Thursday, May 31, 2012

Reports from today's Local Government SGE on pensions

Today's meeting of UNISON's Local Government Service Group Executive (SGE) is the subject of an anonymous report on the "UNISON Active" blog (http://unisonactive.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/unison-local-government-sge-agrees.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter&m=1).

I've also received the following personal report from London representative, John McLoughlin;

Report from Local Government Service Group Executive 31 May 2012

The key business of the meeting was a briefing on the proposals for the new Local Government Pension Scheme from 1 April 2014, held jointly with members of the HESGE at 2pm. Executive members were told that details of the new scheme were embargoed until after a press release at 12 noon. We later found that details were posted on the UNISON website that morning whilst we sat in the meeting, including lots of material that can only be interpreted as positively promoting the proposals. There was a debate about how a recommendation should be made.

I moved that as the Service Group Conference is only two weeks away we should approach the Standing Orders Committee to facilitate a debate there so that Conference can make a recommendation in a ballot of members.

There was also a proposal, moved by Glenn Williams from the NW that the Service Group should initiate a consultation process prior to making any recommendation for the ballot. This would be similar to the type of consultation run on pay ballots – with branches determining the method of consultation but using a common template and aggregating votes which would be reported to regional briefing meetings and then meetings of the regional service group executives, prior to a further SGE meeting to make the recommendation and then a ballot.

I was disappointed by the tenor of much of the debate with people suggesting that Conference was unrepresentative and liable to make the wrong decision. It seems to me that if our negotiators are confident that they have managed to achieve not only protecting but improving our pension scheme they ought to be confident of winning that position at Conference.

In the afternoon we had a short briefing. You will no doubt all have seen the proposals on the website but the key elements are:

·         Retirement Age to go up in line with State Pension Age progressively to 68 (and possibly to 71 for those starting work now according to government projections)
·         A Career Average Scheme
·         Accrual Rate 1/49
·         Revaluation rate CPI
·         Based on actual pay – including overtime &additional hours
·         Contributions broadly the same as current but with steep increases for those earning above £43,000 (where the higher rate of tax relief applies)
·         Introduction of a new pay less/get less category of membership where members can opt to pay 50% contributions and earn 50% benefits for a period

People may already have seen a number of examples posted on the website which show the new scheme as better for a majority of members. However this is based on reversing the previous assumptions UNISON has used to forecast the impact of a career average scheme. Previously the calculations have been based on the historical evidence that earnings over long periods grow faster than inflation measured by CPI by more than 2%. They now assume a lower growth of earnings. This is not only a thoroughly defeatist outlook for a Trade Union and counter to the historical evidence. It also has the effect of making the Career Average Scheme look more attractive than it probably is.

If people feel that Conference should have a say in what recommendation should be made the only remedy now will be for branches to submit Emergency Motions. The deadline for Emergency Motions to the Local Government Service Group Conference is 12 noon on Friday 8 June.

In terms of assessing the proposals against our objectives:

Work Longer – the proposals fully concede to government proposals to increase pension age in line with State Pension Age

Pay More – Our joint strike action on 30 November has led to the government accepting that there is no need to increase contributions overall. But paying contributions for a number of extra years is an increase in what you pay.

Get Less – I asked the question today about the value of the proposed accrual and revaluation rates. The first Career Average Scheme was introduced in the Civil Service based on a 1/42 accrual rate with revaluation by CPI. It was agreed that this delivered broadly similar benefits to a 1/60 accrual rate in a final salary scheme. On this basis a 1/49 accrual rate is worth significantly less than our current 1/60 final salary scheme. The impact of a raised retirement age also means that we will get less –because we will have fewer years of pension paid, or if we retire before the new pension age we will get a reduced pension.

That's why I believe we should still argue for rejection of the proposals.

Back in December we were told that unless we negotiated on the government's terms we would be isolated. Yet every major union in every other pension scheme has rejected the government's pensions proposals, including UNISON members in Health.

The police have taken to the streets in tens of thousands and now doctors are set to take industrial action for the first time in 40 years over pensions.

This is no time to accept the government's proposals.

One final point on the balloting timetable.

We were told that the formal consultation on the required legislative changes to implement changes to the LGPS would need to start in September and therefore the ballot needs to be concluded by the first week in August.

However as I argued today I think it would be entirely wrong to conduct a ballot on such a key issue at a time when a substantial proportion of our members in schools would have finished for the summer, and many others would also be taking leave.

I am strongly of the view that we should ballot to finish before the school holidays – and this fits entirely with agreeing a recommendation for the ballot at Conference. Should we vote to reject the proposals it would also allow us to approach the other unions who have rejected pensions proposals about further joint strike action in the autumn.

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Lies, damned lies and "examples"

Within moments of the Government giving the green light we are swamped with information clearly aimed at "selling" the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS 2014) proposals.



Clearly a lot of people were privy for some time to information which has only been shared today with our elected Service Group Executives (SGEs) - these factsheets and pamphlets didn't write themselves.



