Saturday, 18 April 2015

North Lanarkshire Update

I wonder if the chief executive of North Lanarkshire Council is putting in a extra shift this weekend to help process the outstanding equal pay claims for thousands of council workers.

Because while the lowest paid NLC workers have been fighting for years to establish their basic right to equal pay, NLC's chief officials have been doing very well for themselves, it has to be said.

As regular readers know, during the twelve years from 2002-2014 while the battle for equal pay was underway, the salary of the council CEO (Gavin Whitefield) rose from £105, 777 to £147,973.29 - or by an eye watering £42,196.29.

Now this pay package was topped up by an unusual performance scheme (shared by other chief officials) which paid an annual bonus for 'good' performance.

Between 2002 and 2014 the scheme paid out over £2 million of taxpayers' money. 

So if you ask me it's entirely reasonable for all the people who are waiting patiently for their equal pay letters, to know for sure when this will happen. 

Because all the workforce is asking for is to be treated with some courtesy, respect  and consideration. 

'Fat Cats' and Cream (23/12/14)

I was intrigued by the comments from North Lanarkshire Council in response to this article in The Cumbernauld News & Kilsyth Chronicle which criticised council bosses over their big bonus payments.

Now I've studied North Lanarkshire's 'Performance Management Scheme' under which the bonus payments for 'good' performance have been paid to its senior officials since 2002/03 and as a former Secretary to the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) for Chief Officials in Scotland, I have to say I find a number of things very troubling.

First of all, the North Lanarkshire scheme for 'other' chief officials (30 or so) is built around a big pay rise for the Council's chief executive, whose salary increased from £105,777 to £119,480 on 1 April 2002,  as a result of a Scotland-wide review of chief executives' salaries.

So North Lanarkshire's chief executive received a pay rise of £13,703 - a 13% increase on his old salary, ironically on the original date (1 April 2002) when Scotland's 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement should have been implemented in full, thereby ending years of blatant pay discrimination against thousands of low paid women's jobs. 

Soon afterwards (30 May 2002), a report from the chief executive was submitted to the Council's Policy and Resources (Personnel) Sub-Committee which recommended new pay arrangements for the 'other' chief officers in North Lanarkshire Council.

The report recommended that other chief officers within the Council should be linked directly to the chief executive's new salary. For example, Council directors were to receive 80% of their CEO's pay taking their salaries from £86,973 to £95,394 (+ £8,421) on 1 April 2002.  

The report also contained a further uprating of salaries from 1 April 2003 (for reasons that are not immediately obvious) which further raised the CEO's salary from £119, 480 to £128,173 (+ £8,963) and directors' salaries from £95,394 to £103,008 (+ £7,614). 

So in the space of one year and a day North Lanarkshire's chief executive saw his salary increase from £105,777 to £128,173 - a pay rise of £22,396 or an eye watering 21.2%.

Council directors also benefited hugely from being tied to the financial coat tails of their CEO and during the same period their pay rose dramatically from ££86,973 to £103,008 - another whopping increase of £16,035 or 18.44% 

Yet, incredibly, the duties and responsibilities of the 'other' chief officers were never independently reviewed or assessed and of course these new, improved salaries were subject to further uprating as a result of annual 'cost of living' pay awards.

Meanwhile half of the combined 2002/03 pay increase for chief officers was subject to performance pay and in the case of Council directors, for example, 50% of £16,035 or £8,018 was subject to a performance review in April/May 2003 - with a performance bonus paid as a lump sum in June 2003.

The CEO's report to Policy and Resources set out total estimated costs of the exercise at £390,000 over two years, but as regular readers know the practice continued for 12 years and was finally abandoned in 2013/14 at a cost to the public purse of £2 million, although I suspect that figure does not include 'overheads' including higher pension payments which are normally set at 20% - so the final bill may be nearer £2.4 million.

A further point about NLC's Performance Management Scheme that troubles me is that I've never come across a scheme where performance pay is restricted to only a small part of someone's salary. That sounds contrived and highly artificial, if you ask me.    

