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Showing posts from October, 2009

All in the Family (2)

The Daily Telegraph was first out the traps again - this time with extracts from 17 MPs who have made a case that they should not be banned from employing their spouses or other family members. A ban has been recommended by Sir Christopher Kelly - who is carrying out an independent review of MPs expenses and allowances. Here's what the MPs had to say on behalf of their nearest and dearest - readers can judge for themselves which of the following the MPs deserve: a) public sympathy b) a good pyschiatrist c) a good kicking at the polls Adrian Bailey Labour MP for West Bromwich West Employs wife, Jill Bailey, as Senior Secretary “It should be allowable as family members are often more knowledgeable, experienced and committed than others.” Kevin Barron Labour MP for Rother Valley Employs sister-in-law, Sheena Woolley, as Secretary “The essential thing is that they do the work they are paid for and that I can trust them implicitly, especially with confidentiality and the political

Savaged by a Dead Sheep

Denis Healey (former Labour chancellor) once famously said that being attacked by Geoffrey Howe (his old Tory adversary) was like - 'being savaged by a dead sheep!' In other words, the old Labour warhorse had a hide as tough as leather - and the only opponents who caused him to lose any sleep - were the ones with sharp teeth. Former government minister, Tony McNulty, must feel the same way today - after issuing a grovelling apology in the House of Commons over his expenses claims - and being forced to repay £13,876. But the truth is that Mr McNulty got off very lightly. Because he was savaged by a committee of fellow MPs who decided on his punishment - after being found to have breached the rules by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards (who is not an MP). Mr McNulty claimed around £60,000 in allowances - for the house in which his parents lived. He designated this former family home in Harrow as his new 'second home' - after moving to Hammersmith, we

All in the Family

Many of our MPs employ family members to run - or help run - their parliamentary or constituency offices. Earlier this year, Derek Conway (Tory MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup) ran into a spot of bother - it turned out that he was employing some of his children, as well as his spouse - to the tune of £260,000 over six years. Quite what his children were doing for the money was another matter altogether and a fter a parliamentary investigation, a suitably disgraced Mr Conway was forced to apologise - and repay thousands of pounds, albeit a small fraction of the total shelled out for 'research work'. But truth is they're all at it (employing family members that is) - or at least huge numbers of them - 200 plus according to newspaper reports. And as with everything else, this vital information had to be dragged out of our honourable members - along with the previously hidden details of their expenses claims. By employing a spouse an MP can give a welcome boost to their

More Updates

As explained in the previous post dated 20 October 2009 - every effort is being made to resolve all of the outstanding equal pay claims as quickly as possible. Here is a further update from around the country - and some more diary dates. East Lothian Council - seettlement discussions with East Lothian have taken place, but the council is trying to attach conditions to new settlement offers - so no agreement has yet been reached. Alternative proposals have been put to the council. Aberdeen City Council - a further CMD has been requested with a view to listing dates for a GMF hearing . West Lothian Council – all parties agreed on 18th August 2009 that a further CMD is now needed to discuss preparations for a GMF hearing - dates have still to be confirmed by the Employment Tribunal. Midlothian Council – the Employment Tribunal has to list a Pre Hearing Review before proceeding to a GMF hearing - dates are awaited. North Lanarkshire Council - a CMD has been arranged for 5 Novemb

Johnnies-Come-Lately

More readers from Falkirk have been in touch about the GMB poaching campaign. To a man - and a woman - readers are completely cynical about the union's motives and have raised the obvious questions: "Where have the unions been all these years"? "Why did the unions keep their members in the dark about the huge pay gap between traditional male and female jobs?" So, it just goes to show that people are not daft - generally speaking - their heads don't button up the back. Even if that's the way that unions have treated their members - over equal pay. The point is that many employers continue to see the unions as a soft touch - more interested in party politics than the day-to-day priorities of ordinary members. The unions are 'Johnnies-come-lately' in the cause of equal pay - they pulled their punches at crucial times - and to many people they are part of the political establishment. Our advice is to give union poaching efforts what t

Falkirk Council

A number of readers from Falkirk have been in touch - to say that the unions are up to their old tricks again. The GMB - this time - has apparently written to union members who are already clients of Action 4 Equality Scotland - offering to help people with the 'protection period' part of their equal pay claims. As usual, the unions are behind the curve - because that part of people's equal pay claim is already in hand - as far as clients of Action 4 Equality Scotland are concerned. So, if you receive an unsolicited letter like this from the GMB - just ignore it - there's no need to do anything. Settlement discussions with the council are continuing - and we will be in touch as soon as there is any more news to report.

