Category Archives: Secret State
Secret State 23: leaked Cabinet Office report, HS2 “highly likely” to go 60% over budget. HS2: no comment
Andrew Gilligan reports today in The Times that the HS2 high-speed rail project is “highly likely” to go as much as 60% over budget and cost “more than £80bn”, according to a Cabinet Office report by the government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA), which describes the scheme as “fundamentally flawed” and in a “precarious position”.
The report, classified as “official-sensitive” and “not for publication”, dated December 2016, was written by Paul Mansell, an IPA adviser embedded in HS2. ‘Leaked’ to The Sunday Times, it warns that chaos in the project — officially costed at £56bn — threatens wider public spending, with a “very high opportunity-cost impact across other government departments”.
A group of Conservative MPs, led by Jeremy Lefroy the MP for Stafford, is mounting a new bid to cancel HS2. Last week they met Chris Grayling, the transport secretary.
An earlier June article by Andrew Gilligan referred to documents seen by The Sunday Times. Doug Thornton, HS2’s former head of property, said the HS2 high-speed rail project put him under “tremendous pressure to accede to an enormous deceit” that the official budget for buying land and buildings was accurate. He alleged that it was wrong by billions of pounds; the budget was based on “rudimentary map-based analysis by interns” and contains errors in the tens of millions even on single properties. HS2 did not dispute the figures.
Thornton and Bruce are understood to have given extensive oral and written evidence to the National Audit Office (NAO), which confirmed that it is investigating HS2’s land and property budget.
Thornton was paid more than £200,000 a year and ranked two rungs below HS2’s chief executive. In the documents, he said he was sacked after refusing to “at worst, severely mislead” HS2’s own board about the state of the programme. The head of planning and performance, Andrew Bruce, was also placed on leave of absence 30 minutes before he was due to “present major budget, programme and capability issues” to the board, according to Thornton. The two men left in 2016 as the bill to allow HS2’s phase one, from London to the West Midlands, reached a critical stage in parliament. HS2 told MPs and peers that buying the 11,000 properties and plots of land needed to build this section of the route would cost £2.8bn, a figure it maintains to this day. However, Bruce had produced detailed calculations that the true cost of property in this phase alone would be £4.7bn. Thornton said HS2 may have “knowingly misled parliament”.
Thornton’s documents were passed to Lord Berkeley, a Labour peer and chairman of the Rail Freight Group. He said: “HS2 has been covering up and Chris Grayling knows that the budget is not deliverable. HS2 could not be reached for comment.
Rail News reports that after a request by the Department for Transport, consultant quantity surveyor Michael Byng, who created the method now used by Network Rail to cost its projects in the wake of major overruns, has prepared a 4000-page document analysing the costs of HS2. He concluded that the true cost of Phase One between London and Birmingham is likely to be at least £50 billion, compared with the official figure of £24.3 billion. This includes a one-third contingency allowance but not the cost of new high speed trains.
The cost of the whole scheme, including the extensions to Manchester and Leeds, is now said to be over £100 billion.
Drone footage and satellite images have recently revealed that thousands of British cattle reared for supermarket beef are being kept at some sites in outdoor pens, known as corrals, sometimes surrounded by walls, fences or straw bales. Although the cattle will have spent time grazing in fields prior to fattening, some will be confined in pens for around a quarter of their lives, until they are slaughtered. Disease spreads easily in such conditions and traces of the medication needed to prevent or treat the animals will be present in the meat offered for human consumption.
Who owns these companies? Who are the directors? Do they donate to party funds?
Why are there no official records held by DEFRA on how many intensive beef units are in operation?
Government regulations say that an environmental permit is needed if you operate any of the following:
-an industrial facility,
-or other business that produces potentially harmful substances, eg:
-a landfill site, a large chicken farm, a food factory
Why is government not requiring an environmental permit before their construction – and indeed consulting those in their neighbourhood?
A small section of a group of intensive units photographed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism/ Guardian
Though environment secretary Michael Gove said, in a parliamentary statement. “I do not want to see, and we will not have, US-style farming in this country”, it’s here.
