Secret State 19: the government’s Brexit impact studies

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.ukWhy 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”.
 

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Mumbai and Sheffield: human health, well-being and climate suffer as trees are felled

The Financial Times reports that Sheffield residents – like many in Mumbai – are protesting against the felling of urban trees. The scene below is similar to the Khar I remembered in 2003, though pavements were constructed and traffic much more dense. The protests were and are against the commercially motivated felling of trees – – some healthy and some neglected by the authorities scheduled to maintain them.

As one Khar resident told me recently, “The rain tree canopy on Khar Danda road used to be so thick that you could walk down the road in the pouring rain and not get wet.” Activist Zoru Bhathena sent ‘before and after’ aerial photos of the now devastated area no longer protected from the summer heat. He took the matter before the Bombay High Court & comments “… magically the problem got solved & no new trees have died! But, the damage is done, and BMC is not enthusiastic to replace the dead trees!”

Earlier this year, the Free Press Journal reported that residents across the city protested about trees being felled on the route of the Metro 7 line being constructed on Mumbai’s Western Express Highway and those who saw six trees were axed last week at the WEH at Malad claimed that the authorities have violated the Bombay High Court’s order which directed the local authority not to cut or destroy any trees on the highway.

Large public protests prevented the contractor from chopping down trees in Sheffield but by then more than 5,000 trees had been felled, to be replaced with saplings. In all, 6,000 trees are to be cut down as part of a 25-year, £2bn highway maintenance scheme.

Some residents blocked contractors by standing inside safety zones put in place around the trees or parking their cars under the branches. On Tuesday, Sheffield council won a High Court injunction to run until July 2018, preventing opponents from taking “unlawful direct action” from breaching barriers around the condemned trees. The latest report from Sheffield may be read here.

Sheffield Tree Action Groups, an umbrella group for protesters, said there were “dangerous flaws” in the contract, and that its members would do “everything we can” to save healthy trees. Bryan Lodge, the Labour councillor in charge of the tree felling programme, said that the council needed to cut down 500 trees by the end of the year or face “catastrophic financial consequences” paying huge sums to Amey (owned by Spanish multinational Ferrovial), if the private finance contract is breached.

‘Urban street trees are loved by the vast majority of people who live alongside them,’ says Oliver Newham of the Woodland Trust, which is about to unveil a scheme supporting those trying to protect local trees:

‘These figures and our email inboxes show an alarming increase in losses. Trees have many benefits in urban areas, such as absorbing pollutants, providing shade and preventing flash flooding. They are essential to a happy and healthy population. Councils need to think twice before taking the axe to them.’ 

 

Read more on the valuable role played by trees in a report from the arborist Ian Dalton above left.

 

 

 

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How can Britain and the rest of the world become more peaceful and therefore more prosperous?

A Moseley reader’s answer: to sign the nuclear weapons ban treaty, achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace process and put in place a government which will not cut benefits to its neediest citizens, elect a Corbyn-led government.

The Times of Israel, publishing this picture wrote, after the last election:

“Corbyn belied his radical reputation and proved a charismatic, affable candidate who resonated particularly among young voters. Relatively high turnout nationwide was widely attributed to his appeal . . . the left-winger is now in a position to remake more of the party in his own radical image. . . he was the anti-establishment candidate whose unapologetic conviction politics proved compelling in a Britain riven with inequality”. It continued:

“Corbyn is emphatically no lover of Israel”

But should have added that his concern for the poorest and for justice and fair play would not allow him to be partial in any negotiation.

Government policy is inconsistent and at odds with parliament:

  • In February the red carpet was rolled out at No 10 to welcome Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister
  • But during his March visitto Ramallah, Boris Johnson re-emphasised Britain’s long-standing support for the two-state solution and its position that illegal Israeli settlements are an obstacle to peace.
  • Last December Britain also supported UN security council resolution 2334,which reiterated the illegality of settlements.
  • Yet the government chose to abstain on key resolutions devised to hold Israel to account for its human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories and its illegal settlement building.

The Conservative government seems to be increasingly isolated in its unconditional support for Israel

Parliament and the main opposition parties have been highly critical of Israeli violations of international law, and have supported steps to censure Israel and empower the Palestinians. In 2014 parliament voted to recognise Palestine by a majority of 262. Richard Ottaway, the Conservative chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, said the recent annexation of West Bank land by the Israeli government had angered him like nothing else in politics. He said he had close family connections with the generation that formed the Israeli state and had been a strong supporter of Israel in the six day war and subsequent conflicts  but then told MPs: “The annexation of the 950 acres of the West Bank just a few months ago has outraged me more than anything else in my political life.”

A select Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into the UK’s policy towards the Middle East peace process is currently underway.

 

 

 

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Meanwhile in Israel-Palestine . . .

The EU has criticised Israeli settlement policies, saying last February that Israel should “cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion, of designating land for exclusive Israeli use and of denying Palestinian development. The UN, which has said that Israel should “rescind all policies and practices that lead to the forcible transfer of Palestinian Bedouin families”. The USA has said it is “concerned” about Israeli demolition policies in the West Bank.

But now we learn of the Israeli authorities destruction of terrapin cabins used as school buildings and other educational equipment. The area was sealed off, declared a military zone, and security forces used stun grenades to keep residents away. The Independent reports that last year also saw the highest number of Israeli demolitions of Palestinian structures since rights groups began record-keeping. The Times of Malta comments that since 2011 friction has arisen over funding for schools which decline to teach an Israeli curriculum, which varies distinctly in the way it teaches the region’s history from a Palestinian one, adding:

“Some 55 schools in the West Bank are currently threatened with demolition and stop-work orders by Israeli authorities, with a lack of planning permits often cited as grounds for demolition. Critics of Israel counter by arguing that Palestinian permit requests in Area C – which makes up 60 per cent of the West Bank and is controlled by Israel – are routinely denied, leaving them with little option but to build illegally. In the first three months of this year there were 24 cases of direct attacks against schools”.

And Benjamin Yetanyahu faces a series of corruption investigations

Earlier in August two separate cases reported involved illicit gifts from wealthy friends and back-room dealings with a local newspaper magnate in a bid for favourable coverage.

The Israeli police have signed a state’s witness deal with Ari Harow, Mr. Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and once one of his closest confidants. In a legal document pertaining to the negotiations with Mr. Harow, the police said in writing, for the first time, that Mr. Netanyahu was suspected of bribery, as well as fraud and breach of trust.

In ‘happier’ days: Harow and Netanyahu

“Netanyahu is already a dead man walking, said Sima Kadmon, a political columnist, in Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper – if the authorities were prepared to offer this witness, who was facing trial in another case, a lighter sentence.

Time for change: elect more humane governments in Britain, America and Israel.

 

 

 

 

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Rewards for failure: 33 – five government civil servants and an MP

Three of many reasons for Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity are his care for the ‘ordinary person’, his ‘sufficient’ lifestyle and his freedom from the greed which leads many in the political landscape to ‘milk’ the system and promote decisions needed by moneyed interests.

This graphic is about an MP who was, until May 2015, Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor.

Attitudes to public expenditure

It was retweeted by a friend and in another article Greg Foxsmith neatly summarises: “Grayling is an MP who purports to want to cut public expenditure. However, when it comes to his own public expenditure, Chris likes to get as much of it as he can”. Foxsmith refers readers to the Telegraph for more information. Grayling’s record on cutting access to legal aid and lack of concern about prison suicides adds charges of inhumane conduct to those of greed.

Apart from passing through the revolving door to industry and then returning to aid government’s decision-making process, civil servants feature in the news less frequently than MPs.

Award-winning investigative journalist David Hencke recently re-published information about top bonuses and pay rises for five of the most senior and well paid civil servants at the Department of Work and Pensions over the last two years, which appears in the annual report and accounts of the DWP released last month.

The five civil servants named in Hencke’s article are Sir Robert Devereux, permanent secretary at the Department of Work and Pensions; Neil Couling, director general of universal credit; Jeremy Moore, director of strategy; Mayank Prakash, director general of digital technology and Andrew Rhodes, director of operations. All are responsible in one way or another for the delivery of Universal Credit.

All but Andrew Rhodes are paid more than Theresa May, the PM, but are, nevertheless, receiving bonuses

This, even though their new Universal Credit programme is said to be in chaos – leaving some claimants without money for up to six weeks. MP Kevan Jones (Durham North) has described the bonuses of £10-20,000 as “a reward for failure”, based on its performance in the Newcastle-upon-Tyne pilot project.

Catherine McKinnell, Labour MP for Newcastle North, said: “My office has been deluged with complaints from constituents about a Universal Credit system that is clearly struggling to cope and failing to deliver the support that claimants need in anything like an orderly or timely fashion. She reveals a very sorry picture. The new IT system means people can’t talk to a human. It has a verification process that requires claimants to produce photographic identification such as a passport or driving licence, “which many simply do not possess and certainly cannot afford”. There are numerous examples of Universal Credit claims being shut down before they should be; of documentation being provided to the DWP, at the constituent’s cost, and repeatedly being lost or even destroyed; and of totally conflicting, often incorrect, information being provided to constituents about their claims.” Precisely the case seen repeatedly 20 years ago when the writer was a volunteer in a local night-shelter.

In Civil Service World. Jawad Raza, of the FDA (the First Division Association) which represents the top civil service, said that the suggestion that these civil servants have been rewarded for failure shows a blatant disregard for the facts regarding their pay, and that highly skilled professionals working in challenging circumstances deserve to be adequately remunerated without having their names, faces (and incomes) spread across news pages – as they are in Hencke’s article.

