Category Archives: Finance
In a move mirroring the 2015 proposals for the sale of the British people’s (somewhat Green) Investment Bank (GIB) Patrick Hosking, Financial Editor, has reported in the Times that another ‘secret privatisation plan’, involving the people’s British Business Bank, has been delayed by a legal challenge.
In 2015, plans to part-privatise GIB were announced by Business Secretary Sajid Javid (more detail here). The House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee warned this could cause the bank to lose its “green identity”, But the government predictably said “the time is right” for the bank to be privatised. CityAM reported that in February MPs questioned government over the proposed sale, expressing fears that this would be an asset-stripping venture by MacQuarrie.
However the proposals may well have been abandoned – for a time. The Murdoch Times’ suggests that ministers were ‘rattled’ by the legal challenge to the separate planned privatisation of the Green Investment Bank. Its sale to Macquarie, the Australian infrastructure investor, after talks described as ‘exclusive’ in a later post by CityAM, is going to judicial review after a challenge from Sustainable Development Capital, a rival bidder.
A spoke in the privatisation wheel? This challenge has affected:
- the planned sale of a portfolio of government business loans, packaged into a ‘high-yielding listed investment vehicle’, currently owned by British Business Bank plca state-owned economic development bank established by the UK Government.
- and the ‘planned move’ by the ubiquitous Baron Smith of Kelvin (above,centre), the Green Investment Bank chairman, to chair the British Business Bank, which has been without a permanent chairman since October.
What is going on behind the scenes? Why are the British people the last to know in our ‘vibrant democracy’? BIS declined to comment last night but a source close to the discussions is reported to have said: “It’s a bit baffling why stumps were pulled at the last moment. Everyone was all signed up for it.”
In a recent post on this site, economist Martin Wolf (FT) was quoted, reminding readers of the words of Theresa May, the prime minister, in her speech to the Conservative party conference last year: “Our economy should work for everyone, but if your pay has stagnated for several years in a row and fixed items of spending keep going up, it doesn’t feel like it’s working for you.” She earnestly promised that this would change.
He continued: “Was Mrs May’s speech hypocritical? Yes”. (See MP Dawn Butler, 2nd paragraph)
In similar vein, Jenni Russell writes:
“The president’s actions are more important than his words, and they are a betrayal of his voters
“President Trump is brilliant at diversionary tactics, whether tweets, tantrums, or executive orders that may or may not mean anything in practical terms. His speech to Congress was another in his string of conjuror’s illusions.
“Breitbart and the Trump base adored it for its promises to put American workers first, improve their healthcare, incomes and education, cut their taxes, and protect them from danger abroad and immigrants at home. Trump’s liberal critics were momentarily dazzled to find that for at least an hour the president was capable of addressing the nation in a reasonable, conciliatory tone. But we now know that Trump’s public promises and assertions are so full of contradictions that they cannot be taken either literally or seriously.
“Instead we have to scrutinise the practical consequences of the policies his team is implementing. The effect of these won’t be to transform the lives of the people he swore to champion. They will make the rich much richer at the expense of the middle class and the poor”.
She notes that Trump’s tax plan is overwhelmingly skewed towards the wealthy:
- America’s Tax Policy Centre shows nearly half of the total tax cut will go to the top 1% of taxpayers.
- Almost a quarter will be spent on the richest 0.1%, households that earn above $3.7 million a year.
- The middle fifth of households, earning an average of $65,000, will gain just a thousand dollars.
- Less than 7% of the total cost of tax cuts will be spent on them.
- Because Trump intends to drop tax exemptions for children, some families earning less than $50,000 a year will actually see their taxes rise.
- The budgets for education, childcare and medical research will be slashed by at least 15% per cent.
- Trump proposes to end the state tax, which affects only the top 0.2 per cent of the population.
