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Showing posts from May, 2009

MPs Expenses - The Big Picture

The big picture about MPs expenses is not about the more ridiculous items honourable members have lavished on themselves – disgraceful as some of these are. The big picture is about their accommodation allowances which allow many MPs to acquire a small personal fortune – at public expense. Take the case of Ian Gibson, Labour MP for Norwich North. According to the Daily Telegraph Mr Gibson bought a flat in 1999 for £195,000 – and paid for the upkeep and maintenance costs out of his accommodation allowance – over four years he claimed £80,000 in mortgage interest and bills. Nothing wrong with that in itself – because MPs should not be out of pocket for having to live in London when Parliament is sitting – commuting is not an option for most, so the only answer is to rent or buy a property or stay in a hotel. But Mr Gibson’s case illustrates well – what’s wrong with the present system. Firstly, he allowed his daughter and her partner to stay in the property – he was there himself on

Duck Ponds and Docking Stations

Two of the more extraordinary MPs' expenses claims reported by the Daily Telegraph concern 'lifestyle' purchases - from two honourable members at opposite ends of the political spectrum. The first is from Tory grandee, Sir Peter Viggers, who bought a floating duck island - at a cost of £1,645 to the public purse. Taxpayers will be relieved to learn that the structure is based on a 18th century building in Sweden and is designed to protect the birds from foxes and suchlike. The second is from a 'left-wing' Scottish MP, Michael Connarty, who is reported as claiming for - amongst other things - a Bose iPod Docking Station (£211.91), Bose Sound Dock Headphones (£191.49), an alarm clock/radio (£249.99) and plasma TV (£1,099) - making a grand total of £1,752.39 Quite how these claims can be squared with the principles that underpin the 'Green Book' on expenses claims (see post dated 21 May) is anyone's guess - here are just two of the rules that would appe

Law Makers and Rule Breakers

Essential reading for anyone with a good sense of humour - are the rules governing MPs expenses. These are set out in the Palace of Westminster’s ‘Green Book’ and - to be fair - many of the rules are sound and sensible. In particular, Rules 1, 2, 5, 6 and 8 – seem like good old-fashioned common sense. But what’s gone wrong is that for years MPs - in their droves, not just the odd one or two – have been ignoring, bending and breaking the rules - with impunity. We have neither the time nor inclination to name all of the wrong doers – but in areas where low paid workers are still fighting for justice on equal pay – no doubt people will be interested in how their own MP has behaved – and whose noses have been in the trough. So, we plan to publish a few case studies in the weeks ahead. Meantime here are the Green Book principles that were supposed to underpin MPs expenses claims: 1. Claims should be above reproach and must reflect actual usage of the resources being claimed. 2. Clai

East Ayrshire Council

East Ayrshire Council has a GMF hearing scheduled for 17 to 28 August 2009 – this is the hearing where the employer has to state its defence in public – and try to justify the big differences in pay between traditional male and female jobs. A series of GMF hearings are underway across Scotland – which is why things are starting to heat up. For the past year or so, East Ayrshire has been blowing hot and cold on the subject of a negotiated settlement – so now’s the time to either put up or shut up, as we head towards the GMF hearing in August. East Ayrshire has protected the higher (bonus related) earnings of its traditional male workers for a period of 4 years - so the women workers in East Ayrshire have a 4 year claim for the full protection period. East Ayrshire now has a final opportunity to consider its position – but if the council does not come to its senses in the next few weeks, the GMF hearing will proceed as planned.

Glasgow City Council - By-Election

A local council by-election is due to be held in Glasgow on 4 June 2009 – the same day as the European elections. A contest is required because the sitting SNP councillor – Bill Kidd – is now a Holyrood MSP and the June by-election will elect his replacement to serve as a Glasgow City councillor. The seat is in the Drumchapel–Anniesland ward – where the Labour party already holds 3 out of the 4 local council seats – so Labour is going for a clean sweep. As usual, there will be lots of activity in the run up to polling day – lots of knocking on doors, distributing party leaflets, holding local meetings (or hustings) where the candidates will strut their stuff - and appeal for people’s votes. Drumchapel-Anniesland is bound to have its fair share of local voters pursuing equal pay claims – after all Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross Solicitors are representing well over 5,000 claimants across Glasgow as a whole. So, this is an ideal opportunity to put the candidates and par