The Guardian and Bureau last year revealed that 800 poultry and pig “mega farms” have appeared in the British countryside in recent years, some housing more than a million chickens or about 20,000 pigs.
Following the revelations, the environment secretary, Michael Gove, pledged that Brexit would not be allowed to result in the spread of US-style agribusiness.
Readers who want to know the extent of this problem and the location of megafarms for dairy, pigs and poultry, may find this information by looking at the interactive maps produced by Compassion in World Farming: The snapshots show information about intensive pig rearing in Gloucestershire, where the writer lives.
A Moseley reader draws attention to research by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism establishing that the UK is now home to a number of industrial-scale fattening units with herds of up to 3,000 cattle at a time. Sites in Kent, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire were identified, the largest farms fattening up to 6,000 cattle a year.
The practice of intensive beef farming in the UK has not previously been widely acknowledged – and these findings raise questions over the future of British farming.
Richard Young, Policy Director at the Sustainable Food Trust, said: “Keeping large number of cattle together in intensive conditions removes all justification for rearing them and for consumers to eat red meat…
“More than two-thirds of UK farmland is under grass for sound environmental reasons and the major justifications for keeping cattle and eating red meat are that they produce high quality protein and healthy fats from land that is not suitable for growing crops.”
Mark Shapiro, a reader living in California, draws attention to the work of Emily Knowles, leading the Oxford Research Group’s Remote Warfare Programme.
Yet RWP’s research suggests that there is a rising trend of secretive military commitments in areas where the UK is not considered to be at war.
- A precedent has been set for the use of armed drones to carry out targeted strikes in regions where parliament has not authorised military engagement.
- The use of Special Forces to carry out covert operations bypasses the need for parliamentary authorisation or notification.
- By providing behind-the-scenes support, UK troops can be involved in military combat without the government having to declare engagement in offensive missions.
Relying on such tactics to counter threats allows the government to avoid the usual parliamentary oversight required in the deployment of conventional troops.
“As modern concepts of warfare continue to evolve, I believe it’s vital that government policy keeps pace and is open to debate.
“That is why my team is working to promote greater transparency around remote warfare and uphold the scrutiny that is so pivotal to a healthy democracy”.
Remote Control’s 2017 report by Emily and Abigail Watson, ‘All quiet on the ISIS front: British secret warfare in an information age’ (Mar 2017), tracks the UK’s secretive but growing military commitments abroad by analysing the rise in the use of drones for targeted killing, the use of Special Forces, and the provision of capabilities such as intelligence and embedded troops to allied forces.
The deniability of these operations brings a flexibility, which can create opportunities when it comes to dealing with fluid and complex security threats.
However, it questions the notion that greater secrecy is always better strategy, in an age when leaks of information are seemingly inevitable, demand for political accountability is high, and trust in politicians and the wider expert community is low.
Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, has admitted that on March 26th, a British airstrike killed a motorcyclist who rode into its path in Syria by chance. It is the first confirmation of a civilian casualty by UK forces in the fight against Islamic State.
The unintentional death, described by Williamson as “deeply regrettable”, was confirmed during post-strike analyses of drone footage and other imagery.
The official position of the Ministry of Defence until yesterday’s announcement had been that it had seen no evidence of UK airstrikes causing civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria.
A source within the US-led coalition against Isis, however, told the BBC that he had seen evidence that British airstrikes had caused civilian casualties “on several occasions”. “To suggest they have not, as has been done, is nonsense,” the source added.
The coalition has begun an investigation and will issue a report. The airstrike was by a Reaper drone, remotely operated by pilots in the UK or at an airbase in the United States.
The defence secretary admits that RAF jets and drones have conducted more than 1,600 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq and Airwars, a group that has been monitoring civilian casualties, claimed it was likely that between 1,066 and 1,579 civilians had died in the fighting in Mosul. The US and Australia have accepted responsibility for civilian casualties. The coalition has admitted causing just over 350 civilian deaths in Mosul.
The deaths, in particular those of women and children, have helped to turn local populations against coalition forces and fuel insurgencies.
