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

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Tories abandoning the rule of law

As the Conservative party is supposedly a strong supporter of the rule of law, this article in the Daily Mail must have come as a shock to the hang 'em and flog 'em brigade, or is it just that they want to enforce the rules against those who disagree with them politically?

The paper reports that Tory MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith has said that he backs the 'blade runners' who are vandalising ULEZ cameras, om the rather spurious and debateable grounds that his constituents have been 'lied to':

Sir [Iain Duncan] Smith said: 'A lot of people in my constituency have been cementing up the cameras or putting plastic bags over them.

'I am happy for them to do it because they are facing an imposition that no-one wants and they have been lied to about it.

'The actions you are seeing show how angry people are at what is being imposed on therm. Sadiq Khan has gerrymandered all the information – people have had enough.'

His comments come as the Transport Secretary has said that the expansion of the ULEZ to all London boroughs is not about air pollution but a 'money-raising exercise'.

Today, London became the world's largest pollution charging area after Ulez was expanded to include the whole of the capital.

People who drive in the zone in a vehicle that does not meet minimum emissions standards are now required to pay a £12.50 daily fee or risk a £180 fine, reduced to £90 if paid within 14 days.

London mayor Sadiq Khan has faced strong opposition to the scheme, although a £160 million scheme run by Transport for London (TfL) enables residents, small businesses, sole traders and charities scrapping non-compliant cars to claim grants.

Speaking on GB News this morning, Mark Harper said he would stop the rollout if he had the power to do so and highlighted his reservations about the true motives behind the expansion.

Meanwhile, in a separate round of interviews, the London mayor denied that extending Ulez was 'anti-car' and accused Mr Harper of 'factual errors'.

Will the Chingford MP now be supporting climate change protestors who have been disrupting traffic and daily life in London and elsewhere? After all, they are taking direct action against a government that has lied about its commitment to the environment. No, I didn't think so.

I hope that government ministers refer Duncan Smith to the police for inciting vandalism and law-breaking. I'm not holding my breath however. If there is one thing this current government excels in, it's hypocrisy.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Another day, another broken promise

Leaving the EU would not mean that the country will relax its environmental protections, they said. More recently, Ministers made a specific pledge to “not lower environmental protections or standards”. And yet, that is precisely what they have done.

The Independent reports that environmental campaigners have hit out at Rishi Sunak’s government after it confirmed that EU-era restrictions that force housebuilders to mitigate the impact of new developments on rivers will be scrapped.

They say that levelling up secretary, Michael Gove has defended plans to scrap “clunky” EU-era environmental protections on nutrient neutrality – hailing it as a Brexit benefit to boost housing:

Mr Gove said it was a “myth” that water quality in British rivers has deteriorated under the Conservative government, saying they “all cleaner than they have been in the past”.

The government has argued that housing developments contribute only a small fraction of nutrient pollution and new funding is being provided to mitigate any associated increase.

But environmental campaigners accused the government of going back on its word and suggested the change would allow developers to cut corners, branding it a “disgraceful move”.

Speaking on a visit to a new-build housing estate near Norwich, Mr Sunak told broadcasters that the boost to housebuilding would be “fantastic for young, first-time buyers”.

Current nutrient neutrality rules prevent developers from building houses in protected areas when it would add harmful substances like nitrogen and phosphorus into nearby rivers and lakes, because such nutrients can cause algal blooms that deprive other plants and animals of light and oxygen.

Under legislation derived from the EU, Natural England currently issues guidance to 62 local authority areas, requiring new developments to be nutrient neutral in their area. This requirement will now be watered down to become guidance.

Changes will see the financial burden to mitigate nutrient pollution for new housing shifted from developers to taxpayers – with the government promising to double investment in the nutrient mitigation scheme run by Natural England, to £280m. A further £166m will be allocated for slurry infrastructure grants.

The changes are being proposed via an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which is currently going through the House of Lords, with the government claiming it could see additional homes being built in a matter of months.

Mr Gove said: “The way EU rules have been applied has held us back. These changes will provide a multibillion-pound boost for the UK economy and see us build more than 100,000 new homes.”

But Greenpeace UK policy director Dr Doug Parr said: “Who would look at our sickly, sewage-infested rivers and conclude that what they need is weaker pollution rules? No one.”

They added: “Instead of allowing house builders to cut corners, the Sunak administration should make sure we have the right infrastructure to handle our sewage so we can build new homes without sacrificing our rivers’ health.”

It is highly unlikely that these new homes will be affordable ones, while it is almost certain that the quality of our rivers will deteriorate still further. Zac Goldsmith was right, this government is not interested in our environment at all.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Braverman steps up the spin on policing

The Home Secretary's announcemnt yesterday that from now on the police will do all they can to tackle crime, begs the question as to what the boys and girls in blue have been doing up until now, and in particular why it has taken the Tories thirteen years to realise that things are far from satisfactory on the law and order front.

