Saturday, 30 January 2010

Globespan - Travel Weekly Magazine

Travel Weekly - a trade magazine for the airline industry - has picked up on the Globespan campaign - here's what Travel Magazine reporter, Chloe Berman, had to say:

Globespan staff seek wages claim from courts (28 January 2010)
Disgruntled former Globespan employees could take their case to an employment tribunal after they lost their jobs a week before Christmas.

Globespan’s 650 full-time staff, including cabin crew, ground staff and check-in clerks, were left unemployed when the
airline failed in December 2009.

Independent consultant and former trade union official Mark Irvine, who writes the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog, organised a meeting in Edinburgh earlier this month after receiving enquiries from the airline’s workers.

He said former Globespan staff could claim for a protective award, which occurs when more than 20 workers lose their jobs without notice or consultation.
Companies are still obliged to consult a representative of employees, such as a trade union, if they expect to enter administration.

If the employees’ claim is successful, the award, which could be for up to 90 days’ pay, would be likely to be paid by the government rather than the administrator.

Irvine said: “By all accounts the entire Globespan work-force was dumped upon and no one knew in advance how bumpy the landing would be.

“They have to pursue these rights actively; no one is likely to hand them over on a plate.

“As in many of these situations, knowledge is power. Most people are not even aware they have a claim for a protective award.”

A former baggage handler for the airline, who did not wish to be named, said he found out about the demise of Globespan only through a television news report. The employee worked for Alba Ground Handling, which was owned by Globespan Group.

“I was watching the evening news and it said that Globespan had been put into administration. I knew nothing about it,” he said. “I’ve heard nothing since apart from a letter from the administrators.”

A total of 12 employees attended the initial meeting in Edinburgh, and Irvine expects more to get in touch. He said the former employees might also have a claim for unfair dismissal, lost holiday pay, unpaid wages and incorrect contract terms.

Chloe Berman

On the back of the magazine article we've had a flood of enquiries from former Globespan employees - so keep spreading the word.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Access to Justice

Action 4 Equality Scotland has played an crucial role in widening access to justice - for thousands of low paid workers in Scotland's public services - the majority of whom are women.

Action 4 Equality Scotland is now pursuing over 12,000 equal pay claims in the Employment Tribunals - but before we arrived on the scene in August 2005 - equal pay was a dead issue in Scotland.

The landmark 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement - hailed as historic at the time by employers and trade unions alike - was stuck firmly in the doldrums, going nowhere fast.

Now equal pay is back at the top of the agenda - the employers have been forced to respond by the action we have taken in the courts.

The trade unions have been shamed into taking up claims on behalf of some of their members at least - though many more have been let down - including many non-bonus earning male workers and much of the workforce in South Lanarkshire Council, for example.

In the space of five years things have changed out of sight over equal pay - previously access to justice in the employment tribunals was controlled largely by the unions - who spent much of their time and effort keeping members in the dark.

And modern-day trade unions are increasingly big, bureaucratic organisations - remote from their members.

Ordinary union members have little, if any, control over the big issues - or management of their case - if they are lucky enough to have them taken up in the first place.

For several years after the 1999 Single Status Agreement - the unions were not remotely interested in widening access to justice - when it came to equal pay in the employment tribunals.

The unions are all in favour of change they can control - change that ordinary union members can believe in - is another thing altogether.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Freedom of Information

All kinds of interesting information keeps tumbling out of the Chilcott Inquiry into the Iraq war.

Previously classified information - including the highly confidential advice given by civil servants to government ministers - is now out in the open, where it belongs.

People can now make up their own minds - based on the evidence and advice that was available to the government at the time - and that's what Freedom of Information is all about.

Some commentators are demanding that even the private notes between Prime Minister Blair and President Bush - should be put into the public domain.

And why not?

After all they were not acting as private citizens - but on behalf of their respective governments.

Yet, while these high affairs of world diplomacy are under the most intense scrutiny - it's worth remembering that South Lanarkshire Council is still trying to keep secret - what its refuse workers and gardeners are paid.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Wishful Thinking

A reader from North Lanarskhire has been in touch to ask:

"Can you tell me if there's any truth in the rumour that Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross have pulled out of cases involving North Lanarkshire Council?"

Well the answer is an emphatic - NO - maybe the rumour is just wishful thinking on the part of the council and the trade unions.

But in any event it is complete baloney - tosh from start to finish.

In fact there's good news to report about North Lanarkshire - because a GMF hearing has now been listed - and the council will finally have to face the music in April 2010.

Details of the hearing will follow - claimants are entitled to attend and hear what's going on - first-hand.

Action 4 Equality Scotland has now written to the council - and is also contacting MPs and MSPs in the North Lanarkshire Council area.

So, far from pulling out - things are getting into top gear.

Watch this space for further news.

Labour and the Unions

Scotland on Sunday reported yesterday that time has finally run out for Anne Moffat MP - a former president of Unison - who was installed into Labour's East Lothian consituency with the support of the trade unions.

The newspaper described Anne Moffat as one of Labour's most controversial Scottish MPs - and went on to report that she had been effectively deselected by her local party - following concerns about her erratic behaviour and anger over her travelling expenses.

Read the full article at - here are the key points:

"Party ditches controversial MP
Scotland on Sunday can reveal that activists have voted overwhelmingly to unseat Anne Moffat as MP for East Lothian and are seeking a candidate to replace her before the general election.

Assuming the decision is ratified by the National Eexecutive Ccouncil, Moffat will become the second sitting Scottish Labour MP to be deselected in the run-up to the election.

Jim Devine, the Livingston MP, was deselected after his expenses were criticised for submitting invoices for electrical work worth £2,157 from a firm with an allegedly fake address and an invalid VAT number.

The move to oust Moffat comes after a long-running battle within the East Lothian Constituency Labour Party.

The wrangling over the seat, to which Moffat was elected in 2001 as Anne Picking, will throw the spotlight on Labour's internal machinations – a state of affairs that will dismay the Labour leadership as the party gears up for the election.

There is the added embarrassment that East Lothian is a constituency shared with the Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray, who represents it at Holyrood.

A meeting of the East Lothian Constituency Party was held on Friday night in Prestonpans Labour Club. Representatives of branches voted 25 to five in favour of a motion calling for her deselection.

Moffat has endured a torrid time as an MP with a number of local activists fighting to get her deselected. Her critics claimed Moffat was not performing as effectively as expected as a Labour MP. Until this weekend she had managed to stave off deselection with the help of trade union support.

She has accused her detractors of "bullying" and suggested she was being targeted because she was a woman in a male environment. In the past she has survived a no-confidence motion and had promised to work closely with the local party to resolve their differences.

Earlier in her political career, she sacked three of her staff, provoking anger in the constituency. Then she faced accusations – dismissed by the authorities – that she abused her Commons expenses.

In 2007 it was revealed that her travelling expenses were the equivalent of driving round the world in a year.

