted copies of mortgage or rent agreements and invoices to support their claims. But Mr Simon’s expenses files suggest he did not submit a single receipt for any living cost at the flat after April 2004, when records began.

Mr Simon is expected to face calls to repay more than the £21,000 he agreed to hand back last night.

Sir Thomas has demanded that other MPs repay money that they paid to family members since 2004. Bernard Jenkin, a Conservative backbencher, was told to repay £63,000 because he rented his Essex constituency home from his sister-in-law, despite insisting that he had special permission to continue doing so.

Mr Simon, 40, a former journalist and Labour Party official, was elected in 2001. He was made a junior higher education minister by Mr Brown in October 2008 and moved to the Culture Department as creative industries minister in June.

Mr Simon moved into his sister’s flat after separating from his wife, Elizabeth, in 2003. He had previously lived with her and their three children in a house in Camden. Last year, he moved out of his sister’s flat and bought a flat in Camden for £325,000 and designated this as his “second home”. This allowed him to claim £5,400 towards its stamp duty bill and thousands of pounds to renovate and furnish the property.

The MP’s latest file shows that as recently as May 28, Mr Simon was contesting a challenge to his latest £695 maintenance works claim.

Earlier this year he also attempted to claim a £25-a-night subsistence allowance 16 times for a 13-night period, before being corrected.

Mr Simon said yesterday that the payment of rent to his sister was the subject of a “formal written agreement” with the Commons in 2003 and the level of rent was set according to “independent advice”. “Until today, I had no notion that the rules had changed in April 2006 to exclude the rental of property from family members,” he said.

“At all times I have acted wholly transparently and in good faith.” He insisted that his other claims were “validly incurred”.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Season's Greetings!

A very Merry Christmas to all of our readers at Action 4 Equality Scotland - and all very the best to you and yours for 2010!

We will be taking a few days off - along with most other people at this festive time of the year.

But if you have any urgent queries or problems - or any useful information to pass on - please drop Mark Irvine a note at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Normal service will be resumed in the New Year.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

South Lanarkshire - Union Advice

A reader from South Lanarkshire has been in touch - regarding new advice on equal pay from the trade unions.

Apparently, the unions are having second thoughts about their advice to members.

Up till now the unions in South Lanarkshire have advised members not to pursue equal pay claims to the Employment Tribunals - and, so far, the unions have not brought a single case.

The logic of the unions position is not entirely clear - but what is clear is that this is a very risky strategy.

Because if the unions end up making the wrong call - which they have on other issues, of course - it's ordinary members who will lose out, big time.

And that's making the trade unions very nervous.

Because the unions could end up being sued by their own members in South Lanarkshire - if the advice they've given proves to be negligent.

Hence, the reports about the unions suddenly changing their tune - and going back on their previous advice.

If you have any useful information to pass on, drop Mark Irvine a note at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Management Meetings

A relatively small number of readers from North Lanarkshire Council have been in touch - over meetings they have been asked to attend with local managers - to 'discuss' their equal pay claims.

Apparently, these meetings are being arranged at short notice - and the purpose of the meeting is not being made clear in advance - which is all rather odd.

Whilst people may understandably be a bit unnerved at such goings on - there's no need to get upset or worried.

If you are asked to attend such a meeting - by all means go along.

You are, of course, not obliged to say anything - so just listen politely.

Most importantly - don't agree to or sign anything - without taking proper advice.

Might also be wise to make a brief note of who is present and what is said - and keep this safe for future reference, if necessary.

If you are anxious at all about these meetings, drop Mark Irvine a note at:


Monday, 21 December 2009

Lording It Up

Yesterday's Scotland on Sunday shone a light on the expenses claimed by our politicians - this time on the House of Lords. Read the full article on-line at: www.scotsman.com - but here's a brief summary of what the newspaper had to say:

"Lord Foulkes, the only MSP who is also a peer, has been criticised for claiming almost £44,000 in House of Lords expenses in 2008-9.

Foulkes, Labour MSP for the Lothians, claimed an average of £635 for each of the 69 days that he attended the Lords in the most recent financial year. According to figures recently released by the Westminster authorities, he claimed:

£17,823 in overnight subsistence
£5,684 in day subsistence
£9,052 in office costs
£69 for postage
£11,249 in travel expenses.

The expenses are in addition to the £55,000 salary he draws for being a list MSP.

Under the Holyrood expenses system, he claimed £3,656 – making him one of the lowest claimants at the Scottish Parliament.

Foulkes has long argued politicians should be well rewarded and once said that an MP's salary of £64,000 was "ridiculously low".

When defending politicians' pay, he famously got the BBC news presenter Carrie Gracie to disclose she earned £92,000.

He has also been criticised for attempting to do two jobs at the same time.

But Foulkes defended his expenses claim, pointing out that he did important work on the Lords' Intelligence and Security Committee.

The Lords expenses were published this month and also revealed that Lord Watson of Invergowrie, who was convicted of fire-raising, claimed more than £44,000.

Watson was drunk when he set fire to curtains in Prestonfield House in 2004 and claimed he had no memory of the incident. The damage cost £4,500 to repair. He was unavailable for comment."

Now these claims must be within the rules - but why do they cost so much?

Lord Foulkes spent 69 days at the House of Lords last year - at a cost to the tax payer of £17,823 or £258 per night - plus another £5,684 or £82 per day in daily subsistence.

£82 a day in expenses - in your hand - is more than most council employees earn for a full day's work.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Still Crazy After All These Years

A question readers frequently ask is: "Why are the employers able to treat the trade unions with such disdain.

The answer is that from time to time - but far too often - the unions give the impression that the lunatics have taken over the asylum - that there are no union leaders prepared to take responsibility - and call a spade a spade.

Take the recent debacle over this year's the union pay claim for Scottish council workers - they are demanding a 3% increase - at a time when the country, economically speaking, is on its knees.

The employers response was strangely muted - unsure whether to laugh or cry.

The logic of the union 3% pay demand is that they rejected a three-year pay offer recently - the third year of which (if they had accepted it at the time) would have delivered a 2.5% rise.

But they didn't - they miscalculated on which way inflation and the economy would head - so now they're asking for even more: 3%.

At times like this, you can see why the employers look at the unions in complete bafflement at times - as if to ask: "Which planet are you living on?"

Other groups of workers did accept longer-term pay deals - when they were on offer - but they made the right call at the right time.

Imagine the fury of the unions if the employers tried to revisit these pay agreements - made in good faith - because it's akin to changing the rules once the game is over - and in reality just a bad case of sour grapes.

So, the unions are on a hiding to nothing - all this 3% business is just a smokescreen to cover up for their poor judgment previously - a bit of ritual chest-beating to impress the more gullible members.

