Category Archives: Vested interests
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
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.
A Corbyn government will need support from openly selected MPs and a mass members’ movement to bring about beneficial change
An editorial by Ben Chacko opens with a reference to civil servants apparently briefing the press against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – a further sign of the strain a truly radical opposition is putting on our political system.
Chacko (right) predicts that this will intensify if he enters office:
“Labour’s radical programme will face parliamentary sabotage, which is why open selection of Labour MPs to improve the character of the parliamentary party is essential.
“It will face legal challenges from corporations with bottomless wallets, institutional interference from the judiciary and the EU if we haven’t left the latter, economic warfare, meddling by foreign powers such as the United States, perhaps even the military putsch mooted in 2015”.
John McDonnell has often said that when Labour goes into office we will all go into office – and Chacko stresses:
“We need to build a mass movement of trade unions, campaign groups such as the People’s Assembly and community organisations fighting for change in every workplace, every town hall and every high street to make those words a reality”.
Only by building up united and determined pressure ‘from below’ will the political-corporate grip on power be broken.
Read the Chacko editorial here.
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.
He reports that a study by parliament’s international development committee, chaired by MP Stephen Twigg (left), concluded that the government needed more joined-up thinking when it came to climate change policy: “MPs have lambasted an “incoherent” aid policy in which Britain allocates billions to tackling climate change abroad while spending the same amount supporting fossil fuel projects”.
UKEF allocates billions to tackling climate change abroad but gives the same amount to fossil fuel projects.
Evidence had been presented that between 2010 and 2016 UK Export Finance (UKEF), which supports trade abroad, spent £4.8 billion on schemes that contributed to carbon emissions. These included financing for offshore oil and gas extraction in Ghana, Colombia and Brazil. A sum, almost identical to the £4.9 billion, was spent by different agencies from 2011-17 on supporting projects to tackle climate change in developing countries.
The committee said: “The only context in which it is acceptable for UK aid to be spent on fossil fuels is if this spend is ultimately in support of a transition away from fossil fuels and as part of a strategy to pursue net zero global emissions by 2050 . . . Currently, the support provided to the fossil fuel economy in developing countries by UK Export Finance is damaging the coherence of the government’s approach to combating climate change and this needs to be urgently rectified.”
UKEF, the much-criticised and renamed Export Credits Guarantee Department, is the UK’s export credit agency which underwrites loans and insurance for risky export deals as part of efforts to boost international trade.
The committee also found that other wings of the UK overseas development sector, including groups such as the Prosperity Fund, which supports economic growth, were backing carbon-intensive projects.
In October one such proposal was announced: the financing of an expansion of an oil refinery in Bahrain which would allow its total output to increase up to a maximum of 380,000 barrels per day
“Given the urgency and scale of the challenge, spending climate finance has to be more than a box-ticking exercise to meet a commitment,” the committee wrote. “Climate finance must be spent strategically, it needs to be spent with urgency and it has to be transformative.”
Representatives from the Grantham Research Institute (LSE) (a site well worth visiting) gave evidence to the committee. They were critical of the latest economic strategy from DFiD in which, they pointed out, climate change “only receives a brief mention under the sector priorities of ‘agriculture’ and ‘infrastructure, energy and urban development’, while ‘extractive industries’ including oil, gas and mining are highlighted as a priority sector for support with no mention of climate change considerations”.
Mr Twigg said that the UK policy of reaching “net zero emissions” should extend to the government’s work abroad, as well as at home. “It is welcome that in recent weeks climate change has taken its rightful place at the top of the news agenda,” he said. “The scale and seriousness of the challenge to be confronted must be reinforced and reflected upon daily if we are to take meaningful steps to combat it.
Rory Stewart, the international development secretary (left), said that the report “makes for sobering reading . . . Although we have done much already to tackle climate change, I feel strongly we can do more. I am going to make tackling climate change increasingly central to DFID’s work. As international development secretary I want to put climate and the environment at the heart of what this government does to protect our planet for future generations. As climate extremes worsen it is the world’s poorest countries and communities which will be most affected, but this is a global issue.”
Adam McGibbon, Climate Change Campaigner at Global Witness, said: “As the world reels from the news that we have twelve years to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown, today’s announcement by the government is staggering. The UK claims to be a climate leader, but it continues to spend billions pumping fossil fuels out of the ground abroad.
And in the Western Daily Press, 6 May 2019, Paul Halas from Stroud describes government policy-making as being, “hobbled by its vested interests and metaphorical flat-Earthers”. He ended:
“In times of war, research, development and manufacture increase exponentially. What faces us now is no less than a war against Climate Change, which will take an unprecedented effort and unanimity of purpose to win. It’s not one we can afford to lose”.
He points out that the book has been widely acknowledged as a key historical text. Routledge describes its 1902 publication, Imperialism: A Study, by English economist John Hobson (right), as “an epoch-making study of the politics and economics of imperialism that shook imperialist beliefs to their core”.
The review continues: “A committed liberal, Hobson was deeply sceptical about the aims and claims of imperialistic thought at a time when Britain’s empire held sway over a vast portion of the globe”.
Our reader draws attention to Hobson’s reference to the “ignominious passion of Judenhetze” – a total vindication of the man
Martin Ceadel, in Semi-detached idealists: The British peace movement and international relations, 1854-1945 (Oxford University. Press, 2000, p.155), writes: ‘J.A. Hobson, an Oxford-educated economist who had been denied academic preferment on account of his heterodox opinions, reported on South Africa for the Manchester Guardian and published three books on the conflict. The first … was a survey of the local origins of the war. It emphasized the role of “a small confederacy of international financiers working through a kept press”. Although Hobson was embarrassed by the fact that many of these were Jewish, noting the difficulty of stating “the truth about our doings in South Africa without seeming to appeal to the ignominious passion of Judenhetze”,(30) some other opponents of the war, including the budding writers G.K. Chesteron and Hilaire Belloc, welcomed the chance the war offered to indulge in anti-Semitism.’ (31*).
In addition to the response of Bradford peace historian, Hon. General Coordinator of the International Network of Museums for Peace and others, Donald Sassoon, Emeritus professor of comparative European history, Queen Mary University of London, quotes more extreme expressions used at the time by Virginia Woolf and even Theodor Herzl, the “father” of Zionism. He concludes:
“The campaign about antisemitism in Corbyn’s Labour party is getting absurd. Hobson’s Imperialism: A Study has been taught for years in universities up and down the country (I taught it myself). No one has ever felt the need to highlight the 10 lines or so, in a book of 400 pages, which are antisemitic, but Corbyn was expected to do so”.
The book has been widely acknowledged as a key historical text
In a 1995 pamphlet for the Fabians (page 11), Tony Blair described Hobson as “probably the most famous Liberal convert to what was then literally ‘new Labour’.”
In his 2005 Chatham House speech on liberty and the role of the state, Gordon Brown cited Hobson with approval.
The cover of the 2011 edition published by Spokesman Books (left), to which Jeremy Corbyn wrote the foreword, carries a Guardian review which said Hobson’s Imperialism belongs to the small group of books in the years from 1900 to the outbreak of war that have definitely changed the contours of social thought.’
In 2015 the Guardian’s former political editor Michael White wrote: “At his Nottingham rally someone thrust into my hand a copy of JA Hobson’s influential classic, Imperialism (1902) whose 2011 edition contains Jeremy’s own perfectly decent introductory essay. Its analysis will impress many”.
Yesterday, Phil Miller, journalist, researcher and film producer quoted Glyn Secker, secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour: “Daniel Finkelstein, in his scurrilous piece for the Times (April 30th), ingeniously cobbles together quotes from two different books by Hobson . . . (he) does in one passage make a reference to the Jewish element in international finance and to the Rothschilds as did many others at that time. But he also referred to JP Morgan and Cecil Rhodes — neither of them Jewish — as examples of financiers backing imperialism”.
On May 1st and 2nd, Henry Zeffman produced two similar articles for the Times on the subject. In one, he added that Barry Gardiner, the shadow international trade secretary, told BBC Radio 5 Live that Hobson was a key figure in intellectual history and that the book was a seminal work on imperialism. “He is a historical figure who was an intellectual who understand the transition from imperialism into a new society. Insofar as that book is an important book, does it contain the antisemitism of its period? Yes it does. Do we expunge a book like that from the historical record and say nobody should read it? No. Of course they should.”
And Jeremy Corbyn’s record vindicates him; MP Chris Williamson has pointed out that the Labour party, and in particular the leader, has done more, recently, to address the scourge of anti-Semitism than any political party.
The unconvinced may read forty reasons listed by Anna Boyle illustrating the truth of his statement.
*Footnote 30 refers to Hobson’s The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Effects (1900), 189, 229.
*Footnote 31: C. Hirschfield, ‘The Anglo-Boer War and the Issue of Jewish Culpability’, Journal of Contemporary History, 15 (1980), 19-31.
Amended: 6th May 2019