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As the Tories again attack the right to strike, remember how 1970s Britain beat the Anti-Union Laws

In the 70s, a law intended to hobble Britain’s trade unions was defeated with a wave of popular anger. Today, as the Tories again attack the right to strike, that history should be remembered.

…trade unionists were to have their fundamental right to strike controlled and curtailed. The Tories’ Industrial Relations Bill became law in 1971, establishing a National Industrial Relations Court (NIRC) with the power to call for ballots in key industries, recommend ‘cooling off’ periods to pause disputes, and the ability to fine trade unions for ‘unfair’ practices. The rights of the closed shop were severely curtailed, with a new emphasis placed on individual choice. On top of that, trade unions would be required to register with the new Register of Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations.

Opposition to this plan was decisive and swift….

To say workers are channelling the spirit of fifty years ago might be getting ahead of ourselves. But once more, a government is responding to an assertive trade union movement with an attempt to clamp down on the bodies that represent them—an attempt that this time might render the right to strike ineffective altogether. It’s up to us to make sure that once more, the fightback is more than they bargained for.

Read this article by Edda Nicolson on the struggle in the 1970s in this week’s Tribune at https://tribunemag.co.uk/2023/01/industrial-relations-act-1970s-trade-union-history-pentonville-five. Edda is a lecturer and specialist in trade union history at Wolverhampton University.

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SOS NHS DAY OF ACTION Saturday 28 Jan 11am – 1pm Waterstones, City Centre

KONP (Keep Our NHS Public) Birmingham are organising a stall and leafletting initially 11am – 1pm on Saturday 28 January outside Waterstones on High St in the City Centre. Birmingham Trades Council will also be leafleting outside Waterstone’s on the 28th in the context of supporting nurses and other striking workers.

Let’s make this event a success and get the message out in support of our NHS at this critical time. In solidarity, Keep Our NHS Public Birmingham.

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Why are teachers going on strike on 1st Feb?

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by | January 22, 2023 · 6:47 pm

Solidarity – Protect the right to strike West Midlands rally

Wed 1 Feb 6.30pm Birmingham Conference and Events Centre, Hill Street B5 4EW

 
 
 

Our right to strike is under attack.Rishi Sunak’s new anti-union legislation means that when workers democratically vote to strike, they could be forced to work and sacked if they don’t.That’s wrong, unworkable and almost certainly illegal.These new laws are a direct attack on working people’s fundamental right to strike to defend their pay, terms and conditions.Trade unions will fight this every step of the way.We’re inviting every worker – public and private sector, and everyone who wants to protect our liberties – to be a part of our campaign to defend the right to strike.Join our West Midlands regional rally, and show your solidarity with those workers in dispute – and make it clear that we will fight to protect our right to strike.Speakers include:

  • Ravi Sub UNISON
  • Michelle McCrossen,  GMB
  • Amazon striking member, GMB 
  • Paul Kennedy, CWU
  • Billy Holland, FBU
  • Harjinder Kaur-Aujla, UCU 
 
REGISTER HERE
 

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BRIG Noticeboard

Here are some forthcoming events advertised by the Birmingham Race Impact Group. Visit BRIG at https://www.wearebrig.co.uk/

BRIG 2022 Reflections

Ranjit Sondhi, BRIG’s Acting Chair shares a flavour of what’s to come next year, including the upcoming Race Equality Week Networking Event.

BRIG Race Equality Week Networking BRIG Race Equality Week Networking

Get Active in Race Equality Week
6th – 12th February 2023

The third Race Equality Week will be held on 6-12 February 2023.  Launched by Race Equality Matters, its purpose is to turn words into meaningful action.

Editorial Birmingham Labour Group Racism Investigation

A Birmingham Labour Group survey of Black and Asian Councillors sparks investigation into toxic culture.

Read full article →

8th Feb – Governance Now: Championing Communities. 

Find Out More.

Birmingham Pakistani Community Encouraged to Complete Baseline Survey

With Birmingham officially now being a Majority Minority Superdiversity City (51.4%  – 2021 Census) will the disparities experienced by it’s largest minority majority Pakistani community see any difference?

Read full article →

50 Years: Institution of Race Relations

BRIG’s November Pioneer featured A. Sivanandan, the Director of Institute of Race Relations (IIR). We now celebrate 50th Anniversary of the IIR.

