Category Archives: Privatisation
Shining a spotlight on four government agencies: an educational psychologist, a cook, a farmer and an accountant
The relatively powerless are harassed: corporates survive censure unscathed
OFSTED had not inspected more than 1,600 schools that were judged “outstanding” by it for at least six years – and of those, almost 300 had not seen an Ofsted inspector for at least 10 years, according to a report by the National Audit Office – see chart on page 27 of the report.
The case of Waltham Holy Cross is ongoing. Last year the government decreed that Waltham Holy Cross would be handed over to Net, a chain of academy schools in May. As the NAO records, this has already happened to over 7,000 other state schools in England since 2010: public assets built and maintained by generations of taxpayers are being given away. Waltham Holy Cross parents made almost 100 freedom of information requests which revealed errors in the draft Ofsted report and that Net was being sounded out on “their appetite to take on this school” in January, over a month before the Ofsted verdict was published. News of teachers and parents there – and in other parts of the country taking action to prevent this ‘forced academisation’ may be read here.
In an article in the Times Educational Supplement (TES), head teacher Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said “Ofsted and the government are the source of much of the stress and anxiety on staff through an extremely high-pressure accountability system and concluded ‘the accounts above reveal an inspection system that appears in too many cases to be doing great damage. My sense is that it’s time to stop quietly accepting that the way Ofsted is, is the way Ofsted should be”.
This month. four years later, TES readers discussed overhauling Ofsted, a ‘toxic’ system. One letter, whose signatories included Dr Richard House, chartered psychologist, former senior lecturer in education studies, Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and Sir Tim Brighouse, former schools commissioner for London, was provoked by a recommendation by Ofsted head Amanda Spielman to shut down what she labelled as “failing Steiner schools”. The signatories are founding a campaign to bring about the replacement of Ofsted with a new inspectorate that is ‘empowering, collaborative, and understanding and respectful of pedagogical difference’.
Unthinking adherence to FOOD STANDARDS AGENCY bureaucracy led to the unjust downgrading of a new small business, damagingly reported in local paper
As the public perception is that businesses with a one rating will give customers food poisoning, a cook-manager has criticised the food hygiene inspection system after her business was given a one rating out of five – though hygiene and food storage was rated highly.
At a (requested) pre-opening inspection by the council in March 2018, no reference had been made to the need for a staff manual and staff training procedures but this ‘one-person’ operation was ‘put on a warning’ for not having a staff training manual – though no staff was employed – and was told that a tick paper exercise (officially a ‘documented food safety management system’) is required for all aspects of work.
The work required to maintain cleanliness and produce wholesome food appeared to be discounted and a paper exercise – easily forged – was prioritised. The District Council inspectors were unhelpfully applying the rules of The Food Standards Agency, a non-ministerial government department, to the letter and not the spirit of those regulations.
Solution found and accepted: a whiteboard was put up in the workplace, a photo taken once a week and an online manual was printed.
On several farms which had passed inspections by the ASSURED FOODS STANDARD (Red Tractor) agency in July 2018 serious cases of animal abuses were reported in the media.
A farmer recently wrote an article in the Western Daily Press foreseeing the advent of similar tick-box regulations:
“What I have been pulled up on is the fact that I do not keep written mobility and condition records. These are not yet enforceable under the scheme – but I have reason to suspect they soon may be.
“The only thing that will be achieved by keeping written records will be the creation of more work for the assessor; more forms for him to sit down and read through and check; one more task to help fill his required nine-to-five working day.
“And let’s suppose I decided to cook up a completely bogus set of records. How would he even know?
“When the Red Tractor scheme was launched the president of the NFU (under whose wing it actually operates) was Ben Gill who told us all how vital it was going to be in supplying the nation with safe, wholesome food which consumers could buy with confidence while, equally, bringing more prosperous times for farmers.
“What I see now is an organisation riddled with pointless bureaucracy (I understand another tier of inspectors is in place to check on the assessors).
“I see, equally, an organisation which appears to operate dual standards: one for the soft-target, small producers like me and another for the industrial giants such as Moy Park, over whose portals the Red Tractor flag proudly flies but where recent footage captured undercover at Moy Park showed stinking, squalid poultry houses where chickens will be lucky to survive their miserably short allotted span”. He ended with two pertinent questions:
- if Assured Foods was aware of conditions at this plant why did it not intervene?
