Category Archives: Vested interests
Broken Britain 9: ‘populism’ is really ‘anti-elitism’ – a backlash due to economic and political inequality
Stephen Latner, an FT reader, reminds columnist Philip Stephens – and a whole range of commentators – that it would be more accurate to describe “populism” as “anti-elitism” and acknowledge that the backlash is not down purely to economic factors but political as well . . .
Philip Stephens had explained that the explanation for a rising sense of grievance and a collapse of trust in the old political order is to be found in the answers to the opinion poll question asking people if they expect a better life for their children:
“Voters are now more likely to answer no than yes. The march to progress, they assume, has ended . . .The pain is made the more acute when a small minority can indeed pass on great power and wealth to their children . . .”
Latner adds that many voted for Brexit because of the perceived elitism of the EU (“an unelected, non-transparent, central bureaucracy”) and sees that new technology – ‘the digital age’ – is ensuring that elitism will come under fire and more centralisation of political power will be seen as elitist and unacceptable.
Stephens supplies the element missing from Latner’s analysis – the added burden of a political elite allied with the wealthiest corporates:
“At its simplest, establishing trust is about behaviour. Today’s elites should ask themselves just when it became acceptable:
- for politicians to walk straight from public office into the boardroom;
- for central bank chiefs to sell themselves to US investment banks
- and for business leaders to pay themselves whatever they pleased”.
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?
At the moment, due to imports, this country’s food security ratios are high – see map:
But 28,000 farms in England went out of business (132,400 in 2005 to 104,200 in 2015, DEFRA), many due to farmgate prices below production costs.
Meanwhile the AHDB advisers inflicted on them thrive, advertising for Sector Strategy Directors to be paid £62,000 – £76,000 for working 35hrs per week
The farmer drawing attention to this – who works far longer than 35 hours for far less return – comments “How easy it is to spend someone else’s hard earned income. An independent organisation (independent of both commercial industry and of Government)??”
A government website explains that the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board is a non-departmental public body funded by a compulsory levy on British farmers. growers and others in the supply chain.
It “has a role in the processes of national government and operates to a greater or lesser extent at arm’s length from ministers”.
AHDB advisers working half the hours at more than double the average farming income frequently offer sage advice: their mantra: “improve productivity”. The FT quotes reflections by Phil Bicknell, market intelligence director at the AHDB who sees only three options:
- The most desirable: securing a free-trade deal with the EU,
- The least: putting up protectionist barriers or
- opening up trade to low-cost competition from around the world.
Notably absent is any sustained concern about a fair price deal for food producers and the prudence of supplying the home market first before trading any surplus.
Between 2013 and 2015, according to figures from the House of Commons library, smaller producers left the industry and during that period, milk prices fell by about 30%.
The Gosling Report finds that for farmers in Northern Ireland the sale price for the majority of commodities they produce does not even cover the input costs; this applies equally to most other British farmers. Paul Gosling comments:
“Meanwhile, large processors, large corporate food wholesalers and corporate retailers continue to maintain their enormous unsustainable profits”.
Farmers in the rest of Britain in the same position should act with those in Northern Ireland. They require legislation similar to that submitted by Fairness for Farmers in Europe (an association of 30 farm organisations in Britain, Ireland and the EU) to the 2010/11 CAP review. This would state that farmers must be paid a minimum of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked for their produce; if the ‘free’ market moves up the farmer will get the benefit, however, when it falls the legislation is there to provide the safety net limit of drop.
AHDB please note: as a matter of urgency with Brexit negotiations under way, all farm groups could campaign for legislation on just farmgate prices, stating that a minimum of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked must be paid at the farmgate for all food produced in Britain.
Readers wishing to know more about NI Farms Groups’ campaign should contact:
56 Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, BT51 4NU
Tel. 028 703 43419 / 07909744624
Today The Times reports that the chancellor is considering slashing the annual tuition fee universities can charge to £7,500, in this autumn’s budget, after young voters swung behind Jeremy Corbyn when he pledged to abolish fees if in government.
In 2008 student loans were removed from protective legislation, by Section 8 of the Sale of Student Loans Act and the Conservative-led coalition increased fees to a maximum of £9,000 a year from the 2012/13 academic year. Fees charged by English universities are now capped at £9,250 but can rise with inflation from this year.
The political/public argument
At the time, minister Alan Johnson said “There is nothing progressive about working people, many of whom will get nowhere near a university, cross-subsidising mainly middle-class students to have a completely free higher education.”
The political/corporate argument
As the FT’s Miranda Green and Alice Hancock report, since the first graduate contribution the UK has stayed high up the international university rankings, with a ‘lucrative higher education export business’, as imposing new buildings spring up on campuses, student flats proliferate and vice chancellors receive average pay packets of £277,834.
Alongside this boom in construction and salaries however, doubts are being raised about the quality of tuition and the content of many degrees now being offered. A comparatively mild one came from Alice Hancock: “In all the discussion over price, there has been little talk of product. I’m happy to make my monthly donation towards my education: it led me to a better job. But I attended a university where I received an average of 15 hours of tuition each week, much of it one-on-one. This is far from commonplace”.
