In another incisive FT intervention, Judith Martin points out that it is not only planning officers, or even the Royal Institute of British Architects and Campaign to Protect Rural England, who are worried about the UK government’s determination to extend permitted development rights (See Report, July 22).
Dismay at the worsening of already poor control has been expressed by the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, countless civic societies, the Town and Country Planning Association and local planning officers, who have warned that the move risks creating substandard housing and angering residents.
Like many thoughtful people, Ms Martin imagines that engineers are also concerned about the structural implications of adding a further two storeys to a building in the absence of planning controls.
‘The greenest building is the one that is already built, because of the embodied energy’
Ed commented that permission for (hopefully reputable) developers to demolish empty buildings and rebuild them as home without submitting full planning applications, might be beneficial If carefully overseen)
Judith Martin is more far-sighted; she later pointed out that such run-down but inoffensive buildings, could easily be converted to housing without demolition, adding “There’s a saying that the greenest building is the one that is already built, because of the embodied energy”.
She points out the contrast between rhetoric and action, in that this extension of permitted development rights has come only six months after the government-initiated Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission report, launched by the same Robert Jenrick, who said in January that well-designed, high-quality homes and tree-lined streets should be the norm, not the exception.
Ms Martin notes a second inconsistency: on the same day that minister Robert Jenrick (right) made his announcement, another government-commissioned report from his own department, “Quality standard of homes delivered through change of use permitted development rights”, revealed that under a quarter of homes delivered in this way (ie, generally thorough office-to-housing conversion, with no input from the local planning authority) met national space standards, with some studio flats as small as 16 square metres. Some had no windows at all. People are already being housed in instant slums. (See Ekklesia summary)
Cutting out “unnecessary bureaucracy to give small business owners the freedom they need to adapt and evolve”, as Mr Jenrick puts it, will only ensure more substandard building.
Another call for independence comes following the last post deploring Britain’s stance on Venezuela, following our special friend’s failure to observe its UN commitment to refrain from military, political or economic coercion aimed against the political independence or territorial integrity of any state.
Officials negotiating with Donald Trump’s administration had made detailed notes of the discussions in November 2019 but government had previously only released a heavily redacted version. Later that month. Jeremy Corbyn, then Labour leader, handed out to journalists some 450 pages of unredacted documents that he said showed the NHS would be on the table in British-US negotiations. (See video).
The British Medical Journal reported:
The NHS and drug patents have been part of ongoing post-Brexit trade negotiations between the US and the UK, leaked unredacted documents obtained and shared by the Labour Party have shown.
The six documents outline “secret talks” held between US trade representatives and the UK Department for International Trade from July 2017 to July 2019. They include discussions on a variety of trade topics including drug pricing, longer patents for US drug companies, and the potential to discuss the NHS “further down the line.”
Earlier this month academics warned that, if the UK loses its ability to negotiate drug prices or to import generic drugs under a trade agreement with the US after Brexit, the NHS’s drug bill could soar from £18bn (€21bn; $23.2bn) to £45bn a year.
The news that the talks between the UK and the US included drug pricing and the NHS comes after England’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, repeatedly said that “the NHS is not for sale and never will be under this Conservative administration.”
When faced with the report, Prime Minister Boris Johnson had denied it as a “complete invention” but Mr Corbyn said that the uncensored version left “Johnson’s denials in absolute tatters.” He added that an overwhelming majority of the British public are against the idea of having the health service as part of negotiations and want specific measures in place to prevent it from happening.
He pointed to polling commissioned by public-ownership campaign group We Own It published yesterday on protections for the NHS in the Bill. Three quarters of the public want such protections, according to the poll conducted by Survation. Just 14% of people do not.
Campaigners say that failing to protect the NHS from trade deals would:
- open up the service to being charged more for medicines,
- enshrine the rights of US healthcare companies to access the NHS in international treaties
- and lock in privatisation that would be “incredibly difficult” for a future government to reverse.
The London Economic reported that Green Party MP Caroline Lucas put forward an amendment designed to protect the NHS from being subject to any form of control from outside the UK in a future post-Brexit Trade Deal, with the support of Labour leader Keir Starmer and a number of other senior MPs, but last night MPs voted against it by 340 votes to 251.
