Wednesday, March 29, 2017

"West Ham tenants’ anger over 40 per cent rent hike"

"A group of tenants is up in arms after their landlord announced a 40 per cent rent hike...

Eve Whitcombe and Jamil Khair (picture right) will have to pay a 40 per cent rent hike or leave their home of the past 18 years. Picture: Jon King
The neighbours live in flats reserved for key workers - who have jobs in schools and hospitals - with cheaper rents than market rates, but their landlord One Housing Group have said they should pay more or get out.
Tenant and retired NHS secretary Eve Whitcombe, who has lived in one of the West Ham buildings affected for almost 20 years, said: “We like it here. We wouldn’t want to move.
“They’re going to lose an awful lot of good people. It’s difficult to recruit teachers and NHS staff. Newham will be in deep trouble if they’re going to push keyworkers out of the area,” said 62-year-old Eve.
According to Eve, tenants received letters from One Housing last month telling them their rent would rise by 40pc on April 1 claiming people were subletting, but even now their landlords refuse to meet them in person to discuss the increase, which would add £200 to her monthly rent.
Now the neighbours - who live in Teasel Way - have signed a new, annual tenancy agreement and will be forced to pay up or leave their homes within two months.
“I want to feel secure at my age,” Eve added. “We feel One Housing are being greedy.”
Eve’s partner Jamil, a paediatric nurse, said: “There would be no difficulty finding jobs out of the borough because of the huge shortage of nurses and teachers.”
A One Housing spokesman said: “These homes are not general needs social housing. We offer them at a discounted rent as part of our mission to create homes that people with all incomes can afford.
“To make sure we are fair to all our residents, we look to charge appropriate rent according to the tenancy arrangements. In this case, we discovered a historic error by a predecessor organisation that meant residents have been underpaying for a significant period.
“As this rent is similar to a general needs rent some residents may have believed that they are general needs tenants,” he added.
“We recognise a rent increase is never welcome, which is why we are increasing them gradually and have talked to residents throughout to give as much notice as possible.”
The spokesman also said the homes remain excellent value for money and that since a public meeting on March 20 a number of people who attended had contacted One Housing looking for a home to rent at the new rate.
Cllr John Gray, who has met with tenants, said: “Myself and other councillors were horrified to hear about this. It is going to drive out key workers who perform vital public services for the people of Newham. What we know is that it is practically impossible for teaching assistants and care assistants to either rent or buy anymore unless key worker accommodation is secured.
“We are going to struggle over time to get staff for our schools and hospitals and care communities.
“I am really disappointed that One Housing is planning to do this without prior consultation, not just for residents but with key stakeholders like the council and local councillors.”
Hat tip Newham Recorder for story and picture. Check out my blog on the scandal here. It would seem from above that One Housing are planning to raise the rents even more than 40% and that its Comms team must live in LaLa land if they believe that the key workers who attended the meeting last week wanted to pay the new rate. 
I am still waiting for a reply to my Councillor members enquiry from One Housing about why are they doing this and asking them to put the increase on hold until at least they meet residents and explain what they are doing. I have been told that I will get a reply by Friday 31 March (which is a whole day before the rent is increased on 1 April 2017). 

What Brexit could mean...

On what is to me a sad day I couldn't help smile at this cartoon in the UNISON members InFOCUS magazine.

Update: below is fab as well. hat tip Franzi Bee


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

UNISON London Community Service Group AGM & Seminar 6 May 17

The seminar is on "The future of Housing in London" and all UNISON members are invited. Some key figures have been invited as speakers and panel members. Wait and see - but I think this will be really good event. Registration forms have been sent to London branches but contact me if you want any further information.. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

How Tory Tribunal fees prevent justice at work.


For those who think they don't need trade unions to fight for justice at work, I say think again.

Making an application for an employment tribunal now costs £250 and then a further £950 for a hearing. As this research shows, low paid workers with strong cases are being blocked.

"A new report to be published in academic journal Modern Law Review on Monday (27 March 2017) will put forth that the introduction of employment tribunal fees in 2013 was "a clear violation" of UK and EU law.

The authors, Jeremias Prassl from Oxford University law school, and Abi Adams, of its school of economics, analysed government data in order to show that for up to half of claimants with a strong case, the expense of taking their claim to court was higher than the expected payout if they were successful. 

These workers - usually in low-paid, insecure positions - are therefore put in the position of losing money to enforce their rights. As a result, the academics described the fees as "disproportionate" and argued that they are illegally blocking workers from access to justice.

The paper will be published on the day that Unison's judicial review against the fees will be heard in the Supreme Court, and the authors commented in support of the union's case".

Hat tip Institute of Employment Rights

Sunday, March 26, 2017

One Housing Group 40% rent rise for key workers update

Last Monday evening I attended a lively public meeting with One Housing Association tenants from across Newham, who are facing a 40% plus increase in their rents. These tenants are "key workers" who work in local hospitals, schools and social/care services.

Some of them have lived in their flats since 1997 and will have to leave their homes and their jobs if the rents are increased by this amount. This is not only a personal disaster to these tenants but will also mean Newham residents will lose key public service professionals.