Yet, it's ordinary members who pay the price - when union leaders make the wrong call - just look at their track record over single status and equal pay.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Feeding the MPs' Expenses Monster

The government tells us that MPs' expenses are being reformed - on a root and branch basis - a new 'improved' system will ensure there are no more dodgy claims - or so we're told.

But the latest reports from the Daily Telegraph suggest that many MPs are exploiting a loophole in the system - which allows them to claim thousands of pounds in expenses - without the need to produce receipts.

The House of Commons is not demanding proof of purchases for items costing less than £25 - so what' s happened is that MPs have started submitting claims for household goods and bills - for £24 or just under that amount.

MPs are resourceful lot, you have to admit - especially when it comes to claiming their expenses.

Many MPs submitted several claims each month for miscellaneous items valued between £20 and £25, which have been automatically paid - because the parliamentary fees office did not have the power to ask to see receipts.

Records just released by Parliament also show that an attempt to reduce claims for food has failed, with MPs regularly claiming up to £400 a month for meals — the same amount they were allowed under the old system.

Among those who submitted unreceipted claims for just under £25 was Kali Mountford, the Labour MP for Colne Valley. She claimed exactly £25 for phone bills, cleaning, service/maintenance and repairs, but in June 2008 the fees office refused to pay, saying she had to submit documentation to back up each claim.

The following month she claimed £23 for her phone and £24 each for utilities, cleaning, service and repairs - all of which were all paid.

Sir George Young, the shadow leader of the House, submitted a claim for £25 for cleaning. When he was told he would need a receipt, he replied, “I will forgo cleaning for May” — then started claiming £20 per month.

Meanwhile, a decision to replace a £400 monthly food allowance with a £25 per night subsistence allowance appears to have backfired.

The Labour MP Ann Clwyd claimed £400 for food in April, only to be told she must claim £25 subsistence for each night she had spent away from her main home. She sent in a “revised” claim for 16 nights, which totalled £400, and which was paid.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

McAvoy Judgment

A number of readers have been in touch about the McAvoy judgment - so here is the post from 25 June 2009 explaining the significance of this case.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Good News for Male Claimants

Good news from the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) – a recent landmark case has upheld the rights of male workers to bring ‘piggyback’ equal pay claims.

So the stance taken by Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross has been completely vindicated – and significantly the trade unions were not even involved in this hugely important EAT case.

In McAvoy v South Tyneside Borough Council the EAT has held that a man may validly pursue a 'piggyback' equal pay claim by comparing himself with a woman - who herself has succeeded in an equal pay claim with a higher paid male comparator.

The present claims arose in the context of multiple equal pay claims, brought against councils in the North East of England, mostly by women employed in predominantly female jobs – the position is just the same north of the border, thanks to the work of Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross.

The women succeeded in claiming entitlement to 'productivity bonuses' paid to male comparators working elsewhere and they were accordingly awarded arrears of pay.

The EAT held that the men could claim equal pay AND sex discrimination based on being excluded from settlements - this means that the mere fact that there has been a settlement is enough to give the men a claim.

Men working alongside the female claimants brought contingent equal pay claims on the basis that, if and to the extent that the women's claims succeeded, they would be entitled to equivalent payments using the successful women as comparators.

An earlier employment tribunal upheld the men's claims, establishing their entitlement to the higher pay won by the female claimants, but only from the date on which the relevant female claimants presented their claims. The councils' appealed the tribunal's decision that the men were entitled to bring such claims at all, and the male (Stefan Cross) claimants appealed the decision to limit their entitlement to arrears of pay.

The EAT examined the case by reference to a simplified example: a woman (F1) and a man (M1) are working alongside one another on the same work, but the man is being paid £9 per hour, while the woman - by virtue of a previous successful claim by reference to the pay of a man doing a different job (M2) - is receiving £10.

The EAT held that these facts clearly triggered the operation of the equality clause. It rejected the Councils' argument that the pay disparity between M1 and F1 was due to a genuine material factor other than the difference of sex, namely that F1 was the beneficiary of a tribunal award and M1 was not.

The only reason M1 could not also have brought such a claim was that both he and the comparator, M2, are men. In other words, 'but for ' M1's sex, he would be entitled to the same pay as F1.

The EAT rejected the councils' appeal and the argument that the men's claims were premature, and went on to uphold the male claimants' appeal against limiting their arrears of pay. Referring back to its simplified example, the EAT noted that the arrears awarded to F1 represent pay, albeit paid late and only as a result of her bringing a tribunal claim.

The male claimants were therefore entitled to arrears for the full period that arrears were awarded to their comparators.

NB with thanks to the Employment Lawyers Association and IDS Employment Law Brief for some of the background information contained in this post.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

By Popular Demand

So many people have been in touch with queries about male workers' claims - that I've decided to re-run the following post that first appeared on Monday 10 August 2009.

The blog site also contains an earlier article from 25 June 2009 - that has more information about the landmark Employment Appeal Tribunal judgment (McAvoy v South Tyneside Borough Council).

Monday, 10 August 2009

Male Workers' Claims
The recent breakthrough case male claimants at the Employment Appeal Tribunal – see post dated 25 June 2008 - has understandably generated a great deal of interest.

Lots of readers have been in touch to say “Well done” to Action 4 Equality Scotland - and Stefan Cross Solicitors.

Because when male members raised the issue with their trade unions – they were told to get lost - that they had no chance of success.

But now the worm has turned – and the stance taken by Stefan Cross has been completely vindicated - by the recent landmark case of McAvoy v South Tyneside Borough Council at the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

The underlying issue was always about common sense and the right equal treatment under the law – about treating both men and women fairly – even though the majority of equal pay claimants in Scotland are female.

The key point is that the groups of male workers - who never received bonus payments – always had an argument – so long as female council workers were successful in establishing their own claims.

Once a settlement for the women had been achieved – the employers were in the difficult position of having to justify why the non-bonus earning male group – should be treated any differently to the non-bonus earning female group.

The court was invited to agree that to do so - without good cause - amounted to sex discrimination against the men.

Thankfully the Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed - with the arguments advanced by Stefan Cross.

So, if you’ve been let down by poor union advice – and you want to pursue an equal pay claim via Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross – then get in touch.

You can either drop Mark Irvine a note at: markirvine@compuserve.com or ring Action 4 Equality Scotland on 0845 300 3 800

Monday, 14 December 2009

Male Workers

Lots of angry union members have been in touch about the useless advice from their trade unions - in relation to male workers' claims.

We've dealt with this subject many times before - and one regular reader has been in touch to say that the unions are up to their old tricks again.

The unions originally told their male members to 'get lost' when it came to equal pay - with the sage advice that male workers - 'absolutely had no claim'.