One particularly significant document is a set of "examples" which seek to illustrate the myriad ways in which a career average pension is preferable to the fuddy duddy old final salary scheme supported by our Local Government Conference (http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/LGPS2014Examples.pdf).



What interests me about this document is that it includes three possible options for future earnings growth in the long run which are CPI-1.5%, CPI and CPI+1.5%, whereas when we published our pensions calculator - when we were trying to persuade members to strike - this was based upon the assumption that "Future AWE is assumed to be 1.5% above RPI. For the projection of pension from retirement, future RPI is assumed to be 4.6% pa (in line with September 2010 RPI), and future CPI is assumed to be 3.6% pa, i.e. 1% lower than RPI. (Actual CPI as at September 2010 was 3.1% pa.)")



In other words, UNISON believed that a realistic projection for long term earnings growth was CPI+2.5%.



This is no mere techical matter. The suggestion that (in the long run) earnings growth would not exceed price rises (never mind that real earnings might fall in the long term) is absurd. No capitalist society would be stable over decades in such circumstances.



The highest of the examples of earnings growth in the "examples" document falls well short of the more honest assumption which UNISON made last year. Could this be because the lower you assume that income growth will be the relatively better a career average comes out of a comparison with a final salary?



Yes, I fear it could.



Shameful.

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At last!

The long-awaited proposals for the future of our Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) have been published online at http://www.lgps.org.uk/lge/core/page.do?pageId=15431012.

 

UNISON activists are currently assessing these. What is immediately obvious is that, as we already knew, the normal retirement age will be linked to the (rising) state pension age so that those wishing to retire at 65 will have to give up a proportion of their pension to do so, and, as we also knew, pensions in payment will be uprated in line with the less generous Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rather than in line with the Retail Price Index (RPI) as previously.

 

Whilst the "accrual rate" of 1/49th appears more generous than the rate of 1/60th in the current scheme, because (as we also already knew) the new scheme will be a career average scheme rather than a final salary scheme, the revaluation rate also has to be taken into account - and this is proposed to be equivalent to the CPI (rather than the more generous revaluation rates proposed in the health service and teachers' pension schemes).

 

Our negotiators do appear, however, to have averted contribution increases for many members.



On the face of it we appear to be being asked to accept a less valuable scheme for the future - but this needs some further scrutiny. What doesn't need any further scrutiny is the proposed capitulation to the increasing retirement age and to the CPI uprating.



Not a good deal.



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Take the doctors' advice on pensions?

On the day when rumour central positively insists that Eric Pickles has finally regurgitated the proposals on local government pensions that have been chewed over (in secret) since 13 February, it's good to see the clarity of the defence (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-18275653), by the British Medical Association (BMA) of the decision of their members to take strike action over attacks on pensions(http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/119639).



One of the issues concerning doctors is the prospect that today's junior doctors could be working to 68 - or later.



Since whatever other miracles have been performed in world-class negotiations on the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) we know that the proposals which have been kept from us for three and a half months are based on the "Principles of Agreement", we know that the LGPS proposals will also see normal retirement age heading for 68 and beyond.



Since we also know that the package will concede uprating of pensions in payment by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rather than the more appropriate Retail Price Index (RPI) at massive cost to workers and pensioners, I think I'll be amongst those voting to reject the deal and rejoin the campaign which the doctors have now aligned themselves with.



You can also read more about the BMA decision at http://industrialreporter.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/doctors-to-take-strike-action-over-pensions-for-first-time-in-nearly-40-years-2/.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The attack on trade union time is an attack on workers rights

There's a considered post over on the Stronger Unions blog about why some on the Tory right are so keen to force reductions in agreed time off for lay trade union workplace representatives (http://strongerunions.org/2012/05/29/attack-on-facility-time-is-intended-to-have-much-wider-consequences/comment-page-1/#comment-11364).



In essence trade union "facility time" is a relatively soft target as a way of weakening the bargaining position of workers vis-a-vis employers in the workplace (an objective which, the response to Beecroft shows, is more controversial as a full frontal assault upon the rights of employees per se).



The foaming-at-the-mouth right-wingers of the Tory "Trade Union Reform Campaign" (http://turc.org.uk/) have quitened down since their launch - perhaps because their initial weapon of choice (nasty personalised attacks upon individuals) was a bit too close to throwing stones from within a glass house (http://union-news.co.uk/2011/12/breaking-news-taxi-for-turc-burley-sacked/).



However the Tory right have influenced a climate of opinion in which even sympathetic employers feel themselves under pressure to press for reductions in agreed trade union time off and many activists are having to deal with this issue alongside unprecedented job cuts and a gathering tidal wave of privatisation.



Somehow we need to rise to this challenge to empower and enable more activists to take up elected office. The more trade union duties are dispersed the less we will offer handy targets on formal full and part-time release.



(And as soon as I work out how to do that I'll post again!)



We also need to be assertive in explaining the legitimacy of the functions of our elected lay officers - and to ensure that our structures of democracy and accountability at branch level are robust so that we can give a good and transparent account of what we do on behalf of our members.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Accessing trade union democracy

UNISON rightly takes equality very seriously. Although trade unions are not subject to the equality duty imposed upon public service organisations, UNISON aspires to attain similar standards.



