Category Archives: Lobbying

Rewards for failure: 33 – five government civil servants and an MP

Three of many reasons for Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity are his care for the ‘ordinary person’, his ‘sufficient’ lifestyle and his freedom from the greed which leads many in the political landscape to ‘milk’ the system and promote decisions needed by moneyed interests.

This graphic is about an MP who was, until May 2015, Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor.

Attitudes to public expenditure

It was retweeted by a friend and in another article Greg Foxsmith neatly summarises: “Grayling is an MP who purports to want to cut public expenditure. However, when it comes to his own public expenditure, Chris likes to get as much of it as he can”. Foxsmith refers readers to the Telegraph for more information. Grayling’s record on cutting access to legal aid and lack of concern about prison suicides adds charges of inhumane conduct to those of greed.

Apart from passing through the revolving door to industry and then returning to aid government’s decision-making process, civil servants feature in the news less frequently than MPs.

Award-winning investigative journalist David Hencke recently re-published information about top bonuses and pay rises for five of the most senior and well paid civil servants at the Department of Work and Pensions over the last two years, which appears in the annual report and accounts of the DWP released last month.

The five civil servants named in Hencke’s article are Sir Robert Devereux, permanent secretary at the Department of Work and Pensions; Neil Couling, director general of universal credit; Jeremy Moore, director of strategy; Mayank Prakash, director general of digital technology and Andrew Rhodes, director of operations. All are responsible in one way or another for the delivery of Universal Credit.

All but Andrew Rhodes are paid more than Theresa May, the PM, but are, nevertheless, receiving bonuses

This, even though their new Universal Credit programme is said to be in chaos – leaving some claimants without money for up to six weeks. MP Kevan Jones (Durham North) has described the bonuses of £10-20,000 as “a reward for failure”, based on its performance in the Newcastle-upon-Tyne pilot project.

Catherine McKinnell, Labour MP for Newcastle North, said: “My office has been deluged with complaints from constituents about a Universal Credit system that is clearly struggling to cope and failing to deliver the support that claimants need in anything like an orderly or timely fashion. She reveals a very sorry picture. The new IT system means people can’t talk to a human. It has a verification process that requires claimants to produce photographic identification such as a passport or driving licence, “which many simply do not possess and certainly cannot afford”. There are numerous examples of Universal Credit claims being shut down before they should be; of documentation being provided to the DWP, at the constituent’s cost, and repeatedly being lost or even destroyed; and of totally conflicting, often incorrect, information being provided to constituents about their claims.” Precisely the case seen repeatedly 20 years ago when the writer was a volunteer in a local night-shelter.

In Civil Service World. Jawad Raza, of the FDA (the First Division Association) which represents the top civil service, said that the suggestion that these civil servants have been rewarded for failure shows a blatant disregard for the facts regarding their pay, and that highly skilled professionals working in challenging circumstances deserve to be adequately remunerated without having their names, faces (and incomes) spread across news pages – as they are in Hencke’s article.

All these pay rises were decided objectively by line managers, but the Department declined to say who these line managers are and which outside organisations and people recommended they should get bonuses. MP Kevan Jones plans to table a Parliamentary Question next month asking for this information.

Hencke ends, “What this shows to me is a growing disconnect between the people at the top – who are computer savvy, have nice centrally heated homes, no problems with bills, can afford expensive holidays, and can’t conceive of anyone not having a passport – designing a system for poor, dispossessed, desperate people without any understanding of how the world works for them.

“It was this disconnect between the elite and the poor in the USA that led to the rise of Donald Trump and I suspect this huge gulf between the Metropolitan elite (of which top Whitehall civil servants are part) and the provincial poor, is in the end going to propel Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street”.

Will we see a new breed of politicians in such a government? A significant mass?

Many see the need for the number of MPs who have lived for the public good, even using their basic salaries to do this, such as former Coventry MP Dave Nellist, to increase to such an extent that they will be able to transform the country.

