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Showing posts from 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 g

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 fier

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.   

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 co

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 Scot

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.  

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 - s eems 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

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 (

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 f

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

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. Confuse

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

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  - p osted 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 a

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 a

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 th

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 an

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: www.dailymail.co.uk 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 o

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.

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: http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/233670/233670-1bn-of-council-tax-goes-uncollected-#ixzz1HmPZZk00

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: markirvine@compuserve.com 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 pub

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 wil

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&#

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 g

PMQs

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 governme

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. Norm

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: www.newsnetscotland.com - 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: markirvine@compuserve.com Archie Strang Chief Executive South Lanarkshire Council BY E-MAIL 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

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'

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 w

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

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

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: http://www.newsnetscotland.com/ 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.

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 th

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 j

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'. Why? 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, cook

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 res