The way One Housing Group has handled this is simply appalling. There has been no proper consultation and tenants have been given contradictory and misleading reasons and documentation. I have asked as a Councillor for the rent rises to be put on hold until at least One Housing Group agrees to meet its tenants collectively and explain why they feel they have to do this.

The key workers, as you would expect, are reasonable and pragmatic people but they are up for a fight if One Housing decides to provoke one.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Tell The TUC: Survey on Zero hour contracts and Agency working

Are you one of the 1 in 10 people in insecure work - like a zero hours contract or working through an agency?

If so, we want to hear from you!

Many people now have jobs that give them little or no security. This may because you rely on an agency to provide you with work – and there’s no guarantee that they can find you work.

You may have a job where you have no guarantee of how many hours’ work you will have from one week to the next or maybe on a zero hours contract.

Or your employer might tell you you’re self-employed, but still want to control the hours you work and the jobs you take – without providing you with the minimum wage or sick pay.

We want to hear from people who have jobs like these. Please tell us about your experiences at work. It can be completely anonymous if you prefer. This will help us campaign for decent jobs for everyone.

Please complete survey by 29 March 2017.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Communists, Masons & War: Forest Gate South Labour doorknock 18.3.17 with Lyn Brown MP

Picture collage from last Saturday in Forest Gate South ward,West Ham CLP, London. Our MP, Lyn Brown (with her Labour attack dog Cara), local councillors and party activists out knocking doors and talking to residents about Council services and national issues.

We also gave out leaflets on the Labour party campaigns about "Education not Segregation" and "Our NHS is underfunded".

I had an interesting conversation with some students from India whose home state Kerala, (and also in West Bengal state), icontrolled by the Marxist Communist Party of India. They were not supporters but recognised that in their state they have the highest levels of literacy, women to men ratios and life expectancy in India.

While door knocking we had a discussion with long serving members on how in the 1970s the Freemasons in Newham Council (Councillors and Council officers - used to have a lodge in East Ham Town Hall) were kicked out of the local party and the Council for alleged corrupt practices.

After the canvass Cllr John Whitworth, Cllr Anam Islam and I went to see the excellent "Far from the Western Front" First World War Exhibition in the Minhaj-Ul-Quran mosque in Romford Road which is due to finish tomorrow. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Fancy being a Newham Labour Councillor Candidate?


This should be an interesting introduction for local Party activists but I am worried that ordinary members may attend in the expectation that they will have at least a chance to be selected as a Labour candidate. I am concerned that there is simply not enough time for non active members to prove their campaigning commitment. Since selections are probably starting soon and candidates who cannot show a history of campaigning should not really be long listed.

This meeting should have been organised months ago to give people the chance to prove themselves. This is not the fault of our organiser but I assume it's down to our our Local Campaign Forum Executive.

"Dear Colleague,

Have you ever thought of becoming a councillor?  Newham Council goes to the polls on Thursday 3 May 2018 to elect a Mayor and 60 councillors – 3 in every ward in Newham. The Mayor and Councillors will serve for 4 years.
Many of our Labour priorities can only be delivered through local action. Labour’s core band of Councillors is the party’s frontline - a strong link with residents and local agencies. This is an exciting and challenging time to be a Labour Councillor.
We are looking for committed members with a minimum of 12 months continuous Labour Party membership who welcome the challenge of standing for election.

You will need a commitment to Labour’s aims, values and policies, and importantly, enthusiasm to be part of Newham Labour’s effective service delivery and relationship building team.

We are particularly keen to hear from women, young people and members of ethnic minority communities who would like to be considered.

To find out more please join us at our “Be a Councillor” Briefing.
Date:                    Saturday 1 April 2017,
Time:                   10am to 1pm
Venue:                 the Trinity Centre,
                              East Ave,
                              London E12 6SG.

Please register by Wednesday 29 March 2017 to be sure of a place atnewhamlabour@gmail.com

We look forward to seeing you.

Newham Borough Organiser

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

We are Londoners: We are One


I was supposed to have gone to the House of Commons this morning for a pension briefing but had to cancel due to a last minute clash. I also had a long telephone conversation at lunchtime with an MP who was driving into Parliament to vote. Many of my friends and colleagues were at work today inside or visiting Parliament.

While we don't know the full facts on what happened this afternoon it seems that some brainwashed moron had decided to deliberately murder innocent tourists and unarmed public servants.

Why this cretin thought that such cowardly murders would advance any cause is beyond belief.

To me there is no difference between the fascist who murdered Jo Cox MP or the one who tried to kill MPs today.

I think our first response to such vile acts is to state that while we are proud and passionate about our religious or secular beliefs, we are also all Londoners.We are democratic, tolerant and proud of our diversity and the rule of law.

I love the Facebook friend who lives in Newcastle who said today's outrage also "felt like her own family had been attacked".

The best response is that such an attack on London is actually an attack on all of us - and we should all respond accordingly by not only condemning but doing something practical and real against all such hate and bigotry.
(hat tip photo Dave Hill).