The latest salary for North Lanarkshire's chief executive shows a figure of £136,578.03 plus performance-related pay of £11,395.26 = £147,973.29 - compared to the First Minister's salary of £140,847 for running the Scottish Government.

Clearly North Lanarkshire Council's chief officials did extremely well for themselves  throughout this long 12 year period.

But the evidence from the ongoing Employment Tribunal and the responses to my recent FoI requests suggests that while the Council's highest paid looked after their own interests really well, they failed miserably to protect the interests of thousands of low paid women - which is why so many of them are still fighting for equal pay today. 

What the Papers Say (11 December 2014)

The local papers in North Lanarkshire are beginning to turn the spotlight on the Council if this report from The Motherwell Times is anything to go by. 

Council bosses slammed over ‘bonus’ pay

Gavin Whitefield

Council bosses have been accused of awarding themselves £2m in bonuses while low-paid staff were being short-changed.

The council’s response to a Freedom of Information Act request shows that between 2003/04 and 2014/2015 senior officials were given just under £2m on top of their salaries.

In 2013/2014 Chief Executive Gavin Whitefield earned over £136,500 with an additional payment of £11,000 in performance related pay - totalling more than Prime Minister David Cameron’s £142,000 salary.

Mark Irvine, of Action4Equality Scotland which is pursuing pay claims on behalf of low-paid council workers, said: “2006/07 was a ‘bumper’ year with £223,509 being paid in bonuses despite the fact that this was the same year in which North Lanarkshire implemented new local pay arrangements reinforcing the historical pay discrimination against female dominated council jobs.

“2013/14 was the year in which the chickens finally came home to roost and the council’s defence of its actions began to fall apart at the Glasgow Employment Tribunal, yet still its chief officials were paid a whopping £191,932 in bonuses for ‘good’ performance.

“Now I happen to think that the practice of paying these bonuses is a highly questionable use of public money. Because in any well-run organisation the leadership figures are required to show ‘selflessness’ and integrity’, yet these additional payments continued to be made while the rest of the council’s workforce had to put up with a policy of public sector pay restraint.”

Mr Irvine is also reviewing other information from the council and has contacted First Minister Nicola Sturgeon about the pay practices at NLC.

However North Lanarkshire Council firmly denies that the monies being discussed are bonus payments.

A spokesman said: “To refer to the former performance related pay scheme as a bonus is simply wrong and any attempt to portray the scheme as a bonus is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. When this scheme was in operation, chief officers’ salaries were reduced at the start of the year with the opportunity to earn back the reduction based on specific and very challenging performance targets.

“Effectively this meant that chief officers had a reduction in salary compared to their peers in other local authorities. The scheme came to an end last year.”

As far as the equal pay issues go the council has already paid out £36m in settling more than 6,500 claims but is currently dealing with “second wave” applicants. There is currently a disagreement over the amount of interest that is payable on these settlements which is being discussed by a tribunal.

Trade unions have expressed anger at the length of time this process has been taking, and called for members to stage protests at councillors’ surgeries.

June Murray, the council’s Executive Director of Corporate Services, recently insisted that negotiations are still ongoing and advised against taking part in the boycott due to council representatives having no involvement in the talks.

Although councillors agreed to the opening of negotiations the actual talks are being led by lawyers. Councillors will be asked to agree on any proposed settlement.

Jim 'No Jobs' Murphy?

Image result for no jobs + images

The Times reports on the latest poll carried out by the maverick Conservative peer, Lord Ashcroft, which suggests that the Scottish Labour leader, Jim Murphy, will lose his formerly safe East Renfrewshire seat at the general election.

If so, the Labour leader will very quickly become 'no jobs' Murphy virtually overnight and the political establishment in Scotland will be rocked to its core. 

Murphy expected to lose his seat in SNP rout

Jim Murphy launched Scottish Labour’s manifesto in Glasgow yesterday Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

By Sam Coates, Lindsay McIntosh and Lucy Fisher - The Times

Jim Murphy, the Scottish Labour leader, is set to lose his seat in the election, polling showed yesterday as it was claimed that he consulted lawyers about clinging on to the leadership.

