There has been a lot of interest in ’50 secret studies’ the government has undertaken into the impacts of Brexit. A British MEP, Dr Scott Cato, wrote to Brexit Secretary David Davis after hearing of these alleged studies requesting further details. See her article for politics.co.uk: Why is the government so afraid to publish its Brexit impact studies?
The government refused to disclose the findings but acknowledged in a response, that they have conducted analysis of the impacts of Brexit in over 50 sectors of the economy. Since these studies came to light, she has been urged to get them released through a Freedom of Information request. That she now done.
One study undertaken by the Department of Health was leaked. This revealed that Brexit could result is a shortage of more than 40,000 nurses by 2026. To avoid prevarication on grounds of cost and other spurious reasons, she limited the request to the release of details on this one study. More information here.
The European Movement, with the support of Scientists for EU and Healthier in EU, has set up a new petition, calling on the government to publish all the findings. This initiative is receiving cross-party backing and strong support from the public.
The petition is already on its way to 13,000 signatures. She asks all to add their name if they haven’t done so already and to share widely through the usual channels. Dr Scott Cato ended:
“Whether you voted Leave or Remain, it is surely in the public interest that the Brexit process is as open and transparent as possible. If the government is withholding significant information about the future of our country, then it is working against the very principle of democracy”.
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.
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.
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
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.
“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.
Was the meeting of UN’s Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems cancelled to delay action affecting UK and US investment?
“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.
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”.
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?”