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

UNISON London Housing Association Branch AGM 2017: Secretary's Report

Today is the AGM of my branch (12-2pm and 6-8pm at the UNISON Centre, London) and this is my contribution to our annual report. Picture of 2016 Branch Executive. 

"2016 was a traumatic year for politics generally and for social housing and trade unions in particular. Attacks by the Conservative government on trade unions were seen off in part by united and targeted campaigning and protests.

The attempt to end social housing by withdrawing all grants for social rent, the introduction of the tenants “pay to stay” tax and the attempt to make “right to buy” in our sector compulsory has also so far failed even though we can expect the Government will come back again for the kill.

The branch must be prepared to continue to lobby and campaign against the implementation of the Housing Act and the proposals outlined in the recent Housing White Paper to make cuts to benefit for care and supporting housing projects and schemes.

The housing association world has experienced rapid change following the rise of the “mega mergers”. Huge existing associations are merging with each over to form even bigger
groups. While some mergers have failed due to “cultural differences” others have gone ahead with more likely to follow. Staff (and residents) can expect challenges ahead and while not all change is bad it will be important that we build strong unionised workplaces to stand up for our members.

While I find it somewhat ironic that one of the justifications given at the time for stock transfers from councils to housing associations used to be that council housing departments were too large and remote. The new mega housing associations are, however, promising to build tens of thousands of much needed new homes.

Our members will be developing, letting, selling, allocating, managing and maintaining these new homes. Our jobs and our future terms and conditions is dependent on making new and old employers successful and effective. No organisation will be successful if they don’t have good relationships with staff and their union. Our UNISON branch wants to work in partnership with our employers whenever possible but we will take on the small minority of bad employers who don’t want to work with us.

Finally, may I thank all our stewards and workplace contacts for the magnificent and often unappreciated work you do for members. You are the first line of defence for members and are our unsung heroes.

John Gray
Branch secretary"

Monday, March 20, 2017

Canning Town South Labour doorstep 11 March 2017

This college is from Saturday 11 March when West Ham Labour Party activists came to support the local Party in Canning Town South ward. Our MP Lyn Brown was there and we all knocked on doors in the ward asking if they had any issues that they wanted to discuss with their MP or local Councillors.

The response was on the whole very positive. By coincidence council contractors were marking the car parking bays in the area for the introduction of a new controlled parking zone. Some residents were genuinely worried about this but the vast majority realised that this had to be done to stop the area being turned into a car park for commuters.

The only other apparent  issue is that many of the houses in our canvass area are owned by a private landlord who is apparently trying to "encourage" residents who have controlled rents to move to other accommodation. We did not pick this issue up in the doorknock but local Councillors are aware and will be investigating.

Also that day there was a Labour canvass in Custom House (see photo in collage on bottom left).

Afterwards a number of canvassers from different parts of the CLP met up for coffee, cake and gossip (top left)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

"Union reps are good for workers and employers and we can prove it"

Check out TUC risks and link to Stronger Unions response to the latest nonsense from the Tax evaders alliance.

"The TUC has ripped apart the latest attempt by a right-wing lobby group to claim paid release for union reps comes at a cost. TUC national organiser Carl Roper said the annually regurgitated claim by the Taxpayers’ Alliance that union volunteers are a drain on the public purse and taxpayers gets picked up uncritically by sections of the media, despite the irrefutable evidence proving precisely the opposite. 

Writing in the TUC’s Stronger Unions blog, he points to research and government publications showing the union role in the workplace is good for business, the economy and the health of workers. He says this establishes five areas that benefit from the activity of workplace union reps: skills and training; exit rates, labour turnover and dispute resolution; productivity, and worker safety. He said in workplaces where there is direct trade union health and safety representation there were much lower injury rates, translating to between 34,000 and 52,000 fewer working days lost. 

“There are just 170,000 union representatives in the UK amongst a workforce of around 25 million. It would be difficult to find another group of employees who in addition to carrying out their regular job make such a significant contribution to the UK economy as a result of volunteer activity,” Roper concluded. 

“It is a role acknowledged and valued not just by unions and their members, but also by some of the UK’s biggest and most successful employers. Jaguar Land Rover, British Aerospace, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, British Airways, Morrison’s, Asda to name just a few all have and provide paid time off to union reps. Their contribution is also acknowledged by the CBI. The case for union reps and the small amount of paid time off that they receive is conclusive.”

Ÿ TUC Stronger Unions blog. TUC guide to the union safety effect. The Guardian.

One Housing Group raises rents for Newham key workers by 40%


Tomorrow I will be attending this public meeting in the evening to discuss One Housing Group plan to impose new tenancy agreements and massive rent rises on a number of "key worker" tenants in Manor Road, E15.

These "key workers" are employed by local schools, NHS hospitals and social care organisations and live in a housing block that was transferred to the Housing Association (then called Toynbee) by Newham Council in 1997.

I have written to the Council asking it for any information regarding the transfer and to One Housing Group asking them for why they are making these changes and also asking them to stop the rent rises until at least they meet with their tenants, explain what they are doing and understand the harm that they will be causing.

