Category Archives: Government

Broken Britain 21: our divided society

Aditya Chakrabortty focusses on the ‘vast disconnect between elite authority and lived experience, central to what’s broken in Britain today’ – the ‘gap’ which widened as independent working class self-help initiatives were replaced by the ‘hand of the state’ (Mount) creating’ a new feudalism’ and from two searing analyses of our divided society (Jones).

He asks:

  • “Why is a stalemate among 650 MPs a matter for such concern, yet the slow, grinding extinction of mining communities and light-industrial suburbsis passed over in silence?
  • “Why does May’s wretched career cover the first 16 pages of a Sunday paper while a Torbay woman told by her council that she can “manage being homeless”, and even sleeping rough, is granted a few inches downpage in a few of the worthies?”
  • Is “the death sentence handed to stretches of the country and the vindictive spending cuts imposed by the former chancellor George Osborne, a large part of why Britain voted for Brexit in the first place?”

He continues:

“We have economic policymakers who can’t grasp how the economy has changed, elected politicians who share hardly anything in common with their own voters . . . Over a decade from the banking crash, the failings of our economic policymaking need little elaboration. the basic language of economic policy makes less and less sense.

“Growth no longer brings prosperity; you can work your socks off and still not earn a living. Yet still councils and governments across the UK will spend billions on rail lines, and use taxpayers’ money to bribe passing billionaire investors, all in the name of growth and jobs.”

A University College London study published last year shows that  the parliamentary Labour party became more “careerist” under Tony Blair – and also grew increasingly fond of slashing welfare. Social security was not something that ‘professionalised MPs’ or their circle had ever had to rely on, so ‘why not attack scroungers and win a few swing voters?’

The trend continues: Channel 4 News found that over half of the MPs elected in 2017 had come from backgrounds in politics, law, or business and finance and more came from finance alone than from social work, the military, engineering and farming put together.

This narrowing has a direct influence on our law-making and political class and Chakrabortty comments: “We now have economic policymakers who can’t grasp how the economy has changed, elected politicians who share hardly anything in common with their own voters”.

He concludes that this is what a real democratic crisis looks like: failed policies forced down the throats of a public. Institution after institution failing to legislate, reflect or report on the very people who pay for them to exist. And until it is acknowledged, Britain will be stuck, seething with resentment, in a political quagmire.

 

 

 

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

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

He writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Media 97: An inconvenient truth? A Dutch reader notes UK’s ZERO coverage of 40,000 climate change demo in Amsterdam

She writes: “*zero* coverage in the UK over climate demo Sunday 10th in Amsterdam?! 40,000 people at climate change demo in Amsterdam and it RAINED heavily all day … we got soaked to our underwear …)!!”

An online search today saw no UK coverage on the first four ‘result’ pages – only American and European coverage.

Adding wryly: “When 40 yellow vests get together it’s shared all over the planet…

Forty thousand people joined a climate change protest in Amsterdam on Sunday, March 10th, urging the Dutch government to take action on climate change.

The demonstration, the first of its kind in the Netherlands, drew around 40,000 people despite heavy rain, according to Agence France-Presse.

“The high turnout is the proof that people now want a decisive policy on climate from the government,” Greenpeace, one of the march organizers, said in a statement.

The Netherlands could be especially vulnerable to the rising tides brought on by climate change. Much of the country already sits below sea level, and some of its land is sinking.

While the U.S. has been backpedalling out of global climate change agreements like the Paris accord, Dutch lawmakers have passed ambitious climate change laws, seeking a 95% reduction of the 1990 emissions levels by 2050.

In January, however, a Dutch environmental research agency said the government is lagging behind its goals. “We are under sea level, so we really need to do something about it,” said a 21-year-old climate studies student at Amsterdam University.

Students around the world have been leading protests to prompt their governments to address climate change. A worldwide school strike is planned for later this week. Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager widely known for her climate change activism, said on Twitter that at least 82 countries plan to participate in the upcoming protest.

