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Monday, September 30, 2019

Time to ban puppy farming

This investigation by the BBC which found wide-spread suffering and mistreatment of dogs in West Wales puppy farms was no surprise to those of us who have sought to have these institutions closed down.

The inquiry concluded that vets are part of a "broken" system that has failed to address poor welfare at puppy farms in Wales, with dogs being kept in "filthy" conditions at establishments approved by councils. Some breeders were continually re-licensed despite their dogs suffering "serious health conditions":

Selling dogs is big business in Wales. BBC research found there were 260 licensed dog breeders in the country as of August 2019, producing an estimated 24,000 puppies every year.

According to expert vets, the dogs are conservatively worth more than £12m.

Welsh Government regulations mean anyone who breeds three litters or more per year must be licensed by their local council.

But as part of a year-long investigation BBC Wales visited many approved sites and found dogs suffering from infections and kept in poor conditions with little access to exercise.

In annual health checks seen by the BBC, vets also recorded significant numbers of dogs with serious health conditions at approved sites, but breeders were allowed to continue operating, year after year.

The fact is that councils have failed to get to grips with this problem, despite calls by campaigners for a more proactive and rigorous approach. Vets too have failed the animals:

The BBC showed footage from all the puppy farms it visited to a panel of vets with more than 100 years' experience between them.

They said some vets failed to question the environment in which dogs were being kept, despite a long list of dogs with serious health problems, such as matted fur, rotten teeth and skin conditions.

Paula Boyden, veterinary director at the Dogs' Trust, said: "It's hugely saddening and really quite upsetting to see the number of dogs that I've seen kept in those sorts of environments, and that's their life.

"It's just so wrong on so many levels.

"The system is definitely broken and vets are absolutely an integral part of it. We as a profession have a part to play."

Back in January I moved a motion in Swansea Council calling on the Welsh Government to move quickly to introduce 'Lucy's Law' that would ban and outlaw third party puppy sales and farming. I told council:

“The sale of puppies through commercial third-party dealers both sustains and is dependent on the existence of puppy farms, where puppies are bred for maximum profit and with minimal regard for animal welfare. Although very few high street pet shops sell puppies these days, the third party trade remains significant with dealers operating from a diverse array of premises, including private homes and puppy superstores.

“Puppy farming is effectively the battery farming of dogs. Animals are often kept in appalling conditions behind the doors of sheds, barns, caravans, and any number of inappropriate buildings across Wales. The dogs are treated like livestock rather than the domestic companion animals they are. They are often afforded less respect than the sheep, cattle or pigs on those same farms.

“Puppies that are not sold are often killed by hitting them over the head or drowning them. Some have been sold to laboratories for experimentation, others end up in dog fighting rings. The indiscriminate breeding of dogs has led to an overpopulation crisis in the UK, with more dogs being surrendered to pounds and rescues than ever before.

“Licensing these breeders has not worked. Local councils do not have the resources to check on the welfare of every animal and prevent harm from occurring to them. Stress, increased risk of disease, poor breeding practises and irresponsible selling tactics have all taken their toll."

We cannot wait much longer for this legislation. The Welsh Government should make it a priority and get it on the statute book as soon as possible.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Who really benefits from Brexit?

It is very rare for Philip Hammond and Rachel Johnson to speak for a majority of the country, but this week they managed it in spades, when they questioned the motives of the Prime Minister in pushing for a no-deal Brexit, arguing that he is pursuing the interests of financial backers who have the most to gain from such a scenario.

As the Guardian reports, this has led to pressure on the UK’s most senior civil servant to investigate Boris Johnson’s financial backers and the cross-party claims that unnamed individuals stand to benefit from his willingness to pursue the UK's worst possible exit from the EU:

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, has written to the cabinet secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill, asking if there may be a conflict of interest in Johnson’s acceptance of support from hedge funds that could gain from an economic shock.

Earlier on Saturday, Philip Hammond, the former chancellor, suggested Johnson was pursuing the interests of financial backers set to gain from a no-deal Brexit, in a major escalation of tensions in the prime minister’s own party.

Hammond said he was repeating a comment made last week by Rachel Johnson, the prime minister’s sister. The former chancellor was accused by senior Tories of attempting a “smear” without evidence. However, Hammond was supported on Saturday by a series of MPs from across the Commons.

“Johnson is backed by speculators who have bet billions on a hard Brexit – and there is only one option that works for them: a crash-out no-deal that sends the currency tumbling and inflation soaring,” Hammond wrote in the Times.

But what are the facts? As the paper says, Hammond and his team have not named any individual donors. However, hedge fund managers have backed Johnson. One of those is Crispin Odey, a fund manager who has also previously backed Vote Leave and UKIP. Over the summer, it was reported that his fund had made a £300m bet against British businesses and stood to profit from an economic slump in the UK. However, the fund also backed other British companies.

All of this comes as part of a difficult week for the Prime Minister, with the Independent reporting that the threat to Boris Johnson from alleged favours granted to his friend Jennifer Arcuri while he was London mayor has deepened, with a referral to a police watchdog for a possible “misconduct” inquiry.

The Greater London Authority wants the probe to explore whether Ms Arcuri was allowed to join trade missions, and received large grants, “when she and her companies could not have expected otherwise to receive those benefits”.

Whatever the outcome of this referral and calls for a probe into Boris' hedge fund backers, there is no doubt that the Prime Minister's unity of purpose is being slowly derailed to the extent that his survival in Number Ten Downing Street for more than a few weeks more is increasingly in doubt.

In the meantime, the question of who really benefits from Brexit remains extant. What is certain is that it is ordinary voters will see very little benefit, if any, at all.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

The real cost of tackling climate change

Just how serious governments are in achieving their 2050 climate change targets can only be measured in the priority given to necessary actions in their budgets. Talk is cheap, only by putting their money where their mouths are can Ministers convince us that they are serious about this issue.

Such a commitment is going to require some tough decisions, if this article in the Independent is anything to go by. They quote a government report, which states that the UK will need investment worth billions of pounds every year to remove enough greenhouse gases from the air to meet its 2050 climate targets:

The report, by analysts at Vivid Economics, estimated that the UK would need as much as £20bn a year to remove up to 130m tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air.

This will be necessary in the coming decades to make up for industries such as aviation, agriculture and heavy industry as the UK works to build a net-zero carbon economy.

“Even if emissions are reduced aggressively across the economy, the UK is expected to continue to emit a significant amount of greenhouse gases annually,” the report said. “The rate of rollout will need to be rapid, particularly in the 2030s and 2040s, and will require significant policy support.”

The report has urged ministers to consider supporting investment in greenhouse gas removal. This could mean offering new subsidies and grants for carbon capture technologies and projects, or demanding that companies that supply fossil fuels and agriculture products offset a percentage of their carbon emissions by investing in greenhouse gas removal.

The answer to tackling climate change is considered to lie in new technology:

On average, the report estimates that the UK may need between £1bn and £2bn a year in 2030 to remove greenhouse gas emissions from the air, rising to between £6bn and £20bn by 2050.