I have spoken to tenants who have lived in the block since 1997 and will not be able to afford to pay the new rents and will be forced to move out of their flat and possibly move out of London.

Due to rocketing London rents many public service employers are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit staff and the last thing that we need in Newham is for experienced and skilled public servants to be forced to leave their jobs and homes.

One Housing Group have acknowledged my request and I have been told that I will receive a full response "in due course"


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Greater London UNISON Labour link Regional Forum 2017 (and Eastern Region)

Pictures from recent Regional Labour Link Forum in central London.  Labour Link is the UNISON political vote that supports the Labour Party.  I chaired the meeting and after opening remarks, introductions, workplan, financial report (don't ask) we moved on to motions.

My branch had submitted a motion on building a new national consensus on why we need to build affordable and decent homes for all. This motion was moved by our ace branch officer, Mitsy Harmon-Russell, and after some minor amendments on restrictions on rent levels (which were accepted by our branch with qualifications about how the motion was about building a national consensus and not just a wish list) was accepted unanimously. Another motion submitted by Lambeth branch on "Labour is the Party of the the NHS" was also passed overwhelmingly.

The meeting was then joined by UNISON Eastern Region Labour Link, who also had their annual forum next door. Tracey Grant and I co-chaired the rest of the meeting. We were joined by our guest speakers, National UNISON Labour Link secretary Keith Birch, Daniel Zeichner MP and Chuka Umunna MP (to give a joint Parliamentary report).

Keith talked about the continued threat from the Tory trade union bill which was designed not only to to attack unions but also to starve the Labour Party of funds.

Daniel is a well respected former UNISON Labour link national official who was elected for the first time as MP for Cambridge in 2015. He is now shadow Labour minister for buses and is their most energetic supporter.  He pointed out that nationally more people in this country rely on buses for their transport needs than trains. This fact is rarely mentioned during the often wall-to-wall media coverage about commuter railway problems in the South East of England.

Chuka is the MP for Streatham, London and a former shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. He gave a powerful speech on how he believes we can still win the next General election and also the hypocrisy of the other opposition parties who are attacking Labour for accepting the democratic decision of the electorate over Brexit when before the referendum they were attacking Labour for opposing having a referendum in the first place.

In the Q&A Chuka was challenged by delegates concerned by the actions of the Parliamentary Labour Party towards our leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Chuka accepted that this was a fair criticism of the PLP before the outcome of the second leadership election but since then it is now accepted that Jeremy is the leader and should be supported. However, that does not mean that there should be no criticism of those who advise him. He pointed out that The Times had leaked before the recent budget that the Tories would be breaking a manifesto promise by raising National Insurance for the self employed but this was not written into Jeremy's speech on budget day and was a lost opportunity to attack the Tories.

The forum ended on what I thought to be a positive and constructive note. The Labour movement family is like all families. At times fractious and argumentative, with all sides convinced they are right and have been wronged but we must all put this aside since we share a common enemy and a common solution. The Tories are our enemy and our common goal is the election of a Labour Government. If we unite, it is still possible and we can still do it.

Friday, March 17, 2017

West Ham Labour Campaigning tomorrow - Keir Hardie Methodist Church & Stratford

Picture from last weekend's post canvass coffee with Lyn Brown MP. There is also a canvass in Forest Gate North on Wednesday evening 22 March. 

"Sorry for short notice but below are our canvassing sessions for this weekend. All members very welcome to come along and help us talk to residents - don't worry if you've not come before - someone will help you.

Saturday 18 March
  • 11am Kier Hardie Methodist Church, 14 Plymouth Road, E16 1QB 
  • 11.30am outside Sainsburys, corner Romford/Carnarvon Rd, E15 4JF
Sunday 19 March
  • 11am Kier Hardie Methodist Church, 14 Plymouth Road, E16 1QB
  • 11.30am corner Romford Rd/Water Lane, E15 4LU
And don't forget our Fundraising Dinner with Brexit speaker - Keir Starmer MP
When: 7pm for 7.30pm, Thursday 30 March
Where: East London Rugby Club, 71 Holland Road, E15 3BP (5 min walk from West Ham stn)
Tickets: £25 per person (friends/partners very welcome). Please get your ticket via PayPal (to send us money use email address westhamlabour@gmail.com and remember to add the names of who the ticket(s) are for in the notes and any other info). 
Best wishes
Julianne

Julianne Marriott
Vice Chair West Ham Labour Party (campaigns and comms)"
westhamlabour@gmail.com  @westhamlabour  f westhamlabour  w westhamlabour.org

Thursday, March 16, 2017

STRONGERUNISON - NEC elections 3 April - 28 April 2017

Reminder that UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) Elections are due to start soon. Ballot papers should be sent out on 3 April.

I am going to vote for UNISON members who support the combined left & centre left STRONGERUNISON slate of candidates.

I am also standing for re-election as one of the two UNISON Community NEC members (Housing Associations and voluntary organisations).

Will post further information later.  