Knowledge is Power

Knowing how to contact your Westminster MP is a seemingly trivial thing – but it’s amazing how easy this is to do – when you have access to their e-mail addresses. No more shuffling along to MPs surgeries at awkward times of the day or night – often in dreadful weather. Oh no, once you realise how quick and easy it is to drop an e-mail to your local ‘honourable’ member – there’s no looking back! And the formula’s always the same – it’s the MP’s surname followed by the first initial. Let’s start at the top with the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, whose e-mail address (as a local Fife MP), is: browng@parliament.uk Likewise with the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin - but you’d better hurry because he’s on his way out of the House of Commons after the MPs expenses fiasco - and reportedly off to the House of Lords (where expenses are also said to be incredibly generous): martinm@parliament.uk And so it goes on for the remaining 644 ‘honourable’ members – here are a

Catch 22

Here’s an exchange of emails with Michael McMahon, MSP for Hamilton North and Bellshill. Some say that Labour MSPs are unlikely to ask tough questions of their colleagues in a Labour-run Council - and the same may be true of politicians from other parties as well. In the present climate – when the reputation of politics is a rock bottom – you would expect MSPs, MPs and local councillors, from all parties, to be standing up for their local constituents – asking sensible questions of senior officials and demanding straight answers. If any readers want to contact Michael McMahon, his e-mail address is: Michael.McMahon.msp@scottish.parliament.co.uk If you wish to make your voice heard with other regional list MSPs, their names and contact details are in the previous post dated 1 May 2009. Mark Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to comment. It shames everyone in politics that there remains today any hard working and dedicated public sector employee who does not, through

Dog Whistles and Attack Adverts

We’ve had lots of comment about the recent ‘attack’ advert from Unison – people are curious about their very deliberate use of the word ‘English’ in relation to Stefan Cross Solicitors. Is the union becoming paranoid and xenophobic – because why else would they mention race and nationality - when these terms are of no relevance to equal pay? ‘Dog whistle’ politics is about sending a hidden message – one that you don’t want to admit to, up front at least, but the underlying intention is perfectly clear – emphasise a point (a negative one, of course) that you think will play to the prejudices of your audience. In this case, a rather bizarre anti-English sentiment – it would appear - which is to be pitied, not admired. Mark Irvine and Carol Fox are both Scottish – Stefan Cross lives and works in Newcastle, but does anyone (other than Unison) care? We’re not motivated by people’s politics or where they come from – to paraphrase Martin Luther King: “It’s the quality of a person’s chara

South Lanarkshire

A reader from South Lanarkshire has been in touch - to pass on the latest propaganda from the unions. Apparently, the unsions are putting it about that Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross won't be able to pursue equal pay claims against the council - because of some mysterious and unexplained change in European law. Now this all sounds very odd - and that's because it's complete baloney - made up from start to finish - possibly in a cack-handed attempt to cover up the embarassment that must be felt by the unions - who are not pursuing a single equal pay claim in South Lanarkshire. So, the motto is - don't listen to gossip and rumour - ask any union reps that are peddling these stories to put what they have to say in writing - and they'll run for cover. The truth is that the challenge to South Lanarkshire's job evaluation scheme is well underway and is likely to be held in the autumn. Watch this space for news.

North Lanarkshire Update

North Lanarkshire's claims continue to work through the employment tribunal process – there has been an interim settlement of the claims for some groups of ‘manual workers’ (cleaning and catering workers) – but the fight goes on for others such as Home Carers. An important appeal hearing for the Home Carers is taking place on 1 September 2009 – and the case in North Lanarkshire is similar to what has been going on in Falkirk – see previous post dated 14 May 2009. Again in 2008, North Lanarkshire argued that equal pay claims from Home Carers should be treated differently – the council said that the claims of the Home Carers should not be treated the same way as other ‘manual worker’ groups because of an internal reorganisation back in 1999. But the 1999 reorganisation did not evaluate jobs properly – Home Carers jobs were not re-assessed under the national job evaluation ( JE ) scheme – all that happened was that the old pay rates changed, and by not very much at that! Wha

