Category Archives: Finance
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.
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:
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.
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:
“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.
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.”
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
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 entitled ‘Brexit and Trade Moving from Globalisation to Self-reliance’, published and launched by Green MEP Molly Scott Cato.
“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.
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.