Focus on cuts 6: JAM families suffer as bus fares rise

 

 

In 2016, though the price of oil was low, average bus fares rose three times faster than the consumer prices index. The statistics report presented by government for 2015/6 was precise: “Between March 2011 and March 2016, the average annual percentage change in bus fares was 3.8% higher than the average annual rate of inflation (2.3%)”. Families who can’t afford a car can find travelling by bus costs more than taking a taxi.

Theresa May: “We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives” (first speech as leader)

But reduced central funding means that as many bus services have been ‘axed’ people actually have less control:

  • Without accessible or affordable transport, adults in ‘just about managing’ [JAM] families will be less able to travel to work or to medical and other appointments.
  • Some feel compelled to go into debt to buy cars they wouldn’t need if bus services were reliable and affordable..

Due to government funding cuts, town hall chiefs have announced that councils have been forced to reduce bus services by more than 12% in the past year.

They  are calling on the Government to fully fund the Concessionary Fares scheme, and for the devolution of the £250m Bus Service Operators Grant scheme that refunds some of the fuel duty incurred by operators of registered local bus services. The grant was kept at 81% until April 2012, when it was reduced by 20%. The current payment rate is the lowest ever percentage since the rebate’s inception in the 1960s.

Theresa May: “When it comes to opportunity, we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few, we will do everything we can to help anybody”.

But government actions belied these fine words; her chancellor announced a fuel duty freeze whichhe saidwill cost taxpayers a predicted £850m in the first year alone and really help the ‘fortunate few’ running the largest cars, not the JAM families.

 

 

 

 

 

Labour, Conservative and Green voices call for a progressive alliance. Will it happen now or later?

An audience seriously considering the proposal

With thanks to the reader working in Uganda who sent the Hitchens link and remembering another who yesterday advocated ABC voting, ‘Anything But Conservative’.

Peter Hitchens insisted, some time ago, that a lot of people feel left out of the recovery we are supposed to be having, and they need a powerful voice in Parliament, adding:

“There is nothing good (or conservative) about low wages, insecure jobs and a mad housing market which offers nothing but cramped rooms and high rents to young families just when they need space, proper houses with gardens, and security . . .

“The truth is that both major parties have been taken over by the same cult, the Clinton-Blair fantasy that globalism, open borders and mass immigration will save the great nations of the West. It hasn’t worked. In the USA it has failed so badly that the infuriated, scorned, impoverished voters of Middle America are on the point of electing a fake-conservative yahoo businessman as President”.

Hitchens concludes that many Labour MPs have more in common with Mrs May than with Mr Corbyn and will ‘snuggle up beside her absurdly misnamed Conservative Party’.

He believes that the British public will at last see clearly that their only response is to form an alliance against the two big parties: “Impossible? Look how quickly this happened in Scotland”.

This Green House pamphlet with contributions from Molly Scott Cato MEP, Victor Anderson, Rupert Read, Jonathan Essex and Sara Parkin was written before the EU referendum and the economic and political turmoil which has followed but the authors believe its analysis and conclusions are still valid.

In her introduction, MEP Molly Scott Cato points out that a route to a more positive future offering hope to the majority of citizens is blocked by our archaic and unrepresentative electoral system which enables one party to control so much power with a minority of the votes cast. She continues:

“Our primary target is our electoral system. In the 2015 general election the Green Party received 1 million votes but only one parliamentary seat. By contrast the Scottish National Party received 1.5 million votes and 56 seats.

“This is the logic of first past the post . . . but as voters move into a multi-party future the system entrenches political stasis and blocks progressive change”. Later she cites Germany as the most striking example of a country that has benefited from Greens in power:

“Its industries are successful because Greens in government encouraged them to move into the new era of low carbon energy production before other European countries. Germany has turned its back on the nuclear age and is rapidly phasing out fossil fuels. Germany is the economy in Europe that is benefiting most from the energy transition that dangerous climate change requires of us. It is Greens in government who enabled this process”.

She, and other Green House members invite everyone who wants to see an alternative to continued Conservative government to join in the discussion about what that alternative can be.

Professor Jeremy Gilbert, in a Compass article, spells out the proposal, advocating a co-ordinated response involving every potentially progressive organisation and party in the country. He asks:

“Do you really think we can stand up to May, Murdoch and the Mail, to the City, the CBI and consumer-industrial complex all alone?

“Labour is never going to be back on 44% in the opinion polls. The electorate is too fragmented for that, and above all Labour’s electoral base is too fractured for it ever to happen again”.

(Ed: we note that the British Labour Party is already one of the parties and organisations from over 90 countries which participate in the International Progressive Alliance network of social-democratic and progressive political parties.)

Gilbert continues: “Would you rather it happen now, while the Left retains the leadership of the party, or in five or ten years time, when the Right is back in control? Would you rather have a Progressive Alliance, or an alliance of revanchist Blairites, (May)ites and ‘Orange Book’ Liberal Democrats? Because if we do not seize the initiative now, then the latter is what we are going to get, soon enough. This is going to happen sooner or later”.

 

 

 

 

Whistleblowers 11: the ones that got away?

In Britain whistleblowers are usually made to suffer, despite the nicknamed ‘Whistle-blowers Act’: There have been several general articles about whistleblowing on this site & others focussing on some brave individuals who suffered for revealing unwelcome truths. Before this site was set up there were health sector whistleblowers; Marta Andreasen & Paul van Buitenen also revealed shocking cases of EU financial mismanagement and suffered for it.

 Just for the record – covered profusely in MSM:

Professor Prem Sikka tweeted about a case involving Barclays chief executive Jes Staley, who started to work for Barclays in December 2015 and later recruited at least four senior executives who had worked with him at JPMorgan Chase. In June, when Barclays received two anonymous letters making allegations of what the bank describes as “a personal nature” about one of the investment bankers, Mr Staley asked Barclays’ security team to track down the author, though the bank’s compliance department had logged the letters as potential whistleblowing.

Barclays’ board only learnt of Mr Staley’s efforts to identify the tipster in January when a second whistleblower, this time a Barclays’ employee, came forward and directly contacted its outside directors.  In a letter, the Barclays employee pointed to flaws in the bank’s whistle-blower procedures and cited Mr. Staley’s attempts to unveil the anonymous critic.

The bank said it had instructed law firm Simmons & Simmons to conduct an investigation which found that Mr Staley erred in trying to identify the authors of the letters, who in the end were not unmasked. Barclays’ board also informed the FCA and PRA.  Barclays said it has given Staley a formal written warning and will slash his salary. The bank has promised to review its whistleblowing programme.

The Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority are now looking into the matter in Britain, while New York’s Department of Financial Services and the US Department of Justice are conducting investigations in the United States.

Paul Moore, a former HBOS banker, was dismissed from HBOS in the run-up to the financial crisis in 2004 for whistleblowing – warning that the bank was running risks it did not understand. He told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Staley should be fired. Trying to find out the identity of an anonymous whistleblower where the motivation is obviously to try to crush them is gross misconduct.’

It requires real courage for whistleblowers to act on what they see, especially in the UK. One FT article notes that a recent survey by the Ethics Resource Centre of employees in 13 countries found that 63% of British employees who reported wrongdoing experienced retaliation, second only to India and far worse than the 36 per cent global averageMore detail here:

 

 

 

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Elite stranglehold on Britain – unbreakable?

As Steve Beauchampé writes in the Birmingham Press and Political Concern, generations of an elite have ruled this nation (with a few intermissions) for as long as anyone can remember, due to a rigged electoral system.

Their dual achievements:

  • comfortable tax arrangements for the few, a political/corporate nexus which ensures highly paid and nominal duties for all in the inner circle
  • vast military expenditure bestowed on the arms industry, as rising numbers of the population survive in relative poverty, wait in hospital corridors, receive a sub-standard education and depend on handouts to eke out their existence.

Direction of travel

Beauchampé:(The) economy is increasingly kept afloat by the economic support of China . . . The modern high-rise residential blocks that have sprung up throughout the capital may give the impression of a modern, flourishing economy, but look closely and you will see that many are all but empty, whilst homelessness and a reliance on subsistence level housing grows . . . “He notes that surveillance is at an historic high with spy cameras, and even microphones installed in many public places -describing the state’s ability to track the population and follow their activities and conversations as ‘frightening’. . .

The elite stranglehold could be broken

OB’s editor agrees with many that electoral reform is a priority for beneficial change – but even under the rigged ‘first past the post’ system, if the weary mass of people (Brenda of Bristol)  saw the true situation they would vote for the candidate with a credible track record who would be most likely to work for the common good.

 

 

 

 

North Korea focus? Britain in the dock

As tensions rise over North Korea, Steve Beauchampé writes in the Birmingham Press about the parallels between Britain and North Korea 

Extracts

Generations of an elite have ruled this nation for as long as anyone can remember. Such is their power that if there is dissent it is effectively hidden from us, denied the oxygen of publicity. The Dear Leader and ministers live in numerous large, extravagantly furnished, decorative palaces, enjoying the trappings of vast wealth. Walk the streets of the capital and you will soon see monuments, statues and other references to the Dear Leader, their family and the country’s most heroic military endeavours adorning public squares, streets and buildings.

In recent years the country has taken an increasingly bellicose and belligerent tone, threatening to launch unprovoked attacks on other sovereign states, driving them back into the middle ages and forcing their governments from power in the process. it has been busy developing increasingly sophisticated long range missiles and a nuclear weapons capability designed to strike fear into its enemies and anyone else whom it perceives as a threat, vast military expenditure whilst rising numbers of the population survive in poverty, dependent on daily food handouts to eek out an existence

Its economy is increasingly kept afloat by the economic support of China. The modern high-rise residential blocks that have sprung up throughout the capital may give the impression of a modern, flourishing economy, but look closely and you will see that many are all but empty, whilst homelessness and a reliance on subsistence level housing grows.

Surveillance is at an historic high with spy cameras, and increasingly even microphones, installed in nearly all public places and with the state’s ability to track the population and follow their activities and conversations now at frighteningly sophisticated levels.

Tensions are rising across the border, where the neighbouring government has been pursuing a much more internationalist direction. Indeed, heightened divisions have been evident with most neighbouring countries since last summer, and talk of war with one of them over a territorial dispute briefly surfaced as recently as a fortnight ago.

Yes, welcome to Britain.

 

 

 

 

Focus on cuts – 5: the poorest targetted

A reader from Bournville draws attention to an article by Jules Birch in Inside Housing, a weekly magazine for housing professionals. He focusses on a recent TV Panorama programme about the benefit cap that now leaves thousands of people with 50p a week towards their rent.

He noticed that roughly 95% of tweets with the hashtag #benefitcap (scroll down to April 7) were hostile to the people featured in the programme rather than the policy. The majority of people commenting on Twitter were seeing the undeserving individual instead: the stroppy single mother with a mobile phone and the couple with many children. He notes that exactly the same thing happened with Benefits Street, How to Get a Council House and a Dispatches documentary on the cap last month.

Part of the problem, he believes, lay with the way Panorama framed the issue. As Joe Halewood was quick to point out, the programme and its advance publicity seemed to assume that most people capped are unemployed and on Jobseeker’s Allowance, when in fact just 13% are.

The fact that the vast majority of people capped are either unable to work or not required to work was only raised tentatively halfway through the programme. Most of those capped are lone parents with young children who are not required to look for work, or people on Employment and Support Allowance who do not qualify for an exemption but are still not fit for work.

David Pipe explained the effects in a piece following the Dispatches documentary last month. 7,500 households across 370 local authority areas have lost their housing benefit and are now receiving just 50p a week to pay their rent. The cap leaves a nominal amount for housing benefit or Universal Credit once someone’s benefits total more than £20,000 (£23,000 in London). In effect it is imposed on top of the rest of the benefits system.

The latest budget highlighted cuts for the poorest 18-21-year-olds, who will no longer be entitled to help with their rent through Universal Credit from April 1.

For many, Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) are the only thing keeping them in their home and the effect over time will be rising rent arrears and evictions and allocations policies that make it less likely that people on benefits will get a tenancy in the first place. So where and how can the poorest people live? Even people in caravans are being capped, and what will the knock-on costs be in terms of homelessness and the impact on the children?

Meanwhile in Broken Britain, the May government continues the policies of its predecessors and makes decisions which seriously afflict the poorest and greatly benefit the richest: the arms traders, Big Pharma, the privatised utilities, large developers, car manufacturers, private health companies and expensive, inefficient outsourcers – Serco, G4s and Capita.

 

 

 

 

Murdoch press lists corporate spending on political and lobbying activities

Times journalists Alex Ralph, and Harry Wilson present and comment on material collected by the Times Data Team: Tom Wills, Ryan Watts, Kira Schacht. Links have been added by PCU’s editor to enable readers to learn more if they wish to do so.

“FTSE 100 groups, including banks, defence contractors, tobacco manufacturers and telecoms companies, have spent more than £24 million on lobbying in Brussels and about £335,000 funding all-party parliamentary groups in Westminster”.

They add: “There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing or rule-breaking by companies”.

FTSE 100 political spending (over the last two years)

The Times first focusses on All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs)

APPGs are run by and for Members of the Commons and Lords who join together to pursue a particular topic or interest. Many involve individuals and organisations from outside Parliament in their administration and activities – or as the journalists put it, “help to push industry agendas in parliament”. Read more here.

Unsurprisingly, BAE Systems, which spent £37,000 on a group “to promote better understanding of the Her Majesty’s armed forces in parliament”, is among the biggest backers of the parliamentary groups.

The writers comment that parliamentary groups have proved contentious because of the large amounts spent on reports that often support the views of industry and which grant access to parliament for companies and lobbyists.

BT’s £53,000 included backing the parliamentary internet, communications and technology forum, known as Pictfor, whose members include Tom Watson, the Labour deputy leader and Lord Birt, former Blair adviser and director-general of the BBC. A list of funders may be seen here.

Note: ’Donations to APPGs’ shows spending between Jan 2015 and Mar 2017 as declared on the Register of APPGs. ’Spend on EU lobbying’ shows companies’ minimum estimates for the most recent financial year declared on the EU Transparency Register at the time of research. Here is a snapshot taken from one of 10 pages listing donations/other spending and the companies’ rationales for these sums being given.

The Times’ second focus is on the denial of information to shareholders

Less than £10,000 of identified political and lobbying spending in the EU was disclosed to shareholders in the companies’ recent annual reports. ompanies are not required to disclose details to shareholders and little information on corporate political and lobbying activities is revealed in annual reports, which are published before shareholder meetings. The tens of millions of euros spent each year in the EU go largely undeclared to shareholders.

Corporate Europe, which campaigns for greater transparency in EU decision making, has spent years tracking how the business world moulds policy.

Vicky Cann, the group’s UK representative, said that the banking and energy industries were the most active lobbyists. “The financial services industry is a huge spender and even then we think the real scope of their spending is probably bigger than we can currently see,” she said. Her colleague gave the example of recent emissions legislation that was the subject of intense lobbying by BP and Shell.

As Peter van Veen, director of business integrity at Transparency International, said, “Corporate transparency over political activities is important to ensure the public can have the confidence that their politicians and industry leaders are conducting business ethically . . . If companies are not voluntarily willing to disclose their political activities and funding of these, then stronger legislation should be considered and a possible starting point may be to broaden the definition of political activities and expenditure in the Companies Act 2006.”

 

 

 

 

Media 78: Violence in the Bible – a reply the Financial Times did not want to publish

Is Mr Critchley (Violence is already present in the Koran) aware that software engineer Tom Anderson processed the text of the Bible and the Koran to find which contained the most violence?

Using Odin Text analytics software, he analysed both the New International Version of the Old and New Testaments as well as an English-language version of the Quran from 1957.

This found that killing and destruction are referenced slightly more often in the New Testament (2.8%) than in the Quran (2.1%), but the Old Testament clearly leads—more than twice that of the Quran—in mentions of destruction and killing (5.3%).” Details here.

See also requests for vengeance (smiting the enemy) in the Psalms still used in Anglican churches.

And huge numbers of innocents have already been slaughtered during this young century at the behest of Anglo-Saxon, nominally Christian, governments. 

 

 

 

 

Why try to oust Assad? A tale of gas and oil pipelines?

A brief reference on Radio 4’s Today programme (12.04.17) led to an online search. The most prosaic and well-referenced account was found in the Guardian:

In 2009 – the same year former French foreign minister Dumas alleges the British began planning operations in Syria – Assad refused to sign a proposed agreement with Qatar that would run a pipeline from the latter’s North field, contiguous with Iran’s South Pars field, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey, with a view to supply European markets – albeit crucially bypassing Russia.

(Ed: It was also reported in Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News that Moscow rejected a Saudi proposal to abandon Syria’s president in return for a huge arms deal and a pledge to boost Russian influence in the Arab world, diplomats told AFP.Turkey’s desire for Qatari gas was recorded in 2009 in an article in United Arab Emirates’ National News. Saudi pipeline above right)

An Agence France-Presse report claimed Assad’s rationale was “to protect the interests of [his] Russian ally, which is Europe’s top supplier of natural gas”. Instead, the following year, Assad pursued negotiations for an alternative $10 billion pipeline plan with Iran, across Iraq to Syria, that would also potentially allow Iran to supply gas to Europe from its South Pars field shared with Qatar. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the project was signed in July 2012 – just as Syria’s civil war was spreading to Damascus and Aleppo – and earlier this year Iraq signed a framework agreement for construction of the gas pipelines.  The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline plan was a “direct slap in the face” to Qatar’s plans. No wonder Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, in a failed attempt to bribe Russia to switch sides, told President Vladimir Putin* that “whatever regime comes after” Assad, it will be “completely” in Saudi Arabia’s hands and will “not sign any agreement allowing any Gulf country to transport its gas across Syria to Europe and compete with Russian gas exports”, according to diplomatic sources. When Putin refused, the Prince vowed military action

It is alleged that the U.S., the Saudis and Qataris are using Al Qaeda and other groups to conquer a strip through Syria so that U.S. companies such as Halliburton will be able to place pipelines there, to convey Saudi oil and Qatari gas to be marketed in Europe by U.S. firms such as Exxon.

Is this the real reason for wholesale slaughter and destruction?

*Guardian link failed- alternative source inserted.

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“Our ‘noble’ cause? Dropping bombs on behalf of Al Qaeda”

This is the title of Peter Hitchens’ latest article found after hearing a reference on Radio 4.

He asks readers to:

  • consider first that early on Friday morning the United States Navy launched 59 cruise missiles on behalf of Al Qaeda;
  • note that the President of the United States did not even bother to pretend that he was seeking United Nations cover for what he did;.
  • note next that in the same week our Prime Minister, Theresa May, made a duty visit to pay homage to the medieval despots of Saudi Arabia, who kindly buy our warplanes and bombs and are currently using them to savage effect in Yemen
  • and that President Trump was playing host at the White House to the head of Egypt’s military junta, General el-Sisi, whose security forces undoubtedly massacred at least 600 protesters (probably many more) in the streets of Cairo in August 2013.
  • Then mark that the pretext for this bizarre rocket attack was an unproven claim that President Assad of Syria had used poison gas.

Yes, an unproven claim. No independent western diplomat or journalist can gain access to the scene of the alleged atrocity, and what information we have is controlled by Al Nusra.

Another question from Hitchens (left): “Is the gassing of children (undoubtedly a horror) so *much* worse than the other atrocities which the USA knowingly tolerates among its clients in the Middle East, or indeed excuses as collateral damage in such places as Mosul and Ramadi?” The brutality of Sisi and the Saudis is beyond doubt. They didn’t use gas, but our leaders’ outrage at Assad’s alleged gas attack looks a little contrived if they keep such company.

What happened to the rules of evidence? Many people have written, spoken – and now acted – as if the charge was proven. Why the hurry?

Assad is currently winning his war against Islamist fanatics, with conventional weapons. He had finally got the USA to stop demanding his dismissal: “Five days before the alleged attack – five days! – America’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, announced: ‘Our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out’ . . . He knows that the use of poison gas is the one thing that will make the USA intervene against him. They have said so.

So why would he do such a thing, and throw away all his victories in a few minutes? It makes no sense of any kind”.

Hitchens points out that the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, alias the Al-Nusra Front, the Syrian ‘opposition’ which we in the West have been supporting for several years . . . is the local franchise of ‘Al Qaeda’.

Al-Nusra is the Saudi-backed group which seeks the removal of Assad as leader of Syria controls the area where the alleged gas attack took place, and controls all the information coming out of that area. He describes atrocities they have committed and continues. “This is the group whose aims the USA is now supporting, and backing with cruise missiles”.

The only big difference he can see between Al Qaeda and Islamic State is that we drop bombs on Islamic State. And that therefore, in effect, we are dropping these bombs on behalf of Al-Nusra/Al Qaeda. 

Hitchens believes, “The once-wealthy and powerful West is bankrupt and increasingly at the mercy of people who have begun to demand something in return for their trade and their loans. It is all very sordid, and bodes ill for the future”. He ends:

“I would mind it less if we admitted what we were doing, rather than pretending these wretched events were some sort of noble act”.