Falkirk Council Update

An important hearing involving Falkirk Council is due to take place next month - on 19 June 2009. Unusually, this is an appeal hearing because Falkirk lost a previous Pre Hearing Review (PHR) in 2008 - which were about the equal pay claims of Home Care staff, the biggest single group of claimants. In 2008, the council tried to argue that equal pay claims from Home Carers should be treated differently from other Falkirk claimants. Essentially, the council argued that the claims of the Home Carers should be restricted or limited - because of an internal reorganisation back in May 2002. In the council's eyes this reorganisation changed people's contracts of employment and the nature of their claims. So, the council argued that the equal pay claims registered on behalf of the Home Carers' should not qualify for the full period of 5 years backdating - to the year 2000 - as is the case for other ‘manual worker’ groups in Falkirk. Sensibly, the employment tribunal rejected t

Brass Necks and Trade Unions

A regular reader of the blog site has been in touch about the full-page advert from Unison which appeared in the Daily Record the other day - see post dated 12 May 2009. The reader - a long-standing union member, by the way - came up with the perfect rejoinder to Unison's belated interest in equal pay, having kept its members in the dark for years: "They must have been up all night polishing their brass necks", she said - as someone who was denied union support in 2005 and turned to Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross for help with her equal pay claim. It's not often that we're lost for words - but her comment hit the nail so squarely on the head - there's nothing more to say.

North Ayrshire GMF Hearing

The North Ayrshire GMF hearing has been adjourned for the moment, but was held over two weeks in April and May 2009. The feedback from the hearing has been really positive and as usual Stefan Cross Solicitors fielded a high calibre and experienced legal team: 1. Paul Clark – a solicitor with Stefan Cross who has been involved with the North Ayrshire cases since the successful pre-hearing review– when were costs were awarded against the council 2. Carol Fox – Head of Litigation for Stefan Cross Solicitors in Scotland 3. Derek O’Carroll – a leading Scottish advocate and specialist in discrimination law All of the Stefan Cross test claimants gave clear, strong testimony – emphasising their commitment towards their clients and great pride they take in their jobs - while also explaining how undervalued they feel knowing that male colleagues receive significantly higher pay – even though the men are on the same, or even lower, grades than the women. The hearing resumes on 15 September 20

Backhanded Compliments

Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross Solicitors have just been paid an enormous compliment by Unison. The union has taken out a newspaper advert in May 2009 attacking us – despite the fact that: 1. Unison has a terrible track record on equal pay 2. Thousands of women have turned to Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross for help and advice 3. Stefan Cross started fighting for equal pay in Scotland in 2005 4. The journey to justice can be long and hard 5. Stefan Cross has a top calibre legal team fighting cases 6. In South Lanarkshire Council we have nearly 2,000 cases - while Unison has precisely none! These are the facts - we represent over 10,000 clients in Scotland - our clients know the facts and they tell us what they think about the union and equal pay. What's truly amazing is that the union has never run a single national newspaper advert - to explain the big pay gap between traditional male and female jobs. Maybe that's because the union helped to p

Alice in Wonderland

There’s an Alice in Wonderland feel to the unfolding scandal of MPs expenses. A standard defence has emerged as government ministers and backbenchers scramble to explain themselves to a bewildered public. “My claims were all within the rules”, they say, to a man and a woman – as if common sense and good judgment has gone out the window. MP’s are fully entitled to be reimbursed for costs that they actually incur – in the course of doing their jobs. And that’s as it should be – unless you happen to live in some sort of parallel universe (formerly known as Westminster) - where the Mad Hatter is clearly in charge of the Tea Party. How can it possibly be OK – or within the rules - for an MP to charge the public purse for someone to clean his flat? If an MP leads a very busy life and wants to avoid the everyday drudgery of housework – then he (or she) is perfectly entitled to engage the services of a cleaner. Lots of people do so - without creating a fuss. But that’s because the ‘l

Who Guards the Guards?

The latest revelations about MPs expenses make for truly astonishing reading - even the most senior members of the government have had their noses in the trough. While ordinary people struggle to make ends meet - while low paid workers fight for equal pay - many of the MPs we send to Westminster have been lining their pockets at public expense. Some have made tens of thousands of pounds by cleverly manipulating the system when it comes to housing allowances - while others have made their lives that little bit more comfortable - by helping themselves to things like 2 (not 1) flat screen televisions and even the occasional bath plug or Kit Kat. You simply could not make this up - yet these are the same people responsible for policing and enforcing the legislative framework surrounding equal pay. MPs may say they were operating within the rules - though that conveniently avoids the rather obvious point that MPs were in the position of making up the rules themselves - without prope