A poll by Lord Ashcroft, the Conservative commentator, suggests the SNP tsunami will also sweep away Douglas Alexander, the party’s national election co-ordinator, and Charles Kennedy, the former Liberal Democrat leader.

Mr Murphy secured 51 per cent of the vote in his East Renfrewshire constituency in 2010, with a majority of 10,420 and decided to fight again believing it gave Labour the strongest chance of retaining the seat.

Yesterday he was trailing the SNP by nine percentage points, down from just one point behind in January. Mr Alexander is behind by 11 points in Paisley and Renfrewshire South, while Mr Kennedy trails by 15 points in Ross, Skye and Lochaber.

Mr Murphy, who was elected Scottish Labour leader in December, is understood to have commissioned legal advice over whether he can remain in post if he loses his seat. His office denied the claim last night. However, The Times understands that his team were advised that the rules are silent on the issue and it is therefore for the party’s national executive committee to decide.

The need to commission such advice reflects growing pessimism about Labour in Scotland and a nervousness that opponents would come after him if he was not an MP.

The Ashcroft poll suggested that the SNP were on course to win 55 of the 59 seats in Scotland. A Scottish Labour spokesman conceded that: “There is no gloss that can be put on these polls.”

Publishing his election manifesto yesterday, Mr Murphy painted the SNP and other smaller parties as an irrelevance and said that only Ed Miliband could defeat David Cameron. Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, used the opposition leaders’ debate on Thursday to warn Mr Miliband that he would never be forgiven if he let the Conservatives back into Downing Street by refusing to do a deal with her party.

Mr Cameron seized on Mr Miliband’s failure to rule out some kind of post election co-operation. He tweeted: “Ed Miliband won’t rule out a vote-by-vote deal with the SNP so he can be PM. It would mean more borrowing and more taxes and you would pay.”

Mr Murphy said of an SNP deal: “I want to beat David Cameron at the ballot box, not [with] some shoddy back-room deal and there is only one way of doing that,” he said. “Nicola Sturgeon, Alex Salmond and all the others can huff and puff all they want but only Labour is big enough, and only Labour is strong enough, to beat the Tories.”

Today Mr Miliband will announce that the next government will establish a special Home Office enforcement unit with more than 100 staff to root out the illegal exploitation that undercuts wages and conditions for local workers.

The new unit will bring together teams from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and specialist police units with additional Home Office enforcement staff.

It will have powers to investigate abuse, and increase prosecutions and fines against bad employers and gangmasters who exploit workers.

Arrogant Tosser (16/04/15)

The Scottish Labour leader, Jim Murphy, has reacted badly to being thrown under the bus by his Labour colleagues in London after being put in his place over the need for future spending cuts.

In fact, Jim has lost the plot altogether if you ask me and is now on the defensive over the charge first raised by his predecessor, Johann Lamont, that Scottish Labour is treated like a branch office by Labour HQ in London.

Here's what Murphy had been saying to various newspapers to rebut the damaging 'branch office' allegation:     

“People can say that, but look ... the size of the budget is determined by the Labour party as a whole. How the money is spent in Scotland is a decision for the Scottish Labour party.

“When it comes to devolved policies on health and education, you’ll see in our manifesto later in the week just how we’ll spend this money. That’s a decision for the Scottish Labour party and no one else.”

But this is simply untrue, of course, because the decision on how public money is spent in Scotland is decided by the Scottish Parliament not by the Scottish Labour Party - and Jim Murphy is not even an MSP.

What an arrogant tosser.

'Three Jobs' Murphy (03/03/15)

Image result for horns of a dilemma + images

Just the other day Jim 'Two Jobs' Murphy confirmed his intention to stand in May's general election to the Westminster Parliament.

But now it seems that Jim might have to be accorded a new moniker of 'Three Jobs' Murphy as the Labour leader is refusing to confirm that he will have to resign his Eastwood seat if he wins in May 2015, but goes on to win a seat in the elections to the Scottish Parliament in 2016.