Will British media fail to report the forthcoming school strikes as well as this one?

 

 

 

 

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Desertions are good for Corbyn

This is Richard House’s challenging assertion as anti-Corbyn Labour MPs deserted the party in recent days. He continues:

“It’s too easily forgotten that the deserters are the same people who never accepted Corbyn’s leadership of the party from day one, and who’ve continually done everything possible – eagerly aided by their establishment media friends – to undermine him at every turn, so making his leadership job quite impossible.

“Remember the attempted MPs’ coup led by these people in their unconstitutional attempt to get rid of Corbyn? – this was long before the Labour Party anti-Semitism hysteria had ever been heard of.

“And having failed to displace Corbyn with their spiteful coup attempt, their fall-back was to concoct a carefully choreographed plan: namely, create a hysterical (but fictional) media storm about anti-Semitism; allow it to rage for a few months; then re-kindle it (literally making it up as they went along); and finally, when the fire was raging again, use this as a baseless pretext for splitting the Labour Party so we can have another five years of heartless Tory rule. Establishment job done.

“These “courageous” people have discharged their quasi-Tory bidding very well.

“Oh, and of course it’s just a coincidence that these deserters are all virulent Remainers who’ve never accepted the democratic result of the EU referendum, and will continue to do anything possible to reverse it.”

“One thing that May and Corbyn do have in common is that at least they’re trying to stay true to the democratic result of the EU referendum.

He concludes that – rather than having to devote huge amounts of time and energy defending themselves from relentless attacks from ‘serial underminers‘ within their own party – Corbyn and his team can now spend all their time on exposing the nation’s headlong social disintegration under Tory austerity.

 

And above all “inspiring us with their stellar policy portfolio”.o

 

Dr Richard House

Stroud, Gloucestershire

 

Source: Western Daily Press, 25 February 2019, p. 16–17

 

 

 

 

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Farm Groups: No Deal Brexit reckless in the extreme

PRESS RELEASE, 6th March 2019 from Fairness for Farmers in Europe (FFE), an open door federation of farm organisations across GB, the Isle of Man, Ireland north and south.

After their recent meeting in England, the following FFE members supported this statement: Family Farmers Association, Farmers For Action, Irish Creamery & Milk Suppliers Association, Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers Association, Manx NFU, National Beef Association and Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association.

Pictured (l-r ) at Fairness for Farmers in Europe’s recent meeting at the Marriott Hotel in Gatwick– back row  is Andrew Cooper General Secretary Manx NFU, John Enright ICMSA General Secretary, Tim Johnston Manx NFU Vice-President, Sean McAuley NIAPA & FFA and Brian Brumby Manx NFU President.  Front row, Eddie Punch General Secretary ICSA, William Taylor FFA NI and FFE co-ordinator and Patrick Kent ICSA President.

Fairness for Farmers in Europe have delivered the following press release of their agreed statement on the strong possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a deal to Michael Gove MP, Andrea Leadsom MP, Theresa May PM, Neil Parish MP, Sir Vince Cable MP, Sir Keir Starmer MP and Anna Soubry MP with copies sent to the Irish Government, the Isle of Man Government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, Council of Ministers President Donald Tusk and European Parliament President Antonio Tajani. FFE members are copying in their MEPs and politicians where appropriate.

The statement 

Fairness for Farmers in Europe (FFE) on behalf of all the family farmer members they represent across these islands, north, south, east and west, must make clear to the UK Government that it would be reckless in the extreme with the impact horrendous for agriculture and food if the UK were to crash out of the EU with no deal on 29th March.

The beef industry, to give one example across these islands is already being devastated due to uncertainty currently with price losses at the farm gate of 10%+, not to mention the add on costs to consumers from the 29th of March.  A no deal on 29th March would by way of UK and EU Customs and Excise administration costs, consequential transport waiting times and WTO tariffs where applicable on lamb, milk, milk products, chicken, pork, beef, vegetables, fruit and other at the UK Northern Irish border with the EU / Southern Ireland Border, UK Dover border point with Calais French EU border and all other food importing/exporting points around and in the UK.