Now the unions are rattled - at the success of Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross - see post dated 10 August 2009

The upshot is that the unions are now throwing up a smokescreen - offering belatedly to take up claims on behalf of male members.

But this is a just another desperate tactic - to try and avoid the unions being sued for negligence - by their own members.

The point is that if the unions gave their members the wrong advice - then the unions should have the decency to put their hands up and apologise - for making a complete mess of things.

The unions should also offer to compensate any members who have lost out financially - after all why should low paid members pay for their trade unions' mistakes?

South Lanarkshire - More Hearings

Two more South Lanarkshire hearings are taking place this week - at the Employment Tribunal office in Glasgow - details as follows:

Thursday 17 December 2009

Friday 18 December 2009

The hearings are open to the public - so anyone can attend.

If you do go along, remember to introduce yourself to Carol Fox - who will be there with the Stefan Cross legal team.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Summer Houses and Bell Towers

More amazing revelations today on the seemingly never ending saga of MPs' expenses.

The scandal affects all political parties - but long-serving MPs and government ministers really should know better - after all the 'rules' about what can and cannot be claimed could not be any clearer.

Here are some the 'Green Book' principles from the House of Commons - that are supposed to govern MPs' expenses claims:

1. Claims should be above reproach and must reflect actual usage of the resources being claimed.

2. Claims must only be made for expenditure that was necessary for a Member to incur to ensure that he or she could properly perform his or her parliamentary duties.

3. Allowances are reimbursed only for the purpose of a Member carrying out his or her parliamentary duties.

4. Members must ensure that claims do not give rise to, or give the appearance of giving rise to, an improper personal financial benefit to themselves or anyone else.

5. Members are committed to openness about what expenditure has been incurred and for what purposes.

6. The requirement of ensuring value for money is central in claiming for accommodation, goods or services – Members should avoid purchases which could be seen as extravagant or luxurious.

Yet, despite such clear and detailed advice - the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown no less, submitted a claim for £500 to decorate his Summer House - and defence minister, (ex-Tory) Quentin Davies, put in a claim for £20,000 to repair his Bell Tower.

No wonder people are so cynical these days - about politics and politicians.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Job Evaluation and the Unions

A reader from Clackmannsnhire has been in touch about their new job evaluation scheme (JES) - and the resulting pay and grading arrangements - which the council intends to introduce from 31 March 2010.

Apparently, the unions are arranging some question and answer sessions about the new JES - and our reader wants to know: "What should we be asking?"

Well, for a start, I'd ask : "How come Single Status in Clackmannanshire took longer to settle than World War II?"

Because taking more than 10 years for the employers and the unions to implement an agreement they originally reached in 1999 - suggest that something fishy is happening.

Key points that people may also want to know:

What is the percentage of men and women on each of the new grades? If women are stuck on the lowest grades - this would suggest that pay discrimination is still present under the new JES.

What are the individual scores assigned to each of the 'new' jobs? Some councils try to withhold this information - because it keeps people in the dark about how one job compares to another.

Have the unions carried out an 'Equality Impact Assessment' on the new JES? If so, then members are entitled to see the results - which will show the 'before' and 'after' effect when it comes to male and female jobs.

Have the unions 'signed off' (i.e. agreed to) new job descriptions for each post and, if so, how was this done? Sometimes the unions are involved in the JES up to their necks, but withhold 'final agreement' - so that members don't realise how much they've helped to put the new system in place

So, that's your starter for ten - if readers need any other suggestions, or get some dodgy answers back - then let us know.

Clackmannanshire Council

Clackmannanshire Council has written to all employees covered by the 1999 Single Status Agreement - an agreement which should, of course, have been implemented many years ago.

According to readers' reports - lots of people are very disappointed with the outcome. As usual, many of the traditional male jobs seem to have fared well but - predictably - many of the female dominated jobs have done not so well.

So, there may be an ongoing issue about how the council justifies the differences in pay - between the different male and female job groups.

The council letter is dated 4 December - and requests a reply by 18 December 2009.

The letter asks employees to either agree voluntarily to vary to their contracts of employment - or to confirm that they don't agree to the changes on a voluntary basis - in which case the changes will be imposed after giving the required period of notice.

The new terms and conditions of service will come into effect at a forward date of 31 March 2010 - more than a decade after the original Single Status Agreement.

The council says that a collective agreement has not been possible with the trade unions - so the council is issuing 12 weeks notice to all staff of their intention to terminate the old contracts - and re-engage people on the new contracts, if necessary.

We have been down the same road in other councils - so this is nothing to get worried or anxious about - no one's job is actually under threat.

But our advice is to choose Option B - i.e. to say that you do not agree to the changes on a voluntary basis.

Why? Because it's safer to have the council impose the new contract - and the new package of terms and conditions - rather than to accept these changes on a voluntary basis from the outset.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

North Ayrshire Council

In recent days, letters have been going out clients in North Ayrshire Council - inevitably there are individual issues and queries about the contents.

A system has been put in place to try and address these issues - so people can either write in to the following address:

Stefan Cross Solicitors Limited
Buddle House
Buddle Road

Alternatively, you can e-mail any queries to: karl@stefancross.co.uk

Whatever query you might have - please remember to include the following details, as this will allow us to identify individuals properly:

1 Name
2 Job Title
3 Address
4 Post code
5 Contact phone number
6 National Insurance number

It will help greatly if people do not telephone the office for an 'update' - as this simply diverts resources away from the main task in hand.

We are doing everything we can to deal with all the letters and forms quickly - but the likelihood is that the process will not be completed until the New Year.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Go Ahead, Make My Day

Commentators are queuing up to criticise the banks over plans to pay multi-million pound bonuses to senior executives - and rightly so.

In response to the 'threat' from the board of the Royal Bank of Scotland to resign en masse - if they are prevented from making these payments - the response of most sensible people has been: 'Go ahead, make my day'

Why? Because the banks helped get us all into this mess (along with the politicians, of course) - so why should we pay through the nose - to have them clear up a mess of largely their own making?

What's needed are some talented people with a sense of public duty - experienced figures from the financial world (and elsewhere) willing to volunteer their services for free - or at least a fraction of the fees the bankers are demanding.

The kind of people prepared to put something back into society - instead of being out to screw the system for everything they can get - see the following post first published on 9 November 2009.

Watchdog or Lapdog?

Why does someone who is performing a 'public service' need to be paid up to £100,000 a year?

A labourer is is worthy of his hire, as Karl Marx once said. But is it right to reward someone with such a whopping big salary - when they have enjoyed a good living from the public purse for years - and presumably now benefit from a handsome public pension to boot?