- And if it wasn’t aware, why not?
The FINANCIAL REPORTING COUNCIL, the UK’s accounting and auditing regulator, is regrettably funded by the audit profession and its board of directors is appointed by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Its monitoring of out-sourcing firms such as Capita and G4s in several sectors, including health, social, military and prison services has not led to effective disciplinary procedures – in fact they continue to receive lucrative government. The Financial Times reported yesterday that though its auditing of Carillion since 1999 is under investigation by the Financial Reporting Council, the value of new UK public sector contracts awarded to KPMG increased more than fourfold last year. In 2013 seven senior members of the FRC scheduled to investigate KPMG’s role in the collapse of lender HBOS, were current or former employees of KPMG itself.
Prem Sikka, professor of accounting at the University of Sheffield, has posted almost 400 FRC entries on the AABA website (now well hidden by search engines). A recent article adds news of another appointment: Revolving Doors: FRC appoint new member to the Audit and Assurance Council – former PwC and Royal Bank of Scotland exec .
Professor Sikka has said he is worried that the government is rewarding these firms with valuable contracts when they have been undermining the public purse through their involvement in several tax avoidance scandals (FT: 29.7.19).
The ‘soft targets’ are harassed: corporates survive censure unscathed
Despite evidence from at least eight sources, the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency says “It’s wrong to suggest that the state of England’s rivers is poor”
The Financial Times recently reported that only 14% of rivers in England met the minimum “good status” standards as defined by the EU Water Framework directive according to an Environment Agency report in 2018. In 2009 almost 25% did so. Water quality has deteriorated since 2010 when the Environment Agency handed responsibility for pollution monitoring to the nine large water and sewage companies in England.
Evidence supporting their report comes from the World Wildlife Fund, Windrush rivers campaign, Fish Legal, Marine Conservancy, European Environment Agency, NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Sewage Free Seas. It was quoted in England’s rivers: toxic cocktail of chemicals, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and untreated waste.
Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, replied in a letter to the FT, “It’s wrong to suggest that the state of England’s rivers is poor (“Blighted by pollution”, The Big Read, June 13)”. He continued:
Water quality is now better than at any time since the Industrial Revolution thanks to tougher regulation and years of hard work by the Environment Agency and others.
Rivers that were so polluted that they were severely biologically damaged two decades ago are now thriving with wildlife such as otters, dippers and mayflies returning.
Over the past 20 years EA teams have taken more than 50m samples to monitor water quality around the country. The EU’s water framework directive means that the failure of one test can prevent a river from achieving good ecological status overall but this often does not tell the whole story.
During the last round of testing, 76 per cent of the tests used to measure the health of rivers were rated as good, and last year 98 per cent of bathing waters at 420 locations passed tough quality standards, compared with less than a third in the 1990s.
The EA has also required water companies to install new monitoring systems on combined sewer overflows (CSOs). By March next year more than 11,500 CSOs will be monitored as the first phase of this work is completed
It is not true that the EA simply relies on the water companies to tell us what they are discharging into watercourses. We carry out our own monitoring of rivers to ensure we have independent evidence and we regularly inspect water treatment plants and sewage works. If companies are failing to abide by the law or the terms of their permits we will take action to ensure that they do, up to and including prosecution.
Since 1990, the water industry has invested almost £28bn in environmental improvement work, much of it to improve water quality. I agree that there are still too many serious pollution incidents and we have called for tougher penalties for water companies where they are shown to be at fault.
In the past three years we have brought 31 prosecutions against water companies, resulting in more than £30m in fines, and we will continue, alongside the other water regulators, to act to ensure that people, wildlife and the environment are protected.
The agencies quoted are unconvinced and the FT asked earlier this month: Can England’s water companies clean up its dirty rivers?
It noted that the concerns over river pollution come at a time when the water industry is under fire for paying executives and shareholders lucrative rewards while raising customer bills and failing to stem leakage and ended: “The failures mean that three decades after the regional state-run monopolies were handed to private companies free of debt, and with a £1.5bn grant to invest in environmental improvements, the Labour party is calling for renationalisation of the water companies that are now saddled with debt of £51bn”.
