Thursday, 31 March 2011

Money Down the Drain

Glasgow City Council has poured £42,000 of taxpayers money down the drain - The Herald newspaper reports today.

An article by Paul Hutcheon reveals that the council has been forced to withdraw thousands of copies of a publicly-funded magazine - because it contains a hypocritical pre-election attack on the SNP Government.

The report contains the following extract from the magazine - the production costs for  each edition are around £42,000:

"Labour leader Matheson said: “This year Finance Minister John Swinney offered councils a 2.6% funding cut – but threatened to withhold an extra £50 million unless we agreed to demands designed to win his party votes in May.

He continued: “Even though we signed up to his deal, without drawing breath Mr Swinney broke his promise and cut our budget by 3.6% anyway – forcing us to find millions in additional savings this year."

Now the majority of voters seem to support the council tax freeze - which has proved to be one of the SNP government's most successful policies of the past four years.

So much so that even Iain Gray - the Scottish Labour leader - has become a supporter. 

In which case why is a Labour led council using public money - to slag off the governmentof the day?

Bear in mind the actual cost to the taxpayer is much more than £42,000.

When you take into account the staffing costs of producing what really just amounts to - party political propaganda.

Union Wars

Scotland's two main teaching unions - the EIS and SSTA - are at loggerheads over a pay dispute - see post dated 29 March 2011: 'Supply and Demand'.

Apparently the EIS (Educational Institute of Scotland) and the SSTA (Scottish Secondary Teachers Association) have fallen out - with the EIS recommending acceptance of a new deal - and the SSTA urging its members to reject.

Could it be that the real problem here is a silly inter-union rivalry and competition for members - rather than a point of real principle?

The two unions have a history, of course - the SSTA was born out of a move to put primary school teachers onto the same pay and rations as their colleagues in secondary schools - many years ago.

Many of the secondary school teachers were resentful of the move to have equal pay and equal status for primary school colleagues - regarding their jobs as more onerous and demanding - given the older profile of secondary school students.

And so a split emerged and a fierce rivalry was born - which lasts to this day.

Which just goes to show that unions are sometimes very backward looking and conservative organisations - sad to say. 

A Good Ding Dong

BBC's Question Time promises to be a lively affair tonight.

Boris Johnson - the London Mayor - is one of the panel members and after his comments about the Labour leadership and the anti-cust protesters - the timing could not be better.

Boris accused Ed Miliband of being 'quietly satisfied' with the scenes of mayhem at the weekend - see post dated 29 March 2011: 'Ain't No Civil Rights Movement'.

The Labour leader has come in for a lot of criticism himself - for comparing the demonstrators to the Suffragettes, civil rights movement and anti-apartheid campaign.

So a good old-fashioned political ding dong is in prospect - though sadly Harriet Harman (Labour's former deputy leader) has pulled out of the programme.

Now that would have made good television - we'll just have to wait and see who takes Harriet's place.

MPs' Expenses

Former Labour MP - Jim Devine - returns to court today for what promises to be a painful final sentencing hearing - having already been found guilty of false accounting over his parliamentary expenses.

Problem is that Jim Devine has refused to take any responsibility for his actions - blaming everybody but himself for his catastrophic fall from grace.

So he faces the propsect of an even stiffer jail term than some of his colleagues - who have already been sent down.  

He's not alone however - everyone on prison says they're innocent - or at least that they don't deserve to be there. 

In Jim's case it's all self-inflicted - and the fact he can't face up to that - is his biggest problem.   

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Best Man Falls

Tony Blair famously told Gordon Brown - once upon a time - that he would have to get married, if he were ever to become Prime Minister.

I wonder if Mr Blair has also been having a quite word in Ed Miliband's ear.

Because the current Labour leader has at long last announced that he too will be tying the knot - in May when he plans to marry his long-term partner, Justine.

Ed has also let it be known that he won't be having a 'best man' on his big day - something of a surprise.

So brother David - whom he narrowly defeated for the Labour party leadership - won't be performing this traditional role.

Perhaps it's just as well - because it's customary for the 'best man' to tell rude and embarassing tales about the groom - in his wedding reception speech.

Might have got out of hand.      

Scottish Leaders' Debate

I watched the Scottish leaders' election debate last night - and actually enjoyed the event for a change - didn't even have to flip the channels too much. 

Bernard Ponsonby - the host - asked the killer question of Iain Gray - who was forced to concede that Scotland's council tax would have been much higher - had the Labour party been in power for the past four years.

Alex Salmond put in an excellent performance - concentrating on his positive vision for Scotland - instead of attacking his political opponents - presumably a strategy worked out in advance, but executed well nonetheless.

Surprise of the night was Annabel Goldie - the Tory leader came across as redoubtable as Mrs Doubtfire - refusing to embrace the 'wooly thinking' of her rivals - but steadfast and resolute on the need for the country to live within its means.

Tavish Scott and Iain Gray were not at the races - it has to be said.

In fact, Annabel Goldie made a contribution about meeting the costs of higher education - which the Labour leader could have made only a few short weeks ago - before his latest flip flop and conversion to the same policy as the SNP.

Only three more to go - before the voters finally get their say.

Tartan Army Stood Down

The Tartan Army has returned to barracks - after the Metropolitan police confirmed that Scottish fans were not behind the banana throwing incident - at the friendly football game involving Brazil at the weekend.

Arsenal Football club which hosted the game at the Emirates Stadium - released the following statement late last night:

"After consultation with the Metropolitan Police, Arsenal Football Club can confirm that a German teenage tourist has admitted throwing a banana onto the pitch during the Brazil v Scotland International Friendly at Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

"The youngster was sitting in the North Bank of Emirates Stadium, an area of the stadium which was occupied by the official allocation of tickets to Brazil supporters, when he threw the banana on to the pitch during the second half of the match."

The police commander in charge of the match defended the Tartan Army fans and said there were no problems in or around the ground, adding:

"The Scottish fans' behaviour was first class, there were no issues at all inside the stadium."

So an international incident has been avoided - the culprit has owned up presumably after being identified on CCTV - and the Tartan Army's reputation restored.

Just a pity the Scotland team were given the run around - for so much of the game.

Job Evaluation

A regular reader has been in touch to share an all too common experience involving  a council job evaluation scheme - here's what they had to say:

"Generally speaking my overview of this job evaluation exercise has been to keep the previous high bonus earners on a grade in keeping with their previous bonus inflated pay.

Yet while our job has been given extra tasks and responsibilities - and went through the appeals procedure hoop - nonetheless we came out as graded near the bottom of the pile."

No wonder people get cynical.  

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

By Their Deeds

'By their deeds ye shall know them' - a biblical saying attributed originally to St Matthew, I believe.