Step forward, Professor Sir Ian Kennedy who has just been appointed as head of the independent watchdog charged with reforming MPs’ expenses and restoring public trust in Parliament.

Now Sir Ian Kennedy is a distinguished person, no doubt about that. An acknowledged expert on the law and ethics of medicine, Sir Ian previously chaired the Healthcare Commission from 2003 to 2009 and an inquiry into children's heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary, where 29 children died between 1994 and 1995.

But why can't he do the job of cleaning up Parliament - and just get reimbursed for his expenses - why does he need to be paid four times more than the average UK salary - for what amounts to a part-time job?

And no sooner was Sir Ian Kennedy appointed - than his political connections came out into the open. He's a big chum of Alistair Campbell apparently (Tony Blair's old press adviser) - so much so that he was the former spin-doctor's 'phone a friend' - when Campbell appeared on 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?".

On his new salary it will only take Sir Ian another ten years to fulfill that ambition - not counting his publicly funded pension, of course. More seriously, the press is now full of stories that Sir Ian Kennedy plans to tear up the proposed reforms to the discredited system of allowances put forward earlier this week by another government appointed special adviser - Sir Christopher Kelly.

Despite the fact that Sir Christopher Kelly's reforms have been endorsed by all the main party leaders - when they were announced under the full glare of press and media attention.

So, will Sir Ian Kennedy turn out to be a public watchdog - or establishment lapdog? Time will tell - but it certainly doesn't help his cause to be so close to the 'beautiful people' - when there must have been many other well qualified people to choose from.

If Sir Ian Kennedy starts to water down the reform package announced only last week - the whole issue will reignite - and rightly so.

But back to where this started - why do the great and good need their mouths stuffed with gold - before they will perform a much needed public service.

Whatever happened to the old fashioned notion of 'putting something back'?

Especially when you've done so well out of the system - and the public purse - in the first place?

Monday, 7 December 2009

South Lanarkshire Council

Here is the latest Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted to South Lanarkshire Council - a simple and straightforward query, you might agree.

Just about every other council in Scotland is happy to explain the basis of their job evaluation scheme (JES) - it's a perfectly reasonable and sensible request given the importance of the JES - and the large amounts of public money involved.

But predictably South Lanarkshire Council has refused the request - so I have asked for a 'review' of their decision.

Watch this space.

Archie Strang
Chief Executive
South Lanarkshire Council

By e-mail

Dear Mr Strang

Freedom of Information Request

I would like to make the following enquiry under the Freedom of Information Scotland Act 2002.

I would like to know:

1. What were South Lanarkshire Council’s reasons for not adopting the nationally recommended COSLA (Gauge) Job Evaluation Scheme (JES)?

2. What was South Lanarkshire Council’s share of the £250,000 costs of producing the nationally recommended COSLA JES?

3. Who were the creators or authors of South Lanarkshire Council’s 555 Job Evaluation Scheme (JES)?

4. What payment did the creators/authors of South Lanarkshire Council’s 555 JES receive for their time and expertise?

5. What credentials did the creators/authors possess for developing South Lanarkshire Council’s 555 JES?

I look forward to hearing from you in due course

Kind regards

Mark Irvine

Friday, 4 December 2009

Unions Let Their Members Down

Glasgow City Council has lots of male workers who never received big bonus payments - groups such as Janitors and Special Needs Drivers .

The following article appeared on the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog site in January 2008 - almost two years ago - explaining that these groups of male workers had the same equal pay claim as everyone else.

At the time the unions advised their members not to pursue a claim - just as they continue to do in South Lanarkshire - but that advice has turned out to be completely wrong.

Reports from Glasgow suggest that the unions are now changing their tune - but even if they can register a claim now, which is doubtful since they are arguably time barred - the individuals involved have lost out big time.

Because they are starting 5 years behind everybody else.

If you were advised by a union official not to pursue an equal pay claim - the union may be responsible for your loss - and you may be able to sue for negligence.

If you have a story to tell or need advice, contact Mark Irvine at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Glasgow Jannies

Word is clearly spreading amongst school janitors in Glasgow (and elsewhere) - because we are getting lots of enquiries about why this group has a valid equal pay claim - see post dated 3 December 2007.

The reason is that school janitors were at the top of the manual workers grading scheme for many years - yet paid much less than other male groups on lower grades.

The old scheme has only recently been replaced - by new and allegedly non-discriminatory pay arrangements - but janitors and others still have strong claims for back pay and compensation .

Because for years school janitors were on manual worker grades 5, 6 and 7 - yet paid less than refuse workers on grades 2, 3 and 4!!

The relatively high grades of school janitors reflected the level of responsibility they had for school buildings and school facilities - in some larger schools for swimming pools and suchlike.

How can this be fair?

Well the answer is that it can't - and that's why janitors have equal pay claims, despite what they've been told by their trade unions - because they've been robbed blind all these years.

The same is true of other groups - take drivers in social work or education, for example, who transport vulnerable clients back and forth to day centres.

Now often these drivers have to hold a PSV licence - which allows them to transport people and passengers safely - and not just a heavy goods (HGV) licence which the chap driving the council bin lorry requires.

So, why should one driver (i.e. the refuse driver) be paid so much more than his counterpart in education or social work - when they have been on exactly the same grade for all these years?

Yet another example of hypocrisy on the part of the trade unions - different rules for different groups - when everyone is supposed to be equal.

Posted by Mark Irvine at 01:41 - 15 January 2008

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Glasgow Enquiries

We continue to receive lots of enquiries about the Glasgow letters - that have been going out to clients over recent weeks.

A system has been put in place to try and address these issues - so people can either write in to the following address:

Stefan Cross Solicitors Limited
Buddle House
Buddle Road

Alternatively, you can e-mail any queries to: karl@stefancross.co.uk

Whatever query you might have - please remember to include the following details, as this will allow us to identify individuals properly:

1 Name
2 Job Title
3 Address
4 Post code
5 Contact phone number
6 National Insurance number

It will help greatly if people do not telephone the office for an 'update' - as this simply diverts resources away from the main task in hand.

A meeting has already taken place with Glasgow City Council to resolve some of these issues - and progress is being made - as soon as there is anything specific to report we will be in touch with the individuals concerned.

But the process is not going to be resolved in a matter of days - we are doing everything we can to get answers as quickly as possible - but the reality is that for many people things will not be finalised until the New Year.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

South Lanarkshire

A number of readers went along to the recent South Lanarkshire hearing - held in Glasgow on 30 November 2009.

The feedback has been very positive - by all accounts it was 'a bit of an eye opener' about the amount of effort going on behind the scenes - and the resources involved in pursuing these cases.

The claimants who went along on the day say they'll definitely be back - they were glad they made the effort to see things first hand for themselves - they aim to encourage other South Lanarkshire work colleagues to do the same.