Moffat billed taxpayers for the 24,000-mile claim despite also claiming an air fare a week between London and Edinburgh over the same 12-month period. The parliamentarian also claimed 82 train fares each averaging £119 a ticket, bringing her annual travel costs to more than £45,000.

Moffat could not be contacted last night."

Sunday, 24 January 2010

All in the Family

The Sunday Times today lays bare the behaviour of another Westminster MP - who used his family to exploit expenses - - here's a summary of the paper's investigation into Labour MP David Chaytor.

MP David Chaytor used daughter in expenses scam
David Chaytor, pretended his daughter was his landlord so he could claim almost £13,000 in expenses from the Commons for “renting” a flat that he himself owned.

David Chaytor, MP for Bury North, drew up a tenancy agreement with his daughter but disguised their relationship by giving her middle name as her surname.

Land Registry records show that Chaytor and his wife were the real owners of the property and there was no reason to claim his rent from the Commons. The mortgage had been paid off.

He is being investigated by the police after it was alleged he had claimed interest payments for a “phantom” mortgage that had already been paid off.

So far Chaytor has gone along with the false assumption that his claims had been for interest. It has allowed him to brush off the discrepancy as an “error” in his “accounting procedures”.

However, a Sunday Times investigation casts doubt on the MP’s claims. It is clear that Chaytor was claiming rent rather than interest and did so by creating a false tenancy agreement with his daughter as landlord.

It has also emerged that he received expenses for renting a property from his mother, after Commons rules were introduced to prohibit MPs from claiming on homes leased from relatives.

Chaytor is a 60-year-old former lecturer who entered parliament in 1997. As an MP he can claim expenses for the cost of maintaining a second home in London or his constituency.

In autumn 2005 he told the Commons that a house in Todmorden, Lancashire, was his main residence and began claiming expenses for his second home on a flat with commanding views across Westminster.

He and his wife had owned the flat since 1999 and had paid off the mortgage in full in January 2004. As a result, he should have been allowed to claim only expenses for upkeep, running costs and necessary household items.

However, Chaytor submitted claims for £1,175 a month on his expense forms under the heading “mortgage payments (interest only) or rent”. Until now it has been assumed these were erroneous interest payments for the “phantom” mortgage, but this was not the case.

A closer inspection of his expense forms provides the first clue. In one of the forms he crossed out the words “mortgage payments [etc]” and underlined the word “rent”.

Chaytor claimed that he was renting his flat from a woman he called Sarah Rastrick. These are the first names of his daughter Sarah Rastrick Chaytor, who had recently graduated from university when the arrangement started.

Chaytor had also used the name Sarah Rastrick when paying his daughter £5,000 from his Commons office allowances for research while she was a student.

The MP claimed a total of £12,925 for his rent payments between September 2005 and August 2006. It is not known whether any rent changed hands, but his claim was paid.

He stopped the claims for rent when he bought another flat in the same block using a mortgage. While keeping the original flat, he told the Commons his new property was his second home. This flipping of homes meant he could claim more than £11,000 in stamp duty and legal fees on his new purchase.

It was one of four home flips by Chaytor in less than three years. In August 2007 he began claiming rent for another property he had designated as his second home. This cottage in the village of Summerseat, near Bury, belonged to his mother Olive, who had moved into a care home because she had Alzheimer’s disease.

The Commons had introduced new rules in July 2006 preventing MPs from claiming expenses on properties rented from relatives. Nonetheless, Chaytor claimed a total of £5,400 over the six months that he rented the flat from his mother. The relationship would not have been obvious to the Commons authorities as his mother, who died last year, had remarried and used the surname Trickett.

The police have passed a report on Chaytor, who will step down at the election, to the Crown Prosecution Service. A decision on possible charges is expected before spring. His lawyers say he should be immune from prosecution as he is protected by parliamentary privilege.


January 2004

Chaytor pays off mortgage on Westminster flat
September 2005

Flips second home to the flat and claims £12,925 in “rent”
September 2006

Buys another flat in same block and flips second home. Claims £11,500 in stamp duty and legal fees
August 2007

Flips second home to mother’s Bury cottage and claims £5,400 in “rent”
February 2008

Flips second home to Todmorden and claims £1,500 for furnishings

Saturday, 23 January 2010

MPs' Expenses - The Saga Continues

Still no end in sight to the ongoing MPs' expenses scandal - the latest 'honourable' member to come unstuck is Harry Cohen - Labour MP for Leyton and Wanstead.

Yesterday's newspapers reported how the MP has been ordered to forfeit a £65,000 re-settlement grant - after a particularly serious breach of parliamentary rules.

Somehow or other - but not deliberately, of course - this otherwise intelligent MP managed to claim £70,000 in housing expenses - for a property he was not actually living in at the time.

In fact he was renting it out - and by all accounts seems to have walked away with a tidy profit - even after giving up his £65,000 (normally paid to MPs on leaving the House of Commons).

But he didn't resign in disgrace - he didn't have the party whip withdrawn - in fact he's still there drawing a handsome salary all the way to the general election.

Here's a summary of the report in the Times newspaper - the full article can be read online at:

Labour MP to forfeit £65,000
"The Commons Standards and Privileges Committee ruled that he designated a house in Colchester, Essex, as his main home even though he was not living there for long periods and rented it out.

“Mr Cohen’s breach was particularly serious and it involved a large sum of public money,” the committee said.

“Withholding of the resettlement grant is a severe sanction, which will effectively recover from Mr Cohen a similarly large sum of public money.”

The committee said that Mr Cohen should also make a public apology for his conduct on the floor of the Commons.

An investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, John Lyon, found that Mr Cohen had consistently designated the house in Colchester as his main home since he bought it in 1998.

It enabled him to claim the second homes allowance on a succession of properties in his Leyton and Wanstead constituency in East London.

However, from 2004 to 2008, Mr Cohen and his wife spent most of their time living in the constituency, while periodically letting out the Colchester house to tenants on six-month leases.

During that period he claimed and received more than £70,000 in second homes allowances.

The committee pointed out that an outer London MP with just one home would have been entitled to claim just £9,000 in the London supplement over the same period.

As a result, it said that Mr Cohen should now forfeit the £65,000 resettlement grant that he was due to receive when he stands down as an MP at the forthcoming general election.

While it acknowledged that the couple had always intended to return to the Colchester house, where they plan to retire, it said it should have been clear by April 2004 that that was not going to happen in the short term.

“Mr Cohen’s constituency home was his main home — and for long periods his only home — throughout the four and a half years when he was making little use of the house in Colchester,” it said."

Friday, 22 January 2010

Edinburgh City Council - Stop Press

Further discussions about a possible settlement with Edinburgh City Council - have concluded on a positive note.

One or two details need to be double checked - but everything looks to be on course - as reported on the blog site last week.

Action 4 Equality Scotland will be writing to Edinburgh clients - with all the details - by the end of next week, or as soon as all the paperwork from the council is received.

So, in the meantime - sit tight - and await further developments.