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Newham mayor ‘trigger ballot’: GMB union says it followed the rules as it affiliates more branches locally

Check out former Guardian journalist, Dave Hill's website "OnLondon" about the latest twist in the Newham Mayoral Trigger saga. Leaving aside this important issue for the moment, what is happening with excessive trade union affiliation to local Labour Party's is a national issue which in my view threatens to completely destroy members democracy in the Party.

For whatever reason the GMB has recently decided to affiliate 26 branches to West Ham Labour Party. I understand that a similar number of GMB branches was also affiliated to East Ham.

What this will mean that it will be pointless for any local Labour Party wards or Branch to vote in future MP or other Trigger ballots since they will be completely outvoted. In West Ham there is only 10 branches. They will be completely swamped by the 26 GMB branches or maybe Unite or another union might affiliate say 50 branches? It only costs £6 for a trade union to affiliate each branch.

Also, it will be a complete waste of time in most Local Labour Parties for its members to turn up to its Annual General Meetings since they will be outvoted by trade union affiliates. This happened recently in the East Ham Labour Party AGM, when all positions and nominations were decided purely by GMB delegates.

I am strongly in favour of trade unions being involved in the Party but this makes us look at best ridiculous. The Labour Party is already in a mess and unless this issue is sorted it could even finish it off and destroy us.

This is a Labour Party issue and the party needs to urgently review its rules on affiliations.

"A London GMB official has explained why he believes his union followed correct procedures in the Labour Party process that led to the selection of Sir Robin Wales to seek a fifth term as Newham Mayor but which 47 party members in the borough have claimed contained many “procedural irregularities” that “made a material difference to the result”.

Gary Doolan, a GMB political officer, says his union was fully entitled to its four votes in the affirmative nomination or “trigger ballot” process, all of which backed Sir Robin going forward unopposed as Labour’s mayoral candidate for 2018, and that he suspects the challenge to it is largely the product of “old political battles” and “twitchiness” arising from local political circumstances. Sir Robin won the ballot, conducted between 25 October and 4 December last year, by 20 votes to 17.

In a sometimes strongly-worded letter sent to Labour’s governing national executive committee (NEC) in January, the 47 complainants listed three alleged “major failings” in in process, including the fact that some affiliated unions, the GMB among them, cast votes for each of their branches affiliated to Labour locally while others cast only a single vote no matter how many of their branches had affiliated.

They stated that “it is not our purpose, in general, to question the internal affairs of affiliates” but asserted: “It cannot be right that the NEC accepts this stark variation in practice within the franchise of the process,” which they attributed to “a different interpretation of the rules” brought about by “unclear” procedural guidance. The NEC declined their request for an inquiry to be held into the running of the process and some votes to be declared void or held in abeyance pending its outcome.

Doolan said his union correctly followed its own rules relating to all trigger ballot processes, which sitting MPs too must undergo. These include votes to which branches of the union become entitled when they affiliate to Labour CLPs being cast on their behalf by the London region rather than by the individual branches themselves.

Another locally-affiliated organisation, Newham Fabians, have been informed by the Fabians at national level that their procedure for deciding how to vote in the ballot breached the society’s own rules. The union Bectu, which had a branch affiliated in Newham at the time of the ballot (but which has since disaffiliated from Labour altogether), has said that no affiliation fee was paid in 2016.

Both Newham Fabians and the Bectu branch voted “yes” to Sir Robin going forward automatically. It is understood that the 47 complainants, who are drawn from both of Newham’s CLPs, West Ham and East Ham, are awaiting legal advice before deciding on their next move.

In January, the GMB increased the number of its London branches affiliated to Labour in Newham by more than 20 as part of what Doolan says is a new political strategy for increasing working class participation in grassroots politics across the capital and wholly unconnected to the dispute over the trigger ballot process. He wrote to West Ham CLP in mid-January listing 26 branches that wished to affiliate to it, enclosing a cheque for £156 to cover the required fees.

Many of the 26 branches are in workplaces outside Newham, including Barking, Bromley, Hendon, Woodford and the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, but Labour Party rules permit branches to affiliate to CLPs if a member of it is also party member who is “resident or registered as an elector within the constituency”.

The trigger ballot process allowed each of Labour’s 20 wards in Newham a single vote and 17 in all for affiliates. Two others unions cast more than one vote and four cast only one. Of the 20 wards, 9 voted “yes”to Sir Robin going forward automatically with 11 preferring the alternative, an open selection battle in which other hopefuls could have contested him for the nomination. The affiliates, comprising unions and other organisations, voted “yes” by 11 to 6.

The complainants’ letter to the NEC argued that “if trade union affiliates are allowed more than one vote, it presents a situation where trade union affiliates are able to affiliate as many branches as they want to any CLP, thereby completely out-voting party branches and the democratic expression of branch members’ wishes”.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"Newham Co-op continued"

An excellent account of the meeting last week by James Beckles. There is another more pointed post here by another Newham Co-op member. You can click to a link to my post on the rerun AGM 2016.

"On Wednesday 8th March Newham Cooperative Party welcomed Claire McCarthy our General Secretary.

It’s not everyday members of the Cooperative Party or any party for that matter with the sight of a General Secretary checking membership details at the door. But that’s the beauty of the Co-op movement and the state of play of Newham.

