Saturday, 1 August 2015

The Satan Bug

Not many people know Dave Ward, but he's a big bluff chap who has a day job as the general secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU).

But the other day Dave was given the task of announcing that some faceless committee of his trade union had decided to throw its 'weight' behind Jeremy Corbyn is his effort to become the next leader of the Labour party.

So far so boring, and while relatively few CWU members will share Jeremy Corbyn's views about politics the sting was in the tail of Dave's announcement in which he said:

“I am delighted to announce that the CWU will be backing Jeremy Corbyn MP to be the next leader of the Labour party. There are no quick fixes for the Labour party, but there are some easy decisions, and choosing Jeremy as its leader should be one of them.

“We think that it is time for a change for Labour. The grip of the Blairites and individuals like Peter Mandelson must now be loosened once and for all. There is a virus within the Labour party, and Jeremy Corbyn is the antidote. 

Now to describe fellow Labour members as a 'virus' which must be eliminated from the once proud 'People's Party' strikes me as a new low in what passes for political debate these days.

Because I enjoy a bit of political knockabout as much as the next person, but this buffoon is actually calling for other supporters to be driven out of the Labour party, presumably so that they can go off and support a political rival.

Which seems like a strange way to win friends and influence the voters.

The whole nasty business reminded me of a cult movie from the 1960s - The Satan Bug - which tells the tale of a mad scientist who steals a deadly virus (the Satan bug) that has the potential to destroy the human race.

If you ask me, the Labour party seems intent on destroying itself from within if people like Dave Ward are anything to go by and isn't it noticeable that old Labour stalwarts like Lord John Prescott have nothing to say about this kind of destructive behaviour.

Dave Ward's statement on Twitter was accompanied by a YouTube video which readers can view here if you would like to hear one of Britain's union bosses (Bubs) shooting himself and the Labour party through both feet. 

Because unless I've been living on a different planet for the past five years since 2010 the Labour party was being led by Ed Miliband, who presented himself as a break with New Labour, yet Ed crashed and burned in the most spectacular fashion at the recent 2015 general election.   

So maybe there is a political 'Satan' bug at work here - one which is likely to consign Labour to the political wilderness for years to come.


Lordly Buffoon (24/07/15)

Lord John Prescott is in the news again, fanning the flames of Labour's leadership crisis, by attacking his old boss Tony Blair for using 'abusive' language. 

Now this is a bit torch coming from old 'Two Jags' Prescott who got in hot water himself a little while back for describing a Labour colleague as 'Chumbawamba'.

Here's how The Guardian reported the incident at the time: 

"The former deputy prime minister John Prescott has dismissed the shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, as “Chumbawamba” at a Labour party conference event.

"Lord Prescott made the remark during an interview with the comedian Matt Forde at the Comedy Store in Manchester, after he was asked how he viewed modern Labour politicians such as the Streatham MP.

"Forde asked: “Do you find it difficult? … when you are watching people do speeches, like … Chuka Umunna?”

"Prescott replied: “They can call him Chumbawamba.”

Childish and silly, I know, and mildly racist as well in my opinion, but that's why so many people question Lord Prescott's ability to fart and chew gum at the same time.  

Unrepresentative Unions

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I read recently that 43,000 Unison members have a vote in the ballot that is about to get underway to elect a new leader for the Labour party.

Now according to my calculations this means that out of a total of 1.3 million Unison members, only a tiny proportion amounting to 3.3 per cent share their union's enthusiasm for the Labour party.

Apparently 430,000 Unison members pay into the union's Political Fund, but that does not allow people to vote unless they do so as individual party members or as registered supporters.

Of the 43,000 who are eligible to take part 28,000 will do so as Labour party members with another 15,000 people signed up as 'registered' Labour supporters.   

Seems to me that trade union meddling in Labour's internal affairs looks even more ridiculous under this new system, devised by none other than Ed Miliband, of course.

Far more trade union members in Scotland support the SNP these days than support the Labour party, yet trade union bosses keep using their money and muscle, in the most shameless fashion, to influence the choice of leader.

Last time round in 2010 Britain's union bosses (the Bubs) handed the Labour crown to Ed Miliband which didn't work out too well of course.  

Five years on, after a catastrophic general election defeat, Unison is urging its members to vote for Jeremy Corbyn whose views are closer to left-wing Labour and trade union activists, but are clearly not shared by the wider, grassroots union membership.

Otherwise they'd would all be lining up to pay Labour's political levy and vote in the party's leadership election.

But if you ask me, a lowly 3.3% kinda speaks for itself.

As does the fact that only 15,000 Political Levy paying members (3.49%) out of 430,000 took up the 'Bubs' invitation to register as Labour supporters.

