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21 Sept 2017

Unite announces Capita strike over pensions

Capita Press Release

21 September 2017

On the day that Capita has announced its half year results (Thursday 21 September)  Unite, the union representing staff at Capita, has said that staff have voted ‘Yes’ in a strike ballot and will be taking part in industrial action. Capita is attempting to close the current defined benefit scheme and transfer staff to a defined contribution scheme.

Staff at Capita have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action in a ballot calling on their employer to give them a decent pension. In the industrial action ballot 95 per cent of members voted for strike action, on a turnout of 72 per cent.

Photo from last year's action about pay in Reading.

Unite has now informed Capita that Unite members will be taking six continuous days of strike action starting on Thursday 5 October 2017. Unite conducted an industrial action ballot following the proposal to close the current defined benefit scheme. In June Capita informed its employees of significant changes to the pension arrangements. Staff in the scheme will suffer a massive cut in their retirement income as a result of the proposals.

Dominic Hook, Unite national officer, said: “The disgraceful plans by Capita to slash the deferred pay that staff will get in retirement is utterly unacceptable. Capita’s pension proposals will have far reaching consequences for the retirement of many Unite members. Some staff will lose a shocking 70 per cent of their retirement income.

“Capita has once again put the interests of shareholders before those of its staff. Unite members want to know how a highly profitable company such as Capita can undermine the morale and loyalty of hard working staff by proposing to remove their defined benefit pension whilst at the same time paying off a failing chief executive. There is no justification for highly profitable Capita to treat its workforce in this manner. The extremely high vote in favour of strike action shows how strongly members feel about this.

“Capita must urgently rethink these pensions proposals in order to prevent industrial action.”
The union is calling on the companies which outsource contracts to Capita to intervene to settle this betrayal of staff facing the loss of a significant proportion of their retirement income.

At the same time Capita’s former CEO Andy Parker has left early, with a reported pay off of 12 months’ salary for his notice period (£600,000), as well as £45,000 as compensation for pension and other benefits. He could also receive a bonus of double his salary for each day worked in 2017 if approved by the board.

If Capita implements this proposal, then Unite has a real concern that it will open the door to further attacks on the other company pension arrangements. The Capita sites where Unite members are impacted are: Birmingham (two locations); Reading; Bristol; Manchester; Stirling; and Belfast.
Unite members who are affected are employed by Capita Life & Pensions Regulated Services Ltd, there are also some employed in Capita IT Services Ltd.  The following Capita contracts will be affected: Prudential; Royal London CIS; Phoenix / Royal London (Birmingham); Friends Life; Specialist Services (all sites); IT Programmes /projects (all sites)

There are also some employed in Capita IT Services Ltd and Capita Employee Benefits


For further information contact Saba Edwards on: 07768 693 953.

Notes to editors:
Case study 1: 60 year old aims to retire at 65 (normal retirement date) - Their salary is £25k and they currently pay 3% into the scheme. If they remain in the current scheme, their pension earned in those final 5 years is around £2k per year. If they are moved to the new scheme, and continue to pay 3%, then their pension earned in those final 5 years is projected to be around £350 per year. This is a loss of around £1,650 per year. If they are in retirement for 20 years, a total loss of about £33k.

Case study 2: 35 year old the employee is currently paying 7% into the scheme - The projected pension from this, were they to remain a member until retirement, would be around £22k pa. On being moved to the new proposed scheme, and paying 6% until retirement, their projected income is around £7k. Along with a deferred pension of around £4k, their total pension is now around £11k – roughly halved. If this colleague is in retirement for 20 years, they will lose a total of almost £220K.
  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.

20 Sept 2017

School funding cuts shouldn't deny children a full and varied education

School funding is being cut - there's little doubt about that.  Funding changes and increased costs mean schools in Reading have less money with which to provide your children with an education. The newly formed National Education Union have said:

Since 2015, schools in England have had their funding per pupil frozen while inflation and other costs rise, leading to an effective £2.8 billion real-terms cut.

Campaigning with the National Union of Teachers in October last year for investment in education, not cuts.
Talking to parents and teachers in Reading it's clear that these cuts are having a significant impact on schools.  Some departments are having their funding slashed.  I was talking to some art teachers last week who are struggling to buy supplies because there's little budget for them.

I know schools are reducing the number of teaching assistants they employ to save money.  This is denying children who require support, but do not have an Education, Health and Care plan, the help they need to thrive.

