Sunday, 1 February 2015


I submitted an FOI request to North Lanarkshire Council recently regarding the formerly 'secret' report to the Council's Corporate Management Team (CMT). 

I wanted to know who had written the CMT report and the which senior NLC officials were members of the top management team at the time - and here's what the Council had to say: 
  • The report is in the name of the Head of Personnel Services, Iris Wylie with officer input from the Project Manager.
  • Members of the Corporate Management Team were Gavin Whitefield, Jim Dickie, David Porch, Mary Castles, Russell Ellerby, Paul Jukes, Alistair Crichton, Michael O’Neil and John O’Hagan.
So it seems that Iris Wylie was advising the CMT in her capacity as Head of Personnel and I presume Iris must have signed off on all the appalling mistakes contained in the report, as well as taking responsibility for the advice on bonus and job evaluation etc.

As far as I know Gavin Whitefield, Paul Jukes and Alistair Crichton are the only 'surviving' members of the CMT who are still around today, but I remember John O'Hagan contacting me back in 2005 and complaining bitterly about what I had to say about North Lanarkshire Council in relation to equal pay.

How strange it feels all these years later to be proved absolutely right.  

More Sloppy Work (27/01/15)

Here are some more examples of the sloppy work that went into writing the 'secret' report to North Lanarkshire Council's Corporate Management Team in 2005. 

Paragraph 2.6

"..., pay model NLC5 was more attractive as a long-term workable structure and one which appear (s)to offer competitive salaries,..."

Paragraph 2.7

Quite incredibly Paragraph 2.7 which comes after Paragraph 2.6 is numbered 2.5 - can this possibly mean that the document has been interfered with in some way?

Paragraph 6.8

"This should reduce the cost currently associated with the trainee technician's in the department."

Now I was always taught that if you take great pride and care over all the little things, then the big things tend to take care of themselves.

But this kind of slapdash approach to what was a hugely significant report to the Council's Corporate Management Team suggests there is an awful lot more still to come out. 

I mean, honestly, how is it possible for a major report to the Council's most senior managers to contain such a whopper of a mistake as having two Paragraphs with the same numbering (2.5)?

If you ask me, it makes North Lanarkshire Council look like the local government equivalent of the once famous 'Keystone Cops'. 

Sloppy Work (24/01/14)

One of the shocking things about the formerly 'secret' North Lanarkshire Council Corporate Management Team report is that some people on really fancy salaries seem unable to punctuate their sentences properly.

Here are a few examples to illustrate what I mean: 

Paragraph 2.3 

"....., the Corporate Management Team at it's meeting on 24 May 2005 agreed that the preferred pay model for North Lanarkshire Council would be NLC5C."

Paragraph 2.5

"An option of five year's cash conservation for 'red circles' has been included in the costings."

Paragraph 2.8

"In the opinion of the Corporate Management Team at it's last discussion, pay model NLC5C was more attractive.............."

And that's only in the first two pages!

But what does it say about senior officials who are paid salaries worth tens of thousands of pounds a year when they don't even know how to use an apostrophe.

The reference on the report, by the way, is 'IW/LD" so I'm assuming that Iris Wylie, who is now the council's head of human resources, signed the document off.

How embarrassing.  

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 an 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.

Medieval Society

Fear is the key to controlling any brutal society and in this report from the BBC a German author, Juergen Todenhofer, gives a first hand account of life inside the territory run by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

Rare Islamic State visit reveals 'brutal and strong' force

By Caroline Hawley and James Longman - World Affairs Unit, BBC News

Juergen Todenhoefer met fighters and filmed daily life: "I thought I would meet a brutal terrorist group and I met a brutal country"

A German author given rare access to territory run by Islamic State has told the BBC that the group is stronger, more brutal and harder to confront than he had expected.

Juergen Todenhoefer spent six days in the IS city of Mosul in Iraq, travelling there via Raqqa, in Syria.

Mr Todenhoefer said he found IS followers highly motivated and supportive of the group's brutality.

He said the spread of fighters meant they were hard targets for air strikes.

A former German politician, Juergen Todenhoefer is the only outsider to have travelled deep into IS territory and back. And, considering that several Westerners have recently been beheaded, he did so at terrifying risk.

