Category Archives: Government

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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Time for change: move more freight by rail and waterways to reduce air pollution and road accidents

Money Supermarket reports that more than half of fatal accidents on British roads involve HGVs, though lorries make up only 10% of the traffic. HGVs are involved in one in five fatal crashes on A-roads and an HGV is five times as likely to be involved in a fatal accident on a minor road than other traffic.

Department for Transport figures are quoted, showing that 82% of articulated heavy goods vehicles exceeded the 50-mph speed limit on dual carriageways and 73% broke the 40-mph limit on single carriageways in 2013. Despite this, in 2015 government raised the speed limit for HGVs travelling on single and dual carriageways in England and Wales. An HGV over 7.5 tonnes can now travel along a single carriageway at 50 mph, up from 40mph. The speed limit for HGVs over 7.5 tonnes travelling on dual carriageways increased from 50mph to 60mph.

The arrival of even bigger HGVs (double articulated mega-trucks) and ‘platooning’ trials pending with a driver in the first cab, controlling the following vehicles has raised further safety concerns. Last year, the Government announced that trials of partially self-driving platoons of lorries were set to take place on roads in the UK by the end of 2018.

Edmund King, president of the AA pointed out that we have some of the busiest motorways in Europe with many more exits and entries – and that platooning may work on the miles of deserted freeways in Arizona or Nevada but this is not America.

 

A few recent accidents:

12.9.19

The northbound carriageway between junctions 38 (Huddersfield) and 39 (Wakefield) was closed after an HGV overturned following an earlier collision with a car. The HGV was fully laden with glass bottles that had to be unloaded and diesel that had spilled across all three carriageway lanes had to be cleared.

11.9.19

M6 was shut after lorry crash between J12 and J13, near Cannock. The HGV hit the central reservation and later caught fire. Three lanes reopened southbound just after 12:30. Northbound remained closed most of day.

3.9.19

The M6 northbound between J14 (Stafford) and J16 (Stoke-on-Trent) was closed following an HGV fire.

13.8.19

The A38 was closed in both directions, between the A513 near Fradley and B5016 near Burton on Trent due to a crash and an overturned HGV. Around 40 tonnes of grain were spilled in the carriageway.

9.8.19

Police officers investigate the collision involving an HGV, between J25 and J24 near Taunton.

6.8.19

An HGV driver died following a collision on the M6 when his lorry burst into flames after colliding with a safety barrier.

5.8.19

There were severe delays on the M6 southbound between Junction 16 and Junction 15 due to two lanes being closed following an HGV fire. There was approximately seven miles congestion back to J16.

 

There is an alternative:

 

 

A Route One article reviewed reports by continental researchers who believe that their findings offer some support to policies being developed at Pan-European level to promote new multimodal transport corridors. These involve rail, inland waterways, short-sea (coastal) shipping. The researchers concluded that shifting a greater proportion of freight from roads to rail, boat and/or ship for part of its journey would be a sustainable way of meeting continuing rises in freight demand and reducing numbers of road accidents.

The Freight by Water 2018 conference, part of the Inland Waterways Transport Solutions project, highlighted how switching freight from road and rail to water can compete on cost and cut emissions. Inland waterways across the world have proved to be effective and efficient channels for moving everything from beer to building materials.

The conference highlighted several success stories and discussed several opportunities for freight by water, including the Leeds Inland Port at Stourton, which could take at least 200,000 tonnes of freight traffic off the roads. Its conclusion:

The time is right to increase freight using inland waterways throughout the UK and across Europe as an alternative to road and rail freight.

 

 

 

 

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A Scandinavian challenge to the FT’s rejection of Corbyn’s social democracy

Britain needs ‘a more conventional social democratic project’ according to a recent article by the FT editorial board – not Jeremy Corbyn’s radical ‘socialist’ programme.

The board rejects the claim by Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘media outriders’ that his programme aims to bring the country into line with the rest of Europe and is akin to German or Scandinavian social democracy. But Jonas Fossli Gjersø, (left) a Scandinavian who has spent more than a decade living in Britain, writes:

“From his style to his policies Mr Corbyn would, in Norway, be an unremarkably mainstream, run-of-the-mill social-democrat . . . his domestic policies are largely identical with the Norwegian Labour Party manifesto . . . Yet, here in the United Kingdom a politician who makes similar policy-proposals, indeed those that form the very bedrock of the Nordic-model, is brandished as an extremist of the hard-left and a danger to society”.

Modern social democratic thinking

Professor Richard Hoefer, in his essay in “Social Welfare Policy and Politics” 2013, writes: “Modern social democracy is characterised by a commitment to policies aimed at curbing inequality, oppression of underprivileged groups and poverty”.