The most expensive projects would involve technology that can absorb carbon dioxide from the air. This could remove about 25m tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year at a cost between £160 and £470 a tonne.

The cheapest options include restoring natural habits, which could absorb 5m tonnes of carbon from the air every year at a cost of between £8 and £78 a tonne.

The report even suggests supporting “enhanced weathering”, a relatively new approach to carbon removal in which fields are spread with ground-up silicate rocks, such as basalt, to increase the soil’s natural rate of carbon absorption. This could remove 15m tonnes of carbon from the air every year, but the cost of this process is uncertain at between £39 and £390 a tonne.

The analysts expect large-scale greenhouse gas removal to rely on projects that use bioenergy alongside carbon capture technology, known as BECCS, as well as projects that capture carbon directly from the air, or DACCS.

Will the government bite this particular bullet and the price tag attached to it? We will have to see.

Friday, September 27, 2019

This abuse of politicians must stop

Traditionally it is the families of service personnel, police officers and other emergency services who worry about the safety of their loved ones as they go about their duties with a commitment, dedication and selflessness that is often above and beyond what is asked of them.

So when did our society get so toxic that the children of politicians feel that they have to express similar fears about the safety of their parents?

As the Guardian reports, Ellie Cooper, the remarkable daughter of Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper, has tweeted a long thread about her fears for her mother. It is worth quoting them in full:

“I rarely actually tweet, especially about politics – am more of the silent retweeter – but after the chilling scenes in Parliament last night I just don’t think I can stay quiet anymore. There’s a group of young people and children that need to be spoken for.

“The language used by our Prime Minister - not a far-right populist or provocative journalist, but our Prime Minister - is just beyond words. The fact that the head of our government is actually using language that helps incite violence toward MPs is so beyond dangerous I can’t even comprehend it in a modern society. This isn’t funny any more. Whatever egotistical game Boris Johnson has been playing since he was at Eton, this isn’t entitled teenagers standing blindly by their positions in an attempt to one-up their friends anymore.

“This of rising hatred is costing people their lives.

“I was 17 when Jo Cox was murdered. I just rang my mum, who is Yvette Cooper, on my way home from school to complain about the usual things and I distinctly remember her interrupting me to say ‘An MP’s been shot.’

“I can honestly say my perspective of the world completely changed that day. Before then, my mum’s job was something that kept her working later than bedtime when I was a kid, the source of embarrassing conversations at school, the reason we travelled to and fro between Yorkshire and London every week for the first two thirds of my life.

“It was never something that could get her killed.

“I am scared.

“I am scared when I scroll through the replies to her tweets calling her a liar and a traitor.

“I am scared when our house gets fitted with panic buttons, industrial-locking doors and explosive bags to catch the mail.

“I am scared because on the 16th of June 2016, two children said goodbye to their mother before she left for her constituency to sit in surgeries and help people all day, and never saw her again. I am scared every single day that the same will happen to mine.

“Because she is trying her best to help people. To make their lives better. Even if we disagree with our politicians, when was this something we actively wanted to hurt them for?

“Of course Brexit is contentious. Of course people have strong opinions, opinions that will inevitably come into conflict when trying to work out how best to deliver an outcome that split our country in two. But what we need now is a Prime Minister who can stand up and say ‘Yes I want to deliver Brexit, but regardless of my position, this inflammatory and aggressive language needs to stop. We need to treat each other with humanity and respect.’ Boris Johnson, take a stand. It’s your job to unite the country.

“Or you will be responsible for putting other people’s lives at risk.

“Surely you can raise your head out of the sand enough to see that much?

“This whole thing has gone too far. When people start getting hurt is the moment that we should step back and ask if any of this is even worth it. All the anger and the screaming and the taking sides. The traitors and the liars and the surrendering.

“Why has this become a matter of life and death? Does someone have to die for us all to realise that we have gotten in far too deep and far too aggressively?

“The thing is, someone already has died. Do we not have the decency and compassion to see that? Can we not all just treat each other like people again?

“Because I’m terrified if we don’t that something awful is going to happen again. At this rate, that seems like the only thing that could stop us in our tracks. We need to change the way we act towards our MPs before it goes too far because if not I have no doubt it will.”

In another Guardian article female MPs tell the paper about the abuse they have received. It is worth reading if only to understand the misogynistic, racist and threatening atmosphere these MPs are having to work in.

Politicians are people too. They have families and lives in the same way as we do. They are trying to do a difficult job in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, to exercise judgement and act in a way that puts the interests of the country and their voters first. Whatever our views on Brexit, we must recognise that and seek to work within the norms of civility and respect in our dealings with them.

This abuse is not just unacceptable, it threatens to undermine our whole democratic consensus and plunge us into violent conflict. It must stop and the police must be given the tools, and act decisively to use them to bring it to an end.

Above all we must listen to the families, dial down the rhetoric on all sides and return to a more measured discourse. That applies not just to the politicians themselves but to elements of the media, who in recent weeks have acted as agitators and provocateurs. This is not how we should do business in the world's oldest democracy.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Led by Donkeys Brexit poster contest

Faced with a £100 million Government advertising campaign promoting Brexit, the organisation 'Led by Donkeys' has responded with a characteristically satirical axe, launching a mock-up of a government website and an online tool that lets users design their own “get ready” poster.

As the Guardian reports, they have initiated competition to redesign the government’s “get ready for Brexit” poster. The best five designs will be put up on billboards in towns and cities around Britain in what the campaigners describe as a push to give the public more accurate information.

The competition will be judged by the writer-director Armando Iannucci and the actor and comedian David Schneider:

Led By Donkeys registered NoDealBrexit.info when the government campaign was first announced and set up a crowdfunding drive to pay for a rival campaign, which has so far raised more than £160,000.

Iannucci said: “All we are doing is taking back control of our billboards. Together, we can spaff posters on to prime advertising space and send a message. That message is: ‘Please help us, God.’”

Will Rose of Led By Donkeys said: “If you absolutely must launch a £100m propaganda campaign at taxpayers’ expense to make Brexit feel inevitable, at least make it good.

“Instead Johnson and Gove have come up with a cross between a supermarket’s own-brand pasta packaging and the 1980s England football kit. It’s a colossal waste of money.

“Think how many nurses and teachers they could have hired instead. Their own analysis shows their policy could lead to shortages of food and medicine but their lifeless, turgid information campaign doesn’t mention any of that.”

The deadline for submissions to the competition is midnight on Wednesday 2 October and the competition can be entered here.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Tories dump austerity in pursuit of electoral success

In the Times. Daniel Finkelstein argues that the whole point of Conservative government is to provide an executive aware of its limitations and sensitive to the dangers of over-reaching them. He adds that Conservatives emphasise the value of unwritten conventions by treating those rules and traditions with the greatest respect:

'Without these things, what is the point of Conservatives and what is the value of Conservatism? Without them, what will Conservatives say when resisting the challenge of socialists and extra-parliamentary protesters? To endanger them in order to shave a few days off the parliamentary timetable is an epic mistake.'