Breaking news:

Reminding the public that universities receive benefits from their charitable status and are required to disclose information about the basis on which salaries are calculated, former Labour education minister Andrew Adonis is campaigning for a reduction in the high salaries awarded to university vice-chancellors, which only increased following the introduction of tuition fees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Governments are balancing budgets on the backs of the poor” (John Grisham) 1. State Pensions

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”

WASPIs (Women against state pension inequality) protest outside Parliament. Their aim: to achieve fair transitional arrangements for women born in the 1950s, for whom the state pension age is being raised from 60 to 66 by 2020.Photo: WASPI Campaign/Twitter

A Bournville reader draws attention to an article in Welfare Weekly reporting the findings of a new analysis by the Labour Party which reveals that tens of thousands of Theresa May’s constituents will be adversely affected by her decision to bring forward changes to the state pension age. The state pension age for men and women will be equal at 65 at the end of 2018, before rising to 66 in 2020 and then 67 in 2028. This will then rise again to 68 between 2037 and 2039, meaning those born between 1970 and 1978 will be made to wait an extra year before becoming eligible to claim.

Data obtained by Labour from the House of Commons Library finds that nearly 37 million people in total will be affected, including 56,547 people in Theresa May’s constituency of Maidenhead. 61,753 people who are under the age of 47 will be hit by the changes in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s constituency of Runnymede and Weybridge. 59,290 people will also be affected in the Work and Pension Secretary David Gauke’s constituency of South West Hertfordshire.

A BBC video clip showed that an outline given by MP Guy Opperman (right, Work and Pensions) of government measures to assist older people back into work, including apprenticeships and retraining received a mixed reception.

Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams, said: “Thanks to the Tories increasing the state pension age, 36.9m people will be forced to work longer, at the same time that evidence indicates life expectancy has stalled in some places and is reducing in others.” She called on Tory MPs to “explain to the tens of thousands of people in their constituencies why the burden of Tory austerity is being pushed on them, while corporations and the richest individuals receive tax breaks.”

Abrahams added: “Theresa May should answer her 56,547 constituents, and the 36.9m people across Britain, whose hard-earned retirements are being postponed because of her Government.”

Labour is to begin a “national state pension tour” to draw attention to how many people will be affected and voice their opposition to the policy.

 

 

 

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A Times reader emphasises the growing awareness of the imperative to eradicate ‘the frankly corrupt, hypocritical behaviour some British MPs have indulged in for decades’

Oliver Wright, policy editor for The Times, focusses only on the tip of the iceberg – the ‘revolving door’. He reports a recommendation by the public administration select committee (PASC) that ministers and civil servants should be banned from taking up lucrative private sector jobs for two years when they leave office. (The article may be read here – possible paywall.) They said that more than 600 former ministers and senior civil servants had been appointed to 1,000 business roles. The committee wants the government to impose a two-year ban on taking up jobs that relate “directly to their previous areas of policy and responsibility”.

From many instances Mr Wright singled out:

  • Lord Hague of Richmond, who now advises Teneo, an international business consultancy,
  • Sir Ed Davey, the former energy secretary, who advises a PR and lobbying company that lists EDF Energy as a client.
  • Mark Britnell (though un-named in the article), a former director-general of commissioning at the Department of Health who became global head of healthcare at KPMG, which bids for government health contracts.

There is no reference to extra ‘jobs’ done whilst MPs are in office – except from one of The Times readers who bluntly writes: “Any MP should not be able to hold any extra job outside the House of Parliament”. Constituency work and special responsibilities – if properly attended to – would occupy an MP full time.

The parliamentary decision-making process is sometimes shown, with hindsight, to have been affected by MPs’ connections with the armaments, healthcare and tobacco  industry and many companies based in tax havens.

Property interests are less well covered, but itemised two months ago in Property Week:

 

Social Investigations reports that their research into Lords’ and MPs’ connections to private healthcare through the register of interests is complete.

Below are listed a few of the key findings. Research into the Health and Social Care bill is ongoing and more facts will be added as and when they arise.

  • 225 parliamentarians have recent or present financial private healthcare connections
  • 145 Lords have recent or present financial connections to companies or individuals involved in healthcare
  • 1 in 4 Conservative Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies or individuals involved in healthcare
  • 1 in 6 Labour Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies or individuals involved in healthcare
  • 1 in 6 Crossbench Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies or individuals involved in healthcare
  • 1 in 10 Liberal Democrat Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies or individuals involved in healthcare
  • 75 MPs have recent or present financial links to companies or individuals involved in private healthcare
  • 81% of these are  Conservative
  • 4 Key members of the Associate Parliamentary Health Group have parliamentarians with financial connections to companies or individuals involved in healthcare.