Judging people by their actions and behaviour - seems tailor made for this murderous Libyan regime.

Who yesterday bundled a very distressed woman into a car and drove her away - for making an allegation of rape against Gadaffi loyalists.

The woman - Iman al-Beidi - a trained lawyer, was essentially kidknapped by Libyan government minders.

From right under the noses of western journalists - some of whom were attacked and threatened with violence - as they tried to intervene.

Today a Government spokesman came before the world's press to say that the woman would now face charges of slander - from the very men who attacked her in the first place.

The fact that this 'news' was announced by a Government official - who then went on to lie and dissemble over the woman's whereabouts - tells you all you need to know about the Libyan regime.

Iman al-Beidi is just one example of inhuman and brutal treatment - within a much wider conflict - far removed from the United Nations and its Security Council.

Yet in a way she is a symbol of what people are fighting for - or some of them at least.

Human rights, the rule of law and its separation from government - and the right not to be victimised for exercising freedom of speech.   

Open, Helpful and Transparent

The Scottish Information Commissioner has released another decision which involves South Lanarkshire Council - this time over the council's 'in-house' job evaluation scheme.

In September 2009, I asked the council to explain why South Lanarkshire did not adopt the job evaluation scheme - nationally approved and recommended by the trade unions and the Scottish employers.

Initially, the council said that my request was vexatious - a response that was given short shrift by the Scottish Information Commissioner - but had the effect of delaying the process which is clearly what the council intended.

The ball went back and forward a couple more times - until I finally registered an appeal with the Scottish Information Commissioner - and here's what came to light during their investigation:

Para 17.
Some of the minutes and reports retrieved by the Council and supplied to the Commissioner record steps taken in relation to the adoption and implementation of the 555 JES (Job Evaluation Scheme) throughout the council. As the Council stated, they do not provide specific reasons why the Council did not adopt the nationally recommmended COSLA JES. However, in documenting the development and introduction of the 555 JES, the information in these minutes and reports provides a context within which the development and adoption of the 555 JES can be better understood, and which may help to explain why there is no record of any decision not to adopt the COSLA JES.

Para 18.
Section 15 (1) of FOISA requires a Scottish public authority to provide reasonable advice and assistance to a person who proposes to make, or has made, a request for information to it. In this case, the commissioner believes it would have been reasonable for the Council to advise Mr Irvine that, although the specific information he had requested was not held (i.e. the reasons for not adopting the COSLA JES), the minutes and reports identified in its searches might go some way towards explaining why the Council was content to adopt the 555 JES. In failing to advise Mr Irvine of the existence of such information, the Commissioner considers that the Council failed to comply with section 15 (1) of FOISA.  

In other words that South Lanarkshire Council failed to live up to its obligations - again - see post dated 18 March 2011: 'Colonel Gaddafi in Disguise'.   

The Commissioner's decision goes on to say that no further action was required on the part of the council - because by that time I had submitted a new FOI request.

But it does shine a bright light on South Lanarkshire Council's behaviour - and its attitude towards freedom of information.

Closed, unhelpful and secretive - are the words that spring to mind - on this and on previous  occasions.

Yet the council is required to be open, helpful and transparent - under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.  

Supply and Demand

Another row is brewing amongst Scotland's teachers - or some of them at least.

Apparently the SSTA (Scottish Secondary Teachers Association) is threatening industrial action - in some crazy dispute over supply teachers.

The employers want to pay supply teachers - who come back into schools through a revolving door after retiring - the same rate of pay as newly qualiified teachers. 

So everyone is treated the same - seems like common sense and fair play all round - if you ask me.

Now everyone knows a teacher or two - and the ones that I know say the practice of bringing teachers out of retirement to do supply work - needs to be stamped out.

The people have retired for goodness sake - they've got their tax free lump sum and their pensions - why don't they just step aside and give the younger generation a chance?

Even more scandalous is that these retired teachers should be paid more than their younger colleagues - for doing exactly the same job.

Any my teacher friends tell me that often these retired teachers often don't do any teaching - they just 'supervise' the class - with Geography teachers taking English classes and vice versa.

So why would anyone pay top dollar for that - and why would the union defend two different rates of pay for the same job?

The solution is to pay the proper rate for the job - give first refusal to younger teachers - and don't cave into demands to treat retired teachers more favourably than their colleagues. 

Ain't No Civil Rights Movement

Boris Johnson - the Mayor of London - is in the headlines again

This time for suggesting that the Labour party leadership would be quietly satisfied at the damage and disruption caused to the capital city at the weekend.

Presumably the point Boris was making - albeit not too well - was that Labour would  see some political advantage from the government being under attack - on the streets and in the media - and not in control of events.

Well if so, he should have made his point more clearly - the London Mayor is after all a journalist to trade - and well used to choosing his words carefully.

So the likelihood is that Boris just wanted to start a punch up - probably in retaliation for the remarks of the Labour leader at the TUC rally.

Ed Miliband compared the protesters - and by extension himself - to the Suffragettes in Britain, civil rights campaigners in 1960s America - and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. 

The Labour leader knew what he was doing as well - but his attempt to portray himself and the Labour party at the forefront of something new, historic and momentous - was a big mistake.

For a start - it took the trade unions many years to embrace the Suffragettes and the right for women to vote - so that's not a very apt comparison.

Nor is it very sensible to compare the sacrifices of the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements - with the protests of anti-cuts campaigners.

To do so is an insult to the many people who fought - and sometimes died - for fundamental human rights, democracy and freedom of speech.

No, whatever the anti-cuts campaigners are - they ain't no civil rights movement.

Monday, 28 March 2011

That Shrinking Feeling

Here's what I wrote about the British Airways dispute back in January - my prediction has come true as the number of union members balloted falls below 10,000 - for the first time.

The union's position is growing  weaker every time a strike is called - in the first ballot 12,780 voting papers were issued - a drop of almost 3,000 compared to this time round.

As Jimmy Reid once said: If Kamikaze pilots had a trade union, Arthur Scargill would be the perfect choice for leader.

Unite could do worse than to pause for thought - and reflect on his words.

"That Shrinking Feeling"

"British Airways cabin crew have again voted to for strike action - but does anybody remember what this dispute is about?

Originally, the workers were protesting about fewer staff being allocated to BA flights - but now it is about travel perks - so people are now planning more strikes in an effort to recover what was taken away - as a result of striking in the first place.


Predictably, Unite - the union representing the cabin crew - have welcomed the strike vote.

"For the fourth time in 13 months, BA cabin crew have voted overwhelmingly in support of their union and expressed their dissatisfaction with management behaviour," said Unite's leader Len McCluskey.