What is more, from what I heard of yesterday's interviews, this latest initiative appears to be predicated on a wish and a prayer, rather than any serious commitment to properly resource the police. In particular, the claims around police numbers do not stand up to scrutiny.

The Guardian reports that police chiefs have suggested the home secretary is interfering with their operational independence by demanding forces pursue all reasonable crime leads at a time when their resources are being outstripped by a rise in offences:

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) raised serious doubts about an initiative Suella Braverman used to launch the government’s crime week with insistence that there was “no such thing as minor crime”.

Braverman instructed forces to follow all evidence such as footage from CCTV, doorbells and dashcams, as well as phone data, to find a suspect or stolen property.

The NPCC responded to the plan in an open letter to Braverman, which pointedly began: “For decades, police forces have had a duty to pursue all reasonable leads of an alleged crime.”

On Monday, Braverman said forces had the resources to pursue all reasonable leads, and pointed to the government’s restoration of 20,000 officers that were cut between 2010 and 2018.

However, the letter by the NPCC chair, chief constable Gavin Stephens, suggested her plan was unrealistic given the squeeze on police funding at a time of rising crime.

“To see trust in police return to where it used to be, an effectively staffed and properly funded police service is essential,” the letter said.

Stephens said that 21 of the 43 forces in England and Wales “still have less officers than in 2010”. He added: “It is therefore right that police chiefs have operational independence and are responsible for making difficult decisions around how best to respond to the breadth of priorities of local communities.”

The letter welcomed the restoration of 20,000 officers cut under austerity as a recognition by the government that “much more is needed to meet increasing and changing demands”. But it added: “There is much more that can and should be done. Although the additional officers go some way to support these changes the reality is that since 2010, the number of officers has increased by just 2.6%, while recorded crime has increased by 25%.”

Launching her initiative, Braverman repeated the government’s claim that crime has fallen in the last decade. This claim has been challenged by many including Full Fact, which said the figure does not include fraud or commuter misuse.

The NPCC’s letter also said that crime was rising. It said: “In 2022/23, a total of 5.24m crimes were recorded by police – an increase of over 1m since 2010/11, when recorded crime sat at 4.15m. This means there is more recorded crime per police officer.”

The letter cited a series of additional pressures facing officers to suggest that the policy of pursuing all reasonable leads would be difficult and a distraction from local priorities. These included the increasing complexity of crime due to new technology and delays in the criminal justice system.

The letter said: “We have backlog in the court system due to increasing caseloads and prisons nearing capacity, placing pressure on police custody cells. We are all working hard to fix this within our own remits, but more needs to be done together.”

So, just to be clear, crime hasn't fallen as far as is claimed by Braverman, while her assertion that we have record numbers of police officer is nonsense. Back to the drawing board then.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Cost of living crisis continues

The rate of inflation may be falling, that is prices are not rising as quickly, but hidden behind the headline figures are some stark facts that underline the cost of living crisis in this country.

The Mirror reports on research by the Liberal Democrats that has found that the cost of a typical weekly shop has soared by a mammoth 37% in the past two years.

The paper says that new figures show that a loaf of bread has gone up by 37p, while a pint of milk is now 24p more expensive than in 2021 - a 57% rise. Meanwhile 500g of cheddar cheese costs £1.70 more, soaring by more than 50%:

It means an average family will shell out an extra £870 a year, according to the Lib Dems. They have called on ministers to take a number of steps to bring down food prices, including investment in British farms.

Following analysis of Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, the party also wants to see greater energy bill support for food businesses. Party leader Sir Ed Davey is set to visit missing-in-action Tory MP Nadine Dorries' Mid Bedfordshire constituency - where the Lib Dems are tipped to win in a by-election - to hammer home the point.

Sir Ed said: “Families and pensioners in Mid Bedfordshire are suffering badly from soaring food prices as the cost of the weekly shop goes through the roof, but Nadine Dorries and Rishi Sunak are missing in action.

“Instead of helping, this Conservative government has made this cost of living crisis worse with all their constant chaos. Local people are understandably furious that they are being so badly let down by an absent MP and an out-of-touch Conservative government.

“Meanwhile, local farmers in Bedfordshire and across the country are seeing their support slashed and energy prices spike."

Last week the Social Market Foundation (SMF) found that 30% of Brits are finding it difficult to pay for essentials like groceries, broadband and insurance. This is despite eight out of 10 shopping around for good deals, with struggling families finding it harder to find cheaper offers.

It found 29% of people who are "financially struggling" are spending 80% of their income on essentials. The Bank of England has predicted food inflation will remain at around 15% for the rest of the year.

