Monday, September 01, 2014

Bridgepoint, Care UK and is it "good business practice" to pay poverty wages?

Last week UNISON Strikers from Care UK in Doncaster tried to lobby the owners of their company, £8.7 Billion Private Equity firm Bridgepoint Capital.

Care UK won the contract to run former NHS care services in Doncaster. The strikers are trying to get a decent pay rise (following savage cuts in their pay and conditions -up to 35% of pay for some staff) and also a living wage for all new employees.

In the light of such questionable employment practices I  wondered what the Bridgepoint's stated policy is on ethical investment issues? I found here that apparently "We believe that it's good business practice to have strong environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) principles - and that building these principles into our business practises is good for our investors, employees, investee companies and their stakeholders in the long term.  Our approach is led by our core values, which we expect our teams to adhere to in the way they conduct themselves and represent Bridgepoint - and wherever relevant, in our environmental, social and governance policies".

also here I read that Bridgepoint "works with management teams to implement appropriate social policies in their operations and procedures. Typically, these focus on worker health and safety, labour rights and welfare". Oh, they are also "a signatory to the United Nations' Principles for Responsible Investment"

hmmmm - what twaddle. How can slashing wages and making its workers broke and homeless be "good business practice"? How in these circumstances do they "focus on worker health & safety, labour rights and welfare". What hypocrisy.

Of course companies that treat their workers like rubbish also treat their clients as rubbish as well.

Check out UNISON news here and Observer article here

Finally, I am willing to bet that a number of pension and insurance funds invest in Bridgepoint. Do you really want your retirement funded by exploitation and misery?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Amigo Month Mes Amigo - Celebrating Latino Hispanic & Lusophone Heritage

As a Newham Councillor I was sent this lovely poster and information about
"Mes Amigo 2014 UK - 7 Septiembre / Octubre 12"

It made me think since I was surprised to read there are 1 million people living in the UK with Iberian American roots.

They also point out that there are even more British living or owning property in Spain and Portugal.

I wonder how many Brits are currently on holiday in a Spanish or Portuguese speaking country as well? By coincidence a nephew is currently working in Brazil. 

During the 5 weeks there will be religious services, parties, sport events, conferences and festivals. I hope the events go well and we all celebrate the contribution made to the UK by Iberian Americans.

Você está no Mês amigo - 07 de setembro / 12 de outubro
 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Essential cover at work. Join UNISON now on 0800 328 11 22 or http://joinunison.org



Another powerful TV advert from UNISON explaining the many advantages from joining our union. One of the worse things about being a union rep is explaining to people facing redundancy, bullying, disciplinary or sickness proceedings, that I am unable to help them because they are not members or have only joined after they were aware of an issue. (UNISON has like every other union has a waiting period before representation).

If you value your job then join a union. Union reps do not have any magic wands but believe me it can be so frightening and scary if you have a problem at work and have no one to turn to for help. Even in the very best of employers.

Of course, the key thing about joining a trade union is that the more of us in the union in any employer, the better the deal we will get - the better the pay, the better the health and safety, the better the pension, the better the maternity pay, the better the sick pay' the better the flexible working - the better all fringe benefits and employment policies.

This is something our Grandparents knew but has sadly be lost in recent decades but I think workers are beginning to realise again that they cannot rely on their employers or the courts for justice at work, they can only rely on their union and their work colleagues.

So if you work for any (none civil service) employer providing public services, don't delay and look to join UNISON now! (online 24/7). Do not leave it until it is too late!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Tonii Wilson for Beckton

Tonii is a dedicated and hard working candidate who is super nice and will make a great local
Councillor for Beckton.

I am back from holiday but laid low with a Lergi (aka "Man's flu") so not been out "on the knocker" since back from leave.

Hopefully, I will get better soon. If you can help out - see message below from agent : -

"Saturday 30th August
Windsor Park Community Centre 18-20 Warwall, East Beckton , E6 6WG at 11am.

Monday 1st
St Marks Centre , 218 Tollgate Road, E6 5YA at 6:30pm - 8pm

Tuesday 2nd
St Marks Centre, 218 Tollgate Road, E6 5YA at 6:30pm - 8pm

Wednesday 3rd
The junction of Kirkham Road with Dunnock Road, E6 5SX 6:30pm - 8pm

Thursday 4th
Windsor Park Community Centre 18-20 Warwall, East Beckton, E6 6WG at 6:30 - 8pm

Additionally......

