Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Poverty of Ambition

15 years ago, in 1999, the hourly rate of pay in Scotland for male dominated council jobs (such as refuse workers and gardeners) was around £9.00 an hour, when bonus payments were taken into account.

At the same time the typical rate of pay for jobs down by women (home carers, classroom assistants, catering, cleaning and clerical workers) was only £6.00 or so because their jobs did not attract bonus payments - even though the women worked just as hard as the men.

The 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement in Scotland was intended to tackle and close that huge pay gap and, at the time, 'equal pay' was a shared objective between the council employers (many of which were Labour controlled) and the trade unions which were all pro-Labour as well.

15 years on, Labour and its new leader Ed Miliband is boasting that the minimum wage in the UK will increase to £8.00 an hour by the end of the next Westminster Parliament (i.e. by the year 2020), if Labour wins the next general election in 2015.

So in 2020 low paid jobs (which are done mainly by women of course) will have to be     earning no less than £8.00 an hour, yet the intention of the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement is that these same female dominated jobs should all have been earning at least £9.00 an hour - many years ago. 

If you ask me, the biggest problem facing Ed Miliband is not the 'cost of living crisis' that he keeps banging on about, but the poverty of ambition within the Labour Party itself. 

The Wrong Questions

Ed Miliband had better hope that this political sketch writer from The Telegraph doesn't go into comedy in a big way because he has the Labour leader down to a 'tee' over his recent interview on the Andrew Marr show.

Generally speaking, the voters don't like waffle and the description of Ed as a 'socially inept Tony Blair' is politically very dangerous, if it begins to stick.  

Sketch: Ed Miliband, voice of the everyday working people

The Labour leader refuses to back David Cameron's plans to enable only English MPs to vote on English laws

Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Labour Party Photo: Getty Images

By Michael Deacon - The Telegraph

Good to be with you!

Now, look. If what you’re asking me is, Why am I writing this article in the style of Ed Miliband being interviewed on The Andrew Marr Show ahead of the Labour Party conference, then I’ve got to say to you: well, look. There isn’t a simple answer to that issue. But I will say this. You know, we’ve got to look at all these things. That’s why I say to you what I do. And I think that’s the right thing to do for the everyday working people of Britain, up and down this country.

Let’s be very clear about this. You’ve asked me a question. And I get that. Absolutely. But let me just make this point. If what you’re asking me is, Why do I have this habit of answering questions by asking myself a completely different question, then I’ve got to tell you: I think that’s the right thing to do.

I mean, goodness. Only last week, I was in some part of the country or other, talking to an everyday working person, and she said to me this. She said, “Ed, why don’t you go on The Andrew Marr Show and blather for 20 minutes in that vacuous way of yours, like a socially inept Tony Blair, sidestepping any awkward questions by burbling about ‘looking at all the issues’ and ‘doing change in the right way’ and ‘not learning the wrong lessons’?”

And I listened to that everyday working person, because I think that’s the right thing to do, and to her I said this. I said, “I’ve listened to what you’ve got to say, and I think you’ve made some incredibly important points. But let me just say this. I think we’ve got to look at all the issues, and do change in the right way, because otherwise, we’ll be learning the wrong lessons.”

Now, look. You’ve just asked me whether I agree that only English MPs should be able to vote on English laws, a change that would benefit the English people but undermine any future Labour government. Well, look. Let me answer like this. If what you’re asking me is, What’s the big headline-grabbing policy I’m announcing at conference this week, then it’s an increase in the minimum wage to £8 an hour. Not next year, or the year after, or the year after that, or the year after that, or the year after that. But the year after that.

And I think that’s the sort of radical, decisive change that the everyday working people of this country are crying out for.

Because look. That’s what my Labour government will be about. Ensuring X. Delivering Y. Reaching out to Z. Reforming this, that and possibly the other, depending on the economic situation we inherit. And that’s what we’re going to do. Because actually, you know, I’m listening. I’m listening to everything except the questions I’m being asked.

Good to be with you!

Stefan Cross QC

Here's an interesting article about on Stefan Cross which I came across in an online magazine called 'The Justice Gap'.

I can vouch for the fact that everything Stefan says about the employers and trade unions in England is equally true in Scotland, which explains why Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) became such a great success north of the border.

Because without A4ES there would never have been the recent equal pay settlement in Labour-run South Lanarkshire Council, for example, which has been reported in the Scottish press as costing the council over £70 million.  

Sometimes it takes an 'outsider' or even two to challenge and take on the establishment which is why there's a new campaign on holiday back pay claims.  

Hated by the unions, loved by dinner ladies

By Jon Robins - The Justice Gap

INTERVIEW: There can’t have been many candidates less likely to make Queen’s Counsel, that most venerable rank of legal distinction, than Stefan Cross, writes Jon Robins.

