Showing posts from 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: "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, sai

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.

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: 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 repa

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: Normal service will be resumed in the New Year.

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

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:

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 t he full article on-line at: - 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 we

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 lo

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

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

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

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 - s ee 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

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.

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 ope

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 withhol

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

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 Newcastle-Upon-Tyne NE4 8AW Alternatively, you can e-mail any queries to: 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.

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 200

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 nationall

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 ne

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 Newcastle-Upon-Tyne NE4 8AW Alternatively, you can e-mail any queries to: 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 concerne

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

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

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 liste

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

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

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 e

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

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 Ag

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

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.

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 h

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 th

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 o

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 pri

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

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.

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 pai

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

MPs: We Want £40,000 A Year Pay Rise

Headline of the week must go to today's Daily Express ( ) 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

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 Fife 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 person