Other amendments to the Bill have been submitted. Labour has called for a commitment to protect the NHS from outside control and a review every five years of each new agreement the government signs up to. A further amendment tabled by Tory Jonathan Djanogly would give Parliament the new power to scrutinise and vote on future trade deals. More than 6,000 people have written to MPs asking them to support this amendment and more than 1.2 million people have signed a Keep Our NHS Public petition calling for the government to protect the NHS from trade deals. The Trade Bill returned to the Commons today.
Cat Hobbs (right) of We Own It, which believes that as – after 30 years, privatisation of our public services has failed, it’s time for public ownership – urged all Tory MPs to follow the lead of the “handful of Conservative MPs” and the opposition parties who have demanded protections for the NHS. She said: “This is about basic democracy, basic scrutiny, basic sovereignty. Taking back control should mean having control of our own laws and our own public services, not selling them off to the highest bidder.”
AKA declaring independence.
According to the United Nations’ declaration on principles of international law friendly relations and co-operation among states, it is the duty of member states to refrain in their international relations from military, political, economic or any other form of coercion aimed against the political independence or territorial integrity of any state.
This duty has been contravened by successive American governments in several regions, including the Middle East and Central and South America.
Boris Johnson shows no sign of departing from the subservient ‘special relationship’ lauded by successive right-wing Labour and Conservative governments.
The Central Bank of Venezuela had entrusted 31 tons of gold to the Bank of England and many believe that the Bank of England has a moral and professional imperative to return it to the Venezuelan state as requested, to be given to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to be used to purchase food, medicine and vital health inputs during the pandemic.
As noted here, earlier this month In the High Court Judge Nigel Teare (Commercial and Admiralty Courts) ruled against returning the gold, outrageously stating that it is the British government’s prerogative to decide who was Venezuela’s legitimate head of state.
The Venezuela Solidarity Campaign’s secretary, Dr Francisco Dominguez*, recently reported in Ars Notoria that the Central Bank of Venezuela will appeal, seeking to reverse Judge Teare’s decision so that the gold can be returned to its rightful owners and through the UNDP can be used to continue saving lives against the pandemic.
As he said, “Retaining illegally these resources from Venezuela in the middle of the pandemic is denying the human rights of 32 million ordinary Venezuelans”.
Documents obtained by journalist John McEvoy, under the Freedom of Information Act, have exposed a Foreign Office unit aimed at the ‘reconstruction’ of Venezuela. The “Unit for the Reconstruction of Venezuela” was set up with the self proclaimed
’ President Guaidó and his “ambassador to the UK”, Venezuelan-US citizen, Vanessa Neumann.
Francisco Dominguez: “The existence of the unit also raises a more fundamental question: What business does the UK government have in the “reconstruction” of a sovereign nation?”
In May 2019, Neumann wrote to FCO officials that she had contacted MP Rory Stewart at DFID for a meeting that “will sustain British business in Venezuela’s reconstruction”.
This and other documents revealed private discussions between Venezuelan opposition figures and UK officials making proposals for the promotion of British business after a planned coup.
They suggest that ‘regime change’ in Venezuela is following the typical procedure: the countries that contribute most during the destabilisation phase can expect to share the financial spoils in the ‘reconstruction’ phase.
Francisco Dominguez: “Guaidó’s “presidency” unequivocally controls nothing, not even a street lamp in Venezuela. He is just a device for the pillage of his country’s vast wealth”
Dominguez reports that Mr Guaidó is thoroughly discredited in Venezuela, where he enjoys little support, and substantial sections of the opposition have publicly broken with him and constructively engaged with President Maduro in creating the best conditions for the coming elections to the National Assembly on 6th December 2020.
He is alleged to have associated with Colombian narco-paramilitaries and proved to have staged a failed coup against the Maduro government, contracting US mercenaries (one above) to carry out an attack on the presidential palace leading many to resign, as recorded in an interview with the PanAm Post. Former US Green Beret soldiers Luke Denman and Airan Berry were detained in Venezuela in May, during a botched operation to try to kidnap Mr Maduro and bring him to the US for trial. Both have been charged with terrorism and weapons trafficking offences, and face up to 30 years in prison.
In January 2020, Guaidó travelled to London to talk to UK government officials and shore up international support for his failing efforts to overthrow the Venezuelan government. He met foreign secretary Dominic Raab and other well-placed officials.
