Category Archives: Education

Outsourcing 8: apprenticeship training 2017-2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Wry smile? Michael Rosen’s 10-point Guide to Labour Leadership Candidates

A gift from Robert Kornreich, a Kings Heath reader; emphasis added.

1. The Economy: if you’re asked about why ‘Labour crashed the economy’ – concede everything. Apologise profusely. Say, ‘Yes we did.’ Smile weakly. Agree if the interviewer makes out ‘there was no money left.’ Agree that it was ‘necessary’ to ‘get things right’ and ‘tough decisions had to be made’ and perhaps ‘we were in the wrong place to put them right at the time.’

Don’t ever point out that in fact it wasn’t the ‘economy’ (in the sense  of the government’s finances) that had ‘crashed’. It was the bankers’ who wouldn’t or couldn’t lend money any more.

Never point out that the UK is a currency-issuing economy. Never point out that the government has been issuing billions of what they call ‘quantitative easing’ which has the net effect of making the super-rich richer by increasing the value of their assets.

Don’t make a big deal out of ‘inequality’. Instead, cite the misleading statistics on the inequality of pay. These ignore the inequality of wealth which factors in ‘assets’ e.g. property.

Never mention trade unions. It has been shown that a unionised workforce is able to squeeze a little bit more wages out of the system, alongside better work safety, guaranteed breaks, improvements of working conditions. Never ever mention this. Let interviewers talk about ‘union barons’ and smile weakly.

Never mention ‘nationalisation’. Give that up. All of it. Right away. If power firms, railway companies, water companies, the postal service or any other part of the economy is doing a rubbish job and ripping off people, on no account suggest that nationalisation might be a possible solution. Keep talking about ‘responsible business’ or some cack about ‘a new kind of capitalist’.

The amount of national debt in proportion to the GDP is worrying some economists. You can mention this but if anyone says that you talking about this is ‘damaging confidence’, clam up and smile weakly.  

The amount of private debt created by the Tories in order to make up for weak demand is getting to a point where some in the financial community are getting a teensy bit worried that the old domino effect could strike again: a bank in some part of the world system might shut its doors and then another and another and we’re back in 2008. The fact that this is finance capitalism being finance capitalism must never be mentioned by you. You must keep up the pretence that this is some kind of present difficulty in what is really a perfect system. Talk about ‘regulation’ and ‘responsible banking’ as if that could or would solve anything.

If the whole financial system collapses, blame Russia, China, Iran and Jeremy Corbyn. 

2. Foreign policy. You are just allowed to say that perhaps the Iraq War was not ideal (don’t mention the millions of deaths, rise and rise of terrorist groups)  but there are no other wars that you can say were wrong. 

You should talk as if ‘Britain’ (never say ‘UK’) has to ‘help sort out’ anything going on anywhere so long as the US thinks it’s right to do so. Clearly, Iran needs to be ‘sorted out’ next, so say so. Never question the right of ‘Britain’ to do so.

When the media machine gets going explaining why some country (any country) is the greatest threat the world has ever known, agree with this. Smile weakly. Point out that this is ‘patriotic’.

Talk about something called ‘Britain’s standing in the world’ as if you’re talking about Queen Victoria being crowned Empress of India.  Talking of Queens, always say the Queen is wonderful. And so is the Royal Family. Nick Boris Johnson’s phrase ‘beyond reproach’. Mention that your mother loves Prince William.

3. The Election defeat. Make absolutely clear that there was only one cause for this: Corbyn. Never admit that any move over Brexit that he put forward came as a result of something your group pushed him into. On no account let anyone make comparisons of the popular vote: Brown (less than Corbyn), Miliband (less than Corbyn). Never make the point that the Labour Party hasn’t actually disappeared and that 10 million people voted for a Corbyn-led Labour Party this time and 12 million last time.

