Category Archives: Vested interests

The Grenfell question: will Britain elect a government that puts people before profit?

On 14 September 2017 The Grenfell Tower Inquiry began to investigate the causes of the fire and other related issues. The chairman, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, issued the phase one report on Wednesday 30 October 2019. In it, he concluded that the tower’s cladding failed to comply with building regulations; the principal reason the fire spread was the use of aluminium composite cladding filled with plastic on the building’s exterior.

In the dock?

  • Past and present governments erosion of safety standards through programmes of deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing/subcontracting, localism and austerity: “Regulations were relaxed and eliminated, warnings were ignored and costs were cut, while profits and council reserves.
  • David Cameron, as prime minister, promised and delivered a “bonfire of regulations” in the construction industry.
  • Boris Johnson, as mayor of London, closed 10 London fire stations, took 30 fi re engines out of service and slashed over 500firefighter jobs to “save money” (charges made by Yvette Williams)
  • The Conservative members of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) who covered the homes of working-class people with flammable tiles rather than fire-resistant tiles because they were cheap, prepared the way for the Grenfell Tower fire (Sasha Simic).
  • “The true culprits of the fire are those who wrapped the building in flammable cladding, who gutted the UK’s fire safety regime, who ignored the warnings from previous fires, and who did not hear the pleas of a community worried for their safety”, Fire Brigades Union (FBU). Below left, see a brief video of firefighters during the fire

Statement: there was “no concern from residents about cladding”

* In the 2012 Grenfell Tower Regeneration Project’s public consultation, which may be read here, residents were asked about the cladding’s colour and finish, but the issue of fire resistance was never raised.

The planning application’s engagement statement records that the choice of cladding – zinc or particle board was investigated and the final choice was Reynobond PE with a plastic filling – a cheaper option, saving nearly £300,000 – placed around flammable foam insulation.

The establishment – elite networks who close ranks to protect their own interests – spared the government & cladding company and scapegoated the Grenfell firefighters

Despite the Grenfell Inquiry’s finding that the principal reason the fire spread was the use of aluminium composite cladding filled with plastic on the building’s exterior, mainstream media chose to highlight criticism of the fire-fighters’.

The FT, though focussing closely on the performance of firefighters, did at least give details of the other companies involved, prudently noting that the report does not assign blame to any individual companies.

Hotpoint, a division of Whirlpool, made the fridge-freezer in which the fire began. Celotex, a division of the French multinational Saint Gobain, made the foam insulation used on the tower; Rydon, the design and build contractor on the refurbishment subcontracted the cladding installation; Harley Facade, and CEP Architectural Facades manufactured the cladding into “cassettes” for use on the tower.

The BBC (warned off after publishing this outspoken article about the cladding?), the Guardian and the Independent opted to focus on the fire service, the Metro achieving some balance by publishing a fiery article by Yvette Williams and one focussing on the fire service in the same issue.

grenfell fireYvette summarised the feelings of many: “the real ‘villains of the piece’ should be in the media headlines, rather than the firefighters who risked their own lives to save people in a building that no-one should have been living in, with a fire that was unprecedented”.

Since the Grenfell disaster, Arconic has withdrawn Reynobond PE from the market for all building uses. The company is now being forced to disclose evidence to investigations by the police and the Grenfell Tower public inquiry and a second phase to investigate the broader causes will begin in 2020.

But, as the FBU concluded, “We cannot wait for years for the Inquiry to conclude. Change is needed now.” The Grenfell question: will Britain elect a government that puts people before profit?

* As with some other ‘sensitive’ documents, this link will not open. To read the report, the link has to be copied and pasted: https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/idoxWAM/doc/Other-960662.pdf?extension=.pdf&id=960662&location=VOLUME2&contentType=application/pdf&pageCount=1

 

 

 

 

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A Labour government will reverse forty years of privatised services

On 20 July Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell launched a new Labour Party document, Democratising Local Public Services: A Plan for Twenty-First Century Insourcing. (1).

A September paper by Richard Hatcher, which may be read in full here, discusses its implications for social care, referring to Birmingham as a case study. Edited extracts follow (several hyperlinks added):

Democratising Local Public Services commits a future Labour government to reversing four decades of outsourcing by local councils by legislating to ensure that the default option for councils is for the public sector to deliver its own services.