This is the stark reality faced by families every day, and rarely acknowledged by government ministers.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Another shambolic Brexit plan

The Independent reports that the government is under pressure to explain its plans for new Brexit border checks, amid confusion about when they will be introduced.

The paper says that businesses have warned that ministers were giving them “no clarity” and “causing confusion” over the new bureaucracy – which is officially supposed to start from October but which is now expected to be delayed for a fifth time:

The new controls are to affect businesses moving products from the EU to the UK, with food importers predicting shortages and more price rises.

But ministers are yet to finalise the specifics of the so-called Border Target Operating Model and have refused to confirm or deny reports earlier this month that the new system will be delayed again.

The new checks have already been pushed back years and were originally set to apply from 2020, when the equivalent controls on moving goods from Britain to the EU began.

Now ministers are reportedly considering a further delay because of fears the new bureaucracy could increase prices and hit food supplies amid a cost of living crisis.

“The government’s handling of this important issue has been absolutely shambolic. They have delayed new border checks time and again, creating huge uncertainty for businesses, who are already struggling as a result of Conservative economic mismanagement,” Gareth Thomas, Labour’s shadow international trade minister said.

“With the deadlines for new checks just months away, it is unacceptable that businesses have not received a clear update from the government on whether the new border arrangements are even going to be introduced. The Tories’ trade barriers are stunting economic growth.”

The government says it “remains committed to delivering the best border in the world” and that it is “reflecting” on its plans.

Before Britain left the EU, its membership of the EU single market and customs union meant suppliers could bring food into the country from Europe without any paperwork.

But the decision to leave means a major increase in bureaucracy, with extra sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks and a requirement for health or veterinary certificates.

William Bain, head of trade policy at the British Chambers of Commerce told The Independent: “Business would have hoped to see the final version of the Border Target Operating Model by now. That would have been well in advance of any proposed introduction of export health certificates for inbound products to GB at the end of October. We have no clarity on the detail of Government plans. But neither is there denial of a potential delay into 2024 on cost of living grounds.

So much for taking back control

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

British travellers lose out to Brexit, again

Once more, predictions about the impact of Brexit on Britsh travellers have come to pass. We have already lost free mobile roaming within the EU, have to get visas for certain countries, overcome major obstacles if we want to settle abroad and face endless queues at airports when previously we could use the EU citizen lane, now we have lost the right to compensation when making journeys to the UK from non-EU countries on EU airlines.

The Independent reports that the long-standing right to cash compensation of over £500 no longer applies for travellers making journeys to the UK from non-EU countries on airlines such as Air France, KLM and Lufthansa, losing British travellers millions of pounds.

The paper says that while travellers on disrupted flights who are ending their trips in the EU are entitled to hotels and meals, UK-bound passengers no longer have an automatic right to recover expenses from a European Union carrier – and are also unable to claim €600 (£513) in cash compensation when the airline is responsible for the delay:

The European air passengers’ rights regulation, known as EC261, has been in force for 17 years – benefiting millions of passengers.

But the “third-country” status the UK government sought after the vote to leave the EU means British travellers’ rights are weakened.

A ruling by the European Court of Justice means that trips from non-EU locations to British airports via hubs such as Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris CDG are excluded from compensation and care rights.

Paul Charles, chief executive of the travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “It’s pretty clear that travellers from a ‘third country’ like the UK are now being treated as third-class citizens. This is another example where we’re worse off after Brexit, having zero rights and in a poorer position than before the separation from the EU.

What else did we expect?

Monday, August 21, 2023

Tax system set up to benefit unearned wealth

There is an interesting article in yesterday's Observer, which points out that a graduate earning £35,000 a year pays almost double the average tax of someone with the same income from rent on property.

The paper says that the Intergenerational Foundation thinktank has found that the combined effect of income tax and national insurance payments forces people in employment to pay much higher rates of tax than those who benefit from lower capital gains tax (CGT) rates on property and shares income:

Based on analysis of HMRC data, the foundation said increasing CGT rates to the same level as rates on earned income would raise at least £10bn extra a year, allowing the government to cut tax rates at each income tax threshold by at least 1.25 percentage points.

The momentum behind calls for the equalisation of capital and employment tax rates has grown in recent years. Recent polling has shown support across the political spectrum, with 61% overall saying they back reform.

Before it was scrapped, the Office of Tax Simplification said the tax system would be better designed if the rates for CGT and income tax were more closely aligned. It said putting CGT up to the level of income tax would raise £14bn.

The former Conservative chancellor Nigel Lawson set the rates of CGT at the same level as income tax in 1988, saying: “In principle, there is little economic difference between [earned] income and capital gains ... And in so far as there is a difference, it is by no means clear why one should be taxed more heavily than the other.”