These are very valid questions and no doubt Tory MPs and many others will be seeking an answer to them from the Prime Minister when Parliament resumes today, however it is not just the rule of law that Boris Johnson has apparently abandoned in his 63 days of sitting in Number 10 Downing Street, it is also the Tories' reputation for financial competence.

As the Guardian reports, a marked deterioration in the public finances means Sajid Javid will have to relax borrowing limits if the government is to boost spending and cut taxes before an early general election:

Boris Johnson’s government has pledged higher spending for the NHS, schools and the police since it was formed in late July, but against the backdrop of an economy flirting with recession. The ONS said borrowing in the first five months of the financial year was up 28% on the same period a year ago, at more than £31bn.

In addition, changes to the way the ONS accounts for student debt and public sector pensions, together with new corporation tax data, means the size of the deficit in the last full financial year, 2018-19, has almost doubled. A deficit of £23.6bn has been revised up to £41.3bn.

Analysts said that if the trend for the first months of 2019-20 continued for the rest of the year the deficit would be close to £53bn, £12bn higher than the government’s fiscal watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, estimated in March.

The actions of this Government are increasingly looking like a high stakes, do-or-die, winner-takes-all gamble by a Prime Minister who apparently has no regard for the consequences. Johnson has sought to exercise the royal prerogative in an unconstitutional manner to get his own way, and now he has jettisoned nearly a decade of fiscal rules laid down by his own party in an attempt to get a majority at a General Election.

He may or may not get away with it, but whatever the outcome, the recklessness he has exhibited in government means that nobody can pretend any more that he, or the party he leads, are the traditional Tories they want us to believe they are.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The ailing British High Street

The collapse of Thomas Cook is going to have a huge impact on our high streets, with the closure of hundreds of their outlets adding to the shrinking offer available to shoppers.

On-line banking, out-of-town shopping malls and repressed consumer spending has already badly hit shopping centres, with an increase in empty shop units and a growth in pop-ups and charity shops. These in turn hit other retail outlets due to reduced footfall. It is a downward spiral with few solutions on offer.

Adding to this malaise is the systematic closure of bank branches, as more people rely on on-line banking and cashless purchases rather than the personal interaction available with expert staff over a bank counter.

As the Guardian says, more than a third of the UK’s bank branches have shut for good in less than five years, while hundreds of those that remain have reduced their opening hours. They quote a report by the consumer group Which? that found there were 3,303 closures to the bank branch network between January 2015 and last month, as banks continue to shut branches at an “alarming rate”.

Overall, the UK branch network has reduced from 9,803 to 6,549 in four and a half years, with the closures being offset by 49 branches opened by the challenger banks. Of the UK’s bank branches that remain open, 298 are operating with reduced opening hours of four days a week or fewer.

As Age UK say. the rate at which banks are closing local branches is a huge blow for the millions of older people who rely on them, particularly those who are not online or confident with mobile banking. It is also a further blow to a great British institution - high street shopping.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Corbyn steers Labour towards a leave position

Welsh Labour may be attempting to turn back the tide with their 'campaign for remain at any cost' stance but the reality is that this is not a devolved matter and that when it comes to any future determination of our EU membership by a Labour Government, it will be Jeremy Corbyn and his team who will call all the shots, not Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford.

And as far as Corbyn and the UK Labour Party are concerned the fence sitting continues, or does it? As the Guardian reports, Corbyn himself appears to be shifting his public stance towards the leave position we have always known him to believe privately.

In an appearance on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show before a contentious debate on Brexit at the party’s conference in Brighton, the Labour leader suggested that a Labour government could negotiate an exit deal that would be preferable to EU membership – and that he will reserve judgment until those negotiations are complete, effectively placing him in the leave camp:

He said: “We have consistently put forward what I believe to be a credible option, which is based on five pillars – the customs union, the trade relationship, protection of consumer and environmental rights, and of course the Good Friday agreement.”

If the EU27 agree to those demands, he said, “that would be a credible offer to put before the British people”.

What is laughable about Corbyn's position is that his five pillars are realistically only available to the UK if we stay within the European Union. Remain is the best deal available to us, and yet Corbyn is still seriously playing with the idea of the UK leaving. Good luck to Welsh Labour in trying to explain that on the doorstep.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Labour's shambolic conference

When was the last time a major Party conference degenerated into such disarray from the very start? It has been quite some time, but Labour are clearly on a mission to set a new record.

They started off by declaring war on their student movement on the eve of nationwide freshers' weeks, moved on to try and abolish their Deputy Leader, potentially sparking a civil war within the party, and now a key aide has quit, quoting a lack of competence and decency in Jeremy Corbyn’s team.

As the Guardian reports, Andrew Fisher, who masterminded the party’s 2017 manifesto, has quit saying he no longer had faith that Labour would be successful. The paper adds that Fisher wrote a memo to colleagues saying members of Corbyn’s team had a “lack of professionalism, competence and human decency”. He also accused them of making a “blizzard of lies and excuses” and apparently claimed that the highest ranks of the party were engaged in “class war”:

The 40-year-old has been a controversial figure within the Labour movement. He was suspended from Labour in 2015 for apparently supporting a Class War candidate against Emily Benn, Tony Benn’s granddaughter, in the general election, and Benn called for him to be expelled. He also appeared in a video saying he had “very violent, bloody nightmares” about hitting former Labour cabinet minister James Purnell.

Barely a year after his suspension, Fisher was confirmed as Labour’s executive director of policy, and was given a large share of the credit for Labour’s surprise success in the 2017 general election which saw Theresa May lose her majority.

Fisher’s resignation adds to bitter infighting that has dogged the party. It boiled over again this weekend when pro-Remain Labour MPs and activists accused Corbyn of trying to “shut down democratic debate” on Brexit. The row, which broke out after the leadership tabled plans to delay a decision on whether it should back Remain or Leave until after a general election, came as a new Opinium poll for the Observer showed the Tory party had extended its lead over Labour to 15 points.

Labour is not helped either by its latest Brexit position, which is to have no position at all. The party continues to sit on the fence, arguing it can negotiate a new and better deal (good luck with that) and that put it to a referendum when it may or may not campaign against their own agreement. It is little wonder that many of Labour's 2017 voters are now backing the Liberal Democrats.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Labour in self-destruct mode

After reporting yesterday on the attempted abolition of Labour's student movement on the eve of a General Election and the week before freshers' fair, I am astonished that this appears to be just the start of Labour in-fighting, with a move by Momentum today to abolish Tom Watson's Deputy Leader post, effectively sparking a civil war within the party.

As the Guardian reports, Jon Lansman, founder of the pro-Corbyn campaign group Momentum, tabled a last-minute motion at the party’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) on Friday night calling for Watson’s job to be scrapped.

The chair of the NEC ruled Lansman’s motion out of order, but he then sought to have that decision overturned. Lansman won the subsequent vote 17-10; but that fell just short of the two-thirds majority necessary to challenge the chair’s authority.