A Wimbledon reader sends news that Amnesty International has cited another civilian death: 68-year-old Mamana Bibi was picking vegetables in the family’s fields with her
grandchildren in Waziristan, northwest Pakistan. ’Out of nowhere’, she was hit during a double drone strike led by the US. Mamana is one of hundreds of civilians accidentally killed by US drone strikes. Strikes that the UK has been playing a crucial part in.
Despite the lack of coverage in many newspapers and on TV bulletins, a petition has been set up, calling for the UK government to launch a full public inquiry into its role in the US’s expanding drones programme:
To join this call for a full public inquiry into Britain’s role in the US’s expanding drones programme, go to https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/uk-stop-helping-deadly-and-secret-us-drone-strikes
Much ado about an OP nerve-agent: but hundreds of British farmers were poisoned – compelled by government to use OP dips
Senior ministers have been told that the nerve agent used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal in in Salisbury, on Sunday 4 March 2018 near Porton Down, has been identified by Porton Down experts as the organophosphate Novichock. Porton Down’s research focus has successively been known as Chemical Warfare, Chemical Defence, Chemical & Biological Defence and now Defence Science and Technology. Areas of concern are outlined here. Early British collaboration with American chemical warfare research (aka ‘field studies’) is acknowledged here.
In 2015 the Guardian reported that a cross-party MPs called for an inquiry into the compulsory use of dangerous chemicals called organophosphates (OPs), used to protect livestock from parasites. The Farmers Weekly reported that the Sheep Dip Sufferers Support Group repeated this call in 2016
The problem was first identified by Dr Goran Jamal, a Kurdish-born neurologist working in Glasgow, who later gave evidence of OP-related Gulf War Syndrome. Read Booker’s compelling account in Scared to Death: From BSE to Global Warming: Why Scares are Costing Us the Earth, or extracts from it here.
In his autobiography, BBC Countryfile presenter Adam Henson wrote: “the authorities realized that they were poisoning a lot of farmers”. In Countryfile Magazine (9.6.17) he wrote (snapshot of page, above right)
BBC Countryfile Magazine made the following points below:
- OPs were originally created as a nerve gas and were developed during the Second World War. In 1951 Lord Zuckerman, who would go on to become the government’s chief scientist, warned of the dangers of allowing farmers to use OPs. Zuckerman raised concerns that farmers could absorb the poison through skin or inhalation. Read the legal noticepublished by Minister of Agriculture and Fishery regarding the harmful effects of Ops in 1951. Read a report published by Tim Farron, MP, stating that Government knew about the harmful effects of OPs.
- Zuckerman called for farmers to be given detailed instructions for the use of OPs and for the substance to be labelled as deadly poison, although neither suggestion would be adopted until the 1980s.
- Dipping sheep became compulsory in the late 1970s, and the use of OPs specifically was mandated by the British government until 1992. Read abstract at Small Ruminant Research.
- In 1981 an advice leaflet was produced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that warned against the dangers of using OPs, citing that the chemicals could be absorbed through the skin. A report from the HSE in 1990showed growing concerns over the use of the chemicals.
- UCL’s Dr Sarah MacKenzie Ross reviewed existing scientific evidence in 2013 and found that 13 out of 16 studies showed evidence of neurological problems following long-term, low-level exposure to Ops. Long-term health issues linked to OP poisoning also include multiple sclerosis and memory issues. (Ed; we add her work in Neurotoxicology and Teratology, Volume 32, Issue 4, 2010, abstract here.)
- In April 2014 MPs called for a ‘Hillsborough-style’ inquiry into the sheep-dip poisoning, with Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham called it a “major scandal”. Source: Agri Wales.
A saga of missing medical records
In the Telegraph, Booker pointed out that the health of thousands of farmers and their families had been destroyed by using highly toxic organo-phosphate (OP) chemicals to dip their sheep, as a protection against parasites. When the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) commissioned its own internal study into this disaster, its findings in 1991 were so devastating that they had to be ruthlessly suppressed. The survey, later released under a freedom of information request, said:
“Repeated absorption of small doses [can] have a cumulative effect and can result in progressive inhibition of nervous system cholinesterase.”
The Manchester Evening News published an early photograph of Littleborough farmer, the late Brenda Sutcliff with her husband Harold. She and three family members became ill after using a government-recommended sheep dip. No active, healthy old age for her – but her persistent campaigning was recognised and celebrated by many (below left).