After members had been signed in everyone took their seats. There was some tension in the air as you would expect from the last heated meeting. But chaired by a London region representative the meeting kicked off. There were some noticeable absences including the Chair of Newham branch, Lester Hudson, who we were told was attending an awards ceremony. Nonetheless the meeting began.

The positions not filled at the last meeting were up for contention. These included Secretary, Treasurer, Membership Officer, Assistant Secretary and the New position of Events/Social Secretary. All candidates had to submit prior to the meeting a 100 word statement for the position they were standing for and it was good to read supporting statements and what candidates would do if elected.

There was a point of order or clarification raised whether candidates who were nominated would be on the ballot. The representative from London region was clear that all Newham Co-op members were afforded the opportunity to stand for a position as long as they submitted a statement.

Onto the vote for Secretary, Gill Hay vs. Neil Wilson. A tense ballot and count and Gill was victorious. The Treasurer was next, as there was only one candidate, Averil Donohue who is current Treasurer, they were duly elected.

Membership Officer again had only one candidate, Alan Griffiths, he was duly elected. Assistant Secretary, currently John Gray, was elected as the sole candidate.

Then came the exciting part. The positions no-one submitted statements for. These included the new post of Events/Social Secretary and the Auditors (x2).

The candidates for Events/Social Secretary were Sugathan and Neil Wilson. Both spoke on the spot and gave good reasons why they should be elected. The ballots were distributed and counted. The winner we Neil Wilson.

Finally the heralded positions of Auditors. This I where I dear reader come in. I was nominated by four fellow cooperators and I was duly elected. Thank you!

The second Auditor elected was Conor McCauley and much desired.

Finally the highlight of the evening was the speech by Claire McCarthy. In consistent Newham fashion those who were there solely to vote left and those I assume who were generally interested in hearing from our General Secretary stayed.

Claire gave a clear and impassioned speech about co-op values, ethical politics, supporting Labour councillors who wanted to stand as Labour/Co-op councillors (which I think would be advantageous and I may consider it) and continuing to build a cooperative and mutual based society in Newham and beyond.

Overall the evening was well ordered and considering the positions up for grabs it was good natured. Perhaps having Co-op HQ present officiating made certain potential offenders behave on the night. But we do need more meetings like these where it’s about speakers, debates about policy and positions, development of co-op values at a local level that is inclusive and supportive of Newham’s communities.

Again I sign off by saying I look forward to the next Newham Co-operative Party meeting and hope I will be able to attend."

(hat tip to James for one of the pictures in collage and to Tower Hamlets Co-op for stealing their logo and amending it)

Monday, March 13, 2017

UNISON Community Conference 2017: Day 2 (& many thanks to Kevin)

Collage from last week's day 2 National UNISON Community Conference in Bournemouth. Check out first 24 hours here.

Steve Reed MP gave the keynote speech for the seminar and took no prisoners from those who said in the Q&A that it was possible for Councils to pass "legal no cuts" budgets.

I gave a presentation at workshops on "Democratising Housing Associations" with my London Regional Officer, Colin Inniss.

Our long serving Chair of our Community Service Group, Kevin Jackson, (top left)  announced that he will be stepping down this year. He told me that he will be expecting a blog post on this since I did one for his predecessor! Kevin has been a fantastic Chair and will be hard to replace.

Both of my UNISON branch motions were passed. I spoke on the one regarding Housing Associations on behalf of the SGE. A number of branch members spoke on a number of different motions.

There were many fine speeches but I remember the most the personal contributions from a number of delegates, who were from Eastern Europe and were obviously very concerned about their future in the UK following Brexit. They were all care and support workers. How disgraceful that they fear for their future, when they provide so much desperately needed care for our elderly, sick and vulnerable.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

International Workers Memorial Day 28 April 2017

Need to sort out and organise our Branch event for this year. 

Newham Radical SwimBikeRun Triathlon Club - a start

Off message but back from gentle jog around Wanstead Flats & Park, Epping Forest. I restarted cycling into work last week. A group of West Ham Councillors and Party members have been "volunteered" into a FaceBook "Radical SwimBikeRun Triathlon club".

We were talking of the "Cotswold Triathlon" in September 2017 but things have gone strangely, very quiet...

#Sportrate for BB
Distance: 5.11miles
Max Pace: 1.19min/mi
Avg Pace: 12min/mi
Avg Speed: 5mph
Calories burned: 870.0kcal
Time: 61.4min

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Brexit Fundraising Dinner - Keir Starmer MP 30 March 2017

Canvassing this Saturday 11 March:
1) Join Lyn Brown 11am Stubbs Point, New Barn Rd, E13 8JL (contact Rohit)
2) 11.30am, Custom House Library, Prince Regents Ln, E16 3JJ (contact Rokhsana)