Doesn't augur too well, I would say, for the new government legislation that will require trade union members to make an informed decision about whether or not part of their hard earned pay should end up in Labour coffers.  

North Lanarkshire Update

I have received a great response to yesterday's post about holding a meeting or two  in North Lanarkshire for GMB members who are still being given the run around over their equal pay claims.

One reader has been in touch to say that the GMB has agreed to hold its own meeting with union members which would be a big step forward, if you ask me, but all the same I wouldn't advise GMB members in North Lanarkshire to hold their breath.

Maybe the GMB will be 'shamed' into organising its own report back to the 500 or so members affected by the union's failure to prosecute their equal pay claims properly although I suspect this will only happen if the pressure is kept up.

North Lanarkshire Update (31/07/15)

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What would you say is the 'core business' of a pub?

Selling beer to its customers would be at the top end of my list because that's what pubs are all about and a pub without beer doesn't make any sense.

So what about the core business of trade unions?

Negotiating and campaigning on over pay is a bread and butter issue for any union, both locally and nationally, and a key part of that process is holding regular meetings with the rank and file union members.

Now that's the lifeblood of trade unionism, if you ask me: reporting back to members' meetings and asking for their continued support over a campaigning issue or an industrial dispute, for example.     

For certain that was the case during my time as a full-time official with NUPE and latterly in my role as Unison's head of Local Government and chief negotiator in Scotland.

So it comes as a real surprise that the GMB union is reluctant to hold meetings with union members to discuss the handling of their equal pay claims against North Lanarkshire Council.

Members' meetings can be fraught and difficult sometimes, but that's why full-time officials are paid handsome salaries from the union contributions of their members - and it's no less than the members deserve and expect. 

Up until now the only sign of action from the GMB was a series of roadshows over two days in North Lanarkshire which none of the union's senior officials attended, apparently.

I'm told that GMB members had an individual 'consultation' with the union's legal adviser, but were not all brought together at the same time for a proper question and answer session.

Which is a farce in my book because trade unions are 'collective' organisations and the job of union representatives is to report back to the members collectively so that they can hold their leaders to account.

So in the absence of any proper leadership from the GMB maybe it's time that I held a meeting for North Lanarkshire Council workers who are concerned about the way in which their equal pay claims have been handled.

If people locally can identify a suitable venue, a community building or church hall for example, then I'm happy to come along and have the kind of discussion that the GMB should have been having with its members in North Lanarkshire weeks and months ago.

If readers are interested in organising such a meeting, then drop me a note and start looking for possible dates after the school holidays.

North Lanarkshire Update

Here's an FOI request I submitted to North Lanarkshire Council recently along with the Council's response which confirms that Iris Wylie is the senior official with day- to-day responsibility for overseeing the job evaluation review of various NLC jobs that is currently underway.

Now this surprised me somewhat, I have to say, because Iris was in post as 'head of human resources' throughout the period when North Lanarkshire Council made such a hash of its pay arrangements which resulted in thousands of equal pay claims being lodged with the Employment Tribunals.

Regular readers will recall that NLC has brought in an external adviser to assist with the current review of jobs which were found not to have been assessed and graded properly by the Employment Tribunals, due to 'errors' or 'mistakes' on the Council's part which have never been properly explained, as far as I know.

So let's hope things go much better this time around although I have to admit I can't find much information about the progress of the review which doesn't augur well for the future.

North Lanarkshire Council's FOI response

Having investigated, I can advise that the name and job title of the relevant officer is as follows: - 

·    Iris Wylie, Head of Human Resources

  8 July 2015

Gavin Whitefield
Chief Executive
North Lanarkshire Council

Dear Mr Whitefield

FOISA Request 

refer to the attached exchange of correspondence with North Lanarkshire Council and would like to make the following request under the Freedom of Information Scotland Act 2002.

Please confirm the name and job title of the NLC official with day-to-day management responsibility for overseeing the job evaluation review of Council jobs that is currently underway and for reporting on these matters to June Murray, Executive Director of Corporate Sevices?

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

Mark Irvine

Small World (01/04/12)

I asked readers in North Lanarkshire for help the other day.

I wanted to know if people could help trace the background to the controversial North Lanarkshire Council bonus scheme - which has hit the newspaper headlines recently.

The one that seems to be restricted to only the most senior and highly paid officials - as far as anyone knows.

I asked readers if a reference (HR/IW) on the previously secret document - which has been dragged out of the council via an FOI request - might provide a clue.

Since then readers' suggestions have been flying in by e-mail and they all point in the same direction - that HR stands for Human Resources - and that IW stands for Iris Wylie, the council's Head of Human Resources.