Details of a sheep dipping survey were released by the Health and Safety Executive following a Freedom of Information Request by the Sheep Dip Sufferers Group. The HSE survey examined sheep dipping facilities and practices on a representative sample of 696 farmers across 16 different regions of Britain. See also: Minister pledges to re-examine OP sheep dip files
But in the same month as this report was published internally – May 1991 – the farming minister at the time, John Gummer, was demanding that local authorities clamp down on farmers who refused to use the chemical.
The report found 160 occasions where some form of ill-health occurred after dipping. It also criticised manufacturers for providing inadequate protective clothing and unclear instructions to farmers on how to use the chemicals: “If with all the resources available to them, a major chemical company proves unable to select appropriate protective equipment, what hope is there for an end-user?” Booker commented that ministers were only too aware that the government had forced the farmers to use these chemicals, which its own Veterinary Medicines Directorate had licensed as safe to use and ends:
“Although in 1992, the government quietly dropped the compulsory use of OPs for dipping, without explanation, a succession of Tory and Labour ministers refused to accept publicly that repeated exposure to them could cause irreparable damage – because, it seemed, any public admission that they were as dangerous as the HSE had found them to be might trigger off a major scandal resulting in tens of millions of pounds of compensation claims”.
A more high-profile victim (see illness), former sheep farmer Margaret Mar (right), a life peer in the House of Lords, has spent three decades campaigning in Westminster on the issue.
She said: “I know from private discussions with an advisor at the Department of Health that officials knew about the risks, but couldn’t publicly criticise OPs because they were a government-recommended dip at that time”.
An campaign by the Sheep Dip Sufferers’ Support Group, co-ordinated by Tom Rigby, organic dairy farmer and chair of NFU’s Organic Forum, has an exceptionally accurate and informative website, with a balanced approach, useful links and well-documented interviews and reports with the political establishment – recording reasonable interaction with MPs like Andy Burnham, George Eustice and Paul Tyler.
They deserve the last word:
“We are a group of volunteers campaigning for better diagnosis and treatment for all those affected by organophosphates used in agriculture. We have no membership subscription or outside funding and rely mostly on the collective experience of those who have been bravely battling against the devastating effects of these chemicals for decades.
“We hope 2018 will be the year when the farming community comes to realise the impact these insecticides have had on those involved in disease control and that they finally start to get the help and support they urgently need”.
There has been a lot of interest in ’50 secret studies’ the government has undertaken into the impacts of Brexit. A British MEP, Dr Scott Cato, wrote to Brexit Secretary David Davis after hearing of these alleged studies requesting further details. See her article for politics.co.uk: Why is the government so afraid to publish its Brexit impact studies?
The government refused to disclose the findings but acknowledged in a response, that they have conducted analysis of the impacts of Brexit in over 50 sectors of the economy. Since these studies came to light, she has been urged to get them released through a Freedom of Information request. That she now done.
One study undertaken by the Department of Health was leaked. This revealed that Brexit could result is a shortage of more than 40,000 nurses by 2026. To avoid prevarication on grounds of cost and other spurious reasons, she limited the request to the release of details on this one study. More information here.
The European Movement, with the support of Scientists for EU and Healthier in EU, has set up a new petition, calling on the government to publish all the findings. This initiative is receiving cross-party backing and strong support from the public.
The petition is already on its way to 13,000 signatures. She asks all to add their name if they haven’t done so already and to share widely through the usual channels. Dr Scott Cato ended:
“Whether you voted Leave or Remain, it is surely in the public interest that the Brexit process is as open and transparent as possible. If the government is withholding significant information about the future of our country, then it is working against the very principle of democracy”.
Broken Britain 7: prolonged, tragic sagas: infected blood transfusions, OP poisoning and Gulf War Syndrome, denial and delay, pending death
The Haemophilia Society has blown the whistle and called for an enquiry into its own failure and that of government, pharma and clinicians. More here.
Medics and politicians knew by the mid-1970s that commercially manufactured blood products from the USA were suspect. By the mid-1980s there were warnings of a similar situation in respect of HIV. Nevertheless these products continued to be imported and used – just as OP sheep dips were.
