Category Archives: Privatisation

National Rail Ticket Office 1 – National Express 0

As more people are pressured to operate online in order to increase corporate profits we report:

Gloucestershire reader’s verdict on grappling with online National Express Coach booking: appalling!. Her experience:

  1. Website refuses to accept three destinations listed on their map: Preston, Charnock Richard and Chorley.
  2. Phoneline kept her waiting for 15 minutes (so busy) and then cut her off.
  3. Local Post Office attempted a booking. Destination accepted but
  4. would not accept any proposed departure time.
  5. Customer decided to travel by train – involving three changes and at three times the cost.

 

 

If only . . .

Time for change?

 

 

 

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Ms May undermines her hero’s work as cuts to council funding reduce the powers of local government

The presenter of this BBC radio programme, Adrian Goldberg, grew up on the Druids Heath council estate in Birmingham, the home of the ‘municipalism’ pioneered by Joseph Chamberlain when he was Mayor of Birmingham – summarised by Walsall MP John McShane in the Commons in 1930:

“A young person today lives in a municipal house, and he washes himself … in municipal water. He rides on a municipal tram or omnibus, and I have no doubt that before long he will be riding in a municipal aeroplane. He walks on a municipal road; he is educated in a municipal school. He reads in a municipal library and he has his sport on a municipal recreation ground. When he is ill he is doctored and nursed in a municipal hospital and when he dies he is buried in a municipal cemetery.”

Adrian is described as being an ideal candidate to judge the changing nature of the local council, because when he and his family moved there the local authority:

  • built properties and
  • collected the rent.
  • Adrian took a council-subsidised bus service to
  • the secondary school run by his local education authority.
  • On the way home he’d drop into his council-run library to pick up some books
  • or take a swim in the council run pool.

He comments, “Today the situation is much more complex”

Adrian considered the effect of austerity on the role of councils today. Birmingham council has almost halved its staff since 2008, from around 24,000 to 12,500. Last year another £28m was cut from Birmingham’s adult care budget of £230m. 2017/18 – the seventh year of cuts – is predicted to be the toughest year yet with expected reductions of £113m to the council’s overall budget, on top of £650m already cut since 2010.

Local government grants and powers have been greatly reduced in several areas, including education and housing. Read more about the following cases here.

  • The fate of the formerly successful council-run Baverstock Secondary School in Druids Heath
  • The group of residents who set up the Friends of Walkers Heath Park in November 2011
  • The volunteers who are helping to run the library
  • Druids Heath’s handsome and historic Bells Farm community centre (below), with its food bank and other services, also kept going by local volunteers.

The link also leads to news of high-rise tower blocks in the area; dilapidation, damp and fire hazards go unremedied, the splendid concierge system was abandoned and full time neighbourhood office advice centres, closed in 2006, were replaced by a private call service which was expensive, often not answering, with staff unable to supply the information needed.

In Birmingham there was a move under John Clancy’s leadership to take back ‘in-house’ the services currently undertaken by profit-making private companies, deciding not to renew one Capita contract and considering the future of refuse collection in the city. This, because the ‘market place’ economy which has developed, privatising refuse collection, road maintenance and ‘back office’ functions in Birmingham, has proved to be more expensive and often less efficient. This hope is fading as Richard Hatcher reports on the new regime: Birmingham Council Children’s Services contracted out, Children’s Centres closed.

The health and safety of council tenants is evidently not a government priority

Inside Housing reports the housing minister’s description of sprinkler systems for high rise blocks as “additional rather than essential” and refusing a council’s request for funding promised after the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Strangely, the conservative Prime Minister expresses admiration for Joseph Chamberlain

Mayor of Birmingham in 1873, city MP in 1876, Joseph Chamberlain directed the construction of good housing for the poorest, libraries, municipal swimming pools and schools. Unlike Ms May and colleagues, he was not in favour of a market economy, arguing for tariffs on goods from countries outside the British Empire. He was also an ‘economic interventionist’ (see Lewis Goodall, Newsnight), described as a “gas and water socialist”. He took profit-making private enterprises into public hands, declaring that “profit was irrelevant”.

In no way is she following the example of her hero.

Ms May’s government continues to implement a series of cuts affecting the lives of the country’s poorest and most disabled with might and main.