Hence we have an equality scheme (http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/18146.pdf) which - although it needs updating - seeks to promote equality in every area of our Union's operation.



One of the important equality actions in that scheme commits us to have reviewed meeting rooms for their accessibility and to have an accessibility checklist for new venues.



This is vitally important because trade union democracy (which should be the lifeblood of a member-led union) requires that meetings are accessible and inclusive.



I'm quick enough to be critical of my own trade union when the occasion demands - and am therefore pleased to be able to say something that is simply, and entirely, positive.



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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sunshine, ponds and pensions

The Sussex village of Falmer (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falmer) is bisected by the busy A27 which means that, when sat in the sun, admiring the lovely village pond, you can hear but (not see) the traffic passing back and forth between Brighton and Lewes.



All of which is (as regular readers Sid and Doris Superannuation-Scheme will immediately appreciate) a metaphor for the state of play in relation to the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS).



We keep hearing that there has been progress and that our negotiators (and those representing our employers) have been doing a fabulous job to protect our pensions. But for all that we can hear this constant hum, we can see nothing, no accrual rate, no revaluation rate and no contribution rate.



I understand that the GMB yesterday cancelled a briefing for want of formal confirmation of the Government's response to the proposals put to them on 13 February (about which we mere members of the LGPS are permitted to know nothing).



When watching the sunlight fall on the placid waters of Falmer's village pond it is almost possible to put the noise of the traffic out of your mind and imagine yourself in an undisturbed idyll. However, for all that we can see nothing that is happening about our pension scheme six months after we took strike action to protect it, we would be most unwise, even in this beautiful sunshine, to relax our vigilance.



Before the close of our Local Government Conference - now just three weeks away - we must have been told what has been going on - and delegates must be permitted to instruct the Service Group Executive as to how it conducts itself in relation to our pensions.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Think localism act locally - and nationally

I've been thinking a bit more about the statutory guidance on the community right to challenge (which was also the subject of a sound post yesterday on the UNISON Active Blog (http://unisonactive.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/statutory-guidance-to-councils-reveals.html?m=1).

The relevant law is in Chapter Two of the Localism Act, from s81 onwards (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2011/20/part/5/chapter/2/enacted).

The Act empowers the Secretary of State to issue Regulations, and to issue guidance to elaborate upon its provisions.

Schedule 2 of The Community Right to Challenge (Expressions of Interest and Excluded Services) (England) Regulations 2012 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2012/1313/schedule/2/made) demonstrates that pretty much any in-house service is vulnerable to an "expression of interest".

S83(8) of the Localism Act provides that "A relevant authority must, in considering an expression of interest, consider whether acceptance of the expression of interest would promote or improve the social, economic or environmental well-being of the authority's area." However under s83(11), "The relevant authority may reject the expression of interest only on one or more grounds specified by the Secretary of State by regulations."

The Schedule to The Community Right to Challenge (Fire and Rescue Authorities and Rejection of Expressions of Interest) (England) Regulations 2012 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2012/9780111523872/schedule) lists the only permissible reasons for rejecting an expression of interest (and therefore triggering a procurement exercise).

S85(2) provides that "A relevant authority must, in exercising its functions under or by virtue of this Chapter, have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State." The guidance, issued Monday, about which I blogged yesterday, expands upon the grounds for rejecting expressions of interest.

However, reviewing both the primary and secondary legislation, it is clear that the authors of the draft statutory guidance have gone a step further with their attempt to bully Councils into not permitting "in-house" bids.

We need national support for local branches to engage with local authorities to seek to preserve public services - and a national campaign to resist, and for the repeal of, this attempt to destroy local provision of public services.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

More news about no news about the LGPS

Thanks to comments on an earlier post my attention has been drawn to some content behind a paywall on t'intraweb of relevance to the negotiations between the trade unions and the Local Government Association (LGA) concerning the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS).

Brian Strutton, GMB's national secretary for public services, is quoted online as saying that "The unions and the LGA have been expecting ministerial sign off for our proposals which we amended at governments request and re-submitted earlier this month. Unfortunately officials from the Department of Communities & Local Government and Treasury told us today that ministers were raising a further three issues."

This is interesting for two reasons. First, it is a public acknowledgment that, having done a (secret) deal with the employers and sent it to the Government, our world class negotiators response to the Government seeking changes (in a deal we aren't allowed to know about) was... to make those changes.

Now there are three possibilities;

(A) The Government thought the deal was insufficiently generous to employees and demanded changes in our interest, or;

(B) The Government sought changes which had no bearing upon the value of the scheme to its members, or;

(C) The Government thought that the scheme exceeded their "cost envelope", was too generous and demanded changes detrimental to our interests.

Somehow I think option (C) is most likely, which does - at least - mean that we will be spared the awful recommendation that what is on offer is "the best that can be achieved by negotiation" since we all now know that the LGPS proposals with which we will be presented will fall short of what was in fact achieved in negotiations between unions and employers.

