Media 109: Ken Loach’s latest hard-hitter denied the oxygen of MSM publicity

 Is Loach’s latest film about working in the ‘gig economy’ hitting home once too often? Either state media has just not been mentioning it or the Google search engine has been tampered with.

For the first time yesterday I saw a brief review of Sorry we missed you, the latest Ken Loach film and today, in an email message from Pat Conaty (co-author of a report on the ‘precariat’) came the words:

“The Ken Loach film, Sorry we missed you has been so marginalised”.

An online search then revealed that there had been extensive coverage in social media and regional newspapers but just one excellent article/review in the i-news on the first page with the subtitle:

We need to wake up to the reality that, in this instance, “flexibility” is just another word for exploitation”

On the second page of the search engine George Osborne’s Standard offers a briefly mocking review: “a man makes a pact with the devil and a corporation turns humans into robots. Not literally” – but has the grace to present a video in which Loach (right) and the scriptwriter Paul Laverty (left) discuss the film.

The third page‘s only MSM review was the Financial Times’ sympathetic and straightforward article, opening with a summary:

“An unhappy Newcastle family is being trampled in the vineyards of the gig economy. Ricky (Kris Hitchen) is a parcel delivery driver coping, or trying to cope, with brutal schedules and inhuman work-protocols. Wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood) is an overburdened NHS carer. Son Seb is a cellphone junkie hanging out with a graffiti gang and dipping his toe in petty crime. Daughter Lisa, 11, hardly knows what’s going on, yet seems at times the wisest head in the house”.

On pager 5, the Times was dismissive – ending by implying that Loach was living off past glories – valued only for his 1969 hit, Kes.

Pat Conaty, who is working with others on a Union Co-op manifesto to be released this spring, ends: (Ken Loach’s latest film is) just as powerful as Kathy Come Home, but unlike the latter in that everyone saw it on the BBC over 50 years ago and talked about it. Hardly anybody has seen Ken’s latest film. So getting this counter movement underway is going to be a harder task. But we hope the manifesto will kickstart more aligned action and some coming together of solidarity economy action”.

 

 

 

 

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Outsourcing 8: apprenticeship training 2017-2020

In 2018, the Times (paywall) reported the verdict of MP Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee: “The apprenticeship levy is not working. It was meant to incentivise large employers to invest more in apprenticeships by requiring them to pay into a central fund from which they can claim back some or all of their training costs.

Instead it has led employers to recoup the cost of existing in-house training schemes by relabelling them as apprenticeships. 

She noted that more companies are setting themselves up as training providers and that Ofsted says that it will struggle to keep tabs on these. The following year her report pointed out that too many apprentices were still being trained by sub-standard providers.

Around a third of apprentices covered by Ofsted inspections in 2017/18 were being trained by providers rated as ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’. The poor quality of some contributed to a situation where over 30% of apprentices fail to complete their apprenticeship successfully each year.

A letter to the Times editor added: “The Learndirect scandal serves as a stark case: an organisation was allowed to take on more and more learners (reaching 75,000) when warning signs of inadequate training and poor financial management were already being issued”.

The Financial Times reminded readers that Learndirect was privatised and sold to the private equity arm of Lloyds Bank in 2011 but is still reliant on government funding. When the Public Accounts Committee questioned Learndirect and Ofsted, Ofsted revealed the findings of Learndirect’s “inadequate” performance and the ‘legal shenanigans’ used to prevent earlier revelations. The findings included:

The National Audit office’s 2019 report focussed on the cost of apprenticeships and the low rate of uptake. In its first full year of operation, the apprenticeship levy raised £2.7 billion and this is expected to rise to £3.4 billion by 2023-24. However, there have been repeated warnings in recent months that the funding pot generated by the levy is about to run out

Earlier this month the Financial Times reported on an Education and Skills (EDSK) report, based on official data, which has investigated what is happening with the apprenticeship levy and the apprenticeship system in England more broadly. 