Ironically the contemporary politician sharing Chamberlain’s principles is the opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, whose policies she echoes but does not implement.

 

 

 

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Mumbai and Sheffield: human health, well-being and climate suffer as trees are felled

The Financial Times reports that Sheffield residents – like many in Mumbai – are protesting against the felling of urban trees. The scene below is similar to the Khar I remembered in 2003, though pavements were constructed and traffic much more dense. The protests were and are against the commercially motivated felling of trees – – some healthy and some neglected by the authorities scheduled to maintain them.

As one Khar resident told me recently, “The rain tree canopy on Khar Danda road used to be so thick that you could walk down the road in the pouring rain and not get wet.” Activist Zoru Bhathena sent ‘before and after’ aerial photos of the now devastated area no longer protected from the summer heat. He took the matter before the Bombay High Court & comments “… magically the problem got solved & no new trees have died! But, the damage is done, and BMC is not enthusiastic to replace the dead trees!”

Earlier this year, the Free Press Journal reported that residents across the city protested about trees being felled on the route of the Metro 7 line being constructed on Mumbai’s Western Express Highway and those who saw six trees were axed last week at the WEH at Malad claimed that the authorities have violated the Bombay High Court’s order which directed the local authority not to cut or destroy any trees on the highway.

Large public protests prevented the contractor from chopping down trees in Sheffield but by then more than 5,000 trees had been felled, to be replaced with saplings. In all, 6,000 trees are to be cut down as part of a 25-year, £2bn highway maintenance scheme.

Some residents blocked contractors by standing inside safety zones put in place around the trees or parking their cars under the branches. On Tuesday, Sheffield council won a High Court injunction to run until July 2018, preventing opponents from taking “unlawful direct action” from breaching barriers around the condemned trees. The latest report from Sheffield may be read here.

Sheffield Tree Action Groups, an umbrella group for protesters, said there were “dangerous flaws” in the contract, and that its members would do “everything we can” to save healthy trees. Bryan Lodge, the Labour councillor in charge of the tree felling programme, said that the council needed to cut down 500 trees by the end of the year or face “catastrophic financial consequences” paying huge sums to Amey (owned by Spanish multinational Ferrovial), if the private finance contract is breached.

‘Urban street trees are loved by the vast majority of people who live alongside them,’ says Oliver Newham of the Woodland Trust, which is about to unveil a scheme supporting those trying to protect local trees:

‘These figures and our email inboxes show an alarming increase in losses. Trees have many benefits in urban areas, such as absorbing pollutants, providing shade and preventing flash flooding. They are essential to a happy and healthy population. Councils need to think twice before taking the axe to them.’ 

 

Read more on the valuable role played by trees in a report from the arborist Ian Dalton above left.

 

 

 

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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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Broken Britain 4: being sold piecemeal to foreign governments and companies

In April, Peter Hitchens eloquently described the way this country is being sold to foreign governments and companies:

“I don’t think any other nation would put up with this. Why do we? The most ridiculous is the way our trains – devastated by John Major’s mad privatisation scheme – are falling into the hands of foreign state railways. So, while the Government cannot bear to have railways run by the British state, it is happy to have them run by the German, Dutch, French or even Hong Kong state systems . . . in this country that invented the railway and once exported equipment and skills around the world.”(Right: Private profit from public loss: NIPSA 2013)

Hitchens summarises:

  • Privatised railways’ jaws are clamped firmly to the public teat; when they fail they can just stroll away from the mess they have made.
  • British Rail’s trains were faster and more comfortable. It looked after its track far better and – given the money – it would never have made the mess its successors are now making of electrifying the Great Western line, which is years behind schedule, partly abandoned and vastly over budget.
  • In the 20 years to 2013, state subsidies to the rail sector roughly tripled in real terms, while fares continued to rise.
  • My trains are almost always late, frequently very badly so.
  • But they get more expensive all the time.
  • those responsible are protected from us by call centres and unresponsive websites, which only talk to us when they want to.

Finally Hitchens adds: “Last week it emerged that SNCF is bidding to operate HS2, a pointless vanity line that should have been cancelled long ago but which the Government is too weak to abandon. So we might be hiring a foreign state railway to run a service we don’t even need, while Britain is full of sizeable towns with no railway station, which could be linked to the national system for a tiny part of the cost of HS2 . . . The idea that our rulers have any idea what they are doing, or can be trusted with our national future, is a joke. They’re just hoping the bailiffs don’t turn up before the Election. But if they do, what have we got left to sell, to pay our bills?”