The second reason that Mr Strutton's disarming honesty is of interest is that he makes clear what any novice negotiator would know, that if you make concessions to the bullies in this Government they will certainly come back for more.

I understand that the negotiating team - on both trade union and Local Government Association (LGA) sides - are keen to get the deal approved by ministers so the consultation with union and LGA members can start before the association, Unison, GMB and Unite hold their annual conferences next month.

Because Conferences are large gatherings of elected delegates with a legitimate right to express an opinion, and make recommendations, clearly they must be the last bodies anyone would want to be able to pass judgement on the work of world class negotiators.

I await word from UNISON...

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The death knell for in-house services?

I mentioned in the previous post yesterday's publication of Draft Statutory Guidance on the so-called "Community Right to Challenge" (http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/righttochallengestatguidance) which is one of the most pernicious features of the Localism Act.

For those not familiar with this legislative wrecking ball directed at local government services, the gist of it is that various bodies (including local voluntary organisations and, bizarrely, any two or more employees) can "express an interest" in taking over the provision of any local government service (certain services are excluded).

The Council can only refuse to accept such an expression of interest on certain prescribed grounds (the fact that democratically elected local Councillors might be committed to public services and have pledged to protect them in a manifesto isn't one such ground). However, if the expression of interest is accepted, that doesn't mean that the eager beavers who thought they could do better get to run the service.

Rather, what happens is that a procurement process is triggered, so that the profit hungry private companies which want a slice of taxpayers money in the pockets of their shareholders can submit their bids. The Government have harnessed the rhetoric of mutualism and the big society to the cause of big business like never before.

Best, or rather worst, of all is paragraph 9.5 of the Draft Statutory Guidance which reads as follows;

"9.5 It is unlikely to be possible for an in-house team to submit a formal bid as part of a tender process because an in-house team will not be a separate legal entity that could submit a tender and contract with the relevant authority. An in-house team may in certain situations submit a proposal that could be considered alongside the tender process but evaluating an in-house bid that makes use of authority premises, assets and employees against tenders submitted from external organisations is extremely difficult and any attempt to do so risks being challenged by an unsuccessful provider. As the community right to challenge requires that acceptance of an expression of interest will lead to a procurement exercise, relevant authorities should consider very carefully the consequences of considering an in-house bid at the same time."

This "guidance" which seems to go a long way beyond even the legislation ignores decades of experience, under the compulsory competitive tendering regime of the previous Tory Government of Council's being able to run competitive exercises between private contractors and in-house Direct Service Organisations.

We urgently need to respond to press Councils to continue in-house service provision.

Emergency Motion to Local Government Conference anyone?

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LGPS - no news is still no news

Still all is quiet over at the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) website (http://www.lgps.org.uk/lge/core/page.do?pageId=15431012) - nor is there news to report on our own UNISON website, where eager collectors of LGPS PoP Bulletins gather waiting for number twenty.



Fourteen long weeks after the employers and trade union side negotiators submitted proposals for consideration by civil servants, still we have no news to share with those who are merely members of the pension scheme.



We would be wrong to think that Eric Pickles is neglecting his duties though - engaged as he is in pressing Parliamentary business (http://www.communities.gov.uk/speeches/newsroom/appgbeerawards2012).



How long will we allow ourselves to be treated like this? With the publication yesterday of the draft statutory guidance on the community right to challenge (http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/righttochallengestatguidance) the Government have declared war on local government workers - and we should be fighting back.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Radical Alternative to Austerity

John McDonnell has published the following statement online
(http://www.johnmcdonnell.org.uk/2012/05/radical-alternative-to-austerity.html?m=1) and is asking those who support it to sign up by emailing him at mcdonnellj@parliament.uk.

This is a timely statement of principles and policies consistent with those of the major trade unions.

The Radical Alternative to Austerity.  

The austerity programme of the Coalition government is not just failing; it is prolonging and deepening the recession. Cuts in investment in public services, in jobs, wages, pensions and benefits are creating mass unemployment and mounting hardship.

Austerity is creating a spiral of economic decline as cuts produce high levels of unemployment which in turn reduces tax income and prompts another round of cuts and job losses.

The Government's austerity measures are also unfair as the only people the Government seems intent on protecting from the recession are the rich.

There is an alternative to austerity.

There is no lack of wealth and resources in our country that we can draw upon to tackle this recession. The problem is that this wealth and these resources are held in the hands of too few people and are not being used productively to create the growth and jobs we need.

If we can release these resources, we can overcome the current recession and start to build a prosperous future for our country, linking with others across Europe and the United States to overcome this global economic gridlock.

Releasing the resources within our own country is not difficult.

It simply requires the introduction of a limited range of redistributive measures which will raise the funds we need from those most able to pay and who have profited most out of the boom years.

This redistribution can be achieved through;

a wealth tax on the richest 10%,

a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions,

a Land Value tax,

the restoration of progressive income tax of 60% on incomes above £100,000

and a clamp down on the tax evasion and avoidance that is costing us £95 billion a year.

