Category Archives: Finance

Attorney General tells ‘turkeys’ that Christmas is coming

Shocked by the unbridled tone of the Attorney General in the Commons today – recorded here – his fury mounting after the second minute – I searched online for information which would shed light on his character.

When practising as a barrister, Geoffrey Cox frequently led in commercial actions and arbitrations overseas, appearing in the Dubai International Finance Centre, Mauritius and the Cayman Islands. He served as MP for Torridge and West Devon from 2005-15.

  • In September 2014, it was reported that Cox was one of a number of individuals investing in the Phoenix Film Partners LLC scheme run by Ingenious PLC which HM Revenue and Customs(HMRC) had alleged to be a tax avoidance
  • In 2016, at that time Britain’s highest-paid MP, it was reported he had a number of office expense claims for items, such as a 49p pint of milk, rejected by the Commons authorities.
  • In January 2016, Cox, a landlord, backed the Conservative Government in voting down an amendment in Parliament on rental homes being “fit for human habitation”.
  • He was a member of parliament’s Committee on Standards and the Committee on Privileges, ‘the sleaze watchdog’ but was the subject of an inquiry in 2016 after ‘neglecting to register more than £400,000 of outside earnings.

In February 2016, Cox announced in the House of Commons that he supported the case for leaving the EU and would campaign and vote to do so in the forthcoming referendum.

He was appointed to the Cabinet as Attorney General for England and Wales and Advocate General for Northern Ireland by Theresa May in 2018 and, in February 2019, was put in charge of negotiating changes to the Northern Ireland backstop in the EU withdrawal agreement.

On 24 September 2019, minutes of a conference call seen by Sky News revealed that Cox had advised the government that the prorogation was lawful and constitutional and that any accusations of unlawfulness “were motivated by political considerations”.

On the same day, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled unanimously that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s prorogation of parliament – as advised by Attorney General Cox – was unlawful.

 

The reasons for his astonishing parliamentary outburst can now be understood.

 

 

 

 

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Different perspectives on the latest outsourcing report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damned with faint praise:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Thatcherism reversed

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

Lord John Hutton: a brief chronology

2008-9: Secretary of State for Defence

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

2011: Appointed Chair of the Nuclear Industries Association

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

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

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

SMR: artist’s impression

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to “drive big money out of democracy”

In Bolton on Sunday (18.8.19) Mr Corbyn announced a new policy to ban donations or loans to parties from non-doms and those not registered for tax in Britain. He said:

“People are right to feel that politics doesn’t work for them. It doesn’t. Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party are captured by big donors, who are corrupting democracy. If you have the money you can get access to ministers. Look at the fracking industry. But if you wish to protest against the frackers because it will damage the environment, you can’t get a hearing”.

Lamiat Sabin (right) reports that Cabinet Office shadow minister Jon Trickett is working on a comprehensive plan to stop big money “buying up our democracy” before outlining further plans in the autumn and that Mr Corbyn revealed details of donations to PM Boris Johnson – nearly a million pounds – from hedge funds and bankers.

In all: £953,056.47 came from hedge funds and bankers in donations and income over the last 15 years, (Labour’s analysis of Electoral Commission data and register of members’ interests entries) and contributions of up £730,000 to him or Conservative Associations in his Henley and Uxbridge seats. Some detail:

  • speeches to banks in Europe and the US: £233,056;
  • £100,000 received in June from Ipex Capital chairman Jonathan Moynihan, who also chaired the Vote Leave finance committee;
  • £10,000 in June from hedge fund manager Robin Crispin Odey, who is short-selling the sterling in expectation of a slide in the value of the pound in the event of Mr Johnson’s no-deal Brexit — according to Labour;
  • Johnson flown to New York and paid £94,507.85 for a two-hour speech at the multibillion-dollar hedge fund company Golden Tree Asset Management and
  • £88,000 from hedge fund boss Johan Christofferson from direct donations or contributions to Uxbridge Conservative Association.

He said: “We have to stop the influx of big money into politics. Politics should work for the millions, not the millionaires. Labour is the party of the many, not the few and we do things very differently. We are funded by workers through their trade unions and small donations, averaging just £22 in the last general election. That’s why we will be able to drive big money out of our democracy.”