To pay for this expansion, interest rates on student loans are now three percentage points above the retail prices index of inflation; from this autumn they will carry 6.1% interest – more, as Estelle Clarke, Advisory board member of the Intergenerational Foundation points out in the FT: the Student Loans Company ‘hidden in the small print’, charges a monthly compound interest rate of 6.1% . . .
“It ensnares many student/graduate borrowers in a debt trap. . . Less well-off students suffer twice as much with these punitive costs if they have maintenance loans as well as tuition fee loans. For, instead of having loans of roughly £30,000 (tuition fees), their loans will be roughly £60,000 (tuition fees and maintenance loans). Imagine the monthly compounding interest cost on that at 6.1%!”
She adds: “I believe that if more understood what education costs our graduates, monthly compounding rates would have been confined to the dustbin of immoral exploitation. Were student loans regulated, neither punitive compounding interest rates nor inadequate explanations by the SLC would be tolerated”.
Jeremy Corbyn’s £11bn pledge has proved appealing but the FT journalists fear that if he were to act on it in power, a booming, world-class higher education sector would be plunged into financial crisis.
As it is the 99% will pay for government’s corporate-friendly decisions
If, as the Higher Education Policy Institute projects, 71% of students will never repay loans, who will eventually repay the costs of the campus buildings and student flats? The Telegraph quotes Nick Hillman, director of the institute refers to this as a “very substantial” subsidy from future taxpayers to higher education which is “concealed in the system”.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies’ report explains that if graduate earnings are 2 percentage points lower than expected, the long-run government contribution increases by 50%. It calculates that in the long term the government (the taxpayer) will foot the bill for unpaid student loans, which are written off after 30 years: “the expected long-run cost to the taxpayer of HE for the 2017 cohort is £5.9 billion”.
As economist Alison Wolf argues in her 2016 report, many disadvantaged young people would be better served by funding one or two-year high-quality technical courses — or better early years education. But the political corporate alliance would see little profit in doing this.
Seven years ago, the Stirrer’s correspondent (The Spook) predicted that one day the powers that be will realise that services should be designed and managed by the ‘undoubted experts’ that exist within the council.
S/he explained that they would be more practical and less expensive than those designed by “by cavalier consultants and back room HR boffins who have no conception of delivering a service and are only concerned that “procedures” are followed and “statistics” are recorded, irrespective of how impractical and resource wasting this might be.
Yesterday the Financial Times predicted that Learndirect, a company owned by the private equity arm of Lloyds Bank, is at risk of collapse, following a report by Ofsted. This prompted a data search which revealed 2013-4 as vintage years for complaints about the performance and cost of outsourcing companies.
Last year a survey of 36 strategic public-private partnerships signed between 2000 and 2007 found that 13 of the contracts – ranging from 7 to 15 years and covering IT, back-office functions, property management and highways – have gone back in-house at the end of contract or as a result of early terminations. In more than a third of cases, councils found that delivering services in-house could save more than outsourcing to commercial companies in long-term, multi-service partnerships. A return to designing, staffing and over-seeing services in-house can improve performance, reduce costs and provide stable employment for local people at all levels, with money circulating in the area, instead of going to distant shareholders.
The New Statesman noted that many companies featured on their list of nine spectacular’ council outsourcing failures were said to be looking “excitedly” at the NHS – hoping for “heaps of public money, ditching service the second the contract is framed and delivering huge returns to their shareholders”. Its 2014 article opened:
“One of the many concepts that free marketeers refuse to abandon in the face of all evidence is the idea that the private sector is better at providing public services than the public sector. Private companies have been cashing in on this fable for years at council and government level. As we file this report, another glorious outsourcing triumph is breaking: the Ministry of Justice has asked police to investigate alleged fraudulent behaviour by Serco staff in its Prisoner Escort and Custodial Services contract”. An online search will reveal that this is one of many problems reported in different countries.
Punitive contract ‘get out’ clauses – real or imagined
The article also listed the amount councils have had to spend to get out of private sector contracts and/or to deal with contract disputes and cost overruns. Note Javelin Park – the Gloucester incinerator contract revelation.
Despite these concerns, four years ago Swindon council brought basic ‘commercial’ services such as waste collection, recycling, highways maintenance and grass cutting, back in-house in order to save an estimated £1.8m. Last year, because of performance problems, financial pressures and NHS policy shifts, Swindon also decided not to renew contract with social work provider SEQOL.
Birmingham City Council recently ended the Service Birmingham Joint Venture with Capita which provided the Council’s information technology, ran the council tax and business rates administration service. The process continues with its move to bring waste and recycling collection in-house.
With reference to Serco, G4S and others – Simon Chesterton goes deeper, beyond issues of cost and efficiency:
He asks (left) whether there should be any limits on government capacity to outsource traditionally “public” functions:
“Can and should a government put out to private tender the fulfilment of military, intelligence, and prison services?
Can and should it transfer control of utilities essential to life, such as the supply of water?”