Now that would make sense - why didn't I think of it before?

Because the name Iris Wylie is on the list as receiving a top-up or bonus payment of £5,758.56 - and HR is the obvious area of the council from which to seek advice on pay issues.

So who knows for sure? 

Maybe the council will explain the background properly and publicly - or maybe Iris Wylie will get in touch directly and fill in some of the the gaps in people's knowledge - which I'm happy to publish on the blog site.

I first met Iris Wylie years ago - but haven't seen her in the flesh for some time.

The last occasion I remember seeing Iris was at the Scottish TUC in Glasgow in 1999 - when she was 'stepping out' - so to speak - with the Scottish Convener of Unison, Mike Kirby.

Mike has since moved on from his role as convener and stepped up - so to speak - to become the union's regional secretary in Scotland - a full-time paid official in other words. 

Iris and Mike are both mentioned in a previous post to the blog site - one of the earliest posts in fact - going all the way back to April 2007. 

So it all just goes to show what a small world it really is - though that doesn't help to explain why a Labour council - yes a Labour council - would introduce a secret incentive pay scheme - or a bonus scheme for those at the top, as I think it should be called.

Especially one that rewards only the most senior council officials - and appears to exclude the vast majority of the workforce - many of whom are very low paid of course - and many of whom are still fighting for equal pay.

No wonder people are so cynical about politics and politicans these days - and that includes the politics of local government.

Dog's Dinner (23 January 2012)

Here's another old post from the blog site archive - which mentions North Lanarkshire Council in dispatches.

I wrote this almost five years ago - would you believe?

Yet many council employees in North Lanarkshire are still fighting for equal pay - all this time later.

So let's hope that 2012 is the year that North Lanarkshire finally gets its act together.

Maybe the prospect of elections in May will concentrate people's minds - and persuade the council's top brass to resolve all the outstanding claims.

Odd Allies and Strange Bedfellows (April 16th 2007)

North Lanarkshire won't win any prizes for the council's handling of equal pay, but it has thrown up some odd allies and strange bedfellows.

Take Jim McCabe, leader of the outgoing council. Now Jim is a decent enough fellow, not a political heavyweight, but an experienced Labour party man and a former Nupe (now Unison) shop steward. So, he understands all the issues when it comes to equal pay - or ought to at least.

Yet, Jim's greatest claim to fame is not fighting against discrimination or low pay. Oh no, he is best known locally for dropping his pants at the office Christmas party - much to the embarrassment of fellow guests. Jim followed up this PR disaster with another - by puffing away in his office during an interview with a journalist. Effectively, thumbing his nose at the council's strict no smoking policy and the Scottish Parliament's smoking ban. Guess what made the headlines!

Jim is also leader of the CoSLA Labour group - CoSLA being the umbrella body for Scotland's 32 local councils. In recent months, Jim has been joined at CoSLA by a new chum, Joe Di Paola. Joe has been appointed as the secretary/adviser to the employers' side of the collective bargaining machinery, which negotiates with the unions on a wide range of vital employment issues. Including, of course, equal pay.

The spooky thing is that - until very recently - Joe did exactly the same job for the trade union side and 'led' the negotiations on implementing equal pay (and single status) from 1999 to 2006. Negotiations that stalled and made absolutely no progress under Joe's stewardship. With a track record of failure, Joe has now jumped ship to the employers' side, but his new bosses should remember the old saying: "You can only ride two horses at the same time, if you were born with two arses."

One of Joe's best buddies in the whole world is Grahame Smith, another Labour 'placeman' and new general secretary of the STUC (Scottish Trades Union Congress). As everyone knows, the STUC is the progressive and left leaning voice of the trade union movement. Needless to say, it's 100% in favour of equal opportunities, equal pay, motherhood and apple pie and so on. And the STUC is completely, utterly and resolutely against any form of discrimination. Oh yes!

What a surprise then that Grahame and the STUC's 'band of brothers' have been as quiet as church mice on equal pay - while one of the biggest employment rows to hit Scotland in years has raged in the press and media. The explanation is that General Council - the executive body that runs the STUC - is now controlled by only four big unions: Amicus, GMB, TGWU and Unison. So, they can appoint someone in their own image - absolutely tame, non-threatening and very much part of the establishment.

One of Grahame's General Council comrades is Mike Kirby - convener (senior lay member) of Unison Scotland since 1993 and key figure in the Unison Glasgow branch. A branch that kept their members in the dark about equal pay for years - then lost low paid workers thousands of pounds, by encouraging them to accept settlements that were worth much less than the real value of their claims.