Home Sweet (Designated) Home - 2

Another Sunday, another expenses scandal - this time involving a Labour peer and friend of the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. According to the Sunday Times, Baroness Goudie - a Labour Donor and fundraiser who lives with her husband in a £1.5 million house in London - has claimed £230,000 in expenses by saying a flat in Glasgow is her main home. Here's are some key extracts from the article: "Baroness Goudie .....has lived since childhood in London where her two sons grew up and her husband works as a leading barrister. However, the baroness tells the Lords her main address is 400 miles away in a Glasgow apartment block. A close neighbour said she had not seen Goudie there for some time. This has allowed Goudie to claim subsistence allowances intended as payments for peers who are based outside the capital and need help to meet the cost of accommodation in London. On Friday Goudie acknowledged she did not spend much of her time in the Glasgow flat, although she was ther

Clear as Mud

Just like every other council in Scotland – South Lanarkshire Council says it supports the concept of Freedom of Information – that it's a great believer in openness and transparency. Of course, MPs in Westminster said that they were champions of Freedom of Information as well - at least until people started asking awkward questions about their expenses claims – then it turned into a different story altogether. Earlier this year I asked South Lanarkshire some questions about where certain traditional male jobs were placed on the pay ladder – a simple, innocuous query, you might agree, which did not jeopardise national security. All that was being asked was: "How are certain jobs within the council paid?" Here are the original questions: 1. How many posts does the council currently employ in Job Category - Land Services Operative LSO 3 (2)? 2. How many of these posts are placed on Spinal Column Point 25? 3. How many of these posts are placed on Spinal Column Point 26

Falkirk CMD - 18 November 2009

A number of readers have been in touch over the Falkirk CMD - which is scheduled to take place on 18 November 2009. Some confusion has been caused by an earlier letter to Falkirk clients which gave the CMD date as 4 November - which was correct at the time of writing and sending the letter. But Falkirk Council subsequently asked for extra time to prepare for the hearing - and the Employment Tribunal granted their request. So, 18 November 2009 is definitely the right date - and if you go along introduce yourself to Carol Fox who will be there on behalf of the Stefan Cross Solicitors legal team.

Rewarding Failure

The Daily Telegraph has been the newspaper with its finger on the pulse - when it comes to MPs and their expenses. A report in today's paper makes interesting reading. The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is apparently desperate to avoid a Commons mutiny over next month’s long awaited reforms of MPs' expenses - which is expected to sweep away many of their existing allowances. But the Prime Minister, allegedly, has a cunning plan - which involves cutting the pay of 100 or so government ministers by £20,000 a year - raising an extra £2 million to dole out as an early Christmas present. The £2 million (of public money) would be shared out amongst all 646 MPs - giving them each an extra £3,000 a year - but without any further cost to the tax payer. Sounds like a wizard wheeze - until you consider the fact that it amounts to rewarding MPs for abusing their own expenses system. The present rules are clear - claims are allowed only if they relate directly to the performance o

General Update and Diary Dates

As regular readers know, we are pressing for all the outstanding equal pay cases to be dealt with as quickly as possible – here’s an extract from an earlier post in September 2009. "Readers are regularly in touch asking for an update of what's happening in their own local area. People are understandably frustrated that some employers have dragged their feet for so long. And there’s genuine anger that some employers have engaged in deliberate delaying tactics - registering pointless appeals, using public money - to slow down the tribunal process. The current position across all councils is that we are pressing for GMF (Genuine Material Factor) or ‘defence’ hearings - to be held as soon as possible. A GMF hearing requires the council to explain and try to justify the big differences in pay - between traditional male and female jobs. Councils are no longer trying that these differences exist – the pay gap is now accepted as a matter of fact. Over recent months GMF hearings

South Lanarkshire Hearings - repeat post

The Pre-Hearing Review involving South Lanarkshire Council and its 'in-house' job evaluation scheme (JES) - is underway at the Employment Tribunal in Glasgow. The first five days of the hearing have already taken place - and involved the Council giving evidence and explaining the background to the JES. Further dates are already listed for: 26th October 30th November 9th,10th, 17th and 18th December It is also possible that further hearing dates will be needed in the New Year. Although some of the evidence is very technical about the working of the JES - South Lanarkshire claimants are welcome to come along to hear what is being said. The underlying legal issues are about real people doing vital jobs in their local communities - but why are there such big differences in pay - between the male and female groups? Attending one of the hearings will help claimants people appreciate the amount of work that's going on - but which can't be adequately reported on the bl