An Islamic State poster shows the right and wrong ways to pray

In Mosul, captured with lightning speed by IS in June, Mr Todenhoefer saw how the group imposes its extreme version of Sunni Islam.

Posters instruct men on the right positions in which to pray and tell women how to fully cover themselves.

They must not, for example, wear clothes that "resemble those worn by infidel women or men".

Images on advertising hoardings have been blacked out, and a bookshop displays pamphlets and tomes on religious rulings, including how to treat slaves.

He met child fighters bearing arms for the "caliphate," and encountered recruits from around the world, including the UK, US, Sweden and Trinidad and Tobago. Rule by fear

Mr Todenhoefer said he was struck by their brutal zeal, and the scale of their ambition to carry out "religious cleansing" and to expand their territory.

Juergen Todenhoefer: "Terrible to feel that people can be enthusiastic about killing hundreds of millions of people"

"There is an enthusiasm that I've never seen before in warzones," he said.

"They are so confident, so sure of themselves. At the beginning of this year, few people knew of IS. But now they have conquered an area the size of the UK. This is a one per cent movement with the power of a nuclear bomb or a tsunami."

Filmed by his son - with a permit guaranteeing their safety - his material gives the impression of a group busy entrenching their bureaucracy, relatively unperturbed by the threat of coalition air strikes.

"I had the impression that they want to show that the Islamic State is working," Mr Todenhoefer said.
Juergen Todenhoefer was the first Westerner given access to Mosul since Islamic State took over

On the surface, life - he said - looks more normal than he had expected. But all the city's Christians and Shia Muslims had already fled in terror, after IS militants took over.

The jihadists now have their own justice system - with IS flags hanging in courtrooms - and their own police enforcing strict Islamic law, although the local police chief told him that he no longer needed to administer violent punishments.

Fear, said Mr Todenhoefer, appeared to be an extremely powerful deterrent. 'Very pessimistic'

It was the conversations that he had with the militants who were escorting him, more than what he actually saw, that were most disturbing for Mr Todenhoefer.

He said he reminded the fighters that most chapters of the Koran began with the words "Allah... most merciful".

"I asked: Where is the mercy? I never got the real answer."

Mr Todenhoefer estimates that the city is now being held by a few thousand fighters. But, he says, they have made themselves difficult to target by spreading themselves throughout the city and no longer travelling in convoys to avoid coalition air strikes.

The author believes that IS is stronger in areas of Iraq which it controls, than in Syria. In Raqqa, for example - the headquarters of its so-called state - he says that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is still paying the salaries of government employees.

Safely back in Munich, Mr Todenhoefer told us: "They are the most brutal and most dangerous enemy I have ever seen in my life."

"I don't see anyone who has a real chance to stop them," he said. "Only Arabs can stop IS. I came back very pessimistic."

Mr Todenhoefer was lucky to come back at all, even though he had negotiated access to the territory, via a German jihadist, for many months and carried permission issued from the "office of the Caliphate" - which protected him on several occasions.

"I was concerned at some points that they could change their mind," he said.

In the end, unsure whether they had indeed changed their minds and decided to take him and his son hostage, he had to run across the border into Turkey.

"I had to run 1,000 metres [half a mile] with our bags and all the things we had with us," he said.

"When we arrived, I had such an incredible feeling of happiness. I realised then that I had had tonnes on my shoulders. I called my family. And in this moment I realised it was not very easy what I had done."

Women in Sport

Andy Muyrray is doing battle with Novak Djokovic in the final of the Australian Open today, but in the build-up to the match I read this fascinating piece on the partnership Murray has established with his new coach, Amélie Mauresmo.

What struck me after reading the piece was that this kind of arrangement would be outlawed in certain Islamic countries where professional sport is discouraged among the masses - while grown men and women are forced to live completely separate lives.

Makes you think.

How Andy Murray may have found his perfect match in Amélie Mauresmo

Trailblazing coach who broke the mould and won Australian Open and Wimbledon rallies world number six back up the ranks

Andy Murray during a practice session for the Australian Open watched by coach Amélie Mauresmo. Photograph: Barbara Walton/EPA

His swearing fiancee Kim Sears may have attracted most of the headlines the following day, but in the seconds after Andy Murray served an ace on Thursday to win a place in the Australian Open final it was to another woman that he instantly turned.