Keep saying the manifesto was a mistake. Don’t go into details. Begin sentences with, ‘I just think that…’

43 out of the 59 constituencies that went from Labour to Tory were in Leave seats. On no account mention this. Don’t mention the fact that probably, once Johnson came back with a deal, the game was up for Labour.

What you have to keep saying is ‘we’re listening to people’s concerns’. Be very clear that this isn’t anything to do with poverty caused deliberately by the Tories. That’s much too confrontational. ‘Listening to people’s concerns’ means you visiting somewhere for the TV and  letting people on camera or on the radio ramble on at you for hours about how they aren’t racist but the trouble is that immigrants have cut their wages, getting council houses, putting pressure on the national health and talking loudly on buses.

On no account point out that poverty, housing shortage and an under-funded NHS were created by the Tory government through austerity as a deliberate part of cutting the role of the state and them (not immigrants) trying to create a cheaper labour force. You must never ever say this. 

4. Antisemitism. You will be asked about ‘antisemitism in the Labour Party’. This is good. You will not be asked about ‘antisemitism in society’, or ‘antisemitism in the Tory Party’, so you must not mention these either. There is only ‘antisemitism in the Labour Party’. Concede everything.

On no account question whether any report or account was in any way exaggerated, distorted. You must not mention the fact that when Johnson was elected as leader of the Tory Party, every journalist in every newspaper knew that he had been editor of the Spectator and had edited ‘Taki’ who regularly poured out antisemitic jibes in his column for Johnson or on his own blog or other publications. Don’t mention that not a single one of these journalists mentioned this. Don’t say that you are in any way concerned by Rees-Mogg and his antisemitic jibes about ‘illuminati’ and Soros, his retweeting of a tweet from the Alternativ für Deutschland or that he has hung out with far right groups.

Don’t on any account mention the links between the Tory MEPs and far-right groups in Europe. Don’t mention that Boris and Orban (antisemite) appear to get along very nicely. On no account dig up anything on the way that Dominic Cummings talks about Goldman Sachs – it’s almost identical to the way antisemites used to talk about Rothschild.

Just keep saying sorry for ‘antisemitism in the Labour Party’ as if it’s the first, last and only presence of antisemitism in the UK today.

Always refer to ‘the Jewish community’ as if it is one monolithic entity all thinking and living in more or less the same way, even though it’s a teeny bit antisemitic to say so. It’s the kind of antisemitism that no one notices so it doesn’t matter.

5. Israel.  Remember Ed Miliband – he suggested that one way to get the ‘Peace Process’ going again was for the UK to recognise a Palestinian state before negations. He was immediately vilified, Maureen Lipman left the Labour Party and, apparently, thousands of Jews followed her. Miliband was, according to the Jewish Chronicle ‘toxic’. On no account repeat Ed’s proposal.

Talk about the ‘peace process’ as if it’s a real thing. You can frown in a caring sort of a way about the West Bank and Gaza but on no account propose anything concrete or useful. Accept that all problems in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza are caused by Palestinians. 

6. Brexit. You’re stuffed. There will either be a very hard Brexit or a very very hard no-deal Brexit. Remember, no one understands trade deals, nor do you. Keep saying phrases like ‘the very best for Britain’. It doesn’t mean anything because something can be, say, the very best for bankers and it’s absolutely no good for working people. The advantage of keeping going on about ‘Britain’ is that it feeds into people’s sense of entitlement and special status as Brits in the world.

7. Education. Don’t disagree with the academy and free schools programme. Don’t make a fuss about unaccountable academy management siphoning off millions. On no account oppose grammar schools. These offer the illusion that they are good for the poor because a tiny percentage of poor people go to them. Never describe the schools that are not grammar schools as  ‘Sec Mods’. Keep calling them High Schools and do the ‘progressive’ bit by saying that there are teachers in High Schools who are doing a fantastic job. This has the advantage of being both patronising and unnecessary and completely misses the point that the people you will call the ‘disadvantaged’ are disadvantaged by grammar schools.