However, the Guardian understands NEC members agreed to return to the issue at today’s meeting, where it is expected to pass and be put before Conference. Corbyn allies believe Watson is using the issue of Brexit to drive a wedge between the Labour leader and the party’s overwhelmingly pro-remain activists.:

Watson, the MP for West Bromwich East, was elected to the post of deputy leader in 2015. Never an enthusiastic Corbyn supporter, he has increasingly irked the leadership in recent months.

He formed an internal Labour caucus called the Future Britain Group, in the wake of the defections of a string of MPs, including Luciana Berger and Chuka Umunna, calling for the voices of social democrats to be heard more loudly in the party.

And most recently he has made a series of off-message interventions in the Brexit debate, including most recently giving a speech calling for Labour to support a referendum before a general election.

Some Labour MPs expressed alarm about the surprise move to oust the deputy leader. Jess Phillips warned of what she called “a desperate attempt to control and expel anyone who has an independent thought”.

As Labour MP, Wes Streeting said in a tweet: 'Labour Conference this week needs to put the Party on a general election footing - talking to the country about our vision for Britain. For @jonlansman and @PeoplesMomentum to try and remove our Deputy Leader @tom_watson isn’t just outrageous, it’s self-destructive and must stop.'

However, it appears that those behind this move just cannot help themselves. Nor are they able to restrain themselves in proceeding with challenging some sitting MPs just weeks away from the country going to the polls. It is little wonder many people consider Labour to be unfit for government.

Friday, September 20, 2019

More Labour in-fighting on the eve of their conference

Students start to arrive at UK universities within days, offering political parties rich pickings in recruitment terms, a General Election is inevitable within the next few months, and the country is in turmoil, creating an opportunity for a savvy leader to capture the zeitgeist and storm to power, so Labour responds by setting up new internal arguments to divide members.

The Guardian reports that the party have voted to wind down their 40-year old student movement because it is too right wing. Jon Lansman, the Momentum chair who sits on the NEC and is an ally of Jeremy Corbyn, was behind the move. He claims the group needs reforming and had not paid its affiliation fees. However, critics suggested the move is a cynical attempt to shut down a “moderate” wing of the party.

The student organisation, which was banned under a previous leader because it was too left-wing, has vowed to fight the decision and say that they still host about 800 young members at its annual student disco at the party conference in Brighton, which gets under way on Saturday:

NEC members voted five to 12 to pass Lansman’s motion, which asks Formby to devise a new organisation that would comply with the party’s rulebook.

Joel Jordan, current president of the Southampton Labour Society, wrote for the blog LabourList that the group’s leading figures had made a career by “climbing the ladder that is Labour Students” and it had been “knee-capping the hopes of Labour students”. He welcomed the move as a triumph for party democracy.

Several university Labour clubs, including at the University of Bristol and Oxford University, disaffiliated earlier this year from Labour Students in a bitter row over members not being able to vote in its elections in May.

The implementation of a one-member, one-vote system agreed in 2016 has been fraught with difficulties, with accusations it left many people unable to cast a vote.

Ramli said: “There were issues with it in terms of communication.”

A Momentum source said: “It’s a victory for democracy that the rotten borough of Labour Students is finally being reformed.

Of course these are matters for the Labour Party, but one has to wonder at the timing of the move. Surely no serious opposition party would embark on such a purge so close to a General Election. If Labour's priority is ideological purity rather than winning power, then it is little wonder that they have slipped into third place in the latest poll.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Welsh hospital buildings still unsafe over 6 years later

For those who were shocked by this morning's news that Wales' dilapidated NHS buildings need £261m worth of work on problems deemed to pose high or significant risks, here is another shocker. I highlighted this precise problem six and a half years ago, when I was Welsh Liberal Democrats health spokesperson. The fact that this problem appears to have go worse speaks volumes for the priority being given to it by the Welsh Government.

Back in March 2009. Welsh Liberal Democrats found that it would cost £468m to complete the backlog of hospital repairs held by every NHS trust in Wales. NHS in Wales Estate Condition and Performance Report 2007-08 said that it would cost £31m to bring the NHS estate in Wales up to the requirements it has to meet on disability and fire safety.

We said that there needs to be urgent action taken on the £227m of risk-adjusted backlog, which is the amount of the total repairs classified as being in need of the most urgent attention. This included £75m of high-risk repairs.

Today we are told that the seven health boards and two NHS trusts have a combined maintenance backlog of £560m:

BBC Wales analysis found:
Where has the Welsh Government been in all this? Will we get another headline in 2025 highlighting even scarier figures? Surely it is time to take action.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Homelessness among old people soars by 39%

The Independent publishes more disturbing statistics about homelessness when they reveal that the number of older people falling into homelessness has surged in recent years as benefit cuts leave them struggling to make ends meet.

They say that official data shows that there has been a 39 per cent rise in people over 60 approaching the authorities because they are in need of housing by local councils over the last five years, with the figure increasing from 1,800 in 2012-13 to 2,500 in 2017-18:

The new figures, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), show that Northern Ireland has also seen a marked increase (30 per cent) in the number of older households presenting as homeless, from 1,875 to 2,445 during the same period.

Scotland has seen a small increase of 9 per cent, with the figure increasing from 1,278 to 1,391.

Campaigners said the rise was in large part because the level of local housing allowance and other benefits were not keeping up with rent increases, as well as the lack of affordable housing.

As the director of Age UK says, the main reason for this increase is that local housing allowance and benefit levels are not keeping up with rent increases, meaning some older people are struggling to make ends meet.

There is a clear need to increase the supply of social housing at affordable rents to deal with this crisis. Governments in all nations need to take note.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Badger cull policy now completely discredited

As if it were not bad enough that the UK Government are pursuing a cull of badgers, despite all the evidence indicating that they do not work, the Guardian have unearthed figures that cast severe doubts on Ministers' recent decision to extend the cull to new areas.

The paper says that tuberculosis levels in cattle have risen in the original two areas of the country where the badger cull has been piloted over the past five years, raising questions about the merit of expanding the scheme:

The figures are confirmed in official data quietly released last week as the government announced plans to expand the controversial cull in England, which campaigners say could see more than 60,000 badgers killed this year.

The figures suggest that, following some early success in bringing the levels down, bovine TB is now on the rise in the zones, in Gloucestershire and Somerset.

Analysis by the vet and former government scientist Dr Iain McGill, who led calls for a public inquiry into the BSE scandal, reveals that the proportion of herds with bovine TB in the Gloucestershire pilot zone increased from 6.9% at the start of culling to 9% over the five-year period.

The rate of occurrence of new confirmed bovine TB cases – known as the incidence rate – was 13.2% last year, compared with 12.7% when the cull began in 2013.

In Somerset, the incidence rate declined, but the disease has become more widespread across herds. The official data shows that the proportion of herds with bovine TB increased from 6.1% when culling started to 6.7% at the end of last year. Defra chooses not to focus on the five-year data. Instead, it points to an earlier report that found a decline in bovine TB in the first two years of the cull.

“The government had all of the data but only released it simultaneous to the announcement on Wednesday of the massacre of up to 62,000 badgers,” said McGill, who has called for a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the cull.