Endnote: a Times reader comments: “When I was growing up British MPs would sneer at the corrupt goings on by politicians from various pejoratively termed ‘banana republics’ and declare that such behaviour would never be tolerated in the UK. Well, it soon became obvious that this was nonsense and the issues outlined in this June article illustrate the frankly corrupt, hypocritical behaviour our British MPs have indulged in for decades, and the higher the office they occupied the more hypocritical the behaviour – proving time and again the accuracy of the saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

 

 

 

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A Bedford voter advises MPs to engage with the betting industry over a cup of coffee

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has launched a review into the bookmaking industry, scrutinising gambling machines known as fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs).

The machines, which campaigners describe as highly addictive, allow gamblers to stake up to £100 every 20 seconds. They made £1.82bn in the year to September 2016 and account for 56% of revenues at betting shops, according to figures released by the industry regulator the Gambling Commission,

Online Casino notes that in a research note in April, analysts at Barclays Capital forecast that if MPs restrict the size of the stake to £2, Ladbrokes Coral would lose £449m in revenues in 2018, and William Hill £284m. Betfair, another gambling company, would lose £55m.

The Financial Times reports that William Hill and Ladbrokes Coral, two of the UK’s biggest bookmakers, spent just £2,004 in 2015, £2,800 in 2014 and £3,300 in 2013. According to the parliamentary register they significantly increased the amount they spent on entertaining MPs – £18,018 on hospitality for 12 MPs – since the start of 2016.

Two Conservative MPs, Philip Davies (no stranger to controversy) and Laurence Robertson (right,  likewise) were the biggest beneficiaries.

A staunch defender of the gambling industry, Mr Davies chairs the Betting and Gaming All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), and vice-chair of both the Bingo APPG and the Racing and Bloodstock APPG.

Labour wants to see the maximum stake reduced from £100 to £2 because the addictive high-stakes machines have become a huge problem for communities that are often struggling to cope with underinvestment and high unemployment. 

Neil Austin comments that MP Philip Davies (left), chairman of the betting and gaming all party parliamentary group, is quite right to say it would be extraordinary of he did not engage with the betting industry. He adds:

“It is also extraordinary that he considers it perfectly acceptable to accept lavish hospitality from that same industry.

“The reputation of parliament and of MPs is languishing far below where it needs to be for a strong democracy. Mr Davies and the other MPs mentioned in your report seem to have learnt nothing from the expenses scandal.

“Many organisations have strict rules prohibiting employees from accepting almost any hospitality where a conflict of interest could be perceived. If we are to try to return parliament to a more trusted position in the country, one small step would be for MPs to abide by the same rules”.

 

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 6: deprivation, job losses, depression and suicides follow cruel ‘welfare’ legislation

Cuts protest during the last Prime Minister’s Questions session before parliamentary recess. Support given by Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Green leaders, Jonathan Bartley and MP Caroline Lucas.

British Medical Association calls for an end to a system harming the most vulnerable in our society

In their evidence to the Fifth Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), the BMA repeated its 2012 call for government to end it “with immediate effect and replace it with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to the weakest and most vulnerable in our society”.

Research by disabilities campaign group found more than 80 cases of suicide directly linked to billions of pounds in benefit cuts. Many other deaths have been indirectly linked to this regime:

  • In 2014, it was reported that David Clapson, a diabetic, had been found dead in his home. His benefits had been cut, he had no food in his stomach and the fridge that stored his insulin was not working because there was no credit on the electricity card.
  • A senior North London coroner spoke out, highlighting his inquest verdict that ‘Mr A’s’ suicide was triggered by a ‘fit for work’ assessment.
  • In 2010 Coroner Tom Osbourne blamed the death of Stephen Carré on a decision by the Department for Work and Pensions that the Employment and Support Allowance claimant, who was clinically depressed, was fit for work following a work capability assessment.
  • The suicides of Michael O’Sullivan and Julia Kelly, were also blamed on the result of work capability assessments by their respective coroners.