Since this article was written, Southern Water — supplier to Kent, Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Sussex — has been required to pay what amounts to a £126m penalty over five years for letting untreated waste leak into rivers between 2010 and 2017, and trying to hide what happened.
Corbyn smears escalate
Yesterday came a warning: “With a general election possibly afoot, we must all be alert to the orchestrated dirty tricks and the ferocity of the propaganda assault that will inevitably be launched against Jeremy Corbyn and Labour by the terrified establishment”. It was issued by Richard House, after replying to ‘absurd views’ in the Independent alleging that Jeremy Corbyn would usher in ‘a communist government’ of a brutal nature.
Articles in the Murdoch Times today bore these headlines
- MPs launch angry revolt over leaders’ Brexit talks: Breakthrough hopes fade after May meets Corbyn
- Brexit talks: Dark clouds gather as Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn work out what to do next
- The PM, as we must still call her, was numb — perhaps past caring
- Two-party cartel would regret an election now: The electorate is more volatile than ever and many will be looking for a home beyond the Conservatives and Labour.
Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity with Europe’s socialist leaders was highlighted some time ago with a standing ovation noted in the Financial Times:
“UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was given a rapturous reception by his Socialist allies in Brussels on Thursday, as he warned that leaving the EU without a Brexit deal would be “catastrophic” for the UK economy. Mr Corbyn was met with a standing ovation by Europe’s centre-left parties as he addressed delegates at the Europe Together conference, just hours before prime minister Theresa May was scheduled to meet her EU counterparts at a European leaders’ summit”. We omit the description of Ms May’s very cool reception.
Corbyn’s negotiating skills are appreciated by senior EU figures, including Michel Barnier.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (R) and British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn walk prior to a meeting on July 13, 2017 in Brussels.
Another perspective: Jeremy Corbyn is a mainstream [Scandinavian] social democrat
“From his style to his policies Mr Corbyn would, in Norway, be an unremarkably mainstream, run-of-the-mill social-democrat. His policy-platform places him squarely in the Norwegian Labour Party from which the last leader is such a widely respected establishment figure that upon resignation he became the current Secretary-General of NATO.
“Yet, here in the United Kingdom a politician who makes similar policy-proposals, indeed those that form the very bedrock of the Nordic-model, is brandished as an extremist of the hard-left and a danger to society”.
British media’s portrayal of Corbyn, and by extent his policies are somewhat exaggerated and verging on the realm of character assassination rather than objective analysis and journalism.
Mr Corbyn’s policy-platform, particularly in regard to his domestic policies are largely identical with the Norwegian Labour Party manifesto. They enjoy near universal support among the Norwegian electorate and, in fact, they are so mainstream that not even the most right-wing of Norwegian political parties would challenge them. They include:
- railway nationalisation,
- partial or full state ownership of key companies or sectors,
- universal healthcare provisions,
- state-funded house-building,
- no tuition fee education,
- education grants and loans
Jonas (right) adds that such policies have been integral to the social-democratic post-war consensus in all the Nordic countries, which. enjoy some of the world’s highest living standards and presumably should be a model to be emulated rather than avoided, and continues:
The whole controversy surrounding Mr Corbyn probably betrays more about Britain’s class divisions and how far the UK’s political spectrum has shifted to the right since the early-1980s, than it does of the practicality of his policy-proposals.
Reflecting this is British media whose ownership is highly concentrated: 70% of national newspapers are owned by just three companies and a third are owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News UK . . . the British media has focused its reporting on the personal characteristics of Mr Corbyn, usually in rather unflattering terms, and shown scant or shallow regard to his policy-agenda.
He notes that a direct comparison of Britain with other similar European states would reveal both the dire condition of British living-standards for populations, particularly outside London and how conventionally social-democratic are Mr Corbyn’s policies.