The council's settlement offers extend only to female employees in former manual worker posts.

The fight for equal pay on behalf of former APT&C employees and groups of male workers will continue - with an important appeal hearing taking place in April 2010.

South Lanarkshire

Here's an previous post from the blog site - the trade unions are now panicking about advice they've given to members in South Lanarkshire Council - not to pursue equal pay claims.

Because the unions gave the very same advice to many of their non-bonus earning male members (janitors, drivers and so forth) in other councils - and that advice has now blown up in their faces - like an exploding cigar.

So, ordinary members have lost out financially, big time - and many of them are thinking about how to hold their trade unions to account - for giving them such poor and costly advice.

The same scenario could be replayed in South Lanarkshire - which is the only council in the whole of Scotland - where the trade unions are still actively dissuading members from protecting their own interests - by taking up an equal pay claim.

Maybe union members in South Lanarkshire ought to be asking just what this advice is based upon - is it firm legal advice and if so, why not share the details with ordinary members who stand to lose out of it's wrong - then at least everybody would know where they stand.

February 2008
South Lanarkshire - Union Doublespeak
A curious feature of the equal pay cases in South Lanarkshire Council - is that the trade unions are not involved in a single claim to the Employment Tribunals.

Nowhere else in Scotland is this true - in other areas the trade unions tend to have far fewer claims than those brought by Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross - but at least they're at the races.

In South Lanarkshire all is sweetness and light seemingly - or at least it used to be - until we began to ask the trade unions whether they are in fact fully signed up to the council's local Single Status Agreement and Job Evaluation Scheme which were introduced in 2004.

All of a sudden the unions are singing a different tune - perhaps because they too could be in the frame (along with the council) for agreeing to a something that turns out to be a real 'pig in a poke'.

South Lanarkshire Council says their scheme has trade union support - but intriguingly the unions themselves are now not so sure. The local Unison branch has issued a letter to members that says very specifically: "..., there is no separate Single Status Agreement which was signed in South Lanarkshire".

And this deliberate choice of words from Unison is no coincidence - because it allows a certain amount of wriggle room. When the shit hits the fan the unions will simply say, in time honoured fashion, that the council is to blame (otherwise known as: 'a big boy did it and ran away!).

So, is the worm now beginning to turn - are the unions now distancing themselves from the council - as the equal pay chickens come home to roost?

Quite possibly - because at a recent South Lanarkshire CMD hearing in Glasgow who turned up? Not just one, but two senior Unison officials - who wanted to sit in and listen to the proceedings.

Action for Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross certainly had no objections, but incredibly South Lanarkshire did - and so the union colleagues were forced to leave.

But the fact they were there at all speaks volumes - as does the fact they were asked to leave by their erstwhile friends - on the employer's side.

Globespan Campaign

We had a very useful meeting about Globespan in Edinburgh last week - several new contacts came along and the campaign is growing day by day.

What is clear is that many people have significant claims - see post dated 4 January 2010 - but they are not receiving much practical advice or help.

But by all accounts the entire Globespan workforce was dumped upon - from a great height - and no one knew in advance how bumpy the landing would be.

Different groups of staff - ground staff, cabin crew and pilots - all have potential claims for a protective award - because of the lack of consultation and prior warning over the company's failure.

So, too do the employees of Alba baggage handling in Edinburgh - this was part of the Globespan Group - and the Edinburgh-based staff lost their jobs as well when the company collapsed.

E-Clear, the company responsible for online ticket sales at the failed airline Flyglobespan, has now been placed into administration - whether that helps or hinders the overall situation remains to be seen.

So far the Administrator has been seeking information from ex-employees - rather than providing advice.

What Action 4 Equality Scotland needs is enough support from former Globespan employees - at all levels within the company - to turn things into a viable campaign.

If you know anyone previously employed by Globespan - ask them to contact Mark Irvine on 07947 795 222 or by e-mail at:

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Monument v Movement

Michael McGahey - the former NUM Scotland leader - was no slouch at standing up for his members - the miners.

One of his most famous and insightful comments came during the miners' strike of 1984/85 - when he proclaimed - with supreme confidence - that the unions were a 'movement' not a 'monument'.

In other words, given fair and reasonable treatment - the unions were not stuck in the past - and could move with the times.

Yet, Michael McGahey was undone by intransigence - both inside and outside the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) - so we will never know whether a different outcome to that bitter dispute was ever possible.

But is history now repeating itself - in the airline industry.

British Airways (BA) is hundreds of millions of pounds a year - and that was before an abortive strike last Christmas which was overturned in the courts at the last minute - to widespread public widespread acclaim.

BA has cut back on the number of cabin crew per flight - so the remaining staff must make ends meet - by maintaining levels of service to customers within the reduced numbers.

The Unite trade union's response - was a complete shutdown over the entire Christmas period - timed, of course, to cause maximum disruption to the travelling public.

Yet trade unions are not immune to life's business realities.

Shortly after Unison was born in 1993 (following a merger of three separate unions COHSE, NUPE and NALGO) - I can say from personal experience - that the number of staff was cut by 25% - much more than BA, by the way.

Those that remained had to continue providing a 'seamless' service to union members - and they did just that - fewer people kept the show on the road.

Despite the odd howl of protest - the business facts of life were clear - live within your means.

Lost of people left - on a voluntary basis - despite the obvious difficulties this created for their colleagues who had to fill in the gaps.

The new union could not afford to run three shadow organisations - a single union meant that big savings or economies could be made - that was the whole point of the exercise, after all.

"The times they were a-changin' ", to paraphrase Bob Dylan.

Who knows what Michael McGahey would made of BA and its industrial relations - but one thing's for sure - he would have set out a better negotiating position than the present leadership of Unite.

Glasgow Enquiries

Lots of phone calls and e-mail from Glasgow readers - in the past few days.

Forms are being returned to Action 4 Equality Scotland in their hundreds every day - and these have to be logged and checked - before they can be sent on to Glasgow City Council.

A significant number have also had to be re-issued because the forms have not been completed properly - signed in the wrong place, for example.

So, it would be helpful if people could take extra care with this paperwork - because having to send out new forms again - just slows the whole process down.

Everyone is working hard to complete the exercise as quickly as possible.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Transparency v Secrecy

A number of readers have been in touch about South Lanarkshire - and the great mystery behind the council's 'in-house' job evaluation (JS) scheme.

See post dated 15 January 2010 - "Job Evaluation".

After all, this is public money we're talking about - and plenty of it to boot.

Why is the council so reluctant to explain the identity of those behind South Lanarkshire's JE scheme - what they were paid - and what professional credentials they possessed? No other council in Scotland is behaving in this way.

People living and working in South Lanarkshire are perfectly entitled to ask what the council has done in their name - so why do council officials go to such lengths to keep such information from public scrutiny?

If you would like to help flush things out into the open - drop Mark Irvine an e-mail at:

Individual FOI requests from local people in South Lanarkshire may help to break the present logjam.