British haemophiliacs and other victims’ lives were blighted in the 1970s and 1980s by these cheap imported US blood products, harvested from inmates and drug addicts. More than 7,000 were infected and went on unknowingly to infect family
Last week in The Times, Margarette Driscoll recalls that in 2015, following the Penrose report into contaminated blood products in Scotland (which many victims denounced as a whitewash), David Cameron apologised to those who were infected by HIV and hepatitis C.
References to “compensation” have been changed to “payments” – to avoid admitting the liability which is already common knowledge? The sums received by victims of the contaminated blood scandal are known as ex gratia payments.
In April, as he left the Commons, the former health secretary Andy Burnham declared there had been a “criminal cover-up on an industrial scale in the NHS” over contaminated blood and called for a Hillsborough-style inquiry.
Diana Johnson, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North, has been campaigning on the issue since she met one of her constituents, a mild haemophiliac who was given factor VIII in 1983 to prevent excessive bleeding when he had a tooth removed in hospital. He discovered he was infected with hepatitis C in 1995, when it showed up on blood tests for an unrelated illness.
As Theresa May had set up the Hillsborough inquiry when she was home secretary, Johnson was hopeful she would do the same for contaminated blood.
May refused. Johnson requested an urgent Commons debate, which was due to be held on Tuesday. She then got the six leaders of the opposition parties — including the DUP — to sign a letter to Ms May asking for an inquiry, and this is to be set up.
Adding insult to injury? Payment to many victims of NHS blood contamination is to be cut
In March this year a scheme to pay the victims of NHS blood contamination is to be scaled back under government plans announced on Monday. Ministers believe the reforms are necessary because more people are now considered likely to develop serious health issues – and be entitled to higher payouts – pushing the programme as much as £123m over budget.
The government has proposed measures that would cut predicted costs, including limiting the availability of the higher level of financial support under the scheme
Will an enquiry compensate the victims of this NHS for the cuts?
The Haemophilia Society calls for an enquiry into its own failure and that of government, pharma and clinicians
Medics and politicians knew by the mid-1970s that commercially manufactured blood products from the USA were suspect. By the mid-1980s there were warnings of a similar situation in respect of HIV. Nevertheless these products continued to be imported and used.
British haemophiliacs and other victims’ lives were blighted in the 1970s and 1980s by these cheap imported US blood products, harvested from inmates and drug addicts. More than 5,000 were infected and went on to unknowingly infect family and friends.
In 2010 this site recorded the efforts of Lord Alf Morris, fighting for better treatment of patients infected with contaminated blood products for years. It was noted that eight years ago the Lancet reported the Irish parliament’s generous compensation package for haemophiliacs infected by contaminated blood products.
The British government has not treated victims well. Many of the relevant records have disappeared. Former Health Secretary Patrick Jenkin and former Health Minister David Owen both searched the departmental archives, but were told that the documents had been accidentally destroyed.
Of the 1,200 who contracted HIV, barely 200 survive. They have fought tirelessly for safe products and proper compensation for the avoidable infections which have devastated their health, turned family members into full-time carers, and left many living in poverty.
Failures in government policy and negligence of public bodies led to people being infected with blood borne viruses as a result of their treatment with blood products in the 70s and 80s. The impact of these failures was worsened by poor communication from government, healthcare professionals, pharmaceuticals companies and The Haemophilia Society. Warnings were not heeded and errors were subsequently hidden.
Pharmaceutical companies and clinicians did not share, or even hid, information about risks from patients and patient groups. Blood products, for the treatment of bleeding disorders, were made from pooled human plasma which was known to allow the transfer of viruses. Blood donations, particularly in the USA, were taken from high risk paid donors, often in prisons and without adequate processes to screen potential donors.
We condemn the actions and inactions of all parties that contributed to dangerous products not being withdrawn, patients not being properly informed of risks and technological and procedural advances ignored.
The additional funding announced last year to more than double the budget for contaminated blood support has not gone to those most in need and will ultimately leave many people with less support. Other affected groups such as bereaved parents, partners and other family members have been particularly under-supported and ignored.