Motoring Madness

Frank Field, MP for Birkenhead, is grabbing the headlines in the ongoing MPs' expenses scandal. The former Labour welfare minister is challenging a request from Sir Thomas Legg to pay back over £7,000 - claiming that it is unfair to introduce new 'rules' retrospectively. Normally a sensible kind of chap, Frank has chosen a motoring analogy to illustrate his point - in the newspapers: “It’s like driving along at 25mph in a 30mph zone - only to receive lots of tickets which say you should not have been driving over 20mph,” Field told the Sunday Times. Put like that, it does sound as if MPs are being exposed to a bit of rough justice - but, of course, that's not really what happened. MPs were given clear advice about the speeding limits - to continue with Frank's motoring analogy - they knew fine well they were on a 30mph road, but they put their foot to the floor nonetheless - because they thought no one was watching. The rules on MPs' expenses are very cl

Court of Public Opinion

Only a few short months ago, Harriet Harman MP - Labour's deputy leader and Leader of the House of Commons - was a great believer in the 'court of public opinion'. Harriet took to the airwaves to condemn Sir Fred Goodwin (formerly top banana at the Royal Bank of Scotland) - who received a huge 'golden goodbye' in top up pension benefits from his employer - despite his role in bringing the banking sector and the UK economy to its knees. Harriet's outrage knew no bounds - even though Sir Fred's package was perfectly lawful and within the 'rules' - the MP for Camberwell and Peckham made it clear that he was guilty as charged in the 'court of public opinion'. Sir Fred could run, but could not hide - so he ended up doing the sensible thing - and handed back some of his enormous pension pot. And what's sauce for the goose should now be sauce for the gander - the MPs who were baying for Sir Fred's blood - are now behaving hypocritica

North Lanarkshire

A number of readers from North Lanarkshire have been in touch - to say that rumours are doing the rounds about the unions and the council reaching a 'deal' over equal pay. Well, like most rumours people should treat these with a big pinch of salt - because there are talks taking place all the time - sometimes even talks about talks. Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross, for example, have already invited North Lanarkshire to consider settling all outstanding cases - after the council abandoned its appeal over the Home Carers' claims. Our view is that North Lanarkshire should now face up to the inevitable - by settling these claims - rather than wasting more time and money in trying to defend the indefensible. North L anarkshire understands the reality of its situation - the council can't settle equal pay by having cosy chats with the trade unions - they know that the majority of North Lanarkshire workers are represented by Action 4 Equality Scotland -

Home Sweet (Designated) Home

When is a home not a home? When you're an MP, of course - and able to designate your real family home as your 'second' home - thus allowing you to pocket £116,000 in accomodation allowances, courtesy of the tax payer. Despite the fact that her children and husband lived in the family home in Redditch (15 miles south of Birmingham) - Jacqui Smith took full advantage of the MPs' expenses regime and claimed that her main home was a bedroom in her sister's house in London. Sounds crazy to most normal people - but not the former Labour Home Secretary. After a formal House of Commons inquiry found against the 'honourable' member for Redditch - she was forced to apologise yesterday - but did so with little grace and even less enthusiasm. Jacqui Smith took comfort in the fact that she was not ordered to pay back money because the inquiry found: "it is impossible to quantify" what the financial implications are or establish "with any certainty w

You Heard It Here First!

The Prime Minister, no less, has been called to account over the MPs' expenses scandal. Gordon Brown has been asked to pay back £12,415 - over 'cleaning' services for his London flat - and has little option now but to get his check book out - and reimburse the public purse for what he should never have claimed in the first place. £12,415 is an astonishing amount of money to have overclaimed in expenses - but not when you think about it - because why should the tax payer subsidise the private living arrangements of MPs? Here's what we had to say back in May on this issue - just a pity it's taken so long for others to catch up. Action 4 Equality Scotland - post dated Sunday 10 May 2009 "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 rule

They're Having a Laugh - Aren't They?

Apparently, our MPs are fighting mad. Not over the mess of the economy - not about the scandal of equal pay - but about the fact that many of them are to be asked pay back or justify some of their more ridiculous expenses claims. What's got 'honourable' members up in arms is that in reviewing MPs' expenses over the past five years - a former senior civil servant (Sir Thomas Legg) has 'interpreted' the the old rules with a degree of common sense. The result being that many MPs' are to be told that their claims to do stand up to scrutiny. But according to news reports our MPs are not going to take this lying down - they object to what has been described by the Prime Minister as 'new criteria being retrospectively applied'. Now this is complete nonsense, of course - not least because the old rules were clear as could be - here's an extract from the House of Commons 'Green Book' which contains advice and guidance on MPs' expense