An academic paper, published in the BMJ’s Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in which examined 149 English council areas, found that nearly 600 suicides in England may be associated with the government’s “fit-for-work” tests. Oxford and Liverpool researchers looked at three years’ data and also found the Work Capability Assessments could be linked to a rise in mental health problems. The BBC reports that the study found the areas with most WCAs showed the sharpest increases.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) refused to reveal their peer reviews of suicides linked to the sanctions

Disability rights campaigners, mental health charities and the families of claimants who killed themselves, or died after cuts to benefits, have argued that 49 DWP secret investigations or “peer reviews” into the deaths of claimants should be published.

In April (2016) a decision was made by the First-tier Information Rights Tribunal that, pending any appeal by the DWP or the Information Commissioner’s Office, the government would have to hand over details of the circumstances of 49 deaths concerning claimants on benefits. The DWP was given five weeks to resolve the matter.

In May, following the successful legal challenge – John Pring v IC & Department of Work & Pensions – the DWP released the peer reviews of these cases but with many key words blacked out (redacted) and a Labour spokesman accused the Government of “rewarding failure” – giving new contracts to Capita and Atos.

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities finds that UK welfare reforms have led to “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights. Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green rejected the UN report’s findings 

Changes to benefits “disproportionately affected” disabled people, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) found. The investigation was launched after receiving evidence from disability organisations about an “alleged adverse impact” of government reforms on disabled people. UN committee members visited London, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast in October 2015 to identify any gaps in human rights protection for disabled people. As part of its inquiry, the CRPD also looked at a range of recent welfare reforms and legislation including the Welfare Reform Act 2012, Care Act 2014, and Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016.

The BBC reported the UN inquiry’s conclusion that changes made to housing benefits and criteria for parts of the Personal Independence Payment, combined with a narrowing of social care criteria and the closure of the Independent Living Fund, “hindered disabled people’s right to live independently and be included in the community”.

2017 update: continuing the cruel cuts to those on low incomes and generous treatment of those already wealthy 

More than 160,000 people initially denied PIP have had this decision overturned since the benefit launched in 2013, according to DWP figures,

ITV News: the Motability charity, which allows disabled people to pay for specially adapted cars, from their benefits, reports that 900 people a week are having cars, scooters and even motorised wheelchairs taken from them – some losing their jobs as a consequence.

Motability also reports that 51,000 people have been taken off the scheme after a reassessment for personal independence payments (PIP) since it was launched in 2013 – 45% of all cases. 

The benefits budget is being repeatedly cut to pay for the ‘bailouts’ following the banking crisis and people are stripped of disability benefits or having them reduced by half. This is causing pressures which can leave them too sick to work, too poor to support themselves and too tired and frightened to appeal against these damaging decisions.

Even in comfortable ‘middle England’ the number of people who find this victimisation shameful and seek radical political change is growing.

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 5: Martin Wolf annotated. Plus a lesson from Delhi

Extracts with bracketed comments = original text here, may be subject to paywall

In the Financial Times, Wolf asks: “Why has the appeal of populist ideas grown in western countries? Is this a temporary phenomenon?”

He continues: “What, first of all, is a populist?” And answers:

  • The abiding characteristic of populism is its division of the world into a virtuous (powerless) people on the one hand, and corrupt elites . . . on the other.
  • Populists distrust (corrupted) institutions, especially those that constrain the “will of the people”, such as courts, independent media, the bureaucracy and fiscal or monetary rules.
  • Populists reject credentialed experts (funded to serve vested interests). They are also suspicious of free markets and free trade (misnomers – so-called free traders erect tariff barriers whenever they can).
  • Rightwing populists believe certain ethnicities are “the people” and identify foreigners as the enemy. They are economic nationalists (but keen exporters and speculators) and support traditional (discriminatory & inhumane) social values.
  • Populists (left and right) put their trust in charismatic leaders
  • Leftwing populists identify workers as “the people” and (only the uncaring) rich as the enemy. They also believe in state ownership of property (if there were ever to be an honestly run state)

Wolf asks why these sets of ideas have become more potent (because central control, corruption and deprivation is increasing alarmingly). He refers to a Harvard study which considers immigration a cultural shift but argues that it can also be reasonably viewed as an economic one (because it’s cheaper to import subservient low-cost labour than to educate one’s own citizens)

What has changed recently?

“The answer is the financial crisis and consequent economic shocks. These not only had huge costs. They also damaged confidence in — and so the legitimacy of — financial and policymaking elites.

“These emperors turned out to be naked” (Correct).

He thinks that the results of past political follies have still to unfold:

  • The divorce of the UK from the EU remains a process with unfathomable results.
  • So, too, is the election of President Trump. The end of US leadership is a potentially devastating event.
  • Some of the long-term sources of fragility, cultural and economic, including high inequality and low labour force participation of prime-aged workers in the US, are still with us today.
  • The pressures for sustained high immigration continue.
  • The fiscal pressures from ageing are also likely to increase.

Wolf’s remedy the economic anxieties can and must be addressed: we must recognise and address the anger that causes populism. He continues: “populism is an enemy of good government (the status quo) and even of democracy (which has yet to be achieved)”.

Aam Aadmi (the Common Man’s Party) originated in the India Against Corruption (‘anti-graft’) movement. It claimed that the common people of India remain unheard and unseen except when it suits the politicians. It stresses self-governance, community building and decentralisation; advocating government directly accountable to the people instead of higher officials. It was formally launched on 26 November 2012 and won 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi state assembly elections in 2015.

IMHO, as one correspondent often opens, building a stable democracy will require:

  1. proportional representation in which the votes cast reflect the true support for all participating parties and independent candidates;
  2. the attraction of parliamentary candidates with a track record of public service, offering only the national average wage, supplemented by basic London accommodation where needed and travel/secretarial expenses.
  3. and the clear understanding that after election these MPs (and their families) should acquire no shares or non-executive directorships.

And “self-governance, community building and decentralisation; advocating government directly accountable to the people instead of higher officials”.

 

 

 

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Crystal ball: if Theresa May wins in June will it be ‘goodbye to the NHS and hello to Kaiser Permanente’?

Online diagnosis a speciality

Kaiser Permanente members annually have more than 100 million encounters with company physicians, 52% of which are now virtual visits, according to Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson. The transition from physical to virtual visits has been enabled by Kaiser Permanente’s ‘aggressive spending’ on information technology – cheaper to provide, profits rise?

Tom Pride explains that Kaiser Permanente is an American private healthcare organisation based in California. McKinsey extols this company’s work in the US, because it provides a complete model of integrated pre-paid insurance along with healthcare which is supposedly free at the point of need but is:

Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt and other ministers have visited the company at its California headquarters several times.

And Kaiser’s website lists other recent visitors from the UK, including many representing NHS hospitals and NHS trusts as well as HM Treasury and the Ministry of Health itself (click on link above to find and enlarge):

In January the Prime Minister faced repeated questions about how much she was prepared to give away, ahead of her face-to-face talks with President Trump. Jeremy Corbyn urged her to rule out any deal that would give US healthcare giants a toehold in the NHS – after similar concerns over an aborted EU-US agreement – but Theresa May specifically refused to guarantee she would not open up the NHS to US firms in a post-Brexit trade deal across the Atlantic.

Is the lack of action to resolve the worsening NHS crisis likely to make the public support changes to a system that is being deliberately run down?

Will a Conservative government replace NHS England with private US healthcare system Kaiser Permanente aka The Center for Total Health?

 

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Murdoch press lists corporate spending on political and lobbying activities

Times journalists Alex Ralph, and Harry Wilson present and comment on material collected by the Times Data Team: Tom Wills, Ryan Watts, Kira Schacht. Links have been added by PCU’s editor to enable readers to learn more if they wish to do so.

“FTSE 100 groups, including banks, defence contractors, tobacco manufacturers and telecoms companies, have spent more than £24 million on lobbying in Brussels and about £335,000 funding all-party parliamentary groups in Westminster”.

They add: “There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing or rule-breaking by companies”.