 

 

 

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MoD outsourcing could sink the shipbuilding industry

 

All those with an interest in Italy’s Fincantieri, Spain’s Navantia, Japan Marine United Corporation, and Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering of South Korea – and their British shareholders – will rejoice as the Ministry of Defence decided to put the £1bn contract for the building of fleet solid support ships out to international tender in February.

France and Italy build their own solid support ships, ensuring that the work remains within national borders. Rodney Reid (Financial Times) responds to the news by describing Britain’s approach as ‘muddled’. He recommends that vessels required for use by the Royal Navy should be built in Britain, preserving jobs and skills in this country. A month later Mr Reid reported that Fincantieri and Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering had withdrawn due to the ‘significant’ advance funding required.

Unions and shipbuilders have urged that the vessels to be built under this contract with flight decks, advanced weapons systems and extensive dry storage, to carry supplies needed by the carrier fleet when on mission, should – as in France and Italy – be classed as complex warships. This would enable them to be built in the UK, exempted from EU laws preventing protectionism.

Reid asks: “With the Appledore shipyard in Devon, which has built ships for the Royal Navy for well over a century, likely to close at the end of March without any new orders, is it too much to expect joined-up thinking at the MoD to keep valued jobs in the UK and save a valuable shipbuilding asset?”

Admiral Lord West of Spithead points out a few of the advantages of building these ships in Britain:

  • the benefits to the exchequer of tax receipts from the firms involved and their workers,
  • the lack of exchange rate problems,
  • maintenance of highly skilled workers
  • versus redundancy and retraining to be shelf-stackers or something similar.

A false economy?

In an earlier FT article, co-authors David Bond, Henry Mance and Peggy Hollinger assert that the MoD wants to cut costs by using the subsidised shipyards of other countries but defence experts say that might be a false economy. Francis Tusa of Defence Analysis said a report commissioned by the unions will show next week that 25% of the spending on the vessels would return to the government in direct taxes.

Admiral West agrees: “The Treasury is deluding itself if it thinks it is cheaper building them abroad. The fleet solid support ships should be built in the UK.”

 

 

 

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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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Post-Brexit: moving from globalisation towards resilient self-reliance

A call for building strong productive local and regional communities and new trade systems that fulfil human lives without wasting resources and energy  

Today the Financial Times (paywall) reports that the number of foreign investment projects has dropped by 14% to 1,782 in the financial year ending March 2019, since the 2016 Brexit referendum. This is the lowest level in six years, according to a report published on Wednesday by the UK’s Department for International Trade.

As multinational profits continue to fly out of the country and taxes are evaded, we return to the valuable 2017 report by Victor Anderson and Rupert Read entitledBrexit and Trade Moving from Globalisation to Self-reliance’, published and launched by Green MEP Molly Scott Cato. 

Although it regrets leaving the EU and wishes we wouldn’t, the report is written as an alternative approach assuming we are outside the EU. Its Executive Summary states:

This report puts on to the political agenda an option for Brexit which goes with the grain of widespread worries about globalisation, and argues for greater local, regional, and national self-sufficiency, reducing international trade and boosting import substitution”.

Colin Hines comments: It details the need for an environmentally sustainable future involving constraints to trade and the rebuilding of local economies. On page 14, the report calls for ‘Progressive Protectionism’:

“Reducing dependence on international trade implies reducing both imports and exports. It is very different from the traditional protectionism of seeking to limit imports whilst expanding exports. It should therefore meet with less hostility from other countries, as it has a very different aim from simply improving the UK’s balance of payments. It could be described as ‘progressive protectionism’, or ‘green protectionism’“.