For the sake of commonsense we ask you to draw back from the brink – ask for more time to achieve a successful outcome if a deal cannot be reached by 29th March. 

 

Contact: 56  Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, N Ireland, BT51 4NU

Tel. 07909744624  Email : taylor.w@btconnect.com

 

 

 

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Cash or cashless? Vested interests strive to win the argument

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Charles Randell, chair of the government’s Payment Systems Regulator asks a pertinent question:Should access to such a basic financial service be universal, or commercially driven?”

Cashless: “Digital payments are clearly the future”: a spokeswoman for digital payment company Square

One protagonist, Helen Prowse, a spokeswoman for digital payment company Square, spoke at a debate held by Monzo, a London-based fintech startup. “Digital payments are clearly the future.” She continued: “In the UK, plastic payment cards are the most popular way to buy things. Only about 30% of transactions use paper notes and coins, The ratio is already at 15% in Sweden, which will become effectively cashless in a few years’ time”. Quartz journalist John Detrixhe appears to agree. He gives several reasons for ‘getting rid’ of cash:

  • When shops switch over to digital money, their workers are less likely to be subject to violent robbery.
  • It can also be faster and cheaper to process than notes and coins.
  • Cash helps to enable the underground economy through tax evasion as well as illicit finance.

But G4S issued a report (April ’18) showing that cash circulation has increased

G4S which transports, process, recycle, securely store and manages cash published the World Cash Report in April 2018.  It surveyed 47 countries covering 75% of the global population and over 90% of the world’s GDP. The findings show that demand for cash continues to rise globally, despite the increase in electronic payment options in recent years; cash in circulation relative to GDP has increased to 9.6% across all continents, up from 8.1% in 2011.

The report highlights the variety of payment habits in different regions. In Europe 80% of point-of-sale transactions are conducted in cash, while in North America, where card payments are most regularly used, cash use still accounts for 31%. In Asia the rise of online purchases does not mean that cash is taken out of the equation, with more than 3 out of every 4 online purchases in a number of countries paid for by cash on delivery.

Access to Cash Review: cash is “an economic necessity” for around 25 million people in Britain

Natalie Ceeney (right), a successful civil servant who is now non-executive chair of Innovate Finance, chaired the independent Access to Cash Review, funded by Link, the UK’s biggest network of cash machines. She said “The issue is that digital does not yet work for everyone.”

The review indicated that physical notes and coins are “an economic necessity” for around 25 million people in Britain, and nearly half of people surveyed said a cashless society would be problematic for them. ATMs and bank branches are under particular pressure in rural communities, where broadband and mobile service is unreliable or unavailable. Next month, the review plans to publish its recommendations on how to deal with declining cash availability.

Nicky Morgan, chair of the UK’s Treasury Committee, said recently, “Whilst cash may no longer be king, it continues to play an important role in the lives of millions. So what we’ve heard today from the PSR should set alarm bells ringing. It’s clear that the whole way that people access their cash via ATMs is starting to fail. With the way that people access their cash seemingly on the precipice of collapsing, the government can’t just bury its head in the sand. . . .”

And what will happen in a cashless society when electronic systems malfunction – as machines do – when the mobile phone cannot get a signal, when cable sheaths fail or when someone accidentally damages a phone cable?

 

 

 

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Government faces a judicial review about short-changing 1950s women

In an earlier post Political Concern reported that 2.6 million women born in the 1950s will ‘lose out’ because of changes to pension law: “while corporations and the richest individuals receive tax breaks.

“Governments are balancing budgets on the backs of the poor”- (lawyer/novelist John Grisham)

Waspi, a UK-wide organisation with many local groups, is campaigning against the way in which the state pension age for men and women was equalised, whilst supporting the principle of equality.

One, the Chorley Supporters Group, is denouncing the government who arbitrarily told them to work for several extra years before they can claim their state pensions, causing them to lose income and peace of mind and obliging many to continue to work at a time of life when caring duties increase and energy levels start to fall. Read more in the Lancashire Evening Post.

Writing to the Financial Times they say: “It is about time the spotlight was turned on this government, which has effectively stolen the security net of millions of women by raising the state pension age far quicker than planned, with no personal notification”.

On the BBC’s World at One programme one of many testimonies was given:

Stella Taylor: “I was born in 1955, I had worked all of my life and, when I became unwell at just about the age of 58 I then discovered, quite accidentally, that my State Pension, which I was expecting to receive at 60, had been moved six whole years to sixty-six. And, like so many women in this movement, we were just aghast. We thought there must be a mistake. Had I received my pension at sixty, when I had expected to, I wouldn’t have been wealthy by anybody’s standards, but I wouldn’t have been in the depths of poverty that I now am. At the moment, because I am still unable to work due to ill health, I receive seventy three pounds and ten pence per week in Employment Support Allowance. Living, and paying all your household bills, out of that £73 a week is impossible. There are times when I have needed to use my local food bank because I haven’t been able to afford groceries.” More testimonies here. 

On February 10ththe BBC reported the warning of Amber Rudd, the pensions secretary, which should be extended to her own department:

”If you chronically mismanage a pension scheme . . . we’re coming for you.”

After pointing out that a freedom of information request has revealed recent research findings that the government reneged on their contributions to the national insurance fund over many years and redirected that money towards paying off the national debt, the Chorley Supporters Group asks:

“How government can expect other public or private institutions in this country to play fair with pension funds when it is not doing so itself”.

On February 11th, the government published a research briefing on the legislation increasing the State Pension age for women born in the 1950s. up

This unexpected rise in the state pension age will now “save” the Treasury an estimated £8bn by impoverishing 1950s women.

MP Grahame Morris pointed out that the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru, the DUP and 50 Conservative MPs support the Waspi campaign.

He added that Landman Economics’ report gives the figure of £8bn savings to government and suggests that this sum should be seen in the wider context of current or planned government finance. Some examples follow: (Ed: links added):

FT Adviser reports that SNP MP Mhairi Black earlier pointed out that the National Insurance Fund is projected to have a substantial surplus at the end of 2017 to 2018 and the HMRC’s report confirms that the National Insurance Fund balance at 31 March 2018 was £24.2 billion and is expected to increase in the following year.

Morris ends: “In this context, finding the money for Waspi women seems a sensible price to pay to give these women justice . . . We know and we can see that it isn’t equal, it isn’t fair and it isn’t justifiable – it’s driving down the incomes and the quality of life of countless women”.

Next June the government faces a judicial review in the High Court to determine whether these recent increases to women’s state pension age are lawful and the Chorley Supporters Group, Chrissie Fuller, Jane Morwood, Betty Ann Tucker, Riley Ann Rochester, Beverley Cordwell, Lea Butler and Lesley Kirkham end by warning that they will not rest until justice is done.

 

 

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A good day to bury bad news: little relief for cash-strapped local government

As the media was focussing on Tuesday’s Brexit vote in the Commons, this morning only subscribers to the New Statesman read about the written statement by the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, James Brokenshire.

In what the writer, Anoosh Chakelian (right), said is becoming a bleak pattern, the government chose Theresa May’s second attempt to pass her Brexit deal on which to publish its statement on local  government finance.

A reassuringly generous set of dispensations?

The statement by James Brokenshire (left) opens with eight substantial paragraphs detailing increased funding in a wide range of sectors, summarised in the New Statesman:

“As first announced in the Budget, the government is releasing extra chunks of funding for social care and potholes, as well as more money for high streets. The government calculates that its settlement adds up to a rise in core spending power for councils from £45.1bn in 2018-19 to £46.4bn in 2019-20: a 2.8% cash increase. (It has also reiterated the £56.5m across 2018-19 and 2019-20 to help councils prepare for Brexit, which we can’t really count as extra funding as it’s to fill a Brexit-shaped hole.)”

