Friday, 27 November 2009

Glasgow Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, your patience and understanding would be appreciated.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Life's Little Ironies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Falkirk Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Second Standards MP in Expenses Row

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

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

The Daily Telegraph reported yesterday that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 23 November 2009

More News and Updates

Perth & Kinross

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

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

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

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

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

Highland Council

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 20 November 2009

Ten Years on

Ten years ago today - I stopped working for Unison.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Elephant in the Room

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

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

So how has it come to this?

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

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

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

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

Definitely not one of Westminster's better days.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

South Lanarkshire Hearing

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

Date - Monday 30 November 2009

Time - 10 am

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Which Side Are You On?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 How much is my claim really worth?

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

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

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

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

Monday, 16 November 2009

Cut to the Chase

Clackmannanshire is Scotland's smallest mainland council.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So watch this space.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Empty Vessels Make The Most Noise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The Empire Strikes Backs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hear, hear!

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

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

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Cleaning Up At Taxpayers' Expense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read the full article at:

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Glasgow Update

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

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

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

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

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

Glasgow By-Election

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

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

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

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

Monday, 9 November 2009

North Ayrshire Update

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

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

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

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

Watchdog or Lapdog?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 6 November 2009

Smaller Banks, Bigger Unions

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

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

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

So far, so good - sounds reasonable enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just look what it's done for MPs.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

MPs: We Want £40,000 A Year Pay Rise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

South Lanarkshire and FOI

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

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

Scottish Information Commissioner
Kinburn Castle
Doubledykes Road
KY16 9DS

Dear Commissioner

South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) – FOISA request

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kind regards

Mark Irvine

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Damascene Conversions

Some of our regular male readers have been in touch to say that the trade unions are undergoing another amazing 'Damascene' conversion.

Having told their male members for years that they have no equal pay claims - the unions are apparently changing their tune - and that maybe they made a big boo boo, after all!

Now this is in response to the success of Stefan Cross Solicitors in establishing - as a matter of law - that non-bonus earning men have potentially the same claim as non-bonus earning women - providing their has been an equal pay settlement .

The unions are presumably very embarrassed that they told many male members to 'get lost' - when they made enquiries about equal pay.

Male union members who took up a claim with Action 4 Equality Scotland - report that they were told they had no claim for equal pay - in no uncertain terms - when they approached their union for advice.

Now the unions appear to be changing their tune - but yet again they made the wrong call - and let their own members down.

Many male union members will have lost out, big time - those who took up a claim with Action 4 Equality Scotland protected their position - but it's another example of the unions falling down on the job.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Unite and Fight

The union Unite is working itself up into a lather apparently - over the proposed ban on MPs hiring family members to run their parliamentary offices.

According to press reports - Unite says it will use employment law to protect those facing the sack from 'unfair dismissal and discrimination'

Unite represents staff of MPs in the House of Commons and has arranged a special meeting for those affected by the ruling.

A Unite spokesperson said:

"Whether it is unfair dismissal or discrimination law, we will offer our members whatever protection we can. Family members of MPs' staff save the taxpayer money by working many hours in unpaid overtime. The majority of the public want employment of family members to be transparent and regulated – not banned."

Now it's odd indeed to hear a trade union singing the praises of its members for (allegedly) working many hours of unpaid overtime - in order to save the taxpayer a fortune!

But what's even more odd is the union threatening to pull out all the stops - to use the full force of the law to protect members' interests - when you consider how the unions behaved over equal pay.

It's heartening to hear that MPs and their long suffering spouses - have such strong, determined trade union backing.

Low paid women members still fighting for equal pay - who were kept in the dark for years about the pay gap between male and female jobs - might just struggle to see the irony.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Hitting the Nail on the Head

Every once in a while - newspaper columnists hit the nail on the heard.

Here's what Simon Hoggart had to say the other day in the Guardian ( - about MPs' expenses and the latest revelations involving the Tony McNulty, the 'honourable' member for Harrow East.

"They still don't get it, part 873. Yesterday a Commons committee reported on Tony McNulty. He had bought a house in his constituency (Harrow East) and installed his parents there. He paid the occasional visit, although his own home was elsewhere in London. He then charged the taxpayer for 69% of the cost of running the place. Maybe he was just doing in advance what many MPs feel should be done anyway – having the taxpayer fund their golden years.

The committee on standards and privileges said that, since his parents lived together, they only counted as one person. Therefore, McNulty should be able to claim half the costs, even though there is only one corporeal McNulty Jr as opposed to the single notional McNulty that comprises Mr and Mrs McNulty Sr. (You need to comprehend higher philosophical concepts to follow the expenses row.) So he was asked to pay back £13,800 and apologise.

This he did. It was one of those well-honed, carefully scripted, sort-of apologies we have become familiar with. He had been "careless". He had been rightly admonished for his "informal" arrangements. But the key was when he said that the "commissioner has every right to redefine [his] advice and apply it retrospectively. Indeed, had the advice been given to me in terms that have now been suggested … I would of course have acted differently."

However, he apologised "unreservedly", and this won hearty hear-hears from his colleagues, many of whom may already feel the cold, bony fingers of the commissioner on their collars.

I wonder how it would work in the world the rest of us inhabit. "When I took your wallet out of your jacket, and removed £40 while you were in the toilet, I was making an informal arrangement for a loan which I had every intention of repaying. The fact that I did not inform you at the time was careless, and I make a full apology for this slip …"

How refreshing to hear someone say what needs to be said - and without making any mealy-mouthed excuses for MPs behaviour.