Our Brexit Fundraising Dinner ~ Thursday 30th March (early bird price £20 till Sunday midnight)
Join Lyn Brown MP, Shadow Minister (Home Office) and West Ham CLP for a fantastic fundraising Brexit Dinner with our special guest speaker Keir Starmer MP - Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU.
Keir will provide a fascinating insight into Labour’s response to the referendum vote and triggering of Article 50, work to protect hard won rights and the importance of ensuring a proper democratic grip and accountability of the entire process.
As well as great company and conversation there will be great cuisine with Britain's favourite dish ~ curry. We'll be serving three courses (with vegetarian options) with drinks available from the cash bar and an auction and raffle with some fantastic prizes - so please bring your pound sterling (Euros not accepted!) to raise money for West Ham CLP. 
Ticket price: Buy now for £20 per person (until Sunday 12 March midnight and then £25) (friends/partners very welcome). Please get your ticket via PayPal* (and remember to add the names of who the ticket(s) are for in the notes and any other info)
When: 7pm for 7.30pm, Thursday 30 March
Where: East London Rugby Club, 71 Holland Road, E15 3BP (5 min walk from West Ham stn)
We look forward to seeing you on the 30th!
*PayPal - If you don't have a PayPal account (but it does only take 2 mins to get one) please email us and we'll sort it out with you.
Look forward to seeing you at something soon. And please get in touch if you'd like any more information.

Best wishes
Charlene

Charlene McLean
Chair West Ham CLP

westhamlabour@gmail.com  @westhamlabour  f westhamlabour  w westhamlabour.org

Thursday, March 09, 2017

UNISON Housing Association Branch AGM - 21 March 2017 UNISON Centre. Keynote speaker Tom Copley AM

Looking forward to my Branch AGM on the 21st March. Our keynote speaker will be Tom Copley AM. We are holding the AGM at the UNISON Centre (our national headquarters) in Euston Road during lunchtime and also the evening to maximise attendance. 

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

West Ham Women’s Forum Councillor Training and AGM

Hat tip West Ham Labour blog on Women's International Day.

"On Monday, West Ham women gathered to boost the sisterhood for the 2018 local government elections.

It was so wonderful to see a group of women from all walks of life dedicated to making West Ham better.

Despite Monday being match day, the West Ham Labour HQ was full of bright, bubbly and brave women who brought snacks and heaters for the evening.

The training and AGM was hosted by the amazing Councillor Seyi Imoleayo Akiwowo, who chaired the discussions and helped us understand what being a Local Councillor really meant. 

We were asked what we wanted to improve in Newham and why we should stand. Councillors from all over Newham (including Cllr Charlene Mclean, Cllr Rachel Tripp, Cllr Rokhsana Fiaz, Cllr Veronica Oakeshott, Cllr Aleen Alarice, Cllr Anne Easter and Cllr Julianne Marriott) all gave inspiring talks about their day to day work and getting through the selection process.

The network was really welcoming and supportive. The group was full of positive strong women who are focused on making a difference. If we learnt one thing it is that people are really passionate about parking, especially on Match day!

After the training Seyi chaired the AGM. As Seyi is stepping down from being Chair of West Ham Women’s Forum, the new team would like to thank her for all of her hard work. We look forward to picking up where she left off, and we hope to do a great job in the next year.
The new team is:

Vice Chair – Nareser Osei
Secretary – Genevieve Kitchen
Treasurer – Khadiza Naseem
Campaigns Fundraiser and Branch Organiser – Cllr Veronica Oakeshott
GC Delegates – Rachel Tripp and Jane Lofthouse
EC Delegate – Cllr Rachel Tripp

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

OPINION: Community Links life-president Kevin Jenkins wonders how Newham can maintain services on a council tax freeze

This article was in last weeks local Newspaper, the "Newham Recorder". I have had no contact with Kevin about this but it would appear that this highly respected former senior Councillor shares some of my my concerns about the recent budget. 

"Once again the Mayor of Newham is recommending to Newham Council a budget which includes no increase in the Newham element of council tax - for the ninth year running, no additional precept for social care and saving of £80.08 million without cutting frontline services. I’m sure such a budget will be very popular with the electorates.
Probably much less popular will be my view, that perhaps the freeze on the council tax and not taking the opportunity to raise additional resources for social care is one freeze and one missed opportunity too many. I am conscious that I do not have view of the detailed data that the mayor and council have, my instincts are based on a combination of the data I can see, my year round observations and personal experiences. My key concerns
are:
1. Although this year’s budget proposals may retain the current frontline services, these frontline services are a lot less than they were three, four or five years ago, for example, there are a lot less youth clubs, holiday playschemes, advice services, more erratic street sweeping in residential roads, poorer quality and less used parks etc.
Similarly, although a frontline service is still there, if the essential criteria required to access the services is raised, fewer people will benefit from the services even though they are still there. More worryingly, over a period of time, services that were originally preventative become reactive due to the ever increasing access criteria, meaning that problems and issues are dealt with when they are much more deep rooted and much harder to resolve, costing more money to do than they would have done at a much earlier stage.
2. It’s always easier and more popular to cut the back office, however, the frontline services do need back office support. I fear that the back office services in Newham are creaking and may not be able to continue supporting the frontline due to the continuous cuts they are enduring.
3. Although the restructuring on the repayments of the council’s debt is welcome, the actual overall level of council debt (and growing) is concerning, especially in the medium to long term.
4. The most concerning, is the failure to take the opportunity of raising additional funds for social care. The level of real genuine need in Newham far outstrips the services available, which no restructuring or new ways of doing things will cure. These services which effect the most vulnerable in the borough need additional resources to deliver the quality of care that the people need and deserve.
Although I applaud the efforts of the Mayor and council to balance the books, there does come a time when you need to increase the pot rather than rearranging inadequate resources within the pot".

