Friday, 30 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 sensitivities of the job.”

Margaret Beckett
Former foreign secretary and Labour MP for Derby South
Employs husband, Leo Beckett, as Office Manager
“Some years ago, I encountered one of the best organisers and managers I have ever met, whose judgement of people is extremely shrewd and whose advice I have often found invaluable. We later married.”

Peter Bone
Conservative MP for Wellingborough
Employs wife, Jeanette Bone, as Executive Secretary
“Members of Parliaments’ personal or secretarial assistants often have to work at midnight or later, work extremely long hours at short notice, and need to have the complete confidence of the Member of Parliament. Spouses are in a unique position to provide that service.”

Malcolm Bruce
Liberal Democrat MP for Gordon
Employs wife, Rosemary Bruce, as Office Manager and Diary Secretary
“Having my wife as office manager, diary secretary and constituency PA operating from an office in our home is invaluable not only to me but, I strongly believe, to constituents and other organisations I deal with as part of my parliamentary and constituency duties.”

David Clelland
Labour MP for Tyne Bridge

Employs wife, Brenda Graham, as Secretary
“My own wife has worked for me for 23 years (although she has only been my wife for 5 years). She is an Honours graduate in History and Politics and came to me from a very senior job with the Association of Metropolitan Authorities in London ... she is the hardest working person I have ever known.”

Roger Gale
Conservative MP for Thanet North

Employs wife, Suzy Gale, as Office Manager
“My wife Suzy was and remains as committed to the task as I am myself and I quite simply could not have devoted the time and energy that I have put into parliamentary life without her rock-solid support and backing not only as my wife but as what is now known as my 'Chief of Staff’.”

David Hamilton
Labour MP for Midlothian
Employs wife, Jean Hamilton, as Office Manager
“Whilst my staff is happy to work out of hours I am not prepared to call on them late at night as a matter of routine. The nature of the fusion between personal and professional relationships with my wife removes this problem and I am able to call upon 24/7 support.”

Iain Liddell-Grainger
Conservative MP for Bridgwater
Employs wife, Jill Liddell-Grainger, as Research/Parliamentary Assistant
“The public only observe the closeness of the relationship and may assume – wrongly I contend – that preferential treatment has been given to the new employee. I rely on Jill to be my eyes, ears and common sense thermometer – 24 hours a day. She is as much on duty in our village as she is ... at Westminster.”

Peter Luff
Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire

Employs wife, Julia Luff, as Secretary
“This entirely normal relationship brings great advantages to the work of MPs and so to their constituents, as well as help sustain their family relationships which are put under great strain by an MP’s lifestyle. My wife wanted to return to work, but also needed to because of the large salary drop I took to become an MP … The ability to employ my wife was central to my decision to become an MP and I would seriously consider leaving the House if I were no longer allowed to do so.”

John Mann
Labour MP for Bassetlaw

Employs wife, Joanna White, as Office Manager
“All staff related to MPs and all staff holding elected public office should be job evaluated independently and immediately and appropriate action taken if they are found to be overpaid or not carrying out the duties listed in their contract of employment.”

Andrew Miller
Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston
Employs wife, Fran Miller, as part-time Secretary/Office Manager, and cousin, Julie Spencer, as part-time Senior Researcher/Parliamentary Assistant
“My wife would have been paid more [if] she [had] continued as a school teacher, she works for me for four days a week, although in reality does considerable more than that where she is not paid, including as I have pointed out to the Daily Telegraph, work at weekends and discussion on casework on the telephone late at night.”

Meg Munn
Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley
Employs husband, Dennis Bates, as part-time Researcher/Parliamentary Assistant and sister-in-law, Deborah Stenton, as Caseworker/Secretarial Assistant
“New arrangements should be in place for staff to ensure they are being appropriately employed … the MP could make a statement on why they believe the person is capable of undertaking the tasks in the job description, including previous experience and qualifications. This could provide greater reassurance that any relatives who are employed are suitable for the job.”