Councils are to be awarded £56.5 million across 2018-19 and 2019-20 to help prepare for EU Exit. It lists “a broad package of measures and confirms that Core Spending Power is forecast to increase from £45.1 billion in 2018-19 to £46.4 billion in 2019-20”.

This information is meaningless to the general public. Are they going only to the 117 largest councils listed here, or should district councils and London boroughs be included? And will they be distributed according to need, population, or other criteria?

Anoosh Chakelian’s verdict: Far from generous. She points out that after eight years of austerity, cash-strapped councils will still face a funding gap of more than £3bn this yearaccording to the Local Government Association.

She adds that the pressure to set legal budgets, with an average 49% drop in real terms spending power since 2010 and rising social care demands, means that councils need substantially more than a 2.8% rise.

Decisions on business rates retention and a fair funding formula for local government have been postponed, despite the planned consultations having taken place and their findings published.

Noting that the long promised green paper on adult social care has not appeared and the funding announced is ’a short-term one-off’, she quotes the head of the National Audit Office, Amyas Morse, who said last March: “Current funding for local authorities is characterised by one-off and short-term fixes, many of which come with centrally driven conditions.”

Though James Brokenshire asserts that this settlement answers calls for additional funding in 2019-20, and paves the way for a more self-sufficient and reinvigorated system of local government, Anoosh Chakelian concludes: “This means councils will continue to operate in a financial void, unable to fund public services properly, while waiting for something to change in the promised Spending Review later this year”.

 

 

 

 

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MPs ask how ‘the other England’ can be strengthened so that fellow citizens are not “pushed into destitution”

A Bournville reader draws attention to an article about Heidi Allen, Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, and former Labour MP Frank Field, now a backbencher. They are touring the poorest areas of Leicester Newcastle, Glasgow, Morecambe and Cornwall. Frank Field said they want to know “how the soft underbelly of our society – ‘the other England’ – can be strengthened so that none of our fellow citizens are pushed into destitution”.

Robert Booth, Social Affairs correspondent for the Guardian, reports that their widely publicised inquiry began in London where testimonials from those with first-hand experience of food poverty exposed the barriers that people face in securing support from the government, when faced with extreme life hardships and personal difficulties.

“Unless we blow the lid off it, my lot are not going to listen”

He explains that Heidi Allen had asked Frank Field if he would join her on a tour of the UK to show the government the “other England” shaped by the austerity policies pioneered by Allen’s party. She added: “Unless we blow the lid off it, my lot are not going to listen.” This is not a new concern: in her 2015 maiden speech Heidi Allen gave a detailed criticism of proposed cuts to tax credits, saying, ‘today I can sit on my hands no longer’.

Evidence from Leicester which they will be presenting includes accounts of:

  • an illiterate man sanctioned so often under universal credit that he lives on £5 a week;
  • a man who had sold all but the clothes he was wearing;
  • someone told to walk 44 miles to attend a job interview, despite having had a stroke, to save the state the cost of a £15 bus ticket;
  • a surge in referrals to food banks from 5% since the introduction of universal credit in June, to 29%;
  • an elderly person – after her son, who had suffered a stroke, had been sanctioned 15 times – said, “The system needs more caring people. They are like little Hitlers”;
  • another was expecting the bailiffs to take back her two-bed council house because she was in arrears, including on bedroom tax. Her second bedroom is used by her granddaughter five nights a week, so her son can work, but that doesn’t count – only children qualify’

The bureaucratic struggle to claim benefits is a big problem, carefully and accurately portrayed in Ken Loach’s internationally acclaimed award-winning film, I Daniel Blake (snapshot and link to brief video below). 65% of the most vulnerable people who come to Leicester council for help have never used a computer and don’t have a smart phone or an email address, needed to fill out forms.