There is a Reading secondary school that has apparently cancelled work experience because they can't afford it!

How can we forget there is a school in Reading which wrote to parents asking for money to plug its funding gap?

Parents are being asked to pay for more and more of the activities that would have been covered by the school in previous years and this is while parents are facing their own budget struggles.  How long is this sustainable?  Will we see trips, cultural experiences and extra-curricular activities  disappear?  Will the curriculum be limited to only classroom based learning?

Each of these cuts is impacting on education.  Each extra activity that parents have to pay for is putting pressure on household budgets.  Each subject lost through budget cuts is a lost opportunity for our children to receive a full and varied education.

The Conservative government must review the way it's funding schools before our children are priced out of a full and varied education.

As Angela Rayner MP, Shadow Education secretary, said on a recent visit to Reading "It should be on the ability of the child to learn, not on the ability of the child's parents to pay."

From www.labour.org.uk/education

13 Sept 2017

Lifting the public sector pay cap - just not good enough!

So Ministers will now have the opportunity to allow pay awards to public sector workers above the 1% pay cap currently in place.  Police officers will get a 1% pay rise and 1% unconsolidated 'bonus', which is a one off payment which is not carried forward into next years pay.  Prison officers get 1.7%.  What about the rest? Nurses, doctors, teachers, firefighters, civil servants and council staff?

Public sector pay rises have been way below inflation since 2010.  Any pay rise below inflation is effectively a pay cut - your wages are not keeping pace with the cost of living and your 'buying power' reduces meaning your money has to stretch further and further.

From Jereny Corbyn's Facebook page

This is not sustainable nor is it fair.  The lifting of the cap does nothing to address the fact public sector wages have fallen behind inflation year after year.  It does nothing to address the fact we now have nurses using food banks.  It does nothing to address falling living standards while food, rent, utility bills and fuel costs go up.

It is expected the paltry pay rises will come from existing budgets so where will the money be moved from?  What cuts will we see to fund these pay rises?They should be funded by a government that appreciates its workers.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said at TUC conference in Brighton "A pay cut is a pay cut. We must be united in breaking the pay cap for all workers."

I am a trade unionist and you have my support. Public or private sector, we workers deserve decent pay!

At the March for the NHS earlier this year with mu union, Unite.

12 Sept 2017

Swept Away By The Reading-On-Thames Festival

The Reading-on-Thames festival has reached its half-way point and, so far, it's been a joy.  I was at the launch of the festival on Friday.  We were treated to sea shanties and Ma Bessie as we sailed along the Thames.  A few of us caught a glimpse of a kingfisher as it darted along the bank and we were  all reminded how lucky we are to have such beautiful water-ways in our town.

Tonight I was at another launch.  This time I opened the Rivers of the World exhibition at the Weller Centre in Caversham*. Greater Reading Schools took part in an art-based learning project alongside schools around the world.  Reading schools were paired with schools in Nepal - a very apt pairing considering our large Nepalese community in Reading.

All the pictures were excellent but also varied.  The themes were interesting, thought provoking and, in some cases, biscuity.  I cannot recommend the exhibition more highly.  It's open until 17 September 9-5 daily.  Here are a few on my highlights:

Art works by The Wren, The Bulmershe Scool and Maiden Erlegh School
There's still loads to see.  I'm really looking forward to Reading's Royal Burial by Reading Between the Lines (Friday evening at The Oracle) and Rivers Stories by Walk the Plank (Saturday evening at Caversham Court Gardens).  Head to www.readingplaceofculture.org/reading-on-thames-festival/
to the treats in store for the rest of the week.

*It's not made it to Google maps yet so search for Amersham Road Youth & Community Centre.

6 Sept 2017

Zero Waste Week - Make A Change

This week it's Zero Waste Week - a week that focuses on reducing landfill waste.  Waste that goes to landfill doesn't just disappear.  This waste is dumped in holes in the ground which are eventually covered and it then very slowly decomposes.  When I say very slowly I mean some of it takes hundreds of years to decompose.  If Henry VIII wore disposable nappies they'd still be out there somewhere, waiting for some poor archaeologist to dig up (not sure they would be museum worthy).

The by-products of this decomposition are not pleasant.  If you pop to the car park of the Madjeski Stadium you'll see methane vents dotted about allowing methane, a greenhouse gas, to be released from the rotting landfill below.  In 2011 methane from landfill accounted for 3.1% of greenhouse gases emitted in the UK.