- His proposed cuts to corporation tax range from 35 to 20%
This surreptitious transfer cannot be what Trump supporters expected
Jenni continues: “Trump’s promise to create jobs through a vast infrastructure plan are equally tilted towards the rich. Investors will be offered tax breaks costing $137 billion to encourage them to invest a trillion dollars in projects that offer potential returns from fees or tolls. And far from bringing jobs to depressed regions, the projects will be skewed towards wealthier areas, because there will be no incentive to invest in areas where there’s no hope of a financial return, like the crumbling roads of the Appalachians”.
Still justified by demonstrably failed trickle down theory
Republicans defend this kind of unbalanced reward as they always have, arguing that the more money individuals keep, the more they will spend and the more everyone will benefit. These policies – in addition to the cuts Trump is demanding to pay for his boom in defence spending – will add huge sums to the deficit and drastically shrink the money available for public programmes. Jenni ends:
“Trump promised to protect his voters but the gulf between what he pledged and what he’s delivering is evident everywhere. His teams are busy dismantling consumer, financial and environmental regulations that prevented ordinary people being fleeced or having their land and water defiled. His supporters stubbornly believe in him but they are being betrayed. There can only be more fear and disillusion to come”.
Meanwhile Wall Street is soaring in anticipation, with the Dow Jones breaking the 21,000 barrier for the first time within hours of the speech. That extra money will overwhelmingly go into the bank accounts of those with the most shares – and the May government now turns from squeezing the disabled to the bereaved, successfully passing drastic cuts in payments for which national insurance contributions had been made and raising probate fees.
*Trumpton and Mayhem: first passing reference made on Our Birmingham website by architect David Heslop, moving towards employee ownership.
Saturday 4th March
The BBC reported that Jeremy Corbyn called for the government to provide more funding for the health service in next week’s Budget. Speaking to the protesters in Parliament Square, he said: “The NHS is in crisis because of the underfunding in social care and the people not getting the care and support they need. It is not the fault of the staff. It is the fault of a government who have made a political choice.”
The protest organisers say the government’s proposed Sustainability Transformation Plans (STPs) across the NHS in England are a “smokescreen for further cuts” and the “latest instruments of privatisation”. These proposals involve the complete closure of some hospitals and the centralising of some services such as A&E and stroke care on fewer sites.
Deputy chairman of the British Medical Association council Dr David Wrigley said the march was “a cry for help for anyone who uses the NHS” which was “in such a desperate situation. We need to highlight it. As a doctor I see day to day the serious pressures in the NHS due to the funding cuts from the government”.
Saturday 4th March: at 6pm
The Independent featured Ben Bradshaw (former minister) praising Blair and blaming Corbyn’s leadership – ‘the one issue on the doorstep’
Saturday 4th March 11pm (updated 4am on 5th)
“Unlike other politicians who spend weekends with corporate lobbyists &wealthy donors, John McDonnell is out on the street 4 the #OurNHS demo”
Sunday 5th March 4am
The Sunday Express: Corbyn in crisis – and no doubt more will come
Saturday 4th March 11pm (updated 4am on 5th)
The Daily Mail usefully quotes Ken Loach explaining why these particular MPs are disgruntled: “It was their Labour Party, not Corbyn’s, that lost Scotland, lost two elections and has seen Labour’s vote shrink inexorably. Yet they retain a sense of entitlement to lead.”
Strangest of all, the Times and FT (online editions) decide not to mention the demonstration.
The Times online did not carry its usual daily onslaught on Corbyn and the Financial Times online which regularly publishes biassed articles about JC – often by Jim Pickard – has no reference, merely a bland, skimpy article by David Laws: “UK reaches socially acceptable limits of austerity . . . the NHS needs a settlement which allows for rising demand and an ageing population”.
Their carefully selected and daily shown photographs and cartoons of the Labour Party leader are not to be seen? What does this mean?
Wolf: Theresa May’s policies ’make a mockery of her rhetoric’. Are they also provoking ‘generational jihad’?
Martin Wolf (FT) reminds readers of the words of Theresa May, the prime minister, in her speech to the Conservative party conference last year: “Our economy should work for everyone, but if your pay has stagnated for several years in a row and fixed items of spending keep going up, it doesn’t feel like it’s working for you.” She earnestly promised that this would change.