8. Social mobility. This is going to be one of your big ones. Keep going on about social mobility. On no account mention the fact that there are 3 key motors that prevent social mobility: inherited wealth, private education and inherited wealth. To mention these is class war. Don’t do it.

In fact, social mobility also accepts the idea that there must be and will always have to be the very poor, not quite so poor, the fairly poor, the not poor, the quite well off, the very well off and the eyewatering obscenely super-rich. All we can hope for, you point out, is that a few people might move up from one of these layers to another. On no account mention that someone must move down for someone else to move up – assuming the numbers stay the same. In other words, social mobility means society immobility. No change. Keep going on about social mobility as if it’s a really progressive alternative radical idea. Mention the fact that your grandfather was poor, you are not and it’s all down to ‘social mobility’. Never mention the role of the expansion of the economy over the last 100 years as a factor.

9. Immigration.  The best plan here is to agree with everything that the Tories do. They will probably fill the airwaves with anti-immigrant rhetoric mixed with how wonderful certain individual migrants have been. Just copy this.

They will say that they’re going to follow the Australian system, so you should either agree or find another country – Canada or New Zealand (somewhere with a largely white government and English-speaking) – and say that we could follow what they do. The election has shown that not challenging anti-immigrant rhetoric leads many people to think that immigrants have caused their poverty which then in turn leads them to vote for the very people who have made them poor.  You must not make this point.

10. Housing. The last Labour Governments could have created a fantastic legacy of social housing. Gordon Brown muttered as much himself as he was leaving office. You could try to say one or two things about social housing but it generally reeks of ‘old socialism’, so avoid it.  In order to sound modern and forward looking, you need to say things like ‘we’re looking into exciting forms of shared partnerships’ or ‘we’re talking with business about how to get more affordable homes on to the market’. The great thing about the word ‘affordable’ is that it sounds like anyone and everyone can ‘afford’ the housing that’s ‘affordable’. They can’t. It’s complete nonsense but you must go on using the word anyway.

 

PS That’s all for now. Come back to me for more in a few days time.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

http://michaelrosenblog.blogspot.com/2019/12/my-media-10-point-guide-to-labour.html

 

 

 

 

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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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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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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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Jeremy Corbyn: brutal Communist, European socialist or mainstream Scandinavian social democrat?

Corbyn smears escalate

Yesterday came a warning: “With a general election possibly afoot, we must all be alert to the orchestrated dirty tricks and the ferocity of the propaganda assault that will inevitably be launched against Jeremy Corbyn and Labour by the terrified establishment”. It was issued by Richard House, after replying to ‘absurd views’ in the Independent alleging that Jeremy Corbyn would usher in ‘a communist government’ of a brutal nature.

Articles in the Murdoch Times today bore these headlines

  • MPs launch angry revolt over leaders’ Brexit talks: Breakthrough hopes fade after May meets Corbyn
  • Brexit talks: Dark clouds gather as Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn work out what to do next
  • The PM, as we must still call her, was numb — perhaps past caring
  • Two-party cartel would regret an election now: The electorate is more volatile than ever and many will be looking for a home beyond the Conservatives and Labour. 

Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity with Europe’s socialist leaders was highlighted some time ago with a standing ovation noted in the Financial Times:

“UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was given a rapturous reception by his Socialist allies in Brussels on Thursday, as he warned that leaving the EU without a Brexit deal would be “catastrophic” for the UK economy. Mr Corbyn was met with a standing ovation by Europe’s centre-left parties as he addressed delegates at the Europe Together conference, just hours before prime minister Theresa May was scheduled to meet her EU counterparts at a European leaders’ summit”. We omit the description of Ms May’s very cool reception. 

Corbyn’s negotiating skills are appreciated by senior EU figures, including Michel Barnier.

 

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (R) and British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn walk prior to a meeting on July 13, 2017 in Brussels.  