If anyone is free during the day (or evening) to deliver the 2nd leaflet that would be a great help. Please email me at newhamlabour@gmail.com and I will make arrangements for delivery.

Election Day 11th Sept
We will be knocking up our vote throughout the day on election day. We need people who will knock on doors, deliver leaflet reminders or be a teller at a polling station.

Please let me know if you are free on polling day and let me know which times you are available, from the early morning until late evening".

(published on and on behalf of Newham Labour Party, Trinity Centre, East Avenue, E12 6SG)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Visit to Rebel Dublin

Earlier this month I spent a week on holiday in Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland.

You could spend an entire summer in Dublin and still not experience everything that you should.

While expensive and seemingly packed full of even more tourists than London, it was a great base for a holiday.

For the historic and politically minded I recommend first a visit to the General Post Office (GPO) in what is now known as O'Connell Street (bottom right of college) which was the headquarters of the 1916 Easter Uprising, when rebels (or "patriots" depending on your view) tried to win independence for Ireland from Britain in the midst of World War One. This ended in defeat and the leveling of many parts of central Dublin by British artillery. You can still see what appears to be bullet holes on the outside pillars of the GPO.

Further along O'Connell Street (Daniel O'Connell was known as "The Great Liberator" in the 19th Century but who always opposed the use of violence to bring about political change) you see the statute of trade union leader, James Larkin, who led the famous "lock out" strike in Dublin during 1913.

I went during the early afternoon to the Kilmainham Gaol where the leaders of the Uprising (and some of the losing side in the later Civil War) were executed but it was fully booked for the rest of that day. Next time in Dublin I will go early and book a timed ticket for the tour then go to the Irish Museum of Modern Art (MMA) near by and wait for the tour to start. I found the MMA interestingly in parts but a bit weird and wonderful (Modern Art not my cup of tea but - who am I to say).

Take another bus to Glasnevin Cemetery and walk amongst the 1.5 million graves of the famous and the unknown. See the grave of charismatic Irish revolutionary leader Michael Collins who was killed in an ambush by his former comrades during the Irish Civil War in 1922. The lovely and peaceful National Botanic Gardens is next door.

Another time you should walk along the River Liffy to what is now called the (Michael) Collins barracks. This used to be a major British army barracks and at over 300 years old, is the oldest military barracks in the world, now the home of the National Museum of Ireland. There is a very even handed display on the Easter Uprising inside.

While immediately outside is a museum containing the beautifully restored sailing yacht "Asgard", in which London born Irish Protestant, Erskine Childers, had smuggled arms and ammunition from Germany to Irish nationalists in 1914. Erskine had fought for the British in the Boer War and afterwards was to be decorated for bravery while fighting against Germany in the First World World. He then became an opponent of the partition of Ireland and was executed during the Civil War by former comrades, possibly in revenge for the death of Michael Collins.

Before his execution Erskine made his son promise to visit all the men who had signed his death warrant and shake their hands. His son eventually became President of Ireland. Erskine also shook the hands with each of his firing squad and said to them before they shot him "Take a step or two forward, lads. It will be easier that way".

(more pictures on my Facebook account)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How to Win the Loser's Game



"Part 1 of a new documentary about investing.

The City of London… The centre of the financial world.

It’s here that some of the finest minds in global finance ply their trade.

The pressures are huge - with salaries and bonuses to match.

London’s financial sector encompasses a whole range of commercial activity - from banking and merchant banking to insurance and accountancy. But central to it is the fund management industry.

It’s fund managers whom the vast majority of us entrust with our long-term investments.

They choose which stocks and other assets to invest in on our behalf - and decide when the time is right to buy and sell.

And yes, they’re very well remunerated.

In fact pay has risen sharply in the last few years.

One manager, Richard Woolnough at M&G Investments, was paid £17.5 million in 2013 - 600 times the average UK salary.

Research by the FT shows that, in the same year, pay per employee in the sector outstripped even investment banking.

At one fund management company the average annual salary was £436,000.

The standard line from the industry is that it needs to offer such large financial rewards to attract the brightest talent.

But, time and again, research has shown that we over-estimate quite how talented fund managers are and how much value they add.

For all the talk of “star” performers, the empirical evidence shows that only a tiny fraction of them outperform the market with any meaningful degree of consistency.

Typical of the reports produced on this subject is this one by the Pensions Institute, based at Cass Business School in London.