The section headed ‘How Outsourcing Has Gone Wrong’ identifies two key issues:

  • poor quality of provision: there is now widespread evidence of failures in service quality in services provided through outsourced contracts’ (p12)
  • and lack of public accountability in different forms: the Information Commissioner has noted that just 23% of the public polled thought that the activities of private providers of public services were accessible. Information about outsourcing companies can only be requested by the public if it is held by a public authority on behalf of that outsourcing company. (p13)

Hatcher points out that social care is the largest single area of council spending, most of which goes to external providers, and finds it very surprising that there is only one reference to social care in the 53 pages of the Labour Party report. This is a regrettable missed opportunity because social care exemplifies the two major problems with outsourced provision that the Labour party report identifies and is therefore a prime candidate for insourcing.

The Thatcher government, we are reminded, created a lucrative new market in social care by forcing local authorities to spend 85% of their social care budget in the private sector, decimating local authority provision.

Since then the transformation towards a market in adult social care has progressed steadily, with no attempt by any government to halt or reverse the trend. [ ….]  In 1979 64% of residential and nursing home beds were still provided by local authorities or the National Health Service; by 2012 the local authority share was 6%; in the case of domiciliary care, 95% was directly provided by local authorities as late as 1993; by 2012 it was just 11%. This also means the bulk of the adult social care workforce – around 72% – is now employed in the private and voluntary sectors, along with another 14% employed by individual service users making use of ‘personal budgets’, leaving just 14% employed by local authorities.’ (pp7-8)  [2]

However, the prospect of exceptional profits attracted big equity investors into this new market. They bought up small providers and opened much larger homes for maximum profit, employing staff, largely women, on low pay, according to Social Care as a Local Economic Solution for the West Midlands, a report by David Powell, New Economics Foundation, with Karen Leach and Karen McCarthy, Localise West Midlands, published in 2017 [4]:

Built into every contract to a major provider will be the underlying need to deliver a significant return on investment

CRESC [the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change] found that big care providers expect to offer 11% returns to investors (including costly debt repayments which often return to the parent operating company). The business models of the largest five residential care chain companies in the UK offer returns to investors that account for as much as 29p in every £1 of their costs – the second biggest drain on expenditure after wages.

The care ‘market’ is increasingly consolidating towards such providers. As of 2015, nearly 20% of all care beds were provided by the ‘big four’ care companies – Four Seasons, Bupa Care Homes, HC-One Ltd, and Barchester Healthcare. They are gradually increasing their market share – buying up small chains and taking over provision from family-owned homes. (p12) But now the care market is in crisis because the government cuts in local authority budgets have squeezed the flow of profits to the care businesses. More than 400 care home operators have collapsed in the last five years, including over 100 in 2018 (Guardian 12 March 2019).

Insourcing will be difficult as the social care market is highly fragmented. As Bob Hudson says [3]:

There is no compact adult social care service that can be easily repatriated into public sector ownership. Rather the sector is characterised by many fragmented, competing providers. The care home sector supports round 410,000 residents across 11,300 homes from 5500 different providers (Competition and Markets Authority, 2017). The situation in home care is even more diverse with almost 900,000 people receiving help from over 10,000 regulated providers. (2018, pp1-2)

After a detailed seven-page Birmingham case-study of the privatised care industry, Richard Hatcher ends, “One section of Birmingham Council’s Local Manifesto 2018-2022 is titled ‘A Rebirth of Municipal Socialism’. It promises, “We will re-state the case for the municipal provision of services in Birmingham, heralding a new age of municipal socialism. And the Labour council in Birmingham will lead by example, calling time on the misplaced notion that the private sector always trumps the public sector by adopting a policy of in-house preferred for all contracts”. That was published in March 2018, a year and a half ago.

He asks “Where are the detailed plans to put this policy into practice?” and recommends Birmingham City Council to publish detailed plans to bring its out-sourced social care services in-house, open the books and make public these and all its other out-sourcing contracts so there can be genuine public accountability – and specifically for social care, the biggest sector of the Council’s outsourcing.