Read full article →

Institute of Race Relations Calendar of Racism and Resistance

The IRR is now producing a fortnightly resource for anti-racist and social justice campaigns, highlighting key events in the UK and Europe.

26th October – 8th November. Read more.
8th – 22nd November. Read more.

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Why we need mass public campaigns for Retrofit funding in every Local Authority in the West Midlands

Recently our focus has been on the WMCA. It has ambitious plans for retrofit in its Five Year Plan. But they won’t get off the ground because there is hardly any money to pay for them. This is the result of two factors. One is the lack of investment by the private sector because they don’t see enough profit in it. The other is the shambles of the grant funds for householders – the grants aren’t big enough, there aren’t enough of them, and there is no effective community publicity campaign explaining retrofit and how to get funding.

It’s time the WMCA stopped pretending. Only a huge increase in Government funding will get retrofit done. And only a mass campaign of public pressure will force Government to pay up.

But the vast majority of retrofit in the West Midlands is the responsibility of each of the 7 local authorities, not the WMCA. They all need a massive increase in Government funding if they are to get retrofit done in time.

We’ll take the example of Birmingham, but it would be very useful to know what discussions are taking place in the other WM Councils.

The Birmingham Council Cabinet meeting on the 13th of December approved its 48 page ‘Housing Strategy 2022-2027’. ‘Priority 3’ includes a commitment to “Secure investment to fully retrofit 30% of BCC stock over the next five years.” (p6).

“BCC stock” is about 60,000 social homes. 30% of these amounts to about 18,000 homes. To retrofit these over the next five years would require retrofitting on average 3,600 homes a year. That’s about 10 homes every day, starting now. But they haven’t even started yet. And how much will it cost?

“The cost of addressing the entirety of Birmingham’s 60,000 homes, without even looking into other tenure types, has been estimated to be more than £3.6bn over 30 years. Sourcing the funds and planning to address this is a significant challenge for the city and it is imperative that we capitalise on grant funding opportunities.”

“The council’s existing budgets are already committed to delivering frontline services. There is limited funding available, hence a creative financial solution is required that ensures costs and benefits are spread equitably.” (p35)

And the aim is retrofitting all types of homes, not just social housing:

“The road to zero is a key commitment for the council and housing must play a part in making sure the council’s aspirations are met; the aspiration for the city to hit net zero carbon by 2030 has accelerated the need to retrofit homes across all tenures.” (p9).

In 2017 (the most recent data) there were about 435,000 homes in Birmingham. The 60,000 social housing represents about 14%. That leaves 86% in private ownership – about 375,000. The vast majority of these will need retrofitting, especially the large number which are older properties. If the aim is still the 12 years till 2030, and if 300,000 need retrofit, that’s an average of 500 a week for the next 12 years.

Where will the funding come from?

The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), an industry network, published in October a 26 page report, the ‘UKGBC Response to Net Zero Review: Call for evidence’, which is very critical of Government policy. “Current rates of renovation will need to increase by around 7 times if we are to meet the Government’s target of upgrading as many homes to EPC Band C as possible by 2035.” The report concludes:

“It is critical that Government therefore introduce and support a large-scale, transformative domestic retrofit strategy and programme that is fully coordinated with local authorities, industry, consumers and other relevant stakeholders, and does not disadvantage lower-income households.”

They are right. Retrofit requires far more money, for two purposes. One is to greatly increase the number of grants available to home owners (and greatly simplify the procedure). The other is to greatly increase the funding for local government to spend on retrofit. This could be used to create market opportunities which would attract large-scale private investment into large-scale neighbourhood retrofit projects, which is what we need.

Grants for residents

At Birmingham Council’s Sustainability & Transport Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 19 October 2022 Cllr Majid Mahmood, the Cabinet Member for Environment, explained:

“City housing is currently supporting the delivery of the Energy Companies Obligation 4 (ECO) and LADS. ECO is a government energy efficiency scheme for Great Britain, administered by Ofgem, with the objective of improving the least energy efficient housing stock occupied by low income and vulnerable households and LADS is the Local Authority.”