No doubt it will also help to encourage a robust debate around Freedom of Information and equal pay - as we head towards the most exciting general election in years.

Maybe we should ask all the candidates in the general election - for their views on how the council is behaving.

Single Status v Second World War

One of our readers from Edinburgh has been in touch to say that the trade unions are trying to blame Action 4 Equality Scotland - for the city council's decision to impose new contracts of employment.

Now we are happy to accept responsiblity for our own actions - such as breathing new life into the whole issue of equal pay - after many years of dither and indecision by both the council employers and the trade unions.

But the people who have taken 10 years - and still failed to reach agreement on Single Status - are Edinburgh City Council and their local trade unions - the largest and most influential of which is Unison.

So, it's no good blaming others for your own failures - especially if your arguments don't make any sense.

What ordinary union members will be more interested in finding out is: "How can Single Status in Edinburgh take longer to resolve than the Second World War (1939 - 1945)?

Monday, 18 January 2010

Edinburgh City Council

Several readers have been in touch to ask why Edinburgh City Council is making a further round of settlement offers - albeit not to all groups of staff at this stage.

The reason is that the council has continued to pay the traditional male groups of workers (refuse workers and gardeners) - more than the traditional female groups (carers, catering staff and cleaners) - even after the first round of equal pay settlements.

The first round of settlements covered the period up to 1 April 2007 - but beyond that date council employees have had a further and ongoing claim - which Action 4 Equality Scotland has continued to pursue.

In addition, the council faces a GMF hearing in February 2010 - where it would have to explain and justify the big differences in pay between male and female groups.

So, in preference to defending the indefensible - Edinburgh City Council has decided to try and reach a negotiated settlement.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Labour Peer In New Expenses Row

The Sunday Times today published another revealing article about expenses claims in the House of Lords - the full piece can be read on-line at - - but here's a summary of the key points.

"Baroness Uddin caught in second expenses row

THE Labour peer Baroness Uddin may face a fresh fraud inquiry following the discovery of a second “home” address which she used to claim £91,000 expenses.

Uddin claimed the home of her brother and his family in the Essex resort of Frinton-on-Sea was her main residence. Last week his wife said she could “not recollect” the Labour peer ever living there.

Uddin is already being investigated by the police for claiming expenses of £98,000 for an almost empty flat in Maidstone, Kent, which she said was her main residence from October 2005.

She claimed a total of £189,000 from the House of Lords by saying her main places of residence since 2001 have been outside the capital when, in reality, she has lived in the same London house with her family since the early 1990s.

It has now emerged that her claims for the previous four-year period, up to 2005, before she bought the Maidstone flat, may also have been misleading. Uddin has steadfastly refused to disclose the address she was claiming to have lived at during that time.

House of Lords records show she claimed more than £20,000 a year between 2001 and 2005 for the address — but did not even reveal in the Lords expenses registers which county the property was in.

Peers who genuinely live outside the M25 boundary are entitled to claim a daily rate — now £174 — to help them with accommodation in London while attending the Lords.

Uddin refused to answer our repeated inquiries about the address. When her former solicitors were asked last year whether the property existed, they issued a statement on her behalf avoiding the question.

However, The Sunday Times finally obtained the address last week. Her “main home” turned out to be a place that she neither owned, rented, nor, according to her sister-in-law, ever lived in.

The large, detached house near the beach at Frinton-on- Sea belongs to her brother, Mukit Rivhu Khan, an IT expert for a multinational company. He bought the house with his wife, Toni Hayhow-Khan, in 1999 and they have lived there ever since with their three children.

Hayhow-Khan, a former teacher, appeared to know nothing of Uddin’s financial arrangement regarding her home. When asked whether Uddin had ever lived at the property, Hayhow-Khan replied: “Not that I can recollect.”

When told that Uddin had been telling the Lords it was her main home for four years, Hayhow-Khan could only comment: “It’s a mystery to me.”

Neighbours around the property also dismissed the notion that Uddin could have been living there. Calculations based on her travel expense claims to the property suggest she was making up to 30 trips a year to Frinton-on-Sea.

While Uddin is an unfamiliar figure to her neighbours in either of her Essex and Kent “main homes”, she is well known in Tower Hamlets where she is frequently spotted in her BMW car.

The home, just four miles from the Lords, is a housing association property. She pays £500 a month in rent while claiming £2,000 a month from the Lords for living in London. Her husband also owns a holiday mansion in Bangladesh.

Uddin is one of five peers being investigated by the police. The others are Lord Paul, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, Lord Hanningfield and Lord Taylor of Warwick."

Friday, 15 January 2010

Job Evaluation

Here's an FOI request submitted recently to South Lanarkshire Council - regarding the background and credentials of their 'in-house' job evaluation (JE) scheme.

Unlike other Scottish councils - who are happy to release such information without any fuss - South Lanarkshire is a very touchy about its JE scheme.

So, they've refused the request - which will now be appealed to the Scottish Information Commissioner.

Archie Strang
Chief Executive
South Lanarkshire Council

By e-mail

Dear Mr Strang

Freedom of Information Request

I would like to make the following enquiry under the Freedom of Information Scotland Act 2002.

I would like to know:

1. What were South Lanarkshire Council’s reasons for not adopting the nationally recommended COSLA (Gauge) Job Evaluation Scheme (JES)?

2. What was South Lanarkshire Council’s share of the £250,000 costs of producing the nationally recommended COSLA JES?

3. Who were the creators or authors of South Lanarkshire Council’s 555 Job Evaluation Scheme (JES)?

4. What payment did the creators/authors of South Lanarkshire Council’s 555 JES receive for their time and expertise?

5. What credentials did the creators/authors possess for developing South Lanarkshire Council’s 555 JES?

I look forward to hearing from you in due course

Kind regards

Mark Irvine

If anyone knows why South Lanarkshire Council is so shy about explaining who created their JE scheme - drop Mark Irvine a note at:

Curioser and Curiouser

A number of regular readers of the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog site - went along to the recent employment tribunal hearings involving South Lanarkshire Council - in December 2009.

What they reported back was very curious indeed.

Apparently the council-side admitted in their evidence - that the results (scores and outcomes) of the 'in-house' job evaluation (JE) scheme were shared with the trade unions - years ago.

Yet when South Lanarkshire union members asked their local reps for advice - they were told - less than helpfully - to contact the council.

Here's what a previous letter from the local Unison branch had to say:

"In regards to copies of Job Evaluation scores and other information you request, it is your employers (sic) responsibility to supply appropriate documentation. I therefore suggest you contact South South Lanarkshire Council for this". Stephen Smellie, Branch Secretary

Now why should the unions play 'pass the parcel' in this way - they've clearly had the details of how different jobs are scored and graded for a very long time.

So, why would they keep this information from their members?

Perhaps it's because the unions find it difficult to explain and justify the new Single Status pay arrangements - where some union members are much more equal than others.

Apparently, South Lanarkshire union members are increasingly unhappy - about the role their officials have played over the introduction of Single Status in 2004.