Another perspective: Jeremy Corbyn is a mainstream [Scandinavian] social democrat 

That is the view of Jonas Fossli Gjersø, a Scandinavian who has spent more than a decade living in Britain (full text here), who opens:

“From his style to his policies Mr Corbyn would, in Norway, be an unremarkably mainstream, run-of-the-mill social-democrat. His policy-platform places him squarely in the Norwegian Labour Party from which the last leader is such a widely respected establishment figure that upon resignation he became the current Secretary-General of NATO.

“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”.

British media’s portrayal of Corbyn, and by extent his policies are somewhat exaggerated and verging on the realm of character assassination rather than objective analysis and journalism.

Mr Corbyn’s policy-platform, particularly in regard to his domestic policies are largely identical with the Norwegian Labour Party manifesto. They enjoy near universal support among the Norwegian electorate and, in fact, they are so mainstream that not even the most right-wing of Norwegian political parties would challenge them. They include:

  • railway nationalisation,
  • partial or full state ownership of key companies or sectors,
  • universal healthcare provisions,
  • state-funded house-building,
  • no tuition fee education,
  • education grants and loans

Jonas (right) adds that such policies have been integral to the social-democratic post-war consensus in all the Nordic countries, which. enjoy some of the world’s highest living standards and presumably should be a model to be emulated rather than avoided, and continues:

The whole controversy surrounding Mr Corbyn probably betrays more about Britain’s class divisions and how far the UK’s political spectrum has shifted to the right since the early-1980s, than it does of the practicality of his policy-proposals.

Reflecting this is British media whose ownership is highly concentrated: 70% of national newspapers are owned by just three companies and a third are owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News UK . . . the British media has focused its reporting on the personal characteristics of Mr Corbyn, usually in rather unflattering terms, and shown scant or shallow regard to his policy-agenda.

He notes that a direct comparison of Britain with other similar European states would reveal both the dire condition of British living-standards for populations, particularly outside London and how conventionally social-democratic are Mr Corbyn’s policies.

Jonas Fossli Gjersø ends: “You might agree or disagree with his political position, but it is still far too early to discount Mr Corbyn’s potential success at the next general election – particularly if he manages to mobilise support from the circa 40% of the electorate who regularly fail to cast their ballot in elections…

“(J)ust as few recognised the socio-economic and ideological structural changes which converged to underpin Margaret Thatcher’s meteoric rise in the early-1980s, we cannot exclude the possibility that we are witnessing the social-democratic mirror image of that process today, with a prevailing wind from the left rather than the right”.

 

 

 

 

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August Goff: Birmingham students unite against climate change: 15th March 2019

August, who lives in Moseley, sends a first-hand account of Birmingham students’ march against climate change. 

He writes:

More than five hundred Birmingham students bunked off school today to march against climate change.

All Birmingham-based photographs reproduced with permission: copyright August Goff

Youth Strike 4 Climate coordinated young people from various educational establishments across the city who met up in the city centre.

They marched from Victoria Square, down New Street, through Pigeon Park and back to Victoria Square to protest against the inaction of governments to tackle climate change.

The march was organised by Katie Riley, a Birmingham student. She spoke at the rally, saying:

“Educate the youth of tomorrow and the parliament of today because people who don’t know what climate change is about don’t know how dangerous it is. Some people think the topic is dull and boring because the curriculum makes it like that. So, we need to change how people view climate change in order to get the change we deserve.”

Councillors from local political parties attended, as did Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Yardley.

Similar events have taken place in 100 British towns and other cities including London, Edinburgh, Canterbury, Oxford and Cambridge, calling for urgent action to tackle climate change, cut emissions and switch to renewable energy.

A few hours later a message was received from Irish colleagues, sending a podcast with messages from two 11-year-olds, Eve O’Connor and Beth Malone, who are involved in the schools climate strikes movementThousands turned out in Dublin and demonstrations were held in many towns.