He continues: “Was Mrs May’s speech hypocritical? Yes”.
The work of the increasingly high-profile Resolution Foundation, a charity funded by Resolution, a successful insurance investment firm founded by Clive Cowdery, focusses on low earners and the policy responses required to lift their living standards. Cowdery was knighted in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to children and social mobility
However, Resolution’s new ‘Executive Chair’ is David Willetts, a former Tory minister, described as a pioneer of generational jihad – revealing “a country that is choosing to give priority to the well-off over the poor, and the old over the young” (see https://twitter.com/resfoundation)
Wolf comments that whatever such a country might be, it is not one that, in the prime minister’s own words, acts “to correct unfairness and injustice and put government at the service of ordinary working people”.
Willetts should heed Richard Smerdon (Letters, FT):
As I and many others can testify, millions of ageing men and women in this country are supporting their struggling children (themselves in their 30s and 40s but struggling nevertheless) in a huge variety of ways: childcare, money (in lump sums, guarantees and regular payments) and accommodation. This at a time (since the banking collapse) when returns on one’s savings have been negligible. We’ve been clobbered as well! The mess the government has got itself into over the crass handling of the tax credit issue (reform, yes, but wholesale impoverishment, no) is entirely its own fault, but many pensioners will be bracing themselves to help out yet again — which we do out of love for our children of course — but it seems an unfair additional penalty to pay for government incompetence.
Using the latest forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility to project household incomes up to 2020, the picture is one of rising inequality. Wolf asks, “Why is this happening?” He gives several reasons, including the impact of Brexit and the tax and benefit plans inherited and maintained by Mrs May.
Theresa May, as the Resolution Foundation puts it, is “actively choosing to increase inequality”. To those who have, the government has decided to give
The significant cuts in benefits for those of working age, notably the freeze on most benefits in cash terms are being exacerbated by the rising post-referendum prices. Also important are substantial tax cuts for the relatively well-off. FT View (editorial) adds: “By pressing ahead with these inherited policies Theresa May, prime minister, as the Resolution Foundation puts it, is “actively choosing to increase inequality”.
Wolf states: “This outcome makes a mockery of the government’s inclusive rhetoric”.
Mary Dejevsky refutes the Resolution assertions (echoed by MSM) that government is prioritising the old over the young
Wolf writes: “The government is giving priority to the well-off and the old over the poor and young”, but Mary points out that the average pensioner still has an income 25% below the average worker, adding: “You wouldn’t guess that from the media”. She points out:
“The state pension is one of the last truly contributory payments. To present it as just another handout and part of a ballooning benefits bill is an invitation to the young to resent the amount spent even more — and to the recipients to feel that they are being patronised. The state pension should be separated from the overall benefits bill forthwith”.
A graph compiled by Aegon Insurance shows that though the income gap has narrowed substantially, working households still have a higher disposable weekly income than pensioner households.
The Foundation’s latest report includes housing costs to back up its announcement that pensioner incomes (most mortgages paid) have overtaken working-age households (paying rent or mortgage charges).
A year after Mary wrote this article, the Western Daily Press reported on a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine
“The elderly are dying from heart attacks and strokes because of the stress of cuts in their pensions, according to new research. Rising mortality rates among over 85s has been linked to reductions in spending on income support for the worst off. The study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine suggests some vulnerable older people have paid the ultimate price for austerity measures in England. Almost nine in ten of the 4.6 per cent increase in deaths in 2012 can be explained by the decline in pension credit beneficiaries, say scientists. In England, total spending on Pension Credits, income support payments for low-income pensioners, reduced by 6.5 per cent in 2012”.
Wolf concludes that the UK confronts huge challenges. Not only is productivity stagnant, it must also navigate Brexit: “It is hard to believe wise choices are being made for a country that wishes to secure a better future for its people. It is still harder to believe these are moral choices for a country forced to share out losses imposed by a massive financial crisis and weak subsequent growth” ending:
“The government may be brazenly hypocritical. But it also seems likely to get away with it”.
