Thursday, 29 November 2012

The image of Glasgow mired? Never. Meet 11:30am, Mon the 3rd of December @ George Square. Say NO to ATOS.

First published:


Nick Durie argues that Glasgow City Council must be held to account for their appalling decision to have Atos as chief sponsor of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014, as well as their support for workfare programmes.

Nick Durie
NIck Durie is a community activist in 'Power in the Community'. He is organising a campaign called 'Committee 100' which aims to hold Glasgow City Council to their 100 election promises.
“Notes the Workfare scheme introduced by the Westminster Government that forces people on welfare to work without payment under threat of loss of benefits; Believes that this undermines paid employment, genuine volunteering and the social welfare system, and does not benefit individuals or communities, but perpetuates poverty; Resolves not to take part in any Workfare or other forced labour scheme.” – Edinburgh City Council motion
Last month Edinburgh decided it was not going to participate in workfare. Labour and the SNP followed up their parliamentary opposition in to the welfare reform bill by backing a Green motion to divest The Council of any relationship with the UK Government’s workfare programme.
I recently went to a conference where both Cllr Gordon Matheson and council executive Liz Cameron stated that Glasgow was “the real capital of Scotland”. Certainly the text of Labour’s apparent opposition to ‘welfare reform’ in Glasgow could not be any clearer if the party’s 100 Promises manifesto is anything to go by.
Promise 74: “Labour will work with social housing, financial advice providers, the third sector and faith groups to protect our people from the impact of the Coalition Government’s unjust welfare reforms.”
Nonetheless Glasgow City Council is participating in the work programme. Evidence is mounting of widespread use of benefits claimants being forced to work as gardeners, drivers, and GCSS security workers, although The Council is anxious to avoid talking about this (presumably because it would look like hypocrisy).
This enthusiasm for workfare is not the only way The Council is in breach of Promise 74, however. As yet there is no sign of the grand coalition Labour bosses claimed to seek to build in May to oppose ‘welfare reform.’ Indeed the visible signs are of an embrace of welfare cuts, at the most public level. No event has come to symbolise the Labour Council’s strategy more than its efforts to secure and deliver the 2014 Commonwealth Games. This event has been central both to the City’s marketing strategy, and to its economic goals. Without getting into whether this is a sensible policy, or whether it is being carried out in an effective or enlightened way or not, the Games has been seen by The Council as a way to revitalise the City’s East End, and place Glasgow on a world stage. Council bosses took no chances, and put Scotland’s most powerful businessman in charge of the Games – Green Investment Bank supremo, boss of Scottish and Southern Energy, asset stripper private equity boss, Robert Haldane Smith (or as the man who lords it over his private island in the Firth of Clyde has liked to style himself since Labour gave him a peerage, Lord Kelvin). He has taken a decision that utterly flies in the face of Promise 74. He has brought in ATOS to sponsor the Games.
ATOS have been administrating the UK Government’s cuts to welfare. They have punitively struck thousands of vulnerable and disabled people off the welfare roll with their fantastic “work capability assessments,” declaring cancer patients, heart transplant patients, the terminally ill, and the mortally sick ‘fit for work,’ sending many to an early grave, and forcing thousands to spend their last living days penniless and starving. There is no greater symbol of what is wrong with this country than what is being done to kick the crutches away from the poor, the disabled and the dying.
The testament of ATOS’ own staff has recently come to light, and it shows the inhumanity of the system that they have put in place. Here is how one ATOS worker describes what goes on:
The staff are broken beyond usefulness. They are too few, with the wrong training, cobbled together from various departments after cut backs and reshuffles, with no direct chain for the administration. Each claim can pass through more hands than a gift at a children’s pass the parcel game. No two members of staff can do each others job and no one person knows how to process the claim from start to finish. The senior management are completely ineffectual.
Meaning that when a member of the public phones to enquire about their claim they cant effectively be dealt with. Every call will get a different result to the same enquiry.
They are under that much pressure to input the data that it doesn’t matter if it’s wrong, who cares if someone gets too much or too little, or lost in the system, they are only a stat. Their life may be ruined, but the staff can’t care, they just have to type, type, type, and hope that someday they’ll get on top of it.
I found a member of staff crying today, they had just processed a claim for somebody who was just about to discover they had been denied their ESA. The client had just survived a heart transplant, an actual full heart transplant. Atos disagree with the surgeons and doctors, and have deemed this person, “fit to work”.
As a result of Lord Kelvin’s brutal decision, this is now Labour’s chosen Commonwealth Games “partner” – the company they have chosen to stand alongside them in showcasing Glasgow to the world. Do we really want the image of Glasgow to be mired in the image of the dead and the callous?
That is why the community campaign (dubbed the Committee of 100) which aims at holding The Council to their 100 Promises is calling on Council leader Gordon Matheson to slap down the jumped up peer. The ‘Laird of Inchmarnock’ has gone too far, and his decision risks tarnishing the image of the City of Glasgow. It also flies in the face of stated Labour policy.
On Monday the 3rd of December across the UK people will be gathering to remember the victims of ATOS. An early day motion in the UK Parliament calls for the day to be an official day of remembrance. The Committee of 100 has called a demonstration to coincide with the day of remembrance. We are asking Gordon Matheson to join with us and to slap down this spiv. We will be meeting, with copies of Labour’s promises, outside the City Chambers at George Square on Monday the 3rd of December, at 11:30am. We would ask everyone who opposes the ATOS regime, and workfare to join with us. We must not allow Glasgow to be tarnished in the eyes of the world.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Promise Inspectors