FTSE 100 political spending (over the last two years)

The Times first focusses on All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs)

APPGs are run by and for Members of the Commons and Lords who join together to pursue a particular topic or interest. Many involve individuals and organisations from outside Parliament in their administration and activities – or as the journalists put it, “help to push industry agendas in parliament”. Read more here.

Unsurprisingly, BAE Systems, which spent £37,000 on a group “to promote better understanding of the Her Majesty’s armed forces in parliament”, is among the biggest backers of the parliamentary groups.

The writers comment that parliamentary groups have proved contentious because of the large amounts spent on reports that often support the views of industry and which grant access to parliament for companies and lobbyists.

BT’s £53,000 included backing the parliamentary internet, communications and technology forum, known as Pictfor, whose members include Tom Watson, the Labour deputy leader and Lord Birt, former Blair adviser and director-general of the BBC. A list of funders may be seen here.

Note: ’Donations to APPGs’ shows spending between Jan 2015 and Mar 2017 as declared on the Register of APPGs. ’Spend on EU lobbying’ shows companies’ minimum estimates for the most recent financial year declared on the EU Transparency Register at the time of research. Here is a snapshot taken from one of 10 pages listing donations/other spending and the companies’ rationales for these sums being given.

The Times’ second focus is on the denial of information to shareholders

Less than £10,000 of identified political and lobbying spending in the EU was disclosed to shareholders in the companies’ recent annual reports. ompanies are not required to disclose details to shareholders and little information on corporate political and lobbying activities is revealed in annual reports, which are published before shareholder meetings. The tens of millions of euros spent each year in the EU go largely undeclared to shareholders.

Corporate Europe, which campaigns for greater transparency in EU decision making, has spent years tracking how the business world moulds policy.

Vicky Cann, the group’s UK representative, said that the banking and energy industries were the most active lobbyists. “The financial services industry is a huge spender and even then we think the real scope of their spending is probably bigger than we can currently see,” she said. Her colleague gave the example of recent emissions legislation that was the subject of intense lobbying by BP and Shell.

As Peter van Veen, director of business integrity at Transparency International, said, “Corporate transparency over political activities is important to ensure the public can have the confidence that their politicians and industry leaders are conducting business ethically . . . If companies are not voluntarily willing to disclose their political activities and funding of these, then stronger legislation should be considered and a possible starting point may be to broaden the definition of political activities and expenditure in the Companies Act 2006.”

 

 

 

 

Media 73: “Why has the BBC focussed on past tensions and scandals in NI election coverage?”

Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association and Farmers For Action ask why the BBC ignores constructive legislation proposals – is their sole aim to gain ratings?

They point out that the BBC should be playing its part in informing its viewers and listeners and questioning the politicians ahead of the election on what could be the biggest ever turnaround in prosperity for Northern Ireland.

One such proposal for Stormont on farm gate prices for staples would return to Northern Ireland farmers a minimum of the cost of production inflation-linked plus a margin which would lead to an estimated 20,000 jobs+ across Northern Ireland and an annual welfare saving of £280million+, much needed by the NHS, but to no avail so far.

wt4A copy of the leaflets being handed out may be seen here or by scrolling down

In the run to last year’s election and again this year NI farm groups tried to get the BBC to report the proposal with no success.

As a result the committees of both NIAPA and FFA have concluded that whilst the vast majority of political parties and independents are very supportive of this idea, rather than play their part in trying to build a prosperous future for all in Northern Ireland the BBC would rather ignore the fact that the foundations of its largest industry are crumbling and just hype up NI tensions of the past and exaggerate scandals to gain ratings.

The food supply across the world versus an increasing population is dwindling, yet NI is well placed to have a buoyant food industry. However that position is fading along with the 4-7 jobs down the line that every person working on a farm creates.  In fact, the situation is so serious that 25% of farming families are living below the poverty line and can ill afford the license fee due to the majority receiving little over half the cost of production for their produce.

The BBC is a cost to everyone in NI and has a duty to report the news good and bad: what it does not have is a licence to manipulate the news at election time to suit the ratings.