But the FT editorial adds a stark warning:” There is little chance of Philip Hammond, chancellor, reversing his predecessor’s regressive policies in next month’s Budget. Yet he should keep them under review. If the outlook darkens, a combination of falling living standards and rising inequality would be an extremely dangerous one in today’s febrile (Collins: intense, nervously active) politics”.
In other words: a roused public might rock
the corporate/political boat.
Is that news to anyone?
This site and others have been focussing on this appalling phenomenon corrupting governance for years, so much so that corruption of politicians and supporting media is no longer shocking: it is the norm.
As such, frequent news of revolving doors and rewards for failure has been under-reported on this site of late – despite many significant leads from regular readers – because these items just repeat our view of the state of the nation.
However the ever-eloquent George Monbiot is more persistent
He explains: “Dark money is the term used in the US for the undisclosed funding of organisations involved in political advocacy. Few people would see a tobacco company as a credible source on public health, or a coal company as a neutral commentator on climate change. To advance their political interests, such companies must pay others to speak on their behalf”.
Though corporate America was horrified by some of Donald Trump’s positions, especially on trade, once he had secured the nomination, big money began to recognise an unprecedented opportunity.
Monbiot continues: “Trump was prepared not only to promote the cause of corporations in government, but to turn government into a kind of corporation, staffed and run by executives and lobbyists. His incoherence was not a liability but an opening: his agenda could be shaped. And the dark money network that some American corporations had already developed was perfectly positioned to shape it”.
He looks into the historical background:
“Soon after the Second World War, some of America’s richest people began setting up a network of thinktanks to promote their interests. These purport to offer dispassionate opinions on public affairs. But they are more like corporate lobbyists, working on behalf of those who founded and fund them.
“These are the organisations now running much of the Trump administration”.
He then relates the story of MP Liam Fox
In 1997, Liam Fox founded an organisation called The Atlantic Bridge. Its patron was Margaret Thatcher. On its advisory council sat the future cabinet ministers Michael Gove, George Osborne, William Hague and Chris Grayling. Fox, who became a leading campaigner for Brexit, described the mission of The Atlantic Bridge as “to bring people together who have common interests”. It would defend these interests from “European integrationists who would like to pull Britain away from its relationship with the United States”. The Atlantic Bridge (link no longer informative) was later registered as a charity – only after it collapsed did the full story of who had funded it emerge.
Read the tedious and depressing details in the Guardian or on this site here.
How did Fox achieve this position, after the scandal that brought him down six years ago? Monbiot explains: “The man who ran the UK branch of The Atlantic Bridge was his friend Adam Werrity, who . . . carried a business card naming him as Fox’s adviser but was never employed by the Ministry of Defence, joined the secretary of state on numerous ministerial visits overseas, and made frequent visits to Fox’s office”.
The Charity Commission investigated The Atlantic Bridge and determined that its work didn’t look very charitable. It had to pay back the tax from which it had been exempted (Hintze picked up the bill) and the trustees shut the organisation down. Monbiot continues; “As the story about Adam Werrity’s unauthorised involvement in the business of government began to grow, Fox made a number of misleading statements. He was left with no choice but to resign”.
As the Financial Times reported, the election of Donald Trump transformed the fortunes of Liam Fox: he is back on the front bench, with a crucial and sensitive portfolio – Secretary of State for International Trade – an indispensable member of Theresa May’s front bench team: “The shadow diplomatic mission he developed through The Atlantic Bridge plugs him straight into the Trump administration”.
Taking back control from Europe means closer integration with the US
Monbiot adds that European laws protecting the public interest were portrayed by Conservative Eurosceptics as intolerable intrusions on corporate freedom and the transatlantic ‘special relationship’ is a relationship between political and corporate power. He ends with the following warning, sent by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1938 to the US Congress:
“The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism”.
Monbiot adds “It is a warning we would do well to remember”.