"Indeed, the turnout and the majority on this occasion are much greater than in the last ballot.Surely BA management must now wake up and listen to the voice of their skilled and dedicated employees", McCluskey went on.

But BA say that Unite does not have "majority support" for strike action.

"Of our 13,500 crew, only 43% voted in favour of strike action in this ballot," the airline said.

"Unite has lost about 2,500 cabin crew members since this dispute started, as crew have voted with their feet. Even with a smaller membership, the proportion of Unite members supporting disruption continues to fall, contrary to the union's claims.

"We urge Unite to return to the deal we negotiated, which guarantees pay rises for the next two years and secures terms and conditions for our existing crew that are the best in the UK industry."

So who's right?

Well the truth is that BA cabin crew seem to be turning their backs on their union - many people say that Unite has lost control of the dispute.

In the latest ballot Unite members voted by a big majority (5,751 to 1,579) of 78.5% - in favour of more industrial action - with 10,220 members eligible to vote - a turnout of 72%.

But BA is pointing out - quite sensibly - that the workforce is actually 13,500 strong - and that those in favour of striking represent less than half of the total cabin crew.

If you look at the results of previous ballots - Unite's predicament becomes all too clear.

In the first ballot (December 2009) more than 90% voted in favour of strike action - on an 80% turn-out of the 12,780 ballot papers issued.

In the second ballot (February 2010) just over 80% backed strike action - based on an 80% turn-out of the 11,691 ballot papers issued.

An internal non-binding 'consultative' ballot (May 2010) claimed turnout of 71% - with 'around 81 per cent' voting to reject a peace deal.

Another consultative ballot (July 2010) resulted in a much poorer turnout - with only about half of the potential 11,000 valid cabin crew taking part - voting 3,419 to 1,686 to reject a peace deal.

Now the number of ballot papers being issued is now down to 10,220 - so it's clear that the workforce is voting with its feet - by leaving the union or deciding not to join in the first place.

And if the strikes continue - this trend will only get worse.

As Labour's Denis Healey was fond of saying - 'when you're in a hole, stop digging'.

Unite's leaders would do well to follow that advice - and negotiate an end to the dispute - because more strikes can only weaken the union's position."

Road to Nowhere

Unite members employed as cabin crew with British Airways (BA) - have voted for more strikes in their long running and bitter dispute.

Here's a press statement released by the union announcing the news - which omits to say that for the first time - the number of union members balloted has fallen below 10,000.

What is happening is that Unite members who are against the strike are simply voting with their feet - by leaving the union - which is digging its members into an ever deeper hole.

5751 union members is not a majority of the 13,500 strong workforce - in fact it represents only 42.6%  of BA's cabin crew.

So what does the union think more strikes will achieve? 

"BA vote shows cabin crew remain determined"
28 March 2011

"British Airways cabin crew, who are members of Unite the union, have voted to back strike action at the airline.

In the latest ballot Unite members voted by a big majority (5,751 to 1,579) of 78.5% - in favour of more industrial action - with 10,220 members eligible to vote - a turnout of 72%.

But BA is pointing out - quite sensibly - that the workforce is actually 13,500 strong - and that those in favour of striking represent less than half of the total cabin crew.

Of the just under 10,000 crew polled, some 83 per cent of the 6,981 who returned valid voting papers voted yes to strike action.

Unite said this vote - the fourth official ballot in two years - reflects the continued resilience among the crew who were being balloted on a range of anti-union management measures including sanctions applied to some 6,700 crew who took lawful strike action last year.

Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary, said: "This vote shows that cabin crew remain determined to win justice. We urge BA's boardroom to see this as a clear message that they must think again about how to regain the trust and confidence of a significant part of their cabin crew operation.

"We continue to be in discussions with the company to find a solution to this long-running dispute."

The number of ballot papers returned was 6,985 but with four of those invalid, the total valid vote was 6,981.

Of this,

5,811 crew voted YES to strike action
1,170 crew voted NO to strike action

There were four invalid ballot papers. The turnout was 72 percent."

Bonkers or What?

The trouble with politics is that it can be so terribly unreasonable and blinkered - so bad in fact that it could give an aspirin a headache - sometimes.

Witness this blog post from one of Saturday's protest marchers - who's clearly spitting mad  with the Labour party opposition - never mind the government.

Now the author may have a point about opportunism by the Labour party - but if he's against the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour - then just who else does he think should be forming a government - and running the country?

I think we should be told.

"There is an alternative, but it is not the Labour Party"
by Jody McIntyre  - posted on Notebook - Monday, 28 March 2011

"On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people marched through London to demonstrate against the governments’ cuts and to advocate for an alternative. The demonstration ended with a rally at Hyde Park, but the fact that Ed Miliband, head of the Labour Party, was invited to speak at the rally, is an insult.

Let us not have a memory that goes back two days. Let us remind ourselves who introduced University tuition fees; Tony Blair’s Labour Party. Let us remind ourselves who commissioned the Browne Review, which recommended a huge rise in tuition fees; Gordon Brown’s Labour Party. Let us remind ourselves who currently supports the bombing of the Libyan people; not only the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, but also, Ed Miliband’s Labour Party.

In order to build an effective resistance here, we must support people resisting across the world. We must support the brave resistance of the Iraqi and Afghani people against the occupation of their countries, not the political Party who sent our soldiers to kill them and to die. We must support the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom, not the Party who supports their oppressor.

The Labour Party have just as much a history of war and imperialism as any of the other major political Parties, and until that is challenged, our movement cannot succeed. Yes, we are fighting to save our National Health Service, but the privatisation of the NHS did not begin over the last few months, it began under the previous Labour government. We are fighting to save people’s jobs, not to put Labour politicians back into jobs that they failed at miserably for eight years.

How dare Ed Miliband mention the Suffragettes, the Civil Rights movement and the anti-Apartheid struggle? They were movements of the people, not of the establishment. The Labour Party are playing an obvious political game in attempting to exploit the suffering of the poorer sections of society, and to co-opt the anti-cuts movement into support for their own political campaign. We must resist these attempts at every stage."

Labour Splits

MPs' Expenses

Rod Liddle wrote a scathing piece for the Sunday Times yesterday - accusing MPs of 'cashing in again' as the rules governing their expenses claims were 'relaxed' by IPSA - the expenses watchdog.

See post dated 25 March 2011 - 'Public Watchdog Muzzled by MPs'.  

But even within the existing rules there are scandalous practices - which simply would not be tolerated in any other walk of life.

For example - on housing costs - an MP who may have bought a second London property with the old housing allowance - is not required to live in that property under the new regime.

Even though it was purchased and maintained with public money - the MP is entitled to hold on to the property and even rent it out to a third party.