References 

  1. The Labour Party (2019) Democratising Local Public Services: A Plan for Twenty-First Century Insourcing. http://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Democratising-Local-Public-Services.pdf
  2. Bob Hudson (2016) ‘The failure of privatised adult social care in England: what is to be done?’, The Centre for Health and the Public Interest. https://chpi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/CHPI-SocialCare-Oct16-Proof01a.pdf
  3. Bob Hudson (n.d.) ‘Adult Social Care: An Irretrievable Outsourcing?’ https://www.healthcampaignstogether.com/pdf/Hudson%20Social%20Care%202018.pdf
  4. David Powell, New Economics Foundation, with Karen Leach and Karen McCarthy, Localise West Midlands (2017) Social Care as a Local Economic Solution for the West Midlands. https://neweconomics.org/uploads/files/West-Midlands-Social-Care-report.pdf
  5. Birmingham City Council website  (2018) ‘Care Homes and Supported Living 2018’. https://www.birmingham.gov.uk/directory/55/care_homes_home_support_and_supported_living/category/1069
  6. CorporateWatch (2016) The Home Care Business. https://corporatewatch.org/the-home-care-business/#__RefHeading___Toc2989_782775029
  7. The Labour Party (2017) Alternative Models of Ownership. https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Alternative-Models-of-Ownership.pdf
  8. The Labour Party (2018) Democratic Public Ownership. https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Democratic-public-ownership-consulation.pdf
  9. Richard Hatcher (July 2019) ‘Co-production, social care and participatory democracy’.  https://www.healthcampaignstogether.com/pdf/1907%2019%20RH%20co-production%20article%20v3.pdf In ‘Health Campaigns Together: The Debate over Social Care – New Additional Reading’ https://www.healthcampaignstogether.com/socialcare.php
  10. 10.‘Our Social Care System is Broken’. https://www.healthcampaignstogether.com/pdf/Social%20Care%20Leaflet%20draft%204%20final.pdf

 

 

 

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Media 104: The fight-back? Seriously flawed FT article on the next 30 years of fossil fuelled energy

The message from the article’s author, Nick Butler: “Loved or not, the energy companies will still be giving us products we need and they will thrive over the next three decades . . . Wind and solar power are of limited value in meeting industrial energy requirements”.

He stresses the continuing weighting of investment in favour of oil and gas against renewables and focuses on the latest long-term international outlook, which “paints a picture of the world to 2050, on the basis of current policy, reasonable expectations of economic and population growth across the world”.

Sounds good: but this report “comes from the US Energy Information Administration — an independent agency in September”. However, according to its hyperlink and Investopedia, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) is a government agency formed in 1977.

In addition to this incorrect information, the author attribution – ‘energy commentator for the FT and chair of The Policy Institute at King’s College London’ – fails to add his significant previous employment as Senior Policy Adviser in the Prime Ministers policy unit and BP’s Group Vice President for Strategy and Policy.

He then asserts that the EIA report reflects the view of the main companies in the sector as reported in the BP Energy Outlook, 2019 edition.

Wishful thinking?

Not so: a scroll through the report saw no input from such companies and a word search of the report, using the names of three of the largest oil companies, found ‘no results’.

He concedes that the energy transition is indeed happening (see Bloomberg, above) but asserts that its impact is small and “on this analysis will largely remain focused on the generation of electricity”.

The report, Butler continues, gives a picture of two very different worlds.

“On the one hand, in the developed OECD countries energy demand in volume terms thanks to efficiency gains, minimal population growth and public policy — is static to falling and the supply is getting progressively cleaner. In the rapidly growing Asian economies, population increases and the desire to escape poverty are pushing up both demand and emissions shows an inherently unsustainable future. The trends it describes are a recipe for serious global warming and climate instability.”

As the website of UK Oil & Gas PLC (UKOG) reminds us, there is no alternative (TINA): oil is indispensable: it heats homes, provides fuel for water, air and road transport and is used in plastics, fertilisers, detergents, paints and medicines.

Is Butler unaware of research under way to redesign many of these products to eliminate oil use. The use of electric heating is growing and of electric road and waterway transport, mainly ferries? And though emissions will be reduced by increasing localisation of supplies, there will be some need for clean shipping; for nearly three years the first Chinese 2000-tonne electric cargo ship has been in business. Japan and Norway are also working in this sector, with Japan’s Komatsu Ltd developing its first electric-powered digger.