Nick Palmer
Labour MP for Broxtowe

Employs wife, Fiona Palmer, as part-time Senior Caseworker
“It really is very useful to have an assistant available out of working hours, and if this is to be a long-term commitment then a family member or partner is the only plausible candidate. Open recruitment would not work if the assistant has to be on hand at (say) 11pm on a Sunday night.”

Ian Taylor
Conservative MP for Esher and Walton
Employs wife, Carole Taylor, as part-time Senior Parliamentary Assistant
“I do employ my wife part time under contract, and she in fact works under direction of my senior staff member. She not only contributes but feels involved in the work I do.”

Matthew Taylor
Liberal Democrat MP for Truro and St Austell
Employs wife, Victoria Taylor, as part-time Researcher
“As with many small businesses this can be the most viable way of running an MPs’ office and keeping family together, especially given MPs are working at two ends of the country and unsocial hours.”

David Wilshire
Conservative MP for Spelthorne

Employs partner, Ann Palmer, as Office Manager
“My partner … has a formal job description and a proper contract … She has the necessary skills and her personal knowledge of my constituency is second to none … she devotes many additional hours without extra pay ... Additionally, it enables us to see each other during the working week.”

Thursday, 29 October 2009

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, west London (10 miles away).

Mr McNulty claimed that the house in Harrow helped him to work more effectively in his local constituency - even though it was doubling up as his parents main residence (at the taxpayers expense).

Just picture the scene: "Can you do that ironing in the other room tonight Mum - I need to speak to some local constituents about a problem with their drains?"

Mr McNulty's fellow MPs decided that this arrangement had the effect of subsidising his parents from public funds - but then ordered him to pay back less than a quarter of the £60,000 he claimed.

The reform of MPs' expenses is finally underway - but change is only happening because MPs are not in the driving seat - no longer judge and jury in their own cause.

Just about every profession in the country involves ordinary members of the public in dealing with disciplinary matters - the regulatory bodies for doctors, lawyers and teachers - to name just a few examples.

A dose of the same for our MPs would do them - and the country's politics - a power of good.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

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 after 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 household income - to well over £100,000 a year - given that a backbench MP earns £64,766 (before expenses).

Other countries prevent their parliamentarians from employing family members - both the USA and Germany, for example - quite rightly they regard it as a conflict of interest.

And it now looks as if the UK is heading the same way. Is this a welcome development?

Yes, definitely - because there not much likelihood of a fair contest or interview - if an outside person and an MP's spouse - are competing for the same job.

Equal opportunities are not part of the process - when it comes to employing your better half.

Can you imagine dealing with a complaint - impartially and objectively - if your nearest and dearest is the one on the receiving end of the complaint?

It doesn't look or sound rigorous or professional - because it's not rigorous or professional. In fact it's completely amateurish - with personal convenience as it's only attraction.

So, the reality is that MPs should observe the same standards - and jump through the same hoops - as everyone else when it comes to equal opportunities.

In practice that means removing temptation - preventing MPs from employing their family members - because we all know what happens when MPs interpret the rules for themselves.

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 November 2009 and a GMF hearing has been listed for 19 - 23 and 26 - 30 April 2010.

Aberdeenshire Council - new settlement offers have been issued, but litigation will continue as the council has not dealt with the 3 year 'protection period'.

South Ayrshire Council - the council has made revised offers of settlement which need to be checked and assessed carefully - this will take a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009


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 they deserve - short shrift.

Monday, 26 October 2009

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.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

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 there “frequently”. She said she needed a “main residence” in Scotland because it was the base of her non-parliamentary activities.

In the past six months The Sunday Times has identified more than 20 peers whose claims are questionable.

After attending school on the outskirts of London, Goudie lived in Brent where she served as a councillor for several years. She was employed in a series of London-based jobs before becoming a freelance public affairs consultant.

Her strong association with the capital is reflected in her title: Goudie of Roundwood in the London Borough of Brent. Her husband James is a QC who worked in the same London chambers as Blair and Derry Irvine, the former lord chancellor.

The couple lived in Hampstead throughout the 1990s before buying a mews house in Belgravia, one of the most expensive residential areas of the capital, in 2002. They also have a home in Cape Cod, on the east coast of America.