South Lanarkshire

We've had a very encouraging response to the recent posts about South Lanarkshire Council - see reports dated 17 April and 1 May 2009. A number of MSPs have already been in touch - and we will be offering to meet any local politician that shows an interest in equal pay - and the way in which South Lanarkshire Council has implemented the 1999 Single Status Agreement. MSPs are in a better position to raise any concerns they might have with the council - if they are doing so on behalf of people living and working in the area. So this is an ideal opportunity for local people to say what they think - and ask why South Lanarkshire has behaved so differently to every other council in Scotland - when it comes to single status and equal pay. 1. Why is it so difficult for people to understand how their job is graded? 2. Why is it so difficult for people to understand how other jobs are graded? 3. Why is it so difficult to people to understand the link between grading and pay? 4. Why hav

Fife GMF Hearing

The GMF hearing involving Fife Council was held over two weeks in April – progress was slow, at first, and there were all the usual problems in getting accurate pay details – on which to assess the differences in pay between male and female jobs. Again Stefan Cross Solicitors were represented by a highly experienced legal team: 1. Carol Fox – Head of Litigation for Stefan Cross Solicitors in Scotland 2. Paul Clark – a solicitor with Stefan Cross who has been involved with the Fife cases from the outset 3. Robin Allen, QC – a highly experienced barrister and recognised as a one of the leading experts on equal pay in the UK 4. Juliette Casey – another advocate, involved in the Glasgow GMF, based in Scotland The council has already agreed to abandon some of its initial GMF defences – and the hearing has been adjourned for the moment. Discussions have taken place with the council regarding a negotiated settlement to the Fife claims – no firm answer as yet - but if the council does not

Glasgow GMF Hearing

The Glasgow GMF hearing – which was held over two weeks in March - has been adjourned and will reconvene in the summer. The feedback from the hearing has been very positive and Stefan Cross Solicitors fielded a highly experienced legal team: 1. Carol Fox – Head of Litigation for Stefan Cross Solicitors in Scotland 2. Paul Clark – a solicitor with Stefan Cross who has been involved with the Glasgow cases from Day 1 3. Daphne Romney, QC – one of the leading equal pay barristers in the UK 4. Juliette Casey – another talented advocate, based in Scotland The main Stefan Cross witnesses – low paid women workers with the city council – all gave very powerful evidence to confirm that big bonus payments were never offered to groups of female workers. The big pay gap between male and female jobs is not in dispute – and it is for the council to show how that difference in pay can be justified. We have offered to discuss a negotiated settlement with the council – but if that doesn’t come abou

South Lanarkshire MSPs

Here's an e-mail which has been sent to all MSPs in the South Lanarkshire Council area - we've already had some useful feedback - the more people that get involved, the greater the impact will be - further news will follow. Dear MSP South Lanarkshire and Equal Pay I attach a recent article on South Lanarkshire and Equal Pay from the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog site. As you know, equal pay is a big issue for thousands of council workers in South Lanarkshire, not least because their employer has dealt with Single Status and Equal Pay in a unique way - one that is completely different to every other council in Scotland. We are in the process of arranging a further round of meetings in South Lanarkshire to update the many clients that we currently represent. We plan to invite local MSPs along to these meetings to hear what local people have to say. We are also encouraging local council workers to enter into a dialogue with their elected politicians – because our feedback

South Lanarkshire MSPs - contact details

Here are the contact details for all the MSPs covering the South Lanarkshire Council area – if you would like to visit your MSP, their telephone contact numbers can also be obtained via the Scottish parliament web site at: www.scottish.parliament.uk If you want to make a point about equal pay, you can contact either your constituency MSP – if you live in that MSP’s constituency – or you can contact one of the Regional MSPs whose remit covers the whole of the South Lanarkshire Council area. The choice of which MSP to approach is yours – Constituency and Regional MSPs have the same standing. We are sending all MSPs a copy of the article from the blog site dated 17 April 2009 – and we will offer to put any brief comments that MSPs’ might wish to make up on the blog site - as that may help people to decide which MSP to approach. Regional MSPs SNP - 5 Linda Fabiani – Linda.Fabiani.msp@scottish.parliament.uk Jamie Hepburn - Jamie.Hepburn.msp@scottish.parliament.uk Christina McKelvie