Researchers examined 516 UK equity funds between 1998 and 2008, and found that just 1% of managers were able to produce sufficient returns to cover their trading and operating costs.

But even those managers pocketed for themselves any value they added in fees, leaving nothing for the investor.

The remaining 99% of managers failed to deliver any outperformance - either from stock selection or from market timing.

In case you’re wondering whether those managers were simply unlucky, the researchers found the vast majority weren’t; they were “genuinely unskilled”.

While a tiny number of “star” managers do exist, they are, to quote the report, “incredibly hard to identify”. Furthermore, it takes 22 years of performance data to be 90% sure that a particular manager’s outperformance is genuinely down to skill.

For most investors, the report concludes, “it is simply not worth paying the vast majority of fund managers to actively manage their assets”.

If you’re shocked and appalled by those findings, so you should be.

The Pensions Institute report is a damning indictment of the fund management industry which is completely at variance with the image that most of us have of the City as a centre of investment expertise.

Since this is only the latest in a long line of reports that have said more or less the same thing, it also begs the question, why are so many ordinary investors completely unaware of this scandalous situation?

In fact there are many reasons.

This a hugely powerful and largely self-regulated industry, which lobbies hard to protect its interests.

It also spends a fortune on advertising.

And the financial media, which is largely funded by those adverts, has an insatiable demand for stories, which the fund management companies are only too happy to provide.

But ultimately, actively managed funds still hold sway over cheaper, passive investments such as index funds, because investors continue to buy them.

We think we’re paying for better performance; that greater skill will produce superior results.

But investing almost always works the opposite way round. The less you pay, the more you get back.

Yes, it’s counter-intuitive, but it’s true.

In the course of this programme, we’re going to be looking at just how much investing costs us; and at the performance that fund managers deliver.

We’ll be exploring more than 100 years of academic research into asset pricing and how markets operate.

And we’ll be examining long-term investment strategies that have been shown to work.

Investing has famously been called the loser’s game, and for most people, it is. We’re going to who you how to win it.

Next time..

Nobel Prize-winning economist Eugene Fama says: "If you're paying big management fees, the cumulative effect of that, given the way compounding works, is enormous."

Merryn Somerset Webb from MoneyWeek says: "Almost all fund management is a complete rip-off. We know that. We only have to look at prices relative to the performance."

Gina Miller from the True and Fair Campaign says:"The very people who are being prudent and saving and investing are not the ones who are retiring with a comfortable pot. It's the fund managers who are becoming millionaires and billionaires because of those profit margins."

http://www.sensibleinvesting.tv/

hat tip Michael Johnson

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Newham "was the hardest hit" Council after Tory spending cuts

From Inside Housing "The poorest parts of England have endured spending cuts 16 times greater than the country’s
wealthiest areas since the last election, Labour Party analysis has shows.

The London council of Newham was the hardest hit, where £1,002 was lost per household.

A Labour analysis of council spending between 2010/11 and 2015/16 shows that the budget in the 10 most deprived local authority areas in England has been slashed by £782 per household, while more affluent households experienced just a £48 fall.

The London council of Newham was the hardest hit, where £1,002 was lost per household. Its neighbour, Hackney, lost £973 per household.

The research showed some local authorities in Surrey enjoyed a rise in spending power: Elmbridge spent £41 more per household and Waverley £26".

No surprise really. Tories doing to the poorest and most vulnerable what Tories always do.

Nicholas Russell 1968-2014 Labour Movement & Disability Activist

I was shocked to hear of the sudden death at age 45 of Labour movement and disability rights activist Nicholas Russell.

Nick was a former member of UNISON London Labour Link committee, Chair of SERTUC disabled workers network and was also a Councillor in Waltham Forest.

I think it is fair to say that every single meeting I ever went to with Nick, he would champion the rights of the disabled.

He was the grandson of Philosopher and Nobel Prize winner, Bernard Russell, and was like him, also a strong supporter of CND. He once described to me this support as "the family tradition".

My condolences to his fiancee Georgina, his family and close friends. His brother John and sister-in-law, Jane have posted a tribute to Nick here and have invited all those who knew or worked with him to the funeral at the North Chapel, City of London Cemetery, Alderbrook Road, E12 at 3.15pm Thursday 4 September.