“That they could have tried to hide this data in order to justify such a massacre of protected wildlife, whilst referring glibly to data from 2015 in support of their case, is corrupt and criminal. Defra have manipulated and hidden scientific data to such a degree that it amounts to systemic scientific fraud.”

Huge amounts of money have been spent on this pointless cull despite scientific studies predicting precisely this outcome. If the government had carried out a more humane vaccination programme instead, combined with better cattle control measures as in Wales then we might have made some progress on eradicating this disease by now.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Will the PM smash up the UK as the Incredible Hulk?

Of all the bizarre sayings and claims made by Boris Johnson, the weekend's announcement that he is the incredible Hulk of politics has to be the most bizarre.

Promising to ignore the Commons legislation ordering him to delay Brexit if negotiations break down, Mr Johnson told The Mail on Sunday: “Hulk always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be – and that is the case for this country.

“We will come out on October 31 and we will get it done.”

He added in an aside that appeared to refer to himself as the hero that “The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets”.

Kudos then to Mark Ruffalo, the actor who plays the Incredible Hulk in the latest Marvel films, who challenged the analogy. As the Independent reports the actor said that The Hulk was dependent on the community around him.

“Boris Johnson forgets that the Hulk only fights for the good of the whole” Ruffalo tweeted.

He added: “Mad and strong can also be dense and destructive. The Hulk works best when he is in unison with a team, and is a disaster when he is alone. Plus...he’s always got Dr. Banner with science and reason”.

Others joined in the criticism:

The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt saying: “Even to Trumpian standards the Hulk comparison is infantile. Is the EU supposed to be scared by this? The British public impressed? Is this Boris Johnson whistling in the dark?”

Labour MP Jess Phillips added the statement was “the kind of thing my kids would say”, adding the caveat that they “would never make such glaring errors about The Hulk, I've raised them properly.”

From my perspective, Boris Johnson is much more like the earlier Hulk, whose rage leads him to smash everything up. Johnson's Brexit will wreck the UK and, in his rage, he does not seem to care.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Wake up call on homelessness

This morning's Observer contains a shocking statistic about the homeless crisis facing the UK, with the revelation that one in four households in England found to be homeless or under threat of homelessness last year were in paid work at the time. There is no reason to think that this does not also apply to Wales and Scotland.

The paper says that data published last week showed that, of more than 260,000 households facing a homelessness crisis, more than a quarter of applications for council support were made by a household member who was in paid employment at the time. In some areas, the proportion of working households facing losing their homes was much higher, reaching more than half in one council, Rutland in the East Midlands:

The findings were condemned by Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, who called on the government to build more social housing and urgently increase housing benefit to allow more people to rent. “We regularly hear from distressed people who are facing the unforgiving reality of holding down a job while having nowhere stable to live. Despite working all the hours they can, too many people have been pushed into the housing emergency by expensive private rents, punishing housing benefit cuts and a chronic lack of social homes,” she said.

“The only way politicians can fix this crisis is with a clear commitment from every party to deliver three million more social homes over the next 20 years. And in the meantime, the government must urgently increase housing benefit so that people on low incomes can access at least the bottom third of the private rental market.”

This is the reality of in-work poverty, made worse by rising house prices - in-work households made up 31% of cases in south-east England and 30% in London and the east of England, compared to just 17% in the north east, where housing is cheaper.

Above all these figures underline the need for more affordable housing, and in England less emphasis on intermediate housing at 80% of market rents, and more new homes available at social rents.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Cameron is back

It is amazing how a lucrative book deal can cause hitherto shy politicians to emerge from their garden shed to try and rewrite history.

There is no doubt that David Cameron is absolutely right in this Telegraph article, when he says that  Boris Johnson and Michael Gove left "the truth at home" over Brexit and behaved “appallingly” during the EU referendum campaign:

In an excoriating attack by an ex-prime minister on one of his successors, Mr Cameron criticised his former friends and colleagues over the claims they made about £350m a week payments to Brussels on their campaign bus.

Casting doubt on Mr Johnson’s promise of getting Britain out of the EU on Oct 31 with or without a deal, Mr Cameron also suggests a second referendum might now be necessary, saying: “I don’t think you can rule it out because we’re stuck.”

No doubt people can read all about it in the former Prime Minister memoirs. I won't be reading them. However, the least that Cameron can do is show some humility. He may feel betrayed but that is nothing to what this country should feel about him.

Cameron put his own party interests and the long-standing Tory feud over Europe, ahead of those of the country. He is as much responsible, possibly more so, for the mess we are in than any of those he is now seeking to blame.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Government spends £100m on propaganda

It seems that £100 million does not go as far as it used to if the Government's pro-Brexit campaign is any guide. As the Guardian reports, Boris Johnson has been accused of seriously misleading the public with the government’s campaign to Get Ready for Brexit on 31 October. MPs and experts have urged civil service chief Sir Mark Sedwill to intervene to make clear the UK is highly unlikely to leave without a deal on that day:

The £100m advertising campaign, which claims to set out what the public needs to do to get ready for a no-deal Brexit at the end of October, is now “redundant and misleading”, according to a cross-party group of MPs led by Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson.

They have written to Sir Mark Sedwill, the head of the civil service, demanding he take action to stop the campaign wasting money and giving inaccurate information to the public and businesses, which may wrongly overestimate the chances of the UK leaving without a deal on 31 October. In practice, this can only happen if the EU turns down the UK’s request for an article 50 extension or Johnson breaks the law by ignoring parliament.

“A publicly funded campaign, encouraging businesses to be ready for the UK’s October no deal exit, as well as being factually incorrect (as it addresses an event which cannot now occur) is inherently party political (as it cannot be government policy, but is Conservative policy), bringing the campaign into conflict, not only with the propriety rules highlighted above, but also the ministerial code,” the MPs said.

Jill Rutter, the programme director of the Institute for Government, also cast doubt on the legitimacy of the campaign now that the Benn bill requiring Johnson to request a three-month delay to Brexit if there is no deal has passed into law.

This is not the only area in which the Tory Government's use of public money to promote its policies has been brought into question. As the paper says, eyebrows have also been raised about the government’s police recruitment advertisements that some on social media have likened to Tory election campaign adverts, with a blue font and messaging that the government is creating 20,000 extra police officers.

Surely there should be some independent arbiter to rule on these issues and stop public money being abused in this way.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Government documents reveal full horror of a no deal brexit

I think most people understood that leaving the EU without a deal would be disastrous for the country and the economy, but the publication of the UK Government's Yellowhammer papers in today's papers, sets out the stark reality in a way that must give everybody pause for thought.

As the Guardian outlines, the government's own analysis suggests that a no-deal Brexit could result in rising food and fuel prices, disruption to medicine supplies and public disorder on Britain’s streets:

The document, which says it outlines “reasonable worst case planning assumptions” for no deal Brexit, highlights the risk of border delays, given an estimate that up to 85% of lorries crossing the Channel might not be ready for a new French customs regime.