Four more hearing dates have already been set at the Glasgow employment tribunal - here are the details if you want to attend:

Wednesday 9 December 2009
Thursday 10 December 2009

Thursday 17 December 2009
Friday 18 December 2009

If you do go along, remember to introduce yourself to Carol Fox who will be there with the Stefan Cross legal team

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Midlothian Council

Some councils in Scotland have been trying to wear people's resolve by dragging out the employment tribunal process - for as long as possible.

Presumably their aim is to make claimants so fed up - that they will either give up their claim altogether - or accept a poor settlement that is worth much less than they deserve.

Midlothian is one of the worst offenders - the council has recently been sending out offers of settlement direct to Action 4 Equality Scotland clients.

The council's tactics are quite deliberate - they are trying to by-pass us in the hope that people might take a decision in haste - and without taking proper advice.

A few folk have done so - which is a shame for them - but the great majority of people have stood firm and are holding out for a fair settlement of their claims.

But what does it say about a council - a Labour controlled council - that is prepared to behave in this way.

And what have local MPs or MSPs had to say on behalf of their constituents? So far, not a lot.

But the signs are that the council is re-thinking its position - no doubt the forthcoming hearings are helping to concentrate minds - our experience is that the prospect of a GMF hearing does wonders for common sense.

So our advice is - don't give in to this kind of unreasonable behaviour - hold out for a proper settlement of your claim.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Glasgow Update

As reported in the post dated 10 November 2009 - letters have been going out in batches to Glasgow clients for the past couple of weeks - because there are so many people to advise on an individual basis.

We are processing these letters as quickly as we can - but routine calls to the office only slow the process down - and divert resources away from the main task in hand.

So please try to avoid calling - unless you are raising something urgent or important. If you are simply looking for a progress report - keep an eye on the blog site for news.

If you have a query about your letter or personal situation - please write to the Newcastle office with the details - this will allow your query to be logged and checked properly.

Lots of people want to compare one person's individual circumstances with another - but this is impossible because the details vary for all kinds of reasons - some of which may be private and confidential.

So, our advice is not to swap personal anecdotes - or listen to the rumour mill - because these are likely to be no more reliable than 'fishermen's tales'

We've had lots of questions on the following subjects:

What is a WPBR payment?
A WPBR payment is in connection with the council's Workforce Pay and Benefits Review - it covers the period between 1 April 2006 and 31 December 2006 - the details will be shown on people's pay slips - in some cases it reduced the 'pay gap' between male and female jobs.

What is an 'Interim' Payment?
An Interim payment is concerned with the period between December 2005 and April 2006 - i.e. before the WPBR came into play - payments were made by bank transfer and were not recorded on people's pay slips - but your previous bank statements will show the details.

At this stage, we cannot give definite dates or deadlines for completing the process - as soon as possible is the only sensible answer in the circumstances.

With so many queries and individual issues to resolve - the emphasis has to be on getting things done accurately and properly - rather than getting the job done quickly.

So, your patience and understanding would be appreciated.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Life's Little Ironies

In one of life's little ironies, the public will soon know more about what top bankers earn - than they will about the pay of traditional male jobs in South Lanarkshire Council.

The government has decided that UK banks should be forced to disclose the number of employees who earn more than £1m per year - following a report by Sir David Walker.

How refreshing and welcome - but how strange is it that one of Scotland's largest councils (South Lanarkshire) - takes the complete opposite approach?

The government intends to bring forward legislation - to compel the banks to spill the beans - and, importantly, individual names will be withheld to protect people's privacy.

Exactly right - and that's exactly what I asked South Lanarkshire to do in relation to male workers earnings - see post dated 23 October 2009: "Clear As Mud".

South Lanarkshire Council refused my request - and their decision is now under appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner - but it shows the lengths some organisations will go to - to keep the public and their workforce in the dark.

The UK banks behaving more openly and transparently than one of Scotland's 'leading' councils - what an amazing thought.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Falkirk Update

A further CMD hearing on the Falkirk cases was held on 18 November 2009.

No dramatic developments took place on the day - although a further CMD hearing has been arranged for 22 December 2009.

Behind the scenes, discussions have been held with Falkirk Council - about a possible negotiated settlement of the outstanding claims.

Unfortunately, the council side attached certain conditions to their proposals - which we regard as unreasonable - so an 'in principle' agreement on revised offers of settlement has still to be reached.

The employment tribunal has been made aware of these discussions - and that a negotiated settlement is still possible.

But if the present impasse cannot be resolved - the outstanding cases will need to proceed to a GMF hearing - for the employment tribunal to consider all the evidence and determine an outcome.

The aim is still to persuade Falkirk Council to make revised and reasonable offers of settlement - which Action 4 Equality Scotland can recommend its clients to accept.

As soon as there are any further developments - we will let people know - but in any event we will aim to write to all Falkirk clients early in the New Year.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Second Standards MP in Expenses Row

A second MP from the House of Commons Standards and Privileges Committee - has been caught up in the seemingly never ending scandal of MPs' expenses.

Hot on the heels of David Curry - a Tory MP and Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee who stood down from his post last week - comes Andrew Dismore, the Labour MP for Hendon.

The Daily Telegraph reported yesterday that:

"Andrew Dismore claimed £34,000 in second home expenses for a west London flat, which houses his girlfriend’s homeopathy surgery, while designating a property just a few miles away in his north London constituency as his main home.

Mr Dismore then “flipped” his second home designation to the north London property and claimed a further £31,000 after telling Commons officials that the west London flat had become his main residence.

In total, the Labour MP for Hendon split £65,000 in second home allowances between the two London properties over an eight-year period. He also used more than £1,000 in office expenses to pay his girlfriend to do casual work for him."

The Standards and Privileges Committee decides what sanctions or penalties to impose on MPs - who behave badly or break the rules of the House of Commons.

In recent months, the committee has treated two MPs very leniently indeed - Jacqui Smith and Tony McNulty - despite the fact that both are former government ministers - who were required to apologise to the House of Commons over their expenses claims.

See previous posts dated 13 October 2009 - Home Sweet (Designated) Home - and 29 October 2009 - Savaged By a Dead Sheep.

The public can't have confidence in a system that allows MPs to sit in judgment of themselves - no other professional group in society is allowed to behave in this way.

What's needed is an injection of common sense from non-politicians and lay people - from the ordinary man or woman in the street - then we might actually see some change for the better.

Monday, 23 November 2009

More News and Updates

Perth & Kinross

Perth & Kinross is another council which has been quick to raise procedural points – but slow to actually deal with the real issues underpinning people’s equal pay claims.