Investing the resources released can halt the spiral of decline.

With unemployment rising month by month we urgently need to get people back to work and earning a decent living.

We can do this by investing the resources we have released through taxation in modernising our economy, its infrastructure and our public services to meet the needs of our community.

Instead of cutting and privatising our health, education and local services, this means:

Investing in a mass public housing building and renovation programme, in universal childcare, in the modernisation of our public services, in the NHS, in creating a national Caring Service, in our schools and colleges, in our transport infrastructure and in the extension of broadband.

Investing in alternative energy, combined heat and power and insulation to both tackle climate change and create one million climate change jobs.

Establishing a national investment bank with the resources levied from the banks so that there is no shortage of funds to lend for manufacturing growth and research and development.

To be successful the recovery programme has to be fair.

We will need the support of a significant majority of our people if we are to drive through this type of radical regeneration and redistribution programme.

To gain this level of support means the Radical Alternative must be seen to be fair. This means addressing many of the inequalities of our current system.

For those at the top it means ending the bonuses and limiting high salaries to no more than 20 times the lowest paid in any company or organisation.

For all others it means replacing the minimum wage with a living wage and a living pension and living welfare benefits, reducing the working week to 35 hours, closing the gender pay gap, controlling rents and energy prices, and restoring rights at work.

For young people it means a guaranteed job, apprenticeship, training or college place for every young person with the burden of fees abolished.

There is no shortage of resources to implement this programme of reform.

The problem is the distribution of these resources.

The Radical Alternative simply releases the resources we have to regain control of our economy and invest in our future.

Never again can we let them say that there is no alternative.

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

68 is too late but 31 May might be too early?

I don't know whether or not our National Head of Local Government meant it when she told the UNISON National Joint Council Committee that, if the Government hadn't approved the 13 February proposals on the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) by close of play yesterday the issue would come off the agenda for the 31 May meeting of the Local Government Service Group Executive (SGE), but I'm told that's what was said.



Certainly all is quiet over at the LGPS website (http://www.lgps.org.uk/lge/core/page.do?pageId=15431012) where the only update since March has been a brief comment on the Queen's Speech.



In the mean time there is still a fight to defend our pensions - and everyone can support the "68 is too late" campaign in order to resist the drive to increase the normal retirement age for ever into the future (http://www.68istoolate.org.uk/).



The pensions dispute is now slow burning and will continue for months if not years. In the run up to our Conferences in a few weeks time UNISON members and branches should support the "68 is too late" campaign, which is clearly in line with the policy agreed at UNISON National Delegate Conference 2011 (http://cms.unison.co.uk/MotionText.asp?DocumentID=1002411) which expressed "our opposition to the final recommendations of the Hutton report which include ending final salary schemes in the public sector, massive increases in contributions for employees and raising normal retirement age in line with state retirement age to 66 in 2020 and then to 67 and 68. Hutton wants us to pay more, work longer, and receive less in pension benefits."



Of course, it may be that we'll all be 68 (or older) before we know whether the Government has approved the secret deal on the LGPS put to them on 13 February...

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Against bigotry and oppression - take action today

Today is International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (http://www.tuc.org.uk/equality/tuc-21039-f0.cfm).



Though it may be three decades since equality pioneers in local government were derided as the "loony left" - and since the rainbow flag first flew from Lambeth Town Hall in Brixton - bigotry still blights the lives of LGBT people.



Opponents of equality have drawn battle lines on the issue of equal marriage - which makes UNISON's clear cut policy on this question all the more important (http://www.unison.org.uk/conference2011/news_view.asp?did=6986).



UNISON is implementing our Conference policy by encouraging members, branches and Regions to respond to the Government consultation on equal civil marriage to support equality (http://www.unison.org.uk/out/pages_view.asp?did=14278).



You can read UNISON's national response at http://www.unison.org.uk/file/Equal%20marriage%20consultation%20-%20UNISON%20response.pdf and get details of the consultation itself at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/equal-civil-marriage/.



Please take some time to respond to this consultation to speak up for equality as you can be sure the bigots are mobilising. It's about much more than the right to get married (an issue about which many trade union activists can't get that worked up). It's about equality before the law and ensuring equal rights.



It is in the interests of all workers that our trade unions confront and oppose inequality and oppression as the unity we need cannot be built on the basis of inequality and injustice.



Today would be a good day to do something about this.

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Newham UNISON returned to its members

I was very pleased to be part, at today's meeting of the Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC), of a unanimous decision completely to remove our Newham branch from regional supervision after three and a half years.



Regional supervision is intended to be an exceptional short-term measure to assist members in branches which become totally dysfunctional. In the case of Newham, regional supervision was imposed virtually immediately upon the departure of a long-serving Branch Secretary who was (and is) a long-serving member of our NEC and an award winning recruiter.



I never quite understood the rationale for regional supervision in Newham as there were no insurmountable problems in the branch, other than the "problem" that its leadership might pass into the hands of those unwilling to be compliant with the lead employer. Newham had been one of the strongest branches in London and had played an exemplary role in the London Weighting dispute.