Liquids can seep from the rotting waste polluting water courses far below the ground. 2,946 landfill sites are on flood planes and, with climate change likely to bring more intense rain and flood events, they are in danger of being flooded and releasing their toxic waste.

Each one of us can do a few simple things to reduce the amount of waste we send to landfill.  I know life is busy and stressful but if we all made just one or two changes we could make an impact on the amount of waste we're packing away in landfill.

Here are a few things I do or have done:

Cloth Nappies

I used cloth nappies on both my boys.  If cloth nappies are used, and washed on low temperatures, they can be up to 40% better for the environment than disposables nappies.  You will also dramatically reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfill, you won't have bins filled with poopy nappies and they can be better for baby's skin.  If you use them on the next baby you'll help the environment even more and save hundreds of pounds.

The beautiful sight of a line of fresh, clean nappies

Reusable Sanitary Protection

*Squeamish topic alert*.  Sanitary protection is another thing we buy, use once, then send to landfill.  Sadly landfill is not the only place it goes.  In 2013 the Marine Conservation Society held a beach clean across 96.7km of UK coast-line. They collected 428 tampons and tampon applicators per 4.4km and 1291 sanitary pads, panty liners and backing strips per 13.3km.  There many modern reusable alternatives.  I prefer a menstrual cup (most of my friends who've tried one wish they'd switched sooner) which can last for many years.  There are also washable sanitary pads which are a far cry from what was on offer 100 years ago.  Here's some helpful info on menstrual cups from Juno Magazine.

Meal Planning

I'll put my hands up.  I used to be terrible at portion control and often bought food that didn't get used.  I became a reformed character about 10 years ago.  Now I meal plan every week.  I only buy what I need and, thanks to an awesome measuring cup I bought from Tiger, my portion sizes are perfect.  I've heard many calls for Reading Borough Council to collect food waste.  In my opinion it's far more important not to create the waste in the first place.  If you cook food that's not used your wasting all the energy it took to produce, transport and cook that food!  Got leftovers?  Freeze them or have them another day in another meal.


Just recycle everything you can.  My red bin is often more full than my grey bin and I have been seen jumping up and down in it to make more space.  We collect and recycle all our glass and, once my children have finished with toys, book and clothes, they head off to charity to be used again (and raise funds in the process - usually Age UK at the moment).

Move away from single use products 

When my boys were babies we bought what felt like hundreds of muslin cloths.  We still have them now and use them to mop up spills, wipe faces, as impromptu napkins when eating spaghetti and even to make blackberry jelly!  We've saved loads of kitchen roll by just using our muslin cloths.

Make a change today!

4 Sept 2017

Proud of Pride And Proud Of Our Town #LoveUnites #PrideinYou

Saturday saw the 14th Reading Pride and it was the biggest ever!  The parade saw 1,500 people march through Reading and 14,000 people passed through the gates of the Pride arena.  It was a fantastic day.  The sun shined and the people of Reading came together to show love unites!  I was a very proud Patron of Reading pride that afternoon.

The brilliant Pride crowd
 Reading Labour were out in force.  We proudly marched in the parade then spent the afternoon sharing our LGBT+ manifesto, very popular balloons and collecting signatures for our #DitchtheDUP campaign which you can support here.

The awesome Reading Labour team and Mayor of Reading Rose Williams.

We also had lots of fun with our Reading LGBT Labour picture frame.  People couldn't wait to have a photo.  You can see a selection on our Reading Labour Facebook page here.

Unite Regoinal Equalities officer Janet Henney and my friend, and senior rep at my workplace, Jan Bastable.

I would like to publicly thank my union, Unite, for being the main sponsor of this event.  My fellow reps, and friends, did an outstanding job on the Unite the Union stall sharing the benefits or union membership and campaigning against the abuse, torture and killing of gay men in Chechnya.

Finally none of it would have been possible though without the outstanding Reading Pride committee and volunteers.  As Patron I've got to see the hard work that goes into putting on this free event - and not all prides are free to enter anymore!  They work all year round, not just in the run up to the event.  Please consider supporting Reading Pride all year round.  You can find out how here.

Please also take a moment to follow Reading Labour's new LGBT social media:

Facebook: @rdglgbtlabour
Twitter: @rdglgbtlabour
Instagram: @rdglgbtlabour