If you have any useful information to pass on contact Mark Irvine at:

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Edinburgh City Council

Edinburgh City Council has written directly to some Action 4 Equality Scotland clients - regarding new offers of settlement.

The council should not be writing to clients directly - but says that this was done in error - and their apology has been accepted on that basis.

If any Action 4 Equality Scotland clients have received such letters - you do not need to do anything at this stage.

You do not need to respond - and you do not attend any council organised 'acceptance' meetings.

Discussions are taking place with the council - because a GMF hearing is scheduled to take place next month - and the council is keen that this hearing should not go ahead - hence its desire to talk about a new round of settlements.

So, in the meantime just sit tight - further, more detailed, advice will be issued shortly.

More MPs' Expenses

The Daily Telegraph highlighted yesterday that MPs who admit breaking expenses rules - have been offered secret Parliamentary deals to repay the money without being identified.

The full article can be read on line at -
- but here's a summary of the key points.

Immunity for MPs who repay expenses
"Janet Anderson, a Labour MP, was allowed to secretly repay almost £6,000 last year for over-claiming "petty cash" on her taxpayer-funded expenses.

Dozens of MPs are understood to have paid back money without their names or abuses being disclosed to the public following the fast-tracked inquiries into their conduct.

The disclosure about the secret justice system will add to growing concerns over the safeguards in place to punish MPs found to have misused public funds.

The behind closed doors system means voters are not being told if their MP has inappropriately claimed thousands of pounds for their second home, office or travel.

The loophole was introduced in 2005 under the auspices of Michael Martin, the discredited former speaker.

John Lyon, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, has begun the widespread use of a controversial “rectification procedure” which undermines pledges from party leaders to give the public “transparency” over their MPs’ expense claims.

The Parliamentary Commissioner is traditionally regarded as an independent figure who considers complaints made against MPs by members of the public. He has been inundated with complaints made in the wake of the expenses scandal exposed by The Daily Telegraph.

The threat of being publicly censured is one of the major deterrents for MPs not to break the rules.

MPs such as Derek Conway, Jacqui Smith and Tony McNulty have effectively seen their careers ended after being publicly criticised following investigations.

However, it has now emerged that Mr Lyon is taking advantage of a little-known Parliamentary rule that allows complaints about financial misconduct to be settled behind closed doors.

They have to privately apologise to the Committee of Standards and Privileges, the group of MPs overseeing the conduct of politicians - but their misconduct is then not made public.

It is not clear why the identities of those making repayments are not made public in the same way that criminals pleading guilty who do not face a full court trial are named.

Mr Lyon has sharply increased the use of this “rectification procedure” since being appointed in January 2008. He has allowed 16 cases to be dealt with in this way last year – compared to an average of just three a year during the tenure of the previous commissioner.

The secret deals have only come to light after this newspaper learnt that Mrs Anderson, the MP for Rossendale and Darwen, had paid back almost £5,750 after admitting to Mr Lyon that she regularly claimed twice as much petty cash as was permitted.

MPs were allowed to claim £250 a month in the “no questions asked” allowance. But on 23 occasions, Mrs Anderson claimed it twice.

When the overclaim was first uncovered she said that she had believed she was entitled to the payment for both her Westminster and constituency offices and did not think she should have to repay the money.

However, prompted by a Daily Telegraph report on Mrs Anderson's case, a complaint was lodged with Mr Lyon by a member of the public.

In his last annual report Mr Lyon wrote that he typically considered using the procedure “where there was no clear evidence that the breach [of Commons rules] was intentional and it was at the less serious end of the spectrum.” "

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Trade Union News

Good news to report - the full-time official sacked by Unison after almost 30 years service with the union - has been reinstated.

Apparently, an appeal panel has overturned the original decision - and quite rightly so in the eyes of every right-minded union person - that I've spoken to recently.

Here's what was said on the blog site back in August 2009.

Union Fires Official for Taking Side of Low Paid Women

"Another fascinating article appeared in yesterday’s Sunday Herald – here are the key details of the piece - written by Paul Hutcheon.

A veteran trade union negotiator has been sacked in the middle of a multi-million pound dispute over equal pay.

Ken Seaward, a Unison regional organiser, was dismissed by his union after a fall-out over how to handle the thousands of pay claims made by low paid women.

The 59-year old, who was fired for alleged misconduct, is understood to be a staunch critic of Unison urging its members to settle for a figure that protects councils from having to cut their budgets.

Female workers are currently pursuing equal pay claims. It is estimated that around 35,000 cases have been lodged with employment tribunals.

However, it is understood that tensions exists within Unison on how to approach equal pay claims.

Senior union officials have in the past urged female members to sign “compromise” deals with councils.Other union figures believe the women should hold out for the full amount to which they are legally entitled.

Seaward, the Unison official in charge of negotiating with Midlothian Council, is said to be in the latter camp.

The Sunday Herald can reveal that the official, who has 29 years’ service, has been sacked for alleged misconduct and bringing Unison into disrepute.

Seaward was dismissed after his union upheld complaints made by Midlothian Council – and he is expected to appeal the decision.

Eddy Coulson, a former Unison regional organiser, said: “What Unison have done to Ken is bang out of order. This is all a question of Unison not wanting to upset the established order.”

Another senior trade unionist said: “There is definitely a split within the unions, which are male dominated, on how to deal with equal pay. There are tensions between and within the unions.”

It is also understood that some Unison members believe the union’s hierarchy is too close to the Labour Party and to local authorities.

Unison advised its female members in Glasgow to sign a “compromise” agreement in 2005, an approach opposed by some of the union’s members.

David O’Connor, while a branch secretary at Unison said: “We have approached pragmatically the issue of what can be afforded by councils without job losses and loss of services.”

Since the Glasgow deal was struck, Unison has been the subject of legal action by former members unhappy at the agreement the union advised them to sign.

A Unison spokesperson said: “We do not comment on individual disciplinary cases, particularly while they are still in process.”

Seaward declined to comment."

Argyll & Bute Council

Argyll & Bute cases are awaiting a CMD (Case Management Discussion) hearing – but the situation is similar to that in Clackmannanshire – see post dated 16 November 2009.

Argyll & Bute has raised the same procedural points about the ability of claimants to use a full range of male comparators – but the fact is that 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 - to stop wasting time - and put a real effort into resolve all the outstanding claims.

Some councils are still hiding behind these procedural arguments - though one by one they are beginning to see sense.

We expect the procedural issues to be resolved in the claimants favour and if that happens in one council – then others are likely to go same way.

In the meantime, we encouraging all councils, including Argyll & Bute Council, to consider making new settlement proposals - as a more sensible way forward than fighting the outstanding cases all the way to a full-blown GMF hearing.

Monday, 11 January 2010

More JE News

Readers from Clackmannanshire have been in touch - about the council's new job evaluation (JE) scheme.

Many people are disappointed with their new grades - and have asked their trade unions for advice.

Apparently, the unions say the JE results are data protected - and that members are not entitled to know how other council jobs are scored and graded.

But this is complete baloney.

Job evaluation is not about the individual person - it has nothing to do with personal data - it's about the duties and responsibilities of a specific job.

If someone applies for a vacant post - they are entitled to know what the job pays - and how the job is graded - and what skills, qualifications or experience the job requires.

So, don't be fobbed off - people are entitled to know how the job evaluation scheme works - if this information is not released on request, why not submit a Freedom of Information (FOI) request?

MSPs' Expenses

The Sunday Herald ran an interesting article yesterday - highlighting some rather strange expenses claims from members of the Scottish Parliament.

Apparently, during the first nine months of 2009 - MSPs claimed £1,509 in taxi fares between Holyrood and Waverly Station.

For the uninitiated, the Holyrood Parliament is a very short walk from Waverly - 10 minutes at most - quite why any MSP should make such a claim in the first place is a mystery.

Embarrassingly, Labour's transport spokesman Charlie Gordon - and former leader of Glasgow City Council - claimed for a taxi journey 53 times during this period.

The amount of money may be small - but the relaxed attitude towards spending public money is a much bigger issue.

The cost of travel for politicians and civil servants is considerable - in many cases they are allowed to travel first class - which seems a terrible waste of money in these harsh times.

So, let's encourage the people to get out of their taxis - and first-class compartments - and rub shoulders with the rest of us.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Birmingham City Council

The following story article appears in today's Sunday Times - - needless to say the fight for equal pay in Birmingham is being led by Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross Solicitors.

The trade unions negotiated the bonus schemes - enjoyed exclusively by the men.

And - as in other parts of the country, including Scotland - the unions deliberately kept women workers in the dark - about the huge differences in pay between traditional male and female jobs.

"A (Birmingham) council electrician has earned pay and bonuses of £124,000 in a year — far outstripping the remuneration of a minister of state or the head of a large comprehensive.

He claimed more than £90,000 in overtime, backdated pay and “stand-by” allowances. By contrast, a minister of state such as Tessa Jowell, the Olympics minister, earns £106,136.

Details of the electrician’s pay emerged in documents released by the UK’s biggest council, which show that 58 other workers, including binmen, gardeners and gravediggers, were paid bonuses of up to £20,000 each. Women cleaners, care workers and lollipop ladies now claim they should have been included in Birmingham city council’s generous bonus scheme and are seeking up to £100,000 compensation each.

The documents, obtained for use at an industrial tribunal in Birmingham, detail pay in 2006-7. They also reveal that a dustcart driver was paid £50,917, including £24,000 in bonuses and performance related payments. Binmen were paid up to £46,000.

Manual workers earned more than private sector managers. A traffic lights repairman was paid £81,940 and a road painter was paid £57,591.

The documents provide an insight into how council workers on apparently low salaries were able to quadruple their pay with unpublicised bonuses, attendance allowances and overtime payments. Workers could even claim a special bonus to help boost their pay packets when they were away on holiday, or claim “dirt money” when they did messy work.

“These are mind-boggling sums,” said Stefan Cross, a lawyer who is fighting a case against the council over its pay policies. “Refuse workers in Birmingham are getting paid more than many solicitors and social workers.”

Birmingham city council first admitted paying hefty bonuses to some staff after a leak of highway department wage slips three years ago.

The documents obtained for the tribunal show how the bonus scheme granted workers such as gravediggers and recycling workers more than 100 types of extra payments. The female employees say they were paid less than male counterparts on the same job grades. A female grade two manual worker earned about £11,700 a year as a kitchen assistant or lollipop lady, while a binman on the same grade had a similar basic salary but with more than £30,000 in additional payments.

A 40-year-old care worker said: “We now know they got paid extra for turning up to work and extra for tidying up, while we were being paid a pittance. It’s just terrible.”

Birmingham city council, which employs 60,000 people, introduced a scheme in 2007 to remove differentials but was still paying big bonuses to male-dominated departments in 2008. Some 3,000 women are now demanding compensation. About a third of councils in England and Wales face similar claims.

Council bosses in Birmingham say the bonus scheme was phased out last year and that legal actions are against the interests of taxpayer. Alan Rudge, the council’s cabinet member for equalities and human resources, said the huge payouts for some workers were “historic”. "

The reason things are now beginning to change - is that Action 4 Equality let the cat out of the bag - no thanks, of course, to council management or the trade unions

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Investing in Cuts

For weeks now the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has been banging on about his government's plans to 'invest in public services'.

Anyone willing to listen has been told repeatedly that the Labour government will actually increase spending in future - despite the evidence of their own eyes - and the all too obvious impact of the recession.

But all of a sudden things have changed.

The Labour-leaning Guardian newspaper reports today that the government is now signing a very different tune:

"The chancellor, Alistair Darling, and the business secretary, Lord Mandelson, yesterday signalled a shift in government strategy when Darling warned that Britain faces the toughest spending round in 20 years if Labour is re-elected.

Mandelson pointedly insisted that Labour is a national party that represents people in every part of the UK – an implicit rejection of any core vote strategy."

The strapline given to this story by the Guardian is even more striking:

"Chancellor says that Britain faces the toughest spending round in 20 years if Labour is re-elected"

So, there we have it - a bit of plain speaking at last - what the voters are likely to make of it all is another issue altogether.

Friday, 8 January 2010

All in the Family

If anyone wants to know why MPs should keep their families and politics separate - look no further than the case of Peter and Iris Robinson.

Not only are they both Westminster MPs - they are both Members (MLAs) of the Northern Ireland Assembly - and enjoy an 'extended' family income of around £572,000 from their joint salaries and expenses - according to The Mail newspaper.

The Robinsons earn a combined total of £246,017 from their MP and MLA jobs - plus £71,434 that Peter Robinson is paid as Northern Ireland's First Minister (on top of his other salaries) - while Iris Robinson earns an extra £9,550 as a local councillor for Castlereagh.

Just where do they find the time?

In addition, Mr Robinson employed his daughter, Rebekah, as his office manager and private secretary, while his son, Gareth, is his parliamentary assistant.

Not to be outdone, Mrs Robinson employs their elder son, Jonathan, as her office manager, and her daughter-in-law, Ellen, as a part-time secretary.

The existing 'rules' on MPs' expenses mean that this is all fair and above board - but that's exactly why the system is in such desperate need of reform.

MPs' Expenses

Today's newspapers contain more intriguing reports about the long overdue reform of MPs' expenses.

Apparently the new chair of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), Sir Ian Kennedy - has indicated that he will abandon several key reforms.

Firstly, existing MPs will be still able to profit from the sale of their taxpayer-funded second homes for the next five years - under IPSA's draft proposals.

Secondly, MPs will also will also be able to nominate which of their properties is their “main” and “second” home for expenses – which led to many abuses in the past.

Thirdly, MPs living within commuting distance of London will remain eligible to claim expenses for a second home - rather than having to travel to and from Westminster.