But these grants have come to an end. What grants will be available in 2023? Phil Beardmore is a Birmingham-based expert. He says on his website ‘Energy Confidence’ that Eco Plus grants will be available from April 2023. Homes with Energy Performance Ratings of D or below, and homes with Council Tax bands of A-D, will qualify. Household income or savings will not be taken into account. So far it looks as if the following measures will qualify: loft insulation, cavity wall insulation, smart heating controls, room-in-roof insulation, and probably under-floor insulation, internal wall insulation, external wall insulation, and ventilation. Unlikely to qualify are windows and doors, unless replacing single-glazed, and gas boilers. Heat pumps are partly funded by grants elsewhere (the boiler upgrade scheme) and so they won’t qualify for Eco Plus.

Phil Beardmore thinks that the maximum grant will be £15,000 per home, but he doesn’t expect that everyone will get the full amount, and a householder contribution will be required. He will put on a webinar (pay-as-you-feel) in March or April to give people impartial advice about the grant scheme (details will be on his website).

But what the Government hasn’t announced is how many grants will be made available. Will they be more than a small fraction of the funding needed to get retrofit done for everyone?

Attracting private investment in retrofit

The most ambitious attempt to do this in the West Midlands is the 3 Cities programme. ‘Retrofit – The 3 Cities’ is the title of a new joint initiative by the city councils of Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton. It was publicly launched last summer.

“The 3 Cities Retrofit is an initiative to develop an integrated retrofit programme across the cities and one which reflects the diversity of needs and housing portfolios of each city.”

Its aim is to attract private investment in the retrofit of homes. (Ideally we might prefer retrofit to be carried out by local authority direct labour organisations and by non-profit organisations, but the need is far too great and too urgent. Only the private sector has the capacity.) Here are some quotes from its publication ‘Retrofit – The 3 Cities’ (https://the3cities.co.uk/retrofit), beginning with the size of the task:

“c.700,000 homes in the cities
81,887 3 Cities council owned housing stock
83,259 3 Cities Registered Providers’ owned stock
535,455 Privately owned housing stock across the cities”

“The scale – potentially some 700,000 homes and of the 165,000 social homes across the cities – combined with regional and city expertise and the collaborative approach of our pooled assets, means the 3 Cities are in an advantageous position to accelerate and drive forward the decarbonisation of homes.’ ‘The first focus for the 3 Cities is accelerating retrofit activities across social homes.”

The aim is to attract private investment: “Through our collaborative and integrated approach, the 3 Cities offers a single entry point for partners and investors to co-shape this at-scale initiative.” There is a detailed presentation in the 34 page ‘3 Cities Prospectus’ (https://the3cities.co.uk/downloads/file/1/prospectus?fileID=1). Here are some extracts:

“Retrofit presents a market making opportunity. The time to invest is now
WE INVITE YOU TO BE PART OF THIS SUCCESS
There has never been a more exciting time to invest in our cities. With an estimated £10-12bn worth of retrofit opportunities, there are many ways to get involved.”

“We are seeking partners to co-shape and co-develop the models required for at-scale retrofit delivery.”

“The first focus for the 3 Cities is accelerating retrofit activities across social homes.”

“Through our collaborative and integrated approach, the 3 Cities offers a single entry point for partners and investors to co-shape this at-scale initiative.”

“Achieving our ambitions will require a blend of funding and financing models
1. Capital Investment
2. Loans and Bonds
• Government-backed loans and bonds offer relatively low-cost finance for delivery of capital projects
3. Grant Funding
Central Government will play a vital role in allocating funding and encouraging retrofit delivery at scale through incentivisation and policy alignment
• Through conducting full housing stock, EPC data and community energy use assessments, we can ensure we are ready to capitalise on funding as it becomes available”

But this requires large-scale pump-priming funding by Government to persuade the market to invest. It needs mass pressure to force the Government to do this. We need public campaigns by all the local authorities in the West Midlands, together with the WMCA, to demand a huge increase in Government funding for retrofit. Such a campaign would get huge public support. So why won’t the hundreds of elected local councillors speak out and build such a campaign?

It’s not surprising that Mayor Andy Street, won’t do it. What about the Tory-led local authorities in the West Midlands – Dudley, Solihull, Walsall. Will any of them put their residents’ interests before their party loyalty?