The situation is similar to Clackmannanshire Council – see post dated 16 November 2009 – and a Pre-Hearing Review (PHR) will be required, unfortunately, before the substantive issues are addressed.

A hearing has been listed for 28 January 2010 and will consider the council’s arguments about restricting the male comparators available to claimants.

Perth & Kinross is also arguing that the majority of claimants and comparators are not in the same employment.Most are Social Care Officers (or other APT&C-based employees) – while their comparators are Manual Worker or Craft employees.

The council argues this should undermine and effectively deny people’s claims – we say that’s not correct. This final point is currently under appeal to the Court of Session.

Highland Council

Highland Council is currently awaiting a CMD hearing date to discuss further progress – but again the situation is similar to Clackmannanshire – see post dated 16 November 2009.

The council is raising the same procedural points about the ability of claimants to use a full range of male comparators – whilst trying to ignore the fact that when push comes to shove the great majority of people have perfectly valid claims.

The Local Government and Communities Committee of the Scottish Parliament recently urged councils to get down to business in a real effort to resolve such claims – instead of hiding behind procedural issues and arguments.

We are seeking a date for a similar PHR hearing to resolve the problem with Highland Council – but hope the hearings that are planned in other councils will go the claimants’ way.

If so, Highland Council may drop its own arguments – which we believe to be wrong anyway - on the basis that they are unlikely to succeed where other councils have already failed.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Ten Years on

Ten years ago today - I stopped working for Unison.

A journey which began as a union (Nupe) steward at Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow ended up - after several years in London - with me as Unison's Head of Local Government and chief negotiator in Scotland.

I had resigned from the Labour party a few months earlier and - in doing so - publicly criticised the all too cosy relationship that existed between the unions and new Labour - on issues such as PFI (Private Finance Initiative).

Shortly afterwards, my twenty-year trade union career came to an abrupt end - albeit on terms that I was more than satisfied with at the time.

Looking back, I can honestly say that I've achieved much more in terms of equal pay - working with Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross - than I would have achieved by staying in my old union role.

Because the reality is that the trade unions lost their way - pulled their punches at crucial times - and ultimately gave up the fight.

The 1999 Single Status Agreement was intended to be a complete break with the past - and should have delivered a much better deal to tens of thousands of women's jobs - (carers, cooks, cleaners and classroom assistants) -
that had been underpaid and undervalued for years.

But the unions and the employers both reneged on their promises to change things for the better - behaving just like the worst kind of politician - saying one thing and then doing another!

Ten years on, as I reflect on what's happened since - I must say a heartfelt 'thank you' to Unison and some of my old union colleagues who - albeit unintentionally - provided me with the means to a happier, more fulfilling life.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Elephant in the Room

The elephant in the room during yesterday's Queens' Speech - one of Westminster's great parliamentary occasions - was the failure of Her Majesty's government to mention the MPs' expenses scandal.

To the astonishment of many observers - the biggest scandal of modern times just vanished into thin air - which speaks volumes about the government's future programme.
Less than six months ago - when the expenses candal broke - Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, no less ruled out an early election - declaring boldly that MPs had no choice but to sort out a mess of their own making.

So how has it come to this?

Even Sir Christopher Kelly has expressed his disappointment that the government of the day wasted a golden opportunity - to explain how it would take forward and implement his package of proposed reforms.

At most, the government has six months left before it must call a general election - but voters are entitled to know how the Westminster Parliament intends to clean up its act - before deciding which party to support.

The latest debacle over MPs' expenses shows a real lack of leadership - and tells you all you need to know about the government's future intentions.

If they can get away with addressing these issues 'under the radar' - without a public debate and proper scrutiny - they will do so without hesitation.

Definitely not one of Westminster's better days.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

South Lanarkshire Hearing

The next hearing day for the ongoing South Lanarkshire Council cases has already been advertised - but here's timely reminder.

Date - Monday 30 November 2009

Time - 10 am

Venue - Employment Tribunal Offices, 215 Bothwell Street, Glasgow, G2 7TS

The hearing is in public - so anyone can go along to listen in and see what's happening first hand.

If you do attend as one of the South Lanarkshire claimants, make yourself known to Carol Fox - who will be there on behalf of Stefan Cross Solicitors.

The employment tribunal building is just ten minutes walk from Central Station - along Bothwell Street in the direction of Finnieston.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Which Side Are You On?

One of our regular readers has been in touch - about the advice and support provided by the trade unions on equal pay.

Apparently, union members in some areas are being 'warned' that the original settlement offers from their employer is the only offer on the table - and could be withdrawn at any time.

And to make things even more scary - the union advice emphasises that people could lose everything - if their tribunal claims were ultimately to be unsuccessful.

Our reader thinks the union is trying to frighten people into accepting poor settlement offers: "Which side are they on", she asks. "The members or the management?" - and you can see why.

Now, strictly speaking, it is true to say that people could lose everything - if their claims fails.

But it's no more true than to say that you could be killed in some horrible accident - by stepping outside your front door today.

The point is not what might be possible theoretically - not what could happen in a hypothetical situation - but what's likely to happen in reality.

Risk is something to be assessed sensibly, not exaggerated out of all proportion - otherwise we'd all stay at home under the duvet - too worried and frightened to venture outside.

In which case no one would ever travel by plane, train or car - and the country would quickly grind to a halt.

If you have an equal pay claim - the important things to know are:

1 How much is my claim really worth?

2 What are my chances of success - if I continue with a claim to the employment tribunals?

As a general rule, if your claim is worth much more than you're being offered - and has good prospects of success - then you should stick to your guns.

If your union won't tell you how much your claim is worth - and won't say how likely it is to succeed - then there's clearly something wrong.

If you have a similar query or any useful information to pass on, drop Mark Irvine a note at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Monday, 16 November 2009

Cut to the Chase

Clackmannanshire is Scotland's smallest mainland council.

Whether size is a factor is unclear - but the council has certainly been dragging its feet when it comes to dealing with equal pay.

A CMD (Case Management Discussion) hearing on the Clackmannanshire cases was held recently - on 2 November 2009.

Individual claimants are entitled to attend these hearings - if anyone wants to go along and hear what's happening first hand.

The aim in Clackmannanshire is the same as everywhere else - to get the outstanding cases to a GMF (Genuine Material Factor) hearing - which requires the council to explain and justify the big differences in pay between traditional male and female jobs.

But that's exactly what the employers - or some of them at least - are desperately trying to avoid.

Instead of facing up to reality and the strength of people's claims - Clackmannanshire has been using one procedural argument after another - to slow the whole process down.

Maybe the council hopes that claimants will get so fed up and frustrated - that people will just give up and go away.

Our advice is don't despair - because we are doing everything we can to bring these cases to a conclusion as quickly as possible.