We do not think the current settlement is sufficient to provide the support people need and deserve. It does not allow them to have a reasonable standard of living rather than just be removed from poverty. We reject the current proposals for reform of the support arrangements in England as they do not recognise the full needs of the bleeding disorder community, were poorly conceived and consulted on, do not provide sufficient support to people covered by the scheme and still exclude some individuals entirely.
We want a full public inquiry under the inquiries act as only this could compel witnesses and would shed light on concerns such as:
* the inappropriate use of known infected treatments on previously untreated patients
* why and how British self-sufficiency in blood products was never achieved
* why tests to identify infected blood donations were not implemented sooner
* when and to what extent the UKHCDO, The Haemophilia Society, the Department of Health and the NHS held and were aware of information on risks and tests for infection with blood borne viruses
* why potential methods to heat treat blood products were not fully investigated and implemented sooner.
To facilitate this we want a full and open disclosure of all information held by the Government, or elsewhere, relating to the sourcing, manufacture, procurement, licensing and NHS treatment with contaminated blood and blood products. However, an inquiry must not distract from or delay the implementation of an improved support scheme.
The statement continues here:
Following the statement see the APPG meeting minutes 29 March 2017 final.
The general message:
“I avoid the news; I just don’t switch on.“
Anecdotal evidence from many encountered indicates a growing intolerance of TV, the Murdoch press in particular and radio, which constantly focus on the latest man-made or natural disaster and the actions of the corrupt or callous – a tiny minority.
Online headlines presented by the Murdoch Times today:
- Mike Ashley (above) ‘drank 12 pints and vomited at meeting’
- No 10 ‘buried terror report to protect Saudi Arabians’
- Border Force makes record seizure of guns
- Venus in tears as car crash casts a shadow over first-round
- May’s pork barrel tactics demean our politics
- City gripped by sub-prime lending fears
- Pay row leaves Bank of England facing its first strike in 50 years
- Rise in high-risk dependency on alcohol among those seeking help.
If you want something better go to Redbrick, and read the thoughtful offerings of students at Birmingham University: http://www.redbrick.me/comment which offer a more balanced view of life around them.
A revulsion from the continual diet of news focussing on the thankfully rare instances of disaster and cruelty is growing. A reaction from hardier souls is to actually read these newspapers and listen to or watch the news because ‘You’ve got to know what’s going on’ – apparently oblivious of the fact that what is presented is often far from being the truth – see our Secret State category for more on that subject – the 18th here.
A report about the first scientific study into the effect of TV news reports confirmed the obvious: that broadcasts of reports of famine, violence, poverty and crime leave viewers considerably depressed – and happy stories of Lottery winners and “miracle” recoveries (equally rare) do not.
Psychologist, Prof Graham Davey (University of Sussex), who conducted the study with colleague, Dr Wendy Johnston (University of Edinburgh), said: “We found that negatively balanced material does change people’s moods in a negative way, and this could have other knock on effects, such as making people worry more about their own problems.”
The writer’s unscientific findings were that was that the people I met actually felt that they’d had ‘the best of it’ and were worried about the future for their children and more so for their grandchildren.
The Positive News Journal aspires to redress the balance
And it does this occasionally – see the link to this list above: ‘From political upheaval to natural disasters, the first three months of 2017 have seen many challenges. But behind the headlines, there are signs of progress and possibility. Here are 20 of our favourites’. So often, however, the reports come from far afield – only two items in the list from Britain – and many will not feel that they are relevant to daily life here.
Amongst the writer’s websites which cover political corruption, growing food insecurity, chemical and nuclear dangers and illegal killing by armed drones is one – Antidote to Gloom – which is more happily received.
This week random visitors from America topped the list (left) who actively sought news relating to the first link:
- Swiss voters embrace shift to renewables and ban new nuclear plants (top post this week)
- An all-electric taxi, releasing no emissions into the local environment
- Renewable energy storage – by rail
- Solihull, Leeds and Manchester aim to reduce air pollution and ease traffic congestion
- What went right? January to March 2017 (taken from Positive News)
Occasionally thanks are emailed by Antidote readers whose spirits have been lifted by a respite from the current destructive news-diet.
Time for change in our media as well as our politics.