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Only one political party is attempting to find a mature way through the Brexit morass and heal a deeply divided nation

Relevant to visitors to this website: reproduced from ‘Watershed’:

https://watershed2015.wordpress.com/2019/09/18/only-one-political-party-is-attempting-to-find-a-mature-way-through-the-brexit-morass-and-heal-a-deeply-divided-nation/

 

 

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Different perspectives on the latest outsourcing report

A report, Government outsourcing: what has worked and what needs reform? was released on Sunday night by an independent think tank, the Institute for Government (IFG).

Lamiat Sabin reports its finding that the cost savings outsourcing is supposed to deliver have been heavily exaggerated and that public support for renationalising services will increase as a result of “repeated failures”.

In the words of General union GMB national secretary Rehana Azam: “All too often the apparent ‘savings’ from outsourcing take the form of cutting wages, terms and conditions and pensions . . . We need to rebuild our public services and return them to public and democratic ownership, serving citizens and their communities not the shareholders of big business”.

But under the headline: Labour plan to reverse outsourcing criticised by think-tank, Valentina Romei (below right) puts a very different emphasis on the report’s findings, quoting the words of Tom Sasse, senior researcher, Institute for Government:

“Labour’s policy of bringing services back into government hands by default risks throwing away the benefits of outsourcing”.

Noting that the government spends about £292bn, more than a third of all public spending, on goods and services from external suppliers and that a series of failures has brought the system under intense scrutiny, Valentina points out that these often stem from recurring issues and failures, including:

  • an excessive focus on the lowest prices . . .
  • the finding that some of the people most in need in society — jobseekers, benefits claimants, ex-offenders — have been let down by government outsourcing services. . .
  • the outsourcing of probation services which have failed on every measure, harming ex-offenders trying to rebuild their lives . . .
  • setting the cost ceiling to provide services in Cornwall in 2011 too low for many GP services providers and
  • the repeated failure of the company finally selected to meet both its performance and quality targets.

Damned with faint praise:

Valentina concluded that: “Opening up prisons to competition has led to innovations that have improved the lives of prisoners . . . Contracting out waste collection, cleaning, catering and maintenance in the 1980s and 1990s led to significant savings”.

 

John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, also scrutinised this “40-year failed experiment”. He focussed on several points made in the report, including:

  • the fact that politicians regularly cite headline savings of up to 30% but recent evidence shows any savings are more typically around 5 to 10%.
  • 28% higher rates of MRSA infection were found in hospitals which had outsourced cleaning to companies that often employ fewer staff.
  • Private prisons also tend to pay prison officers and support staff considerably less than in public prisons (by 15 and 22% respectively) while paying managers and directors more.
  • The fact that NHS will have spent £80bn by the time all the PFI contracts for buildings such as schools and hospitals are paid off, in return for just £13bn of initial investment (IPPR think tank).

The website of public ownership campaign group We Own It, set up in 2013, is well worth visiting. Its founder and director Cat Hobbs (right) said:

“When councils bring services back in-house they save money, improve quality and have more control over the services.

“It doesn’t make sense to hand over crucial services to companies that are motivated to make a profit rather than serve the communities.”

(Ed) A statistician could objectively assess the findings of this report which may be downloaded here. Until that is done the public will continue to regard privatisation as an abysmal failure and a gross misuse of tax income by government.

 

 

 

 

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Time for change: move more freight by rail and waterways to reduce air pollution and road accidents

Money Supermarket reports that more than half of fatal accidents on British roads involve HGVs, though lorries make up only 10% of the traffic. HGVs are involved in one in five fatal crashes on A-roads and an HGV is five times as likely to be involved in a fatal accident on a minor road than other traffic.

Department for Transport figures are quoted, showing that 82% of articulated heavy goods vehicles exceeded the 50-mph speed limit on dual carriageways and 73% broke the 40-mph limit on single carriageways in 2013. Despite this, in 2015 government raised the speed limit for HGVs travelling on single and dual carriageways in England and Wales. An HGV over 7.5 tonnes can now travel along a single carriageway at 50 mph, up from 40mph. The speed limit for HGVs over 7.5 tonnes travelling on dual carriageways increased from 50mph to 60mph.

The arrival of even bigger HGVs (double articulated mega-trucks) and ‘platooning’ trials pending with a driver in the first cab, controlling the following vehicles has raised further safety concerns. Last year, the Government announced that trials of partially self-driving platoons of lorries were set to take place on roads in the UK by the end of 2018.

Edmund King, president of the AA pointed out that we have some of the busiest motorways in Europe with many more exits and entries – and that platooning may work on the miles of deserted freeways in Arizona or Nevada but this is not America.

 

A few recent accidents:

12.9.19

The northbound carriageway between junctions 38 (Huddersfield) and 39 (Wakefield) was closed after an HGV overturned following an earlier collision with a car. The HGV was fully laden with glass bottles that had to be unloaded and diesel that had spilled across all three carriageway lanes had to be cleared.

11.9.19

M6 was shut after lorry crash between J12 and J13, near Cannock. The HGV hit the central reservation and later caught fire. Three lanes reopened southbound just after 12:30. Northbound remained closed most of day.

3.9.19

The M6 northbound between J14 (Stafford) and J16 (Stoke-on-Trent) was closed following an HGV fire.

13.8.19

The A38 was closed in both directions, between the A513 near Fradley and B5016 near Burton on Trent due to a crash and an overturned HGV. Around 40 tonnes of grain were spilled in the carriageway.

9.8.19

Police officers investigate the collision involving an HGV, between J25 and J24 near Taunton.

6.8.19

An HGV driver died following a collision on the M6 when his lorry burst into flames after colliding with a safety barrier.

5.8.19

There were severe delays on the M6 southbound between Junction 16 and Junction 15 due to two lanes being closed following an HGV fire. There was approximately seven miles congestion back to J16.

 

There is an alternative:

 

 

A Route One article reviewed reports by continental researchers who believe that their findings offer some support to policies being developed at Pan-European level to promote new multimodal transport corridors. These involve rail, inland waterways, short-sea (coastal) shipping. The researchers concluded that shifting a greater proportion of freight from roads to rail, boat and/or ship for part of its journey would be a sustainable way of meeting continuing rises in freight demand and reducing numbers of road accidents.

The Freight by Water 2018 conference, part of the Inland Waterways Transport Solutions project, highlighted how switching freight from road and rail to water can compete on cost and cut emissions. Inland waterways across the world have proved to be effective and efficient channels for moving everything from beer to building materials.

The conference highlighted several success stories and discussed several opportunities for freight by water, including the Leeds Inland Port at Stourton, which could take at least 200,000 tonnes of freight traffic off the roads. Its conclusion:

The time is right to increase freight using inland waterways throughout the UK and across Europe as an alternative to road and rail freight.

 

 

 

 

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A Scandinavian challenge to the FT’s rejection of Corbyn’s social democracy

Britain needs ‘a more conventional social democratic project’ according to a recent article by the FT editorial board – not Jeremy Corbyn’s radical ‘socialist’ programme.

The board rejects the claim by Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘media outriders’ that his programme aims to bring the country into line with the rest of Europe and is akin to German or Scandinavian social democracy. But Jonas Fossli Gjersø, (left) a Scandinavian who has spent more than a decade living in Britain, writes:

“From his style to his policies Mr Corbyn would, in Norway, be an unremarkably mainstream, run-of-the-mill social-democrat . . . his domestic policies are largely identical with the Norwegian Labour Party manifesto . . . Yet, here in the United Kingdom a politician who makes similar policy-proposals, indeed those that form the very bedrock of the Nordic-model, is brandished as an extremist of the hard-left and a danger to society”.

Modern social democratic thinking

Professor Richard Hoefer, in his essay in “Social Welfare Policy and Politics” 2013, writes: “Modern social democracy is characterised by a commitment to policies aimed at curbing inequality, oppression of underprivileged groups and poverty”.

Jeremy Corbyn would agree with this, and with Thomas Meyer and Lewis Hinchman, who add that social democracy includes support for universally accessible public services like care for the elderly, childcare, education, health care and workers’ compensation. They comment: “Libertarian democracies are “defective” in failing to protect their citizens adequately against social, economic, and environmental risks that only collective action can obviate. Ultimately, social democracy provides both a fairer and a more stable social order.”

Jonas Fossli Gjersø sees the British media’s portrayal of Corbyn as ‘verging on the realm of character assassination (media collage) rather than objective analysis and journalism’.

He suggests that the Nordic model would be a useful benchmark for Britain to move towards and thinks it possible that we are witnessing the social-democratic mirror image of the Thatcherisation process today in Britain, ‘with a prevailing wind from the left rather than the right’.

 

 

 

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DSEI arms exhibition protestors call for government spending on peace, adequate public services and addressing climate change

Extinction Rebellion demonstrators, who used a signature XR boat to block access to the DSEI arms fair  to be held in the Excel Centre in Royal Albert Way said that war creates devastating environmental damage and with a warming climate leading to more extreme weather and causing more failed harvests and droughts, as food and water runs out, we can expect more conflict and a much bigger refugee crisis. They added:

“The UK has to own up to its part in creating these global problems, take real leadership in reducing warming and conflict, and create deliberative democracies which can solve this emergency.”

West Ham MP Lyn Brown said: “The DSEI arms fair causes a massive inconvenience for local residents every two years, from the added traffic and security it always requires. Added to the inconvenience to local people, the arms fair also piles an unwanted and unneeded burden on our local public services, like our police, ambulances, hospitals and transport, all already massively overstretched due to nine long years of Tory austerity cuts. Despite asking questions in Parliament for months, the Government haven’t been able to reassure me that we won’t be seeking to sell weapons to regimes that abuse human rights or are killing innocents in places like Yemen. I’m proud to stand with the Newham residents who are raising their voices against the arms fair this year, and I hope that together we can stop the DSEI from returning to our borough in 2021.”

Demonstrators advocated that instead of helping to promote and subsidise the sales of armaments, government should be creating an emergency budget:

  • to bring down emissions and increase biodiversity,
  • to transfer jobs from the arms industry into the sustainable economy now
  • to stop fuelling conflict around the world
  • and instead support ‘peace diplomacy’.

Extinction Rebellion’s Liam Geary Baulch said: “We envision a world where people have a right to a future and a right to live in peace with a home, food, and water – all things that are put at risk by fuelling conflict and the climate and ecological emergency around the world.

 

 

 

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FT in the dock: charged by a resident of Winchester and a host of economists

An earlier post – the first in a series ‘The Corbyn Revolution: How Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s economic agenda would impact Britain’s economy’ – was a fairly dispassionate overview of the proposed policies ‘breathtaking in scope’, but the other titles in the series indicated that they would fall well below the standards of ‘fairness and impartiality’ which the FT’s new owners had undertaken to maintain.

The writer cravenly decided to avoid them, but Judith Martin (below, right) had more spirit and took the FT – ‘One of the business world’s most-respected platforms’ – to task for its article, UK’s Labour would seize £300bn of company shares.

Though the FT edited or removed many sentences and gave it an anodyne and misleading title: Rewarding your workers makes sound economic sense, we can now present the full text, sent by the writer.

“Raid”, “stealth tax”, “expropriation” – I don’t recall the FT using these inflammatory terms when discussing the John Lewis Partnership, which has always given annual bonuses to the staff instead of to shareholders.  

Nor do I recall whether you used them when in 2016 Theresa May pledged to put worker representatives on company boards – although it was that sort of reaction that ensured it didn’t happen.

Your front page headline “Labour would cost UK companies £300bn by shifting shares to staff” (2nd September 2019) is one of the most partisan I have ever seen in the FT, and more like something I would expect from the tabloid press that I don’t choose to buy.

Only later does it become clear that the suggestion is for a gradual transfer of a mere 10%.  The fact that the top 20% of income earners received 6 times the disposable household income of the bottom 20% (according to the government’s own figures (Income inequality in the UK, House of Commons Library, May 2019)) doesn’t get a look-in.

Henry Ford understood that it made sound economic sense to pay workers enough to allow them to buy the company’s products. Impoverishing your workers – even if, like Deliveroo, Uber and the rest of the gig economy crew, you claim they’re not actually employees – is not good for society, as numerous FT articles have noted in recent years. Most of our current worker protection has come from the EU.

As for the rights of tenants, I am agnostic on whether or not they should be given the right to buy but they certainly need a fair rent structure and decent protection.   Not long ago there were headlines saying that a new generation of middle-aged renters was likely to face extreme poverty in old age, with resulting stresses on the health service and elsewhere.   Compare this country’s attitudes to housing and landlords with Germany, where Berlin has just acquired nearly 700 flats from a private landlord, with plans for more.   In March this year the FT noted approvingly that the start-up culture in Berlin was thriving.   A city that protects its residents frees up initiative.

Is this really a good time to put the boot in to any policy that might suggest that capitalism was capable of improvement? The FT has spent the last three years insisting that the EU gives a better deal than the economic isolation that faces the country in November.

When Jeremy Corbyn (left, FT) has finally been dragged into co-operation with other anti-brexiters, and Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party is looking increasingly unstable, is this really a good time to put the boot in to any policy that might suggest that capitalism was capable of improvement just because it comes from the Labour party?   Do you really want more of Johnson and his stated approach of “fuck business?”

 

 

 

 

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FT in the dock 2: a host of economists say our failing economic model demands Labour’s bold ideas

ft jc a (2)

(Ed) Is Jim Pickard’s language in this articleseize, confiscate, state raid, expropriate – actually adding to Project Fear, which is becoming Project Cold Hard Reality according to the Scotsman – no doubt thinking of the number of jobs and assets moving to continental Europe?

In a letter today signed by over eighty economists, including Richard Wilkinson, Guy Standing, Prem Sikka, Kate Raworth, Richard Murphy, Steve Keen, Joseph Huber, John Christensen, Dani Rodrik, Thomas Piketty and lead signatory, David Blanchflower, the FT is charged with failing to appreciate the severity of the UK’s current economic condition. The indications include:

  • the country’s ‘meagre recovery’ from the 2008 banking crisis, fuelled by rising household debt,
  • stagnating earnings,
  • a housing market crisis,
  • the wealthiest disproportionately benefiting from growth since the 1980s and
  • a failure to take adequate action to prevent climate and environmental breakdown and prepare for their effects.

They point out that all political parties in the UK are proposing increases in public spending to meet these challenges – and charge the FT with reproducing a number of misconceptions:

Labour’s proposals are affordable: the FT’s source, an Office for Budget Responsibility analysis, “ignored the impact of public spending on growth, and thus on tax receipts” – a critical relationship noted by senior IMF economists in their critique of austerity.

The economists pointed out that government can borrow at negative real interest rates to fund pressing infrastructure, education and environment projects, many of which offer returns well above zero, generating higher future tax receipts to spend on social and environmental needs such as those listed above. At present, they observe, taxation levels in the UK remain lower than in most well-provided European countries.

They corrected the implication that a mechanism such as an Inclusive Ownership Fund (p.42) would require companies to pay out cash out; companies would issue new shares to be placed in a mutual fund – just as shares are now issued for executive compensation.

After being reminded that in the 1940s and 1980s, major policy changes were made in response to a failed economic model – at first seen as overly radical but later accepted across the political spectrum – the FT editor might heed the advice of the critical reader whom he invited to write a letter:

“There needs to be a revolution in the FT — not the communist type of revolution, but a revolution that turns the mindset to see the world beyond a white middle-class neo-liberal tinted lens.”

 

 

 

 

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A reader comments. “The FT seems to be taking the prospect of a Labour government seriously”

Over the next week, the Financial Times will be examining the impact of a prospective Corbyn government on the UK economy as memories of the financial crisis have reinforced the public’s perception of a system rigged against them – despite the ongoing exposures of the excesses of the financial services industry.

 FT: “A Corbyn government promises a genuine revolution in the British economy”

It looks at the plans already announced, describing them as “breathtaking in scope”. These include:

  • the nationalisation of rail, water, mail and electricity distribution companies,
  • significantly higher taxes on the rich,
  • the transfer of 10% of shares in every big company to workers (with a maximum annual £500 dividend,
  • reform of tenant rights, including a “right to buy” for private tenants,
  • borrowing to fund public investment.
  • a four-day week,
  • pay caps on executives,
  • an end to City bonuses,
  • a universal basic income,
  • £250bn to fund a National Investment Bank to build 1m social homes,
  • an increase in the minimum wage,
  • higher income tax for those earning over £80,000,
  • a new “excessive pay levy”,
  • a £5bn-a-year financial transactions tax,
  • a corporation tax rise from 19p to 26p in the pound,
  • the break-up of the Big Four auditors,
  • a ban on all share options and golden handshakes,
  • curbs on the voting rights of short-term shareholders,
  • the public naming of all workers on over £150,000 a year,
  • the nationalisation of parts of the struggling steel industry,
  • opposition to the Trident nuclear deterrent and
  • delisting of companies that fail to meet environmental criteria from the London Stock Exchange.

Thatcherism reversed

Mr Corbyn’s supporters see rebalancing of control from shareholders, landlords and other vested interests to workers, consumers and tenants, “reorienting an economy that works for those at the top but not for the young, the unemployed or those struggling on zero-hours contracts” as “fairness”. But to political opponents, high-earners, business owners, investors and landlords, it is alarming.

On September 1st, the FT declared: “A Corbyn government is no longer a remote prospect. With UK politics scrambled by Brexit, the landscape is unrecognisable”.

Lord David Willetts, a former Conservative cabinet minister who now chairs the Resolution Foundation think-tank, comments: “Brexit is so radical and such a massive gamble, breaking a 40-year trading arrangement, that it’s hard for Tories to say to people ‘don’t gamble on Labour”. They just think: ‘who’s the gambler?’”

Brexit as an opportunity: in his speech to the 2018 Labour conference, Shadow Chancellor John Donnell noted: “The greater the mess we inherit, the more radical we have to be.” 

Lord Bob Kerslake, former head of the civil service, who is helping Labour to prepare for government, believes Labour’s manifesto pledges are indeed ‘radical’ but can be delivered. He realises that there are questions about how much of the Corbyn-McDonnell policy platform can be carried out if there is a minority government and stresses the need to make significant progress on it in a first term.

As the FT wrote:Polling data show that voters currently evince little enthusiasm for a Corbyn government. And yet the existential shock of Brexit, combined with his appeal to younger voters and families fatigued by nearly a decade of austerity, could still deliver the unexpected”. 

 

 

 

 

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Small modular nuclear reactors: on the ‘inside track’, Lord Hutton

People on ‘the inside track . . . wield privileged access and disproportionate influence’ according to the Parliamentary Public Administration Select Committee [PASC].

Lord John Hutton: a brief chronology

2008-9: Secretary of State for Defence

2010: Joined the board of US nuclear power company Hyperion Power 

2011: Appointed Chair of the Nuclear Industries Association

2010- 2015, became Chairman of the Royal United Services Institute.

2014 -2018: was a defence advisor/consultant with US arms firm, Lockheed Martin

2017: Became chairman of Energy UK, a trade association for the GB energy industry with a membership of over 100 suppliers, generators, and stakeholders with a business interest in the production and supply of electricity and gas for domestic and business consumers

SMR: artist’s impression

2017: The UK SMR Consortium is the trade association for the GB energy industry. Moribund? Its website has only five news entries, all dated Sept 2017. Lord Hutton’s foreword to its 2017 report (cover below): “A UK SMR programme would support all ten ‘pillars’ of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, and assist in sustaining the skills required for the Royal Navy’s submarine programme.”

2018: A report by the Expert Finance Working Group (EFWG), convened by BEIS in January, recommended that: “For technologies capable of being commercially deployed by 2030, HMG should focus its resources on bringing First of a Kind (FOAK) projects to market by reducing the cost of capital and sharing risks through:

  • assisting with the financing of small nuclear through a new infrastructure fund (seed funded by HMG) and/or direct equity and/or Government guarantees; and
  • assisting with the financing of small nuclear projects through funding support mechanisms such as a Contract for Difference (CfD)/ Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) or potentially a Regulated Asset Base (RAB) model while maintaining the supply chain plans required for larger low carbon projects”

2019: a July commitment to initial funding for SMRs is welcomed by the UK SMR Consortium (Rolls-Royce website)

“Our consortium warmly welcomes the Government’s decision to advance our new innovative small modular reactor programme. The government has today committed £18 million of initial funds to support the development of this power station as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, subject to final confirmation in early autumn. Our design will bolster the UK’s ambitions to tackle climate change”.

The next step? Final confirmation of taxpayers’ funding for the small modular reactor programme in early autumn.

 

 

 

 

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A fiery denunciation of the “cabal’s” decision to suspend parliament

Constitutional chicanery

Poles apart from Murdoch’s exultant Sun, which calls it a ‘masterstroke’, the FT’s editorial team describes the decision as ‘an affront to democracy’: “Boris Johnson has detonated a bomb under the constitutional apparatus of the United Kingdom . . . Proroguing parliament ahead of a Queen’s Speech is established procedure, but for one or two weeks, not five. Mr Johnson is using constitutional chicanery to thwart a parliament that he knows has a majority against his chosen policy”.

An intolerable attempt to silence parliament

The decision, without modern precedent, is described as “an intolerable attempt to silence parliament until it can no longer halt a disastrous crash-out from EU by the UK”. British democracy is being denied a say on the most important issue facing the country for more than four decades.

The FT’s editorial team recommends parliamentarians to bring down Johnson’s government in a no-confidence vote, paving the way for an election in which the people can express their will.

Charlatans, demagogues and would-be dictators

Pointing out that history has shown that charlatans, demagogues and would-be dictators have little time for representative government, they comment: “Mr Johnson may not be a tyrant, but he has set a dangerous precedent. He and the cabal around him who have chosen this revolutionary path should be careful what they wish for. No premier who has assumed power outside a general election has ever deviated so radically from his party’s previous platform”, and end:

“Mr Johnson is framing the current battle as one between parliament and the people . . . he should be ready to test this with voters in an election — rather than making a cavalier attempt to frustrate the parliamentary democracy that has been the foundation of Britain’s prosperity and stability”.

 

 

 

 

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