Blog Archives

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Elite stranglehold on Britain – unbreakable?

As Steve Beauchampé writes in the Birmingham Press and Political Concern, generations of an elite have ruled this nation (with a few intermissions) for as long as anyone can remember, due to a rigged electoral system.

Their dual achievements:

  • comfortable tax arrangements for the few, a political/corporate nexus which ensures highly paid and nominal duties for all in the inner circle
  • vast military expenditure bestowed on the arms industry, as rising numbers of the population survive in relative poverty, wait in hospital corridors, receive a sub-standard education and depend on handouts to eke out their existence.

Direction of travel

Beauchampé:(The) economy is increasingly kept afloat by the economic support of China . . . The modern high-rise residential blocks that have sprung up throughout the capital may give the impression of a modern, flourishing economy, but look closely and you will see that many are all but empty, whilst homelessness and a reliance on subsistence level housing grows . . . “He notes that surveillance is at an historic high with spy cameras, and even microphones installed in many public places -describing the state’s ability to track the population and follow their activities and conversations as ‘frightening’. . .

The elite stranglehold could be broken

OB’s editor agrees with many that electoral reform is a priority for beneficial change – but even under the rigged ‘first past the post’ system, if the weary mass of people (Brenda of Bristol)  saw the true situation they would vote for the candidate with a credible track record who would be most likely to work for the common good.

 

 

 

 

Media 62: A well-kept secret? Government proposal to intervene to invest local government pension funds in projects such as HS2

A Lancashire UNISON reader mentioned this recently and an online search confirmed a message which I had found hard to believe:

unisonGovernment proposals to force the 89 local government pension funds to invest in infrastructure projects have prompted over 100,000 people to sign a petition calling for a debate in Parliament, says UNISON today (Friday).

The proposals are part of the government’s attempt to create six new multi-billion pound British wealth funds. UNISON is concerned that the move could take away funds’ ability to invest in the best interests of local government pension scheme (LGPS) members.

If these changes come into force, it could mean the new funds replace government funding for roads, bridges and railways, which might not give LGPS members the best possible return, says UNISON.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “It’s time ministers granted a debate in Parliament on the future of the local government pension scheme. No other pension fund in the UK has this level of interference, and it’s important that MPs can scrutinise proposals affecting one of the largest schemes in the UK.

“There must be proper consultation on the introduction of the new wealth funds, one that must involve unions in any investment decisions.

“Ministers must allow council pension funds to make their own decisions on where they invest the current and future pension pots of care workers, teaching assistants and social workers, and allow them to get the best return.”

The ‘thin end of the wedge’?

From the government’s response to the petition here:

We have recently consulted on proposals to grant the Secretary of State a power of intervention . . .

(Department for Communities and Local Government) Councils must invest local government pension scheme funds in the best interests of scheme members. The Government has no intention of setting targets for infrastructure investment or removing the right of individual pension fund authorities to make their own decisions about strategic asset allocation. However, the pooling scheme assets announced at the July 2015 Budget will improve their capacity to invest in infrastructure, as well as achieving significant cost savings, while maintaining returns. (Ed: weasel words follow)

weasel words cartoonWe have recently consulted on proposals to grant the Secretary of State a power of intervention which would further protect members’ and taxpayers’ interests.

We expect that the power to intervene would be used exceptionally when there was clear evidence that a pension fund authority was not acting reasonably and lawfully.

The Government is currently considering the responses to the consultation.

– The text of the parliamentary petition is available here. Nearly 103,000 people have currently signed the petition.

Media contacts:

Alan Weaver T: 0207 121 5555 M: 07939 143310 E: a.weaver@unison.co.uk

Liz Chinchen T: 0207 121 5463 M: 07778 158175 E: l.chinchen@unison.co.uk

 

 

 

Jeremy Corbyn: The PM’s most influential adviser on the political economy

On 14th July a Moseley reader emailed to say “Theresa May’s speech yesterday sounded more left wing than your mate JC!”

theresa May

My reply was a one year snapshot of her actions in office which belied this humanitarian stance, published earlier on this site:

  • In 2010 she suspended the registration scheme for carers of children and vulnerable people.
  • On 4 August 2010 it was reported that May was scrapping the former Labour Government’s proposed “go orders” scheme to protect women from domestic violence by banning abusers from the victim’s home.
  • This was followed on 6 August 2010 by the closure of the previous Government’s “ContactPoint” database of 11 million under-18-year olds designed to protect children in the wake of the Victoria Climbiéchild abuse scandal.

“Rewarding hard-working people with higher wages”.