Since Lawson’s time in office, capitals gains have risen 16 times from below £5bn a year to an estimated £80bn in the financial year 2020-21, but the amount of tax raised from capital gains has only risen three times to about £15bn.

Higher rate taxpayers earning more than £50,000 a year pay 42% on every extra pound earned from employment, but pay only 20% on gains from shares and 28% from gains on property.

Standard rate taxpayers, which includes most taxpayers over the age of 65, only pay 18% on property gains, 10% on gains from shares and 20% on rental income.

The authors said the current system allowed for significant levels of avoidance by those with income from capital gains who were allowed to smooth the declaration of their income to make sure it fell under the tax threshold over a period of years.

“The wealthy obtain two main advantages from the current system not available to most of the population: first, a large lump of tax-exempt capital gains; secondly, a maximum tax of 20%, which is less than half the top rate of income tax,” the report said.

“Those who can manipulate the tax system in their favour tend to be those with high incomes or high levels of wealth, leaving a larger tax burden on younger people and those on lower incomes, further perpetuating inequalities between and within generations,” it added

Surely, the introduction of a proper wealth tax is well overdue.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Another broken promise

I think we have established by now that the Tories abandoned any pretence at levelling up sometime ago, if, that is, they ever really do anything to achieve it. So, it is not a surprise to read in the Guardian that Tory MPs are demanding urgent explanations from ministers over the levelling up agenda after an official report said plans to move thousands more civil service jobs from London to Birmingham and Newcastle had been scrapped.

The paper says that the Government Property Agency (GPA), which falls under the Cabinet Office, said in a brief reference in its recent annual report and accounts that a decision had been “made by ministers” to axe the proposals after “a review identified that they no longer aligned with strategic requirements.”

This was despite the fact that more than £1m had been spent on the two projects as part of the flagship government drive to spread the civil service out of Whitehall and boost growth in the regions:

Amid signs of Cabinet Office panic over a gathering backlash, the Tory MP John Stevenson, who chairs the Northern Research Group (NRG) of Conservative MPs from “red wall” seats, described the move as a “step backwards”. He added: “I expect a full explanation on parliament’s return and alternative policy initiatives to ensure that the movement of civil servants does proceed. I will also be asking the public administration and constitutional affairs committee to look at this issue.”

Many Tory MPs in the north and Midlands are becoming increasingly nervous that failure to deliver on levelling up will put them in increasing danger of losing their seats at the next general election.

The government has a longstanding commitment to move 22,000 civil service posts out of Whitehall by 2030. Several thousand have already moved to towns and cities including Glasgow, Darlington, Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Newcastle.

But the decision to axe the latest phase affecting Birmingham and Newcastle has raised questions about the level of commitment to completing the task, with government insiders citing the short-term cost implications as a brake on progress. The Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, has said the project in Birmingham has fallen victim to the trend toward working from home.

Last month, the cross-party public administration and constitutional affairs committee was highly critical of the way the government was carrying out the project. While noting that the government said in March that it had already relocated 11,000 posts from London, it added that “a lack of clear information published by the Cabinet Office makes it difficult to judge how substantial its achievements are” for a variety of reasons.

It accused the government of “adopting a boosterish approach to reporting progress, which is likely to give an exaggerated picture of its achievements”. It also criticised the government for failing to publish any underlying research that supported its “high-profile statements about the economic benefits to be delivered by moving posts to new regional offices”.

The NRG is expected to raise the issue again when it tables its manifesto for the north at the Tory party conference in Manchester.

The government’s current commitment to relocating large numbers of civil service posts out of London dates back to the Conservative party’s 2017 general election manifesto. In the 2020 budget, the then chancellor, Rishi Sunak, translated this commitment into the specific target to move “22,000 civil service roles out of central London by the end of this decade [ie 2030]”.

In the 2022 levelling up white paper, the government further stated that the 22,000 posts would be moved out of Greater London, and that the first 15,000 of these would be relocated by 2025.

So much for levelling up.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

No confidence in UK trade deals

The Independent reports that government research has found that British firms are increasingly pessimistic about the benefits of post-Brexit free trade deals.

The paper says that the Department for Business and Trade’s survey of more than 3,000 companies revealed that three out five (58 per cent) now think the free trade deals will have no positive impact on their business. That’s up from 54 per cent in the previous year – a sign of growing dismay about the opportunities the agreements can offer, despite promises that Brexit can help boost “global Britain”.:

Less than one third (31 per cent) of businesses believe trade deals would have a positive effect, down from 33 per cent the previous year.

It comes as the latest public polling shows most voters are gloomy about Brexit’s impact on Britain’s juddering economy. Some 61 per cent believe the UK’s exit from the EU has left the country worse off.

The annual government survey of British companies’ exporting behaviour shows that concerns relating to the UK’s exit from the EU “continued to be prominent” – with firms citing red tape and supply chain issues.