Now Jim has to stand and win a Holyrood seat in 2016 to fulfil his declared ambition of becoming Scotland's First Minister, but the Labour leader has a problem because he would be a member of the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments at the same time.

The obvious thing for Jim to do would have been to stand down from Westminster in May so that he could have concentrated on his biggest job at the moment which is trying to revive the Labour Party's fortunes north of the border. 

By not making this obvious and selfless move, Labour is signalling that without Jim's personal following the party may well lose its Eastwood seat which, arguably, is not natural Labour territory.

On the other hand if Jim says he is only going to stay on at Westminster for a year until he wins a seat and becomes a Holyrood MSP in 2016, the voters of Eastwood are hardly likely to be impressed by someone who, politically speaking, is 'here today and gone tomorrow'.   

So Jim is on the horns of a very Scottish dilemma although if you ask me he's made the worst possible choice because 'Three Jobs' Murphy sends out all the wrong messages and makes the Labour Party look like a bunch of hypocrites.

'Two Jobs' Murphy (28/02/15)

Image result for two jobs + images

Jim Murphy took on a new job and an mighty new challenge when became leader of the Scottish Labour Party back in December 2014 which was on top of his day job as a Westminster MP.

In the past few months Jim has put enormous effort in to turning Labour's fortunes around in Scotland, to little avail so far according to the opinion polls, but even his worst critic would have to agree that being the Scottish Labour leader requires a huge amount of time and commitment from the Eastwood MP.

In other words Jim is doing two jobs at the moment as a result of his new role and this has to be having an effect on his ability to operate at the same level as a Westminster MP, unless he's Superman of course.

So you would think that Jim would have stood down from his Westminster seat at the May general election to concentrate on his declared aim of becoming Scotland's First Minister which requires Jim to win a seat at the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.

Yet according to this report from the BBC Jim is going to hold on to his Westminster seat perhaps as a safety net in case he fails to win a Scottish Parliament seat in 2016 or maybe because Labour fears that a new Labour candidate in Eastwood would fail to win in May 2015.

Either way it's not a great advert for the Labour Party or Westminster particularly at a time when there's a big public debate underway about whether or not Westminster MPs should be allowed to operate on a full-time versus part-time basis. 

Jim Murphy will stand for Westminster seat

Jim Murphy replaced Johann Lamont as Scottish Labour leader

Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy has said he is the party's candidate for the East Renfrewshire constituency at the general election in May.

Mr Murphy, who is not an MSP, has already said he will be his party's candidate for first minister at the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016.

He has faced calls to clarify his position over the Westminster seat.

He said he wanted to "contribute to making sure the Tories are kept out of East Renfrewshire and Downing Street."

The current MP for East Renfrewshire was unanimously reselected by the party for the Westminster seat in November 2013.

However, following his appointment as Scottish Labour leader in December there has been speculation about whether he would stand.

'Good response'

Mr Murphy said: "As I have said many times before, I am the Labour candidate for East Renfrewshire against the Tories in May and Labour's candidate for first minister in 2016.

"We have had a really good response on the doorsteps in recent weeks.

"We need to do everything we can to stop the Tories being the largest party. I want to contribute to making sure the Tories are kept out of East Renfrewshire and Downing Street."

Mr Murphy was first elected to the seat in 1997 when the Eastwood constituency, as it was then known, had the largest Conservative majority in Scotland.

Conservative candidate for East Renfrewshire David Montgomery said: "The voters in East Renfrewshire deserve better than an MP who has already got one foot out of the door.

"We also know that, if elected, Mr Murphy won't be focused on representing the local interest of people here at Westminster."

Kirsten Oswald, the SNP candidate for East Renfrewshire, said: "Jim Murphy has a lot of explaining to do to the people of East Renfrewshire.

"When elected as leader he made it clear he was 'not attracted' to the idea of being an MP and an MSP at the same time - so would he intend only serving the people of East Renfrewshire for a year at Westminster if he gets elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2016?"