“The lack of trader readiness combined with limited space in French ports to hold ‘unready’ HGVs could reduce the flow rate to 40%-60% of current levels within one day as unready HGVs will fill the ports and block flow,” it warns.

This situation could last for up to three months, and disruption might last “significantly longer”, it adds, with lorries facing waits of between 1.5 days and 2.5 days to cross the border.

The reliance of medical supplies on cross-Channel routes “make them particularly vulnerable to severe extended delays”, the report says, with some medicines having such short shelf lives they cannot be stockpiled. A lack of veterinary medicines could increase the risk of disease outbreaks, it adds.

On food supplies, supplies of “certain types of fresh food” would be reduced, the document warns, as well as other items such as packaging.

It says: “In combination, these two factors will not cause an overall shortage of food in the UK but will reduce availability and choice of products and will increase price, which could impact vulnerable groups.”

Later, it adds: “Low income groups will be disproportionately affected by any price rises in food and fuel.”

On law and order it warns: “Protests and counter-protests will take place across the UK and may absorb significant amounts of police resource. There may also be a rise in public disorder and community tensions.”

The documents also outline a potential impact on cross-border financial services and law enforcement information sharing.

It says Gibraltar could face significant delays on its border with Spain, with four-hour waits likely “for at least a few months”.

The document also concedes that there will be a return to some sort of hard Irish border despite a UK insistence it will not impose checks: “This model is likely to prove unsustainable due to significant economic, legal and biosecurity risks and no effective unilateral mitigations to address this will be available.”

The expectation, it adds, is that some businesses will move to avoid tariffs, and others will face higher costs.

The real kick in the teeth however lies in a redacted passage, Although paragraph 15 is redacted, comparison with the earlier leaked version that was in the Sunday Times indicates that it is a warning about uncompetitive trade following a no-deal Brexit that could force two major oil refineries to shut, resulting in 2,000 job loses. One is in #Pembrokeshire.

Isn't it time the Prime Minister accepted that holding out for no deal is against the national interest, as of course is leaving in the first place, and agreed to letting voters themselves have the final say on how we proceed from now on?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Labour Minister labels Corbyn policy as 'BS'

Labour's flirtation with Brexit continued yesterday when Jeremy Corbyn promised a further referendum on Brexit with a "credible Leave option" versus Remain if his party wins the next general election, undoing all the good work he has done over the past week in working with other party leaders to foil Boris Johnson's no-deal agenda.

Essentially Labour's position now appears to amount to a manifesto commitment to negotiate a better deal to leave the EU, if that is possible (and we know how that turned out for Theresa May), and then take that deal to the country.

However, the party will not say whether it will support Leave or Remain in that plebiscite opening the door to massive public disagreements at the top of the party during the forthcoming General Election campaign and possibly alienating both sides of the argument.

The Labour leader has rejected calls from senior figures in the party and grassroots activists to campaign explicitly to Remain during the election, despite fears votes and seats will be lost to the Lib Dems.

It is a fence-sitting exercise that will prove once more that Labour cannot be trusted on Brexit. It is little wonder that a sitting Minister in the Welsh Government, not known for his disloyalty, has hit out in frustration on Twitter:

As Vaughan Gething says, putting in the manifesto that Labour will ask people to vote to renegotiate, then asking that same electorate to vote down the outcome of those talks, will lead to the Labour Party being ridiculed. It is little wonder that he has labelled it 'utter BS'.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

No such thing as a clean break

For all the drama yesterday of Parliament being prorogued, Welsh MPs singing Calon Lan in the chamber, the government being forced to publish key documents, and losing another vote to hold a General Election, their sixth since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, the real political substance was to be found in Dublin.

There, whilst Boris Johnson fidgeted besides him, the Irish Prime Minister set out the stark reality of a no-deal Brexit - as the Guardian reports, it is not the clean break that the Brexiteers are claiming:

In a tough message to his British counterpart on the steps of Ireland’s Government Buildings, Leo Varadkar said Britain would be back to square one on the very issues on which it refuses to agree now in a no-deal scenario.

“The story of Brexit will not end if the United Kingdom leaves on 31 October or even 31 January – there is no such thing as a clean break. No such thing as just getting it done. Rather, we just enter a new phase,” he said.

“If there is no deal, I believe that’s possible, it will cause severe disruption for British and Irish people alike. We will have to get back to the negotiating table. When we do, the first and only items on the agenda will be citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the Irish border. All the issues we had resolved in the withdrawal agreement we made with your predecessor. An agreement made in good faith by 28 governments.”

Varadkar warned that even if a deal were agreed, Britain should not be deluded about the future relationship negotiations.

“We will enter talks on a future relationship agreement between the EU and UK. It’s going to be tough dealing with issues ranging from tariffs to fishing rights, product standards and state aid. It will then have to be ratified by 31 parliaments,” he said.

Varadkar told Johnson free-trade agreements were difficult to strike but Ireland would be his friend and ally.

“Negotiating FTAs with the EU and US and securing their ratification in less than three years is going to be a herculean task for you. We want to be your friend and ally, your Athena, in doing so,” he said.

This is the reality that Johnson, Cummings, Farage, Mogg and their fellow travellers refuse to acknowledge. Unless we revoke Article 50 then the chaos in Parliament over the last week is just a taster, whether or not somebody gets a majority in the forthcoming General Election. To claim otherwise is to mislead voters.

Monday, September 09, 2019

The world on fire

If spontaneous combustion is a thing then the unwritten constitution of the UK and our democratic process are very close to that point. And that has nothing to do with MPs ignoring the result of the referendum, we are well past that argument. It is that the alliances and coalitions within the two main parties, which sustain our unrepresentative and disproportionate electoral system, are coming apart at the seams.

With a proportional voting system that would not matter. There would be room for the various factions and ideological bedfellows to breath and flourish by standing in their own right, on a platform of their choosing.

Instead we now have the Tory Party being pared back to an extremist pro-Brexit rump, enabling Nigel Farage to make common cause with them and avoid a mutually assured destruction at a first-past-the-post ballot box.

Moderate, pro-European Tories meanwhile are being cast out into the wilderness, where they must sink or swim as individuals in their own constituency, and without the comfort blanket of a core conservative vote to rely on. Their voters will now be torn between Johnson's no-deal Brexit and the reasoned opposition put up to it by their own MP.

Equally, the Labour Party is also retreating into a hard line, Corbynite position, struggling with anti-Semitism and seeking to purge MPs who fail the loyalty test. Those Labour MPs who do not pass are in a similar position to the Tory rebels, leave politics altogether, or fight on against a relentless party machine.

This is one of the reasons why the Liberal Democrats have gained three new MPs in the last week. We are also punished by the first past the post voting system, though at least we have a coherent ideology, a unity of purpose and an opportunity to carve a unique position as a result of the sectarianism of Labour and the Tories.

But the recent political chaos also presents an opportunity, one that can change the way we do politics for ever, and it all depends on whether the forthcoming General Election resets the system back into a familiar two party knock-about, or whether voters become alive to the possibilities and actually vote in a more heterogeneous Parliament, that properly reflects the views of the country in its grouping of MPs.