"I've just won a budget vote!" An adrenaline pumped Councillor Matheson beams.  It was the moment many of us realised that the May elections in Glasgow were going to be a cut-throat political contest that would determine the city's future.

In that election, an embattled Labour Party launched a campaign that would see it spend money it barely had in a defensive fight to retain control of its heartland city from a bullish SNP. No expense was spared in campaigning, and the Labour Party came out fighting, promising to build publicly owned wind turbines to fund district heating (like in Scandinavia) for working class communities (eliminating fuel poverty) - a huge capital works programme.  It didn't end there.  Health inequality would be eliminated in five years.  The coalitions benefit cuts would be fought tooth and nail with all the Party's powers, building a grand coalition.  1000 new jobs every year would take the recession head on - part of a "Glasgow Guarantee" to provide every young person with a job, education or traing.  Loansharks, landlords, privatisers, Tories - Glasgow would take them all on.

And then stop.

So Labour won the election, and its 100 Promises now comprise its mandate for action.  Too bad then the party chose to celebrate its victory by breaking six promises in six months.  A councillor is an illegal landlord, a councillor has breached licensing laws designed to tackle problem drinking, the council is actually sacking hundreds of people, and all the while it has been taking part in the work programme attacking the unemployed.  ATOS - the company widely credited with killing disabled people by removing their benefits in punitive assessments - is chosen as the Commonwealth Games sponsor.  The party has abandonned the council tax freeze.  A high profile new 'combined heat and power' gasification plant is instead to be simply a privatised power station, spilling toxic chemicals out into a poor community.  There is something wrong with Glasgow politics.  The rot has set in again already.

"I recall Glasgow Labour saying that Glasgow children were exceptional.  I remember it.  I think it typifies everything you need to know about Glasgow politics," Community Organiser Nick Durie explains. "Unlike weans in other parts of the world apparently Glasgow's bairns learn better in class sizes over 35."  The anecdote tells the story of how the council explained its plans to cut over a dozen schools - the second such closure programme in the years of the previous Labour administration.  "People in this city are treated with contempt and taken for fools.  That's why we have to preserve and extend the changes we have started to see in Glasgow politics."

Nick is helping to organise a campaign - which has been given the working title of the "Committee of 100."  The fledgling coalition met on the day of US President Barack Obama's re-election in the Quaker Meeting House in the city centre.  A smaller affair, the launch was nonetheless attended by four of the city's commmunity councils, as well as dozens of concerned citizens.

Speakers talked about the need to uphold promise 74, which commits the council to opposing workfare and welfare cuts, of the need to insist on the council upholding its promise number 17 which states that the council will only take action with the agreement of communities, and will be led by their desires; campaigners rallied to take action on the ATOS sponsorship of the Games, with a promise to take part in demonstrations set to mark the deaths of all the people the UK welfare cuts have killed (currently 73 a week die after having been found 'fit for work' - their benefits cut off).

As community campaigner Emma Nicol ended her speech outlining the approach the new coalition would take (to be expressly non-party political, and to hold the council - regardless of political persuasion - to account on its 100 Promises), the meeting then adjourned for citizens to meet each other and exchange stories and contacts, after which strategy groups were formed to discuss how to take forward holding the council to account on three general themes.

As the meeting drew to a close and sponsorship was collected for the film about the campaign to hold the council to account, those in attendance each returned feedback forms detailing what they would do as a result of the evening's meeting.  Many promised to take further action, becoming 'Promise Inspectors' for the Committee of 100.

If the evening's events were anything to go by, had Labour expected that they might be able to quietly file away their manifesto into some dark recess, never to be leafed through again, it looks increasingly likely that they have been badly mistaken.

Further details of how individuals can get involved are available at: