Category Archives: Corporate political nexus

Shining a spotlight on four government agencies: an educational psychologist, a cook, a farmer and an accountant

 

The relatively powerless are harassed: corporates survive censure unscathed

OFSTED had not inspected more than 1,600 schools that were judged “outstanding” by it for at least six years – and of those, almost 300 had not seen an Ofsted inspector for at least 10 years, according to a report by the National Audit Office – see chart on page 27 of the report.

The case of Waltham Holy Cross is ongoing. Last year the government decreed that Waltham Holy Cross would be handed over to Net, a chain of academy schools in May. As the NAO records, this has already happened to over 7,000 other state schools in England since 2010: public assets built and maintained by generations of taxpayers are being given away. Waltham Holy Cross parents made almost 100 freedom of information requests which revealed errors in the draft Ofsted report and that Net was being sounded out on “their appetite to take on this school” in January, over a month before the Ofsted verdict was published. News of teachers and parents there – and in other parts of the country taking action to prevent this ‘forced academisation’ may be read here.

In an article in the Times Educational Supplement (TES), head teacher Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said “Ofsted and the government are the source of much of the stress and anxiety on staff through an extremely high-pressure accountability system and concluded ‘the accounts above reveal an inspection system that appears in too many cases to be doing great damage. My sense is that it’s time to stop quietly accepting that the way Ofsted is, is the way Ofsted should be”.

This month. four years later, TES readers discussed overhauling Ofsted, a ‘toxic’ system. One letter, whose signatories included Dr Richard House, chartered psychologist, former senior lecturer in education studies, Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and Sir Tim Brighouse, former schools commissioner for London, was provoked by a recommendation by Ofsted head Amanda Spielman to shut down what she labelled as “failing Steiner schools”. The signatories are founding a campaign to bring about the replacement of Ofsted with a new inspectorate that is ‘empowering, collaborative, and understanding and respectful of pedagogical difference’.

Unthinking adherence to FOOD STANDARDS AGENCY bureaucracy led to the unjust downgrading of a new small business, damagingly reported in local paper

As the public perception is that businesses with a one rating will give customers food poisoning, a cook-manager has criticised the food hygiene inspection system after her business was given a one rating out of five – though hygiene and food storage was rated highly.

At a (requested) pre-opening inspection by the council in March 2018, no reference had been made to the need for a staff manual and staff training procedures but this ‘one-person’ operation was ‘put on a warning’ for not having a staff training manual – though no staff was employed – and was told that a tick paper exercise (officially a ‘documented food safety management system’) is required for all aspects of work.

The work required to maintain cleanliness and produce wholesome food appeared to be discounted and a paper exercise – easily forged – was prioritised. The District Council inspectors were unhelpfully applying the rules of The Food Standards Agency, a non-ministerial government department, to the letter and not the spirit of those regulations.

Solution found and accepted: a whiteboard was put up in the workplace, a photo taken once a week and an online manual was printed.

On several farms which had passed inspections by the ASSURED FOODS STANDARD (Red Tractor) agency in July 2018 serious cases of animal abuses were reported in the media.

A farmer recently wrote an article in the Western Daily Press foreseeing the advent of similar tick-box regulations:

“What I have been pulled up on is the fact that I do not keep written mobility and condition records. These are not yet enforceable under the scheme – but I have reason to suspect they soon may be.

“The only thing that will be achieved by keeping written records will be the creation of more work for the assessor; more forms for him to sit down and read through and check; one more task to help fill his required nine-to-five working day.

“And let’s suppose I decided to cook up a completely bogus set of records. How would he even know?

“When the Red Tractor scheme was launched the president of the NFU (under whose wing it actually operates) was Ben Gill who told us all how vital it was going to be in supplying the nation with safe, wholesome food which consumers could buy with confidence while, equally, bringing more prosperous times for farmers.

“What I see now is an organisation riddled with pointless bureaucracy (I understand another tier of inspectors is in place to check on the assessors).

“I see, equally, an organisation which appears to operate dual standards: one for the soft-target, small producers like me and another for the industrial giants such as Moy Park, over whose portals the Red Tractor flag proudly flies but where recent footage captured undercover at Moy Park showed stinking, squalid poultry houses where chickens will be lucky to survive their miserably short allotted span”. He ended with two pertinent questions:

  • if Assured Foods was aware of conditions at this plant why did it not intervene?
  • And if it wasn’t aware, why not?

The FINANCIAL REPORTING COUNCIL, the UK’s accounting and auditing regulator, is regrettably funded by the audit profession and its board of directors is appointed by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Its monitoring of out-sourcing firms such as Capita and G4s in several sectors, including health, social, military and prison services has not led to effective disciplinary procedures – in fact they continue to receive lucrative government. The Financial Times reported yesterday that though its auditing of Carillion since 1999 is under investigation by the Financial Reporting Council, the value of new UK public sector contracts awarded to KPMG increased more than fourfold last year. In 2013 seven senior members of the FRC scheduled to investigate KPMG’s role in the collapse of lender HBOS, were current or former employees of KPMG itself.

Prem Sikka, professor of accounting at the University of Sheffield, has posted almost 400 FRC entries on the AABA website (now well hidden by search engines). A recent article adds news of another appointment: Revolving Doors: FRC appoint new member to the Audit and Assurance Council – former PwC and Royal Bank of Scotland  exec .

Professor Sikka has said he is worried that the government is rewarding these firms with valuable contracts when they have been undermining the public purse through their involvement in several tax avoidance scandals (FT: 29.7.19).

 

The ‘soft targets’ are harassed: corporates survive censure unscathed

 

 

 

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Post-PMQs: surely the views of over 100 distinguished Jewish signatories outweigh those of 60 assorted Labour Lords

In an unsuccessful effort to deflect attention from Mr Corbyn’s questions about climate change during today’s PMQs, Theresa May forcefully – even maliciously – demanded an apology for his ‘failure to deal with anti-semitism within the Labour party’.

The following snapshots were taken as they spoke.

She referred to a full page advertisement in the Guardian paid for by 60 ‘distinguished’ Labour peers, attacking Jeremy Corbyn over anti-Semitism – as reported in the Murdoch Press.

Watch the exchange by clicking on this link (6 mins) and note the difference in demeanour as Jeremy Corbyn – impressively cool under fire – sets the record straight and tenaciously continues to challenge the government on the contrast between its rhetoric and its actions on climate change.

This welcome financial windfall for the Guardian, which occupies several inches of space after every online article asking for donations, recalls its withdrawal – after a communication from the Jewish Board of Deputies – of a previously published letter supporting Labour loyalist MP, Chris Williamson. It had over 100 Jewish signatories – many of whom evidently deserve to be described as distinguished.

The list of these signatories and their affiliations has, however, been saved by people who are beginning to expect this sort of mainstream skulduggery and may be seen here.

As the ‘censored’ Guardian letter said, such attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters aim to undermine the Labour party’s leadership, but – we add – they can rebound on the perpetrators.

 

 

 

 

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Media 99: Anti-semitism campaign a fabrication – Norman Finkelstein charges the British elite & its media

Richard House has drawn attention to the latest Media Lens report: ‘Suspending Chris Williamson – The Fury And The Fakery’ – which includes a comment in a forceful and eloquent video by American political scientist, activist, professor and author, Norman Finkelstein (right), whose mother survived the Warsaw Ghetto, the Majdanek concentration camp and two slave labour camps and whose father was a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Auschwitz concentration camp. He writes:

‘Corbyn . . . did not present a threat only to Israel and Israel’s supporters, he posed a threat to the whole British elite. Across the board, from the Guardian to the Daily Mail, they all joined in the new anti-semitism campaign . . . this whole completely contrived, fabricated, absurd and obscene assault on this alleged Labour anti-semitism, of which there is exactly zero evidence, zero.’ 

Media Lens points out that more than 150 Labour MPs and peers – the “infamously pro-war, Blairite section of the party have added to the propaganda blitz by protesting against the decision to readmit Williamson in a statement led by the bitterly anti-Corbyn deputy leader Tom Watson”. 

A recent blog on the Jewish Voices for Labour site also stated that a “hostile, personal campaign is being waged against Chris, who is a hard-working and diligent MP with great standing in his constituency and a strong record of anti-racist campaigning”.

It adds: “This country stands in desperate need of a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, aiming to unite people around protection and promotion of hard won rights and services, the party needs the dedication and principled commitment of Chris Williamson and others like him”.

In 2018, Noam Chomsky commented on this campaign: ‘The charges of anti-Semitism against Corbyn are without merit, an underhanded contribution to the disgraceful efforts to fend off the threat that a political party might emerge that is led by an admirable and decent human being, a party that is actually committed to the interests and just demands of its popular constituency and the great majority of the population generally, while also authentically concerned with the rights of suffering and oppressed people throughout the world. Plainly an intolerable threat to order.’ (Chomsky, email to Media Lens, 9 September 2018).