Many commentators see the need to phase out long-distance air travel, but there will always be the need for some air transport during emergencies and the BBC reports progress towards such a capability: July’s Paris Airshow saw the launch of the world’s first all-electric nine-passenger aircraft for which orders are now being placed

Years ago, Dave Lindorff wrote about ‘ecological cataclysm’: “it is useful to look at the hypocrisy of the energy companies when it comes to an even worse crisis threatening life itself on the planet – rapid climate change due to increasing carbon in the atmosphere”.

His advice is more reliable than Butler’s: Watch What Big Oil Does, Not What It Pays to Have Said.

 

 

 

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The ultimate power-play? Trump celebrates the Space Force’s ‘new warfighting domain’

The flag for the new the US Space Command revealed in the White House Rose Garden

In March 2018, the Military Times reported another of Trump’s apparently casual observations that ‘space is becoming a “war-fighting domain”, adding later that at first he wasn’t serious when he floated the concept, but “then I said what a great idea, maybe we’ll have to do that.”

Five months later the Department of Defense released a report explaining how it intends to create the Space Force and Trump repeatedly stressed the need for American dominance in space.

In a January 2019 White House government briefing announcing his vision, though liberally using terms like protection and defense, President Trump said “we will recognize that space is a new warfighting domain, with the Space Force leading the way.” This ‘Unified Combatant Command’ will ‘protect US interests’ in space.

The voice of sanity:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology astronautics professor and former NASA deputy administrator Dava Newman said she prefers space to be as peaceful as possible: “Space is for exploration and lifting up humanity. We should learn from our mistakes on Earth and keep space peaceful.”

Good for business – developing a new arsenal, Star Wars 2 ?

On October 6th, in The Spectator’s inaugural US edition, James Adams comments: “In the new space race, victory won’t mean landing on the moon or sending a rocket to Mars, but developing a new arsenal to wage and win war in space”. This would include extending the range of orbital surveillance networks and producing weapons to attack space systems in orbit (anti-satellite weapons), to attack targets on the earth from space or to disable missiles travelling through space. Read more here.

Space Force’s stated mission is to protect American space assets and, in the first stages of a new war, destroy enemy satellites. All US military communications are dependent on satellites, as are 90% of communications intercepts and other forms of intelligence gathering. If they were knocked out, it would be almost impossible for the Pentagon to wage war.

Mr Adams reminds us that the militarization of space is regulated, in theory, by the Outer Space Treaty, created in 1967 by the United States, Russia and Britain, and signed subsequently by another 106 countries. He adds: “It governs the peaceful exploration of space and bans the placing of nuclear weapons there. But it didn’t ban the placement of conventional weapons in orbit, and it could not foresee all of the technological changes that, by altering the balance of power in space, threaten to alter the geopolitical balance on earth”.

Since 2013, Russia has launched three satellites that US intelligence believes may carry Anti-Satellite (ASAT) weapons and Adams reports that ‘sources’ have told him that the US intelligence community is certain that Russia, China and India already have ASAT capabilities, and that North Korea and Iran have programs in development.

The most recent official announcement:(29.8.19): “Department of Defense Establishes U.S. Space Command says: “At the direction of the President of the United States, Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper established U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) today as the eleventh Unified Combatant Command”. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. said, “This step puts us on a path to maintain a competitive advantage in this critical war fighting domain.”

USSPACECOM standup ceremony at Petersen Air Force base

The United States Space Command website reports that ‘Joint and coalition’ space officials from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States attended a ceremony to recognize the establishment of Combined Force Space Component Command (CFSCC) at Vandenberg on Oct. 1, 2019

More detailed information can be found by following the press links given and at  https://www.spacecom.mil; though the latter’s alarmingly childish video is better avoided.

Only Peter Lazenby, in the Morning Star, in two recent articles, appears to think that this news is of any significance. He writes, “The British government is complicit in the US military’s plans, partly by its association with the NATO military alliance and partly by the presence of US military bases within the country, which will be involved in the space militarisation project.”.

He reported that a nationwide week of action to “Keep Space for Peace” was launched last Saturday as part of worldwide protests against extra-planetary militarisation. Oxfordshire Peace Campaign targeted the US intelligence-gathering base at RAF Croughton, on the Oxfordshire-Northamptonshire border.