All these pay rises were decided objectively by line managers, but the Department declined to say who these line managers are and which outside organisations and people recommended they should get bonuses. MP Kevan Jones plans to table a Parliamentary Question next month asking for this information.

Hencke ends, “What this shows to me is a growing disconnect between the people at the top – who are computer savvy, have nice centrally heated homes, no problems with bills, can afford expensive holidays, and can’t conceive of anyone not having a passport – designing a system for poor, dispossessed, desperate people without any understanding of how the world works for them.

“It was this disconnect between the elite and the poor in the USA that led to the rise of Donald Trump and I suspect this huge gulf between the Metropolitan elite (of which top Whitehall civil servants are part) and the provincial poor, is in the end going to propel Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street”.

Will we see a new breed of politicians in such a government? A significant mass?

Many see the need for the number of MPs who have lived for the public good, even using their basic salaries to do this, such as former Coventry MP Dave Nellist, to increase to such an extent that they will be able to transform the country.

Breaking news:

Reminding the public that universities receive benefits from their charitable status and are required to disclose information about the basis on which salaries are calculated, former Labour education minister Andrew Adonis is campaigning for a reduction in the high salaries awarded to university vice-chancellors, which only increased following the introduction of tuition fees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Austerity 7: “Governments are balancing budgets on the backs of the poor” (John Grisham)

1. State Pensions

2.6 million women born in the 1950s will ‘lose out’ because of changes to pension law: “while corporations and the richest individuals receive tax breaks”

WASPIs (Women against state pension inequality) protest outside Parliament. Their aim: to achieve fair transitional arrangements for women born in the 1950s, for whom the state pension age is being raised from 60 to 66 by 2020.Photo: WASPI Campaign/Twitter

A Bournville reader draws attention to an article in Welfare Weekly reporting the findings of a new analysis by the Labour Party which reveals that tens of thousands of Theresa May’s constituents will be adversely affected by her decision to bring forward changes to the state pension age. The state pension age for men and women will be equal at 65 at the end of 2018, before rising to 66 in 2020 and then 67 in 2028. This will then rise again to 68 between 2037 and 2039, meaning those born between 1970 and 1978 will be made to wait an extra year before becoming eligible to claim.

Data obtained by Labour from the House of Commons Library finds that nearly 37 million people in total will be affected, including 56,547 people in Theresa May’s constituency of Maidenhead. 61,753 people who are under the age of 47 will be hit by the changes in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s constituency of Runnymede and Weybridge. 59,290 people will also be affected in the Work and Pension Secretary David Gauke’s constituency of South West Hertfordshire.

A BBC video clip showed that an outline given by MP Guy Opperman (right, Work and Pensions) of government measures to assist older people back into work, including apprenticeships and retraining received a mixed reception.

Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams, said: “Thanks to the Tories increasing the state pension age, 36.9m people will be forced to work longer, at the same time that evidence indicates life expectancy has stalled in some places and is reducing in others.” She called on Tory MPs to “explain to the tens of thousands of people in their constituencies why the burden of Tory austerity is being pushed on them, while corporations and the richest individuals receive tax breaks.”

Abrahams added: “Theresa May should answer her 56,547 constituents, and the 36.9m people across Britain, whose hard-earned retirements are being postponed because of her Government.”

Labour is to begin a “national state pension tour” to draw attention to how many people will be affected and voice their opposition to the policy.

 

 

 

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Was the meeting of UN’s Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems cancelled to delay action affecting UK and US investment?

In 2015 Max Tegmark (professor, MITT) reported, in the Future of Life Institute, that Artificial Intelligence & Robotics researchers warned in an open letter:

“Autonomous weapons select and engage targets without human intervention. They might include, for example, armed quadcopters that can search for and eliminate people meeting certain pre-defined criteria, but do not include cruise missiles or remotely piloted drones for which humans make all targeting decisions. Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has reached a point where the deployment of such systems is—practically if not legally—feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high: autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.”

Today (Aug. 21), Quartz reports that in a second open letter a group of specialists from 26 nations, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman, as well as other leaders in robotics and artificial-intelligence companies, called for the United Nations to ban the development and use of autonomous weapons.

In recent years Musk has repeatedly warned against the dangers of AI, donating millions to fund research that ensures artificial intelligence will be used for good, not evil. He joined other tech luminaries in establishing OpenAI, a nonprofit with the same goal in mind and part of his donation went to create the Future of Life Institute.

“As companies building the technologies in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics that may be repurposed to develop autonomous weapons, we feel especially responsible in raising this alarm. We warmly welcome the decision of the UN’s Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) to establish a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems. Many of our researchers and engineers are eager to offer technical advice to your deliberations . . .

“Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways. We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”

The first meeting for the UN’s recently established Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems is now planned for November. It was to be held today, but was cancelled, the letter notes, “due to a small number of states failing to pay their financial contributions to the UN.”

Critics have argued for years that UN action on autonomous weapons is taking too long.

The UK and the US have increased investment on robotic and autonomous systems by committing to a joint programme (announced by UK Defence Minister Philip Dunne and US Under Secretary of Defense Frank Kendall, right).

Observers say the UK and US are seeking to protect their heavy investment in these technologies – some directly harmful and others servicing  military operations – by ‘watering down’ an agreement so that it only includes emerging technology, meaning that any weapons put into practice while discussions continue are beyond the reach of a ban.

 

 

 

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A Times reader emphasises the growing awareness of the imperative to eradicate ‘the frankly corrupt, hypocritical behaviour some British MPs have indulged in for decades’

Oliver Wright, policy editor for The Times, focusses only on the tip of the iceberg – the ‘revolving door’. He reports a recommendation by the public administration select committee (PASC) that ministers and civil servants should be banned from taking up lucrative private sector jobs for two years when they leave office. (The article may be read here – possible paywall.) They said that more than 600 former ministers and senior civil servants had been appointed to 1,000 business roles. The committee wants the government to impose a two-year ban on taking up jobs that relate “directly to their previous areas of policy and responsibility”.

From many instances Mr Wright singled out:

  • Lord Hague of Richmond, who now advises Teneo, an international business consultancy,
  • Sir Ed Davey, the former energy secretary, who advises a PR and lobbying company that lists EDF Energy as a client.
  • Mark Britnell (though un-named in the article), a former director-general of commissioning at the Department of Health who became global head of healthcare at KPMG, which bids for government health contracts.

There is no reference to extra ‘jobs’ done whilst MPs are in office – except from one of The Times readers who bluntly writes: “Any MP should not be able to hold any extra job outside the House of Parliament”. Constituency work and special responsibilities – if properly attended to – would occupy an MP full time.

The parliamentary decision-making process is sometimes shown, with hindsight, to have been affected by MPs’ connections with the armaments, healthcare and tobacco  industry and many companies based in tax havens.

Property interests are less well covered, but itemised two months ago in Property Week:

 

Social Investigations reports that their research into Lords’ and MPs’ connections to private healthcare through the register of interests is complete.

Below are listed a few of the key findings. Research into the Health and Social Care bill is ongoing and more facts will be added as and when they arise.

  • 225 parliamentarians have recent or present financial private healthcare connections
  • 145 Lords have recent or present financial connections to companies or individuals involved in healthcare
  • 1 in 4 Conservative Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies or individuals involved in healthcare
  • 1 in 6 Labour Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies or individuals involved in healthcare
  • 1 in 6 Crossbench Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies or individuals involved in healthcare
  • 1 in 10 Liberal Democrat Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies or individuals involved in healthcare
  • 75 MPs have recent or present financial links to companies or individuals involved in private healthcare
  • 81% of these are  Conservative
  • 4 Key members of the Associate Parliamentary Health Group have parliamentarians with financial connections to companies or individuals involved in healthcare.

Endnote: a Times reader comments: “When I was growing up British MPs would sneer at the corrupt goings on by politicians from various pejoratively termed ‘banana republics’ and declare that such behaviour would never be tolerated in the UK. Well, it soon became obvious that this was nonsense and the issues outlined in this June article illustrate the frankly corrupt, hypocritical behaviour our British MPs have indulged in for decades, and the higher the office they occupied the more hypocritical the behaviour – proving time and again the accuracy of the saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

 

 

 

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Barbaric UK and US: learn from older civilisations

To avoid escalation, frontline troops in the area do not generally carry weapons

In June a column of Chinese troops accompanied construction vehicles and road-building equipment moving south into what Bhutan considers its territory. Bhutan requested assistance from Delhi.

The Chinese and Indian troops reportedly clashed by ritualised “jostling” captured on Indian TV: bumping chests, without punching or kicking, in order to force the other side backwards.

Yesterday, the FT highlighted another strategy as Chinese troops hold a banner reading ‘You’ve crossed the border, please go back’ in Ladakh, India

The Press Trust of India, India’s national news agency, reported that troops on both sides suffered minor injuries in a scuffle on the banks of Pangong Lake, on India’s Independence Day holiday.

It began when Chinese troops twice attempted to enter territory claimed by India. The news agency said that Indian border police formed a chain to block Chinese troops, who responded by throwing stones. Indian forces responded in kind, and the melee lasted about half an hour before both sides pulled back, the agency said.

An Indian foreign ministry spokesman said: “As there is no commonly delineated boundary on the line of actual control, such a situation arises from time to time, and these are dealt with at the local level”.

 

 

 

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“In-housing” for financial, operational, social and national security reasons

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?”

 

 

 

 

 

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