Is Britain – after military withdrawal in the 1970s from bases east of Suez – really intending to reopen a naval support facility in Bahrain, create a permanent army presence in Oman and establish new defence staff centres in Dubai and Singapore? RUSI adviser Raffaello Pantucci and MP Tom Tugendhat, writing in the Financial Times, appear to see military force as an asset in trade negotiations:
“(T)he UK has been underperforming in an Asian context, and needs to increase capacity, especially on the defence side . . . It’s been supercharged post-Brexit. The whole idea is of the UK as a global free trader. You need to engage with the new centres of economic power,” said Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London.
Unhealthy and unethical alliances
In February this year Britain and Saudi Arabia, a major purchaser of British-made weapons and military hardware were reported to have lobbied the United Nations to tone down criticism of Bahrain for the use of torture by its security forces. Saudi Arabia, sent troops to quell dissent in Bahrain during the Arab spring.
Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, declared in a speech in Bahrain this month: “Britain is back east of Suez.”
Though he had accused Saudi Arabia of abusing Islam and acting as a puppeteer in proxy wars throughout the Middle East, the following day he declared that policy formulated in 1969 of disengagement East of Suez was a mistake: “and in so far as we are now capable, and we are capable of a lot, we want to reverse that policy at least in this sense: that we recognise the strong historical attachment between Britain and the Gulf, and more importantly, we underscore the growing relevance and importance of that relationship in today’s uncertain and volatile world”.
Will Britain even be able to defend its own coastline?
“It comes down to capabilities.The UK is now down to 19 surface combatant [ships] and the concept of a carrier group would tie up most of the deployable navy,” said Euan Graham, director of the international security programme at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. General Sir Richard Barrons, the former head of Britain’s Joint Forces Command, warned recently that Britain’s military had small quantities of highly expensive equipment — such as its two new aircraft carriers — which it could not afford to “use fully, damage or lose” west of Suez or elsewhere.
Is the name of the game still gun-boat diplomacy?
In a Boxing Day article Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat wryly commented that there are more admirals dining on the deck of HMS Victory on Trafalgar Day than we have ships at sea and claimed, “With investment in the armed forces, the UK can shape a future based on the rule of law and free trade. After all, it has been done before”.
Or building a better future in Britain?
“Spend your money feeding the English, providing jobs for your young people and on a better quality of life for the British, because we are not a threat to anyone.”
It makes no sense to ringfence health spending while slashing social care
So says Ian Birrell, former speech writer for David Cameron, in the Financial Times. He records that:
”For reasons of short-term political expediency, the coalition government heaped spending cuts on local authorities at more than twice the rate of cuts imposed on Whitehall, ensuring councils took the bulk of the blame for crumbling services”.
He adds that few could argue with Jeremy Corbyn when he accused the government last week of “passing the buck, dodging the blame and handing the bill to those who can least afford it” in its shoddy response to the social care crisis engulfing the country. Summarised highlights from his article follow, emphasis and sub-titles added.
Too little, too late?
After intense pressure, ministers agreed to let local authorities increase council tax at marginally higher rates to fund the soaring costs of caring for old and disabled people. The move will bring in an extra £208m next year but the funding gap will be £2.3bn in 2017, according to the King’s Fund.
Now more than half local authority spending goes on social care for adults and children. Yet as society rapidly ages and medicine advances, the number of old people getting help has fallen more than one quarter since 2010.
The NHS and social care system are entwined on so many levels – note especially the effect on hospitals of people unable to be moved into residential centres or cared for in their homes.
A system created to tackle infant mortality and industrial disease must adapt faster to a world in which most cash goes on old and disabled people with complex, sometimes intractable, conditions.
One solution might be a dedicated tax covering all aspects of care, visible in pay packets and so provoking more realistic debate. But it is not just about money. We should not forget that when the Blair government pumped extra cash into the NHS much of it ended up in the pockets of public servants rather than boosting services.
Too much of the care debate focuses on the middle classes and their desire to protect inheritances
The more fundamental issue is how to help those unable to fend for themselves. Homes relying on people who pay their own way are doing fine, charging almost £1,000 more a month than those who depend on councils to pay bills. Some homes now refuse to take state-funded clients. Social care spending under the coalition rose in richer areas but declined in poorer regions — and this inequality will be intensified by relying on regressive council tax.