Whilst helping themselves to the housing allowance under the new, 'improved' expenses regime - which is worth up to £20,000 a year.

Now how can that be a legitimate use of public money?

MPs receive free housing for years and then are entitled to keep and even rent out the capital asset - which has been paid for by the taxpayer.

The only fair thing to do would be to require MPs in this position to forego any further housing allowances - or sell the property bought with public funds - and return the proceeds to the public purse.

Come to think of it - that's what I would also call - a pain free cut.  

A Little Bit Pregnant

Labour leader - Ed Miliband - spoke at the TUC rally on Saturday, but didn't join the marchers at the start of their journey through London from the Embankent on the River Thames.

Some commentators have suggested this was an odd thing to do - an attempt to distance the Labour hierarchy from the event - a kind of lukewarm rather than full-blooded support.

Maybe so, but maybe not - maybe he just had other things to do with his Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon.

If so, good for him since he doesn't get many days off - and he has a young family.

But what I did find strange is what Ed Miliband actually said - because he is reported as telling his audience that "some cuts" were needed - which is not what they wanted to hear.

Because the unions' position is 'no cuts' whatsoever - that every public pound is well spent - and no mainstream UK political party believes that - not even the Labour party.

So what cuts are needed - is the question for the Labour leadership to explain - how far and how fast? - as I said on the blog site the other day.

Pitching up to a union rally and telling people that you agree with them - is like falling off a log for a politician - they could do it all day every day - probably even in their sleep.

Especially if you don't have to say - in practical terms - what would be different if Labour were in government.

On the cuts - in the real world of hard choices at least - you can't be a little bit pregnant.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Hopping Mad

The TUC is hopping mad that a bunch of crazed anarchists - managed to hijack their march and protest rally in London yesterday.

Understandably so.

Yet the solution to such problems is very simple - the march organisers should not allow these people to tag along and join their party - which provides cover for their acts of wanton vandalism and their violent attacks on the police.

The Class War brigade are always at these big events - but refusing them cover under the main march would allow them to be policed differently and separately - from peaceful protesters.

The alternative is that the anarchist groups steal the headlines - as shown today in the press and media - and the abiding image is one of damage to private property - along with a huge mess to be cleaned up at public expense.

The anarchist groups are not a new phenomenon - they've been around for years - and to most people they are insufferable bores.

The ones I've met are all drop outs - either posh boys and girls who don't need to work to earn their keep - or the kind of people who lead an alternative lifestyle supported by long-term welfare benefits.

Either way they are not interested in cuts - or even the prospect of cuts - because they don't have jobs in the first place - and no interest in getting one.    

Moonlighting MPs

The Mail on Sunday is not my cup of tea for news, politics or analysis - but you've got to hand it to the newspaper - it does come up with some good stories that seem to bay the rest of the media by.

Today's paper highlights a high-flying row involving Gordon Brown - the former Prime Minister and still Labour MP for Fife - and a dispute about business class seats on a British Airways flight from Abu Dhabi to London.

Gordon Brown was returning from a speaking engagement in Abu Dhabi - where he gave a lecture to New York University students.

The university has a campus in Abu Dhabi and has previously appointed the former Labour leader to a £70,000 a year post - as a 'distinguished global leader in residence'.

The full story can be read in the Mail on Sunday or online at:

Essentially the paper reports that some passengers were angry at being 'bumped' from business class to make way for Gordon Brown and his entourage - who required six of the £3,000 per head seats.

During the first hour-long leg of the flight from Oman to Abu Dhabi, the displaced passengers stared resentfully at the six empty seats in Business Class - known as Club World by British Airways, the paper reports.

At Abu Dhabi they were livid to see Gordon Brown board the plane with his team and take up 'their' seats - apparently.

British Airways issued a statement after the incident and a spokeswoman for the airline said Mr Brown's arrival on the flight was a coincidence - and he had been unfairly blamed by the mutinous passengers.

But this misses the real point - of course - which is:

How can MPs justify a full-time public salary - if they spend so much time away from their day job?

MPs' Expenses

Former Labour MP - David Chaytor - who was jailed for 18 months after falsely claiming £20,000 in rent and office expenses - had an appeal rejected last week to have his prison term reduced.

The Court of Appeal threw out the case - thankfully.

The judge said that the former MP: "had known all along that he had been dishonest" - and only changed his plea to guilty when he ran out of options.

The judge went on to say that Chaytor could have been given even less credit for his guilty plea - in other words that he was fortunate not to have received a sentence longer than his 18 months.

Makes you wonder why he was allowed to waste still more court time - and public money - in bringing such a baseless case to the Court of Appeal.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Council Tax

Labour-led authorities were the worst culprits, with seven of its councils in the top 10 worst offenders.

Lambeth Council in London has failed to collect a staggering £37.4million in council tax, closely followed by Hackney on £30.3million.

Southwark and Lewisham also in the capital have both missed out on £25million of council tax payments.

However, Tory-led Croydon Council topped the list, with a colossal £40.2million left uncollected, according to figures from The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy.

Last year in Manchester one in 10 council tax bills went unpaid, depriving the city of £11million.

The grand total of unpaid council tax, dating back to when the levy was introduced nearly 20 years ago, is now £1.1billion.

Read more:

Calling Glasgow

Do regular readers from Glasgow know anyone who lives in The Verde building - which overlooks the east side of Glasgow Green?

If so, I'd be interested in speaking to them.

Because I have some 'issues' with a Property Manager responsible for 'factoring' another building in Glasgow - and I am told it may be the same outfit that currently looks after The Verde.

If you know of anyone in that position, please ask them to drop me a note at:

Many thanks.

Mixed Messages from Marchers

Today's protest march in London - organised by the TUC - promises to be a friendly, peaceful affair.

I wish the marchers well - but fear they are sending a very mixed message to the wider public.

Because all the mainstream political parties - at a UK level - agree that public spending has to be reduced in order to heal the damage done to the economy - by a debt driven recession.

Even the Labour party - which the trade unions support and fund - believes that 'cuts' are a necessary evil and that there are no pain free solutions.

So what the marchers are really saying is - "Don't cut my job or something that affects me, cut something or someone else."

And the problem with that is that no one is prepared to say - on a practical level at least - where these pain free cuts would come from.

A poll in today's Guardian seems to confirm that the wider public - is not swayed by the anti-cuts rhetoric - from Labour or the trade unions.

In an ICM poll published today only 35% think the government's plans go too far – down 10 points since November.

But 28% agree that the government has found the right balance - while a surprising 29% say the cuts are not severe enough.

Which amounts to 57% support for what the government is doing - or going even further.

So the TUC and the marchers have a battle on their hands to get their message across - because at the moment their strategy isn't working.