Would things have been different with a woman at the figurehead at Unison? After all, women account for around 70% of the union's membership and had most to gain or lose. Mibbees aye, mibbees naw. The issue is more complicated than it seems because Mike's former long-time partner was none other than Iris Wylie - head of personnel at North Lanarkshire and key figure in the 'dog's dinner' that Scotland's 4th largest council has made of equal pay (back to where we started).

North Lanarkshire sat on its backside for years, then hurriedly cobbled together a new pay structure when Action 4 Equality arrived on the scene and let the cat out of the bag. The workforce threw the proposals out, following a secret ballot, so the council abruptly decided it would impose the new arrangements - the council didn't need the support of its employees and the trade unions after all. Wonder who gave the council this brilliant piece of advice?

So, the strange world of equal pay is laid bare for all to see - the wheels within wheels and strange goings on that connect North Lanarkshire Council, CoSLA, the Labour Party, the STUC, Unison and North Lanarkshire Council (again).

Scotland is such an interesting place to live and work.

NLC Losers (23/12/14)

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More good news from North Lanarkshire!

The Council has just lost another appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) who has upheld my case that North Lanarkshire was not entitled to withhold the details of a 'consultation' between the Council's head of human resources, Iris Wylie, and trade unions over an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) connected to the Council's job evaluation scheme (JES) and new local pay arrangements.

I have to say I find it amazing that the senior officials of the Council who have made such a mess of equal pay going back over 12 years should have been getting paid big performance bonuses - for performing well in the already highly paid posts all this time.

Here's the full decision of the Scottish Information Commissioner and I think it lends weight to the argument that an independent investigation over North Lanarkshire Council's behaviour in relation to local pay arrangements is long overdue.    

Decision Notice 
Decision 259/2014: Mr Mark Irvine and North Lanarkshire Council 

Email concerning equality impact assessment

Reference No: 201402455 Decision Date: 17 December 2014 


On 30 July 2014, Mr Irvine asked North Lanarkshire Council (the Council) for a specified email from the Council to Unison in 2006 concerning an equality impact assessment. 
The Council withheld the information on the basis that it was exempt from disclosure in terms of section 30(c) (Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) of FOISA. 
The Commissioner found that the Council was not entitled to withhold the information under the exemption in section 30(c) of FOISA. She required it to disclose the information to Mr Irvine. 

Relevant statutory provisions 

Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) sections 1(1) and (6) (General entitlement); 2(1)(b) (Effect of exemptions); 30(c) (Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) 

The full text of each of the statutory provisions cited above is reproduced in Appendix 1 to this decision. The Appendix forms part of this decision. 


  1. On 30 July 2014, Mr Irvine made a request for information to the Council. The information requested was an email from the Council’s Head of Personnel to Unison dated 7 March 2006, concerning an equality impact assessment relating to the Council’s job evaluation scheme. 
  2. The Council responded on 28 August 2014. The Council informed Mr Irvine that it considered the information to be exempt from disclosure in terms of section 30(c) of FOISA. This was on the basis that its disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially the effective conduct of public affairs. 
  3. On 2 September 2014, Mr Irvine emailed the Council requesting a review of its decision on the basis that he did not consider the exemption was engaged. 
  4. The Council notified Mr Irvine of the outcome of its review on 30 September 2014 upholding its original decision without modification. 
  5. On 20 October 2014, Mr Irvine wrote to the Commissioner. Mr Irvine applied to the Commissioner for a decision in terms of section 47(1) of FOISA. Mr Irvine stated he was dissatisfied with the outcome of the Council’s review. He did not agree that the exemption applied and believed the public interest favoured disclosure of the information. 

6. The application was accepted as valid. The Commissioner confirmed that Mr Irvine made a request for information to a Scottish public authority and asked the authority to review its response to that request before applying to her for a decision.
Print date: 17/12/2014 Page 1
  1. On 3 November 2014, the Council was notified in writing that Mr Irvine had made a valid application. The Council was asked to send the Commissioner the information withheld from him. The Council provided the information and the case was allocated to an investigating officer. 
  2. Section 49(3)(a) of FOISA requires the Commissioner to give public authorities an opportunity to provide comments on an application. The Council was invited to comment on this application and answer specific questions including justifying its reliance on any provisions of FOISA it considered applicable to the information requested. 
Commissioner’s analysis and findings 

9. In coming to a decision on this matter, the Commissioner considered all of the withheld information and the relevant submissions, or parts of submissions, made to her by both Mr Irvine and the Council. She is satisfied that no matter of relevance has been overlooked. 