Hines argues that the Treaty of Rome needs transforming into a ‘Treaty of Home’ that will allow peoples to protect what they hold dear

Rupert Read has described Colin Hines’ ‘feisty clarion call’ for a change of direction away from acquiescence in the deregulated world that spawned the financial crisis and towards protection of nature, workers, localities and sovereignty, resisting rootless international capital.

As Read says, Hines’ policy of Progressive Protectionism will surely be part of a socially and environmentally viable future: crucial thought-leadership away from the political dead-end of globalisationist fantasy.

 

 

Read’s review (text here) will be published in the Ecologist, May/June issue, see Contents https://reader.exacteditions.com/issues/55993/spread/5

 

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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Broken Britain 2: prioritising the interests of the  privatised ‘care’ industry and nursing homes

As the media is reporting the case of a couple described by their son as being ‘fiercely independent’ in which the wife begged her husband to kill her, with appalling consequences, we publish the reflections of a reader whose terminally husband begged her and her son to end his life. She writes:

People in incurable pain or dependent on others to clean, dress and feed them should be given the option of a medically supervised peaceful end in the company of those who care for them – without the journey to merciful Switzerland.

Is this the way YOU want to live?

I asked a young friend who would advocate depriving people of a planned and peaceful departure – apart from a religious minority who should not decide the conduct of others with different beliefs; after a moment’s thought he replied that the vast and growing number of corporations (some listed below) setting up and running care homes and other nursing establishments would be deprived of many years’ income from the patients’ savings and property.

Will we get a more caring government which puts the welfare of human beings before that of the privatised healthcare lobby or will Britain continue to be ruled by multinational interest?

And before anyone writes in about the possible dangers it should be noted that this merciful option – assisted dying – is working well in seven countries and six American states – see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assisted_suicide#Legality_by_country.

 

 

 

 

Focus on cuts – 5: the poorest targetted

A reader from Bournville draws attention to an article by Jules Birch in Inside Housing, a weekly magazine for housing professionals. He focusses on a recent TV Panorama programme about the benefit cap that now leaves thousands of people with 50p a week towards their rent.

He noticed that roughly 95% of tweets with the hashtag #benefitcap (scroll down to April 7) were hostile to the people featured in the programme rather than the policy. The majority of people commenting on Twitter were seeing the undeserving individual instead: the stroppy single mother with a mobile phone and the couple with many children. He notes that exactly the same thing happened with Benefits Street, How to Get a Council House and a Dispatches documentary on the cap last month.

Part of the problem, he believes, lay with the way Panorama framed the issue. As Joe Halewood was quick to point out, the programme and its advance publicity seemed to assume that most people capped are unemployed and on Jobseeker’s Allowance, when in fact just 13% are.

The fact that the vast majority of people capped are either unable to work or not required to work was only raised tentatively halfway through the programme. Most of those capped are lone parents with young children who are not required to look for work, or people on Employment and Support Allowance who do not qualify for an exemption but are still not fit for work.

David Pipe explained the effects in a piece following the Dispatches documentary last month. 7,500 households across 370 local authority areas have lost their housing benefit and are now receiving just 50p a week to pay their rent. The cap leaves a nominal amount for housing benefit or Universal Credit once someone’s benefits total more than £20,000 (£23,000 in London). In effect it is imposed on top of the rest of the benefits system.

The latest budget highlighted cuts for the poorest 18-21-year-olds, who will no longer be entitled to help with their rent through Universal Credit from April 1.

For many, Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) are the only thing keeping them in their home and the effect over time will be rising rent arrears and evictions and allocations policies that make it less likely that people on benefits will get a tenancy in the first place. So where and how can the poorest people live? Even people in caravans are being capped, and what will the knock-on costs be in terms of homelessness and the impact on the children?

Meanwhile in Broken Britain, the May government continues the policies of its predecessors and makes decisions which seriously afflict the poorest and greatly benefit the richest: the arms traders, Big Pharma, the privatised utilities, large developers, car manufacturers, private health companies and expensive, inefficient outsourcers – Serco, G4s and Capita.