He commented on these issues again this month in correspondence with journalist Matt Kennard:

‘The way charges of anti-Semitism are being used in Britain to undermine the Corbyn-led Labour Party is not only a disgrace, but also – to put it simply – an insult to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. The charges against Chris Williamson (right) are a case in point. There is nothing even remotely anti-Semitic in his statement that Labour has “given too much ground” and “been too apologetic” in defending its record of addressing “the scourge of anti-Semitism” beyond that of any other party, as he himself had done, on public platforms and in the streets.’

Media Lens’ challenging conclusion asks what sanction the Labour Party should put on those politicians who personally voted to authorise illegal British and US wars in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria – acts which did not merely offend but killed, maimed and displaced millions of people, bringing whole countries to their knees.

 

 

 

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Brussels, full time post: help CEO to tackle corporate power

Corporate Europe Observatory is looking for a new press officer

Full-time post available

Corporate Europe Observatory is looking for a new press officer.

It would be full-time and based in their Brussels office, helping CEO to tackle corporate power.

Full details can be found here: https://corporateeurope.org/en/2019/06/vacancy-press-officer-fmx

Please spread this message in your networks and flag it to anyone you think might be interested.

 

 

 

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A Corbyn government will need support from openly selected MPs and a mass members’ movement to bring about beneficial change

An editorial by Ben Chacko opens with a reference to civil servants apparently briefing the press against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – a further sign of the strain a truly radical opposition is putting on our political system.

As many are aware, those in power have been waging a vigorous and largely untruthful campaign against Corbyn ever since he became leader.

Chacko (right) predicts that this will intensify if he enters office:

“Labour’s radical programme will face parliamentary sabotage, which is why open selection of Labour MPs to improve the character of the parliamentary party is essential.

“It will face legal challenges from corporations with bottomless wallets, institutional interference from the judiciary and the EU if we haven’t left the latter, economic warfare, meddling by foreign powers such as the United States, perhaps even the military putsch mooted in 2015”.

John McDonnell has often said that when Labour goes into office we will all go into office – and Chacko stresses:

“We need to build a mass movement of trade unions, campaign groups such as the People’s Assembly and community organisations fighting for change in every workplace, every town hall and every high street to make those words a reality”.

Only by building up united and determined pressure ‘from below’ will the political-corporate grip on power be broken.

Read the Chacko editorial here.

 

 

 

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FT highlights corporate financial rewards for MPs, April 2018-April 2019

In 2009 this site was set up to report on the distortion of policy-making by those on ‘an inside track, largely drawn from the corporate world, who wield privileged access and disproportionate influence’ according to a 2009 report by the Parliamentary Public Administration Select Committee [PASC].

Tactics covered, such as the ‘revolving door, rewards for failure, widespread behind-the-scene lobbying and party funding, continue to block effective action addressing the social, environmental and economic challenges facing this country.

It became common knowledge, with the growth of social media, that those on the ‘inside track’ are skewing parliamentary decision-making and revelations of this corruption are now accepted as the norm. Therefore, after December 14th 2013, individual examples of this practice were no longer listed.

Today, award-winning journalist Owen Walker has once again highlighted the close relationships between politicians and investment fund managers

Mr Walker is a commissioning editor for the Financial Times, selecting and commissioning writers to write specific articles. He has previously edited specialist FT publications on corporate governance, retail investment and pension scheme management. Barbarians in the Boardroom, his book on activist investors, was published in June.

They bring stardust – really?

Last May, Owen Walker (right) quoted David Pitt-Watson’s explanation. This visiting professor of finance at Cambridge Judge Business School said that much of the appeal of recruiting former politicians is the stardust they bring.

He also pointed out the down-side: “If you take up demanding roles in addition to being an MP, your constituents are going to be asking ‘do you not already have a full-time job?’ “

Insuring against loss of office is nothing new; Mr Walker notes that every UK chancellor since 1983 has taken up a position in investment management after leaving the Treasury, giving names and dates.

In today’s article he records that asset/investment managers paid MPs at least £126,000 in speaker fees, thousands of pounds’ worth of hospitality and more than £110,000 for advice during the year April 2018-April 2019. Readers may read names and amounts by clicking on the link above.

 

 

And now it’s 2019 – time for change!

 

 

 

 

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Emma: is interrupting parliament really worse than failing to act on climate change?

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In December Extinction Rebellion wrote to BBC Director General Tony Hall detailing an eight-point plan of how it could play a pivotal role in the transformation to face the climate and ecological crisis:

“We issued a plea to BBC bosses to live up to their role as public service broadcasters by fully informing the public of the existential threat faced by the human race unless urgent action is taken to reduce carbon emissions” commented Sophie May from Extinction Rebellion.

On Monday April 1st, XR launched a campaign to discover whether BBC staff feel their organisation is telling the truth about the dangers from accelerating global climate breakdown. An Extinction Rebellion team visited BBC Broadcasting House in London to conduct a BBC Staff Survey – putting a series of searching questions to BBC staff on their lunch and coffee breaks.

In the evening, during the debate on the second stage of the Brexit alternatives, Extinction Rebellion activists stood semi-naked in the House of Commons public gallery to call attention to the ‘elephant in the room’ – climate and ecological crisis.”

In what may be an incomplete recording – though James politely said that he hoped the BBC would report climate changes issues more prominently the BBC Radio 5 Live interviewer, Emma Barnett (right), firmly focussed only on the protestors’ actions and not the crisis which prompted them.

James Dean from Extinction Rebellion explained that a dramatic gesture was needed because the government had ‘stuffed itself up with Brexit’ and was not dealing with more important issues which need emergency action now.

He briefly and calmly outlined ‘the awful and dangerous’ future awaiting us all unless every possible action to avert climate change is taken – referring to the increasing incidence of floods, wildfires and storms,

2018: wildfires in Australia and the United States

Emma was not distracted: she charged the protestors with a huge breach of security and risk to MPs – saying that it would be more difficult for people to visit parliament in future.

James replied that this sort of action was nothing new and cited the suffragettes, who finally achieved their ends and whose drastic actions are now admired.

Emma failed to respond to the references to climate change and once again said their action was a serious breach of security: “How can you defend that when we are being told to be careful, not to go out alone etc”.

James ended by saying that they had used a minimum disruption to make their point :

“We know that what is to come will be far worse than putting off a few hours of politicians’ discussions.”

 

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 21: our divided society

Aditya Chakrabortty focusses on the ‘vast disconnect between elite authority and lived experience, central to what’s broken in Britain today’ – the ‘gap’ which widened as independent working class self-help initiatives were replaced by the ‘hand of the state’ (Mount) creating ’a new feudalism’ and from two searing analyses of our divided society (Jones).

He asks:

  • “Why is a stalemate among 650 MPs a matter for such concern, yet the slow, grinding extinction of mining communities and light-industrial suburbsis passed over in silence?
  • “Why does May’s wretched career cover the first 16 pages of a Sunday paper while a Torbay woman told by her council that she can “manage being homeless”, and even sleeping rough, is granted a few inches downpage in a few of the worthies?”
  • Is “the death sentence handed to stretches of the country and the vindictive spending cuts imposed by the former chancellor George Osborne, a large part of why Britain voted for Brexit in the first place?”

He continues:

“We have economic policymakers who can’t grasp how the economy has changed, elected politicians who share hardly anything in common with their own voters . . . Over a decade from the banking crash, the failings of our economic policymaking need little elaboration. the basic language of economic policy makes less and less sense.

“Growth no longer brings prosperity; you can work your socks off and still not earn a living. Yet still councils and governments across the UK will spend billions on rail lines, and use taxpayers’ money to bribe passing billionaire investors, all in the name of growth and jobs.”

A University College London study published last year shows that  the parliamentary Labour party became more “careerist” under Tony Blair – and also grew increasingly fond of slashing welfare. Social security was not something that ‘professionalised MPs’ or their circle had ever had to rely on, so ‘why not attack scroungers and win a few swing voters?’

The trend continues: Channel 4 News found that over half of the MPs elected in 2017 had come from backgrounds in politics, law, or business and finance and more came from finance alone than from social work, the military, engineering and farming put together.

This narrowing has a direct influence on our law-making and political class and Chakrabortty comments: “We now have economic policymakers who can’t grasp how the economy has changed, elected politicians who share hardly anything in common with their own voters”.

He concludes that this is what a real democratic crisis looks like: failed policies forced down the throats of a public. Institution after institution failing to legislate, reflect or report on the very people who pay for them to exist. And until it is acknowledged, Britain will be stuck, seething with resentment, in a political quagmire.