However, since public records of peers’ expenses were first published in April 2001, Goudie has claimed that her main home is in Glasgow. She bought her flat in the city for £200,000 in April 2001.

The Glasgow address has enabled her to claim more than £150,000 in accommodation expenses from the Lords over the past eight years. She also claimed more than £80,000 for travel between the Lords and Glasgow (all figures include an estimate for 2008-9).

A neighbour at the Glasgow flats said she had not seen the baroness for months. A clerk at her husband’s chambers was adamant that the QC did not live in Glasgow, but was resident in London.

Goudie has clearly spent some time at the Glasgow address, but questions remain about whether it really is her main home and why she needed to claim £20,000 a year in night subsistence to live in London when she has an expensive home within walking distance of the Lords."

The full text can be read on-line at:

Friday, 23 October 2009

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?
4. How many of these posts are placed on Spinal Column Point 27?
5. How many of these posts are placed on Spinal Column Point 28?
6. Please specify how many posts/post holders in Job Category LSO 3 (2) were placed on salary preservation once South Lanarkshire Council introduced its local Single Status arrangements in April 2004?
7. Please specify the current number of preserved salary posts at each of the spinal column points between Spinal Column Points 29 to 50. In other words, how many LSO 3 (2) posts are preserved at Spinal Column Point 29, Spinal Column Point 30, Spinal Column Point 40 and so on – up to and including Spinal Column Point 50?

The council’s final response was to answer Question 1 only – i.e. that South Lanarkshire employs 578 staff on Grade LSO (3).

But the council has refused to answer the points 2 to 7 - on the basis that this is personal data that could be used to identify individual employees.

Now this is nonsense, of course – the information requested is about the number of employees at different points on the pay ladder.

So, that women workers (and the wider public) can see for themselves - how much more the male jobs are paid.

At the Labour party conference in September, Deputy Prime Minister Harriet Harman said that the next Labour government would bring in new legislation to force employers to publish such information.

Yet, South Lanarkshire Council - one of the largest in Scotland, and Labour-led to boot - is refusing to explain voluntarily what different council jobs are paid.

Significantly, no other council in Scotland behaves in this way.

But the way South Lanarkshire Council is behaving - you’d think it had a terrible secret to hide – that it’s embarrassed about the true size of the pay gap between male and female jobs.

So, the council’s decision is now being referred to - to the Scottish Information Commissioner.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

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 of an MP's duties.

So, buying tins of dog food or paying for cleaners and gardeners at public expense - should never have been approved by the fees office - but, more importantly, should never have been claimed in the first place.

If government ministers can afford to give up £2 million - then it should go to a good cause or back into the public purse where it belongs.

Rewarding MPs with a cashback scheme worth £3,000 a year - is the same as rewarding the bankers and other city fat cats - for their part in bringing the economy to its knees.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

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 have got underway with Glasgow, Fife and North Ayrshire and East Ayrshire Councils – further GMF dates are also in the process of being set for Edinburgh and North Lanarkshire Councils.

The significance of these GMF hearings is that the employers cannot frustrate and delay the process any longer – finally they have to stand up and justify their discriminatory actions.

And, of course, the employers talk to one another - what happens in one council has implications for the rest - particularly if there's a major development."

Here are some diary dates for the following councils – individual claimants are entitled to attend.

Fife - 26 October 2009 (Case Management Discussion)

West Dunbartonshire – 27 October 2009 (Case Management Discussion)

Clackmannanshire – 2 November 2009 (Case Management Discussion)

Falkirk – 18 November 2009(Case Management Discussion)

North Ayrshire – 9 to 27 November 2009 (continued GMF hearing)

Renfrewshire – 7 December 2009 (Pre-Hearing Review or PHR)

South Lanarkshire – 30 November and 9 to 18 December 2009 (continued PHR hearing)

Edinburgh – 15 to 19 February 2010 (start of GMF hearing)

Glasgow – 15 to 19 March 2010 (ongoing PHR re Compromise Agreements)

Fife – March 2010 (2 week GMF hearing to be listed, dates have still to be confirmed)

Monday, 19 October 2009

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 blog site.