Normally, we would need a proportional voting system to achieve that result, but if all the manoeuvring over a no-deal Brexit can produce meaningful electoral pacts, in which dissenters are given a clear run against their former parties, and where the election is focussed almost exclusively on the remain versus leave arguments, then such an outcome is possible.

It is a big ask, and I still remain sceptical as to whether a General Election can be fought on a single issue in this way, or even if all the relevant parties can put aside their hubris and bring themselves to co-operate properly, but I am coming around to the idea.

Meanwhile, just so we can put things into their proper context, the Guardian reports that the Amazon is still burning and that as it does so the threat to the earth's future grows.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Interesting times

"May you live in interesting times" is an English expression purported to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse. Despite being so common in English as to be known as the "Chinese curse", the saying is apocryphal, and no actual Chinese source has ever been produced. But what times we are living in.

Just a sample of this morning's headlines illustrate the point, involving the Lib Dems having just acquired their seventeenth MP, Angela Smith from Penistone and Stocksbridge in Yorkshire, doing a deal to stand aside for Tory rebels in the forthcoming General Election, and  former Home Secretary and current Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd, quitting the cabinet and Tory whip over Boris Johnson's political vandalism and failure to negotiate seriously with the EU. She plans not to stand again as an MP.

The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond is threatening to sue the Tory Party over having the whip withdrawn. Meanwhile the Prime Minister still refuses to say whether he will obey the law and ask the EU for an extension, and some reports claim that he is planning to try and sabotage the EU altogether by refusing to appoint a commissioner, putting the EU in breach of its own legal duty for all 28 member states to be represented on its executive branch.

And then on top of that we have the usual Tory plot to oust the speaker, who many blame for their present predicament.

The truth is that politics in the UK is broken. What we don't know is whether a general election will reset things or just entrench the chaos even more. We truly do live in interesting times, and it is far from pleasant.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Those disappearing purple hills

As I drove around Swansea yesterday, I looked up at Kilvey Hill and noted the large patch of flowering purple heather that had appeared on part of it. Normally, much more of the hillside is covered in this way, but being in a hurry, I thought nothing more about it.

In today's Independent however, we learn that this absence of heather is more common than I thought. The paper quotes the view of the National Trust that the beloved sight of bright purple heather on English moorland is at risk due to climate change:

The violaceous vistas of late summer have failed to materialise on the Long Mynd in Shropshire and Holnicote on Exmoor, where the landscape is instead a muddy brown.

National Trust officials said it was due to a combination of last year’s drought and an increase in damage caused by the heather beetle pest, which has been encouraged by mild winters.

Up to three-quarters of the heather on the sites, which should bloom through August and early September, is in poor health this year.

Peter Carty, the National Trust’s parkland manager in Shropshire, said: “Last year’s high temperatures, and subsequent lack of rain, damaged a large area of heather and it is clear from the orangey-brown colouration this year that the plants are seriously stressed and unlikely to flower.”

He added: “The milder winter also led to an increase in the heather beetle numbers, which are a natural element of the heather ecosystem, as it wasn’t cold enough to kill off their larvae.

“In places where heather was sheltered from the extreme or where damp conditions were present, the heather has survived. However, there will be no mass flowering this year.”

Though a boon to the beetle, the warming climate could cause problems for other species like the red grouse and the emperor moth, whose caterpillars feed on the plants.

These are real and observable impacts of climate change, with Met Office experts saying that last year’s prolonged hot summer was made 30 times more likely because of it. The Independent has also reported this year on how drought in 2018 killed nearly 90,000 trees that were planted to mitigate the environmental impact of HS2. Project chiefs said it was cheaper to replace them than to water them.

It may already be too late to act, but if we don't at least redouble our efforts and more at an international level then we really will deserve all that we get.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Johnston on tour #PleaseLeaveMyTown

The man who very politely asked Boris Johnston to please leave my town, and in doing so helped to create a hashtag for our times, spoke for many of us.

The Prime Minister is trying to emulate Trump, but his bumbling is convincing nobody, even devout Brexiteers, who were amongst many of his critics when he was in Wakefield yesterday.

And who was it who agreed to allow Johnston to politicise police cadets in the way he did, using them as a backdrop for his highly politicised pro-Brexit speech? In doing so he failed to even tend to the cadet behind him for whom it became too much, as she became unwell and had to sit out the rest of his remarks. Johnson should be emulating the basic humanity shown by Obama when faced with a similar situation, not Trump.

It is little wonder that the EU remains unconvinced of Johnson authenticity, his sincerity and the level of support he has in the country for his views. And frankly, even if they were, why would they change their red lines to suit a country that has rejected all they stand for.

One of the reasons for that lies in this piece in the Independent in which they reveal that the European Union have revealed that there have been “no real negotiations” in Brussels since Johnson entered Downing Street.

The paper says that for weeks, the EU has been waiting for Mr Johnson to make a concrete suggestion on how to end the impasse over their divorce agreement. Without any fundamental change of approach, they are showing little willingness to grant another extension to Britain’s departure:

While the sides are holding technical-level talks aimed at finding a way forward, no new proposals have been made on the main sticking point – how to maintain a seamless and open border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Mr Johnson’s hoped-for deal appears to be purely intended for domestic consumption to most EU ears. “For the talks to make progress, we would need to receive concrete proposals that are compatible with the withdrawal agreement,” European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told reporters this week, after the first round of technical talks.

I think it is getting to the point that if Boris turned up in Brussels he would be asked please leave my town.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Young people sign up to have their say

With a General Election before the end of the year now all but inevitable, the Guardian reports that more than 100,000 people have applied to register to vote since the start of the week, with young people making up the bulk of the surge against the backdrop of a momentous 48 hours in British politics. They say that on Monday, 52,408 applications were submitted, according to government figures, followed by 64,485 on Tuesday:

The figure on both days was significantly above the typical number for weekday applications, which has averaged about 27,000 for the past month.

Parties that have traditionally drawn support from younger people will be most encouraged by the figures, which show that 58% of applications submitted on the two days were from people aged 34 and under. Many of those signing up this week are understood to be students moving into new areas for the start of term, but experts pointed out that others may have put registering on the backburner.

“It’s not surprising that there will be a lot of young people in these figures,” said Dr Toby James, a senior lecturer at the University of East Anglia who has authored reports on Britain’s low levels of voter registrations.

“But I think that there is probably a tidal wave of applications to come. We’re all guilty of leaving things to the last minute.” Labour, in particular, has been having conversations in recent months with groups behind voter registration drives amid concerns about the limitations in systems or names “falling off” registers.

The paper speculates that if sufficient numbers of young voters are registered and marshalled then they could make significant impact in marginal seats with large student populations.

In many ways this is a hopeful sign. It indicates that at a time of national turmoil and unprecedented division, when UK politics are a complete mess, young people are keen to engage to try and change things for the better. Let's hope that they succeed.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Home Office suspected of prioritising high profile EU citizens

Today's Guardian contains an interesting (and rather disturbing) footnote to the problems caused for EU citizens living in the UK as a result of Brexit.