After dispatching Tomas Berdych, Murray spun towards the players’ box and pointed to his coach, Amélie Mauresmo, with a long, unsmiling glare of satisfaction. Seven months after becoming the first elite male player in history to appoint a female coach who is not a family member, it was clear who Murray thanked for reaching his first grand slam final since winning Wimbledon in 2013, a long and bruising 19 months ago.

He had been widely criticised for appointing the 35-year-old, the player noted in an on-court interview moments later, but “I think so far this week we’ve shown that women can be very good coaches as well”. It had been a “brave” decision, he agreed, “so hopefully I can repay her in a few days”. The bravery, you will note, had been all hers.

If Murray can win Sunday’s final against Novak Djokovic, it will establish the Murray-Mauresmo partnership as one of the most remarkable in modern sporting history. But even if he fails to beat the world No 1, it is clear that Mauresmo has already changed the tennis landscape – and not for the first time.

Aside from the complete absence of female coaches in men’s tennis, when Murray hired Mauresmo in June 2014 there was only one top 50 player on the women’s tour who was coached by a woman. In the months since, the world No 6, Agnieszka Radwanska, has appointed Martina Navratilova as her coach and the promising American teenager Madison Keys has hired three-times grand slam winner (and mother of four) Lindsay Davenport.

“It seems like the door needed to be opened for it to become OK,” Davenport has said, “and obviously Murray was the one who kind of broke that down.” She had “got goosebumps”, she said, when she read that Murray had hired Mauresmo. Davenport’s delight is all the more notable as she and Mauresmo have a history.

Sixteen years ago, almost to the day, the then world No 1 Davenport was expected to cruise through the semi-final at Melbourne when an unseeded and largely unknown 19-year-old Frenchwoman brought her progress to a abrupt halt, with a display of aggressive physicality that stunned observers.

“She hits the ball so hard that it’s not like facing any other girl,” said Davenport of the teenage Amélie Mauresmo. “You just see this massive pair of shoulders bearing down on you.”

It had felt, she said, as if she was playing a man.

Though Mauresmo claimed to take the remark as a compliment, many felt it was not entirely intended to flatter. Mauresmo had arrived in Melbourne with her female partner, Sylvie Bourdon, and made a public statement during the tournament that she was gay, becoming the first French major sports personality to come out, and one of the first tennis players to do so at the start of her career. “She’s here with her girlfriend. She’s half a man,” sniffed the eventual winner Martina Hingis. Davenport later apologised for her comments.

It led to a period when, for all her prodigious talent, discussion of Mauresmo’s achievements was inevitably filtered through the lens of her private life and muscular physique. “Mighty Mauresmo hits form,” read the headlines, “Mauresmo has to shoulder all the pressure”. Or as one memorable Daily Telegraph article put it, “Muscular lesbian is a very nice girl, says world No 1”.

Though she posed proudly with her partner on the cover of Paris Match, Mauresmo was not impervious to her critics, a sensitivity that was also reflected in her play. According to Rémi Bourrieres of the French magazine Tennis, speaking to the Guardian at the time of her appointment: “She’s very sensitive. When she played she had a lot of emotion on court, and she needed to win [to gain confidence]. For some players things come very easily, but for some like Amélie you need to build the confidence, like a puzzle.”

The player developed a reputation for catastrophic collapses in confidence (“if there were a sizeable crowd watching she might choke on a teaspoonful of cod liver oil”, remarked one tennis writer) and for seven years the tennis press speculated over whether Mauresmo would be the most talented tennis player never to win a grand slam. Finally, in 2006, she triumphed in the Australian Open, and later, at Wimbledon. To prepare for the latter victory, she had spent some time training on the only grass court in Paris – in the garden of the British Embassy.

Mauresmo claims to recall very clearly the moment when she fell in love with tennis when, as a three-year-old, she watched her compatriot Yannick Noah triumph in the 1983 French Open. “I was impressed by the emotion he had on the court,” she has said. “I wanted to feel the same. I went out to the garden and was doing all the movements that he was doing.” Her parents bought her a racket and by the time she was seven she had been spotted by the French Tennis Federation.

She moved as a young teenager to a residential tennis school, but though she became world junior champion at 17, it was not a happy time. Two years later Mauresmo was quite clear in attributing her dramatic breakthrough at Melbourne to her new romantic partner – she was playing well, she said, because she was “so in love”. But the relationship with Bourdon led to an acrimonious rift with her parents which was only repaired some years later when the couple separated.

If Murray’s decision to appoint Mauresmo as his coach caused an impact “like a meteor [landing] on Planet Tennis”, in the words of the Guardian’s tennis writer Kevin Mitchell, it was not only because of her gender. Though she was (and remains) captain of the French Federation Cup squad and helped coach Marion Bartoli to Wimbledon victory in 2013, the Frenchwoman has always been clear that there was more to her life than tennis – she is a keen collector of fine wines, for instance – and she was initially resistant to the amount of travel from her Geneva home that the role involved.

But that sense of healthy distance from the game, along with the former player’s composed demeanour, may explain why the partnership is evidently working for Murray, according to the former British No 1 Anne Keothavong. “For whatever reason, I like to think Andy has been able to open up to Amélie. He is a strong character, and as a coach you have got to be able to understand what causes tension in your player, and how you can help relax them and keep them calm in the right moments.”

While there is no particular reason why a woman should be better at that than a man, in Murray’s case, notes Keothavong, “the two people who have the biggest influence on his life and whom he trusts the most have been his fiancee, Kim, and his mother, Judy. And maybe Amélie, being another calm, strong woman can add to that.”

Annabel Croft, the tennis commentator and former British No 1, says: ‘He definitely likes the way she works. I’ve watched her and she’s quite soft on the practice court, she puts the information across in a more feminine way. She’s not a hard taskmaster and I think he seems to like that.” Mauresmo has worked hard on Murray’s self-belief, and was instrumental in his decision to play a punishing schedule of tournaments during the autumn to haul his world ranking, which had sunk following back surgery a little over a year ago, back into the top 10 (“I wanted him to feel what it was like to win tournaments again,” she said).

But regardless of the Frenchwoman’s qualities, Croft says, “[Andy] loves to prove people wrong, and I feel like no matter what she’s telling him, he wants to prove to everybody that he made the right decision to hire her.”

As for the player himself, his comments this week about Mauresmo hint at an approach that is in welcome contrast to his previous coach, Ivan Lendl. “She’s very calm, that’s something that’s important for me. She listens well and she asks a lot of questions. Especially when you’ve been an ex-player, it’s easy to see things only through your eyes, but it’s important to learn what the player’s thinking.

“So far she’s been very good for me. It’s now down to me to produce the results on the court.”

On Sunday the pair have their opportunity to make history, but regardless of that result, Murray is clear on one consequence he’d like to see from their partnership. Taking to Twitter after his late-night semi-final win on Thursday, Murray wrote: “#MoreWomenInSport”, with a thumbs up emoticon. “Goodnight.”

Amélie Mauresmo – a potted profile

Born 5 July, 1979, in St Germain-en-Laye, near Paris.

Age 35.

Career Former world junior champion who after a dazzling breakthrough at the Australian Open in 1999 struggled to achieve at the highest level until she finally won two grand slams in 2006.

High point Claiming the title in Melbourne in January 2006, after being dismissed for many years as a “choker”.

Low point Catastrophic defeat in the first round of the 2001 French Open when, despite being the local favourite, her confidence collapsed and she froze on court.

What she says “Personally I wouldn’t be able to work with a man or a woman player without having a good connection. It doesn’t happen immediately. I’m not the type of person who opens up that easily. Andy is the same. It took a bit of time, but the relationship is good.”

What they say “If Andy’s looking for someone who can help him deal with the pressure, he hired the perfect person. Amélie is able to take all the stress away and make a player feel comfortable” – Marion Bartoli, who Mauresmo helped coach to Wimbledon victory in 2013.

Religion of Peace

The BBC provided extensive coverage on the consecration of the first female bishop in the Church of England, Libby Lane.

While I'm not religious myself I think this is still a very welcome development which puts other completely male dominated religions to shame.

In the Roman Catholic Church women are not allowed to become priests or bishops, of course nor any of the many positions which go all the way up to the Pope.

And as far as I know the Jewish faith forbids women to become Rabbis, likewise with Islam and its tradition of all male Imams. 

So I take my hat off to the Church of England for having the common sense to move away from the ridiculous position that a 'holy' book like the Bible represents the literal word of God. 

Because that's the key development which has allowed the Church of England to adapt its beliefs and practices to the modern world, instead of being shackled to an outmoded view of the world which regards women as second class citizens. 
Libby Lane: First female Church of England bishop consecrated

The Church of England has consecrated its first female bishop during a ceremony at York Minster.

The Reverend Libby Lane, 48, has been ordained as the new Bishop of Stockport in front of more than 1,000 people.

The Church formally adopted legislation last November to allow women bishops, in a move which ended a centuries-old tradition of exclusively male bishops.

The move continues to divide some Anglicans. The service was briefly delayed by an opponent of the changes.

A man interrupts the ordination of Libby Lane as bishop, calling it an "absolute impediment"

The Rev Paul Williamson stepped forward shouting "not in the Bible" after the Archbishop of York asked the church if Mrs Lane should be ordained as a bishop.

The second time Dr John Sentamu asked the congregation, there was no opposition and the consecration, or the process of being made holy, took place.

A Church of England spokesman described Mr Williamson, priest in charge of a church in Hanworth, Middlesex, as a "serial protester".

He said: "He's got the right to protest but the contrast was between a lone voice protesting and a sea of voices affirming."

The two-hour service was led by Dr Sentamu, during which he and other bishops laid their hands on Mrs Lane and prayed. This was followed by lengthy applause.

'Very emotional'

Mrs Lane had said the consecration would be a very "emotional" moment.

She said: "It is a remarkable thing that this happens to me, and people have been very supportive of me personally, but actually this is about a moment in the Church's history."

Hundreds of people attended the service in York Minster

Mrs Lane has been vicar of St Peter's Hale and St Elizabeth's Ashley, in Greater Manchester, since April 2007.

By John McManus, Social Affairs reporter, BBC News

Straddling metropolitan Manchester and leafy Cheshire, Stockport has often been in the shadow of its two neighbours, but now it has its own claim to fame with England's first female Bishop, perhaps the first of many.

Don't expect a sudden rush of new women bishops, though. The Church is a slow-moving edifice.

It took many years of argument to bring itself to this point, and many who opposed the move are bewildered and unhappy.

They will not be celebrating today so senior clergy who back women bishops are anxious not to rock the boat so much that it starts taking on water.

A small number of clergy and lay people left to join the Catholic Church in 2011 over this issue.

More departures for Rome are unlikely, but the Archbishops of Canterbury and York are aware that while Anglicanism is a broad church, so to speak - they need to keep paddling hard to keep all its members on board.
It would be "a very profound, remarkable moment for me then and for my future ministry", she said.

Mrs Lane said more than 100 bishops were travelling to York for the service.

Her consecration comes more than 20 years after women became priests in the Church of England.

And it comes after the general synod gave the final seal of approval to the legislation on women bishops following its passage through Parliament last year.
Who is the Reverend Libby Lane?

Vicar of St Peter's Hale and St Elizabeth's Ashley, in Greater Manchester, since April 2007
Ordained as deacon in 1993 and as priest in 1994, serving her curacy at St James's Church, Blackburn
Since January 2010, she has been Dean of Women in Ministry for the Diocese of Chester
Her husband, George, is also a priest
They were one of the first married couples in the Church of England to be ordained together
She is a Manchester United supporter and is learning to play the saxophone, according to her church's website

Who is the Church of England's first female bishop?
After the change was approved, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said that the Church was entering a "completely new phase of our existence".

But divisions still remain between Anglicans who feel the change is consistent with their faith and traditionalists who disagree.

Opponents of women bishops include some who place great importance on the laying on of hands by existing bishops in the consecration of new bishops, and wish to be looked after by bishops not affected by the involvement of women in this process.