This is another of Ms May’s Corbyn-like soundbites made shortly after Corbyn’s description of what he saw as the difference between the  Conservative and Labour offerings, in the form of a question:

bbc kuenssberg 1 

“Do you want to be bargain-basement Britain on the edge of Europe, cutting corporate taxation, having very low wages, having grotesque inequalities of wealth? Or do you want to be a high-wage, high-investment economy that actually does provide decent chances and opportunities for all?”

We read that Theresa May has launched a cabinet committee on the economy and industrial strategy, which she is to chair; it will bring together the heads of more than ten departments and focus on “rewarding hard-working people with higher wages”.

Is Corbyn the most powerful, though least acknowledged of Theresa May’s advisers on the political economy?

If only she would heed him on nuclear and foreign policy issues.

 

 

 

Iannucci: now is the best time in a generation to go out and vote – generate churn and change in a way that doing nothing never can

armando iannucciIn a January article Iannucci wrote: “They’ve had months, years even, to prepare and mighty budgets for media spend, and yet we feel so little the wiser. You get the impression they’d love their manifestos to go out encrypted. It’s easy to see then why the Brand mantra – “Don’t Vote” – has so much appeal. Post 2010, we all got austerity measures, bedroom taxes, NHS reforms and tuition fees that absolutely nobody voted for because absolutely no political manifesto mentioned them. So why shouldn’t we abandon our political masters and stay at home?

Extracts from a more recent article by Armando Iannucci in the Observer

Questions to David Cameron included:

  1. What are the further £10bn of welfare cuts you need to make but haven’t detailed?
  2. Do you accept that parliament will not vote on a possible replacement to Trident until next year?
  3. If so, can you explain why the Ministry of Defence has for the last two years spent £1.24bn on “getting ready” a replacement and preparing “long lead” parts of an as-yet unvoted for missile system?
  4. Is it true that for your first year in office you had no idea of the full scale and ambition of Andrew Lansley’s NHS reforms and were furious when you found out?
  5. Why did you push the TV companies to schedule as many of the TV debates as possible before the publication of the party manifestos?
  6. How can the electorate question you on your proposals if you’ll take questions only before you propose them?
  7. Do you feel responsible for a political culture in which more than a million benefit claimants were sanctioned and penalised in 2013 but only one HSBC tax evader has been prosecuted?
  8. How do you feel about the rise in suicides of people who have been denied disability benefit?
  9. Why do we have so many food banks? Why do Save the Children and the Red Cross, two organisations set up to work abroad, now work extensively in the UK?
  10. How do you square launching the “big society” with Iain Duncan Smith’s refusal to meet volunteers from the food bank charity the Trussell Trust in 2013 because he felt they were “scaremongerers” and “political”?
  11. Why did IDS refuse to speak in a 2013 Commons debate on the growing use of food banks? Indeed, why did he leave that debate early?

Questions to Ed Miliband included:

  1. Why do you not make a speech highlighting the benefits immigration has brought to this country?
  1. Why did your work and pensions spokeswoman, Rachel Reeves, say Labour “is not the party of people on benefits”?
  2. If you’re prepared to admit that New Labour made mistakes over wealth inequality and financial deregulation, will you go further?
  3. Will you also admit that many of the administrative problems in the NHS were caused by New Labour’s mission to inject private market forces into an organisation not built for that purpose?
  4. Will you admit that much of New Labour’s obsessional drive to impose targets on the NHS pushed staff to breaking point with, to cite one example, paramedics suffering from urinary tract infections because their bosses wouldn’t permit them toilet breaks?
  5. If you’re in favour of commissioning a replacement to Trident, will you or any of your team be making a speech defending the cost and outlining your clear reasons for prioritising a nuclear deterrent over other spending plans? Or is this an awkward subject?
  6. When so much of the first-, second- and third-generation immigrant community votes for your party, why do you still prefer to use the language of “restricting” immigrant numbers employed by Conservatives and Ukip?
  7. Do you like the unemployed? Or are you embarrassed by them? Do you take it for granted they vote for you? Are you fully aware many of them are turning to the Greens, Ukip and the SNP instead?
  8. Why do you feel the need to talk tough about welfare cuts and immigration levels without much prompting?
  9. You do realise that the slogan Vote Labour, We’re a Little Like Ukip is not going to bring out your base?

Iannucci reflects: “Now is the best time in a generation to go out and vote. With such a fragmented system on offer, nothing is inevitable. Uncertainty may create instability, but it can also generate churn and change in a way that doing nothing never can. The truth is, we haven’t been abandoning politicians – they’ve been abandoning us . . . The 45% who voted yes to independence in Scotland . . . is driving the agenda in Scottish politics as powerfully as if it had been on the winning side . . . Alternative answers such as Green, nationalist, pro-NHS, even the Pub Landlord (standing against Nigel Farage), no longer look like stupid also-rans”.

To read the March article go to http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/28/questions-for-cameron-and-miliband-armando-iannucci