Today, Lazenby reports, campaigners will hold a peace vigil outside RAF Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire, a US base run by the US National Security Agency, which gathers military, political and financial information communicated by spy satellites circling the Earth and feeds it to the Pentagon. (Right: meticulous report by Steven Schofield)

The Spectator’s James Adams’ sardonic comment: “Down here on the ground, it’s a good idea to buy a wind-up radio and keep that landline phone connection. And get a road atlas, just in case”.

Many will fear far more extensive repercussions from President Trump’s latest inspiration

 

 

 

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Attorney General tells ‘turkeys’ that Christmas is coming

Shocked by the unbridled tone of the Attorney General in the Commons today – recorded here – his fury mounting after the second minute – I searched online for information which would shed light on his character.

When practising as a barrister, Geoffrey Cox frequently led in commercial actions and arbitrations overseas, appearing in the Dubai International Finance Centre, Mauritius and the Cayman Islands. He served as MP for Torridge and West Devon from 2005-15.

  • In September 2014, it was reported that Cox was one of a number of individuals investing in the Phoenix Film Partners LLC scheme run by Ingenious PLC which HM Revenue and Customs(HMRC) had alleged to be a tax avoidance
  • In 2016, at that time Britain’s highest-paid MP, it was reported he had a number of office expense claims for items, such as a 49p pint of milk, rejected by the Commons authorities.
  • In January 2016, Cox, a landlord, backed the Conservative Government in voting down an amendment in Parliament on rental homes being “fit for human habitation”.
  • He was a member of parliament’s Committee on Standards and the Committee on Privileges, ‘the sleaze watchdog’ but was the subject of an inquiry in 2016 after ‘neglecting to register more than £400,000 of outside earnings.

In February 2016, Cox announced in the House of Commons that he supported the case for leaving the EU and would campaign and vote to do so in the forthcoming referendum.

He was appointed to the Cabinet as Attorney General for England and Wales and Advocate General for Northern Ireland by Theresa May in 2018 and, in February 2019, was put in charge of negotiating changes to the Northern Ireland backstop in the EU withdrawal agreement.

On 24 September 2019, minutes of a conference call seen by Sky News revealed that Cox had advised the government that the prorogation was lawful and constitutional and that any accusations of unlawfulness “were motivated by political considerations”.

On the same day, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled unanimously that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s prorogation of parliament – as advised by Attorney General Cox – was unlawful.

 

The reasons for his astonishing parliamentary outburst can now be understood.

 

 

 

 

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A reader comments. “The FT seems to be taking the prospect of a Labour government seriously”

Over the next week, the Financial Times will be examining the impact of a prospective Corbyn government on the UK economy as memories of the financial crisis have reinforced the public’s perception of a system rigged against them – despite the ongoing exposures of the excesses of the financial services industry.

 FT: “A Corbyn government promises a genuine revolution in the British economy”

It looks at the plans already announced, describing them as “breathtaking in scope”. These include:

  • the nationalisation of rail, water, mail and electricity distribution companies,
  • significantly higher taxes on the rich,
  • the transfer of 10% of shares in every big company to workers (with a maximum annual £500 dividend,
  • reform of tenant rights, including a “right to buy” for private tenants,
  • borrowing to fund public investment.
  • a four-day week,
  • pay caps on executives,
  • an end to City bonuses,
  • a universal basic income,
  • £250bn to fund a National Investment Bank to build 1m social homes,
  • an increase in the minimum wage,
  • higher income tax for those earning over £80,000,
  • a new “excessive pay levy”,
  • a £5bn-a-year financial transactions tax,
  • a corporation tax rise from 19p to 26p in the pound,
  • the break-up of the Big Four auditors,
  • a ban on all share options and golden handshakes,
  • curbs on the voting rights of short-term shareholders,
  • the public naming of all workers on over £150,000 a year,
  • the nationalisation of parts of the struggling steel industry,
  • opposition to the Trident nuclear deterrent and
  • delisting of companies that fail to meet environmental criteria from the London Stock Exchange.

