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August Goff: Birmingham students unite against climate change: 15th March 2019

August, who lives in Moseley, sends a first-hand account of Birmingham students’ march against climate change. 

He writes:

More than five hundred Birmingham students bunked off school today to march against climate change.

All Birmingham-based photographs reproduced with permission: copyright August Goff

Youth Strike 4 Climate coordinated young people from various educational establishments across the city who met up in the city centre.

They marched from Victoria Square, down New Street, through Pigeon Park and back to Victoria Square to protest against the inaction of governments to tackle climate change.

The march was organised by Katie Riley, a Birmingham student. She spoke at the rally, saying:

“Educate the youth of tomorrow and the parliament of today because people who don’t know what climate change is about don’t know how dangerous it is. Some people think the topic is dull and boring because the curriculum makes it like that. So, we need to change how people view climate change in order to get the change we deserve.”

Councillors from local political parties attended, as did Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Yardley.

Similar events have taken place in 100 British towns and other cities including London, Edinburgh, Canterbury, Oxford and Cambridge, calling for urgent action to tackle climate change, cut emissions and switch to renewable energy.

A few hours later a message was received from Irish colleagues, sending a podcast with messages from two 11-year-olds, Eve O’Connor and Beth Malone, who are involved in the schools climate strikes movementThousands turned out in Dublin and demonstrations were held in many towns.

 

 

 

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Bad decisions by government 37 – third runway at Heathrow

 

UK aviation policy is primarily predicated on the requirements of airport operators, major airlines and the Treasury – the needs of passengers come last says Steve Beauchampé in The Birmingham Press. 

The governments long-awaited – and unsurprising – decision to proceed with construction of a third runway at London Heathrow is fundamentally flawed, supported with redundant arguments and highly questionable financial assessments. If the UK had a comprehensive and comprehensible national aviation strategy Heathrow would not be operating at anything like 95% of capacity.

That it does so is the result of a system that essentially forces millions of UK passengers per annum to travel long distances, often in arduous and stressful conditions, to use both Heathrow and London’s two other main airports (Gatwick and Stansted) at great cost both to themselves and the environment. rather than utilising their local airports, many of which are working to a fraction of their capability.

Birmingham International Airport handled 12.9m passengers in 2017 but could cope with around double that number. Meanwhile, Nottingham East Midlands welcomed a paltry 4.88m whilst major population centres such as in the North East, South West, South Wales and along the south coast are all but bereft of decent flight choices. This is not only down to the London-centric approach which blights so many activities in the UK, but the failure of successive governments to challenge and take on the vested interests of London airports and the major airlines.

Two key arguments put forward in favour of a third runway at Heathrow are particularly fallacious

The first is that Heathrow must continue developing as a ‘hub’ airport, competing for passengers not with Birmingham, Manchester or even Gatwick, Stansted and Luton, but with Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Dublin and increasingly Dubai!

So a third (and later probably fourth and fifth) runway at Heathrow is essentially required to allow the airport’s operator Heathrow Airport Holdings to attract passengers who will never leave the airport environs but whose visit is solely to transfer from one aeroplane to another, Great news for HAH, who enjoy increased landing fees as a result, and good news for the Treasury, who collect airport tax each time that a passenger takes a flight.

But it is hardly good news for UK travellers who are not being provided with flights from their local airports to the locations that they want and at a time when they want to fly. Indeed the hub strategy encourages those in the north of England, Northern Island and Scotland to take domestic flights to Heathrow and then transfer planes to reach their ultimate destination.

Yet hub airports may soon be an outdated concept, with technological improvements meaning that modern aeroplanes will be able to fly further (and faster) without the need to refuel (its already possible to fly non-stop from London to Sydney). Point-to-point flying seems more likely to be the way ahead. 

The second argument in favour of Heathrow runway expansion is that many airlines do not want to fly out of the UK’s ‘regional’ airports (with the possible exception of Manchester, which handled 27.7m passengers in 2017) and would be unwilling to give up valuable landing slots at Heathrow.

But this argument is unacceptable. We would not tolerate train operators refusing to serve smaller stations nor bus companies running services only on main routes. To combat this attitude the number of slots available at Heathrow needs to be limited rather than endlessly expanded, whilst the national airport strategy that Conservative MP and anti-Heathrow Runway 3 campaigner Justine Greening called for earlier this week should focus on ways to create an environment which encourages airlines to relocate services outside of London and the South East.

This is particularly apposite given that both Birmingham and Manchester airports will be stops on the HS2 network by 2030. And whilst there is a real risk that limiting slots at Heathrow will result in some airlines pulling routes and services out of the UK altogether, the country is a large enough aviation market to offer sufficient paths to profit that most such withdrawals will likely be less than crucial and, in some cases, perhaps temporary.

In agreeing to support Heathrow’s third runway the government have committed to paying £2.6bn in compensation to those communities near to the airport that will be destroyed or significantly affected by the project. To which can be added an estimated £10bn in public funding for the new infrastructure and environmental measures required to support the expansion.

How much better to invest this money throughout the UK to create a national airport infrastructure to meet the needs of the travelling public, and one befitting the worlds fifth largest economy.

 

 

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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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Focus on cuts 6: JAM families suffer as bus fares rise

 

 

In 2016, though the price of oil was low, average bus fares rose three times faster than the consumer prices index. The statistics report presented by government for 2015/6 was precise: “Between March 2011 and March 2016, the average annual percentage change in bus fares was 3.8% higher than the average annual rate of inflation (2.3%)”. Families who can’t afford a car can find travelling by bus costs more than taking a taxi.

Theresa May: “We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives” (first speech as leader)

But reduced central funding means that as many bus services have been ‘axed’ people actually have less control:

  • Without accessible or affordable transport, adults in ‘just about managing’ [JAM] families will be less able to travel to work or to medical and other appointments.
  • Some feel compelled to go into debt to buy cars they wouldn’t need if bus services were reliable and affordable..

Due to government funding cuts, town hall chiefs have announced that councils have been forced to reduce bus services by more than 12% in the past year.

They  are calling on the Government to fully fund the Concessionary Fares scheme, and for the devolution of the £250m Bus Service Operators Grant scheme that refunds some of the fuel duty incurred by operators of registered local bus services. The grant was kept at 81% until April 2012, when it was reduced by 20%. The current payment rate is the lowest ever percentage since the rebate’s inception in the 1960s.

Theresa May: “When it comes to opportunity, we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few, we will do everything we can to help anybody”.

But government actions belied these fine words; her chancellor announced a fuel duty freeze whichhe saidwill cost taxpayers a predicted £850m in the first year alone and really help the ‘fortunate few’ running the largest cars, not the JAM families.

 

 

 

 

 

Democracy dissolving: eight strategies designed to ‘rig’ the electoral system

The upturn noted in the city of Birmingham’s governance is being achieved despite serious funding cuts. It is reported that most of the extra cash set aside to help councils to cope with funding changes – ‘transitional grants’ – are going to Conservative areas.

This move appears to add an eighth strategy designed to ‘rig’ the electoral system to the seven listed by Jeremy Corbyn in his Fabian Society address – all designed to enable the party, with its narrow majority and drastically falling membership, to hold on to power, by weakening opposition inside and outside parliament.

cameron 7 strategiesThe Birmingham Post records a visit by most of the city’s MPs to enlighten Local Government Secretary Greg Clark (Department for Communities and Local Government) about the effect the cuts would have on Birmingham.

Most of the extra cash set aside to help councils cope with funding changes is going to Conservative areas.

Labour MP Steve McCabe (Selly Oak) said: “It’s an outrage that while Birmingham is coping with the biggest cuts in our history the Government has decided to give millions of extra funding to wealthy areas like Buckinghamshire.”

cameron frinton(Left: David Cameron making his East of England pre-election pledge).

Local Government Secretary Greg Clark told MPs the “transitional grant” would be targeted at councils which suffer the “sharpest reductions” in the revenue support grant received from central government, but figures published by the Department for Communities and Local Government show that none of this grant is going to the major towns and cities of the West Midlands, even though they face major cuts to their grant.

Cash from the transitional grant is going to outer London boroughs such as Conservative led Bromley, which receives £4.2 million in transitional funding over two years; Conservative-led Kingston-upon-Thames receives £2.6 million. Havering, where Conservatives are the largest group, receives £2.8 million; Outer-London Sutton, gets £2.6 million; Conservative-led Buckinghamshire receives £9.2 million and Oxfordshire County Council, which covers the Prime Minister’s Witney constituency, will receive an extra £9 million over the next two years.

But Birmingham, Dudley, Walsall, Sandwell, Coventry and Wolverhampton get nothing.

However, the Labour Party membership doubled since the May and has continued to increase. It is seizing the opportunity ‘to breathe life into all sections of the party and draw on the collective wisdom of all’ as Jeremy Corbyn told the Fabian Society audience. His advice:

“Let’s work together to create and deliver a fairer Britain”.

Media 54: the latest proxy Corbyn onslaught – on Labour supporters

Rattled by Labour’s Oldham by-election success and three other recent by-election victories, right wing journalists are now moving away from gripes about Corbyn’s national anthem silence, and his consistent support for moves to stop wars, to focus on those of his supporters who have high incomes.

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They ignore those of the 99%, the people to whom Corbyn has given hope, and who continue to support him, as seen in audience reactions, by-election wins and Labour Party membership figures.

The FT’s Janan Ganesh (below left) enlightens ‘poor whites’

janan ganeshPossibly influenced by UKIP defeats in all four by-elections, Janan Ganesh whose articles I usually will not read, earlier wrote approvingly: “Political apathy in the UK is perfectly respectable”. Now he writes hopefully: “Years will pass before we know the consequences of Jeremy Corbyn’s time as leader of the opposition Labour Party but the alienation of working-class whites, UKIP’s quarry (sic), has to be among them”.

He hopes! And, trusting in the power of the press, he is trying to achieve this. His arguments are too specious to repeat but may be read here on free registration for anyone who wishes to spend time in this way.

Ganesh writes about ‘’poor whites, especially those who line the eastern edge of England and populate the deindustrialised north” – subhuman? – whom he believes Corbyn has alienated: “Many will not vote. A few who can swallow their ancestral aversion will go Tory”.

UKIP fits the bill?

He appears to prefer a UKIP resurgence: “UKIP still has what it takes to win the larger share of these votes: economic populism, rhetorical bluntness, name recognition. The shambles of its leadership is not fatal. Populism does not attract people looking for a government but people bored of having their plain sensibilities laughed at. If Mr Corbyn leads Labour into a general election, UKIP need only stand still to move forward”.

With an ego enhanced by his entry as one of Debrett’s 500 most influential people, he then refers to the return of the ‘perfumed Islingtonian’ !

giles corenAnd the unwholesome Giles Coren (right) in the Times (scroll down his entry – but avoid the even nastier Esquire article) adds substance to this trivial attempt to alienate Corbyn supporters: “a cabal of wealthy north London professionals who have taken an interest in Labour because they haven’t much else to do”.

“Labour is the new hobby for the idle rich: Corbyn’s revolution is a Woosterish indulgence for Islington millionaires. They’ll join any protest, if they’re not in the Dordogne”.

Readers who can face it may read the article here — at a price: “A disproportionate number of Labour members who have joined since the 2015 general election are ‘high-status city dwellers’ pursuing well-paid jobs,” reported The Guardian on Thursday, after getting its hands on leaked data commissioned by the party.

Ganesh adds that protests/demonstrations are “Weekend japes, in other words. Because being a Labourite in 2016 is nothing but another leisure option for the seriously rich. Like sailing or collecting wine or riding to hounds”.

Messrs Ganesh and Coren have no idea what is happening outside London

Labour’s new strength lies in its core supporters who do not read these articles and would discount them if they ever wasted money on them. The establishment has been ‘rumbled’. Here (below) are a hundred or so of the thousands in Birmingham who attended Corbyn or Momentum gatherings. Far from wealthy, their incomes will have been hard-earned . . .

momentum first city meeting

Face it: at long last advertisement/corporate dependent mainstream media and their corporate-political masters have lost their former influence over most of the general public – and that is a wonderfully healthy and hopeful development.

For the common good: economists advocate a moral vision to rescue our manipulated, extractive and highly unequal economy

mark mazowerMark Mazower, a British professor of history based at Columbia University, writes in the FT that the moral reasoning that lay behind the Greek election result began from a simple insight: that the economic trauma of the severity Greece has suffered is destroying society:

“With youth unemployment above 50%, an entire generation is being consigned to the scrap heap. At the same time, the notion of the common good is being sacrificed through forced sell-offs of state-owned lands as well as businesses, with the prospect of ecological destruction as a result.

“What is the moral vision the creditor nations propose?

“Frugality is not a policy. And if finance is to serve Europe rather than run it, a notion of the common good needs to be restored. The alternative is an increasingly fractious continent”.

Urban Britain also has a disturbing level of youth unemployment and has sold its state-run utilities for a pittance to foreign companies

michael wilkesTo replace our “desiccated, manipulated, disloyal, extractive and highly unequal economy that has been allowed, and – by some administrations – encouraged”, Birmingham-based economist Emeritus Professor Michael Wilkes advocates a new discipline, socionomics, 

A citizenry of good intent

He acknowledges that the social and moral education needed to produce a citizenry of good intent that will make the socioeconomic system work properly and sustain it for future generations, and that winding back globalisation will take longer and will involve more people and organisations and other countries.

Wilkes advocates certain steps that could be taken immediately:

  • the restoration of equitable and redistributive taxation,
  • the introduction of living wages,
  • the plugging of many loopholes for tax avoidance,
  • the undertaking of thorough corporate reform
  • and the recreation of an active, interventionist and self confident public sector.

He concludes: “These measures would represent leadership in its finest form. This, and the promotion of the concept of stewardship in place of the present self serving forms of ‘leadership’ ”.