The Labour leader - Ed Miliband - is apparently addressing the marchers when they reach journey's end in Hyde Park - maybe things will become a bit clearer by then.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Heaven Help Us

The Scotsman reports today on a hare brained idea from Labour party Leader - Iain Gray.

If Labour wins the Scottish Parliament elections in May - Gray says he will create a powerful new cabinet body to advise on economic policy - with up to 12 handpicked members including various union leaders.

Now I don't have any problem with governments seeking independent advice - from independent minded people - from all walks of life.

But there's nothing independent about our present lot of union leaders - they're all in the Scottish Labour party already - and have been for many years, in the majority of cases anyway.

Most have little, if any, experience of work outside the trade union movement - so what they would bring to the party is anyone's guess.

The next government could certainly do with some new ideas and fresh thinking - but heaven help us if the best the Labour party can do - is to serve up another batch of Labour supporting union bosses.

What difference will that make?

Golden Goodbyes

Paul Hutcheon has a good piece in The Herald today - about the cost of 'golden goodbyes' in the civil service.

Apparently, £19 million has been paid out in in early retirement and severance deals - all funded by the taxpayer, of course.

Scottish Labour leader - Iain Gray - wastes no time in jumping on this bandwagon and is reported as saying that some of the sums involved are “eye-watering”.

I have to say I would have more time for the Labour leader - if he was also prepared to jump up and down - about similar practices in local government which includes many Labour controlled councils, of course.

The generous boost given to departing senior officials in Scottish councils - in recent years - would simply dwarf the £19 million paid out by the civil service.

And the scandal is that the practice of adding extra years is really only available to those at the very top of the council tree - who already benefit hugely from the final salary pension arrangement.

Now I haven't heard Iain Gray getting exercised about that - which is a great pity.

MEP's expenses

A former Tory MEP - Den Dover - has been ordered to repay £345,289 in unjustified expenses claims.

Den Dover has now been expelled by the Conservatives - and originally faced a demand for £538,000 which the European Parliament said should never have been paid to him.

The European Court of Justice has now reduced that amount after an appeal - which probably cost as much as the amount the authorities are now trying to recover.

The European Parliament launched a probe in 2008 after discovering that Mr Dover had paid nearly £1million to a company - MP Holdings - which included his wife and daughters among its directors.

The money came from allowances MEPs receive to pay staff salaries and costs - but the parliament ruled that only £421,156 could be justified - and demanded £538,290 back.

Who knows whether the former MEP will be prosecuted?

But the sums of money involved clearly dwarf those of Westminster MPs - who have already been charged and found guilty of false accounting.

Two Places At One Time

A regular reader from South Lanarkshire - a local union rep - has been in touch over paid time-off for councillors.

"If a union rep gets paid time-off from their employer to deal with union business, they don't also get paid by the union - because that would be double counting or getting paid twice for the same thing", the reader says - not unreasonably.

"So how come some councillors get paid for one role - which they say is a full-time commitment - yet also get paid for taking on other outside work? If we did that we'd be disciplined, or maybe even sacked", the reader adds.

And I think the reader has a fair point - moonlighting by MPs and other politicians is a pretty common practice - and has been for years.

Now clearly no one - not even a politician - can be in two places at one time.

And if a job is a full-time commitment - paid for by public money - then how can it be right to take on additional paid work?

Maybe the authorities will get to grips with the issue one of these days - though to be fair MSPs in the Scottish Parliament are not up to these tricks - albeit with one or two exceptions from the early days.


I watched Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) at Westminster during the week - and witnessed the following exchange with a Labour MP - which is dutifully reported in Hansard.

Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab):
North Tyneside's Tory elected mayor has spoken of her intention to become the council's chief executive under new government powers. Does the Prime Minister think that the mayor, who was elected on a political ticket under the alternative vote and has no proven professional experience for such an apolitical role, should go back to the electorate in the true spirit of localism and get their opinion on this issue?

The Prime Minister:
I thank the honourable lady for reminding everyone that North Tyneside has an excellent Conservative mayor who is doing a great job. It will be a matter for her and the people and the council of North Tyneside to work out fantastic job she can do in the future.

Thank goodness for that is all I can say.

Because local government is not the only place where senior lay people can go from an elected and essentially voluntary position - to become the 'head of the paid service'.

Unison's new regional secretary in Scotland - Mike Kirby - is now the union's senior paid official north of the border - but for many years was the senior elected lay member as 'regional convener'.

So I say what's good enough for local government - and a Tory mayor in North Tyneside - is good enough for the trade unions.

Public Watchdog Muzzled by MPs

So the public watchdog on MPs' expenses has been muzzled - that's the only conclusion to be drawn from the announcement by IPSA - the formerly 'Independent' Parliamentary Standards Authority.

Under pressure from MPs and facing the threat that IPSA would be abolished if the expenses rules were not relaxed - the quango has caved in and used even more public money to quell the rebellion from 'honorable members'.

Now I wouldn't mind so much if MPS had made a decent case.

But the 'evidence' IPSA seems to have taken into account are essentially 'fishermen's tales' about anonymous MPs having to sleep in their offices.

And now even more of them will have access to a £20,000 a year housing allowance - just because they live in Outer London.

Speaking as someone who has lived and worked in London in the past - I have to say that it really is ridiculous that MPs should demand more favourable treatment than the rest of the population.

Normal human beings commute in and out of London every day - but they don't enjoy the three day week most MPs work at Westminster - or the long breaks when Parliament is not in session.

Most MPs travel down to Westminster on a Monday afternoon and back to their constituencies on a Thursday - and as that's only three nights away from home why do they need a £20,000 a year housing allowance?

So the whole thing is madness really.

For a while back MPs were in the public spotlight as never before - and as the MPs' expenses scandal engulfed Westminster they were keen to put their house in order in double quick time.

Now that the heat is off they are trying to recover some of that lost ground - slowly, slowly and bit by bit.

Yet the truth is that MPs should be judged by the same standards as everyone else - by the same standards as the people they claim to represent.

Which is why expenses watchdog should be standing up for the public interest - not the self-serving interests of our MPs.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

It's Scotland's Oil!

I didn't realise that the SNP had taken over the editor's chair at The Scotsman - until I read today's paper.

Here's the strap line and first paragraph from today's leading article - on the front page.

What is going on at The Hootsmon's office down at Holyrood, you have to ask? - which just happens to be built on the site of an old Scottish & Newcastle brewery - a coincidence, I'm sure.

"George Osborne raids North Sea to fuel flagging UK recovery"

"George Osborne has launched a £10 billion tax raid on Scotland's North Sea oil industry in a surprise move to keep down fuel prices and kick start the economy."