 

 

 

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“The world’s economy can and must deliver for the common good and the majority of its people”

A year ago, Colin Hines and Jonathon Porritt challenged the “permanent propping up of whole sectors of our economy as a direct result of our failure to train people properly here in the UK”.

They called for the training of enough IT experts, doctors, nurses and carers from our own population to “prevent the shameful theft of such vital staff from the poorer countries which originally paid for their education”.

Mass migration from developing countries deprives those places of the young, enterprising, dynamic citizens they desperately need at home

Dependence on the free movement of peoples as practised in the UK is the opposite of internationalism, since it implies that we will continue to employ workers from other countries in agriculture and service industries and steal doctors, nurses, IT experts etc from poorer countries, rather than train enough of our own.

Many individuals who migrate have experienced multiple stresses that can impact their mental well-being

Professor Dinesh Bhugrah is an authority on the stresses of migration.  Years of research have revealed that the rates of mental illness are increased in some migrant groups. Stresses include the loss of the familiar, including language (especially colloquial and dialect), attitudes, values, loss of cultural norms, religious customs, social structures and support networks.

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Porritt and Hines advocate like former Chancellor Merkel a redoubling of our commitments to improve people’s economic and social prospects in their own countries, tackling the root causes of why people feel they have no choice but to leave family, friends and communities in the first place. 

They advocate the replacement of the so-called free market with an emphasis on rebuilding local economies . . . dramatically lessening the need for people to emigrate in the first case. Hines gives a route to localization in his classic: Localization: a global manifesto, pages 63-67.

The seven basic steps to be introduced, over a suitable transition period are:

  • Reintroduction of protective safeguards for domestic economies (tariffs, quotas etc);
  • a site-here-to-sell-here policy for manufacturing and services domestically or regionally;
  • localising money so that the majority stays within its place of origin;
  • enforcing a local competition policy to eliminate monopolies from the more protected economies;
  • introduction of resource taxes to increase environmental improve­ments and help fund the transition to Protect the Local, Globally;
  • increased democratic involvement both politically and economi­cally to ensure the effectiveness and equity of the movement to more diverse local economies;
  • reorientation of the end goals of aid and trade rules so that they contribute to the rebuilding of local economies and local control, particularly through the global transfer of relevant information and technology.

Since that book was written, a gifted group of people set out the Green New Deal which – though aimed initially at transforming the British economy – is valid for all countries and most urgently needed in the poorest countries from which people feel impelled to emigrate.

Funded by fairer taxes, savings, government expenditure and if necessary green quantitative easing, it addresses the need to develop ‘green energy’ and ‘energy-proofing’ buildings, creating new jobs, a reliable energy supply and slowing down the rate of climate change.

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Likeminded advocates 

Senator Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest person ever to be elected in Congress, now advocate a Green New Deal in the US.

Professor John Roberts, in one of the newsletters posted on http://www.jrmundialist.org/ says: “Increasingly my thoughts return to the overwhelming need for all of us to think (and then act) as world citizens, conscious of a primary loyalty not to our local nationalism but to the human race (however confused and divided) as a whole”.

Jonathon Porritt quotes Alistair Sawday: “I remembered that the skills and the policies to reverse the damage are there; it is a matter of will – and of all of us waking up.

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, which has developed the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) to transform our world,, urges all to work to “…Narrow the gaps. Bridge the divides. Rebuild trust by bringing people together around common goals. Unity is our path. Our future depends on it.” –

Jeremy Corbyn addressed the General Assembly at the United Nations Geneva headquarters last year. He concluded:

“The world’s economy can and must deliver for the common good and the majority of its people. . . But let us be clear: the long-term answer is genuine international cooperation based on human rights, which confronts the root causes of conflict, persecution and inequality . . . The world demands the UN Security Council responds, becomes more representative and plays the role it was set up to on peace and security. We can live in a more peaceful world. The desire to help create a better life for all burns within us. Governments, civil society, social movements and international organisations can all help realise that goal. We need to redouble our efforts to create a global rules based system that applies to all and works for the many, not the few.