 A brief extract from the film – those who have seen it will remember that the computer session becomes far more stressful and eventually – as often happens – aborts for no fault of the ‘client’.

According to Feeding Britain, a charity set up by Field which now includes Allen among its trustees, after housing costs, 41% of children in Leicester – more than 34,000 – are living in poverty. The Leicester South parliamentary constituency was in the poorest 2% of constituencies in the UK in 2018. Over the last two summer holidays, in the most deprived parts of the city, over 15,000 meals were served to almost 1,650 children, using government funds.

In the Leicester Mercury, Leicester South MP Jon Ashworth said after reading the latest research findings: “These shocking statistics show high levels of child poverty in Leicester South. It is clear that the Government is failing working families, and cuts to Universal Credit will make child poverty even worse. It is appalling that since 2010 the number of children living in poverty has reached four million under this Government, and the Government is still maintaining the benefit freeze.”

 

 

 

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Criminal justice system on its knees – ’transformed’ by outsourced IT system

 

Lucy Frazer, the justice minister, faces warnings that the criminal justice system is reaching crisis point. Thousands of cases have been disrupted, with trials adjourned and delayed, after the main computer system in England and Wales went down at hundreds of courts. The Times reports that one senior figure said the system was “on its knees”.

Problems include:

  • Prison visits and meetings cancelled.
  • Lawyers and clerks unable to access documents such as witness statements.
  • Defendants being asked to check their own driver records for potential disqualifications on the DVLA website.
  • Problems in the probation service surfaced eight weeks ago; probation workers are being told to take annual leave as they could not carry out their work.
  • 75,000 judges and lawyers who use the criminal justice secure email system were locked out last week.
  • The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said it estimated that about 30 trials had already been adjourned.

Chris Grayling, during his term as lord chancellor, introduced the present IT system as “a several hundred million-pound investment in the Courts and Tribunal Service . . . fully supported by the judiciary and a really important initiative of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats working together in coalition to modernise the working of our courts”.

Comment by Jonathan Black, a partner at BSB Solicitors and former president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association:

“Since 2013, when Grayling was brought in to manage transformation of our justice system, we saw a plethora of projects prefixed with the word transforming, which was window-dressing for selling off.”

Comment by Chris Henley, QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, which represents about 4,000 lawyers:

“The unrealistic planning has all the hallmarks of a Grayling project. He has repeated the trick everywhere he has been. We’ve seen it with the probation contract, private prisons and more recently the railways. We are living with his destructive, nihilistic legacy in all areas of legal aid and the courts . . .

“The closure of so many buildings, the ‘rationalisation’ of staff etc are all premised on the basis that the modernisation programme will create a cheaper digitised replacement system. Lawyers and many judges have no confidence in this planned overhaul of the courts and have serious reservations from a public policy point of view.”

He warned that trials could collapse. “Trials are being adjourned, the IT infrastructure is inaccessible in many places, electronic recording systems aren’t working and barristers can’t access vital documents because court wifi and secure emails aren’t working,” he said. “The system is on its knees.”

Lucy Frazer, the justice minister said that all judges would receive a personal letter from Sir Richard Heaton, the permanent secretary at the MoJ, who would also meet the chief executive of Atos, one of the network suppliers. She added that the department was exploring whether the suppliers’ contracts included “penalty clauses” to try to retrieve some of the costs incurred by the IT failures.

A spokesman said that the secure email system, supplied by Egress, had been restored. The desktops using wired connections to the main MoJ network, provided by Microsoft and Atos, were still down. Microsoft and Egress referred inquiries to the Ministry of Justice.  Atos declined to comment.

Sources

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/destructive-chris-grayling-blamed-for-computer-chaos-in-courts-lsqkzd68z

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/courts-in-chaos-as-trials-halted-by-it-breakdown-f9lkqmm20

 

 

 

 

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