Monday, March 06, 2017

STRONGERUNISON - NEC Election 2017 - Regional Seats

Recommendations for Regional UNISON NEC seats. Mitsy and I were handing out leaflets on Saturday to UNISON Community Conference delegates. I think this is a fantastic slate and hope that UNISON members in England and Wales support these candidates.

Check out nominations for National Seats here

Newham ditches LOBOs pledging £94m in savings

This has been one of the most popular stories on the Local Government finance website Room 151 recently. By Colin Marrs. LOBOS is the Spanish name for wolf. 
"Newham Council has agreed a deal with Barclays to switch almost half of its Lender Option Borrower Option (LOBO) loans into fixed rate loans.
The council — which had the biggest LOBO portfolio of any council in the UK — has come under intense pressure from campaigners and featured prominently in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme last year which sought to highlight the cost of LOBOs to the public purse.
Room151 understands the council has now fixed the rate on £248m of its £563m portfolio, following lengthy negotiations between senior officials at the council and the bank.
Lester Hudson, cabinet member for finance, and commercial opportunities, said: “We took out these types of LOBOs as they represented the best deal for the council at the time and (they) have saved us millions of pounds in interest payments.
“They were part of our balanced and award winning strategy which includes a balanced approach to risk.
“As a council, and in line with good stewardship, we are always working to reduce the cost of our borrowing. We have taken independent legal and financial advice on this agreement and it is now the right time for us to restructure these loans.”
In a statement, Newham said it would save £94m in interest payments that it would otherwise have paid on the LOBOs over their remaining life.
This figure was reached by multiplying the current annual interest payments by 60 years — the average term length of the loans.
However, when approached by Room151, the council was unable to confirm the rate agreed on the new loan.
Last year, Barclays announced it would waive its lender option on its £5bn LOBO loan book with local authorities and reduce break costs. It is unclear whether the deal announced by Newham differs from the details in that announcement.
In Newham’s 2015/16 annual accounts, the fair value of the council’s LOBO portfolio was recorded as £1.3bn.
Newham councillor John Gray, who has been critical of the LOBO programme, welcomed the authority’s announcement.
He said: “Previously, the LOBOs skewed the council investment strategy because the council has to have bags of reserves available at each of the options dates.
“We had to have all this money on deposit, in case the bank decided to exercise its option to request a rise in the rate we pay.”
But he added that the “devil will be in the detail”, and questioned whether the renegotiated loans include “inverse” LOBOs, on which the council currently pays its highest rates.
Gray said: “We are asking councillors for further information but I suspect they will try to use commercial confidentiality to prevent us finding out more.”
Newham council said that the new deal would improve its credit position, reducing the cost of future borrowing.
“Moreover, it will further stabilise the council’s future debt costs helping to safeguard council tax from future increases and protecting council services,” it added"

Saturday, March 04, 2017

"New Tory White Paper - Putting Jobs & Residents at Risk". Emergency motion to UNISON Community Conference 2017

On 7 February 2017 the Government issued a white paper on the future of housing in England. The paper had been trailed beforehand as being the blueprint to fix the housing crisis and “as having affordability at its heart”.

The actual white paper has been dismissed by many commentators as being a “missed opportunity”. Labour’s housing spokesman, John Healey MP, condemned the white paper as “feeble beyond belief”. This Community conference believes that the White paper will fail to fix the broken housing market especially, with regard to genuine affordability. However, the white paper worries many of our members who work for Housing Associations and voluntary organisations on the new proposed benefit caps for sheltered homes and projects.

As reported in 24Housing “Employers Anchor, Hanover, and Housing & Care 21 warn the proposals could lead to up to £64million annual shortfall across their services. Mencap, too, has raised concerns that the proposals risk a housing crisis for people with a learning disability”.

Our Members fear that the new lower “benefit caps”:-

1. Will result in increased rent arrears for vulnerable residents in Housing associations and Voluntary sector residential schemes and projects.

2. This cut in rental income from benefit caps would result in further downward pressure on jobs, workloads, pay and other terms and conditions of our members.

3. They could even result in the closure of schemes leaving vulnerable residents without suitable accommodation and our members losing their jobs .

4. Will make building new schemes uneconomical.

This community conference:-

1. Calls on the Service Group Executive to circulate the white paper to all branches with community members with a briefing note on the threat of benefit caps and other relevant issues.

2. Encourage Community branches (together with employers and Tenant Resident groups if possible) to make formal submissions on the White Paper which closes 2 May 2017.

3. Call on UNISON Labour Link to encourage the Labour Party, Labour MPs, Councillors and Assembly members to press for the protection and survival of our sheltered housing and residential projects.

UNISON Greater London Housing Association Branch