To say that the solicitor divides people qualifies as understatement. He is either characterised as another money-grubbing, dodgy, no win, no fee lawyer; or else championed as a somewhat unlikely feminist champion fighting for the rights of some of the most poorly paid women in the country over their battle for equal pay against their government bosses. A Guardian profile by Simon Hattestone was simply headlined The most hated lawyer in Britain.

Stefan Cross

So, all in all, it’s rather odd to think that Cross has been awarded silk status and now joins the rather rarified club of some 15 solicitor QCs (the honour is usually reserved for barristers). Was Stefan Cross surprised to be recognised by the legal establishment in this way? ‘Shocked actually,’ he tells me. ‘When I saw the letter from the Ministry of Justice I thought they were trying to strike me off again.’

A pretty controversial choice? ‘Yes, I accept that that would be the view,’ he replies; before adding that he meets ‘the criteria’. The official MoJ citation reads: ‘Stefan fought for equal pay rights for women who had not been heard by unions, on a no-win no-fee basis. He brought about substantial changes for several hundred thousand women, some of which received tens of thousands of pounds owed to them.’

Dinner ladies
Although the first equal pay legislation took effect in 1975, it wasn’t until 1995 that a legal action by Stefan Cross and on behalf of the Cleveland ‘dinner ladies’ kick-started a wave of settlements and equal-pay cases being brought through the courts. In the Cleveland case, 1,500 women received a £5 million payout. After that, the 1997 ‘single status agreement’ was constructed to abolish pay inequalities through pay and grading reviews in each local authority. A similar agreement in the NHS called ‘Agenda for Change’ was reached in 2004. But as negotiations dragged on interminably and councils pleaded poverty, women turned to lawyers because they felt their claims were either being stalled or under-settled.

The equal pay litigation that Stefan Cross pioneered changed the legal landscape. At the end of last year Birmingham city council, the country’s largest local authority, was reported to face a potential bill of £757m to settle its equal pay claims in favour of 170 low-paid women staff. That followed a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court which extended the time workers have to bring equal pay compensation claims from six months to six years. That wasn’t one of Stefan Cross’s case (it was taken by Leigh Day & Co). However it is reckoned that £1bn has been paid to low-paid women as a direct result of his work on some 44 reported equal pay cases including, for example, a 2010 ruling on behalf of 4,000 women council employees in Birmingham. Cross reckons that he is now ‘pretty much winding up’ his work in England but in Scotland there are some 14,000 in Scotland. Cross runs Action 4 Equality Scotland.

The bottomless pit
The work of Stefan Cross hasn’t always been so celebrated. ‘It really grinds you down being hated by everyone,’ Cross told me in 2007. That was the year Brian Strutton of the GMB union accused the lawyer for ‘tearing up’ industrial relations and the then-Sunderland MP Chris Mullin singled him out in Parliament him for encouraging workers to create a ‘bottomless pit’ of claims against local authorities.

Unions have argued that individual piecemeal litigation stirred up by Cross (as well as a mini-industry of copy cat ‘no win, no fee’ firms) undermined the progress of collective negotiations. The spat between the unions and the lawyer has been quite personal. Stefan Cross was a union man. He left the trade union firm Thompsons having headed up the firm’s regional employment rights unit. It wasn’t a happy split.He lambasted his old bosses for conspiring to suppress equal pay claims so as not to upset the interests of their male members. He also claimed union heavies had tried to beat him up.

What does he say to Birmingham city council leader, Albert Bore who claimed the ruling left the city in a ‘horrendous position financially‘ and warned that entire services would have to be ‘decommissioned’ to meet the budget shortfall. ‘Throughout the entire period that we have been running these cases, that kind of bullying that has been levelled at women to frighten them off,’ Cross says.’The worst of it has come from trade unions. I’ve just taken fundamental position that this is a legal entitlement and these women are entitled to pursue their cases. They should not be put off pursuing their cases because of threats from the employers.’ Birmingham was in ‘a uniquely difficult position because it was so staggeringly generous to the men’, Cross says. ‘Frankly, payments in Birmingham were off the scale . They had refuse workers on £50,000 a year earning more than the solicitors. They were grade 5 manual workers.’

Cross reckons that the unions tried to intimidate women members. ‘In Leeds there were trade union officials going around kitchen by kitchen telling people not to put in claims. When we were organising publicity, we were getting picketed by the unions. We had branch secretaries and stewards infiltrating meetings and bawling out our clients,’ he recalls.

There is ‘a massive cultural’ issue in relation to trade unions and the fraught issue of equal pay, he says. ‘They always want to protect the position of the men and they always keep that a secret. They have a conference position and then there is the reality on the ground which is the exact opposite.’