Thatcherism reversed

Mr Corbyn’s supporters see rebalancing of control from shareholders, landlords and other vested interests to workers, consumers and tenants, “reorienting an economy that works for those at the top but not for the young, the unemployed or those struggling on zero-hours contracts” as “fairness”. But to political opponents, high-earners, business owners, investors and landlords, it is alarming.

On September 1st, the FT declared: “A Corbyn government is no longer a remote prospect. With UK politics scrambled by Brexit, the landscape is unrecognisable”.

Lord David Willetts, a former Conservative cabinet minister who now chairs the Resolution Foundation think-tank, comments: “Brexit is so radical and such a massive gamble, breaking a 40-year trading arrangement, that it’s hard for Tories to say to people ‘don’t gamble on Labour”. They just think: ‘who’s the gambler?’”

Brexit as an opportunity: in his speech to the 2018 Labour conference, Shadow Chancellor John Donnell noted: “The greater the mess we inherit, the more radical we have to be.” 

Lord Bob Kerslake, former head of the civil service, who is helping Labour to prepare for government, believes Labour’s manifesto pledges are indeed ‘radical’ but can be delivered. He realises that there are questions about how much of the Corbyn-McDonnell policy platform can be carried out if there is a minority government and stresses the need to make significant progress on it in a first term.

As the FT wrote:Polling data show that voters currently evince little enthusiasm for a Corbyn government. And yet the existential shock of Brexit, combined with his appeal to younger voters and families fatigued by nearly a decade of austerity, could still deliver the unexpected”. 

 

 

 

 

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Small modular nuclear reactors: on the ‘inside track’, Lord Hutton

People on ‘the inside track . . . wield privileged access and disproportionate influence’ according to the Parliamentary Public Administration Select Committee [PASC].

Lord John Hutton: a brief chronology

2008-9: Secretary of State for Defence

2010: Joined the board of US nuclear power company Hyperion Power 

2011: Appointed Chair of the Nuclear Industries Association

2010- 2015, became Chairman of the Royal United Services Institute.

2014 -2018: was a defence advisor/consultant with US arms firm, Lockheed Martin

2017: Became chairman of Energy UK, a trade association for the GB energy industry with a membership of over 100 suppliers, generators, and stakeholders with a business interest in the production and supply of electricity and gas for domestic and business consumers

SMR: artist’s impression

2017: The UK SMR Consortium is the trade association for the GB energy industry. Moribund? Its website has only five news entries, all dated Sept 2017. Lord Hutton’s foreword to its 2017 report (cover below): “A UK SMR programme would support all ten ‘pillars’ of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, and assist in sustaining the skills required for the Royal Navy’s submarine programme.”

2018: A report by the Expert Finance Working Group (EFWG), convened by BEIS in January, recommended that: “For technologies capable of being commercially deployed by 2030, HMG should focus its resources on bringing First of a Kind (FOAK) projects to market by reducing the cost of capital and sharing risks through:

  • assisting with the financing of small nuclear through a new infrastructure fund (seed funded by HMG) and/or direct equity and/or Government guarantees; and
  • assisting with the financing of small nuclear projects through funding support mechanisms such as a Contract for Difference (CfD)/ Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) or potentially a Regulated Asset Base (RAB) model while maintaining the supply chain plans required for larger low carbon projects”

2019: a July commitment to initial funding for SMRs is welcomed by the UK SMR Consortium (Rolls-Royce website)

“Our consortium warmly welcomes the Government’s decision to advance our new innovative small modular reactor programme. The government has today committed £18 million of initial funds to support the development of this power station as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, subject to final confirmation in early autumn. Our design will bolster the UK’s ambitions to tackle climate change”.

The next step? Final confirmation of taxpayers’ funding for the small modular reactor programme in early autumn.

 

 

 

 

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Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to “drive big money out of democracy”

In Bolton on Sunday (18.8.19) Mr Corbyn announced a new policy to ban donations or loans to parties from non-doms and those not registered for tax in Britain. He said:

“People are right to feel that politics doesn’t work for them. It doesn’t. Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party are captured by big donors, who are corrupting democracy. If you have the money you can get access to ministers. Look at the fracking industry. But if you wish to protest against the frackers because it will damage the environment, you can’t get a hearing”.