Jonas Fossli Gjersø ends: “You might agree or disagree with his political position, but it is still far too early to discount Mr Corbyn’s potential success at the next general election – particularly if he manages to mobilise support from the circa 40% of the electorate who regularly fail to cast their ballot in elections…
“(J)ust as few recognised the socio-economic and ideological structural changes which converged to underpin Margaret Thatcher’s meteoric rise in the early-1980s, we cannot exclude the possibility that we are witnessing the social-democratic mirror image of that process today, with a prevailing wind from the left rather than the right”.
Keep Our NHS Public Birmingham (KONP) says, “It looks like we’ve won our campaign for a publicly-funded (non-PFI) Midland Metropolitan Hospital in Smethwick/West Birmingham!”
The construction of the Midland Metropolitan Hospital in Smethwick collapsed after Carillion crashed spectacularly in Jan 2018 leaving the hospital half built. Then the bankers behind the ‘private finance initiative’ pulled the plug on the deal.
KONP Birmingham immediately organised a protest outside the hospital site demanding that the Treasury, health ministers and the Government should fully fund the hospital and run it properly under government and NHS control! Supporters included Birmingham TUC (BTUC), Unite the Union West Midlands, Unite the Community Birmingham, West Midlands Pensioners Convention and Birmingham Against the Cuts.
A month later, the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust Board voted to tell the Government that the only viable option for the completion was direct government funding, a full vindication of the KONP Birmingham campaign argument.
The Government and Hospital Trust has now reached an agreement to finish construction work with the Government providing funding for the remainder of the building work at Midland Metropolitan Hospital – which will see the new hospital built by 2022.
Birmingham Against The Cuts (BATC) says: “We believe that the Midland Met fiasco is a final nail in the coffin of successive governments’ love affair with PFI /2”
BATC gives a very cautious welcome for a publicly funded Midland Met Hospital in Smethwick/West B’ham (no PFI!) and expresses its continuing concerns:
Firstly, there is a delay in starting completion until early summer 2019, partly because the half built hospital was rotting away without any protection for 6 months and an additional £20m worth of work will have to be done from this September.
Additionally, the Hospital’s Trust Board Chief Executive has been dropping in phrases to his announcements such as “making cost improvement programmes above national norms”, “limited reconfigurations”, etc, which reflect the concern in Dr John Lister’s 2016 review (right) of the privately financed hospital published by KONPB and BTUC when the Midland Met was first mooted.
On 1 April 2018 the government will introduce the first Accountable Care Organisations (ACOs), which are to act as partnership bodies incorporating hospitals, community services and councils into the NHS in England.
The Health Service Journal reports that ACOs organisation, a corporate joint venture with GPs, will bring together most of a local area’s NHS services under a single budget, run directly by one big organisation – the ACO. which are to act as partnership bodies incorporating hospitals, community services and councils
Government intends to pass laws allowing ACOs to be set up (see above) without an automatic vote in Parliament.
A BBC website reports that campaigners has been given permission to challenge a government health policy in the High Court. They will pursue a judicial review against Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and NHS England over plans to create ACOs. Campaigners say it risks privatisation, but this is denied by ministers. The group bringing the case to court says an act of Parliament would be needed for the changes.
The DHSS said the claims would be resisted and it is irresponsible scaremongering to say ACOs were supporting privatisation. A spokesman said: “The NHS will remain a taxpayer-funded system free at the point of use; ACOs are simply about making care more joined-up between different health and care organisations. “Our consultation on changes to support ACOs is entirely appropriate and lawful”.
Dr Kailash Chand, an honorary Vice President of the British Medical Association, claimed ACOs could be a “Trojan horse for privatisation” adding:
“At worst, they are the end game for the NHS.”
The British Medical Association union warned: “Combining multiple services into one contract risks the potential for non-NHS providers taking over the provision of care for entire health economies.”
And the Commons Health Committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston (Conservative) said: “There is a great deal of anxiety out there that this is going to be a mechanism for privatising the NHS.”
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:
- Website refuses to accept three destinations listed on their map: Preston, Charnock Richard and Chorley.
- Phoneline kept her waiting for 15 minutes (so busy) and then cut her off.
- Local Post Office attempted a booking. Destination accepted but
- would not accept any proposed departure time.
- Customer decided to travel by train – involving three changes and at three times the cost.
If only . . .
Time for change?
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”.
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.
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.