Does he have concerns about those copy cat firms fleecing poorly paid workers through ‘no win, no fee deals’? Cross charges 10% plus VAT, and nothing if they lose (it had been 25%). ‘Frankly most of the firms have struggled. A lot of people have tried and failed. It is not easy. People were calling me rich before I earned any money. We nearly went out of business several times over the last decade.’

What does he make of the current government’s plans to reform conditional fees under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012? Previously accidentally lawyers have been able to ensure that clients receive all their damages intact because the other side would pick up the costs for what is known as their lawyer’s ‘success fee’ as well as the insurance costs – not any more (see HERE). Is it really the end of the road for personal injury lawyers? ‘Absolute total nonsense,’ replies Cross. ‘Clients are prepared to pay. You only have to go back 15 years [before the Access to Justice Act 1999] when I was a PI lawyer and we didn’t have conditional fee agreements. It was never a free service. But clients do want a good service.

Is the QC award an acknowledgment by by the legal establishment of that controversial ‘no win, no fee’ model of working? Not really, replies Cross. ‘For me the pleasure of getting the award is that it is a recognition that I’ve done a good job as a lawyer – and this has been a huge legal issue. We have had to deal with every single prominent employment silk. It isn’t like the miners’ litigation or PPI where it has been a question is stacking up the numbers and processing them. This has been constant legal battle. This has been an intellectual legal challenge.’

Simple HBPC Test (12 September 2014)

Here's a simple test to help discover if you have a holiday backpay claim.
  1. Take your entire wages for 3 months without holiday pay and divide by 3 to give you your average pay for those 3 months.
  2. Then compare this average pay with your pay in the month you were on paid leave. 
  3. If your holiday pay is less than your average pay, then it is less then it is highly likely you have a claim. 
If in doubt make a claim. 
If you don’t make a claim you won’t get paid anything - as many people found out to their cost over equal pay. 
If you the sums don't work out for you, then pass the word on to your friends, family members and colleagues as they may have a claim, especially if they work shifts or regular overtime. 
If you would like a claim form please visit http://www.holidaybackpayclaims.co.uk and fill in the ‘New Claim Pack’ request form.

Or contact HOLIDAY BACK PAY CLAIMS LIMITED on the following numbers: 0800 024 6888or 0141 343 8066

Holiday BackPay Claims

Here's an information leaflet from HBPC which is either too large or two small for the formatting used on this blog site, but readers may be able to enlarge the image on a PC, laptop or tablet device

Alternatively, you can view it at the HBPC web site: http://www.holidaybackpayclaims.co.uk 

Or you can also order copies by calling 0800 024 6888 or 0141 343 8066

Can of Worms

The cartoonist in The Independent just about summed things up with this image of Alex Salmond opening up a can of constitutional worms before exiting the political stage and leaving the Unionist parties at Westminster to find a solution.

But if you ask me, Ed Miliband and Labour have by far the biggest problem because the only fair and democratic answer to the so-called West Lothian question is very simple to understand.

In the Westminster Parliament, only the votes of English MPs should count when it comes to laws that directly affect only England's interests. 

A more radical package of reforms would also include introducing PR (proportional representation) for the House of Commons and local council elections, abolishing the House of Lords and establishing many fewer 'single tier' or 'unitary' councils in England (as we have in Scotland) although that's obviously England's business, in this new political world.     

Confusion Reigns

I haven't been able to catch very much of the Labour Party conference this year, but this clip of Rachel Reeves trying to explain what Ed Balls had said earlier in the day left me scratching my head.

The clip, but the way, is from the Guido Fawkes web site which can be found at:


WATCH: Balls Benefit Backtrack Leaves Reeves Baffled

If you want to see how well-costed and prepared Labour were for Ed Balls’ child benefit announcement earlier, watch Rachel Reeves try to explain the numbers on the Daily Politics. Labour says it will save £400 million, the Treasury say £120 million. Reeves on the other hand reckons it will save ‘several million’. That new found Labour economic competence in full…

Completely Irresistible

Here's an interesting article by Matt Ridley in The Times which makes a central point that there should be English-only votes on English-only laws inside the Westminster Parliament.

Because I, for one, fail to see how any 'democrat' could support anything other arrangement - if England's MPs have no say on matters decided within the Scottish Parliament, the the same must surely be true for Westminster.

And even if I don't like the place with its unelected 'nobles' and House of Lords, there is no doubt that in the wake of Devo Max for Scotland the argument for restricting the voting rights of Scottish MPs at Westminster becomes completely irresistible.        

Don’t fall into the Brussels home rule trap

By Matt Ridley - The Times

The last thing England needs is another expensive tier of government. It would only help the EU to cut us down to size

As part of the 1 per cent of England’s population that lives north of Hadrian’s Wall, I have found the past few weeks more than usually intriguing. It was fascinating to find that nearly everybody in the media seems to think the wall is the Scottish border; some news takes 1,500 years to reach the metropolis. And we northeasterners have been banging on for decades about the unfairness of the Barnett formula, which guarantees £1,600 extra in public spending per Scottish head per year, so it’s nice to see the rest of England waking up to that one, too.