Birrell sees, at the heart of this crisis, ‘a question of basic humanity’. The UK is a wealthy nation which has abandoned some of its people most in need of support. Old folks are left in lonely isolation, families failed by the state and people with disabilities trapped without essential help. He concludes, “The artificial divide between health and social care must end. It makes no sense to ringfence health spending while slashing social care”.
RMT report: “Only a fool would suggest that drivers can drive a train while sorting out drunken and/or antisocial behaviour in the carriages behind them”
The Department for Transport wants a significant expansion of Driver Only Operation (DOO), introducing it on the Northern and Great Western franchises, with a target of around 50%.
Laura Kuenssberg (impartial BBC) reports that the ambition is to bring down the cost of rail travel for the tax payer and the train passenger, whereas most will agree that the ambition is to increase shareholder dividends. Fares will continue to rise.
She asks “Why all this fuss over doors on the packed commuter lines between London and the South Coast, when agreements on the same issue have been reached in other parts of the country?”
This is about safety, Laura. The RMT report: ‘The safety-critical role of the guard: a dossier on driver-only operation’ delivers a strong argument.
Laura again: “But hang on, driver-only trains have been used on different services around the country for three decades”.
Yes, and the unions hope to make all these services safer.
Paul Prentice, in his thoughtful Rail Magazine article, debates the pros and (considerable) cons of the argument, ending, “there remain (even in the eyes of the most ardent DOO supporters) security risks for the train’s passengers without another member of staff present, be they called guards, conductors or train managers”.
Read about this example of an incident on a DOO train.
Since January 2011 there have been 10 serious incidents at the Passenger/Train Interface [PTI] that have been or are being subjected to investigation by the UK’s National Investigation Body the Rail Accident Investigation Branch
80% of these incidents have involved services being operated in Driver Only Operation [DOO] without a second on-board safety critical worker, a guard or train manager.
The list of RAIB investigations in the Southern Region is as follows (a detailed description of each is also given):
Later in the report there are many accounts of serious incidents in different parts of the country.
Thousands of passengers have already opposed the government and the rail operator plans to de-skill and scrap guards. The campaign has been backed by numerous local councillors, transport bodies, passenger groups, disability groups and MPs.
At a time of increasing security threats and growing anti-social behaviour, which is reflected in growing levels of racially motivated abuse, violence and sexual assault, the presence of the guard is of growing importance not less. Some police and crime commissioners have also expressed concern about plans that could leave passengers on trains on their own – apart from the person actually driving the train.
Guards fill that important role in helping to moderate behaviour on trains. Many services, particularly during evenings and weekend have become little more than ‘bars on wheels’ and have seen a dramatic increase in drunken behaviour. British Transport Police (BTP) resources are being increasingly focused around major stations and many stations. This leads, in an emergency, to the police being called upon and they too are facing real pressure and the threat of further cuts. If there is a guard aboard they can often manage the situation without further assistance. But when operating in DOO mode this cannot happen. Without seeking either a positive or a negative view.
Andy McDonald, the shadow transport minister recalls a recent incident involving a freight train driver who died: “He went into one signal section between two towns, but never came out the other end. Found slumped alone over the controls in his cab, it took 40 minutes for paramedics to arrive. There was nobody to assist him on the train.”
RAIL asked drivers to anonymously express their feelings about DOO.
One response: “train drivers are only human and just as susceptible to sudden ill health as everyone else. And things can go wrong in the cab, in remote spots away from any other human contact”.
Another speculated on what might happen if a driver was killed or incapacitated on a busy main line service, perhaps by an object coming through the windscreen and impaling him before he has the chance to hit the all-important emergency red button in the cab: “It won’t take long before somebody pulls an emergency door release and people spill out onto the track, only to be mown down by passing trains that haven’t been alerted because all the signaller has deduced is that a service has been a long time in section”.
As Paul Prentice says, for a range of reasons: ”There are security risks for the train’s passengers without another member of staff present, be they called guards, conductors or train managers”. Is this acceptable?