In 2017, almost three in four (73 per cent) companies said there was a lot of demand for UK goods and services – but the figures dropped to 55 per cent in the latest survey. And 49 per cent cent said there had been less demand for goods and services since Brexit, an increase from 39 per cent in the previous survey.

William Bain, head of trade policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “It doesn’t surprise me that companies feel pretty sore about things and that is what our survey data shows as well.

“But it is also true that we’re in a better place than we were last year and the government has been listening to some of our concerns,” he said.

Tina McKenzie of the Federation of Small Businesses said the findings “paint a mixed picture of exporting”, before calling on ministers to reduce post-Brexit red tape as much as possible."

Brexit is going well then.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Those Labour u-turns

It is getting to the point now when Labour have performed so many policy u-turns that they must be getting dizzy. The Independent details the latest, with ac claim that the party has reportedly watered down its plans to strengthen rights for gig economy and precariously employed workers in a bid to woo business leaders.

The paper says that the opposition's National Policy Forum last month agreed a series of changes to the Labour programme as Keir Starmer's team firms up their policies ahead of an expected general election next year:

In 2021 Sir Keir's party pledged to create a single status of "worker" in employment law to stop gig economy giants like Deliveroo and Uber from using bogus self-employment to undermine conditions.

But the Financial Times reports that the party's policy documents now pledge only to consult on “a simpler framework” for differentiating the self-employed from workers.

This new policy would create a system that “could properly capture the breadth of employment relationships in the UK” and ensure workers can still “benefit from flexible working where they choose to do so”, the newspaper says.

Labour is also said to have refined a pledge to give workers full employment rights from "day one", adding an explicit carve-out for probationary periods in which workers could still be sacked, according to people familiar with the text of the document.

The results of the National Policy Forum are not yet public and are due to be published ahead of the party's conference in autumn.

Other changes won by the leadership reportedly include dropping commitments to clean air zones, following Sir Keir's attempt to distance himself from the party's flagship policy in London under Sadiq Khan.

Labour has been castigated for a series of U-turns under Sir Keir, who has abandoned large parts of the programme on which he won the leadership.

The opposition leader has ditched promises to take water and energy into public ownership, to support EU free movement, and to abolish tuition fees. More recently the party was criticised for watering down promises to invest £28 billion a year in green jobs.

Will they have any policies worth the name by the time of the election?

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Tory civil war on green policies heats up

The Mirror reports that Rishi Sunak has been urged not to cave in as Red Wall MPs try to tear up the Government's green agenda in the hope of avoiding oblivion at the polls. They says that the under-fire PM has been told now is not the time to water down the Net Zero target of 2050 to please Tory malcontents:

Backbencher Marco Longhi is leading calls for a referendum on whether to scrap it - despite Net Zero having been included in the 2019 Tory manifesto. It follows a call by former Home Secretary Dame Priti Patel to "pause" the legal obligation to cut greenhouse gas emissions in order to tackle the climate crisis.

July was the hottest month on record around the world, and campaigners urged politicians not to "wage a culture war" around green issues. The PM has previously claimed to be a champion for environmental issues, but is no stranger to a U-turn.

Mr Longhi told The Telegraph that a proper debate about decarbonising "has never been had", while fellow Tory MP Karl McCartney vented his anger at "London’s woke eco-zealot crowd". The PM is under growing pressure to roll back on climate change measures following the surprise Conservative by-election win in Uxbridge and South Ruislip amid protests over the capital's ultra low emission zone (ULEZ).

Greenpeace UK’s political campaigner, Ami McCarthy, told The Mirror: "Around 98% of votes cast in last general election were for parties supporting the net zero target, including the Conservatives. Subsequent polling demonstrates the continuing huge levels of public support for it and increased action on climate change.

“Given the haunting images of devastation caused by the climate disasters around the world this summer, now is clearly not the time to be dialling down our climate commitments. Nor is it the time to hold another divisive referendum to appease a small group of MPs – who all stood on a manifesto commitment to net zero - wanting to wage culture war off the back of it.”

And Jamie Peters, climate coordinator at Friends of the Earth, said: “All major parties stood at the last election on a platform of support for the UK’s net zero target, with MPs elected on that basis – so it’s hard to see how there’s any mandate for a referendum."

Mr Peters added: “Bold and ambitious climate action is non-negotiable if we want to prevent the very worst climate impacts and leave a safe and liveable planet to the next generation. While it’s astonishing this needs to be said at all, let’s not forget that it’s a small but vocal minority attempting to seed yet more doubt about the need for climate action and stir up division and delay. The cost to us all will only be greater the longer we put off the rapid and transformational change we need to see.”

Experts have warned that scaling back on Net Zero could end up costing households more. The Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE) has called on the Prime Minister to "go further and faster". In a letter to Mr Sunak Caroline Bragg, interim chief executive officer of ADE, said: "If we are trying to avoid placing the burden of extra costs on the consumer, then halting progress on net zero is the last thing we should be considering."

I am not entirely convinced that the electorate is as signed up to net zero policies as campaigners suggest, however I do know that it is vital that we achieve the target as soon as possible if we are to minimise the impact of climate change.

In my view, it wont be the lack of commitment to carbon neutral policies that damages the Tories at the next election, but the perception that they are deeply split and are fighting amongst themselves.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Another short-sighted policy

If ever there was a policy designed to increase street homelessness and begging the latest change by the Home Office is it.

The Guardian reports that thousands of refugees and survivors of trafficking could find themselves homeless after a Home Office policy change. 

They say that until last month, newly recognised refugees and survivors of trafficking had 28 days to find alternative accommodation after receiving a “notice to quit” before being evicted from Home Office accommodation they had lived in while officials were processing their claims – but this has now been reduced to a minimum of seven days.

This is despite charities calling on the government to extend the notice period for eviction to 56 days, arguing that 28 days did not give people long enough to find new accommodation, get a job or access benefits. 

Councils will now find themselves under more pressure to find suitable accommodation for those accepted into the UK as genuine refugees:

Yet another example of short-sighted thinking influenced by the fortress Britain mentality so prevalent with this current government.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Levelling down

It seems a long time ago now, since Boris Johnson swept the red wall seats and won the 2019 general election with the promise to level up the poorer areas of the UK. Unfortunately, as many of us said at the time, the rhetoric would never be matched by action.

The evidence for that is cited in this article in the Guardian, in which the Institute for Fiscal Studies finds that the government’s levelling up plans for England are being hampered by a funding system that is “not fit for purpose” and deprives the poorest areas of the financial support to match their needs.

Their research has discovered that the method for allocating money to pay for public services is out of date, based on inadequate data and skewed in favour of the better-off south-east:

Calling for urgent reform, the thinktank said the funding system was doing a “poor job” in ensuring money was being spent in the parts of England where it was most needed.

The IFS said the most deprived 20% of areas were getting a smaller share of local government and police funding than they were estimated to need, while the least deprived 20% were receiving a bigger portion than their needs required.

Boris Johnson launched a white paper on the levelling up policy in early 2022. Last summer, Rishi Sunak admitted taking money from deprived urban areas in order to give it to other parts of the country.

The IFS said that, in 2022-23, day-to-day spending on the NHS, local government, schools, police and public health in England amounted to more than £245bn, the equivalent of £4,310 per person, but there were “substantial differences” between the share of funding that areas receive and the share they would receive if funding was allocated in line with differing levels of need.

Kate Ogden, a senior research economist at the IFS, said: “Funding systems for public services are trying to balance a range of different aims. But if one of the aims is for people to be able to access consistent public services across the country, then the current systems are not fit for purpose.

“Differences in levels of funding for local government, police and public health services across England do not reflect today’s patterns of need as they are based on data that are now years out of date.”

Ogden said that it would take “several years at least” to address the issue but urged the government to set out a timeframe for reforms if it is serious about making funding systems fit for the future and aligning funding for public services with its goals for “levelling up”.

The IFS said the differences in geographical spending were especially stark for local government, after repeated delays to reform the funding system. The most deprived 20% of areas received 9% less than their estimated needs while the least deprived 20% received 15% more.

Wokingham in Berkshire received 45% more local government funding last year than it would have done had money been allocated in proportion to need, while Hounslow in west London received 31% less. This was only partly explained by them setting different council tax levels, the IFS said.

Even if all areas set the same council tax rates, the thinktank said the south-east would still receive a share of funding that was 9% higher than its share of estimated spending needs, and the north-east 5% lower. This meant inconsistent funding across England for services such as social care, housing, transport, leisure centres and libraries.

NHS funding was better targeted, the IFS said, with two-thirds of areas receiving a share of funding within 5% of their share of estimated needs. This reflected the fact that NHS spending was based on relatively up-to-date assessments of what was required in various parts of the country.

A growing numbers of councils have warned that they are running out of funds, leading to tough choices over cuts to local services. Councils including Kirklees in West Yorkshire and Hastings in East Sussex on the south coast have recently joined the list of local authorities sounding the alarm over their finances.

The IFS research showed that the vast majority of areas received a lower share of funding than their share of estimated spending needs for some services, and a higher share of funding for some other services. But a small number of areas received a markedly lower share of funding than their share of spending needs across a range of services. Dudley in the West Midlands received £127 per capita less for the NHS, £122 less for local government and £47 less for police services than if the nationally-available funding were allocated in line with estimated relative spending needs.

Any government which is serious about levelling up needs to correct these inequalities urgently.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Frequent flyer

It has been sometime since a UK Prime Minister so ostentatiously and publicly enjoyed the trappings of office to the extent that he didn't appear to care what others thought about his behaviour. Rishi Sunak, however, appears to have reached that point in his career.

The Independent reports that the Prime Minister has taken a taxpayer-funded private flight for travel in the UK once every eight days since he has been at No 10.

The paper says that the data reveals that Sunak has already used RAF jets and helicopters for domestic journeys more frequently than any recent PM – after just seven months in office:

It comes as Greenpeace claimed Mr Sunak will “go down in history” as failing on climate change, amid fresh concern about the Tory leader’s frequent use of high-polluting travel and approach to net zero.

Mr Sunak boarded 23 domestic flights on RAF jets and helicopters aircraft across 187 days, almost one flight a week on average.

The frequency of the current PM’s taxpayer-funded flights around Britain outstrips his immediate predecessors, Liz Truss, Boris Johnson and Theresa May.

Details of the domestic the RAF’s Command Support Air Transport domestic flights were revealed in a Ministry of Defence freedom of information release to the BBC.

Ms Truss enjoyed only four domestic flights in her 49 days in charge – once every 12 days. Mr Johnson took such trips every 20 days, while Ms May made these journeys once every 13 days.

Mr Sunak has defended his repeated use of private air travel to get around the UK, calling it the “most effective use of my time”, despite calls for him to use the train when equivalent journey times are possible.

Labour has also suggested that the PM’s RAF flight to Scotland to announce new oil and gas licenses may have broken the ministerial code, which states that private planes should only be used when there is no viable scheduled flight.

Given his inevitable defeat at the next general election, I suppose he has to fit as much into the available time as he can.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

More controversial contracts

The Independent reports that an Australian travel firm previously slammed for its handling of Covid quarantine hotels has been quietly handed a £1.6bn contract covering the UK’s new asylum accommodation ships.

The paper says that Corporate Travel Management (CTM) was put in charge of the lucrative two-year arrangement in February, weeks before the government revealed it would use a barge as its first offshore accommodation for asylum seekers:

The contract was awarded directly to CTM without competition, and a lawyer with knowledge of the system said the government had pushed a wider deal originally drawn up for official travel “beyond what it was intended to be used for”.

Ministers have repeatedly refused to detail the projected cost of Rishi Sunak’s controversial asylum vessels, while insisting they will be cheaper than using hotels that are currently costing £6m a day.

This week, Suella Braverman told parliament’s Home Affairs Committee she could not predict the cost of the new Illegal Migration Bill, because there are “many unknown factors”.

Three vessels so far have been announced, with a barge named the “Bibby Stockholm” due to arrive in Portland, Dorset later this month and a further two ships set for undisclosed locations.

Richard Drax, the Conservative MP for South Dorset, said the public “should know how much is being paid” on the barge set-up and said the spending he was aware of so far was “alarmingly high”.

“The point is this is taxpayers' money,” he told The Independent. “This contract might actually be separate to what the ports are being paid.

“Then on top of that, the police want money, the health authority wants money, of course the council wants money, and yet the government continues to insist that this is cheaper than hotels. The overall figure will be alarmingly high.”

Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said the Home Office has “serious questions to answer”.

“The Tories are spending more and more taxpayers’ money on their total failure to fix the asylum backlog they have created,” she added.

“This is an incredibly expensive contract with no clarity on whether proper procedures have been followed, and the barges come on top of costly hotels, not instead of them, because of the government failure to take asylum decisions or get any grip.”

Yet another expensive Tory farce.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

A tragi-comedy of errors

If it wasn't so tragic, the recent developments in the Tory grand plan to deal with asylum seekers would be funny, though only in an ironic way.

The Guardian reports that the culmination of Rishi Sunak’s “small boats week”, which was supposed to announce new hardline policies to reduce the number of asylum seekers attempting to enter the UK, saw Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, under pressure to abandon plans to house asylum seekers on a barge, after 39 people had to be removed from the vessel after the discovery of potentially deadly bacteria in the water system:

Home Office sources said tests for legionella were carried out on 25 July. Lower level traces were identified on Monday as the first asylum seekers were taken on to the barge. It is understood a contractor, Landry and Kling, was told about the concerns.

The Home Office first learned about the early traces on Wednesday, resulting in further tests on Thursday, sources said.

The Home Office still sent another six people on to the barge on Thursday, sources confirmed, but after taking advice from the UK Health Security Agency, these people were taken off that evening, and everyone else was removed on Friday.

But that is not all. 