Jeremy Corbyn would agree with this, and with Thomas Meyer and Lewis Hinchman, who add that social democracy includes support for universally accessible public services like care for the elderly, childcare, education, health care and workers’ compensation. They comment: “Libertarian democracies are “defective” in failing to protect their citizens adequately against social, economic, and environmental risks that only collective action can obviate. Ultimately, social democracy provides both a fairer and a more stable social order.”

Jonas Fossli Gjersø sees the British media’s portrayal of Corbyn as ‘verging on the realm of character assassination (media collage) rather than objective analysis and journalism’.

He suggests that the Nordic model would be a useful benchmark for Britain to move towards and thinks it possible that we are witnessing the social-democratic mirror image of the Thatcherisation process today in Britain, ‘with a prevailing wind from the left rather than the right’.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Thatcherism reversed

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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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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A fiery denunciation of the “cabal’s” decision to suspend parliament

Constitutional chicanery

Poles apart from Murdoch’s exultant Sun, which calls it a ‘masterstroke’, the FT’s editorial team describes the decision as ‘an affront to democracy’: “Boris Johnson has detonated a bomb under the constitutional apparatus of the United Kingdom . . . Proroguing parliament ahead of a Queen’s Speech is established procedure, but for one or two weeks, not five. Mr Johnson is using constitutional chicanery to thwart a parliament that he knows has a majority against his chosen policy”.

An intolerable attempt to silence parliament

The decision, without modern precedent, is described as “an intolerable attempt to silence parliament until it can no longer halt a disastrous crash-out from EU by the UK”. British democracy is being denied a say on the most important issue facing the country for more than four decades.

The FT’s editorial team recommends parliamentarians to bring down Johnson’s government in a no-confidence vote, paving the way for an election in which the people can express their will.

Charlatans, demagogues and would-be dictators

Pointing out that history has shown that charlatans, demagogues and would-be dictators have little time for representative government, they comment: “Mr Johnson may not be a tyrant, but he has set a dangerous precedent. He and the cabal around him who have chosen this revolutionary path should be careful what they wish for. No premier who has assumed power outside a general election has ever deviated so radically from his party’s previous platform”, and end:

“Mr Johnson is framing the current battle as one between parliament and the people . . . he should be ready to test this with voters in an election — rather than making a cavalier attempt to frustrate the parliamentary democracy that has been the foundation of Britain’s prosperity and stability”.

 

 

 

 

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Will voters be won over by a ’heroic Churchillian Johnson’ and forget nine years of austerity?

Setting off on tour

In his first full week as Britain’s new prime minister, Boris Johnson toured the country before there was a pre-election legal requirement for balanced media coverage. He was booed in Scotland, confronted by farmers in Wales, chided over the future of the union in Northern Ireland, watched his coalition’s majority in Parliament shrink even further and saw the pound fall to a two-and-a-half-year low.

Richard House commented in the Western Daily Press that Mr Johnson has:

  • seized headline after headline to create the illusion that the Tories are actually doing something domestically,
  • induced voters to forget three years of self-inflicted Brexit-induced torpor and abject failure on all these domestic issues,
  • been backed by the ongoing right-wing mainstream media propaganda assault on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour
  • presented the Tories as the solution to the social and economic problems their austerity policies caused and
  • created a xenophobic Brexit scenario where a heroic Churchillian Johnson rides to the rescue and tub-thumpingly “delivers” Brexit against all the establishment and Remainer odds.

Richard predicts that Johnson will rush to a general election before the November GDP growth figures show that the UK economy is formally in recession and warns the 99%:

“Really… if voters are fool enough to have their vote influenced by all this carefully choreographed manipulation, rather than on a straight and sober analysis and assessment of nine years of Tory policy-making calamity, we’ll end up deserving the government we’re landed with”.

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/08/02/boris-johnsons-first-full-week-prime-minister-chickens-boos-worrying-loss/

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/aug/04/boris-johnson-boos-leaks-snubs-floods

 

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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No Deal Brexit will devastate our food, farming and landscape’: farmer & MEP Phil Bennion

Arable farmer and West Midlands Lib Dem MEP Phil Bennion spoke out at a ‘Brexitime’ question and answer session with local farmers in Stratford-upon-Avon on August 6th. 

He said that a particular threat to farming came from the Agriculture Bill which plans to abandon the Single Farm Payment system as used under the CAP, with nothing to replace it. “There are no ifs and buts, the basic payments scheme will be phased out. Michael Gove’s idea was to replace it with extra environmental schemes but he clearly had not read WTO rules. It is very clear that under WTO rules environmental schemes need to compensate for direct costs only, they cannot provide any income.