It found that 50% of apprenticeships funded by the levy are ‘fake’, citing figures which relate closely to those reported by the Public Accounts Committee, recorded in the FT box above:

  • Some £1.2bn of the £2.4bn money raised since the levy was introduced in April 2017 had been spent on “fake” apprenticeships, rebadged MBA courses and low-skilled jobs training,
  • £550m of levy funding had been spent on management training courses for experienced employees, which previously would have been funded from professional development budgets.
  • Highly qualified academics, many of whom already have PhDs, had been relabelled as apprentices in order to put them through levy-funded professional development courses.
  • And £235m had been used to teach people in low-skilled jobs, including working at a shop checkout or serving in a bar, often requiring minimal training, which pay low wages and do not meet any established definition of an apprentice.

Last July Boris Johnson said that, while he will always “defend and extol the advantages of having a degree, there are far too many young people who leave university with huge debts, and no clear sense of how their academic qualification has helped their career.” He has pledged to “elevate practical and technical qualifications” to “recognise their immense value to society and to the individual” and to raise funding for apprenticeships.

As – regrettably – Learndirect has re-emerged in the apprenticeship sector under a new name: Learndirect Apprenticeships Ltd., EDSK reflects that government pays private providers taxpayers’ money to deliver public services but can fail to monitor the results or truly penalise those that do not deliver. It recommends the Department for Education to tighten rules to stop financing of rebadged MBAs and low-skilled training and introduce a new definition of apprenticeship, benchmarked against the world’s best technical education systems.

 

 

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Public health emergency: move some freight from road to water and reduce air pollution

“There are an estimated 11,000 deaths per year at the moment, but this will rise as the population continues to age”. (The British Heart Foundation (BHF) 

Summarising an Environmental Law paragraph:

  • Transport is the biggest source of air pollution in the UK.
  • In town centres and alongside busy roads, motor vehicles are responsible for most local pollution.
  • Surface transport is responsible for around a quarter of UK emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) – a major contributor to climate change.
  • Many areas still fail to meet national air quality objectives and European limit values for some pollutants – particularly particles and nitrogen dioxide.

As the shortage of HGV drivers in the UK has climbed to 59,000 and 64% of transport and storage businesses now face severe skills shortages, (according to a recent report by the Freight Transport Association) it is a good time to consider a shift from HGV to barge.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF), has warned that more than 160,000 people could die over the next decade from strokes and heart attacks caused by air pollution. Jacob West, executive director of healthcare innovation at the BHF, which compiled the figures, said: “Every day, millions of us across the country are inhaling toxic particles which enter our blood and get stuck in our organs, raising our risk of heart attacks and stroke”.

Bellona Europe (header below) comments that inland waterway transport has greater potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than road or rail, when discussing ways to make the mobility sector more clean and carbon-neutral.

“With air pollution contributing to around 40,000 deaths a year and four in 10 children at school in high-pollution communities, it’s clear that tackling air pollution needs to be everyone’s urgent business.”

 

 

 

 

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Baron McNicol in the FT: ‘Corbynism must end with Corbyn’

On Saturday, Iain McNicol’s article ‘Corbynism must end with Corbyn’ was published in the Financial Times

As a post Corbyn entrant to the Labour Party I had only dimly heard of McNicol, so read around and discovered that he had been general secretary of the Labour party from 2011 to 2018 and now sits in the House of Lords. Then came a disturbing account of his wrecking tactics in his Wikipedia entry, condensed in The Jacobin by Daniel Finn:

“The party leadership has put a lot of effort into revamping Labour’s disciplinary processes so that real cases of antisemitism can be dealt with more quickly. Much of this work has been done since Jennie Formby took over as Labour’s general secretary in April 2018, replacing Iain McNicol, who was bitterly hostile to Corbyn. Some of the party officials who departed with McNicol had been slowing down the handling of cases, whether through incompetence or malice, knowing that Corbyn’s team would get the blame from the British media”.

No physiognomist needed

Finn described MacNicol as being one of the influential political players from Labour’s right-wing, anti-Corbyn faction which has a negligible organisational base in the party and unions but is closely linked to supportive media outlets. This faction is composed of Blairites and some MPs from the 2010 intake who believed themselves to be contenders for the party leadership once the Corbyn project collapsed.

MacNicol’s theme: “Clause One of the Labour party rule book states that the party’s purpose is to ‘promote the election of Labour party representatives at all levels of the democratic process’. It does not state that its function is to be a radical protest party. The fight is now on for Labour’s soul and the future”.

After taking credit for 2017’s ‘professionally-run campaign with strategic goals, a cutting edge social media campaign’ he refers to ‘a freshness that appealed to a broad coalition, including many hard-to-reach voters’.

This freshness was actually due to the surprise appearance of an honest and caring politician, the first in many decades.

Corbyn’s spectacular insurgent campaigns stand as vivid demonstrations that, as he said upon taking leadership of the Labour Party in September 2015, “things can, and they will, change.” Corbyn’s ease on the campaign trail and assured performances on TV transformed perceptions. He became Labour’s great asset (Alex Nunns)

MacNicol continued: “What did Labour offer? Everything to everyone and that was the problem . . . Corbynism has been an abject failure. We need a strong leader to reignite the party and connect with voters”.

Quickly disposing of Rebecca Long-Bailey: “If elected, she would kill any chance of Labour improving its electoral prospects” he moved on to focus on Keir Starmer, attracting the bulk of the support from MPs, the backing of Unison, the largest trade union and appointing a campaign team drawn from both left and right of the party

Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips – ‘capable of driving the transition Labour needs- – are likely to gain the necessary support to have their names on the ballot paper.

He ends, “A renewed Labour party, with a strong leader, could win the 123 seats needed to secure a majority . . . on April 4 take steps honour the promise of Clause One and move back to bidding for power or remain a party of protest.

So must the party resurrect New Labour? Will Corbynism and the bid for truth, peace and justice, end with Corbyn?

 

 

 

 

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New petition calls for a full independent inquiry into the BBC’s coverage of the 2019 General Election

There has been longstanding official and unofficial censure of BBC bias

The BBC is seen by many as failing to fulfil its Charter’s first declared ‘public purpose’, ‘to provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them’.

For some years frustrated correspondents have sent the writer copies of their letters criticising the BBC for its biased reporting, adding the unsatisfactory standardised replies they receive. In similar vein is one by Gary Barker, headed by the following cartoon:

Readers are also encouraged to read Steve Beauchampé’s eloquent article in the Birmingham Press which opened:

“Five friends have told me recently that they have either stopped – or severely curtailed – how much BBC news and current affairs output they digest. All were once avid consumers of such content, none could be described as being on the extremes of political thinking, none would claim that the Corporation is guilty of ‘fake’ news, and none have turned instead to social media or become keyboard warriors or internet trolls to get their views across.

“They are, in their different ways, frustrated at the BBC’s failure to adequately reflect their own political beliefs and the lack of balanced debate on issues that matter to them. And they are irritated at some of the Corporation’s presentational tropes and the cheapening of the discourse that often accompanies it”.

“I never felt this way about our national broadcaster. They have always been my ‘Go To’ media outlet for gaining an understanding and appreciation of world affairs . . .

“But things have changed, and one issue above all has led me to question my primary allegiance to the BBC’s news and current affairs output. It is the coverage of the Labour Party and anti-semitism.

“I have never been a Labour Party member and have no intention of becoming one. But I voted Labour for the first time in thirty years at the 2017 General Election because the social democratic policies they offered resonated with me in a way that the centrist stance of New Labour never did”.

One example of the transformation of many BBC reporters into aggressive points-scoring inquisitors, is Laura Kuenssberg’s 2015 interview with Jeremy Corbyn

The BBC was later officially censured for breach of accuracy and impartiality in Laura’s News At Six report.

Several petitions and a host of readers’ letters have challenged the BBC’s failure to respect its mission “to act in the public interest, serving all audiences through the provision of impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain”.

Following the July petition addressed to parliament, a call for a Public inquiry into bias in the BBC, the latest petition for a full independent inquiry into the BBC’s coverage of the 2019 General Election may be read here.

 

 

 

 

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Could the election have been rigged – or is this baseless conspiracy theory?

CIRCULATING:

 

On the record

Everywhere he went Corbyn drew crowds that would fill up stadiums, Johnson was booed.

Out of everyone who registered to vote only a third did – yet Johnson managed to get a huge majority, though he didn’t win many more votes than the Tories did in the last election.

 

True or false?

Postal voting was a scam with reports from Royal Mail workers of votes still being in sorting offices after the election – a frequent charge made, as yet, only on social media.

Laura Kuenssberg had seen the postal vote outcome before election day.

Two of the companies contracted to run the postal vote process were disbanded a day or two after the election results – a frequent charge made, as yet, only on social media.

 

As the petition on BBC bias gathers strength these allegations should be investigated.

 

 

 

 

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Reversing decades of neglect: government-commissioned report on upskilling and reskilling adults in the workforce

Dr Philip Augar (below right), chair of the Post-18 Education and Funding Review Panel, was commissioned by the May government in February 2018 to improve the availability of technical and vocational education by providing alternatives to university education.

Dr Augar opens his report by pointing out that the review is the first since the Robbins report in 1963 to consider both parts of tertiary education together:

Prime Minister Harold Wilson – in the ‘60s and ‘70s – supported tertiary education by supporting the setting up of the Open University, channelling funds into local-authority run colleges of education and creating extra places in universities, polytechnics and technical colleges.

Since then, Augar points out, no government of any persuasion has considered further education to be a priority.

The consequence has been decades of neglect and a loss of status and prestige amongst learners, employers and the public at large.

He sees the review as a unique opportunity to deliver an objective assessment of the current situation, to articulate the country’s future needs from tertiary Introduction education, and to propose remedies that are practical and realistic in addressing the issues it has identified:

“It is an opportunity to consider the roles both should play in meeting the country’s social and economic needs, how they fit together, how they should be funded and whether they are delivering value for students and taxpayers”.

The review asks whether the changing pattern of public subsidy is strategically desirable

It points out that the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that the public subsidy amounts to about £30,000 per student for those studying Arts and Humanities and as much as £37,000 for those taking courses in the Creative Arts. The equivalent is £28,000 for Engineering students and £24,000 for those studying Maths and Computer Science.

And Figure 3.11 (based on HMRC data) also shows that the government’s investment in providing Engineering degrees has fallen by about £9,000 per student since 2011, but risen by more than £6,000 for Creative Arts degrees – over 30% more per student for Creative Arts than it does for Engineering.

After describing post-18 (or ‘tertiary’) education in England as a story of both care and neglect, depending on whether students are amongst the 50% of young people who participate in higher education (HE) or the rest, Philip Augar continues:

“The panel believes that this disparity simply has to be addressed. Doing so is a matter of fairness and equity and is likely to bring considerable social and economic benefits to individuals and the country at large.”

In a changing labour market it is vitally important to offer upskilling and reskilling to older adults in the workforce with basic or intermediate skills and an FT editorial adds a reference to the “knock-on effects on productivity, wage growth and social harmony”.

At present the decline in vocational education is widespread and protracted. Most of the neglected 50% of the 18-30-year-old population who do not go to university, and older non-graduates are at work and, if they are educated at all after the age of 18, are educated mainly in further education colleges where teachers are paid on average less than their counterparts in schools:

“Funding levels are inadequate to cover essential maintenance or to provide modern facilities, and funding flows are complex to navigate. Not surprisingly, the sector is demoralised, has little to spend on mission groups and is consequently under-reported in the media and under-represented in Westminster”.

The FT editorial board welcomes the recommendation to expand the tuition fee loan system to all adults made by Augar, whom they describe as a businessman and historian.

It points out that increasing numbers are attending university, in sharp contrast to the UK’s vocational education system, which has seen funding cut by 45% in real terms since 2010 and agrees:

  • The Treasury should make up the funding shortfall in grants for science and technology courses, which receive less taxpayer funding despite wider benefits and that
  • more resources will be needed to fund opportunities for lifelong learning and training.

Its conclusion: “Creating a system in which all contribute and all benefit is essential. would be good both for the economy and to promote a fairer society . . . with knock-on effects on productivity, wage growth and social harmony”.

 

 

 

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Will the government stop recruiting adolescents to the armed forces?

David Collins, a Committee member of the Movement for the Abolition of War of Friends of Le Monde Diplomatique and of Veterans For Peace UK, has drawn attention to a video on VfP’s website, “Made in the Royal Navy”, published by Child Rights International Network (CRIN). The film charges the British army with intentionally targeting young people from deprived backgrounds for the most dangerous front-line jobs. It plays on the natural anxiety in boys and young men about how they are going to become a man and go out into the world. Its message is that the Navy will remake the raw youth into a heroic version of the inadequate boy that they once were.

The actual experience of most of these youngsters is set out in a report published in August 2019: Conscription by Poverty? Deprivation and army recruitment in the UK.

This is a long-standing concern of many on our mailing list. In 2011, Britain’s child soldiers – 2 reminded readers that, twelve years earlier, the BBC had reported the British Army was being urged by the United Nations to stop sending young soldiers into war.

Following Symon Hill’s work in The Friend, the Ekklesia website, and a Nato Watch article, an article by Michael Bartlet, Parliamentary Liaison Secretary for Quakers in Britain, pointed out that “with the exception of Russia, and apprentices in Ireland, the British Army is unique in Europe in recruiting at the age of 16. Of 14,185 recruits into the army last year, 3,630 or over 25%, joined under the age of 18 . . . Deprivation and army recruitment in the UK . . . Those joining the army at the age of 16 often come from the poorest and least educated backgrounds. Some have reading ages of a child of half that age. They lack the confidence to seek a change in their career in the same way as those training for professions.” 

Ian Davis, the Director of NatoWatch, sent a reference to the post by Symon Hill, now placed on its website. He added that the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, together with War Child, UNICEF UK, the Children’s Society, and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England are calling for the Armed Forces Bill to be amended to end the “outdated practice” of recruiting soldiers aged under 18, a call backed by Amnesty International UK and the United Nations Association.

Five years later Quakers in Scotland and ForcesWatch presented a petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for greater scrutiny, guidance and consultation on the visits of armed forces to schools in Scotland. Over four-fifths of state secondary schools in Scotland were visited by the armed forces in a two-year period, according to a 2014 ForcesWatch report.

A 2016 report by public health charity Medact found that soldiers recruited aged 16 and 17 were twice as likely to be killed or injured when in combat compared to those enlisted when aged 18 or over. Medact also found that they were more likely to commit suicide, self-harm, abuse alcohol and develop post-traumatic stress disorder than older recruits

In May this year, the BMI Journal reviewed an article: Adverse health effects of recruiting child soldiers, published in February. It rejected the main justification resting on fears of a ‘recruitment shortfall’: saying that given the extensive harms described in its report, to put recruitment figures above the health and well-being of children and adolescents seems misguided and counterproductive for both the Ministry of Defence as a governmental body and wider society.The second justification alleging economic and occupational benefits to recruits, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds was also rejected:

“(W)e have seen that it is precisely child recruits from disadvantaged backgrounds who are at highest risk of adverse outcomes in the military. Furthermore, figures from 2017 show that those recruited under the age of 18 constituted 24% of those who voluntarily left the Armed Forces before completing their service—this also increases the likelihood of lower mental health outcomes”.

It supported the views of those of the fourteen organisations mentioned here, recommending that the UK end its practice of recruiting adolescents to the armed forces.

 

 

 

 

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Flooding: Environment Agency, food security, wildlife and the PM’s advice

Camilla Hodgson reports that ten English authorities with the highest number of homes at serious flood risk plan to build homes in what the government considers “high-risk” areas. Almost 35,000 are planned – and more in lower-risk flood zones, according to local planning documents analysed by the FT.

Council planning officers at both Fenland and Hull councils said the risk of flooding must be balanced against the importance of economic growth.

Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer at catastrophe risk modelling company Risk Management Solutions warns of several hazards, including:

  • the failure to consider insurance during the planning process, so that some homes end up being uninsurable or very expensive to protect;
  • councils’ inability to afford to monitor the installation of planned mitigation measures – such as raising the height of the electrics in new housing
  • and that currently developers bear no further responsibility for properties after they are sold.

in November The Lincolnite reported that more than 5,000 homes have been proposed in high-risk zones of Lincolnshire, where roads and thousands of acres of farmland were flooded with some farms being totally marooned.

Andrew Ward, one of the affected farmers, described the ‘horrendous’ damage: “Potatoes, sugar beet and maize have been ruined and the loss of wildlife will be colossal here, all of their habitats will be ruined.”

He complains that the Environment Agency are using farmland as flood plains to prevent flooding in Lincoln: “The rivers need to be dredged but we haven’t ever seen it happen here”. The Environment Agency has insisted that it does carry out regular and ongoing maintenance and blamed problems on the heavy rainfall. See video link

On the campaign trail in flood-hit Derbyshire, the prime minister said: “We’ve got to stop building on flood plains. We’ve got to stop building on areas which are vulnerable to flooding.”

In due course this statement should be fact-checked.

 

 

 

 

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Political strategist in the FT: Corbyn-Labour’s ideas are framing the decisions the new government is making

Johnson is ‘parking his tanks on Labour’s lawn’

Jeremy Corbyn’s claim that the Labour party “won the argument” in the UK general election has stunned some commentators, but John McTernan a widely experienced political strategist, argues that – to use Corbyn’s words – Labour has “rewritten the terms of political debate”.

The Conservative party won the election, but they are far from winning the battle of ideas. In the Financial Times today McTernan describes Johnson – elected on the promise of “getting Brexit done” – as being devoid of policies which would retain the new electorate the Conservatives now represent. He cites the worst Conservative attempt to devise an agenda aimed at working people shown in an infographic after a recent budget in which their boasts about cutting tax on beer and bingo., was widely burlesqued (below left).  

That one-dimensional vision of working-class needs and desires has been ditched, he feels, but the void has to be filled — and that is where Labour policies present themselves.

McTernan points to the funding for NHS concession on nurses’ bursaries packaged with other policies as a significant reversal of direction and says that Mr Johnson’s promise to intervene, to buy British and to use state aid to protect UK industries is also being interpreted as “another example of parking his tanks on Labour’s lawn”. He comments: “When Tory plans for new council house building are announced or the remake of rail franchising begins, it will all be the hand of Mr Corbyn”.

But, he asks, “at what point does the mask actually become the face?”

Not in the immediate future, fear those concerned about the post election disability ruling by the government’s Department for Work & Pensions.

A historical perspective

McTernan (right) summarises a process which started with Mr Corbyn’s predecessor Ed Miliband:

  • Labour would propose a policy.
  • The Tory government would denounce it as extreme.
  • The tabloid press would pile in.
  • Then the government would adopt it after all.

It happened with energy price caps. And it happened with the living wage. But he ends:

“(S)omething deeper is going on. From corporate capitalism to housing, from climate change to transport, Labour’s ideas are framing the decisions the new government is making” – a movement that is not going to disappear.

 

 

 

 

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