“We are slowly descending into chaos,” said a trauma physician at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital
But President Trump continues to criticise the UN and pursues foreign vendettas instead of focussing on the welfare of the American people, though at least 3.83 million people have tested positive and over 143 million have died in the United States from Covid-19 and CNN reports that hundreds of medical workers have fallen sick and hospitals face dire shortages of protective gear. He has started to pull out of the UN’s World Health Organization, alleging bureaucracy and mismanagement and has accused it of mismanaging the coronavirus pandemic when it emerged in China, and of failing to make “greatly needed reforms”.
A Financial Times editorial has called for the US and its allies to change course and waive sanctions on Venezuela as the US bid for regime change escalates. It argued that the desperate state of Venezuela merits special consideration: the spread of the coronavirus, coinciding with a crash in global oil prices, has deprived Caracas of most of its sole source of legal foreign exchange, ending: “Negotiate a humanitarian programme and focus on health as the coronavirus spreads apace in both countries”.
*Dr Francisco Dominguez is a senior lecturer at Middlesex University, where he is head of the Research Group on Latin America. He is National Secretary of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign. Dominguez came to Britain in 1979 as a Chilean political refuge. Ever since he has been active on Latin American issues, about which he has written and published extensively. He is co-author of Right wing politics in the New Latin America (Zed Books).
Transparency International republished a Devex article (7th July) which opens: “Substandard ventilators, grossly overpriced equipment, lucrative contracts awarded to companies with little or no expertise — these are just a few of the disturbingly commonplace things we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in countries ranging from the U.K. and U.S. to Brazil and Slovenia”.
Monbiot’s latest article, summarised here, focusses on the issue of transparent, competitive tendering, “a crucial defence against cronyism and corruption, essential to integrity in public life and public trust in politics”.
He points out that, during the pandemic, the government has awarded contracts worth billions of pounds for equipment on which lives depend, without competition or transparency.
One contract to test the effectiveness of the government’s coronavirus messaging worth £840,000 was awarded without competitive tendering. It was issued by the Cabinet Office, run by Michael Gove, to a company called Public First, owned by James Frayne and Rachel Wolf who worked with Michael Gove when he was education minister and with other Conservative government ministers and advisers for many years.
There is a precedent: in 2010, Gove’s department awarded Wolf a £500,000 contract to promote “free schools” which also did not go to competitive tender.
Though the government had six weeks to prepare for the pandemic, before the deal was done it claimed that it had to override the usual rules for public procurement because it was responding to an emergency. Monbiot debunks this defence and outlines two other problems with this contract.
The FT reported that around 16,000 potential suppliers contacted a 500-person buying team set up by the Cabinet Office in March to offer to supply kit for hospital staff. Monbiot points out that some had a long track record in manufacturing or supplying PPE and had stocks that could be deployed immediately.
Government decided, however, to award PestFix – a pest control company with no manufacturing experience – a £32 million contract to supply surgical gowns, again relying on the emergency defence to justify its decision. To date Pestfix has procured only half of the desperately needed gowns from a Chinese supplier.
Monbiot says, “I think we may reasonably ask what the hell is going on”. The Good Law Project is doing just that. It is crowdfunding a challenge in the High Court against Michael Gove, issuing proceedings alleging breaches of procurement law and apparent bias in the grant of these contracts to his long-standing associates.
Broken Britain 23: Johnson government pronounces that death and destruction inflicted by a profitable ally does not violate human rights
The UK government suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia last year, after a Court of Appeal ruling that it should assess whether the Saudi government had violated international human rights law in its military campaign in Yemen.
Shamefully, a government inquiry has now decided that there was no “pattern” of Saudi Arabia air strikes that breached international law, only “isolated incidents” of violations. It has now lifted the suspension.
As Helen Warrell points out, this decision was made despite the fact that hundreds of attacks on residential areas, schools, hospitals, civilian gatherings and agricultural land and facilities have been documented.
Ceren Sagir reminds us that since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, Britain has licensed £5.3 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime.
This brutal bombardment is only possible because of the complicity and support of arms dealing governments like the UK
She reports that Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) is considering legal options to challenge the decision. Andrew Smith (CAAT) called the arms sales “illegal, immoral and deadly”. He said that the decision to resume them can only prolong the war and increase the bloodshed:
“The government is always telling us how robust its arms export controls are, but nothing could be further from the truth. This brutal bombardment is only possible because of the complicity and support of arms dealing governments like the UK.”
He also criticised the government’s claim that possible breaches of IHL were “isolated incidents” as there have been hundreds of them:
“These are not statistics; they are people’s lives. Saudi forces have bombed schools, hospitals and homes. They have turned gatherings into massacres and inflicted a humanitarian crisis on Yemen.”
Donald Trump, unlike the British government, at least acknowledged the horror being inflicted by these weapons, and felt obliged to ‘wash his hands’ by shifting the blame to the Saudi military.
If attacks on residential areas, agricultural land, schools, hospitals and civilian gatherings do not violate human rights, can the minister tell us what would?
Britain: an oligarchy in which power is concentrated in the hands of an elite, elected or otherwise – 2
Theresa May’s one-time adviser Nick Timothy, startles in the Telegraph with an article Britain’s cosy establishment is the product of a dysfunctional political system: Recent allegations of sleaze and corruption reflect far deeper issues within our political culture
He refers to allegations which have swirled and rows which have lingered about so-called “cash for favours” appointments to the House of Lords, and the hiring and firing of senior civil servants, commenting, “While there is no doubt that we can and should scrutinise specific decisions, we are in danger of missing the bigger issue”:
Our problem is not really about individual politicians, nor even political parties. The problem is our political system and culture
After summarising the Richard Desmond’s alleged gain from a planning decision relating to the redevelopment of Westferry Printworks in east London, he asks, “Why are government ministers (e.g. Robert Kenrick) put in positions – as a matter of routine – that allow powerful people such as Desmond to lobby them, directly and inappropriately?
Nick Timothy observes that the Desmond controversy is closely related to the laws that govern the financing of political parties, which push party fundraisers to beg and borrow from wealthy individuals and organisations: “For the Conservatives, the donors are almost always from big business and the City. For Labour, the money comes mostly from the trade unions, but they take significant donations from business leaders, too”.
One of 13 transgressions listed by the Government’s chief whip, Lord Taylor
He continues: “The Lords is undeniably a deeply corrupting influence in public life”
Many donors end up with peerages in the House of Lords. In the days of hereditary peerages, Lloyd George lampooned the upper chamber for consisting of “500 ordinary men, chosen accidentally from among the unemployed”. But, asks Timothy, is it any better to have 800 men and women chosen on the basis of friendship, financial support and blind political loyalty?
He describes the British establishment as having a deep complacency and a self-serving nature:
“Senior officials retire from unelected and unaccountable executive power, only to gain unelected and unaccountable legislating power. Senior business figures mark one another’s homework thanks to slack corporate governance. Some take the shilling of foreign businesses whose interests they must know clash with those of our country. Some manage to buy political access and influence, and even titles and political positions of their own. And some politicians succumb to pressure and temptation while reassuring themselves that they are serving a higher purpose”.
Another feature not mentioned by Nick Timothy, in a blog post last March, came from Boris Johnson’s adviser, Dominic Cummings, who described the military procurement process as a “farce”.
He accused the military of having “continued to squander billions of pounds, enriching some of the worst corporate looters and corrupting public life via the revolving door of officials/lobbyists”.
Nick Timothy ends, “We should not be surprised that members of this privileged class scratch one another’s backs, but that does not mean we should meekly and passively accept it. The cosiness of our establishment is related to the state of our state, with its informality and amateurishness. For reasons of probity as much as efficiency, it all needs to change”.
The mediation skills of union organisers are valuable. Steve Turner (left), Assistant General Secretary (AGS) of Unite the Union, played a leading role in the successful Cabin Crew dispute (2010/11) with British Airways, when he was National Officer for Civil Aviation.
He was at the forefront of successful negotiations to resolve disputes involving oil tanker drivers and London bus workers during the London Olympic games and Northampton Hospital Workers, locked out in 2014.
Turner led a delegation of Unite workers to Washington and Montreal as part of the 2017/18 successful campaign to safeguard UK jobs; these were threatened by the US Department of Commerce’s proposal to place tariffs of 300% on Bombardier C-series passenger jets during the firm’s dispute with Boeing,
Turner now asks why our government and many private-sector corporations show no faith in our homegrown skills and products.
As we now look to build back, he stresses that this is the opportunity to repair, recover and rebuild with manufacturing at the heart of a new, greener, transitioning economy.
See “Rebuilding after Recession – a Plan for Jobs” : a just transition to a zero carbon economy TUC report “Rebuilding after Recession – a Plan for Jobs” report.