 

 

 

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Media 97: An inconvenient truth? A Dutch reader notes UK’s ZERO coverage of 40,000 climate change demo in Amsterdam

She writes: “*zero* coverage in the UK over climate demo Sunday 10th in Amsterdam?! 40,000 people at climate change demo in Amsterdam and it RAINED heavily all day … we got soaked to our underwear …)!!”

An online search today saw no UK coverage on the first four ‘result’ pages – only American and European coverage.

Adding wryly: “When 40 yellow vests get together it’s shared all over the planet…

Forty thousand people joined a climate change protest in Amsterdam on Sunday, March 10th, urging the Dutch government to take action on climate change.

The demonstration, the first of its kind in the Netherlands, drew around 40,000 people despite heavy rain, according to Agence France-Presse.

“The high turnout is the proof that people now want a decisive policy on climate from the government,” Greenpeace, one of the march organizers, said in a statement.

The Netherlands could be especially vulnerable to the rising tides brought on by climate change. Much of the country already sits below sea level, and some of its land is sinking.

While the U.S. has been backpedalling out of global climate change agreements like the Paris accord, Dutch lawmakers have passed ambitious climate change laws, seeking a 95% reduction of the 1990 emissions levels by 2050.

In January, however, a Dutch environmental research agency said the government is lagging behind its goals. “We are under sea level, so we really need to do something about it,” said a 21-year-old climate studies student at Amsterdam University.

Students around the world have been leading protests to prompt their governments to address climate change. A worldwide school strike is planned for later this week. Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager widely known for her climate change activism, said on Twitter that at least 82 countries plan to participate in the upcoming protest.

Will British media fail to report the forthcoming school strikes as well as this one?

 

 

 

 

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FT: Help to Buy is ‘a state-sponsored taxpayer exploitation machine building a legacy of misery’

This eye-catching headline was placed above an article by Merryn Somerset Webb, editor-in-chief of MoneyWeek, in the Financial Times. She pointed out that Help to Buy (H2B) has been a huge boost to the housebuilding sector, as only new-build homes are eligible under this scheme, keeping it going through the years following the financial crisis.

Kate Davies, executive director of Intermediary Mortgage Lenders Association says Help to Buy is now “a cornerstone of the UK property market”.

Ms Somerset Webb points out that the main beneficiaries have been the big developers who have been provided with “an almost endless source of state financed, captured and slightly desperate buyers”. Jules Birch (Inside Housing), writing in similar vein, points out that housebuilding output has increased, but not ‘remotely as much as profits, bonuses and dividends’.

She comments that H2B hasn’t helped the smaller players much, as ‘hordes of them’ had already gone down with the market in 2008-9 and then records these relevant facts:

  • Two hundred thousand people in the UK have now bought houses using former chancellor George Osborne’s Help to Buy equity loan scheme, paying the average 16% new-build premium.
  • The taxpayer has lent those people £10bn, an average of £55,000 each . . . ‘a special kind of quantitative easing just for them’.
  • The maximum you can borrow from the taxpayer is 20% of the purchase price cap of £600,000 in most of the UK and 40% of the cap in London — £120,000 and £240,000 respectively.
  • Research suggests that Help to Buy purchasers pay 5 to 8% more than ordinary buyers of newbuilds, allowing the builders to increase their prices.
  • 18% of Help to Buy house sales in early 2017 were leasehold properties with escalating ground rents.
  • Half of Persimmon sales are H2B; their pre-tax profits have just passed £1bn.

Writing in the LSE journal, two senior Cambridge academics confirm that the main beneficiaries are large house-builders

In their report: Helping or Hindering? The latest on Help to Buy, they conclude that Help to Buy has had ‘regressive distributional consequences’. They quote ‘one executive’ in the FT who claimed that the scheme had allowed him to raise selling prices by 10%, which would almost double the profit margin for most builders. The market agreed: when rumours circulated on 4 August 2017 that H2B might be withdrawn, £1.3 billion was wiped off the stock market value of the five biggest builders within 90 minutes.

They also present some of the findings by Resolution Foundation research, which suggest that about 35% of H2B recipients could have bought a home without the subsidy:

“Those who have purchased a property with an HTB equity loan have an income significantly higher than the median – indeed, 40% of HTB loans have gone to those with annual incomes of £50,000-plus. Unsurprisingly, DCLG’s own assessment of the policy suggests that 35% of HTB recipients could have bought a home in the absence of the subsidy”. 

 

 

 

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