A Pre-Hearing Review (PHR) has been listed for 1 to 3 February 2010 - to determine the outstanding procedural points - if the council does not agree to drop these points - and get down to the real issues.

Most other councils did so long ago - our view is that Clackmannanshire should stop all this shilly shallying about - and come to its sense as well.

A further CMD has been listed for 22 March 2010 to list the Clackmannanshire cases for a GMF hearing.

But if the February PHR hearing does not take place - which is still possible if there's an outbreak of common sense - this will will hopefully bring a GMF date forward.

So watch this space.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Empty Vessels Make The Most Noise

Having done so little on equal pay - for so many years - the unions are always looking for excuses to attack Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross.

The latest stunt is to run a story about union complaints to the Legal Complaints Commission - on the fees charged by Stefan Cross Solicitors - for achieving successful equal pay settlements on behalf of its clients.

As ever the unions have plenty to say about other people's behaviour - but seldom their own - the unions are experts when it comes to bankers' bonuses, but have nothing to say on the binmen's bonuses.

The fees charged by Stefan Cross Solicitors were clear from Day One: 10% + VAT (11.5% in total at the current VAT rate).

Most people regarded that as a bargain because they kept the lion's share (88.5%) of a successful settlement - at no risk or up-front costs to themselves.

The reality is that but for the actions of Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross - equal pay would never have taken off - and no one would have received a penny in compensation!

The unions had kept their members in the dark for years - and presided over a 'male only' bonus culture - that routinely traditional male jobs to be paid 50% more - half as much again - than their women colleagues.

Typically, a woman's job was worth only £6.00 an hour - while lower graded men's jobs were being paid £9.00 an hour.

And to make things worse - over a decade when council budgets doubled in Scotland - the unions did nothing to close the gender pay gap.

So, they're angry at Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross - for coming along and exposing their shortcomings.

The fact is we're proud of what we've achieved - we've shaken up an all too cosy establishment - and opened up access to justice for many thousands of women in Scotland - let down by years of union complacency.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The Empire Strikes Backs

Having been found guilty in the 'court of public opinion' - MPs are now fighting a rearguard action in in the House of Commons over plans to reform their expenses.

According to press and media reports - MPs have launched a desperate bid to water down new rules on their expenses.

Members of all parties have signed a Commons motion urging Sir Ian Kennedy, the new chair of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) - see post dated 9 November - to ensure any new rules are 'in line with natural justice'.

The MPs want Sir Ian to be 'reasonable and proportionate' - and, significantly, to ignore dubious claims made in the past - on the grounds that these claims were 'approved'.

Conveniently, this ignores the fact that many approved claims turned a blind eye to the official guidance - which stated MPs should only submit claims that helped them do their jobs properly or more effectively.

So, claims for tins of dog food, floating duck houses and private cleaning services were always ludicrous - approved or otherwise - as MPs should have known themselves.

IPSA has the job of imposing new expenses rules, which are expected to be based on the report drawn up by Sir Christopher Kelly’s Committee on Standards in Public Life.

Sir Christopher has recommended that MPs should lose many of their current allowances and accept living conditions similar to other workers - what's wrong with that?

Sir Christopher Kelly says that MPs should - in future - be allocated modest flats at public expense, commute reasonable distances to Westminster and pay for food, cleaning and furniture out of their own pockets.

Hear, hear!

IPSA is planning to hold a consultation exercise over the new rules - allowing MPs and members of the public to give their views.

Keep your eyes peeled for how to have your say - but watch this space too - as we're likely to draw any useful information to our readers' attention.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Cleaning Up At Taxpayers' Expense

Low-paid women across the country - are having to fight long and hard just to achieve equal pay with their male counterparts - but seldom with the active support of their MPs.

At the same time, some women MPs - in privileged, well paid positions - insist on making fools of themselves on the subject of MPs' expenses.

The latest is Helen Goodman - the Works and Pensions Minister earning £96,000 a year - who thinks that she ought to be able to claim on expenses - for someone else to do her cleaning.

According to the Daily Mail the other day - Helen Goodman says it's unfair to ban MPs' expenses claims on cleaning - because it's women who usually do the domestic work. Apparently, women will be put off standing for Parliament unless they can hire a cleaner on their expenses.

The Work and Pensions Minister told the newspaper: "It's really bad for women's representation in Parliament because of the assumptions underlying it. We are not allowed to claim cleaning but we are allowed to have a second job. Who does that affect in any normal family?"

Ms Goodman, Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, added: 'We seem to have been looking at the expenses first, and the consequences for who can or can't afford to be a Parliamentarian fall out of that".

Ms Goodman previously hit the headlines after claiming £591 on expenses to hire a holiday cottage in her constituency, which she said was needed for work.

Sir Christopher Kelly's report on expenses would ban MPs from claiming for their mortgages, forcing them to rent. It would also outlaw claims for cleaning, gardening and furniture and prevent MPs from employing their wives, husbands and children.

But the fact that a government minister earning £96,000 a year - thinks that someone else should pay for their cleaning - illustrates just how out of touch MPs really are when it comes to their expenses.

You can read the full article at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Glasgow Update

Letters to clients in Glasgow will start going out this week - regarding further progress in dealing with people's equal pay claims.

As there are so many people to contact, the letters will go out in batches - and may take a couple of weeks to reach everyone - especially if there is any delay in delivery because of the recent postal strike.

The letters will give everyone detailed and individual advice - and the letters will explain what to do - if there are any queries or issues that require further clarification.

Please put any concerns in writing once you have received your own letter - please do not raise individual queries direct with Glasgow City Council - as this is likely to confuse and delay matters.

Every effort will be made to process the letters as quickly as possible.

Glasgow By-Election

A Westminster by-election is being held this week in the parliamentary seat of Glasgow North East - polling day is Thursday 12 November 2009.

None of the parties or candidates have had anything to say about equal pay - they seem to have spent most of their time trying to avoid mistakes or gaffes - so it's been the candidates' minders and 'spin-doctors' who've done most of the talking.

The contest will elect a replacement for Michael Martin MP - who has now gone off to the House of Lords as a new Labour peer - after the dubious distinction of being the first speaker of the House of Commons to be forced from office in the past 300 years.

Labour are favourites to hold on to the seat - but if readers get the chance to question any of the candidates - ask them where they stand on equal pay.

Monday, 9 November 2009

North Ayrshire Update

The GMF hearing involving North Ayrshire Council - due to reconvene today for two weeks - has been postponed.

Letters are on their way to all clients of Action 4 Equality Scotland - explaining the significance of this development.

Clients will be advised individually about the progress of their equal pay complaints - and further information will follow.