The report’s recommendations are summarised under three headings: the environment, globalisation and localisation (below):

  • Change trade agreements to allow governments to promote greater national, regional, and local resilience.
  • Shift taxes, subsidies, and public expenditure on infrastructure, away from unfairly favouring large and global companies, and redirect them to help build up local economies.
  • Link banking directly to local and regional economies rather than to the international financial system.
  • Boost the number of places for skills training in sectors where UK production can substitute for imports.
  • bring in short-term government subsidies to invest in and develop economic sectors where UK production can be expected to substitute for imports as part of the new strategy. These would not necessarily be ‘infant industries’: they might be old sectors being revived and renewed.
  • Introduce or increase tariffs on imports of goods and services, especially those where domestic production is a viable and environmentally sustainable option.
  • Democratise English sub-regional devolution arrangements and reform local government finance, so as to provide for effective decentralisation of power.

The globalisation of recent decades has been very one-sided. There have been enormous benefits for large business corporations, financial institutions, and the super-rich. As smaller companies have found it difficult to compete, the multinationals have used a worldwide network of tax havens to escape from taxation and regulation.

‘Brexit and Trade’ sets put a new option for Britain. Instead of removing protective regulations against environmental threats it advocates establishing high Green standards and practical localisation measures. It would address the very real social, economic and environmental problems of globalisation, serving present and future generations well.

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 22: 2014 tax law – lowest income households lose, bailiffs gain

 

Britain’s lowest-income households were exempt from council tax until 2014, when the law changed, bringing 1.4m households into the council tax net, with some jobseekers and the disabled required to pay bills amounting to 10% of their benefits income, according to the National Audit Office report, Financial sustainability of local authorities 2018, (Money Advice Trust note 67)

The Money Advice Trust charity points out that between 2011/12 and 2017/18, central government funding for local authorities fell by an estimated 49% in real terms – leaving councils increasingly reliant on council tax and business rates to fund local services, according to data obtained through its Freedom of Information requests. Its 2018 report A Decade in Debt gives detailed analysis of many kinds of private debt, with a chapter on council tax arrears.

Council tax collection privatised

With most councils lacking the staff to collect arrears the money themselves, more than 2.3m debts were referred to companies like Dukes bailiffs, a “provider of ethical and efficient enforcement services across the UK”, who sponsored the 2019 Local Authority Civil Enforcement Forum’s conference.

According to the Financial Times, the Institute for Fiscal Studies reports that almost a fifth of single parents who would formerly have paid no council tax are now in debt. No link was given and a search led to the IFS 2004 report which made seven references to the deot problenms of single parents.

Hansard, the official government record, in answering questions on ‘rogue bailiffs’ refers to a September 2018 YouGov poll which found that more than one in three people contacted by bailiffs in the last two years had been subject to harmful behaviour, such as threatening to break into homes.

Money UK gives information on debt collection

An article on the subject in the Mirror reports that the Commons Treasury Com­­mittee says bailiffs work­ing for nat­­ional and local government are “worst in class” for aggressive tactics.

Those with physical or mental health problems are less likely to engage with their local authority, according to research by the Money and Mental Health Institute last May. which found that people with poor mental health were three times more likely than the general public to be behind with their council tax payments. A visit from a bailiff can exacerbate psychological distress and cause stress, the MMHPI said, particularly when enforcement agents did not act with care.

Barrie Minney chair of the Local Authority Civil Enforcement Forum (LACEF), explained that bailiffs are sometimes wrongly sent out to people who are financially or mentally vulnerable because of a lack of data sharing between council departments.

Many bailiffs are paid on commission based on the repayments they recover; if they don’t collect, they don’t earn

One of the FT’s case studies is summarised here. When Charley Finlay was recovering from the death of her premature baby she missed her first council tax payment of the year and did not open reminder letters from the council. Because she missed her first payment she became liable for her entire annual tax bill of £300.

Enforcement agents are allowed to charge £75 for sending a letter and £235 for a home visit, further inflating people’s debts.

Her debt increased to over £1,000 once the costs of the bailiff’s letters and visits were added to her debt. She said that the bailiff was at her door constantly, shouting through her letterbox, ringing her all the time and telling her that her children would go into care as she would be imprisoned.