I hope that now the affairs of the Newham branch are the exclusive business of its own members the branch can return to its previous strength over time. Any branch can invite support from the Regional office and it is often wise to do so. In the normal course of events such an invitation remains the property of the branch and can be extended or rescinded by democratic decision of the branch.

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Friday, May 11, 2012

News about Local Government Pensions?

A day later than promised, but never mind, the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) website today carries a joint statement from the employers and unions in response to the Queen's speech (http://www.lgps.org.uk/lge/core/page.do?pageId=15431012).

It says; "Publicity in respect of the Public Service Pensions Bill announced in the Queen's Speech referred to implementation of changes to the three largest schemes. Although the Bill will include all public service schemes in it's scope it should be clarified that the Local Government Pension Scheme is not one of the three schemes referred to. Discussions continue between local government unions, the LGA and government over the future design of the LGPS."

I can't help feeling that this statement tells us less than it might. Less, in fact, than we have previously been told or can reasonably deduce from what we have previously been told. In respect of the "big ticket items" (accrual, revaluation and contribution rates - also known as "workstream one") regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will already know that, on 13 February, the negotiators (on both sides) put proposals to civil servants and that this led to a meeting with civil servants led to subsequent correspondence (which you can read on the LGPS website at the link above).

UNISON's National Head of Local Government told the Annual General Meeting of the UNISON Greater London Regional Local Government Committee that, if the Government did not agree to the (still unannounced) "deal" then other things might have to be "shaved off" the proposals, but could give no details.

Her manager, the Assistant General Secretary, told UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) that the hold up was over differing assessments of the cost implications of the "low cost option" in the future LGPS, which shed further light on the comments made by another of our negotiators at one of our Self-Organised Group Conferences, that our negotiators had exceeded the Government's cost ceiling.

It is therefore very clear that, if there are any further current negotiations in relation to the "big ticket items" of "workstream one" these can only now be about what to "shave off" from the deal struck, but never revealed, before 13 February. The discussions following that date were all about "workstream two" (which must logically deal with "little ticket items").

The mood music emanating from the UNISON Centre (where some officials have now had three months to prepare propaganda materials designed to "sell" a deal about which lay activists - with perhaps one illustrious exception - have been told next to nothing) is increasingly cheerful, not to say Panglossian.

Yesterday's otherwise uninformative bulletin (issued - with impeccable comic timing - whilst tens of thousands of other public servants were striking to protect pensions) told us, breathlessly, that

"Negotiations on the proposals for the 'new' LGPS are moving closer towards a conclusion. We hope that it won't be too long before we can let you all know what the outcome has been. Both the unions and the LGA team have done our very best to protect you - the LGPS members - and the scheme for the future. We want more people to join it and for it to be sustainable far into the future.

Thank you for your patience. The negotiating team realises that it has been difficult for you all to wait so long, but it has been a painstaking process and we needed to get it right. Negotiations are still ongoing on 'Workstream 2' - the new governance arrangements for the scheme and the 'cap and collar' arrangements. Obviously your negotiators are seeking to ensure what UNISON has long campaigned for - member nominated reps with real say within local funds - as well as at overall fund level. We have made it clear that we expect them to be nominated by UNISON and other unions so that there is collective accountability and established mechanisms for feed-back to members."

How exciting! Very soon people we pay (from our union subscriptions) to represent our interests (and for whom we have managed thus far to preserve a final salary pension scheme) will let us know what they have negotiated for us with our employers. We're told they've done a good deal (as have the lovely employers who are also apparently looking after our best interests rather than those of the voters to whom they are accountable) and so obviously it would be very rude if our Service Group Executives (SGEs) failed gratefully to recommend the outcome of this process of ("world-class") negotiation.

This is all the more so since we will have made such splendid progress on pension fund governance in the warm waters of "workstream two".

Whilst waiting for the details of the secret deal struck three months ago (as "shaved" later to appease the Government) I just have three questions;

Will this new LGPS require me to work beyond 65 to get an unreduced pension, with the pension age increasing to at least 68 for younger workers?

Will this new LGPS see pensions in payment uprated by CPI rather than RPI, reducing the lifetime value of my pension by up to 20%?

Will this new LGPS be a career average scheme, contrary to the policy of UNISON's Local Government Service Group as determined by our Conference in 2010?

Answers on a postcard to the UNISON Centre in the Euston Road.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

It's all one struggle on 10 May

In one sense nothing I did today had anything to do with today's strike action over a cause vitally important to me and every UNISON member (as reported even in the most right-wing press - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9256125/Nationwide-strike-over-pay-pensions-and-jobs.html#pd_a_6214873).

Unlike the June 30 and March 28 strikes (in which we had also not taken action ourselves) I couldn't get away from work in the branch even for long enough to visit picket lines.

And yet, in another sense, almost everything I did at work today was intimately related to today's action.