Newsnet Scotland

Newsnet Scotland has published a series of 'Budget Blogs' on its web site - following the chancellor's statement in the House of Commons yesterday.

Including the one I wrote for Action 4 Equality Scotland - 'Bring Back 10p Tax Rate'.

Have a look for yourself at: - the Budget Blogs can be found in the drop down menu.

Freedom of Information

Here's a Freedom of Information request I've submitted to Soiuth Lanarkshire Council.

The purpose of the request is to identify the pay levels of traditional male jobs - the kind of jobs done by council refuse workers and gardeners.

The equal pay issue behind the request is:

'If the council can afford to pay certain male jobs at such high hourly rates - then how can the council justify paying female cooks, carers, cleaners and classroom assistants so much less?'

Now just about every other council in Scotland is happy to answer this question - but not South Lanarkshire.

So the struggle continues - and if you have any information that can shine a light on what's going on, drop me a note at:

Archie Strang
Chief Executive
South Lanarkshire Council


Dear Mr Strang

FOI Request

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

I am seeking information about the basic hourly rate of pay for the council job category Land Services Operative 3:

1. How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 35?
2. How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 36?
3. How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 37?
4. How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 38?
5. How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 39?
6. How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 40?
7. How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 41?
8. How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 42?
9. How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 43?
10. How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 44?
11. How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 45?
12. How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 46?
13. How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 47?
14. How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 48?
15. How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 49?
16. How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 50?
17. How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 51?
18. How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 52?
19. How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 53?
20. How many of the total number of LSO 3 posts are placed at Spinal Column Point 54?

Please regard each of these requests as separate and discrete requests under the terms of the Freedom of Information Scotland Act 2002.

I look forward to your reply and would be grateful if you could respond to me by e-mail to:

Kind regards

Mark Irvine

How Far, How Fast?

Every time I hear a Labour party spokesperson say - "Too far, too fast" - in relation to the government's public spending cuts.

I hear a voice in my head which demands - "How far, how fast?" - because everyone knows that if Labour had won the general election, they'd have been cutting spending as well.

The official line, of course, is that a Labour chancellor would be cutting the deficit in half - over four years.

Yes, but we know that already - what does this mean?

Labour originally introduced the 1p rise in National Insurance which came into effect yesterday - not the present government.

And Labour had also planned a series of increases in fuel duty - of around 5p a litre - which were ditched in yesterday's budget.

Now of course - in opposition - Labour will say that they would not have followed though on their plans.

But what would they do exactly - how would Labour's cuts differ from the government's cuts?

If the party can't answer that - then they're not taking the whole business very seriously - because they've only just left government after 13 years in power.

Self-Praise is No Praise

A number of readers from South Lanarkshire have been in touch about the post dated 22 March 2011 - 'Mutton Dressed as Lamb'.

"Is the mutual love affair between the unions and the council anything to do with party politics - and the Scottish Parliament elections in May?", they ask innocently.

Well the Labour party links between some councils and the trade unions are as plain as the nose on your face - but you'd have to ask the people involved why they behave the way they do.

Here's what I had to say about earlier report on South Lanarkshire's 'living wage' - on 5 February 2011.

South Lanarkshire and Equal Pay

South Lanarkshire Council has been blowing its own trumpet this week - with an announcement about a possible pay rise for some council workers.

Now don't get too excited.

Because the council is talking about a small pay rise for some employees - which would take them to £7.16 per hour - or an increase of £250 a year (£4.80 a week) if an employee already earns more than £7.16 an hour.

Council employees paid more than £21,000 a year - will get no pay rise at all.

But of course this has nothing to do with equal pay - nothing at all.


Because if there was equal pay in South Lanarkshire Council - between male and female jobs - then the low paid women workers would have been getting paid substantially more than £7.16 an hour - several years ago.

And that is what people's equal pay claims in South Lanarkshire are all about - recovering the money that many council workers have been underpaid for the past ten years.

The council's announcement does not deal with the issue of people's back pay claims for equal pay - which go back to 2000 or 2001 in most cases.

The council's announcement also does nothing to address the pay gap between traditional male and female jobs - so it's really nothing to get excited about.

Although to read the comments in the local papers - you'd think the council and the unions had discovered a recipe for world peace!

Council leader - Eddie McAvoy is quoted as saying:

"It's unfair that the bankers have caused all these problems yet they go home with millions of pounds in bonuses but people on low wages have to put up with pay freezes and benefit cuts."

Local Unison branch secretary - Stephen Smellie - welcomed the announcement saying:

"At a time when people are worrying about pay freezes, this means the low paid will get a rise."

The back slapping between the council and the union comes as no surprise - they're like two peas in a pod - two sides of the same coin.

But in reality the absence of equal pay in South Lanarkshire means that low paid workers council workers - have been losing out for years.

And that's what people's equal pay claims are all about - not just a few pennies here and there.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Bring Back 10p Tax Rate

Today's budget represents another missed opportunity - to do something radical to help the lower paid.

Now perhaps this is not too surprising since the last Labour government - despite lots of fine words - did precious little to get to grips with low pay during its 13 years in office either.

When Labour came to power in 1997, women workers were stuck firmly at the bottom of the pay ladder - and the same was true 13 years later when Labour ran out of steam - and lost the 2010 general election.

During that long period in government lots of public sector employers - including many Labour controlled councils - paid lip service to equal pay and the provisions of the Equal Pay Act 1970.

In 1997 a female cook in a busy school kitchen was paid the equivalent of £3.00 per hour less than a male refuse worker. Ten years on in 2007 the pay gap remained and still exists today - in many areas - affecting other typically female dominated jobs such as carers and classroom assistants.

Despite its moral compass people lost confidence in Labour and one big reason was Gordon Brown's momentous decision to axe the 10p tax rate - which targeted help on many thousands of low paid - often part-time workers - the vast majority of whom are women.

The headline measures in today's budget were much as expected: cuts in fuel costs, support for first-time home buyers - and an increase in personal tax allowances - which will rise by £1,000 this year and again to £8,105 in April 2012.

Now the increase in personal tax allowances will benefit everyone earning up to £115,000 a year - whereas the 10p tax rate was a measure specifically designed to boost the pay of the lowest paid workers.

So while the introduction of higher tax allowances will help offset the ever rising cost of living for everyone in work - some will do much better than others.

Because according to the Financial Services Authority (FSA) there has been a £20 billion windfall to mortgage payers over the past few years - because of our artificially low interest rates.

And the bigger the mortgage the bigger the killing people will have made. Not through any risk taking or hard work - but simply because interest levels dropped like a stone after the banking collapse.

Low paid workers have benefited least from this turn of events because people in low paid jobs often can't afford a mortgage - yet those enjoying above average earnings will have benefited most.
Whichever way you slice the cake, the lower paid groups have lost out big time - compared to what some people like to describe as the 'squeezed middle'.

So I say bring back the 10p tax rate on all earnings up to, say, £17,000 - which would give a big boost to the lower paid to the tune of around £1,000 a year.

Low paid workers will spend the extra cash which can be paid for by redistributing some of the £20 billion windfall that has fallen into the laps of mortgage payers - by sheer good luck and nothing else.

What's a pun?

I listened idly to some radio programme earlier today which posed the momentous question: "What makes a good teacher?"

Well I would say a good teacher is someone who is not only on top of their subject - but also has that extra spark of humanity that allows them to smile with - as well as at - their students.

I remember a time at secondary school when a particularly good English teacher pounced on the class jester - who was not paying attention at the time:

"What's a pun, Bradley?", asked Mr Drake.

As quick as a flash - and without hesitation - Bradley replied:

"About 16 ounces, sir."

Instead of being punished or taken to task for his 'insolence', Mr Drake - as I recall - could not contain his admiration for Bradley's wit - and ability to think on his feet.

The whole class was rewarded in some way - which I can't recall - but that's what I always think of when think of a good teacher.

Safety in Numbers

I read a thoughtful piece in The Times yesterday - by Graham Spiers - the newspaper's well known football and sports writer.

Here are a few extracts of Graham's thoughts on last weekend's Old Firm game - at Hampden Park - Scotland's national football stadium.

"Another week, another example of the problem Rangers have with a large section of their support.Walter Smith's team, going into Sunday's Co-operative Insurance Cup final as underdogs, won quite a few admirers for their gritty 2-1 win over Celtic.

Alas, no one who was at Hampden Park as a neutral, and who had any understanding of the type of songs that were being sung, could have found anything remotely appealing in the antics of the Rangers support.

For fully 120 minutes the Ibrox legions belted out stuff about the Pope, Fenians, and some of their other favoured subjects.

Quite a few if us have become used to 'the Rangers problem' over the years but Sunday at Hamden was quite an eye opener. It was the consistent, incessant nature of the bigoted chanting that was truly shocking."

Graham Spiers goes on to comment about the lack of any statement from Rangers - after the match - condemning this bigoted, sectarian behaviour.

He suggests that the club, football authorities, police and government - are all guilty of turning a blind eye and deaf ear to the problem - instead of tackling it head on.

And I think he has a good point.

I was not at the match - but I know very well the kind of foul, offensive behaviour that Spiers is complaining about.

The TV coverage tends filter things out - so the majority of people watching from a distance - get a sanitised version of the atmosphere inside the ground.

But make no mistake if this was happening in the street - the offenders would be arrested and heading for the cells.

The people who behave in this way feel there's safety in numbers - and the difficulty of pulling them out of such a large crowd.

To my mind the solution lies with the club, police and football authorities working together - with the backing of the government.

The club should make it plain that these bigoted 'supporters' are not welcome - and that steps will be taken over time - to identify and prevent them from acquiring tickets.

The football authorities can help, of course - they could threaten to impose heavy fines on clubs whose fans are out of control - if things don't change.

Since money talks more than anything else in football - the potential loss of hundreds of thousands of pounds would begin to have a salutary effect - without the need to even think about deducting points.

But the fact that there is a public debate underway is a good thing - and it all stems from people (including the police) refusing to turn a blind eye - or deaf ear - to the problem.

Newsnet Scotland

Newsnet Scotland have published the article I wrote the other day on Freedom of Information and COSLA - 'Daylight is still the best disinfectant' - dated 22 March 2011.

Newsnet is a new online daily newspaper - you can read the Action 4 Equality Scotland article and much more at:

Have a look at the site and see for yourself - there's lots of news, current affairs and opinion pieces - which are well worth a read.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The Last Dance?

I watched First Minister's Questions (FMQs) earlier today - broadcast live from the Scottish Parliament.

Now this was the last FMQs of this parliament.

In fact it may be the last FMQs of its kind ever - depending on who 'wins' the May elections - and who becomes the next First Minister of Scotland.

So how did the main protagonists - Alex Salmond and Iain Gray - fare in this ritual political dance?

Well for my money Alex Salmond performed with great panache and style - Al Pacino dancing the tango in 'Scent of a Woman' springs to mind.

While Iain Gray was terribly pedestrian and wooden - twinkle toes he's not - more like John Sergeant or Ann Widdecombe on 'Strictly Come Dancing'.

Now whether this makes any difference with the voters in six weeks time - remains to be seen.

But I will be watching the campaign with great interest - to see which of the two main party leaders - really does turn out to have two left feet.

Daylight Is Still The Best Disinfectant

As regular readers know - COSLA is a members' club for Scotland's 32 local councils - see post dated 18 March 2011.

Yet COSLA is not covered by the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 - despite being funded almost completely by public money raised via its member councils.

The work of COSLA is overseen by a team of 'senior' councillors - a President and four Vice-Presidents who are also councillors in their own local council areas.

At the moment the line-up is:

COSLA President
Councillor Pat Watters - South Lanarkshire Council (Labour)

COSLA Vice-Presidents
Neil Fletcher - Aberdeen City Council (Liberal Democrat)
Alex MacDonald - Western Isles Island Council (Independent)
Corrie McChord - Stilring Council (Labour)
Rob Murray - Angus Council (SNP)

Now the COSLA President and Vice Presidents all get time-off from their normal council duties to deal with COSLA business - as you would expect.

A bit like a local trade union rep getting time off from their employer - to deal with union business.

But the President and Vice Presidents all receive significant sums of public money - for carrying out their COSLA functions - in addition to their local council duties.

"So how much do they get paid?", I hear you ask.

Well that's a secret, apparently - as is the method by which their pay is determined - since COSLA is not covered by Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

The last time I heard the COSLA President received £20,000 a year and the Vice Presidents £10,000 a year.

Even more bizarre is the fact that the four Vice Presidents all declare their COSLA remuneration - in their individual 'register of interests'.

Now the four Vice Presidents don't say how much they receive from COSLA - which is a bit odd - because what's the big secret - it's public money after all?

But at least they register the existence of a payment - as all councillors are required to do by law.

Yet Scotland's most senior councillor - COSLA President, Pat Watters - fails to include this information in his own 'register of interests' at South Lanarkshire Council.

Having checked the council web site this morning - the only remuneration entry for Councillor Pat Watters is:

"07/09/2010 Category 1 Remuneration Director of Cannedheat, 16 Aitken Road, Hamilton (Investigation Company)"

Now why would that be?

Can I Have My Money Back?

I know this sounds like the title for a Gerry Rafferty song.

But this post is my small tribute to a group of male janitors from Stirling - who pursued an equal pay claim with Action 4 Equality Scotland - in the teeth of opposition from their trade unions.

In 2006 - if I remember correctly - I went to visit this group who were all very interested in equal pay - and the work of Action 4 Equality Scotland.

Problem was - they were all warned off by their unions - who said they had no chance of a successful claim - because equal pay was only for women.

But janitors didn't receive bonus payments - unlike other lower graded male jobs such as refuse workers and gardeners.

"So, why don't we have a claim?", the Stirling janitors wanted to know - not unreasonably.

Well the answer - of course - is that they did.

The only difference was that the women workers had first to win their own claims - which opened the door to what was called a contingent claim by the male janitors.

And the rest is history - but now all the janitors want to know if they can get their union contributions back.

For all those wasted years in which the unions did nothing about equal pay - for the janitors individually or as a group.

I think the answer to that is probably not - and the cost of pursuing a refund would outweigh the likely benefit in any event.

So as one of the janitors said to me - the best response to the unions is that 'we were proved right in the end and that's all that counts - along with the cheque that's now in the bank'

A case of he who laughs last - laughs longest.

Mutton Dressed As Lamb

A kind reader has sent in an extract from the latest Unison branch newsletter in South Lanarkshire - which is reproduced below for information.

The 'love-in' between council bosses and union leaders is nothing new - but what is new is the amount of spin involved - as if the so-called 'living wage' is the best thing since sliced bread.

Which it's not - of course - it's more a case of 'mutton dressed as lamb'.


Because there's no back pay involved - the so called 'living wage' does nothing to address the pay inequalities in South Lanarkshire for the past 10 years .

Nor does it get to grips with the ongoing differences in pay between male and female jobs - which Single Status was supposed to sort out back in 1999.

Not one of the thousands of women with an equal pay claim in South Lanarkshire - will get a penny of compensation for what's happened in the past.

And the big pay differences between female jobs (such as carers, cooks and cleaners) - and male jobs (such as refuse workers and gardeners) will remain.

That's why so many employees have equal pay claims with Action 4 Equality Scotland - while the unions and the employer cosy up to each other.

I put something up on the blog site about this last month - which I'll post again - meantime here's the self-congratulatory union/council piece.

But just remember - self-praise is no praise.


"Just for a change there's some good news for our low paid members as South Lanarkshire Council agrees to implement the living wage.

As a result,many low paid members will receive a pay rise far better than they have received in recent years through national pay awards. Almost half of the workforce should benefit from the increase. Credit for this achievement must go to our Branch Secretary Stephen Smellie for his tenacity in highlighting the level of low pay in local government. Over many years he has urged employers to deliver a fairer deal for our low paid members and taken every opportunity to highlight the issue of low pay

This year in particular he wrote to every SLC councillor,highlighting the impact of the budget cuts and how the pay freeze would badly affect not just employees, but their families and the economy of the local communities where the majority of our wages are spent. In the last Unison briefing Stephen explained the concept of the living wage and asked members to email Council leader Eddie McAvoy to demand its introduction in South Lanarkshire.

Cllr McAvoy has proved sympathetic and has now led the council to implement the living wage. Corporate Personnel has worked to restructure the bottom end of the SLC pay scales to make the minimum hourly rate £7.16 from 1 April as well as amending increments so that there will be pay increases for employees who earn below £21000 per annum (pro rata to a 37 hour working week) although a couple of other councils in Scotland have introduced the living wage. SLC is the first to deliver benefits to those in the under £21000 category. If that includes you you should see the increase in your pay in late May (June for trust employees) with backdating to 1st April 2011.The committee report on the living wage, including the old and new scales is attached with this news letter."

Monday, 21 March 2011

Cynical and Ridiculous

Here's a copy of the letter of appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner - regarding South Lanarkshire Council's refusal to release pay information - on traditional male jobs.

The council's behaviour looks even more cynical and ridiculous - looking back after all this time.

Equality is a fundamental human right - but it can only be exercised in terms of equal pay - if there is openness and transparency over pay arrangements.

South Lanarkshire should be truly ashamed of the fact that this information is being dragged out of the council - ever so slowly - and bit by bit.

What does South Lanarkshire Council have to hide?

"Dear Mr Dunion

South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) – FOISA request regarding Pay Information

I enclose an exchange of correspondence with South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) regarding a FOISA enquiry, which I initiated with the council on 18 May 2010.

I asked the council to reviews its initial decision, but remain dissatisfied with their response. I am now registering an appeal with the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC). In my view, the council’s response is unsatisfactory for the following reasons:

1. I submitted an earlier request for information relating to the pay of specific council posts (LSO 3) on 9 May 2009. At the time the Council did not argue that my request was vexatious which speaks for itself.

2. Instead the Council answered the first part of my request, but went on to claim that the other questions were exempt under Section 38 because the answer could breach people’s privacy and constituted a breach of data protection principles.

3. I asked for a review of the Council’s initial decision and then appealed to SIC. The case dragged on for months until I was contacted in May 2010 by a Freedom of Information Officer, Elaine Moffat, who advised me that the Council had suddenly changed its ‘defence’.

4. In May 2010 the Council claimed a new exemption under Section 12 of FOISA, on the grounds of cost, and the advice of the Investigating Officer was that this defence would succeed.

5. So, I decided to re-submit the request in a different way by breaking up the original request into a series of individual requests or questions, to prevent the council claiming an exemption under Section 12.

6. In doing so it should be noted that South Lanarkshire Council will have spent considerably more than £600 in refusing to answer my original request, for a period of almost 12 months over 2009/10. Nonetheless, the council had the bare faced cheek to argue that my request was exempt because the cost exceeded £600.

7. In my view, the Council’s latest arguments are dishonest and bogus. My request is patently not vexatious, but focuses on the way South Lanarkshire Council uses public money to treat traditional male council jobs more favourably than their female colleagues.

8. I believe there is a serious public interest in this matter because gender equality is a fundamental human right. A cornerstone of exercising this right effectively is the need for transparency in pay arrangements a requirement that other councils in Scotland are happy to observe.

9. But what South Lanarkshire Council is doing is trying to keep its pay arrangements secret, both to conceal the truth from its largely female workforce and as a means of avoiding public scrutiny.

10. To my mind South Lanarkshire Council’s behaviour is a cynical abuse of the FOI process. In effect, the council is really just behaving in the same obstructive manner as the Speaker’s Office in the House of Commons - when faced with unwelcome questions over MPs’ expenses.

I look forward to hearing from you in due course and if you require any further details at this stage, please contact me at:

Kind regards

Mark Irvine"