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City Matters 132

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CITYMATTERS.LONDON 18 August - 14 September 2021 | Page 5 NEWS subscribe to our newsletter at TfL facing more strikes over staff pension row LONDON could be hit by more strikes later this year as a leading transport union announces plans to oppose a review into TfL’s pension scheme, writes Joe Talora, Local Democracy Reporter. Just days after calling off planned walkouts this week over a decision to scrap the pay grade of Night Tube drivers, the RMT union has announced that it is launching a campaign to resist changes to TfL’s pension scheme “using every option available to us, including a determined campaign of strike action”. As part of the Government’s £1.08 billion emergency funding deal agreed in June, TfL was required to launch a review into its “generous” pension scheme in a bid to cut costs. But RMT general secretary Mick Lynch has said that the review is “a smoke screen for a massive attack on RMT members” and the union has declared no confidence in the review process. Mr Lynch said: “RMT will fight any attempt to impose detrimental terms onto our members. We will resist any attempt to make members work longer, increase pension contributions of workers – just a pay cut in disguise – reduce pension payments or undermine the fund in the long-term by closing it off to future staff. “Our members in TfL kept transport services running throughout the pandemic and were hailed as heroes. Now their reward is the threat of poverty in retirement. “We have absolutely no confidence in the review process set out, which is no more than a smoke screen for a massive attack on RMT members driven by the government and London Mayor’s agreement to make huge financial cuts on TfL and LUL.” The union has also urged TfL to bring all regular work “in-house” and has called for an end to “gravy train of easy profits and dividends to the shareholders of the private sector”. TfL currently outsources work such as cleaning, track maintenance and fleet maintenance to private contractors. Last week, TfL commissioner Andy Byford announced that former Trades Union Congress general secretary and current ACAS chair Sir Brendan Barber would lead the “truly independent” review into TfL’s pensions. Speaking at a TfL board meeting, Mr Byford said: “We are working 24/7 to reduce the (funding) gap to keep London moving. Part of that budget, of course, is the conditions imposed on us by Government as a result of the most recent funding deal. And one of those elements was the need to review – and I stress that word – review the TfL pension.” He added: “This is a truly independent review, there is no predetermined outcome. The panel will do their work and we’ll report back in due course.” Published last week, TfL’s revised budget for 2021/22 showed a funding gap of £500 London Underground million remaining for the current financial year, despite an overall reduction in estimated funding requirements compared to March’s budget. TfL has said that the review into its pension arrangements will identify and recommend options that are both fair to taxpayers, customers and employees and financially sustainable and affordable in the long term. A spokesperson for TfL said: “TfL’s funding agreement with Government included a requirement to carry out an independent review of the pension scheme, with the aim of moving TfL’s Pension Fund into a financially sustainable position which protects members’ pension benefits built up to date. “Sir Brendan Barber has agreed to independently lead the pension review and will bring a wealth of experience having been a former General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and until recently serving as the Chair of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). “Sir Brendan will be supported by Joanne Segars OBE, in independently conducting the Pensions Review. Joanne has expertise in pensions, as the Chair of NOW: Pensions, one of the UK’s largest auto enrolment pension providers and Chair of the Joint Expert Panel on the Universities Superannuation Scheme.” 350,000 Londoners still on furlough NEARLY 350,000 Londoners were still on furlough at the end of June despite the imminent easing of lockdown restrictions, according to new Government figures, writes Joe Talora, Local Democracy Reporter. Although the number of employees on furlough decreased from May to June, London still has the highest take up of the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, with nine per cent of eligible jobs furloughed compared to seven percent nationally. Nine of the ten local authorities in England with the highest take up of the furlough scheme are in London, with Newham and Hounslow the highest at 12 per cent. Barnet, Brent, Ealing, Haringey, Hillingdon, Redbridge and Waltham Forest make up the other boroughs with the highest numbers of furloughed employees. But with all legal COVID restrictions now lifted as of July 19, the furlough scheme is set to wind down before being phased out entirely in September. A spokesperson for Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has said that the scheme is still a “vital lifeline” for nearly 350,000 Londoners, and that there is still the risk of a “cliff edge” once the scheme winds down. Mr Khan’s spokesperson said: “A reduction in the numbers using the scheme can only be truly welcomed if it is accompanied by proof that Londoners are able to return to secure work and ministers commit to longerterm support for businesses – especially those in the hospitality and culture sectors that do so much to support the London economy. “This weekend the furlough scheme tapers off further before approaching a cliffedge in September. We cannot allow those who still rely on the scheme to be forgotten.” Across England, the accommodation and food services sector has the highest number of individuals furloughed, while London has a disproportionately higher number of people on furlough in the construction industry compared to the rest of the country. Nick Bowes, chief executive of the Centre for London thinktank, has warned that London’s economy is “particularly delicate” and that there are “huge challenges” remaining despite the lifting of lockdown restrictions. Mr Bowes said: “London still continues to have a disproportionate number of its workforce on furlough compared to every other region in the country, as well as the highest unemployment rate. “While the furlough rate in the capital has fallen, there are still huge challenges for getting central London back on its feet given it is hospitality, arts and construction workers who are most likely to still be on furlough. “What we also don’t know is how many of those who are no longer on furlough have returned to their jobs or how many might now be out of work. “Central London’s economy is particularly delicate at the moment, and the government needs to recognise that a slower recovery for London will risk the whole country’s recovery too.” The latest figures from HM Treasury reveal that, as of June 30, there were the fewest number of people on furlough since the pandemic began, with around 500,000 fewer people furloughed compared to May.

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