I met with two shop stewards whose members are at risk of outsourcing to discuss how we should resist this. The fragmentation of our public services (even in its cuddly "co-operative" guise) is driven by the Government, whose deliberate cheapening of our pensions is motivated precisely by a desire to encourage and facilitate privatisation.

I met with a member dealing with impossible workloads created by the imposition of spending cuts on services already struggling to cope. Put a foot wrong in those circumstances and it's the worker who'll be hauled over the coals - not the people who created the circumstances. There but for the grace of whatever grace you believe in go so many of our members, asked to work longer each week, doing more with less (just as we shall be expected to work longer into old age whilst paying more for less). The intolerable working conditions of many of our members are made worse by cuts derived from the selfsame kamikaze project of deficit reduction as informs the assault upon our pensions.

I met with two redundant workers to discuss their tribunal claims. Their dismissals were also a product of precisely the economic policies of the Coalition Government who demand we work to 68 whilst paying higher contributions from our frozen pay. Their plight will be that of thousands more until we mobilise the strength we have to stop this illegitimate Government in its tracks.

Throughout the day I was in more or less constant discussion with other union members and representatives about individual and collective issues, almost every one of which had its origins in Government policy - policy of the Government that declared war on our pensions.

Every thing I tried to do today I could have done better had UNISON continued to lend our strength to the fight to resist the attack on public sector pensions. If we want to deliver for our members in our everyday work it is essential that we reverse the defeatism which has taken hold at the UNISON Centre.

The Coalition Government are not mounting a series of separate discrete attacks upon working class people and our trade union movement. They are engaged upon an all-out offensive across a number of fronts. We need to understand the need for a unified resistance to this unified attack not just because such understanding will better inform our campaigning response, but because it is equally essential to inform our daily practice as trade union representatives.

Well done to all those who struck today.

UNISON reps who don't believe we can resurrect our fight for fair pensions, and who will resign themselves (perhaps because they are within ten years of retirement) to retirement at 68 for younger members, to cheaper career average pensions and to the multi-billion pound theft of the switch to CPI uprating, need to recognise that, in so doing, they will weaken our union in every other way and worsen our ability to protect our members.

It really is all one struggle. We really do need to stand together.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Pensioner announces attack on pensions

An elderly lady (who is not herself worried about pensions) today told our assembled legislators what the Cabinet of millionaires have in store for us (http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/queens-speech-2012).

Amongst her pronouncements she said that "Legislation will be introduced to reform public service pensions in line with the recommendations of the independent commission on public service pensions." In other words, public servants can pay more to get less when we retire at 68 (or later) with grateful thanks to renegade Labour peer "Lord" Hutton (who appears to have been rewarded with a role in the faux mutual "MyCSP" organisation - http://www.guardian.co.uk/public-leaders-network/2012/apr/30/lord-hutton-mutual-civil-service).

Good luck to all those who will be responding appropriately to this outrageous attack by taking strike action tomorrow.

I am only sorry that, thanks to a shortage of confidence and lack of sound judgement at the UNISON Centre, the UK's most important public service union won't be amongst those taking action.

Neither in health nor local government have UNISON members settled our trade disputes with the relevant Secretary of State - and UNISON members in both the health and local government pension schemes are covered by live mandates for lawful industrial action.

It is entirely correct that our General Secretary has called on the TUC to organise their largest ever demonstration against the disastrous policies of the Coalition Government (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=2681) and that we should be preparing for the co-ordinated industrial action which can defeat the public sector pay freeze (http://www.unison.org.uk/paymatters/news_view.asp?did=7675). Both initiatives can unite the rank and file and UNISON officials.

However, neither of these projects will prosper if UNISON is perceived as continuing to do the bidding of lame-duck soon-to-be-former TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber by being the most significant labour movement advocates of shoddy deals with the Tories on pensions.

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The worst of times

Ken Livingstone got one thing massively right in his moving concession speech on Friday night. These are the worst of times.



Here at the front line of the implementation of Coalition Government cuts we face redundancies, privatisation and attacks on trade union time off - and this from a Labour Council such as those whose election we (rightly) celebrate (http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=7749).



In more than twenty years as an elected union branch official I have not known such constant and unremitting pain. I'm glad that our Party made gains in the local elections. However, our trade unions desperately need to find the means to assert some meaningful influence over the Party, as we consistently failed to when it was in Government. It's also important that we don't lose sight of the independence of our trade union from our employers, since we do occasionally have disputes with Labour Councils.



This raises the question of leadership of our trade unions - and it's not too late to chase up UNISON members to vote in the important elections for the Service Group Executives (http://unisonunitedleft.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/vote-for-candidates-of-left-in-unison.html). UNISON badly needs more independently minded members of its ruling bodies who will be prepared to assert lay leadership.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Local Government Pensions - no news may not be good news?

Two months ago civil servants met with representatives of those negotiating on the future of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) to discuss proposals which they had agreed upon, and submitted to the Government, three weeks before.



And that remains the latest news (http://www.lgps.org.uk/lge/core/page.do?pageId=15431012).



It is now more than a fortnight since our NEC was told, by no less a person than an Assistant General Secretary, to expect some developments in the following week (http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2012/04/pensions-discussions-at-unison-centre.html?m=1).



Still, all is silent (http://www.unison.org.uk/pensions/lgps.asp).



Leaving aside the questionable justifications advanced by our negotiators for keeping secret the "deal" with the employers which has yet to be approved by Ministers (http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2012/04/stop-press-eric-pickles-didnt-eat-my.html?m=1), I surely can't be the only one out here in the blogosphere wondering why we haven't at least set a deadline for the Government to respond, following which we would (at the very least) make public the proposals which have now been with civil servants for twelve weeks.



The conduct of the trade union side in the LGPS negotiations appears to indicate a lack of confidence in the possibility of further industrial action, since we are allowing our opponents in the Government to treat us contemptuously.



Which I don't think we need to.

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Thursday, May 03, 2012

The perils of mutuals and the possibility of co-production

Full marks to UNISON's Local Government section for convening a meeting of branches from local authorities who are part of the "Co-operative Councils network" (http://www.councils.coop/) yesterday.

It's clear that, of the small number of authorities who are formally part of the network, all are at different stages of developing their ideas - and not all are necessarily developing the same ideas.

Some Labour Councils are enthusiastically pursuing the goal of becoming a "Co-operative Council" even as they continue to define what they mean (and struggle to communicate this to senior officers). Others are sat on the sidelines watching.

I share the view held at the UNISON Centre that the "Co-op Councils" network is likely to grow, if only because Labour Councillors who did not come into politics to implement Tory cuts, yet do not see how they can avoid this, are desperate to find a political narrative to persuade themselves (and, they hope, others) that they have a purpose beyond acting as a conveyor belt for Coalition cutbacks.

UNISON branches are rightly, in general, both cautious and cynical about this initiative - but then caution and cynicism are both essential requirements on any imaginable person specification for a branch official.

The risk with this initiative is that senior officers may in some cases interpret the "Co-operative Council" as meaning no more than open season to outsource to the "third sector" and "social enterprises" (or faux mutuals) in an orgy of fluffy privatisation. Indeed, since Blairite ultras still inhabit many Council chambers, many Councillors may agree.

If Councils go down this road then unions need to resist. Protecting ourselves from privatisation by the cunning ploy of privatising services to new providers who sound nicer than Capita is quite as daft as it appears.

However, co-operation, as an ideal, need not require any outsourcing, nor the creation of a single "co-operative" (since, after all, a local authority is a democratic representative body of the whole community in any case). Co-operation can better be expressed by a focus on co-production of public services between front line workers and service users and greater collective engagement with the community in directing the development of services.

Where Labour authorities decide to go down the, still as yet unmapped, path of the "Co-operative Council", UNISON needs to adopt an approach of critical engagement which both protects (and asserts) our independent role as representatives of the interests of workers and seeks to push local authorities away from the rocks and rapids of outsourcing towards more fruitful and practical "work streams" of co-production and community engagement.

Key to protecting our independence from our employers will be our consistent and militant rejection of the implementation of Coalition cuts, including when this is done by Labour Councils. Councillors have to live with how they feel about engaging constructively on some issues with union reps who will denounce them and seek to defeat them on other issues. It's their job.

Co-operation means very little if it only means co-operation with people who already agree with you, are malleable or will do as you say.

Co-operation which empowers front line workers and service users to reshape service delivery, and which holds managers to account to those who use and provide services (rather than the other way round) does have positive potential, if we can rescue the "Co-op Councils network" from those who see them as useful stooges for privatisation.

We shall see.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Vote for Ken!

Like many UNISON members in Greater London, I commute to work from outside the City so won't have a vote in tomorrow's Mayoral election.



I hope that all those who have will vote for Ken (http://www.kenlivingstone.com/home) - not least to bring fares down for all of us criss-crossing London to work each morning.



Ken would have my first preference vote (as he did in 2000) but if he isn't your first choice at least make him your second.



Any public service worker who would vote for Tory toff Boris Johnson would betray not only their own interests but also all their colleagues - and failing to cast a positive vote for Ken is tantamount to a Tory vote.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Unity on May Day

I've booked some time off to attend London's May Day March this afternoon (http://www.londonmayday.org/). The message of May Day, of the need for united action for common objectives, is one our movement needs to heed as much as ever in 2012.



Although the London May Day March can sometimes feel like participation in a historical re-enactment (a sort of Sealed Knot of the International Labour movement), there will, at least, be banners, and marchers from many unions and many parties.



I hope that a similar unity of purpose can be rediscovered amongst the General Council of the TUC.



Competition for members between trade unions may interest some of those whose livelihoods depend upon our movement - but for those who look to our movement to protect our livelihoods what matters most is united action such as we saw on 30 November.



For example, most members of UNISON and UNITE don't care in the least which of the two has more members - what we want to see is these two, and all other, trade unions campaigning together against the attacks from the Government and their class.



Happy International Workers Day!

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