You will also have the opportunity of talking to - and asking any questions of - the Action 4 Equality Scotland/Stefan Cross legal team.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

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 clear - and always have been - here's the official advice from the House of Commons Green Book

"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 it was necessary for a Member to incur to ensure that he or she could properly perform his or her parliamentary duties."

So, MPs were never allowed to claim for people ironing their laundry or cleaning their moats - but they chose to submit these ludicrous claims because they thought they could get away with it - as they did for a long time.

All that's happening now is that Sir Thomas Legg is enforcing the rules as they should have been applied in the past.

If anything, MPs are getting off very lightly - there's a strong case for many of them being required to pay back much more.

Friday, 16 October 2009

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 hypocritically when they complain that the rules on MPs' expenses have changed retrospectively.

The point is that the rules were set by MPs themselves - and were never policed effectively - the end result being that many MPs are now open to ridicule for their greed, stupidity and excess.

The latest example is a Tory MP (David Wilshire) who has paid £100,000 of tax payers money into a company which provides research services to none other than - himself. The company is wholly owned by the MP and his partner - whom he also employs as a member of his parliamentary staff.

You couldn't make this up - the truth really is stranger than fiction when it comes to MPs and their expenses!

In Westminster yesterday, Harriet Harman criticised Sir Thomas Legg for taking his independent inquiry into MPs' expenses beyond his original brief - for not sticking to the 'rules and standards' that were in place at the time.

But as MPs were only supposed to be making claims related to the better performance of their duties - it is plain that any 'rules and standards' went out the window some time ago.

Sir Thomas Legg is has performed a public service by holding MPs to account - because the only standards at work under the old expenses system were 'double standards' - so more power to his elbow, most people would say.

Remember too that if MPs had their way - none of this would have come out into the open - many of them fought tooth and nail to keep the details of their expenses secret - and the public firmly in the dark.

The truth has emerged only because of the persistence of Freedom of Information campaigners - and because crucial evidence was leaked to the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

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 Lanarkshire 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 - not GMB, Unison or Unite.

And just why have so many people voted with their feet?

Because the unions showed their true colours when they supported the council over its original settlement offers - which were worth much less than the real value of people's claims.

Because the unions supported council management over the introduction of the new Job Evaluation Scheme (JES) - which turned out to be a huge disappointment to many groups.

Because the unions were up to their necks in major issues such as the reorganisation of Home Care services - but did nothing, at the time, to protect people's interests in relation to equal pay.

So, the best advice is to accept the rumour mill for what it is - don't jump to conclusions and don't believe everything you hear.

If any useful information come to hand - pass it on. If you have any concerns, contact Action 4 Equality Scotland on 0845 300 3 800.

Or drop Mark Irvine an e-mail at:

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

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 whether the taxpayer is any worse or better off as a result."

The decision not to order Jacqui Smith to repay tens of thousands of pounds sounds incredible - until, of course, you learn that this was taken by a committee of fellow MPs - and not the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards who carried out the investigation.

An independent official conducted the inquiry - but significantly other honourable members determined what penalty to impose on their colleague.

The real issue is the personal gain made by MPs such as Jacqui Smith - who put these huge sums of money towards their own personal living costs.

The scandal is that they are making a personal profit from what amounts to a scam - instead of being reimbursed for real costs - for money they've actually spent - because that's what expenses are supposed to be about.

Jacqui Smith said: "I am disappointed that this process has not led to a fairer set of conclusions, based on objective and consistent application of the rules as they were at the time."

How's that for humble pie?

Let's hope the voters in Redditch are paying close attention.

Monday, 12 October 2009

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 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 ‘lots of other people’ have to pay the cleaner out of their own hard earned cash – they don’t expect to put it on their expenses claims.

And nor should they - because it has absolutely nothing to do with their jobs.

So, it’s hard to summon up much sympathy for the MPs now on the rack – they have enjoyed living in a surreal world for far too long – a world where common sense can be suspended, or stood on its head, to suit the needs of the storyteller.

In the weeks ahead there are bound to be further revelations – if they have any relevance to the ongoing fight for equal pay, we will let you know.

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' expenses claims:

House of Commons - Green Book

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 it was necessary for a Member to incur to ensure that he or she could properly perform his or her parliamentary duties.

Quite how an ornamental duck pond, tins of dog food, or hiring a cleaner to to tidy your private flat - helps you to be a better MP - is likely to escape most ordinary people.

They're having a laugh - aren't they?

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 on the blog site.

You will also have the opportunity of talking to - and asking any questions of - the Action 4 Equality Scotland/Stefan Cross legal team.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

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

"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 Labour’s biggest donors and a friend of the prime minister, has admitted he never even slept in the flat, despite stating it was his main residence.

The one-bedroom flat was occupied by a manager from one of Paul’s hotels who confirmed last week that the peer had never lived there while claiming the expenses.

Paul, who has a family fortune of £500m, was actually based in London, where he has lived for more than 40 years."

According to the Sunday Times, Lord Paul was able to claim cash allowances - which are normally only available to peers who live in London - by saying his main home was his manager’s flat in Oxfordshire.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

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 unions had kept hidden from a largely female workforce.

But just look at the difference when a group of male workers stands to lose out from Single Status - a reader has sent us the following press notice advertising a benefit rally in Leeds where the refuse workers are on strike.


Strike over £6000 pay cuts about to go into fifth week

The details of the ‘Refuse To The Beat’ benefit gig are as follows:

Refuse to be Beat - with Keith Allen and his 12 piece band

With very special guests and appearances on the night!

Benefit gig and Rally in support of the refuse strike

Paul Kenny, GMB General Secretary and Dave Prentis Unison General Secretary will attend the event and both will speak at the rally and will attend the picket line on Monday 19th October.

Now we say 'Good luck' to the refuse workers in Leeds - because Single Status and Equal Pay were never about levelling people's wages down - but about bringing the women's pay up - to at least the same level as the men.

Yet the difference between how the unions act when women are losing out - compared to the men - is incredible.

In all the years since 1999 (1997 in England) - the unions have not held strikes, or run big well resourced national campaigns with the general secretaries present - to condemn the fact that their women members were losing £6,000 per year.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

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.

Friday, 2 October 2009

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 and female jobs are paid - the idea being that a climate of openness and transparency (on pay) will help to close the gender pay gap.

Someone should tell Harriet that this was exactly what the 1997 (UK) Single Status Agreement was all about - 12 long years ago.

The aim in 1997 was to reward women properly for the skills and responsibilities of their jobs - and to put an end to widesrpead pay discrimination among millions of local council workers across the UK.

Maybe her husband, Jack Dromey, could 'introduce' his wife to the idea - since he was part of those negotiations as a national official of the TGWU (now Unite) at the time.

The point is that the 1997 Single Status Agreement was struck by a Labour dominated employers' association - and by Labour supporting trade unions: GMB, TGWU and Unison.

Council budgets across the UK then doubled over the next 10 years - so money and resources were not the problem - but women workers were resolutely kept in the dark about the pay gap between traditional male jobs - by Labour controlled councils and Labour supporting unions.

But even with all that extra money the Labour party's influence and dominance among the council employers and the unions counted for nothing - because they all failed to deliver on their promises.

Achieving equal pay in the public services could and should have been a key priority for the past 12 years - especially with a majority Labour government in power.

Yet this week there was not a single word of criticism - or honest reflection even - about Labour's failure to stand up for low paid women workers - not from the party leadership and not from the unions.

No one had the courage to speak the uncomfortable truth - and against that background - a new Labour-inspired Equalities Act just seems like so much empty rhetoric.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

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 - it does seem a tad tasteless for a senior Labour minister to be empathising with ordinary voters facing harsh economic times - with such an expensive bauble on his wrist.

For people losing their jobs - it must seem crazy that a Labour minister can go about attacking privilege and excess - while he's wearing a watch worth more than most folk earn in a year.

You can read the full story online at: