.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Bregrets, we've had a few

The Independent reports on a new poll from Pollster UnHerd Britain that highlights which areas of UK have the most and least regrets about Brexit.

They say that the research suggests that the constituencies which most strongly voted for or against Brexit are still entrenched in their views almost seven years on despite the national mood shifting.

Bristol West, which had one of the highest Remain vote shares of 79.3 per cent in 2016, is cited as the constituency where most voters have expressed regret at the UK leaving the European Union:

Pollster UnHerd Britain found that 69 per cent of constituents in Bristol West agreed with the statement ‘Britain was wrong to leave the European Union’, with 50 per cent ‘strongly agreeing’ and 19 per cent ‘mildly agreeing’. This was far higher than the national average - which saw 37 per cent strongly agree and 17 per cent mildly agree.

Edinburgh South, Streatham, Manchester (Witherington) and Islington North - where Jeremy Corbyn is MP - were the other constituencies in the top five, having all seen high Remain votes in 2016.

Meanwhile, Boston and Skegness, which saw 75.6 per cent of votes in the referendum in favour of Brexit – the UK’s highest – saw the least amount of regret among constituents.

UnHerd found 32 per cent of residents in the Lincolnshire seat’s boundary ‘strongly disagree’ with the same statement and 9 per cent ‘mildly agree’. South Holland and the Deepings, Louth and Horncastle, South West Norfolk – Liz Truss’s constituency – and Penrith were also in the top five places to show the least level of Brexit regret having also strongly voted leave in 2016.

Earlier this month, a Savanta survey for The Independent showed 65 per cent of UK participants felt there should be a second referendum. Chris Hopkins, from Savanta, said: “It’s hard to imagine being in the EU would solve any of the country’s current economic issues,” adding: “but perceptions matter”.

What is not clear is how big the sample was in each of these constituencies, which is important in assessing margin of error. However, even if these polls are correct, and there is now a small majority in favour of rejoining the EU, the likelihood of us doing so is remote.

This is not just because winning another referendum will be tough, it will actually be very difficult, but it is highly unlikely that the EU would want us back. 

In my view the main focus should be on pushing to rejoin the single market. If only there was a political party prepared to put its head above the parapet and campaign on that basis.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Boris Johnson on the chicken run?

The Guardian speculates once more about the future of Boris Johnson with the news that the former Prime Minister has been spotted looking at schools and is house-hunting in Oxfordshire, prompting rumours that he is considering running for his former seat of Henley at the next election.

They say that Johnson had been planning to contest his existing seat of Uxbridge, a marginal in west London with a majority of 7,200. However, Labour believes it could be winnable and if Johnson loses it could end his hopes of another run at Conservative leader:

Johnson’s successor in the leafy Oxfordshire seat, John Howell, is understood to have told local Conservative party members privately that he has not yet made up his mind whether he will run again or stand down at the election, expected next year. The Tory MP declined to comment.

While other local Conservatives are already tipped to go for the seat, which has a majority of 14,000, the former prime minister has increased speculation he might be interested in standing after he was seen visiting local schools for his two youngest children.

One member of the Henley Conservative association said: “John hasn’t made his mind up yet whether to stand down or stand again but already there’s several candidates lining up to take over. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if Boris decided to throw his hat in the ring.”

Several Tories are already said to have made the calculation to go on the “chicken run”, swapping newly marginal seats for true blue constituencies, in the hope of hanging on at the next election. One new seat is being created in Oxfordshire under the boundary review.

Johnson still owns a house in Thame, in the Henley constituency he represented from 2001 to 2008, according to the register of MPs’ interests. Sources close to his family have suggested he has been looking at other properties in Oxfordshire. However, allies have denied the claim.

A spokesperson for the former prime minister said: “Boris Johnson has already confirmed he will be standing in Uxbridge and South Ruislip at the next election.”

We will see.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

The price we are paying

Sometimes it seems that ever since the 2015 General Election we have been in the middle of a form of collective madness. A minority of voters gave the Tories a Parliamentary majority for the first time in 18 years and the party immediately set about trashing the country they were meant to be running.

Leading the charge, as it were, was Boris Johnson, a man for whom rules, ethics and the standards of public life are a minor inconvenience, whose main motivator is self-interest and who has spent his entire life winging it and surviving on the good grace of his friends and benefactors.

It is though, one thing to get a rich pal to loan him £800,000, or to have exclusive holidays at the expense of others, it is quite another to get the taxpayers to pick up the bill for his excesses. And yet that is precisely what is happening over the latest investigation into Johnson.

The Mirror reports that taxpayers are expected to foot a massive £222,000 bill for Boris Johnson's legal defence against allegations he misled Parliament over Partygate.

The paper says that a senior civil servant has confirmed that the estimated cost in defending the shamed former Prime Minister had soared by more than £90,000 since 2022. Abd it could go still further:

Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain said: "While the British people battle with a cost-of-living crisis, this Conservative Government seems more interested in helping Boris Johnson with his cost-of-lying crisis. This is a sleazy new low for this Government, dragging politics into the gutter.

"People will be outraged that hundreds of thousands of pounds of their money will be used to defend a lying lawbreaker who disgraced the office of Prime Minister.

And yet the government say that they cannot afford to give nurses, other medical professionals and teachers a decent pay rise.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Hancock's in the money

Matt Hancock and his allies raised a lot of smoke to try and justify him taking time out of his paid Parliamentary dutues to go to Australia for I'm a Celebrity, including that his fee would go to charity and that he was trying to raise awareness of dyslexia. Unfortunately, for the embattled MP, the spin did not match the reality.

The Independent reports that Hancock has so far donated just 3 per cent of the fee he was paid for appearing on I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! to charity.

The former health secretary received £320,000 for his three-week stint on the reality show, of which £10,000 was donated to charity, according to the register of MPs’ financial interests.

As a result of the appearance, he lost the Tory whip. The prime minister, Rishi Sunak, said he was “disappointed” at Hancock’s decision to travel to Australia.

The West Suffolk MP, who is still suspended from the Conservative party, also received £48,000 for his Pandemic Diaries book, the register reveals.

And he doesn't even appear to be embarrassed by this avarice.

Friday, January 27, 2023

The extraordinary wastefulness of the UK Government during covid 19

The Guardian reports on the findings of a National Audit Office investigation that the Department of Health wasted a total of £15bn on unused personal protective equipment, Covid tests and vaccines.

They say that the department spent £8.9bn during 2020/21 and another £6bn last year on such supplies, including masks and gowns for NHS staff that have proved unuseable and are now being burned:

The sums were revealed in the Department for Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) annual accounts and report for 2021/22, published on Thursday, and highlighted in a highly critical assessment issued by the National Audit Office (NAO).

Meg Hillier MP, the chair of the Commons’ public accounts committee, which oversees the NAO, said the accounts showed “extraordinary waste” by the DHSC. The money wasted was “another reminder to Whitehall about the vital importance of proper controls in public procurement, including during a crisis”.

The NAO said that the £6bn wasted in 2021/22 included a £3.5bn writedown on PPE, vaccines and medication to treat Covid which the DHSC had committed to buy but no longer plans to use.

The other £2.5bn was a writedown in the value of goods on which the DHSC originally spent £11.2bn.

Those supplies included £1.5bn of PPE, £5.8bn of Covid-detecting lateral flow tests and PCR tests procured by the test-and-trace programme, £2.7bn worth of vaccines to fight the virus and £1.2bn of various drugs that hospitals used to treat patients.

The DHSC’s report also disclosed that it expects to spend £319m storing and disposing of PPE which is no longer needed and is of such poor quality that it is no use to frontline staff anyway.

In March last year it was still spending £24m a month storing the infection-preventing equipment, the NAO said.

I don't think I need to point out that this money could have funded a decent payrise for nurses and other health workers, and the government would still have had plenty left over for other public sector employees.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

More costs of Brexit

The Independent reports that Britain’s creative industries are missing out on more than £160m in EU funding because of Brexit.

They say this loss follows the Conservative government’s decision to pull the UK out of the EU’s Creative Europe project – which helps fund the continent’s arts and culture sector – during the Brexit negotiations:

Brussels recently increased the budget of its flagship cultural programme by 66 per cent to £2.1bn for the period running up until 2027.

The UK Trade and Business Commission estimated that without Brexit, the UK’s creative sectors would have received an extra £163m from the project – based on the percentage of total funds they received last cycle.

Arts chiefs said the shortfall was compounded by post-Brexit visa and supply chain issues which have hampered musicians, artists, fashion designers and filmmakers since the UK left the bloc.

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Independent Society of Musicians, said the burden of all new requirements was still causing “great harm to one of our flagship industries”.

Ms Annetts, who sits on the UK Trade and Business Commission, added: “At a time when we desperately need growth in the UK economy the government urgently needs to replace this lost EU funding and root out the mountains of red tape which Brexit has imposed on the creative industries.”

The Independent previously revealed that Boris Johnson’s government rejected an offer of visa-free tours by musicians to EU countries, sparking outrage from the industry dealing with the costly blow of permits.

The Johnson government also rejected an offer to remain part of the Creative Europe scheme during the Brexit talks, despite the fact that non-EU members like Norway and Serbia take part.

Despite promises to match lost EU funding, the UK Trade and Business Commission – a group of independent experts which examines the impact of Brexit – said the only successor scheme provided by the UK government, the Global Screen Fund, provided just £7m in its first year.

The loss of millions in arts funding has been felt acutely in devolved nations. In Scotland, the Centre for the Moving Image (CMI) – which received around £350,000 and operated art cinemas and film festivals – went into administration last year.

And the Nerve Centre, a creative arts hub in Northern Ireland, has said that the loss of around £130,000 from Creative Europe has damaged its ability to take risks.

The cost of Brexit is mounting. We definitely need a bigger bus.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The failure of levelling up

Boris Johnson's attempt to reinforce the red wall seats his party won in 2019 through a 'levelling up' agenda was always going to fail, simply because the people who matter in his party, people like Rishi Sunak, are more interested in keeping the Tory heartlands on side. There was never enough money to do both.

The extent to which this levelling up agenda has failed is starkly illustrated by this article in the Guardian, which reveals the findings of researchers at the thinktank, IPPR North that if the north of England were a country, it would be second bottom of a league table showing levels of investment in advanced economies.

They say that only Greece has lower levels of public and private investment in a ranking of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries:

Marcus Johns, the report’s author, said the research showed the UK was standing out internationally for all the wrong reasons.

“Of all the advanced economies around the world, ours is the most regionally divided and getting worse – the north is at the sharp end of these divides and that’s a barrier to prosperity. But what’s even more unacceptable is that our country is divided by design. It is the result of decisions.”

Researchers have calculated overall levels of public and private investment in all 38 OECD countries.

Ireland is ranked top followed by South Korea, Turkey and Estonia. The UK is a lowly 35 in the list followed by Costa Rica (36), Luxembourg (37) and the imagined country of the north of England (38). Greece, still recovering from a sovereign debt crisis and its aftermath, is bottom.

The report attempts to quantify the extent of inequalities in the UK. For example, it says productivity is about £7 lower an hour worked in the north than the rest of England. Hourly pay is £1.60 lower.

Boris Johnson's promises were empty after all. Who knew?

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Failing in their duty of care

The Guardian carries the astonishing (and appalling) news that a government minister has admitted that two hundred asylum-seeking children who were placed in hotels run by the Home Office have gone missing. They include one girl and at least 13 children under the age of 16:

The disclosure comes after the Observer reported that a whistleblower from a Home Office hotel in Brighton had claimed that some children had been abducted off the street outside the facility and bundled into cars.

The department was warned by police that the vulnerable occupants of the hotel – asylum-seeking children who had recently arrived in the UK, many on small boats, without parents or carers – would be targeted by criminal networks.

Answering a question from the Liberal Democrat peer Paul Scriven, Lord Murray disclosed the figures, which have been collated since July 2021. “The Home Office have no power to detain unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in these hotels and we do know that some of them go missing. Many of them that go missing are subsequently traced.”

He said 88% of the 200 children – 176 – were of Albanian origin, and he said the government hoped to phase out the use of hotels for children “as soon as we can”.

There are six Home Office hotels for unaccompanied asylum-seeker children, including the one in Brighton.

NGOs have repeatedly raised concerns over children going missing from accommodation and have offered to help the Home Office keep them safe, but the government has rejected these offers.

Philip Ishola, the chief executive of the anti-child trafficking organisation Love146, which has been warning of the risk of placing unaccompanied children in hotels since the Home Office started using them, said the Home Office rejected an offer from a group of organisations to assess a hotel in Brighton.

“This is more than a year ago and it was obvious then that there were serious concerns about the safety of young people in these hotels. Since then, the Home Office has been warned, repeatedly, that children are going missing, potentially to be trafficked and exploited, yet these concerns have been ignored,” he said.

This is a terrible failure of their duty of care by the UK Government and one that, if it were repeated by a local council, would see that authority put into special measures. Everything possible must be done to try and find these children, while existing arrangement must be overhauled.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Hostile environment intensifying

The Guardian publishes further evidence that the government has not learned lessons from the Windrush scandal with a report saying that the Home Office plans to reheat its “thoroughly discredited” hostile environment policies.

The paper says that the government have announced that a taskforce is being set up to crack down on illegal immigration and, as well as blocking access to banking for those without immigration status, Ministers intend to find new ways of checking individuals’ immigration status when they use schools or the NHS:

The immigration minister Robert Jenrick is leading an intradepartmental group to limit many services for those without status. A tightening of access to rented housing, bank accounts, healthcare, education, driving licences and public funds will all be looked at.

Jacqueline McKenzie, who represented many of the original Windrush victims and is a partner at the law firm Leigh Day, said: “The hostile environment never really went away but, for outward appearances, the language was changed. But it is distressing nevertheless to hear of a formal resumption of the ideas.”

She added: “Given that the Windrush scandal is far from resolved, this is not the time for the government to be reinstating the very systems and policies which have been thoroughly discredited.”

Jenrick said: “Illegal working causes untold harm to communities, cheating honest workers of employment, putting vulnerable people at risk and defrauding the public purse. Our immigration enforcement teams are working to bring those violating our laws to justice. It’s our priority to crack down on this crime and empower law enforcement to remove illegal migrants.”

However, 21 trade unions have also accused the government of allowing further exploitation of migrant workers and undocumented people by returning to hostile environment policies.

Unison, the UK’s biggest trade union, and the PCS union, the biggest public sector union, are among those to have written to the government claiming that its policies, along with its temporary visa schemes, will put migrant workers at increased risk of abuse.

Commenting on the latest rhetoric, McKenzie said: “Once again, a home secretary wants to place non-state actors in a position of snooping and passing on information which they hold in confidence. In arguing that there’s a need to check on illegal working, the government is peddling the idea that migrants are stealing the jobs of British people, but have not offered any evidence or data to support their claim.”

The power to suspend bank accounts was halted in the wake of the Windrush scandal. A government watchdog found in 2017 that one in 10 people refused a bank account because of a failed immigration check were wrongly denied access.

A decision to reintroduce the checks was signalled by Rishi Sunak last month, when he pledged to improve the backlog in asylum cases.

Daniel Sohege, director of the human rights group Stand For All, said: “These measures only end up denying people security, and leading to more being pushed into precarious positions, which can leave them vulnerable to becoming undocumented and even exploited. When you have an error rate as high as was seen last time these types of measures were tried, the inevitable outcome is disenfranchising innocent people.”

Sohege said the latest announcement was an attempt to deflect from serious problems facing the country, such as the cost of living crisis and the challenges in the NHS.

“It’s a desperate move to try and avoid dealing with actually important issues, while attempting to appear to be taking some form of action,” he said. “The irony being that immigration is essential in resolving the very issues, such as staffing shortages, which the government is using this renewed hostile environment to avoid talking about.”

The irony is that far from stemming immigration these policies empower criminal networks, who take advantage of vulnerable refugees, while also damaging our economy and victimising people who have legal status to stay in this country. This is a government lost in its own rhetoric and ordinary people are paying the price.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Is the BBC compromised?

I think that most of us had worked out that the appointment of Richard Sharp as the chair of the BBC was a political act, designed to bring the corporation to heel and to help the Conservatives, few of us knew that it was also a personal appointment in which an interesting relationship between Sharp and the then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson was not disclosed as it should have been.

Today's Sunday Times has an exclusive in which they allege that the BBC chairman helped to arrange a guarantee on a loan of up to £800,000 for Boris Johnson weeks before the then prime minister recommended him for the role.

The paper says that Richard Sharp was involved in talks about financing Johnson’s Downing Street lifestyle in November and December 2020. Sharp, 66, a former banker at Goldman Sachs, had already submitted his application to become chairman of the public service broadcaster and had reached the final stages of the recruitment process:

Late in 2020, Johnson, 58, was in financial trouble as he faced divorce payments, childcare costs and bills for the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat. Sharp, a friend and former adviser to the politician who has given £400,000 to the Conservative Party, became involved that November after a dinner at the home of Sam Blyth, an old friend, in west London.

Blyth, 67, a multimillionaire Canadian businessman and distant cousin of Johnson, is said to have raised the idea of acting as the PM’s guarantor and asked Sharp for advice on the best way forward.

Sharp agreed to help and in the first week of December, he arrived at Downing Street to discuss the matter with Simon Case, the cabinet secretary and head of the civil service. Sharp later introduced Case, 44, to Blyth, and spoke to Johnson.

Before the loan was finalised, Johnson, Sharp and Blyth had a private dinner at Chequers, the prime minister’s grace-and-favour home in the Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire, where, according to a source, they ate chop suey and drank wine. The three insist that Johnson’s finances were not discussed.

In late December, the Cabinet Office propriety and ethics team wrote a formal letter telling Johnson to stop seeking Sharp’s advice about his personal finances, given the forthcoming BBC appointment.

By then, Johnson had selected Sharp as his preferred candidate and, days later, on January 6, 2021, Oliver Dowden, who was then culture secretary, announced him as the government’s choice for the £160,000-a-year role.

In line with the BBC’s royal charter, the chair is appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of the prime minister and culture secretary. They receive advice from an appointments panel of four people, which must run a “fair and open” contest. Anyone can apply, although the government has the final say and can re-run contests if it does not like the shortlisted candidates.

The holder of the position bears responsibility for the corporation and is required to uphold its impartiality and political neutrality.

Sharp did not disclose his involvement in Johnson’s finances to the panel. Nor did he inform the BBC, and the matter was not disclosed during his pre-appointment hearing before a House of Commons select committee in February 2021.

The government’s own job application form explicitly says: “You cannot be considered for a public appointment if ... you fail to declare any conflict of interest.” It also tells candidates to report “any issues in your personal or professional history that could, if you were appointed, be misconstrued, cause embarrassment, or cause public confidence in the appointment to be jeopardised”.

Johnson never disclosed Sharp’s involvement in the MPs’ register of interests, which says members must declare any benefit that could influence, or be perceived to influence, their public work. He also omitted it from his register of ministerial interests. The ministerial code says: “Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise.”

Sharp acknowledged that he “connected” Case and Blyth, but says he did not provide financial advice and insists there was “no conflict [of interest]”. Johnson’s spokesman said he had declared his interests properly and said of the Chequers dinner: “So what? Big deal.” The BBC would not comment.

The Times points out that previous incumbents of the chair at the BBC have been political, from both Labour and the Tories, but there is no known precedent of a prime minister selecting an individual who was simultaneously helping them with their personal finances.

They add that the disclosures pose fresh questions of Johnson:

He was referred to the parliamentary commissioner for standards last week after The Sunday Times revealed the existence of the loan, which was not declared on his register of interests. He insists he did not need to register it as it was a private matter and did not give rise to a conflict of interest. Sharp will face questions of his own, including what measures he put in place to guard against the potential conflict of interest or embarrassment, and whether his decision-making has been affected by his personal proximity to the former prime minister.

The question now is whether the impartiality and integrity of the BBC has been compromised as a result of this latest news and the fact that neither party declared the link? In my view this is a resigning matter for Sharp.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Tory Ministers under siege

The Independent reports that, fresh from his own law-breaking stint in the back of a moving vehicle, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing a call to launch an inquiry into whether Nadhim Zahawi broke the ministerial code, after the Tory Party Chair reportedly paid millions to settle a dispute with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) over his tax.

The paper says that the prime minister has defended the under-pressure Tory chair, claiming that Mr Zahawi has addressed the matter in full after claims that he stumped up a “seven-figure” sum to settle the dispute, but the opposition believe that a series of questions remain unanswered by the cabinet minister:

Labour chair Anneliese Dodds posed the questions to the PM – including whether there is a “VIP fast lane” for government ministers to settle tax disputes with HMRC.

Ms Dodds questioned what due diligence was carried out on Mr Zahawi before his appointment as Conservative chair, asking whether a “red flag” was raised by the Cabinet Office over his tax before his appointment as chancellor in the summer.

She also pressed the PM to explain whether Mr Zahawi had provided him with any details about how much he has paid to HMRC, and asked when the prime minister had become aware of HMRC’s interest in the minister’s tax affairs.

“If answers to these questions have not been provided, can you confirm that a full cabinet inquiry will take place to determine if Mr Zahawi has misled the British public and broken the ministerial code? And if that inquiry finds that he did, will you remove him from post immediately?” she wrote.

“It is dependent on all of us in public life to uphold the highest standards of probity. We have a duty to restore that trust and to ensure that the British public can have confidence in those who create their laws,” Ms Dodds added in the letter to the PM.

The Independent adds that questions have swirled around Mr Zahawi since The Sun on Sunday reported that he had settled a tax dispute relating to an offshore company registered in Gibraltar to hold shares in the YouGov polling company he co-founded:

The Independent reported in July that HMRC officials were examining the tax affairs of the senior Tory figure after an inquiry was launched by the National Crime Agency in 2020.

YouGov’s 2009 annual report showed a more than 10 per cent shareholding by the Gibraltar-registered Balshore Investments Ltd. The report described the company as the “family trust of Nadhim Zahawi”, then an executive director of the polling firm.

But a spokesperson for Mr Zahawi said: “Neither he nor his direct family are beneficiaries of Balshore Investments or any trust associated with it. Mr Zahawi has always said that he will answer any questions from HMRC, which he has always done.”

The spokesperson said the Tory chair’s taxes are “properly declared” and paid in the UK, and that he “has never had to instruct any lawyers to deal with HMRC on his behalf”.

But when questions about Mr Zahawi’s tax affairs were first raised in the summer, following The Independent’s report, a spokesperson for Mr Zahawi said his father Hareth Zahawi owned Balshore Investments.

As Zahawi is a public figure with a hugely influential role in government the questions being posed about him need to be answered.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Those pre-election 'bribes'

Following on from yesterday's post about the Prime Minister's wealthy constituency being awarded £19 million of levelling up funds, the Guardian reports that an analysis of the way the £4 billion fund has been distributed has found that Tory seats have been awarded significantly more money per person than areas with similar levels of deprivation.

The paper says that the disclosure is bound to provoke further fury from some regional leaders, who on Thursday accused Rishi Sunak of offering “pre election bribes”:

Research by the Guardian found that the money allocated so far would disproportionately benefit people in Conservative seats. Voters in Tory seats got £19.47 more a head than those in similarly deprived non-Conservative constituencies in the latest round of funding.

Sunak was forced to defend the government’s allocation of levelling up funds after announcing the 111 projects that will benefit a share of the £2.1bn on offer before the next general election. The winners included £50m for Eden Project North in Morecambe and £50m for a new rail line in Cardiff. However, the awards were met with anger and dismay from across the political spectrum after a number of deprived areas missed out.

Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, decried the government’s “begging bowl culture” and said he had pressed ministers for answers on why some of the region’s poorest areas had lost out.

He added: “The centralised system of London civil servants making local decisions is flawed and I cannot understand why the levelling up funding money was not devolved for local decision-makers to decide on what is best for their areas.”

A Guardian analysis found that Conservative marginal seats, those with majorities of fewer than 8,000 votes, have received 1.5 times the amount of funding per person than all other constituencies under the £4bn budget – £76 a head compared with £53 a head.

Constituencies that won under the Conservative landslide in 2019 – many of which will be vulnerable at the next general election – have been awarded almost twice as much per person as other seats.

Those constituencies, which include “red wall” areas such as Burnley, Workington and Blyth Valley, have received £90 a head under the levelling up fund compared with an average of £53 a head in all other seats.

When deprivation is taken into account there was no statistically significant difference in the per capita awards between marginal seats and others, or between 2019 gains and others. However, voters in Tory seats as a whole benefited from almost £20 more a head, after taking deprivation into account.

Instead of awarding money to areas based on levels of deprivation, the government says it takes into account other factors including value for money, deliverability, and whether the project fits with the priorities of the levelling up fund. That choice has had major implications for funding allocations.

Labour and SNP MPs who lost out voiced frustration at an urgent question in parliament on Thursday, saying Tory areas were having “mouths stuffed with gold” and saying the process “stinks” and was “grubby pork-barrel politics”.

Council leaders questioned the government’s approach after areas like Sefton in Merseyside, which includes some of the most deprived streets in the country, were not deemed to be of high need and had bids rejected.

At least the EU structure funds had a clear and transparent rationale and were based on need. There is nothing like that involved in this process.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Sunak's levelling up agenda goes off the rails again

Oen of the biggest issues with leaving the EU was that we lost access to structural funds that were targeted at the poorest areas to get people back into work and help eradicate poverty.

Naturally, the Tories promised to replace these funds, however not only do the sums not add up, with poorer areas receiving less, but now we have a situation whereby the government is spreading what cash there is more thinly, and directing supposed 'levelling up funds' towards wealthier areas, which just happen to elect Tory MPs.

A less charitable person might suggest that money designed to tackle poverty and lift up economically deprived areas now forms part of a Tory slush fund. I think people should judge for themselves.

The Mirror reports that the latest dsitribution of £2.1 billion worth of levelling up money includes a £19 million investment in the Prime Ministers own wealthy constituency.

The paper says that documents show the £19 million will be used “to transform Catterick Garrison town centre”, including "new routes for walking and cycling, a new town square, and a new community facility that will host new businesses and a community kitchen.”

This allocation puts some flesh on the video which emerged in August of former Chancellor Mr Sunak speaking in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, where he told Tory activists: "We inherited a bunch of formulas from Labour that shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas and that needed to be undone. I started the work of undoing that."

Analysts said London is getting more cash from this latest announcement - £151m - than the North East which gets £108m and Yorkshire and Humber which gets £120m. The biggest regional winner was the North West, with £354m.

The so-called levelling up agenda is a farce.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Brexit continues to hit UK economy

The Guardian reports on the findings of researchers from the thinktanks Centre for European Reform (CER) and UK in a Changing Europe that Brexit has led to a shortfall of 330,000 people in the UK labour force, mostly in the low-skilled economy.

They say that the departure from the EU in 2020 led to an increase in immigration from non-EU countries, but not enough to compensate for the loss of workers from neighbouring countries, with recent Office for National Statistics figures showing an overall reduction in net immigration of 540,000 to June 2022:

However, to assess the impact of Brexit within than decline, the report also used the ONS annual population survey to help model what the UK workforce would have looked like had freedom of movement not come to end and British immigration laws remained the same.

The post-Brexit points system immigration system has, by design, made it more difficult for those without qualifications to move to the UK to work. The system came into force in January 2021 and by June 2022 there was a shortfall of 460,000 EU workers, the research found.

The arrival of 130,000 non-EU workers cushioned the blow but did not close the gap, leaving “large shortfalls” in six key sectors.

Transport and warehousing was worst hit, with a reduction of 128,000 of EU workers, or 8% of total employment in that sector.

In wholesale and retail, the drop amounted to 3%, or 103,000 EU workers, while in the hospitality and food sector it was 4%, or 67,000. Manufacturing and construction were down 2% each, and there was a decline of 32,000 EU workers in administrative and support areas.

“In more skilled sectors, such as healthcare, education and ICT, an increase in non-EU workers more than compensated for losses of those from the EU,” the report found.

The research, entitled Early Impacts of the Post-Brexit Immigration System in the UK Labour Market, was produced by Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics at King’s College London and a senior fellow at UK in a Changing Europe, and John Springford, deputy director of the CER. “Overall, the new system is working broadly as Leave advocates promised,” they concluded.

The CER report comes a couple of months after a key Brexit backer, the chief executive of Next, Lord Wolfson, called on the government to revisit immigration rules to lure back EU workers.

Last month a report by peers warned that the UK’s shrinking labour force and soaring number of job vacancies since the start of the Covid pandemic was putting the economy at risk of weaker growth and persistently higher inflation. Factors behind the trend include loss of freedom of movement, but also the disappearance of many people over the age of 50 from the workforce.

The governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, warned on Monday that a shortage of workers could still pose major risks contributing to inflation through wage growth.

Is it time for a rethink yet?

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Is the Met beyond reform?

The guilty plea by serving Metropolitan police officer, David Carrick yesterday, in which he admitted 49 charges relating to 71 sexual offences including 24 rapes against 12 women, made him one of the worst serial rapists in the UK. And yet despite the alarm being raised several times, no action was taken by the police to deal with his crimes.

The Independent reports that all the crimes, which included patterns of sadistic and degrading abuse, were committed while he was a serving officer in Britain’s largest police force.

And, as if to underline the institutional failures within the Met, it was revealed after Carrick pleaded guilty that more than 1,000 serving officers and staff were subject to past allegations of sex offences and domestic abuse. Despite this, Scotland Yard warned that most would stay in post:

The force launched a review of cases that did not result in criminal prosecution or dismissals, codenamed Operation Onyx, after discovering Carrick had been allowed to remain in uniform even after the Met was alerted to reports of rape and domestic abuse.

It has so far uncovered 1,633 cases, involving 1,071 officers and staff, but Scotland Yard said being flagged by the probe was “not in itself a finding of wrongdoing or sufficient reason to remove an officer from frontline duties”.

“It is therefore likely that the majority of officers whose involvement in past incidents is being reviewed will not automatically be subject to restrictions,” a spokesperson added.

“There are already a number who are subject to risk management measures and this process is to confirm that these measures are sufficient.

“In the event that information was to emerge from a review that raised concerns then an officer or member of staff’s status would be reconsidered without delay.”

The extent of the breach of trust involved in this latest failure by the Met is shown by the fact that Carrick, like Wayne Couzens before him, served with the parliamentary and diplomatic protection command.

I saw on the news yesterday that the Speaker of the House of Commons has demanded assurances from the Met on this particular matter. 

Given that Parliament is also an unsafe place for women at the moment, with the authorities refusing to take all necessary action to help staff there work safely, perhaps Lindssy Hoyle should put his own house in order at the same time.

Is the Met beyond reform? That still needs to be seen, but the signs are not good.

Monday, January 16, 2023

The latest threat to our freedoms

The slow but inexorable chipping away at our rights and freedoms by this Tory government is continuing this week with Ministers planning to lay an amendment to the public order bill to toughen its crackdown on “guerilla” tactics used mainly by environmental protesters.

The Guardian says that the clause is intended to deal with protest groups’ changing tactics, such as slowing traffic to a crawling pace by carrying out walking protests through big cities. Just Stop Oil protesters have used walking protests to draw attention to the climate emergency after the government introduced laws to stop other forms of pop-up demonstrations:

Sunak said the proposals would be tabled through an amendment to the public order bill, which will be debated in the House of Lords this week. The change would broaden and clarify the legal definition of “serious disruption” and allow police to consider protests by the same group on different days or in different places as part of the same wider action.

No 10 said it would mean that police “will not need to wait for disruption to take place and can shut protests down before chaos erupts”. The amendment will now be debated in the House of Lords, where it is likely to face a battle, and its passage will depend on whether it attracts the support of Labour and crossbenchers.

Civil liberty campaigners and protest groups last night said they fear the government’s overly draconian approach.

Shami Chakrabarti, the Labour peer and former director of Liberty, who is challenging some elements of the bill in the House of Lords, said the government’s attempt to get even more powers was “very troubling”.

“The definition of what counts as serious disruption is key to this bill because it is used as a justification for a whole range of new offences, stop and search powers and banning orders. If you set the bar too low, you are really giving the police a blank cheque to shut down dissent before it has even happened,” she said.

Patsy Stevenson, who was arrested at the vigil on Clapham Common for murdered Londoner Sarah Everard, said the bill was “outrageous”.

She added: “I think this bill is going to cause so much damage. This bill is basically like the government saying: ‘We will do whatever we want, regardless of how the public feel about it,’ because once you ban protesting, that bans free speech completely.”

Martha Spurrier, the director of Liberty, said the new proposals are “an attack on our rights” that “must be resisted”. She added they “should be seen for what they are: a desperate attempt to shut down any route for ordinary people to make their voices heard”.

She said: “Allowing the police to shut down protests before any disruption has taken place, simply on the off-chance that it might, sets a dangerous precedent, not to mention making the job of officers policing protests much more complex.”

The idea that police can anticipate action by protestors and take steps to shut them down is a particularly dangerous threat to our civil liberties. However, Anna Birley, co-founder of Reclaim These Streets, has another equally valid point. She says:

“We cannot claim to live in a healthy democracy if our government is curbing our fundamental human rights and if new powers to crack down on dissent are being handed over to police forces grappling with institutional racism, misogyny and homophobia.”

How the police use these new laws is going to be crucial, but it should not be up to unelected and largely unaccountable officers to define our democratic rights, especially when they have lost the confidence of a large number of those they are meant to serve.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Did Welsh Government spend £4.25m for a giant pond?

The Brecon and Radnor Express reports that land at Gilestone Farm, purchased last year by the Welsh Government for £4.25m to accommodate the Green Man Festival and other events, has flooded, following this week's period of heavy rain.

The paper implies that this flooding is a regular occurrence, which is why concerns are being expressed that the transaction went ahead without a full business plan, with no prior ministerial visits to the site and with no advice taken from the music industry to see if the site was appropriate.

The local community council is concerned that the owners of Green Man Festival could hold large scale events at the property, and also at the plans to host multiple gatherings a year at the site for thousands of people without a proper assessment of the impact of these mass tourism events "on the ecology and environment".

The main questions however, must centre on why so much public money was spent on the land without a proper evaluation of the risks, including flooding, and seemingly without any clear and detailed plan for how the farm will be used. This is not government, it is speculation with other people's money.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Clamping down on Ministers

In one of the least surprising news items of 2023 so far, the Independent reports on concerns by the outgoing parliamentary commissioner for standards, Kathryn Stone, that government ministers enjoy less scrutiny of their financial interests than backbench MPs.

The paper says that while ordinary MPs have to register their financial interests with the standards commissioner within 28 days, with a new list published every fortnight, ministers can choose to declare some gifts and hospitality under their department’s name instead, in less detailed lists published quarterly:

This “ministerial exemption” saw Mr Johnson opt not to declare a free holiday at Zac Goldsmith’s luxury Spanish villa in 2021, enabling him to keep the gift’s value private.

Meanwhile, his home secretary Priti Patel took five months to declare attending the No Time To Die premiere as a guest of the Jamaican tourist board, resulting in an ally suggesting she used the “exemption” because the nature of the fictional film related to her ministerial role.

“One of my real frustrations has been not being able to persuade government, parliament about the need to have a kind of equality of arms, if you like, between ministers’ financial interests, and backbench MPs’ financial interests,” Ms Stone told The Times.

“For me, it can’t be right that ministers are held to a different level of accountability. In fact, a lower level of accountability than backbench MPs. That can’t be right because ministers are in an elevated position and much more, it seems to me, at risk of there being a perception of influence.

“And I really do believe that ministers should be held to the same level of accountability as backbench members of parliament.”

MPs on the standards committee are in agreement, having repeatedly called on the government to close the accountability gap, most recently last May, as part of a series of recommendations aimed at cracking down on “sleaze” in the wake of the scandals involving Tory MPs Geoffrey Cox and Mr Paterson.

The committee also called for a ban on MPs acting as consultants, providing “paid parliamentary advice or strategy services”, a move backed in September by Liz Truss’s short-lived government.

Ms Stone was supportive of MPs having other paid roles, however, saying that their “outside interests can bring a very rich seam of knowledge, skill and experience” to Westminster.

“When it tips over to the point where being a member of parliament is your second, third or fourth job, then that’s problematic for me,” said Ms Stone.

“And it’s also problematic for members of the public who elect a representative and expect their interests to be the priority of the member of parliament and not somewhere down the pecking order.

“So I think when MPs are thinking about outside interests, there needs to be a consideration of what that means for their ability to carry out their democratically elected mandate here, which brings enormous responsibility and is an enormous privilege.”

Time for a root and branch reform of the way government and parliament operates in this country.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Is Boris Johnson gearing up for the chicken run?

Today's Times has an interesting piece of gossip with their associate political editor, Henry Zeffman suggesting that Boris Johnson could agree not to challenge Rishi Sunak in exchange for the promise of a safe seat at the next election.

Zeffman says that the plan is for Johnson to “leverage” his position over Sunak if the Conservatives did badly in the local elections in May:

Four months after he left Downing Street, a determined group of Johnson’s supporters still hope he will return as prime minister before the next general election.

One close ally of the prime minister said that the number of Conservative MPs who wanted Johnson to oust Sunak amounted to “only two dozen, maybe three dozen at most” and warned: “We would just look ridiculous if we changed PM again. Most people get that.”

Yet the former prime minister is unlikely to quit politics. “He would find it very hard to give up,” the ally conceded.

Instead, friends of Johnson are mulling ways in which he could agree an informal truce with Sunak which ensures that he is still in the Commons after the next election.

Johnson “will be in a strong position assuming we [the Conservatives] get hammered in May,” a friend said. “He can go to Rishi and say ‘give me a seat in exchange for good behaviour’”.

While Sunak does not wield direct power over candidate selection, in the immediate weeks before an election Conservative headquarters would have more power to effectively impose Johnson on any seat where an incumbent announced plans to retire.

The former prime minister has represented Uxbridge and South Ruislip since his return to the Commons in 2015 and secured a majority of just over 7,000 from Labour in 2019. However, the west London seat is widely believed to be vulnerable to a resurgent Labour Party.

A new constituency would be Johnson’s third: he represented Henley in Oxfordshire before becoming mayor of London in 2008. In recent weeks he has lobbied for Uxbridge’s local hospital and police station in the Commons chamber.

This phenomenon of MPs abandoning their seat for a safer one is not new and is known as the chicken run. It contains no guarantee though, of being returned to Parliament.

I remember in 1997, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Norman Lamont, having effectively torpedoed Tory election chances with black Wednesday, fleeing his marginal Kingston-Upon-Thames seat for the much safer berth of Harrogate and Knaresborough. Unfortunately for him, both seats were won by the Liberal Democrats.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

A dangerous piece of law-making

Anybody who thinks that the government's proposed legislation to restrict the right of public service workers to strike is a good thing should read Martin Kettle's column in today's Guardian.

He argues that the bill is a dangerous piece of law-making, and not just because it is another attack on the so-called right to strike:

Yet the larger problem is that the bill is drafted in imprecise and sweeping terms. These would effectively allow ministers to rule industrial relations by decree, and not only in what are currently regarded as essential services. There is very little detail in the bill about the criteria that ministers would have to apply. This is a potential minefield. It risks creating many more problems than it purports to solve.

The bill describes itself as a piece of legislation “to make provision about minimum service levels in connection with the taking by trade unions of strike action relating to certain services”. But what do some of these words mean in law? Look in more detail at the full draft and it is not clear, for instance, where “provision” begins and ends, what “minimum levels” actually mean in individual cases, whether “strike action” includes other forms of industrial action, or where the boundaries of “certain services” are drawn.

Two of these issues, in particular, run through the whole bill as published. Both need far more thought than the bill shows any sign of embodying. The first is about the services that would be covered. The bill lists six: health services, fire and rescue, education services, transport services, radioactive waste and border security.

These are broad categories covering many activities. Not all are provided by the state, so hundreds of private firms will be directly affected by ministerial decisions. In some sectors, “life and limb” cover is required by law already. Yet strikes in education, for example, place the public at less direct risk than strikes in the fire service could do. Other industries, such as fuel or even banking, could be regarded as essential services but are not covered in the bill.

The second trap is how to define a minimum level of service. It is the minister’s job under the new bill to specify what this means, sector by sector, depending on the dispute. The bill grants enormous scope. The legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg describes one clause, allowing ministers to “amend, repeal or revoke” other laws, even before they come into force, as “a supercharged Henry VIII clause”.

The International Labour Organisation, of which the UK is a founding member, has rules and conventions about minimum service levels. You would hardly know this from the bill. Instead, the bill gives ministers sweeping new powers, which they could use wisely and narrowly, or recklessly and across the board. It will all depend on the good sense and competence of the government in question. Not a happy thought.

This bill is dangerous, undemocratic and unnecessary. It should be opposed in full.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Soviet-style airbrushing hits Parliament

Just when you thought Boris Johnson was on the verge of making a political comeback, a Tory cabinet member makes plain in the most humiliating way, that the former Prime Minister is still persona non grata in government circles.

As the Independent reports, Business secretary Grant Shapps appeared to have airbrushed Boris Johnson out of a picture promoting Monday night’s failed Virgin Orbit flight:

Posting on Twitter, Mr Shapps shared an image showing himself and two officials in front of a Virgin rocket at the spaceport in Newquay, Cornwall ahead of Monday’s launch.

But eagle-eyed users noticed that Mr Johnson, the former prime minister, had featured in the original snap, which remains on the Number 10 Flickr account, dated 9 June 2021. It was also previously posted by Virgin Orbit.

Mr Shapps has since deleted the tweet, which said: “The UK govt is delighted to be backing the FIRST ever satellite launch from European soil”.

Some Twitter users poked fun at the gaffe, with one asking: “Can he [Mr Johnson] be erased from history as well?” Another took aim at the editing skills on the photo, which appeared to have left behind part of Mr Johnson’s elbow.

“Grant has left part of Johnson’s elbow. Messy,” they said. Another added: “I’m all in favour of erasing Boris Johnson.”

Rumours that Rishi Sunak is establishing a Ministry of Truth appear to be unfounded.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

When Welsh Ministers abandon collective responsibility

Walesonline reports on the regulatory impact assessment attached to the Welsh Government bill, which will make 20mph the default speed limit in all urban centres this side of Offa's Dyke.

They say that he Welsh Government's own analysis points to a potential £4.5bn hit to the economy. Published in the explanatory memorandum on the topic, the minister for climate change signed off on the analysis saying it "gives a fair and reasonable view of the expected impact" of the 20mph limit and that she is "satisfied that the benefits justify the likely costs".

So far so good. A policy proposal has been put forward, its costs and benefits evaluated and the Minister has made the argument that her priority is to save lives and that accordingly she is prepared to accept the potential downside, even though that has been identified as £4.5 billion over a 30 year period. Her deputy however is not so circumspect:

When asked about the increased cost to the economy by the BBC deputy climate change minister Lee Waters said: "The idea that being a minute later to get to school harms the economy, I just don't believe it, so I think the figures are discredited in my view and there's a movement to change that. Also it's going to save lives - we know it's going to save lives."

So effectively, a government minister is trashing the official document, which has been signed off by his boss, by arguing that the figures in it are wrong. How is that the basis for rational law-making? Whatever happened to collective responsibility?

Monday, January 09, 2023

Those lucrative second jobs

For those who believe that being an MP is a full-time job, the latest revelations in the Guardian must really sting. The paper says that Tory MPs have received £15.2m from second jobs since the last general election, dwarfing the combined income of politicians who represent other parties.

The biggest recipient is former prime minister Theresa May, who took home £2.5m on top of her parliamentary salary, mainly from giving speeches to organisations in the US such as JP Morgan bank and the private equity firm Apax Partners. She draws a salary of £85,000 from this pot and says the rest of the money is used to fund her private office, promote her involvement in public life, and make charitable donations:

Other top recipients include Boris Johnson, who has hit the global speaking circuit with a passion after being deposed from Downing Street last summer. He has already received more than £1m since October by giving just four speeches, at a rate of more than £30,000 an hour. Despite this he also had his family’s rent paid for by the owners of JCB and received gifts of flights and accommodation from Rupert Murdoch.

The analysis by Sky News and Tortoise found MPs collectively received £17.1m from outside income since the 2019 election, with most of the money going to Conservative politicians. Labour MPs earned a comparatively small £1.2m from outside work, while Liberal Democrat MPs took an additional £171,000 and SNP MPs banked £149,000.

The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, told Sky News that he supported tougher restrictions on MPs having outside jobs, repeating a pledge made during the 2021 scandal over Owen Paterson being paid to lobby for a company while sitting as a Tory MP.

“What I want – what I still want – is for the new House of Commons to agree new rules,” said Starmer, while insisting he did not want a complete ban on MPs receiving extra money on top of their jobs. “Broadly speaking I think there’s a million miles of difference between someone advising a company on strategy and someone who’s writing a political book.”

Starmer himself received about £26,000 from legal work conducted while a serving Labour MP but before he became leader of the opposition.

The paper adds that while 54% of MPs are Conservatives, they account for 89% of external income over the last three years.That includes Geoffrey Cox, who has earned £2.2m from legal work in the last three years while serving as Tory MP for Torridge and West Devon:

The former attorney general received much of it for his work advising the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands, which is being investigated by the UK government due to corruption concerns.

John Redwood, Andrew Mitchell and Chris Grayling were among other prominent Tory MPs to be paid more than £200,000 in additional income since 2019.

The Labour MP with the highest outside income was David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary. He has taken home £202,000 since the last general election on top of his main salary, with the biggest source of income being fees for presenting a weekly show on radio station LBC. The only other Labour MP in the top 20 was Jess Phillips, who has earned £162,000 in the last three years from media appearances and writing books – including £5,000 for being a guest on Have I Got News for You.

Nice work if you can get it.

Sunday, January 08, 2023

The anti-democratic instinct at the heart of this Tory Government

According to the Guardian leaked government emails have revealed that Rishi Sunak considered banning thousands of workers from joining a union, in proposals that have been described as potentially the “biggest attack on workers’ rights and freedoms” for decades:

The messages, shared between senior civil servants and seen by the Observer, reveal that the prime minister contemplated banning Border Force (BF) staff from trade union membership under its anti-strike legislation announced last Thursday.

Union leaders fear the extreme measures – not even known to be under consideration until now – could have also been considered for other sectors, theoretically leading to more than a million workers banned from joining unions.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: “These emails reveal that while the government publicly is saying: ‘We want to resolve the dispute’, behind the scenes they were preparing the biggest attacks on fundamental rights and freedoms that we would have seen in this country for generations.”

Apparently, the most extreme model – banning workers from trade union membership – was rejected only because it might “be difficult to justify” because the European Convention on Human Rights guaranteed UK workers the right to join a union. 

Either way both that proposal and the one they are going with - enforcing “minimum service levels” in public sectors such as the NHS, with employers able to sue unions and sack staff if minimum standards are not met- amount to a fundamental attack on democratic values taking us back to Victorian times.

It is also worth considering the conclusions drawn by Jonathan Freedland in yesterday's Guardian in judging exactly where this government is at as it flounders in the face of its own incompetence. He draws comparisons between the Trumpian disorder seen in the US Congress' attempt to elect a speaker, and the post-Brexit Tory Party:

In the UK, it looks different: we have a prime minister in Rishi Sunak whose pitch is technocratic competence. But that should not conceal two things.

First, the post-2016 Tory party delivered just as much parliamentary turmoil and intra-party division as McCarthy and co served up this week. Whether it was the Commons gridlock of the two years preceding the 2019 election or the psychodrama of the three years after it, Brexit-era Conservatism has proved every bit as unhinged as Trump-era Republicanism. When it comes to burn-it-all-down politics, the Republicans’ craziest wing are mere novices compared with a master arsonist such as Liz Truss. The US and UK are simply at different points in the cycle.

Second, even with Sunak in charge, and though painted in less vivid colours, Brexit-era Toryism is just as paralysed as its sister movement in the US. The five-point plan unveiled in the PM’s new year address consisted mostly of the basics of state administration – growing the economy, managing inflation – rather than anything amounting to a political programme.

And that’s chiefly because his party, like the Republicans, cannot agree among themselves. Consider how much Sunak has had to drop, under pressure from assorted rebels. Whether it was reform of the planning system, the manifesto commitment to build 300,000 new houses a year or the perennial pledge to grasp the nettle of social care, Sunak has had to back away from tasks that are essential for the wellbeing of the country. True, he has avoided the farcical scenes that played out this week on Capitol Hill, but that’s only because he has preferred to preserve the veneer of unity than to force a whole slew of issues. The result is a prime minister who cannot propose much more than extra maths lessons lest he lose the fractious, restive coalition that keeps him in office.

None of this is coincidence. It’s in the nature of the rightwing populist project, in Britain, the US and across the globe. Brexit is the exemplar, a mission that worked with great potency as a campaign, as a slogan, but which could never translate into governing, because it was never about governing. It was about disrupting life, not organising it – or even acknowledging the trade-offs required to organise it. It offered the poetry of destruction, not the prose of competence.

As Freedland suggests, the Tories have ceased to govern, instead they have become a natural party of opposition.

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Tories plan to ditch key Windrush pledges

The Guardian reports that Home Secretrary, Suella Braverman is planning to abandon several of the key commitments made in the wake of the Windrush scandal as the UK government prepares to implement hardline promises to fast-track the detention and removal of migrants.

The paper says that Braverman has dropped a pledge to create the post of a migrants’ commissioner, who was due to be responsible for speaking up for migrants and for identifying systemic problems within the UK immigration system, while another promise to increase the powers of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICIBI) has also been abandoned, as work on the post-Windrush reform programme is downgraded:

The recommendations were accepted three years ago by the government after a formal inquiry by Wendy Williams examined the scandal under which the Home Office erroneously classified legal residents, many of whom arrived from Caribbean countries as children in the 1950s and 60s, as immigrants living in the UK illegally.

The recommendations would have intensified independent scrutiny of Home Office policies on migration, days after Rishi Sunak staked his political future on plans to curb irregular migration to the UK.

In his first major speech of 2023 laying out five key pledges, the prime minister said on Wednesday: “We will pass new laws to stop small boats, making sure that if you come to this country illegally you are detained and swiftly removed.”

Officials have also discarded a commitment to run a series of reconciliation events that were due to be attended by senior Home Office staff and ministers during which members of the Windrush generation would have been invited to “articulate the impact of the scandal on their lives”.

A Whitehall source said the decision to drop Williams’ recommendations was supported by Downing Street and was meant to curb potential critics of Sunak’s flagship policy.

“The home secretary is doing what is necessary to make sure everything is done to stop the boats. The Williams review is not set in stone,” the source said.

A Home Office source said Braverman had expressed a desire to move on from the Windrush clean-up exercise when she took office in autumn last year, and hoped to quietly wrap up work on the reform initiatives.

“I think there’s a feeling that Windrush was a bit toxic. The current home secretary seems to be saying ‘this has nothing to do with me and anyway it’s all fixed now’,” the source said

The former home secretary Priti Patel made a firm promise to introduce all 30 recommendations made by Williams in 2020, who listed in her Windrush Lessons Learned Review the precise steps the department needed to take to avoid any repeat of the scandal.

An announcement is due to be made next week, revealing that 28 of the 30 recommendations were being formally “closed”, even though several have not been completed.

Three recommendations have been marked “discontinued”: recommendations nine (the migrants’ commissioner) and three (the reconciliation events), and recommendation 10, which would have strengthened the role of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, giving the body “more powers with regard to publishing reports”.

Williams’ review also wanted to force ministers to either implement the inspectorate’s recommendations or explain why not. At present, it is the only government inspectorate that cannot decide when its reports are published and instead relies upon the home secretary’s discretion.

The Home Office’s compensation team will continue to process claims, and is not affected by the decision to wind down the lessons learned reform project.

It is little wonder that Wendy Williams has concluded that the Home Office has broken its commitment to introducing comprehensive cultural reform.

Friday, January 06, 2023

Prime Minister flailing in face of crisis

It is beginning to look as if this Tory government will do anything to avoid negotiating properly with essential frontline workers like nurses, junior doctors and ambulance drivers. Instead they are relying on a forlorn hope that the public mood will turn against the strikers.

But what do they hope to achieve by introducing even more draconian anti-strike laws? Effectively decreeing that people cannot legally withdraw their labour is only going to garner more sympathy for those who wish to do so, especially when their cause is a just one, and is perceived as just by the public.

According to the Guardian, Rishi Sunak’s is now threatening new anti-strike legislation to enforce “minimum service levels” in key public sectors including the NHS and schools. Predictably these proposals have drawn a furious reaction from unions as the prime minister scrambles to get a grip on industrial disputes.

The paper says that the law, which the government plans to introduce in the coming weeks, will allow bosses in health, education, fire, ambulance, rail and nuclear commissioning to sue unions and sack employees if minimum levels are not met.

What is not mentioned is how ministers plan to replace the staff who are sacked when it can take years to train up medical professionals, many of whom can make more money working for an agency than for the NHS. None of the UK governments have a good track record on workforce planning:

Under the plans, first proposed by Liz Truss’s government, minimum service levels will be set for fire, ambulance and rail services, with the government consulting on the adequate level of coverage for these sectors, to address concerns that disruption to blue-light services puts lives at risk.

However, it will also reserve the power to impose minimum service levels in the other three public services – health, education, nuclear – although ministers expect to reach voluntary agreements in these areas and say they would only impose the anti-strike law if this were not possible.

Government sources confirmed that union members who were told by their employers to work under the minimum service requirement but refused to do so could lose their jobs. The new law will also back employers bringing an injunction to prevent strikes or seeking damages afterwards if they go ahead.

The Guardian has learned that even the government has admitted its approach of using minimum service levels to curb strikes could backfire. In an impact assessment published last year, the transport department said the move could push unions into striking more frequently as a way to put pressure on employers.

The same document also warned that it could lead to workers taking more non-strike industrial action, such as refusing to work overtime, which could still cripple certain industries.

Ministers claim the plans are about ensuring public safety, in the case of the health service, rather than attacking the unions.

However, nurses came to their own national agreement about providing a minimum level of service during recent strikes. The ambulance service did not, meaning some patients suffering a heart attack or a stroke did not know there was help on the way.

Guaranteeing safe staffing on every day of the year, not just strike days, and paying staff a decent wage would of course be welcome and would have huge public support, but this legislation is not about that. Instead the government is risking more confrontation in key services, while effectively legislating to undermine democratic rights. This government is becoming a dictatorship by statute.

Thursday, January 05, 2023

Welsh Labour Government failing patients

Yesterday brought the bizarre news that senior NHS staff have been advised by the Welsh government to discharge people from hospital who are well enough to leave, even without a package of care being in place.

This drastic advice comes in the light of news that one in nine beds are effectively blocked because patients who are in recovery do not have adequate arrangements in place to look after them if they went home.

According to the BBC, the seven health boards in Wales have nearly 1,800 patients medically well enough to leave hospital, the Welsh government has called the NHS situation "unprecedented", while one health leader said the NHS was on a "knife-edge" in terms of its ability to cope.

This is not something that has developed overnight. The crisis in community and social care has been building up for some time because of the failure of the Welsh Government to address the huge problems with staffing and funding. But effectively throwing patients out on the streets without proper support is not the answer. This is what one GP had to say on the issue:

Dr Sayma Ahmed, a GP at Cloughmore medical centre in Splott, Cardiff, told BBC Radio Wales Breakfast that people usually needed carers to take their medication, feed them, help them go to the toilet, and if a plan was not in place they would eventually deteriorate and end up back in hospital.

"I completely understand the thinking, I've worked in a hospital for many years before becoming a GP, it does make sense, but being on the other side in primary care directly seeing these patients in their homes, we are dealing with them day to day.

"There are lots of patients we have to send in because they have got to a state where they had to go in [to hospital] because they haven't been able to care for themselves, and essentially they've become unsafe, or are already unsafe, so it is terrifying, and I can understand people asking what are we going to do, but this isn't going to fix it."

The letter added that it offered support and understanding, as this necessary adjustment in the clinical risk threshold for hospital care may be concerning for some professionals.

The leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats is absolutely right when she says that many patients could end up being readmitted if adequate care packages are not put in place:

"There has been a systematic failure from successive governments over the last few decades to provide meaningful improvements to the social care system in Wales.

"Reforming social care was a key promise of the Labour and Plaid Cymru Co-operation Agreement, yet things appear to be worse than ever.

"We cannot solve the crisis in our A and E departments until the crisis in social care is solved. The Welsh Government must ensure that patient safety is protected throughout the health care system and that meaningful reforms to the social care syste, are forthcoming."

Welsh Labour Ministers need to rethink this advice and start to get to grips with reforming the social care system.

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

Welsh MInisters selling out principles in a five star hotel

As if it was not bad enough that the Welsh First Minister and his officials went to the World Cup in Qatar in defiance of his own government's policies on human rights, it now emerges that they were put up in a five star hotel at the Qatari Government's expense.

The BBC reports that two ministers and four officials stayed three nights in the Ritz-Carlton as guests of the host nation:

The Liberal Democrats said by accepting the hospitality the Welsh government potentially undermined its commitment to human rights.

The Welsh government said the trip was to strengthen Wales' links with Qatar.

A spokesperson said the visit enabled the Welsh government to share its values in Qatar and it was a chance to discuss trade and investment opportunities.

Late last year a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Lib Dems showed the Welsh government had paid £13,000 for flights for the controversial trip.

Following a subsequent FOI request by BBC Wales, the Welsh government confirmed that the trip's "accommodation, board and transport" in the country was provided by the Qatar government.

The Welsh government added that these elements were part of a hospitality package offered to all delegates and their travelling parties attending the World Cup and the arrangement was used by both Mr Drakeford and Economy Minister Vaughan Gething.

The hotel used was the Ritz-Carlton, described on the company's website as a "rich resort experience" set on a private island.

Plaid Cymru's Adam Price, the Liberal Democrats and Labour's Chris Bryant had urged Mark Drakeford to call off the trip over human rights concerns.

The country has been criticised over its treatment of women, LGBT people, and migrant workers.

The Welsh government had raised "serious concerns" over the country's LGBT rights record but said the tournament gave Wales an opportunity to promote itself on the world stage and to seek investment from Qatar.

Mr Drakeford attended Wales' opening group match against the USA, while Mr Gething attended Wales v England.

Both ministers were accompanied by a delegation of two officials, with each group staying in the Ritz-Carlton separately for three nights.

Jane Dodds, Welsh Lib Dem leader and MS for Mid and West Wales, has previously said the Welsh government should not "contribute to the whitewashing of Qatar's human rights record".

She told BBC Wales: "By accepting this gift from the Qatari government, Mark Drakeford has potentially undermined the Welsh government's commitment towards human rights, LGBTQ+ rights and women's rights."

She added that the government and Welsh Labour should donate the equivalent cost of the trip to human rights charities.

Perhaps we should see the transcripts of the discussions with the Qatari government so we can see for ourselves what they raised with them.

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Westminster sexual misconduct in the news again

The Guardian reports that calls are growing for third parties to be allowed to make complaints to Westminster’s sexual misconduct watchdog, after concerns were reignited about parliament’s culture by a Labour MP who privately shared a list of 20 MPs to avoid.

The paper says that after a number of sexual misconduct and bullying scandals have led to suspensions and resignations of sitting MPs, some parliamentarians and unions say they remain concerned that witnesses cannot make complaints:

Complaints to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Service can also only be made by those working on the parliamentary estate or in constituencies, not from those outside who experience bullying or harassment from MPs.

Mike Clancy, the general secretary of Prospect, a leading union for staff working for parliament, said: “Trade unions and others in parliament have been warning for many years about a dangerous culture which fails to address sexual misconduct.

“It is abundantly clear that further reform is needed to protect those working there. This must include excluding MPs under investigation for sexual misconduct and must also include allowing third parties to report complaints to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Service.”

Charlotte Nichols, the Labour MP for Warrington North, posted the list of 20 names on a WhatsApp group for other Labour MPs before deleting it, saying it had been sent in error, according to the Mail on Sunday.

Nichols, who was elected in 2019, has previously said that when she arrived in Westminster, she was given a “whisper network list” of dozens of politicians to avoid.

Speaking in November, she said some MPs were notorious for their bullying or sexual misconduct, adding: “We all know and nothing is done and they continue to walk around and do their jobs – and there’s that kind of culture of impunity on it.”

The report cited a Conservative MP who called the list “grossly irresponsible” and said Nichols should make a complaint to the ICGS or police if she had evidence.

Responding on Twitter, Nichols said: “I can’t legally make a third-party report to the ICGS or police. Am I not meant to warn others about conduct I’ve seen, experienced or been told about that many times by different people that it’s a clear pattern of behaviour? I’m many things but a bystander isn’t one, and while Westminster is as grim as it is I won’t pretend otherwise.”

She added: “What’s actually irresponsible is the lack of real action to sort out Westminster’s sexual harassment problem which is so endemic other MPs and staff have to be warned about some colleagues’ behaviour to keep them safe! Wish it wasn’t this way, but for now it is. So here we are.”

While MPs remain effectively above the law, it is clear that Westminster is not a safe place to work. It is surely time that Parliament got its own house in order.

Monday, January 02, 2023

Fast track donations

The Mirror reports that a company linked to Tory peer Michelle Mone’s husband pumped tens of thousands of pounds into the Conservative Party’s war chest.

They add that at least £171,480 was donated before Baroness Mone, 51, and husband Doug Barrowman, 57, allegedly benefited from a multimillion-pound Covid PPE deal, worth £200million to a company she recommended called PPE Medpro:

The money was given through a UK-registered business, Lancaster Knox LLP, part of Mr Barrowman’s Isle of Man-based Knox Group. Electoral Commission records show donations from May 2017 to June 2019.

They included three cash sums of £50,000 each and auction prizes worth more than £17,000.

HSBC documents leaked in November allegedly show £65m was paid to a trust benefiting Mr Barrowman in September 2020.

Leaked documents suggest an offshore trust linked to Baroness Mone received £29m, which seemingly originated as profits.

She failed to declare her lobbying to the House of Lords. She is currently on leave.

The National Crime Agency is probing the PPE Medpro deal.

The Government is now suing PPE Medpro for £122m, claiming some of the kit was faulty.

And yet the government says it cannot afford to pay the nurses more.

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Unfulfilled promises

The I newspaper reports that a Government scheme announced under Boris Johnson’s premiership to build around a dozen schools alongside housing developments was wound down without any schools being built.

The paper says that the Developer Loans for Schools scheme, a £220m policy announced when Gavin Williamson was education secretary in 2019, was designed to cut overcrowding in schools caused by new housing developments. At the time, the Government claimed the policy would “deliver thousands of school places up front, so they are ready for communities before new properties are finished”. However, even by UK Government standards, the scheme was a complete flop:

One Whitehall source said it was “almost unprecedented” how poorly the scheme had gone, given the £220m funding guarantee behind it.

Criteria for applications submitted by developers required the area where the school would be built to have a demand for more pupil places, an approved application to open a new free school and planning permission to build extra homes. Applications also needed to show they provided value for money and the borrower had to be a UK-registered company and own the site.

As part of the pilot, which began in October 2019, developers were eligible for loans of up to £22m from the Government to build a school to help ease overcrowding. According to the loan terms, developers would have been charged interest on the loans, which the Department for Education (DfE) told Schools Week at the time would have been as “low as possible”.

One developer said that the interest rates, alongside potential legal liability on any faults in new school buildings meant developers spurned approaches to apply for loans.

Some of the developers involved also specialised in the building of residential housing, which required a different set of skills to the building of a school.

One industry insider said: “It’s one of those schemes that wasn’t publicised enough, and builders didn’t have good awareness of. It was bureaucratic and seemed very tough to actually get money out of.

“As with many Government projects, it starts off with a good idea at face value and a beneficial thought process, but came out completely unworkable. As a principle, it sounds like a great idea but the focus of the scheme wasn’t actually getting money out of it.”

Yet another government initiative designed on the back of a fag packet.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?