(picture of Nick running the Co-operative Party stall, London Labour Party Biannual Conference, Old Town Hall Stratford, 2010)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) Governance Regulations 2014

(These are my personal comments I sent on 15th August to the Department Communities and Local Government consultation on their proposed LGPS draft regulations on governance. These regulations are due to be in force by October 2014. For what it is worth - I think they are a complete dogs dinner. Read why.)

"I have been an observer then member nominated representative on a London Local Government Pension fund since 1996 (and contributor since 1993). Lately I have also been an admitted body representative on that fund. I have also been an elected Councillor member of another London pension committee since 2010 and an employer nominated trustee on a private sector open defined benefit scheme.

I am responding as an individual and these comments are in my personal capacity only.

I must admit to being surprised at the statement next to the "impact assessment" that these regulations have no impact on business nor the voluntary sector.  As someone who also works in the voluntary sector I think that for organisations who are admitted bodies of the LGPS (including private employers) that the possible impact of these regulations is significant.  Especially on deficits and employer contributions. I understand that up to 25% of LGPS members do not work directly for local authorities.

I must confess to being very disappointed with the draft regulations. Instead of adopting the proven private sector pension trustee model of employers and employee representatives being jointly responsible and working in partnership to run their schemes, we are going to have overlapping and confusing 2-tier governance arrangements.

The proposed draft regulations themselves are contradictory and conflicting.  The overriding purpose of pension boards was supposed to be about making sure that the local government pension scheme as a whole is transparent, run efficiently and gives value for money. Unless the scheme nationally contains costs and maximises a responsible return then good funds will be brought down by the badly managed funds.

Employers will only pay a maximum of 13% contributions for future service and if nationally this cost ceiling is breached then this means that employee contributions will have to rise or benefits reduced. Which will then result in employees leaving the scheme and put its long term future at risk.

The huge cost of meeting existing liabilities must be kept to a minimum as local authorities face further cuts to budgets.

While not being too restrictive the regulations must ensure that the pension boards meet at regular times, are accountable, have sufficient resources to do their job and most importantly must have the legal powers to make sure that the funds are run properly.

I understand that there are potential legal challenges to the whole governance structure due to a failure of the government to implement European directives on pension funds?  If this happens this whole process could prove to be a waste of time and money.

I do not understand why there can't be one governance board with 50/50 employer and employee representation as was originally intended? There are far too many barriers to the Secretary of State approving joint committees.  Even if s/he does then the inherent contradictions of holding a "decision making" and "assist" (or even scrutiny) meeting at the same time are likely to prove insurmountable.

Nor can I understand why councillors cannot be members of the board as employer representatives? What is the conflict?

Who indeed can be "employer representatives" on a pension board? Since if council officers are to be the employer representatives there is a possible further conflict since I understand that officers cannot be members of council committees? Has there been legal advice on this point?

The requirement that members of the board have relevant experience and capacity is unnecessary and counter productive.  Why should public sector pension schemes be treated differently that private sector? In the private sector all trustees have up to 6 months to gain relevant skills and knowledge. You do not need to be a financial expert or professional to be effective on a pension board. There is too much "herding" in the LGPS. In fact it is an advantage to have non professionals who will challenge the status quo and ask difficult questions.

I think that as a matter of principle we should be supporting equality duties being part of our remit and I do not think that this will be a too onerous a commitment.

While it is an improvement on the existing ad hoc system I think that the proposed structure and regulations is frankly a mess. While there is a time tabling issue due to enacted legislation the national pension board ought to be reviewing the whole issue of governance as a matter of urgency.

The recent legal advice that found there is no statutory under pinning of the LGPS if a fund was to fail is yet another powerful reason to make sure that all funds are run efficiently and  are well managed.

John Gray

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Britain Deserves a Pay Rise - Demo Sat 18 October 2014 (and I'm back)

Back from 2 weeks holiday in Ireland. Will post soon on my impressions of history and politics from a fantastic time in both Dublin and County Kerry.

Feeling very refreshed and relaxed, looking forward to busy year ahead (this feeling will not last very long of course!)

There is a Council by election in Beckton to help fight; a load of trade union and local political issues and the national TUC demo on pay in October to promote (see UNISON poster on left). Last, but not least, will be the the General Election in 2015. Now less than 9 months away.

As the Agent for West Ham CLP, I think it is really important that we do not take anything for granted locally but unless Ed Miliband becomes the next Prime Minister - all of us in West Ham and the country will be stuffed. So we have to help out in the targeted Labour marginals that West Ham have been allocated.

A busy time for all.