Lamiat Sabin (right) reports that Cabinet Office shadow minister Jon Trickett is working on a comprehensive plan to stop big money “buying up our democracy” before outlining further plans in the autumn and that Mr Corbyn revealed details of donations to PM Boris Johnson – nearly a million pounds – from hedge funds and bankers.

In all: £953,056.47 came from hedge funds and bankers in donations and income over the last 15 years, (Labour’s analysis of Electoral Commission data and register of members’ interests entries) and contributions of up £730,000 to him or Conservative Associations in his Henley and Uxbridge seats. Some detail:

  • speeches to banks in Europe and the US: £233,056;
  • £100,000 received in June from Ipex Capital chairman Jonathan Moynihan, who also chaired the Vote Leave finance committee;
  • £10,000 in June from hedge fund manager Robin Crispin Odey, who is short-selling the sterling in expectation of a slide in the value of the pound in the event of Mr Johnson’s no-deal Brexit — according to Labour;
  • Johnson flown to New York and paid £94,507.85 for a two-hour speech at the multibillion-dollar hedge fund company Golden Tree Asset Management and
  • £88,000 from hedge fund boss Johan Christofferson from direct donations or contributions to Uxbridge Conservative Association.

He said: “We have to stop the influx of big money into politics. Politics should work for the millions, not the millionaires. Labour is the party of the many, not the few and we do things very differently. We are funded by workers through their trade unions and small donations, averaging just £22 in the last general election. That’s why we will be able to drive big money out of our democracy.”

 

 

 

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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

 

 

 

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Media 99: Anti-semitism campaign a fabrication – Norman Finkelstein charges the British elite & its media

Richard House has drawn attention to the latest Media Lens report: ‘Suspending Chris Williamson – The Fury And The Fakery’ – which includes a comment in a forceful and eloquent video by American political scientist, activist, professor and author, Norman Finkelstein (right), whose mother survived the Warsaw Ghetto, the Majdanek concentration camp and two slave labour camps and whose father was a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Auschwitz concentration camp. He writes:

‘Corbyn . . . did not present a threat only to Israel and Israel’s supporters, he posed a threat to the whole British elite. Across the board, from the Guardian to the Daily Mail, they all joined in the new anti-semitism campaign . . . this whole completely contrived, fabricated, absurd and obscene assault on this alleged Labour anti-semitism, of which there is exactly zero evidence, zero.’ 

Media Lens points out that more than 150 Labour MPs and peers – the “infamously pro-war, Blairite section of the party have added to the propaganda blitz by protesting against the decision to readmit Williamson in a statement led by the bitterly anti-Corbyn deputy leader Tom Watson”. 

A recent blog on the Jewish Voices for Labour site also stated that a “hostile, personal campaign is being waged against Chris, who is a hard-working and diligent MP with great standing in his constituency and a strong record of anti-racist campaigning”.

It adds: “This country stands in desperate need of a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, aiming to unite people around protection and promotion of hard won rights and services, the party needs the dedication and principled commitment of Chris Williamson and others like him”.

In 2018, Noam Chomsky commented on this campaign: ‘The charges of anti-Semitism against Corbyn are without merit, an underhanded contribution to the disgraceful efforts to fend off the threat that a political party might emerge that is led by an admirable and decent human being, a party that is actually committed to the interests and just demands of its popular constituency and the great majority of the population generally, while also authentically concerned with the rights of suffering and oppressed people throughout the world. Plainly an intolerable threat to order.’ (Chomsky, email to Media Lens, 9 September 2018).

He commented on these issues again this month in correspondence with journalist Matt Kennard:

‘The way charges of anti-Semitism are being used in Britain to undermine the Corbyn-led Labour Party is not only a disgrace, but also – to put it simply – an insult to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. The charges against Chris Williamson (right) are a case in point. There is nothing even remotely anti-Semitic in his statement that Labour has “given too much ground” and “been too apologetic” in defending its record of addressing “the scourge of anti-Semitism” beyond that of any other party, as he himself had done, on public platforms and in the streets.’

Media Lens’ challenging conclusion asks what sanction the Labour Party should put on those politicians who personally voted to authorise illegal British and US wars in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria – acts which did not merely offend but killed, maimed and displaced millions of people, bringing whole countries to their knees.

 

 

 

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