Rural poverty is on the increase and seriously impacting virtually the whole of Northern Ireland according to the recent Rural Support Report and The Gosling Report. Both reports tell how bad the situation is but go on to explain how good it could be if Stormont would implement legislation on farm gate prices.

Have the BBC lost touch of what really matters?

 

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 For more information, contact William Taylor, NI Farm Groups

56 Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, BT51 4NU

Tel. 028 703 43419 / 07909744624  Email taylor.w@btconnect.com

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Is the HS2 project the most blatant example of UK/USA’s revolving door/vested interest ridden politics?

hs2-viaductvisual

“A gravy train for consultants, involving banks, lawyers and government officials” – and industry?

Many are shocked by the hugely damaging environmental and social impacts of demolition of properties in London and homes, farms and businesses and along the proposed HS” route.

Added to this reaction is horror at news of the emerging and all-too familiar reports of conflicts of interest – a polite expression for what is a form of apparently legal corruption.

A skeletal chronological summary of news about the nominated leadership of the HS2 project and some contract awards follows, based on reports in the Financial Times, 2015-2017.

Background 2015

The Institute of Directors suggested that it would be cheaper to knock down Birmingham and build a new city 20 minutes closer to the capital, while the Institute of Economic Affairs cast doubt on HS2’s regeneration benefits, pointing out that HS1 failed to regenerate Kent, with the average employment rate in the south east of Britain 5% lower than before the high speed service was introduced.

Portugal, Poland, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium have all cancelled planned or existing high-speed rail projects and some argue that Britain should follow suit. Martin Blaiklock, a consultant on infrastructure and energy project finance, said that extra capacity could be built more cheaply by adding to existing railways. “[HS2] is very high-risk,” he says. “It is a gravy train for consultants, involving banks, lawyers and government officials.”

Conflict of interest emerges in 2015-16 in favour of an American multinational 

revolving-door-peopleIt was reported that Roy Hill, managing director of the US-headquartered engineering company CH2M, has been seconded to HS2 acting chief executive on a temporary basis from November, after Simon Kirby, the former chief executive, elected to leave for Rolls-Royce. Mr Hill worked at HS2’s offices in Canary Wharf for CH2M between 2012 and 2014 after the company won the role of development partner carrying out preparatory work, in a contract worth about £70m.

CH2M entrenched?

In Gill Plimmer’s FT article yesterday, readers were reminded that Mark Thurston, an executive at CH2M, has now been appointed chief executive of HS2 Ltd, replacing the aforementioned Roy Hill.  He will take over in March.

David Higgins, HS2’s chairman, said he recognised the need to avoid any conflict of interest and that Mr Thurston would consequently cut all links with his previous employer. “They will be treated in the same way as any other supplier – no more or less favourably than that,” Mr Higgins said of CH2M.

CH2M has already been paid around £500m for working on the line as development partner and then the delivery partner on Phase 1 of the high-speed railway project, from London to Birmingham. Phase 2 covers Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds.

Mace, a large consultancy and construction company, which worked on the London 2012 Olympics and plans for Hinkley Point C, has written to HS2 Ltd, set up by government in 2009, announcing that it intends to challenge the decision to award CH2M, the US engineer, a contract to design the second phase of the London to Manchester line. “As a British-owned company, we were naturally disappointed with HS2’s decision and are looking closely at our options,” Mace said.

 gravy-train

Ms Plimmer states that Mace is threatening to sue the state-owned company behind Britain’s planned £56bn high-speed railway line over alleged conflicts of interest..

She quotes a source close to the legal process who said it was “extremely likely” that Mace would file a claim in the High Court this week. “Mace is concerned over conflicts of interest. It is looking for an injustice to be corrected,” the source said. “CH2M has been awarded half a billion pounds worth of contracts even though nothing has been built yet.” CH2M declined to comment.

Legal action could delay the project, which is expected to get Royal Assent this week, paving the way for construction to start this year. Final amendments to the HS2 bill are being debated on Monday in the House of Commons.

Tony Berkeley, the Labour peer and a former engineer who worked on the Channel tunnel, said the situation “smells”. “There must be other companies in the UK who are capable of doing it. Is HS2 actually competent to do the procurement or are they just relying on CH2M to do the whole thing and procure themselves?”