Church of England women priests

Church of England women priests

full-time C of E priests
are women
  • 101 male C of E bishops 
  • 30 Anglican women bishops worldwide 
  • 21 years since first C of E women priests ordained 

Source: Church of England

A vicar from Blackburn used her service on Sunday to protest at changes being made to the ordination of the Bishop of Burnley next month. The "laying on of hands" on the Rev Philip North will be performed by other bishops but not by Dr Sentamu (who by then will have laid hands on Bishop Lane). Mr North opposes women bishops.

Dr Sentamu said the changes were made "for prayer, not politics". He pointed to the arrangements within the Church that "a suitable supply of bishops continues" for opponents of women's ordination.

Gloucester, Oxford and Newcastle are among the dioceses where new bishops will also soon be appointed, while interviews for the vacancy as bishop for the Southwell and Nottingham diocese took place at the start of December.

Anglican churches in Scotland and Wales already allow women as bishops, but have not appointed any yet.

Outside the Church of England, there are over 20 women bishops in the wider Anglican church, including the Reverend Pat Storey, who was appointed Bishop of Meath and Kildare in the Church of Ireland in September 2013.

Animal Cruelty

After reading this report in The Daily Record I wondered to myself how this woman could be left in charge of four young children being handed a lifetime ban on owning or looking after animals.

Now having been handed a well-deserved prison sentence Jodi Russell will be out her children's lives for some time, but it's difficult to see how someone can be a fit mother if they have chosen to inflict such cruelty on two poor dogs. 

So I hope the authorities are taking steps to remove these young children to a place of safety because their future is bleak with someone like Jodi Russell for a mother. 

Callous mum starved her two Staffies in cage.. while gorging on takeaways in front of them
By Martin Fricker, Ian Murphy

WARNING: Graphic Content. Jodi Russell, 28, has been jailed for what RSPCA officials described as one of the worst cases of animal cruelty they have ever dealt with

Jailed: Jodi Russell from Dudley, West Midlands, has been jailed for five months after she failed to care for her two starving two dogs - which led to one of them dying

A mum-of-four has been jailed for starving her two pet dogs in what RSPCA officials described as one of the worst cases of animal cruelty they have ever dealt with.

Jodi Russell, 28, from Halesowen, West Mids, callously starved the Staffordshire Bull Terriers inside a cage while gorging on takeaways in front of them.

Horrified RSPCA inspectors found the 'lifeless' dogs inside the urine-soaked cages in the living room of her home while children played around them.

Disturbing photographs of the emaciated animals show their ribs and other bones protruding through their coats.

One of the dogs, called Storm, was described as the thinnest a vet had ever seen and he tragically died within 24 hours of being rescued.

The other starving dog - a female which was given the lowest possible condition rating by vets - miraculously survived and was later re-homed.


Heartless: The dogs were starving and in urine-soaked cages in the living room of Jodi Russell's home while children played around them

Russell, from Halesowen, West Mids, was convicted in August 2013 of causing unnecessary suffering to the animals and failing in her duty as owner.

The single mum, who boasted on social media of being a fan of Channel 4 series Shameless, failed to turn up to court for her trial and a warrant was issued for her arrest.

She was eventually tracked down last month and hauled to court - where she was given a five month jail term.

Magistrates in Dudley, West Mids, also handed her a lifetime ban from looking after animals or being associated with them in any way

During her trial, magistrates were told RSPCA officials went to Russell’s home in October 2012 following a tip-off that the dogs were being mistreated.

When questioned by inspectors, she claimed one of the animals was dead - and said they could not come into her home because she hadn’t broken the news to her children.

Nick Sutton, prosecuting, said: “The inspector pressed and was invited in. Inside the property he saw the dogs in the living room in cages with the children running around them.

“She pointed out the dark male dog and said he was dead. The inspector noticed it was still alive and barely breathing.

“It was like a skeleton. The other dog was in a similar curled-up way and was lifeless.”


Dead: One of the dogs was so emaciated that one of he died within 24 hours of being rescued by the RSPCA

When interviewed, Russell claimed she had taken one dog to the PDSA - but without benefit paper work she was unable to get it looked at.