Labour needs to be reminded of its biggest electoral defeat. Ten years ago, almost to the day, the northeast was asked by John Prescott if it wanted an assembly and it said “no” in the most emphatic way imaginable — by 78 per cent to 22 per cent in a referendum. That’s not a landslide, that’s an entombment.

Labour’s attempt to squirm off the hook — on which the prime minister impaled it last week with his call for English home rule — will probably include giving the regions more power. That’s what Brussels wants too (and therefore the Liberal Democrats): the European Union’s notorious map of a future in which power lies at the European and regional level does not recognise England as a region. Only by breaking down England into fragments does the nation’s disproportionate size become compatible with federalism.

Yet if anywhere in England should feel ripe for semi-detached regional devolution it would be us in the northeast. We are as chippy as they come about southern condescension, we live farther from London than any other English people, our cities are so isolated by sheep-infested hills from other English cities they might as well be on an island. We speak a patois that southerners claim to find impenetrable, our patriotic regional anthems are about a fictional bus crash and a large worm, we wear very little on a Friday night and we spent hundreds of years joining any doomed rebellion against the crown that was on offer.

Nonetheless in 2004 the people of the northeast spoke with one voice, or at least by a margin of almost four to one, against the idea of a regional assembly. Why? Because, although they like localism, they feel loyalty to England rather than any artificial entity called the northeast. The inhabitants of Sunderland or Berwick or Stockton have less than no desire to be governed from Newcastle. In 2004 they knew a bureaucratic white elephant when they saw one.

The Labour party and the European Commission (and the Liberal Democrats for that matter) just do not get this. Any plan to imitate feckless Scottish or Welsh semi-detachment with gleaming new buildings to house self-important “assemblies” in Newcastle, Birmingham, Norwich, Bristol and Liverpool will go against the grain of England. The one in Cardiff, cut off from much of Wales by miles of sheep and gorse, was put there by just one in four Welsh voters. It has developed a reputation for incompetence where it is relevant at all.

For the Conservatives, the penny has now dropped that English devolution means English votes on English laws inside the Palace of Westminster. I’ve never understood why people find the West Lothian question so hard. We solve it every day in practice: British ministers and civil servants already have no powers over Scottish education, Scottish agricultural subsidies, Scottish health service priorities, Scottish sentencing policy. It works fine.

It’s perfectly possible to exclude Scottish MPs from voting and speaking on these and many other matters, too. There will be the odd moment of confusion when an inebriated Glaswegian MP wanders into the wrong committee debate, but so what? No need to build an over-budget, ugly building in Sheffield and fill it with jobsworth “EMPs”.

Sure, there would be a constitutional crisis if a Labour prime minister were elected with a British but not an English majority, and found himself regularly outvoted, but we have a well-tried solution to such crises — a temporary coalition with another party or a vote of confidence and another general election.

One big advantage of more democratic decision making at the level of the four nations would be to encourage competition between them in tax policy and in the provision of services. We are already seeing glimmers of this in the effect of Wales’s poor and declining results in international school league tables as well as its underperforming health service.

Northern Ireland offers an illuminating example of how devolution should work. Whereas the Scots have refused to use the tax-varying powers they already have, Stormont may be on the brink of leading the way.

Seeing how the Irish Republic’s dramatic cut in corporation tax to 12.5 per cent attracted businesses, Owen Paterson, when Northern Ireland secretary, argued for a similar cut in Northern Ireland. He persuaded all parties there to back the idea and got the Treasury on board by suggesting that it knock the corporation tax income off the province’s central government block grant, making the change revenue-neutral as far as Whitehall was concerned.

The change should happen soon. That is a key lesson for how to do real devolution as opposed to the spend-and-whine version favoured by the Scottish nationalists. Mr Paterson argues that devolution must restore the link between tax, services and votes. England’s antipathy to regionalism need not preclude more localism.

Proper financial accountability at the level of the county, rural or metropolitan, would transform local democracy and attract better councillors. Single-tier counties (many of which are bigger than some American states) would start to compete on price or on quality of service instead of competing, as they do now, on their ability to extract largesse from central government. We should emulate the way America uses state government as a laboratory to test policy.

Of course, there is a heck of a lot that counties (and nations) would not be allowed to do by Brussels: compete on VAT, abolish agricultural subsidies and so forth. But at least we would flush this out. At the moment nobody realises just how many of the decisions that politicians pretend to take are in fact handed down by unelected Eurocrats to unelected Sir Humphreys with a token nod through parliament. Genuine English home rule would soon clash with the technocratic version offered by Brussels. Another reason to like it.