Section 30(c) – Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs 
  1. Section 30(c) of FOISA exempts information if its disclosure “would otherwise prejudice substantially, or be likely to prejudice substantially, the effective conduct of public affairs”. The word “otherwise” distinguishes the harm required from that envisaged by the exemptions in section 30(a) and (b). This is a broad exemption and the Commissioner expects any public authority citing it to show what specific harm would (or would be likely to) be caused to the conduct of public affairs by disclosure of the information, and how that harm would be expected to follow from disclosure. This exemption is subject to the public interest test in section 2(1)(b) of FOISA. 
  2. The prejudice in question must be substantial and therefore of real and demonstrable significance. The Commissioner expects authorities to demonstrate a real risk or likelihood of substantial prejudice at some time in the near (certainly foreseeable) future, not simply that such prejudice is a remote or hypothetical possibility. Each request should be considered on a case by case basis, taking into consideration the content of the information and all other relevant circumstances (which may include the timing of the request). 
  3. The information in this case comprised an email sent from the Council to Unison in 2006, regarding an equality impact assessment relating to the Council’s job evaluation scheme. 
  4. In its submissions to the Commissioner, the Council referred to the equal pay claims it is currently defending at an Employment Tribunal. The Council stated that the value of the sums sought from it run to millions of pounds. The Council explained that it is currently involved in negotiations aimed at settling these claims and, in its view, the conduct and conclusion of these settlement negotiations represented a very considerable concern to the effective conduct of public affairs. 
  5. The Council was concerned to ensure that, insofar as information may enter the public domain, it did so in a manner that did not disrupt the context within which negotiations were taking place; in the Council’s view, disclosure of the information into the public domain would be apt to have that disrupting effect. The Council argued that disclosure of the information could have the effect of undermining its negotiating position because Mr Irvine would be able to publicise the information on his blog, with the Council being restricted in its ability to respond. 
Print date: 17/12/2014 Page 2
  1. The Council submitted that, given the financial implications for it of the proper management of the negotiations, any disruption to those negotiations would prejudice substantially, or would be likely to prejudice substantially, the effective conduct of public affairs. 
  2. In Mr Irvine’s view, the onus was on the Council to demonstrate what specific harm would occur by disclosure of the information. He considered it had failed to do so, beyond vague assertions which were not supported by any evidence. 
  3. Mr Irvine submitted that the Council had acted unreasonably by trying to use the Tribunal as a blanket defence for refusing to disclose historical information about an equality impact assessment conducted eight years ago. 
  4. Mr Irvine considered the Council had not demonstrated how disclosure of the information would impact adversely on the ongoing Tribunal, or any discussions taking place outside of the Tribunal. In his view, the two matters were entirely unconnected. 
  5. The Commissioner has considered the nature, content and context of the withheld information and the submissions of both parties. Having done so, she is unable to accept that disclosure of the information under consideration would, or would be likely to, have the prejudicial effect which the Council has asserted. 
  6. Whilst the Council stated that it anticipated disclosure of the information would disrupt the context within which ongoing negotiations are taking place, it has not provided any evidence explaining why disclosure would lead to such harm. 
  7. Furthermore, the Commissioner has been provided with no explanation of why the disclosure of the specific withheld information would undermine the Council’s negotiating position and why disclosure would lead to that outcome. The Commissioner considers the Council’s submissions in this respect to be essentially hypothetical and conjectural. 
  8. The Council has also indicated that it believes Mr Irvine would publicise the information on his blog, but has provided no evidence to show why this would undermine its negotiating position beyond opining that this could be the case. 
  9. The Commissioner has concluded therefore that the exemption in section 30(c) of FOISA is not engaged in relation to the information under consideration. As such, she is not required to consider the public interest test in section 2(1)(b). 
  10. The Commissioner now requires the Council to disclose the email under consideration to Mr Irvine. 

The Commissioner finds that North Lanarkshire Council (the Council) failed to comply with Part 1 (and, in particular, section 1(1)) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) in responding to the information request made by Mr Irvine. The Commissioner finds that the Council was not entitled to withhold the information under the exemption in section 30(c) of FOISA. 
The Commissioner therefore requires the Council to disclose the withheld information to Mr Irvine by 2 February 2015.


Should either Mr Irvine or North Lanarkshire Council wish to appeal against this decision, they have the right to appeal to the Court of Session on a point of law only. Any such appeal must be made within 42 days after the date of intimation of this decision. 


If North Lanarkshire Council fails to comply with this decision, the Commissioner has the right to certify to the Court of Session that North Lanarkshire Council has failed to comply. The Court has the right to inquire into the matter and may deal with North Lanarkshire Council as if it had committed a contempt of court. 

Margaret Keyse Head of Enforcement 

17 December 2014