So, sit tight until you hear from us in writing - and don't be travelling up to Glasgow - for a hearing that is not now going ahead.

Watchdog or Lapdog?

Why does someone who is performing a 'public service' need to be paid up to £100,000 a year?

A labourer is is worthy of his hire, as Karl Marx once said. But is it right to reward someone with such a whopping big salary - when they have enjoyed a good living from the public purse for years - and presumably now benefit from a handsome public pension to boot?

Step forward, Professor Sir Ian Kennedy who has just been appointed as head of the independent watchdog charged with reforming MPs’ expenses and restoring public trust in Parliament.

Now Sir Ian Kennedy is a distinguished person, no doubt about that. An acknowledged expert on the law and ethics of medicine, Sir Ian previously chaired the Healthcare Commission from 2003 to 2009 and an inquiry into children's heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary, where 29 children died between 1994 and 1995.

But why can't he do the job of cleaning up Parliament - and just get reimbursed for his expenses - why does he need to be paid four times more than the average UK salary - for what amounts to a part-time job?

And no sooner was Sir Ian Kennedy appointed - than his political connections came out into the open. He's a big chum of Alistair Campbell apparently (Tony Blair's old press adviser) - so much so that he was the former spin-doctor's 'phone a friend' - when Campbell appeared on 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?".

On his new salary it will only take Sir Ian another ten years to fulfill that ambition - not counting his publicly funded pension, of course. More seriously, the press is now full of stories that Sir Ian Kennedy plans to tear up the proposed reforms to the discredited system of allowances put forward earlier this week by another government appointed special adviser - Sir Christopher Kelly.

Despite the fact that Sir Christopher Kelly's reforms have been endorsed by all the main party leaders - when they were announced under the full glare of press and media attention.

So, will Sir Ian Kennedy turn out to be a public watchdog - or establishment lapdog? Time will tell - but it certainly doesn't help his cause to be so close to the 'beautiful people' - when there must have been many other well qualified people to choose from.

If Sir Ian Kennedy starts to water down the reform package announced only last week - the whole issue will reignite - and rightly so.

But back to where this started - why do the great and good need their mouths stuffed with gold - before they will perform a much needed public service.

Whatever happened to the old fashioned notion of 'putting something back'?

Especially when you've done so well out of the system - and the public purse - in the first place?

Friday, 6 November 2009

Smaller Banks, Bigger Unions

Much has been said - and written - this week about cutting the big high street banks down to size.

Apparently everyone now believes that smaller banks are good for us. Because smaller banks means more banks - that have to compete with one another - and the resulting competition is good for customers.

The big guy always finds it much harder to beat up on the little guy - if the little guy can just take his or her business elsewhere.

So far, so good - sounds reasonable enough.

But isn't it interesting that while the big banks are being forced to become smaller - to get closer to their customers - that trade unions in the UK are becoming ever larger and more remote from their members.

The latest move towards another super union - see post dated 16 September 2009 - is the planned merger between GMB and Unison - which would create a union of around 2 million members.

But Unison itself is the product of an arranged marriage of what used to be three separate unions - COSHE, NALGO and NUPE - which tied the knot to become Unison in 1993.

And this latest giant union is all about keeping up with the Joneses, in the shape of Unite - currently the largest union in the land with 1.9 million members - and itself the product of a previous merger between Amicus and the old transport union, TGWU.

The fact is that these new super unions are run just like giant businesses - except that they are not as well regulated as businesses - arguably they are subject to less scrutiny than your average corner shop.

In terms of service standards - ordinary union members do not have an independent body to turn to for support, if they have a problem or complaint - there is no equivalent of the Financial Services Ombudsman, for example.

In future, union members will get even less choice from these mega unions - which all give huge sums of money to the Labour Party - despite the fact that the great majority of union members support other parties - or no party at all.

The present government has no interest in making the union more accountable to their members - because the Labour Party is so heavily dependent on the trade unions for financial support.

But it will be interesting to see what happens after the next general election - maybe the unions will be forced to move with the times. A healthy dose of external and independent scrutiny - would certainly help the unions become more accountable to their members.

Just look what it's done for MPs.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

MPs: We Want £40,000 A Year Pay Rise

Headline of the week must go to today's Daily Express (www.express.co.uk) for its front page splash - which says that MPs are looking for a £40,000 pay rise - to compensate for the loss of their allowances and expenses.

Now a backbench MPs' salary (£64,766) is not exactly a king's ransom - but it's not poverty pay either.

An MP gets paid four or five times more than a Home Carer or Classroom Assistant - jobs that have been underpaid and undervalued for years - and that are still fighting for equal pay in many areas.

An MP also gets paid more that a highly qualified Charge Nurse or Sister - one that manages a busy hospital ward or intensive care unit even - one that works unsocial hours and shifts into the bargain.

So, before MPs start moaning about their pay - they should take a reality check.

Some MPs are very able individuals, articulate and hard working - others give the impression that they would find it hard to chew gum and fart at the same time - as someone once said of the former Amercan president, Gerald Ford.

The best MPs can hope for is a reasonable pay rise down the line - once the country is back on its feet - and once they've shown that there's more to being a MP - than learning how to shove your nose ever deeper into the trough.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

South Lanarkshire and FOI

South Lanarkshire Council refused a recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request - which asked about the different rates of pay that apply - to different groups of council workers.

The council's decision has now been appealed to the Scottish Information Commissioner in the following terms - see previous post dated 23 October 2009:

Scottish Information Commissioner
Kinburn Castle
Doubledykes Road
KY16 9DS

Dear Commissioner

South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) – FOISA request

I enclose an exchange of correspondence with South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) regarding a FOISA enquiry, which I initiated with the council on 22 May 2009.

I asked for a review of the council’s initial decision, but remain dissatisfied with their response. I am therefore registering an appeal with the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC).

In my view, the council’s response is unsatisfactory for the following reasons:

1. The information requested is not confidential and does not in any way constitute the personal data of council employees.

2. The information requested is generic in nature and relates to the number of posts at specified points on the Spinal Pay Column.

3. The request is for anonymised information – such data is routinely gathered and published by many public bodies as part of their equality monitoring arrangements.

4. The council’s response to Request 1 perfectly adequate and, in my view, the remaining Requests (2-7) can clearly be answered in similar terms.

5. The council refers to the case of the Common Services Agency v Scottish Information Commissioner in support of its stance. However, while in that particular case the information request could potentially have been used to identify individuals through release of their postal codes, the same is not true of my request. In my view, the council has failed to explain how acceding to my request could amount to a breach of any of the data protection principles

I look forward to hearing from you and if you require any further details or clarification at this stage, please contact me by e-mail at markirvine@compuserve.com

Kind regards

Mark Irvine