“With solidarity, calm leadership and cooperation we can build a new social and economic system with human rights and justice at its core, deliver climate justice and a better way to live together on this planet, recognise the humanity of refugees and offer them a place of safety. Work for peace, security and understanding. The survival of our common humanity requires nothing less”.

 

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 16: HMRC refuses to investigate money-laundering and tax fraud charges by largest Conservative donor

Three classes of British looting: which is the most culpable?

Professor Prem Sikka, Professor of Accounting at University of Sheffield and Emeritus Professor of Accounting at University of Essex, draws attention to the case of the UK telecoms giant Lycamobile, the biggest donor to the Conservative Party, which has accepted £2.2m in donations since 2011.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has refused to assist the French authorities and raid Lycamobile’s UK premises in order to investigate suspected money laundering and tax fraud.

Economia, the publication for members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) which covers news and analysis on the essential issues in business, finance and accountancy, reports:

Following an initial denial (left, Financial Times), Economia confirmed that in an official response to the French government dated 30 March 2017,  a HMRC official noted that Lycamobile is “a large multinational company” with “vast assets at their disposal” and would be “extremely unlikely to agree to having their premises searched”, said the report.

The letter from HMRC to the French government added, “It is of note that they are the biggest corporate donor to the Conservative party led by Prime Minister Theresa May and donated 1.25m Euros to the Prince Charles Trust in 2012”.

This is an ongoing saga: in 2016 Economia noted: “The Tories have come under fire for continuing to accept donations of more than £870,000 from Lycamobile since December, while it was being investigated for tax fraud and money laundering”.

In 2016 In May it emerged that KPMG’s audit of Lycamobile was limited due to the complex nature of the company’s accounts. Later, KPMG resigned saying it was unable to obtain “all the information and explanations from the company that we consider necessary for the purpose of our audit”.

HMRC: “has become a state within a state”.

Prem Sikka (right) continues, “The House of Commons Treasury Committee is demanding answers to the Lycamobile episode – but HMRC is unlikely to prove amenable”.

In recent years, the Public Accounts Committee has conducted hearings into tax avoidance by giant global corporations such as Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Starbucks, Shire and others. The hearings have not been followed by HMRC test cases.

The Public Accounts Committee has also held hearings into the role of the large accountancy firms in designing and marketing avoidance schemes and exposed their predatory culture. In a telling rebuke to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Committee chair said: “You are offering schemes to your clients—knowingly marketing these schemes—where you have judged there is a 75% risk of it then being deemed unlawful. That is a shocking finding for me to be told by one of your tax officials.”

Despite the above and numerous court judgments declaring the tax avoidance schemes marketed by accountancy firms to be unlawful, not a single firm has been investigated, fined or prosecuted.

There are real concerns that HMRC is too sympathetic to large companies and wealthy elites.

A major reason for that is the ‘revolving door’, the colonisation of HMRC by big business and its discourses: its current board members include non-executive directors connected with British Airways, Mondi, Anglo American, Aviva, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Rolls Royce.

After a stint at HMRC many of the non-execs return to big business. Corporate sympathies are therefore not counterbalanced by the presence of ordinary taxpayers or individuals from SMEs and civil society.

Sikka ends: “In such an environment, it is all too easy to turn a Nelsonian eye on corporate abuses and shower concessions on companies and wealthy individuals”. Read more here.

 

Why should we care?

Because tax revenue pays for the services used by all except the richest, the education health, transport and social services, increasingly impoverished by funding cuts imposed by the last two British governments.

The Shadow Chancellor has twice called for more rigorous examination and tightening of processes at HMRC to ensure that corporations and wealthy individuals are free from political corruption and pay fair rates of taxes.

Will the next government elected be for the many, not the few?

 

 

 

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