And what about Labour councillors? They’ll criticise the Government, but that doesn’t change Government policy. Hopefully they are giving advice and support as best they can to their fuel-poor constituents in cold homes. That’s vital, but it doesn’t solve the problem. Unless they accompany this with organising a public campaign to demand Government funding they are saying to them in effect “you’ll just have to cope as best you can until there’s a Labour government”.

There is a retrofit crisis in the West Midlands because of Government failure to fund it. We can predict now that Birmingham Council’s retrofit policy will fail – it needs far more money and a huge programme of large-scale local projects. The same applies to all the local authorities in the West Midlands. Only mass public pressure can change it, and that also means building mass public pressure on the WMCA and on the Labour Party and its councillors in the West Midlands to forcefully play their part in building a mass popular movement in the communities and the trade unions for enough Government funding to get retrofit done with no more delay.

Richard Hatcher 29 December

 

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Say no to outsourcing this vital service for children in Birmingham

May be an image of one or more people and text that says 'COMMUNITY RALLY Children in Birmingham need your support to keep this essential service running IN FULL! Say no to outsourcing! RALLY TO STRENGTHEN BIRMINGHAM SENDIASS SPREAD THE WORD Victoria Square. Birmingham TUESDAY 10TH JANUARY 12 NOON TO 2 P.M. Currently SENDIASS offers information, advice and legal support to children with special educational needs or disabilities. The service is under threat! Without the complete offer children will miss out on the education that is right for them.'

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by | December 29, 2022 · 8:14 pm

We need mass public pressure for Government funding for the retrofit crisis in the West Midlands. Will Labour councillors and the WMCA take the lead or leave us in the cold?

The WMCA’s ‘Five Year Plan 2021-2026’ aims “to retrofit 292,000 homes by 2026 to stay on course for net zero”. The WMCA estimates the investment required to 2026 to fund the Five Year Plan is £3,853million. The WMCA’s Environment and Energy Board announced in March 2022 that the total funding gained so far was £26.6million. The first retrofit project approved is £7.5million to retrofit 622 homes in Elmdon, Solihull and Foleshill, Coventry, to begin in summer 2023. This is a drop in the ocean of nearly 300,000 homes in the West Midlands to retrofit by 2026.

We need large-scale investment in retrofit by business

The explanation for the failure of the Five Year Plan is that it relies on two sources of funding which haven’t delivered. One is Government grants to home-owners, mainly delivered via local authorities. The amount of grants has been too limited and the application system for both local authorities and home-owners has been erratic. The second source of funding was intended to be private investment, but this has not been forthcoming. The WMCA Energy and Environment Board’s report ‘Environment Behaviour Change Update’ on 9 March 2022 explains the reason: “Energy infrastructure spending is not aligned with local economic priorities which is proving a significant barrier to business investment.” In other words, business can make more profit by investing elsewhere rather than in retrofit. What the WMCA doesn’t say is that only a massive increase in Government funding can fill the gap and make large-scale investment in retrofit attractive to business.

The ‘West Midlands Levelling Up Growth Prospectus’

The CA is now pinning its hopes on the government’s flagship ‘Levelling Up White Paper’, announced by Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, in February 2022, “setting out a plan to transform the UK by spreading opportunity and prosperity to all parts of it.” “Twelve bold national levelling up missions, given status in law, will shift government focus and resources to Britain’s forgotten communities throughout 2020s”. Remarkably, tackling climate change is not one of the 12 Missions but the CA says that retrofit will contribute to some such as Health.

The CA is also relying on the government’s Trailblazer Devolution Deal, which promises more powers for the WMCA and the Greater Manchester CA.

On 3 October 2022 the WMCA launched the ‘West Midlands Levelling Up Growth Prospectus’*, a “far-reaching blueprint setting out what is needed to level up the region”, at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.

WMCA officers oppose call for more Government funding…and Labour gives in

A couple of weeks later, on 17 October, the CA’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee discussed its ‘Trailblazer Devolution Deal Scrutiny Working Group – Summary Report’. This item was supported by 7 papers including the 65-page ‘West Midlands Levelling Up Growth Prospectus’, which repeats the aims of the FYP for retrofit.