Dark Matters

Image result for dark matters + images

I enjoyed this article on the mysteries of the universe from The Independent although by the end of it I was still in the dark as to what the term 'dark matter' actually means, even with the help of an additional explainer paragraph at the end of the piece.

Now I get the point that the universe is not an empty 'void', as once thought, and that the dark space in which all the stars and planets while around is like a kind of cosmic treacle that interacts with everything else including light particles or photons, for example, which travel at 186,000 miles per second.

But beyond that it's all Dutch to me, so I am offering my services to the scientific community to helps explain what this all means, free of charge I hasten to add. 

'Dark matter' not as dark as first thought: Scientists find it interacts with forces other than just gravity

Hubble telescope enables first view of the cosmic entity 'interacting with itself'

By STEVE CONNOR - The Independent

Dark matter may not be so dark after all, after scientists witnessed the mysterious cosmic entity interacting with the universe around it an entirely new way.

Despite accounting for an estimated 85 per cent of matter in the Universe, dark matter has never been seen directly by any scientific instruments. Its existence has only been inferred by its gravitational effects.

But astronomers have now for the first time witnessed dark matter apparently “slowing down” after interaction with other dark matter - suggesting it is capable of engaging with a force other than gravity.

“We used to think that dark matter sits around, minding its own business. But if it slowed down during this collision, this could be the first dynamical evidence that dark matter notices the world around it,” said Richard Massey of Durham University. who led the research.

“Dark matter may not be completely ‘dark’ after all.”

Dark matter can only be detected indirectly by the way it bends the light of distant galaxies in a process known as gravitational lensing.

Exploiting this phenomenon, an international team of astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope took images of a massive simultaneous collision in deep space between four distant galaxies.

The researchers found that the dark matter associated with the colliding galaxies has become disconnected with this visible mass of colliding stars, suggesting that it has come under the influence of a force other than gravity, probably by interacting with itself.

“The observations show that dark matter has ended up in a different place to the stars in the galaxy it was associated with. It has become offset in some way, and that’s pretty unusual,” Dr Massey said.

“We’ve been trying to think of other things that would cause this offset and there’s nothing else we can think of that would have this effect other than dark matter interacting with itself. This is the first step in figuring out what dark matter is. To see it behaving in this way is the first positive thing we’ve seen dark matter do,” he added.

An earlier study published last month examined the behaviour of dark matter during 72 “high speed” collisions of clusters containing thousands of galaxies. This suggested very little or no interaction between dark matter.

The discovery was made via images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope (Nasa/Getty)
However, the latest study published this week in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society examined the relatively slower speed collision of just four galaxies in a cluster known as Abell 3827, which took place over hundreds of millions of years.

The different nature of this collision means that even a very low level of interaction can eventually create a detectable lag between the galaxy’s dark matter and its stars, which continued to collide, Dr Massey said.

Professor Liliya Williams of the University of Minnesota, a senior member of the team, said: “Our observation suggests that dark matter might be able to interact with more forces than just gravity. The parallel Universe going on around us has just got more interesting. The dark sector could contain rich physics and potentially complex behaviour.”

Calculations suggest that the clump of dark matter associated with cluster of four galaxies is offset in space by a distance of about 5,000 light years, equivalent to about 50,000 million million kilometres – a distance that would take Nasa Voyager spacecraft, the most distant man-made object, some 90 million years to travel.

“It sounds a long way but in cosmic terms it’s actually quite small. We were lucky to see it and it was only possible because of the power of the Hubble space telescope and the fact that one of the galaxies was perfectly aligned so that we could see the gravitational lensing effect,” Dr Massey said.

Explainer: What the historic picture above shows

The four galaxies in this cluster are involved in a massive collision taking place over a period of hundreds of millions of years. As the topmost of the four galaxies in the image begins to collide, it has left its dark matter trailing behind.

The dark matter in this image is invisible, but it can be detected by the way it bends the light of an even more distant galaxy, in a process known as gravitational lensing, which has left a distorted image seen here as an arc of blue light just to the right of the cluster.

The discovery that dark matters trails behind galaxies in this way suggests it is not perfectly ‘dark’ after all.