Category Archives: Lobbying

Are Boris and Donald playing ‘The Great Game’?

A Sunday Times allegation that nine wealthy Russians have donated to Britain’s Conservative Party is leading some to suspect that disturbing evidence is being withheld at this time in order to safeguard its election prospects. Two expatriate oligarchs named, former allies of President Putin, are now British citizens. As David Slinger asks, (Gloucester Citizen, 2811.19) “Do we have a democratic right to see the reports?”

Would publication of the parliamentary report – which has passed security checks – shine a spotlight on the bankrolling of their party by disaffected millionaire Russian oligarchs?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has – to date – refused to publish the findings – thought to present evidence of covert Russian attempts to influence the outcome of 
the referendum and 2017 general election gathered by UK intelligence.

David Fromkin (Foreign Affairs) once wrote that the history of Britain’s participation in ‘The Great Game’ (see Kipling) ‘gains interest and possible significance from the American decision in our own time to contest Russian expansion on much the same battlefield’. Despite a temporary parliamentary setback pictured above, is the ‘Game’ afoot and will America – as usual – expect British diplomatic, intelligence and military support when required?

The US government is understandably apprehensive as Russia is increasing its influence in the Middle East and has also been co-operating with China – the latest move being a partnership in a $55 billion pipeline which the WSJ sees as ‘challenging the economic and strategic clout of the U.S’.

Work on the Power of Siberia pipeline project

Richard House wonders why opposition parties haven’t made the report a major general election issue, as it is ‘potential dynamite for the whole Brexit cause’.

Foreign Policy mentions ‘pervasive reports—never quite conclusively denied by the Foreign Office—that during Johnson’s time as foreign secretary, direct oversight of MI6, the foreign intelligence service, was quietly moved out of his portfolio because of his rather startling ‘Russian connections

If the report does cast significant doubt on the narrow referendum result to leave, Richard House adds, the whole legitimacy of Brexit would be thrown into doubt and the Tory Party would be in total meltdown.

 

 

 

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Labour has pledged to end deregulation of housing construction and ‘human warehousing’

 

Deregulation is posing problems in many sectors. Recently it was announced that the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee is to examine Thomas Cook’s ongoing corporate governance, accounting, auditing and regulatory failures, ‘while the gravy train for directors continued’ (Prem Sikka, September).

Advocates of deregulation – the reduction or elimination of government power (state rules) – say that it removes unnecessary bureaucracy and barriers to competition.

Prem Sikka (Professor of Accounting at University of Sheffield) now turns to the effect of deregulation on social housing. He focusses on the controversial ‘permitted development’ (PDR) system for the delivery of new homes which Labour has pledged to end – a decision commended by the Town and Country Planning Association. Reports last year highlighted the poor quality homes coming through the permitted development system and a get-out clause that exempts schemes from providing vital social and affordable housing.

Human warehousing

The permitted development system has led to the delivery of homes as small as 13 square metressmaller than the average living room. A BBC report about an office-to-residential permitted development conversion carried out by Caridon Property is quoted by Shelter. It has been used as temporary accommodation since 2018 and the homeless families with children crammed into tiny ‘studio flats’ have to ‘eat, drink and sleep in their beds’.

London Assembly study also noted that many PD homes are smaller than the minimum space standards and exacerbate the already huge issue of overcrowding – and by avoiding the planning system, developers are no longer obliged to contribute to the provision of affordable housing.

Newbury House in Ilford offers flats that apparently measure as little as 3.6 metres by 3.6 metres (12ft x 12ft), with residents packed in “like sardines”, a busy six-lane highway just yards away, broken glass and rubbish strewn all around outside.

The Developer, which informs and connects professionals working in urban development and design, adds more detail and is campaigning for these potentially dangerous conversions to be stopped.

A study by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors which examined the quality of PD in parts of Camden, Croydon, Leeds, Leicester and Reading, concluded that PD has allowed extremely poor-quality housing to be developed and PD residential quality was significantly worse than schemes which required planning permission – particularly in office-to-residential conversions. Of 568 buildings studied, another report found an inconsistency in the quality of developments, with only 30% of units delivered through permitted development meeting national space standards.

And Conservative MP for Harlow Robert Halfon (left) agrees with Sikka’s October verdict: ‘Government deregulation of housing construction is delivering social cleansing and the slums of the future’.

In 2013 – following pressure from ‘profit hungry’ property developers – the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government deregulated and disempowered local councils, passing legislation enabling developers to convert office blocks, agricultural buildings and warehouses into residential properties without full planning permission.

Richer councils are sending people to poorer areas already facing acute economic problems as part of a social cleansing process. Families with children, senior citizens, low-paid, the unemployed, people with special needs and others, faced with the choice of long waiting lists for housing, temporary accommodation, dilapidated housing and high rents by private landlords, have been persuaded to relocate to another area.

As part of a recent research project, Sikka met council leaders from many of these poorer areas, struggling to cope with the problems caused by deregulation and the loss of central government funding to local councils since 2010 cut by 26% in real terms. He writes:

“The class nature of permitted developments (PD) is evident as there are more PDs in Harrow and Hounslow compared to wealthy Kensington and Chelsea. They have been a boon for housing developers. The chief executives of this country’s ten biggest developers received a combined £63.6m last year for building slums, called by some, ‘human warehousing’ “.