The Scrutiny Committee consists of 15 Councillors – 8 Tory, 7 Labour including the Chair and Vice-Chair – plus a business representative from the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership. The officer (described as ‘Accountable Employee’) at the Committee was Ed Cox, Executive Director, Strategy, Integration & Net Zero. The Notes of the Scrutiny Committee discussion are not very detailed but there is one significant point about funding:

5.1 Investment sought compared to the scale of the ambition

The Working Group welcomed the scale of ambition outlined in the proposals in terms of the areas that were being addressed, but in some instances queried whether the investment being sought from Government was bold enough to ensure delivery. Although clearly greater sums would be welcome, in the main, officers considered that the financial asks were figures that would be more likely to be deemed reasonable by Government departments and in particular HM Treasury.

It was also noted that Government had firmly stated that there would be ‘no new money’.

So, in short, some councillors – not named – said we weren’t asking Government for enough money. We should ask for more. But officers – also not named – said we shouldn’t ask for more because the Government would say no. And Labour councillors backed down.

Our future strategy for retrofit

This shows us what our future strategy has to be for retrofit. It requires far more money, for two purposes. One is to greatly increase the number of grants available to home owners (and greatly simplify the procedure). The other is to greatly increase the funding for local government to spend on retrofit. This would create a market which would attract private investment into large-scale neighbourhood retrofit projects. (Ideally we might prefer them to be carried out in-house by local authorities and by non-profit organisations, but the need is far too great and too urgent. Only the private sector has the capacity.)

The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) is “an industry network with a mission to radically improve the sustainability of the built environment”. In October this year it published a 26 page document – the ‘UKGBC Response to Net Zero Review: Call for evidence’, which is very critical of Government policy. “Current rates of renovation will need to increase by around 7 times if we are to meet the Government’s target of upgrading as many homes to EPC Band C as possible by 2035.” The report concludes that

“It is critical that Government therefore introduce and support a large-scale, transformative domestic retrofit strategy and programme that is fully coordinated with local authorities, industry, consumers and other relevant stakeholders, and does not disadvantage lower-income households.”

Only mass pressure can force Government policy to change

They are right. The question then is what can change Government policy? Only mass pressure can force Government policy to change. What is needed is a public campaign by the WMCA to demand a huge increase in Government funding for retrofit. Such a campaign would get huge public support, but mass pressure is needed to force the WMCA to launch it. (Perhaps its Tory leadership might be motivated by the thought that the failure to deliver retrofit might be a factor in it losing the Mayoral election in 2024.)

That raises the question of the role of the Labour Party in relation to the WMCA. It may well have been Labour councillors at the Scrutiny Committee meeting who said we need more Government money, but the officers said no. So what will these councillors do now? If the answer is nothing, in effect they are telling their fuel-poor constituents in cold homes ‘you’ll just have to put up with it’ until there’s a Labour government. That’s what in effect Labour councils are saying too. Brigid Jones, deputy leader of BCC and the WMCA, says in her foreword to the CA’s Prospectus “The Government must lay solid foundations for real recovery with sustainable and fair funding for local government”. But there is no sign that she intends to mobilise a campaign of public support for it, or even to publicly criticise the CA’s stance (even though it would actually win public support for Labour).

There is a retrofit crisis in the West Midlands because of Government failure to fund it. Only mass public pressure can change it – and that includes public pressure on the WMCA and on the Labour Party and its councillors in the West Midlands to campaign publicly and forcefully for enough Government funding to get retrofit done with no more delay.

*Link: ‘West Midlands Levelling Up Growth Prospectus’ https://governance.wmca.org.uk/documents/s7673/Levelling%20Up%20Growth%20Prospectus.pdf

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Solidarity with workers on strike

May be an image of one or more people and text that says 'Solidarity with nurses, posties and all workers on strike Monday 19th December, 7pm Join us for food, music and speeches! With speakers from the Royal College of Nursing, cWU, PCS and more! CWU Offices 45 Summer Lane B19 3TH BIRMINGHAM OUNCIL'

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Youth Strike for Climate Fri 9 Dec City Centre

May be an image of 6 people, people standing, outdoors and text that says 'YOUTH STRIKE FOR CLIMATE OUTSTR CLIMATE JUSTICL NOW We are having a strike on the 9th of December!! Outside Birmingham Waterstones 24-26 High street 1:30pm 3:00pm bhamys4c'

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by | December 5, 2022 · 5:05 pm