Fourthly, IPSA is also having second thoughts about whether MPs should be able to continue employing their wives and other family members - at public expense.

The decision to dilute several of the recommendations made originally by Sir Christopher Kelly is surprising - because all three main party leaders have urged IPSA to introduce Sir Christopher’s original proposals - in full and without delay.

IPSA has announced a five-week consultation period on its plans - the public will be able to have their say up until 11 February 2010 - through a dedicated web site

After the expenses scandal became headline news last year, the Prime Minister asked Sir Christopher, the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, to review the system.

Sir Christopher Kelly produced a 144-page report and detailed recommendations - which were welcomed by all political leaders.

Westminster insiders suggested before Xmas that IPSA would seek to water down the original Kelly package of reforms - and their predictions have proved to be correct.

As ever, politics works in mysterious ways, but we will publish the dedicated web site address here - in due course - in case any readers want to make their views known.

Election Fever

While the rest of country shivers and struggles with the arctic weather conditions - our politicians at Westminster have plenty of energy to burn - as they contemplate their fate at the forthcoming general election.

Nerves are definitely getting frayed - even the prospect of an election gives politicians sleepless nights.

At the moment, Labour - the governing party - looks a bit like the crew of the SS Titanic.

Some of the older, wiser sea dogs are convinced they can see a nasty iceberg looming in their path.

The mutinous members of the crew (Cabinet) have concluded that disaster awaits - if they don't change direction, fast - which means throwing their Captain (Prime Minister) overboard.

But others are convinced that their sturdy craft (the SS Irn Broon) is completely safe and virtually unsinkable under the present leader - so they want to soldier on - 'steady as she goes' - even if it means they all go down with the ship.

What long-suffering voters could do with - instead of this unseemly pantomime and endless speculation - is a clear date for the general election.

Then we could all get on with our lives.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Globespan - Open Meeting

We've had several enquiries from former Globespan employees - in response to the posts on the blog site - dated 4 and 6 January 2010, respectively.

As a result, we've decided to hold an Open Meeting for former Globespan employees - to explain the situation in more detail - and answer any questions people may have.

Here are the details, if you'd like to come along - please let other people know as well:

Date: Tuesday 12 January 2010

Time: 2pm to 4pm

Venue: Action 4 Equality Scotland, 44 York Place, Edinburgh, EH1 3HU

If you're free next Tuesday afternoon, drop by for a chat - if you're certain to attend, let us know in advance - as that will help with tea/coffee and other practical arrangements.

If you need any other information at this stage, contact Mark Irvine at:

Edinburgh City Council

Edinburgh is back in the news again - the council has been hitting the headlines with dire threats about staff being 'sacked' if they don't agree to new pay and grading proposals.

The first thing to say is: "Don't Panic" - we have been here many times before - and there is nothing to worry about - no one is going to lose their job, whatever the newspapers say.

Edinburgh is trying to change employees' contracts of employment.


Because after more than 10 years of talks with the unions - they still can't reach agreement on Single Status.

So the council's fall-back position is to terminate all existing contracts - and issue new ones based on revised terms and conditions - but the can only do so after serving the required period of notice (up to 90 days).

Edinburgh is also making new offers of settlement - but again only to some groups - male workers and those in former APT& C jobs are being left out in the cold again - which is very unfair.

Why is the council making new offers?

Because a GMF hearing is listed from 15 to 19 February 2010 - and the council is now keen to negotiate a settlement in preference to the GMF going ahead.

Action 4 Equality Scotland is currently in discussions with the council - will be writing to all Edinburgh clients soon - on an individual basis - with clear advice on what to do next.

In the meantime, Action 4 Equality clients should sit tight - don't attend any meetings or do anything - without seeking proper advice.

The council should not be sending you any new settlement proposals - without our prior knowledge and agreement - if they do, let us know.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Globespan - Keep Spreading the Word

Many thanks to our readers for spreading the word about the Globespan debacle - see previous post dated 4 January 2010.

We've already had enquiries from a number of former Globespan employees - who confirm what the press and media reports said - they really were treated like dirt and given no prior warning about the company's collapse.

In these circumstances, certain employment rights are guaranteed by the state - so that people left in the lurch - are not forced to do battle with a bankrupt company or incoming liquidator - whose first priority is seldom the staff.

So, keep spreading the word - the more people that challenge the way they were treated - the better for all concerned.

Judge and Jury

The latest revelations about the 1994 Chinook helicopter crash - highlight the dangers of allowing people in powerful places - to be judge and jury in their own cause.

The BBC reports that new evidence has emerged to suggest that computer software faults may have caused the 1994 Chinook helicopter crash on the Mull of Kintyre.

The crash killed all 29 people on board - and the official RAF inquiry found the two pilots guilty of gross negligence.

Yet an internal Ministry of Defence (MoD) document - written only nine months before the crash - admitted that the helicopter's software was "positively dangerous".

The MoD insist the helicopter was airworthy and the latest information could not be classed as new evidence - because it was available to the internal RAF inquiry team.

But crucially, this 'new' evidence was not released to ministers or shared more widely - nor was its significance explained in the official inquiry report.

"Why not?” - is the obvious question.

For the past 15 years, families of the pilots have been fighting to clear their dead relatives' names - in the teeth of opposition from the military establishment.

Since the original internal RAF inquiry - three subsequent inquiries have found the cause of the crash was inconclusive - and these too were denied access to the latest information about faulty computer software.

The BBC spoke to Squadron Leader Robert Burke, chief test pilot for the Chinook Mark 2 at the time of the crash.

He said he was told by a senior officer to stop advising the civilian air accident investigator. He was not asked to take part in the official RAF inquiry into the crash.

He said the Ministry of Defence had failed to inform ministers of software problems and criticised the RAF inquiry."Their finding of gross negligence is not because there was hard evidence of gross negligence - it was because they had ruled out everything else," he said.

He told the BBC that it was "bureaucratic stubbornness" stopping the Ministry of Defence from reconsidering the matter.

The rules have changed since the Mull of Kintyre crash - the RAF cannot now conduct its own internal inquiry into such a terrible tragedy - and then decide for itself what information should and should not be withheld from public scrutiny.

And that's a very good thing - because experience suggests that powerful bureaucracies will always try to keep vital information to themselves - as it avoids answering awkward questions.

Fife Council - GMF Hearing Dates

The GMF hearing involving Fife Council is scheduled to take place over four weeks in February and March 2010 - the actual dates are as follows:

Week 1: Monday 1- Friday 5 February 2010

Week 2: Monday 8 - Friday 12 February 2010

Week 3: Monday 1 - Friday 5 March 2010

Week 4 Monday 8 - Friday 12 March 2010

The venue for the hearings is the Employment Tribunal office in Edinburgh - at the following address:

Edinburgh Employment Tribunal Office

54-56 Melville Street



Phone 0131 226 5584

Fife Council is considering a negotiated settlement of all the outstanding claims, but if these talks fail to make progress - the agreed GMF hearing dates will proceed as planned.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Globespan - Spread the Word

As many of our readers will know, Globespan - the Scottish based airline - suddenly went out of business in the run up to Christmas.