Daryll Foster, defending, said she was suffering emotionally at the time of the offences following the death of her father and after splitting up with her partner.

He said: “Miss Russell, in hindsight, now accepts what she has done wrong and realises she should have made steps much earlier.”

But magistrate Neville Jinks described the animal cruelty case as “one of the worst the court had seen”.

He added: “I understand you were suffering from emotional difficulties at the time, but this is no excuse for letting the two dogs suffer the way they did.”

After the hearing, RSPCA spokesman Andy Robbins said the two dogs’ suffering had been “shocking”.

He added: “We deal with truly horrific cases of neglect, but it is always upsetting to see animals in such poor condition as these.

“Anyone can see simply from looking at the sorry images presented as part of the case that this was a matter where a shocking level of cruelty had taken place.

Ban: Jodi Russell has been banned for life from looking after animals or being associated with them in any way

“We hope that the court’s decision means no other animal will suffer at the hands of the defendant in this case.”

Disgusted neighbours said today that Jodi had never worked and spent her days eating junk food.

One man said: “I think it’s disgusting. She should have got 20 years for what she did, never mind five. If it was up to me she would have been horse-whipped.

“She was always eating junk food and that type of stuff.”

Another woman added: “I always thought she was a jovial woman and okay to speak to. But this has really shocked me when I saw the photos of those poor dogs.

“To just leave a dog in a cage to not eat is disgusting. I definitely won’t speak to her again when she’s out of prison.

“She’s quite a big girl. They are always having takeaways delivered and there’s junk food rubbish in their garden.

“It’s ironic that she’s a big one and stuffs herself but couldn’t even feed the poor dogs. There’s always takeaway food going in the house.”

Russian Capitalism

The BBC reports that having annexed part of Ukraine the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has handed the lucrative contract for constructing a bridge to Crimea to one of his friends, Arkady Rotenberg, who is on the US/EU sanctions list.

Sounds like another example of Russia's 'Mafia-style' capitalism in action and while there are problems in regulating these kind of political/business relationships all over the world, I can't think of many places where public accountability is as weak as it appears to be in Putin's Russia.    

Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian writer and author of the book 'Putin's Russia, was murdered in the lift of her apartment building in Moscow on 7 October 2006 - the birthday of Vladimir Putin. 

Ukraine conflict: Putin ally to build bridge to Crimea

Ferries like this one carrying railway carriages connect Russia to Crimea

A Russian contract for building a bridge to Crimea has gone to a company majority-owned by a friend of Vladimir Putin who is under Western sanctions.

The $3bn (£2bn) contract was awarded to the SGM Group, owned by Arkady Rotenberg, a childhood friend and judo partner of the Russian president.

The bridge will join Russia directly to the peninsula it annexed from Ukraine in March after a disputed referendum.

It will be pipeline specialist SGM's first bridge, Reuters news agency says.

It is still unclear where on the Kerch Strait the structure will be erected, meaning the span could be anything from 4km to 15km (2.5 to 9 miles).

Announcing the contract in a statement, Russia's transport ministry said the bridge should be finished by the end of 2018.

Currently, Crimea is connected to Russia by sea and by air, while land routes through Ukraine have been affected by the conflict in its eastern provinces.

Rotenberg's legacy?

The annexation of the peninsula sparked sanctions on Russia by the EU, US and their allies and Mr Rotenberg was one of the first Russian businessmen to be put under Western visa bans and asset freezes.

In an interview with Russian daily Kommersant, Arkady Rotenberg welcomed the contract but said it would probably be his last project.

"At 63 I think more about what should be left behind, what will be the results of life," he said.
Arkady Rotenberg (left) with Vladimir Putin practising judo

"Moreover, I long planned to gradually stop running businesses... But the bridge project came along and I decided it was very important to carry it out. It is important for the country."

According to the US Treasury, Arkady Rotenberg and his brother Boris provided "support to Putin's pet projects" by receiving and executing approximately $7bn (£4.7bn) of contracts for the Sochi Olympic Games and state-controlled energy giant Gazprom, through which their personal wealth increased by $2.5bn (£1.6bn).

The brothers deny getting help from the Russian leader for their businesses.