“If we have no income support. which this draft bill says. while the Americans are getting it, the Europeans are getting it, pretty well all our competitors are getting it, there is absolutely no way we can make farming pay. 

“Emergency funding is within WTO rules – but under the rules you can’t carry on giving emergency funding forever. The Americans are doing this at the moment. Our (Lib Dem) policy keeps a basic payment scheme whether we leave the EU or not. A basic payment scheme is one of the only ways of supporting farm incomes within WTO rules.”

“There is likely to be a lot of land abandonment. Most of the farmland round here, the field sizes are not suitable for agribusiness arable farming and unless the regulations on clearing hedges and cutting trees down are scrapped, I can’t see that changing.”

Former NFU chief economist Sean Rickards, also a panellist at the event, gave a bleak assessment of the effect of the post Brexit trading environment on UK farming: “The government has already made it clear that (after Brexit) they are going to let the rest of the world in without tariffs and large sections of British agriculture couldn’t compete. Beef and sheep sectors will shrink quite severely, horticulture will struggle with labour issues and therefore the only sectors that will continue will be arable farms on an increasing scale to compete.

“The character will change, the size will change and the structure will change. It will be a smaller industry operating on an industrial scale and the remoter parts of the country will see farming almost wiped out.”

The panellists predicted that No Deal due to happen on October 31st would lead to the collapse of the sheep and beef sectors in particular, with prairie style arable agribusiness likely to be the only sector to survive, providing fields were huge without hedgerows. Phil Bennion said: “We export nearly 40% of the lamb we produce, and up to 96% of that goes to the EU. The tariffs under no deal would render this trade non-viable.

“Our lamb, Welsh lamb and English lamb is a premium product eaten fresh over a season, so there has not been a need to cold store it. It is eaten not just here but in France and all over Europe. New Zealand lamb fills our close season. With our lambs coming to market in the autumn it is inevitable that prices will crash if the EU market is closed off. There is nowhere to cold store it to stop this from happening. I believe the trade will collapse, yes, to a fraction of its current size. There will be a lot of mutton around and domestic prices will slump. Farmers won’t be able to get rid of enough of it to stop a price crash.”

After the meeting Phil said it was important to debunk the claims made by the Brexit Party and many Tory MPs that under GATT Article 24 we could just carry on trading with the EU as before.

“This myth keeps being repeated without being challenged. The fact is that the EU cannot choose under WTO rules whether or not to impose tariffs on our exports to ‘punish’ the UK, it has to impose them. It would also be illegal under WTO rules for the UK government to pay the tariffs to bail the farmers out.

“It is a disaster. If Boris does what he is threatening and refuses to go if he loses a vote of no confidence then I think we should walk into Parliament and tell him to go.”

A streamed recording of the whole meeting can be found (temporarily 90 degrees on its side!) here:  https://www.facebook.com/stratford4europe/videos/1054525424743135?s=644926487&v=e&sfns=xmo

 

 

 

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Dual fuel ferry builders threatened: shouldn’t governments support saving skills and projects reducing emissions?


The last civilian shipyard on the Clyde is threatened by a dispute between the owner of Ferguson Marine Engineering, Jim McColl, founder of Clyde Blowers Capital who saved the shipyard from closure in 2014, and one of Scotland’s leading businessmen and state-owned Caledonian Maritime Assets (FT: 7.7.19).

Ferguson Marine has been able to diversify and Clyde Blowers’ investment of £25m has transformed the yard. It has been retooled, with a new shed for all-weather work and its weekly output capacity increased from 13 tonnes to 150 tonnes a week. It is building a self-propelled hover barge and has won several other contracts, including one to develop a hydrogen-powered ferry fuelled by hydrogen from the Orkney electrolyser.

An odd relationship: Caledonian Maritime Assets (CMal), owned by the Scottish government, was established in 2007 to own and manage the country’s ferries and harbours and its subsidiary, CalMac Ferries, competes to operate ferry routes using vessels owned by CMal.

The dispute concerns two dual fuel ferries ordered by CMal from Ferguson Marine under a fixed-price design-and-build contract.

CMal declined to comment on changes recorded by Jim McColl who explained that delays and increased costs on substantial late changes by CMal to the ferries’ original specifications, including:

• one case where CMal had changed the number of seats it wanted. This required 11 structural pillars to be moved

• and a demand that the location for bringing aboard LNG fuel be moved from amidships to the aft section. This required cutting through bulkheads and routing the large vacuum-insulated cryogenic pipe through complex parts of the vessels.

Fine rhetoric about addressing climate change is not enough. It must be supported by the release of funding – perhaps redirected from the uneconomic and technically fraught building of new nuclear power stations – or from HS2.

 

Sources (links did not transfer)

 

 

 

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