Various efforts are being made to improve practice. These include:

  • LACEF is working with debt charities to build models for early intervention and developing software to help flag up people’s potential vulnerabilities to revenue collection departments. “Otherwise, we can spend a lot of time and money chasing people who cannot afford to pay us,” Mr Minney said. “That is really not ideal.”
  • More than half of the councils are examining new methods of dealing with people on benefits who are in arrears, LACEF’s polling indicates.
  • Local government minister Rishi Sunak vowed in April to engage with charities and debt advice bodies to create a “fairer” collection system.
  • The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government highlighted the need to protect people against “aggressive debt enforcement”, announcing that reforms could include taking individual circumstances into account to give people the necessary time to pay off arrears, improving links between councils and the debt advice sector, and supporting fairer debt intervention
  • CIVEA – the principal trade association representing civil enforcement agencies – is hosting a one-day conference in September to present the industry’s take on the Ministry of Justice report following their recent call for evidence. This will include: the treatment of debtors, the complaints processes and whether further regulation is needed.

Comment from Peter Jennett (Private Eye letter, Jul/Aug 2018):

“Those in power not only tolerate but actively create conditions of increasing poverty, lack of access to education and life chances for large numbers of our population, then blame those affected for their own plight”.

 

 

 

 

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What is the truth about the state of England’s rivers?

 

Despite evidence from at least eight sources, the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency says “It’s wrong to suggest that the state of England’s rivers is poor”

The Financial Times recently reported that only 14% of rivers in England met the minimum “good status” standards as defined by the EU Water Framework directive according to an Environment Agency report in 2018. In 2009 almost 25% did so. Water quality has deteriorated since 2010 when the Environment Agency handed responsibility for pollution monitoring to the nine large water and sewage companies in England.

Evidence supporting their report comes from the World Wildlife Fund, Windrush rivers campaign, Fish Legal, Marine Conservancy, European Environment Agency, NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Sewage Free Seas. It was quoted in England’s rivers: toxic cocktail of chemicals, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and untreated waste.

Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, replied in a letter to the FT, “It’s wrong to suggest that the state of England’s rivers is poor (“Blighted by pollution”, The Big Read, June 13)”. He continued:

Water quality is now better than at any time since the Industrial Revolution thanks to tougher regulation and years of hard work by the Environment Agency and others.

Rivers that were so polluted that they were severely biologically damaged two decades ago are now thriving with wildlife such as otters, dippers and mayflies returning.

Over the past 20 years EA teams have taken more than 50m samples to monitor water quality around the country. The EU’s water framework directive means that the failure of one test can prevent a river from achieving good ecological status overall but this often does not tell the whole story.

During the last round of testing, 76 per cent of the tests used to measure the health of rivers were rated as good, and last year 98 per cent of bathing waters at 420 locations passed tough quality standards, compared with less than a third in the 1990s.

The EA has also required water companies to install new monitoring systems on combined sewer overflows (CSOs). By March next year more than 11,500 CSOs will be monitored as the first phase of this work is completed

It is not true that the EA simply relies on the water companies to tell us what they are discharging into watercourses. We carry out our own monitoring of rivers to ensure we have independent evidence and we regularly inspect water treatment plants and sewage works. If companies are failing to abide by the law or the terms of their permits we will take action to ensure that they do, up to and including prosecution.

Since 1990, the water industry has invested almost £28bn in environmental improvement work, much of it to improve water quality. I agree that there are still too many serious pollution incidents and we have called for tougher penalties for water companies where they are shown to be at fault.

In the past three years we have brought 31 prosecutions against water companies, resulting in more than £30m in fines, and we will continue, alongside the other water regulators, to act to ensure that people, wildlife and the environment are protected.

The agencies quoted are unconvinced and the FT asked earlier this month: Can England’s water companies clean up its dirty rivers?

It noted that the concerns over river pollution come at a time when the water industry is under fire for paying executives and shareholders lucrative rewards while raising customer bills and failing to stem leakage and ended: “The failures mean that three decades after the regional state-run monopolies were handed to private companies free of debt, and with a £1.5bn grant to invest in environmental improvements, the Labour party is calling for renationalisation of the water companies that are now saddled with debt of £51bn”.


Since this article was written, Southern Water — supplier to Kent, Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Sussex — has been required to pay what amounts to a £126m penalty over five years for letting untreated waste leak into rivers between 2010 and 2017, and trying to hide what happened.

 

 

 

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