South Lanarkshire Hearings

The Pre-Hearing Review involving South Lanarkshire Council and its 'in-house' job evaluation scheme (JES) - is underway at the Employment Tribunal in Glasgow. The first five days of the hearing have already taken place - and involved the Council giving evidence and explaining the background to the JES. Further dates are already listed for: 26th October 30th November 9th,10th, 17th and 18th December It is also possible that further hearing dates will be needed in the New Year. Although some of the evidence is very technical about the working of the JES - South Lanarkshire claimants are welcome to come along to hear what is being said. The underlying legal issues are about real people doing vital jobs in their local communities - but why are there such big differences in pay - between the male and female groups? Attending one of the hearings will help claimants people appreciate the amount of work that's going on - but which can't be adequately reported

MPs' Expenses - The Next Chapter

According to today's news reports, the MPs' expenses scandal is set to rumble on for weeks and months to come. The latest development is that as many as 325 MPs (over half the total number) will receive letters this week - following an independent enquiry - which has looked back over their expenses claims for the past five years. Many are expected to have to repay expenses that have been wrongly claimed - or to be asked to provide further to justify their claims. But even before the spotlight focuses once more on MPs in the House of Commons - the behaviour of another 'honourable' member from the House of Lords has been exposed by the Sunday Times. Here's an extract from today's paper - the full article can be read on-line at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/ "A multi-millionaire ally of Gordon Brown pretended that a small flat occupied by one of his employees was his main home so he could claim £38,000 in expenses from the Lords. Lord Paul, one of La

Compare and Contrast

The real issue at the heart of the equal pay debate - is that many female dominated jobs have been underpaid and undervalued for years. Since at least 1999 when Scotland agreed to a new Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement - which outlawed such blatant pay discrimination between traditional male and female jobs. In the years that followed, low paid women workers lost money - substantial amounts of money - up to £6,000 per year in the case of a full-time carer or cook, for example. The financial losses that the women have suffered form the basis of their 'compensation' offers from the councils employers - and many low paid workers have been 'encouraged' to accept poor settlements which do not make up for what the women lost over these years. During that period the unions said or did very little about equal pay - until Action 4 Equality Scotland came along in 2005 and began to explain the size of the pay gap between male and female jobs - which the employers and the un

Meeting the Costs of Equal Pay

Lots of readers have been in touch to ask about the reports of a new Scottish government scheme that will allow councils to borrow additional funds – to meet the back-pay element of their equal pay costs. What everyone wants to know is: “Will this make my council more likely to settle?” Well the answer is – possibly. The Scottish Government is not giving councils a blank cheque. Individual councils will have to submit detailed proposals and explain what they have done to meet their equal pay obligations – past and present. So, the position is likely to vary from council to council. But the new scheme clearly gives Scottish councils, as a whole, more flexibility and room for manoeuvre – and to that extent it has to be welcomed. It's taken a long time, but at last the Scottish government has rolled its sleeves up and got directly involved - and that's a positive development.

Looking Back On Labour

Labour's annual conference was the usual mix of spin and knockabout politics - but for anyone with an interest in equality issues and equal pay - it was simply embarassing. First we had the sight of Sarah Brown, the Prime Minister's wife, 'introducing' him to the platform for the second year running with a bizarre message: 'Vote for Gordon - because I love him'. If Denis Thatcher had performed the same image-softening service for his one-time 'Iron Lady' - the press and media would have fallen about laughing - and rightly so. But in Brighton no one batted an eyelid about the blatant sexism of a desperate Labour leader using his better half as a political prop. Worse followed later in the week when Deputy Leader - Harriet Harman announced that a new Equalities Act would be introduced - if Labour wins the election in 2010. Don't hold your breath - but the proposed new legislation will (allegedly) force employers to publish details of how male an

Watch Out - Mandy's About!

Highlight of the Labour conference week - by many accounts - was a typically theatrical, hammed-up, virtuoso speech on Monday afternoon - by none other than the comeback kid himself: Lord Peter Mandleson. Currently the government's business secretary (and Deputy Prime Minister in all but name) - Lord Mandleson was formerly known, by many in the party, as Labour's Prince of Darkness. But since his moment of triumph earlier in the week - when he outshone his boss, Gordon Brown - Lord Mandleson has been undone by an eagle-eyed and well-informed photographer. Whose conference snaps - published yesterday in the Daily Mail - show Mandy wearing an unbelievably expensive watch - worth £21,500 apparently. The timepiece was a Patek Philippe watch and not just any old Patek Philippe - according to the newspaper and to give the watch its full name - a Reference 5146 annual calendar in yellow gold with a dark slate grey dial. Since most people don't own a car worth £21,500 - i