Poorer areas already struggling to cope with acute economic problems have to find new jobs, schools, transport, family doctors and hospitals, without prior planning or resources, while richer areas with lower numbers of people on benefits, lower unemployment rates and less pressure on local schools, hospitals and social infrastructure, embark on the process of gentrification.

  

Professor Sikka’s article may be read here.

 

 

 

 

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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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Yet another Thatcher-privatised-off-shored-debt-laden industry is seeking subsidies

Most UK care homes were managed by local authorities until Margaret Thatcher ‘reformed’ the system in the 1980s; now just 8% are said to be under state control.

In April, the shadow minister for social care and mental health said, There are major concerns about the debt-driven business models of some companies in the care sector and the role of foreign private equity firms and hedge funds in deciding the future care arrangements for large numbers of vulnerable people. The real price of this instability and underfunding is now being paid by the 17,000 older people in Four Seasons care homes and their families who face an uncertain future”.

The Bracknell care home and Kingsmills care home (above) are two of more than 300 owned by Four Seasons Health Care. In May, administrators were called in by the firm which has struggled to repay its debts.

All four of Britain’s biggest care-home businesses have been up for sale in the past year and have failed to secure deals.

recent report by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services reported that almost half of councils have seen the closure of domestic home care providers in their area in the past year and a third had seen residential care homes closed, collectively affecting more than 8,000 clients and residents.

Gill Plimmer reports an estimate by Care England, which represents the independent providers, that around £4bn is needed from the government to stabilise the sector.

In addition to sharp cuts to social care budgets due to the government’s austerity policy, private care providers have had to deal with an increase in the minimum wage and rising food costs.

Ms Plimmer comments that understanding where taxpayers’ money is going is essential if Britain is to resolve the funding crisis in elderly care, adding, “This is made difficult by the companies’ complex, multi-layered offshore private equity structures”.

Nick Hood, debt restructuring adviser at Opus, the social-care analysts, said, “We don’t know whether taxpayers’ money is going to the private equity owners or the financiers, or indeed how much is being paid in cash and how much rolled up on the debt”.

He pointed out that the care companies’ debt interest payments which average £4,800 per bed per year, contributed to overall losses at the companies of £900m from 2015 to 2017, adding:

“The figures showed that the “debt-laden model, which demands an unsustainable level of return, is completely inappropriate for social care. Hundreds of millions of pounds that could be going into improving facilities and care are being sucked out of the industry every year to fund the debt”.

image

and reality

Some question the whole concept of residential care as inspections by the Care Quality Commission, which oversees provision of social care, find that some homes shamefully neglect residents – citing here an establishment owned and controlled by a US property investment group.

 

 

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FT highlights corporate financial rewards for MPs, April 2018-April 2019

In 2009 this site was set up to report on the distortion of policy-making by those on ‘an inside track, largely drawn from the corporate world, who wield privileged access and disproportionate influence’ according to a 2009 report by the Parliamentary Public Administration Select Committee [PASC].

Tactics covered, such as the ‘revolving door, rewards for failure, widespread behind-the-scene lobbying and party funding, continue to block effective action addressing the social, environmental and economic challenges facing this country.

It became common knowledge, with the growth of social media, that those on the ‘inside track’ are skewing parliamentary decision-making and revelations of this corruption are now accepted as the norm. Therefore, after December 14th 2013, individual examples of this practice were no longer listed.

Today, award-winning journalist Owen Walker has once again highlighted the close relationships between politicians and investment fund managers

Mr Walker is a commissioning editor for the Financial Times, selecting and commissioning writers to write specific articles. He has previously edited specialist FT publications on corporate governance, retail investment and pension scheme management. Barbarians in the Boardroom, his book on activist investors, was published in June.

They bring stardust – really?

Last May, Owen Walker (right) quoted David Pitt-Watson’s explanation. This visiting professor of finance at Cambridge Judge Business School said that much of the appeal of recruiting former politicians is the stardust they bring.

He also pointed out the down-side: “If you take up demanding roles in addition to being an MP, your constituents are going to be asking ‘do you not already have a full-time job?’ “

Insuring against loss of office is nothing new; Mr Walker notes that every UK chancellor since 1983 has taken up a position in investment management after leaving the Treasury, giving names and dates.

In today’s article he records that asset/investment managers paid MPs at least £126,000 in speaker fees, thousands of pounds’ worth of hospitality and more than £110,000 for advice during the year April 2018-April 2019. Readers may read names and amounts by clicking on the link above.

 

 

And now it’s 2019 – time for change!

 

 

 

 

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Disloyal, nakedly ambitious, Watson further assists the media campaign against his decent, honest leader

 


Francis Elliott and Kate Devlin report, in the Times, that Tom Watson declared “I am not Jeremy’s deputy” as he sought to distance himself further from the Labour leader.

The ‘badge of shame’ misleading/mischief making headline – not the first spotted in this newspaper – is belied by the text. Watson actually described the departure of Luciana Berger (MP for Liverpool Wavertree) as a “badge of shame”.

Watson as compassionate hero

He told the Emma Barnett programme on BBC Radio 5 Live: “It is a badge of shame that Luciana Berger, a bright young female pregnant MP, was bullied out of her own constituency by racist thugs. I’m not putting up with it. I owe it to the 500,000 members of the party to defend their integrity against claims that we are a racist party or we are not dealing with racism.”

He repeated similar charges in Sky News – close to crocodile tears as he ‘feared’ that more MPs would leave the Labour Party.

And confirms another subversive move:  his plans to arrange a group of MPs away from the shadow cabinet to create their own policies.

 

 

 

 

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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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