Literally overnight, hundreds of employees were left high and dry by the company - even while some of them were stuck abroad - with no access to proper advice and support.

If our readers know any former Globespan employees - pass the word that they may well have a claim for a Protective Award to the Employment Tribunals.

The basis of their claim would be that they were dismissed by Globespan - without any consultation.

A Protective Award can be worth up to three months salary - but no one is going to hand it over on a plate.

People will have to fight for their rights - in the courts - as they've done over equal pay.

Former employees might also have a claim - for all or some of the following - on top of a redundancy claim:

1. Unfair dismissal
2. 'Lost' holiday pay
3. Incorrect contract terms
4. Unpaid wages
5. Working time losses

And some of these claims - if successful - are guaranteed by the state.


If you know anyone in this situation, they can always drop Mark Irvine a note for further advice at:

Action 4 Equality Scotland

Action 4 Equality Scotland is putting the finishing touches to a new office base in Edinburgh.

The Edinburgh office will become fully operational over the next few weeks - and once that happens it will be the first point of contact for all existing clients - and for potential new clients.

All the relevant contact details - phone and fax number, address etc - will be posted here soon.

So watch this space for further news.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Above the Law?

The Sunday Times has published another intriguing article on MPs' expenses.

The report can be read in full at: and says that three Labour MPs being investigated for expenses fraud are arguing that they should not be prosecuted - because their suspect claims are covered by parliamentary privilege.

Apparently, the MPs have hired legal experts to assert that the 1689 Bill of Rights protects them from prosecution.
The report goes on:

"The lawyers are understood to have sent detailed submissions to police and prosecutors which contend that the House of Commons rule book on expenses is “privileged” and cannot be subject to scrutiny by the courts.

The legal manoeuvre raises the prospect of the case against the MPs being thrown out before it reaches trial or being bogged down for months in legal argument.

Any delay would minimise the damage to Labour in the run-up to the general election.

It is not known whether the MPs consulted Labour officials before employing the lawyers, who were instructed through the party’s solicitors.

“This question of privilege is slowing everything down,” said a Commons source. “It means nothing is likely to be resolved until well after the general election.”

Two members, Elliot Morley and David Chaytor, are being investigated by the Metropolitan police over allegations that they received taxpayers’ money for non-existent mortgages on second homes. Chaytor is also alleged to have paid allowance money to his daughter, who used a different surname.

The third MP facing prosecution, Jim Devine, is alleged to have submitted a claim for £2,157 for rewiring his London flat using a receipt bearing a bogus Vat number. All three are using Steel & Shamash, the Labour party’s solicitors, to represent them, although the costs are being met by the MPs themselves.

Until now no MP has been investigated by police for expenses fraud.

The MPs’ lawyers have advised them that because of the legal questions hanging over the inquiry, they are within their rights not to co-operate with the police.

Steel & Shamash last night confirmed they had instructed the QCs Nigel Pleming and Edward Fitzgerald to consider whether Morley, Chaytor and Devine should be protected by parliamentary privilege.

Anthony Bradley, a barrister and former professor of constitutional law at Edinburgh University, has been hired to make a similar study into whether MPs’ expenses should correctly be a matter for parliament alone.

“It is their opinion that there are substantial legal and constitutional arguments that this is, in fact, the case,” said a spokesman for Steel & Shamash. “Any possible future involvement of the prosecuting authorities in this instance raises serious constitutional issues that will affect not just our clients but the way parliament itself operates.”

The doctrine of parliamentary privilege was introduced primarily to protect free speech in Westminster debates. It has evolved, however, to provide a number of parliamentary activities with immunity from civil or criminal legal action.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP, said: “Parliamentary privilege exists to safeguard democracy, not to subvert it.

“It certainly does not exist to allow MPs to rip off the taxpayer with impunity. Whether or not these MPs have committed a crime, they should not be allowed to subvert the court process with arcane technicalities that threaten further to undermine the standing of parliament.”

The question of whether the prosecution of the MPs is unlawful revolves around interpretation of article nine of the 1689 Bill of Rights, which states: “Proceedings in parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court.”

Both the QCs and Bradley are understood to have argued that the definition of parliamentary “proceedings” should include documents produced by the Commons such as the “green book” which outlines rules on expenses. By extension, they said, an argument could be made that any claims under this expenses regime were also “privileged”.

Vincent Coughlin QC, a specialist in defending frauds, said the argument about privilege should not prevent charges if the Crown Prosecution Service believed there was sufficient evidence.

However, he added: “The privilege issue could form part of the legal arguments ahead of trial. Because it is such an unusual point, it is quite possible it would have to be considered by the Supreme Court before trial can proceed.”

Commons authorities are understood to be aware of the lawyers’ representations and have prepared their own case.

A source close to John Bercow, the Speaker, said: “We do not believe that privilege applies here. The Commons has effectively waived privilege by exempting the MPs under police investigation from the Legg audit process.”

Sir Thomas Legg, a former civil servant, was asked to review the claims of all MPs after the expenses scandal broke last May.

Some senior MPs are concerned that any delay to the police investigation could prevent the Commons from withholding severance payments from the three MPs, all of whom are stepping down at the election.

One MP said: “If we get to the election and they have still not been charged, there is no way under employment law that we could prevent them getting the payments, which will amount to up to a year’s money.”

Let's hope that common sense prevails - because parliamentary privilege was never intended to allow MPs to argue that they are above the law - especially when what's in question is their behaviour and conduct outside of the House of Commons.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Happy New Year!

A Happy New Year to all our readers - and all the very best to you and yours for 2010!

Hard to believe, I know - but Action 4 Equality Scotland was officially launched 5 years ago - on Monday 16 August 2005 - via the lead evening news item on the BBC's Reporting Scotland programme.

The next day just about every Scottish daily newspaper covered our plans - to breathe new life into the fight for equal pay - forcing the issue out of the doldrums and on to the front page.

And the rest is history - as they say - because we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams - suddenly equal pay was back at the top of the news agenda.

But until Action 4 Equality Scotland and Stefan Cross came along - equal pay was dead in the water - the employers and trade unions were both happy to turn a blind eye to widespread pay discrimination in the shape of a 'male only' bonus culture.

Having promised a new deal under Single Status - the employers and unions simply failed to deliver the goods - and incredibly this was allowed to happen at a time of relative plenty - when council budgets were literally doubling in size.

Years earlier everyone had agreed that many women's jobs were significantly undervalued and underpaid - after all that was the reason for the landmark 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement.

Yet when the chips were down - cosy relations between employers and unions - came before doing the right thing by ordinary union members - and the status quo prevailed until 16 August 2005.

2010 promises to be another eventful and exciting year - Action 4 Equality Scotland has important news to report on a number of fronts - so watch this space for further details.