The paper reports on concerns expressed by campaigners that the Home Office is taking rapid steps to resolve the problems experienced by high-profile European nationals applying for settled status who have gone public with their difficulties, whilst leaving millions of others in the lurch.

They say that on Monday night the television star and manager of a Michelin starred restaurant Fred Sirieix, who has lived in the UK for the past 27 years, expressed frustration on Twitter at being asked to provide evidence of five years’ continuous residence despite having submitted his passport details through the mobile phone application. The story continues:

Best known as the host of Channel 4’s First Dates, Sirieix messaged the Home Office and the home secretary, Priti Patel, and his 110,000 Twitter followers, asking: “Is this a joke? I have lived here for 27 years continuously.” Within 12 hours, he had received a phone call from the Home Office, who told him a mistake had been made, and emailed him confirmation that he had been awarded settled status.

“I didn’t have to call them. They called me. I’ve no idea why my case was sorted so quickly. It probably helped that I had one thousand retweets,” he said. “But there will be many other people without a voice, anxiously waiting for help.”

He had been dismayed to receive a notification from the Home Office stating that the extra information was needed because “our automated checks did not confirm your residence in the UK”. He was puzzled about why the checks had not picked up that he had been in uninterrupted employment with the same employer for more than a decade, paying taxes and national insurance.

The experience of applying to remain in the country he considers home had made him feel a “second-class citizen”, he said.

It is little wonder that Maike Bohn, co-founder of the3million charity, supporting the estimated 3.2 million EU nationals who need to apply if they wish to remain in the UK after Brexit, is concerned that applicants who are unable to trigger explosions of online outrage are not getting such swift assistance from the Home Office.

“For every high-profile case that gets a happy ending there are hundreds and thousands of people who are neither getting the status they are entitled to nor help from the Home Office to put things right,” she said.

One way of avoiding these difficulties would be to tweak the scheme so that EU nationals who were resident in the UK did not have to apply for the right to remain (waiting for Home Office approval of their status) but could simply register their presence here, she added. “The only way to avoid immense heartache and a Windrush scenario further down the line is for the prime minister to honour his referendum pledge to EU citizens: to put the rights of all EU citizens into law and change the settlement scheme from application to registration.”
It is little wonder that there is no confidence in the impartiality or the efficacy of the system when it appears that the Home Office is fire fighting adverse publicity rather than getting on with the job.

The way that EU nationals have been treated is an international embarrassment and a disgrace. It reflects badly on the UK and will impact on the many thousands of UK nationals living and working within the EU. This cannot be allowed to continue.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Playing fast and loose with the figures

I was intrigued at the claim by local Conservatives this morning, that Wales is to receive £1.2 billion as a result of the Prime Minister's announcement on education spending in England. If that is the case then surely he has also changed the funding formula under which the Welsh Government receives its money.

In fact, using the Barnett formula, the schools spending announcement would mean an extra £153m in 2020-21, £283m in 2021-22 and £419m in 2022-23 (nominal terms), a total of £855m. This is because the £1.2bn figure includes allocations for increased pension costs (which will go back to the Treasury). That only applies if the announcement is new money. If some of the extra funding has come from underspends elsewhere then Wales will receive a lesser amount.

In the past, after such announcements the Welsh Government has found that cuts to other areas of devolved spending has reduced the amount of money actually passed on to their budget. Furthermore, as the Wales Governance Centre has pointed out, the delayed Spending Review, the lack of a fiscal plan and the uncertainties around the fiscal and economic implications of Brexit make assessing the implications of one spending announcement on future Welsh budgets pretty meaningless.

It is of course up to the Welsh Government how any extra cash is spent, though I tend to agree that education should be the main priority, given cuts since 2013-14 and spending comparisons with other UK countries (the gap in spending per pupil compared to England is £200 rather than the £645 per pupil suggested by the Conservatives.

I am sure that the Welsh Government will make an announcement once it is clearer how much extra they are actually receiving.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Now Tories abandon family values

For a party that once espoused traditional family values, the latest development in the Brexit saga feels rather counter-intuitive. As the Guardian reports, the Home Office is preparing to end the current system of family reunification for asylum-seeking children if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

They say that the government has privately briefed the UN refugee agency UNHCR and other NGOs that open cases may be able to progress, but a no-deal Brexit would mean no new applications after 1 November from asylum-seeking children to be reunited with relatives living in the UK. Even if there is a deal, the future of family reunion is not certain.

Lawyers and campaigners believe that the impact on migrant children stranded alone in countries such as Greece and Italy could be “fatal” as more head for the Channel to try to cross to the UK irregularly.

Efi Stathopoulou, the project coordinator at Refugee Legal Support in Athens, said the family reunification route was the only way she could persuade vulnerable young people to engage with the authorities.

“Children come here very afraid,” she said. “There have been cases where it was very obvious they were being exploited. Without the possibility of a safe way to reach the UK, these young people will simply vanish to try to cross the Channel at Calais on lorries or boats.”

Stathopoulou said Greek authorities asked her earlier this year to help speed up claims if a no-deal Brexit looked likely in order to get as many children as possible processed before the deadline.

Family reunification is vital because of widespread homelessness and exploitation faced by migrants in Greece. “We just helped a boy reach the UK who was street homeless in Athens despite already being being highly vulnerable,” said Stathopoulou. “He had lost his entire [immediate] family to a bomb in Afghanistan. Another boy was raped because he had nowhere safe to sleep.

If the Government proceed with this bar on children they will have taken the definition of uncaring Tories to new depths.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

The medicines that will run out first

The Sunday Times reports that senior doctors have warned the NHS to brace itself for the “biggest threat it has ever faced” if the UK crashes out of the EU on October 31. Their warning has been made in light of a leaked internal document which reveals the risks to patients from expected drug shortages:

Confidential files from NHS England, seen by The Sunday Times, list medicines that have been impossible to stockpile, including for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, epilepsy and the chronic pain condition trigeminal neuralgia.

The documents, which show the drugs categorised according to the expected impact

of shortages, also set out suggested measures for combating supply problems including flying the drugs in. Last month the leak of the government’s Operation Yellowhammer document laid bare the gaps in its planning for a no-deal Brexit. The Yellowhammer file, which was dated early August, stated that supply chains for medicines were “particularly vulnerable” to border delays. About three-quarters of medicines enter the UK via the main Channel crossings.

A senior Whitehall source, who is familiar with an earlier version of the Yellowhammer document, said the government’s fears around the supply of drugs had grown since March 31, the original date for departing from the EU.

“I was quite startled that this appears still to be a serious concern,” the source said. “Back in March ministers were reasonably satisfied that medicines were going to be OK. It’s now looking like that confidence has diminished.”

These revelations sum up exactly why Parliament should not be prorogued for five weeks. If we are to crash out without a deal on 31 October then Ministers need to be questioned in detail as to what exactly they are doing to avert this crisis.

Effective scrutiny has a purpose. It is not just about questioning Ministers but about delivering good government. Boris Johnson's actions make that less likely.

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