 

 

 

 

Secret State 18: Government’s GIB and BB up for sale – or not?

In a move mirroring the 2015 proposals for the sale of the British people’s (somewhat Green) Investment Bank (GIB) Patrick Hosking, Financial Editor, has reported in the Times that another ‘secret privatisation plan’, involving the people’s British Business Bank, has been delayed by a legal challenge.

In 2015, plans to part-privatise GIB were announced by Business Secretary Sajid Javid (more detail here). The House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee warned this could cause the bank to lose its “green identity”, But the government predictably said “the time is right” for the bank to be privatised. CityAM reported that in February MPs questioned government over the proposed sale, expressing fears that this would be an asset-stripping venture by MacQuarrie.

However the proposals may well have been abandoned – for a time. The Murdoch Times’ suggests that ministers were ‘rattled’ by the legal challenge to the separate planned privatisation of the Green Investment Bank. Its sale to Macquarie, the Australian infrastructure investor, after talks described as ‘exclusive’ in a later post by CityAM, is going to judicial review after a challenge from Sustainable Development Capital, a rival bidder.

 

A spoke in the privatisation wheel? This challenge has affected:

  • the planned sale of a portfolio of government business loans, packaged into a ‘high-yielding listed investment vehicle’, currently owned by British Business Bank plca state-owned economic development bank established by the UK Government.
  • and the ‘planned move’ by the ubiquitous Baron Smith of Kelvin (above,centre), the Green Investment Bank chairman, to chair the British Business Bank, which has been without a permanent chairman since October.

What is going on behind the scenes? Why are the British people the last to know in our ‘vibrant democracy’? BIS declined to comment last night but a source close to the discussions is reported to have said: “It’s a bit baffling why stumps were pulled at the last moment. Everyone was all signed up for it.”

 

 

 

Media 74: MSM wades in – hours after Corbyn’s reception at NHS rally

nhs-demo

Saturday 4th March

The BBC reported that Jeremy Corbyn called for the government to provide more funding for the health service in next week’s Budget. Speaking to the protesters in Parliament Square, he said: “The NHS is in crisis because of the underfunding in social care and the people not getting the care and support they need. It is not the fault of the staff. It is the fault of a government who have made a political choice.”

The protest organisers say the government’s proposed Sustainability Transformation Plans (STPs) across the NHS in England are a “smokescreen for further cuts” and the “latest instruments of privatisation”. These proposals involve the complete closure of some hospitals and the centralising of some services such as A&E and stroke care on fewer sites.

Deputy chairman of the British Medical Association council Dr David Wrigley said the march was “a cry for help for anyone who uses the NHS” which was “in such a desperate situation. We need to highlight it. As a doctor I see day to day the serious pressures in the NHS due to the funding cuts from the government”.

Saturday 4th March: at 6pm

The Independent featured Ben Bradshaw (former minister) praising Blair and blaming Corbyn’s leadership – ‘the one issue on the doorstep’

Saturday 4th March 11pm (updated 4am on 5th)

Nine prominent Labour MPs are reported in the Daily Mail to have complained ‘that they are heading for oblivion’ ( a little earlier a tweet on OurNHS explained why):

nhs-jmd“Unlike other politicians who spend weekends with corporate lobbyists &wealthy donors, John McDonnell is out on the street 4 the #OurNHS demo”

Sunday 5th March 4am

The Sunday Express: Corbyn in crisis – and no doubt more will come

Saturday 4th March 11pm (updated 4am on 5th)

The Daily Mail usefully quotes Ken Loach explaining why these particular MPs are disgruntled: “It was their Labour Party, not Corbyn’s, that lost Scotland, lost two elections and has seen Labour’s vote shrink inexorably. Yet they retain a sense of entitlement to lead.”

Strangest of all, the Times and FT (online editions) decide not to mention the demonstration.

The Times online did not carry its usual daily onslaught on Corbyn and the Financial Times online which regularly publishes biassed articles about JC – often by Jim Pickard – has no reference, merely a bland, skimpy article by David Laws: “UK reaches socially acceptable limits of austerity . . . the NHS needs a settlement which allows for rising demand and an ageing population”.

Their carefully selected and daily shown photographs and cartoons of the Labour Party leader are not to be seen? What does this mean?