The paper says that on Monday, the government dropped plans to send migrants 4,000 miles away to Ascension Island just hours after it was announced. The Conservative deputy chair, Lee Anderson, provoked outrage when he told asylum seekers to “fuck off back to France”, before later admitting the government had “failed” to tackle illegal immigration. A £400,000 Home Office drone used to monitor boats in the Channel crashed into the sea. And on Thursday, 755 asylum seekers were recorded crossing the Channel, the highest number in a single day.

Sunak and his team would not look out of place in Dad's Army. 'Don't panic, Mr Sunak'. They don't like it up 'em.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Tory row about net zero rumbles on

The Independent reports that Energy secretary Grant Shapps has warned senior Conservatives pushing for Rishi Sunak to ditch green policies that the government’s net zero pledge remains vital.

The paper says that Shapps has pointed out that the global climate crisis poses a threat to Britain’s security and energy supply, countering Tory MPs who are calling for No 10 to scrap measures deemed too costly:

“We can’t have global security without net zero,” Mr Shapps told Politico. “There’s no global security if millions of people are having to uproot because of weather patterns.”

He also unveiled plans for the UK to host a global energy security summit next year, and hinted that China could be invited, saying he wanted the conference “to be inclusive”.

Oil giants like Qatar and Saudi Arabia should be “in the room” at what he said would be a “real-world, gritty energy-security conference where we are talking about the realities of the world that we live in”.

But he faced an immediate backlash from Tory MPs on both issues. Ex-business secretary Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg told The Independent that Mr Shapps was “fundamentally wrong”, and insisted that the UK is a major contributor to global security “through our economic strength”.

“The rush to net zero at the expense of the economy is a threat to global security,” Mr Rees-Mogg said. On China, he added: “I think to take the view that China enhances our security in any way is eccentric.”

Mr Sunak has appeared to shift his tone on green policies after his party unexpectedly clung on to its Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat by seizing on the backlash against the London mayor’s proposal to expand the Ulez scheme, which levies a fee on some motorists in an effort to combat air pollution.

The PM – who vowed to be on the side of motorists and said “banning things” was not the right approach – also gave the green light to 100 new licences for oil and gas exploration and production in the North Sea, despite opposition from environmentalists and green Tories.

Some Tory backbenchers have urged Mr Sunak to go further and renounce plans to ban new oil boilers by 2026 and new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030.

But Mr Shapps has sent a strong signal that he believes in the push away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, arguing it is a vital part of the promise to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The energy secretary said that “part of the answer” to energy supply problems can be found in “the need to diversify from fossil fuels”. He added: “Greater diversity could actually give us much greater security.”

He said: “Imagine if the UK hadn’t moved from less than 7 per cent renewables to – as we see in the first quarter of 2023 – 47 per cent renewables. Imagine that hadn’t happened and we went into the energy shock. What would the impact have been?”

In many ways this row reflects the debate over Brexit. 

The government is dominated by the little Englanders, who think they can pull up the drawbridge and go their own way, as long as they get richer, only to be shocked by the reality of an interdependent world economy that has hit trade with the UK and pushed up costs and prices because of the decision to cut ourselves off from our biggest trading partner.

We now have those same little Englanders thinking the UK can isolate itself from the consequences of climate change and, as a result, does not need to fulfil its international obligations to tackle global warming. If they are not living on another planet, they should be sent to one.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Multi job MPs insult votes

It is rather sickening that the biggest headline arising from news of the millions of pounds pocketed by MPs through their second jobs focusses on the fact that the former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, is struggling to keep up with his old boss Liz Truss when it comes to earnings outside parliament since the pair left Downing Street in ignominy.

The Guardian also reports that Kwarteng admitted at the weekend that he was badly hit by his own disastrous mini-Budget – revealing his mortgage payments had soared “a great deal”. To which one can only comment that unlike many others, he can afford it.

This is especially so as Kwarteng has made £34,000 from a single overseas speech and various media appearances since he was sacked in October during Britain’s financial meltdown. This on top of his MP's salary and his pay-off when he resigned from the government:

The Tory MP for Spelthorne was handed £27,000 for a speech to bankers at the Fund Experts Forum in Switzerland in April, entitled: “ Growth Plan for Europe – How to Get Back in the Driver’s Seat”.

Mr Kwarteng has also made £4,000 for recent appearances on the Dan Wooton’s GB News programme to talk about his brief stint at No 11 and his views on economy.

However, the sums are dwarfed by the money made Ms Truss – who has managed to rake in close to £190,000 from the international speaking circuit since the Tory party kicked her out of No 10 after only six weeks.

The lucrative gigs mean the former Tory leader, the shortest-ever serving PM, now has the highest hourly rate of any current MP – making a mammoth £15,000 per hour.

Like Boris Johnson, Ms Truss is also enjoying some huge payments for speaking on global affairs, pocketing £80,000 for a recent speech in Taiwan on the threat posed by China.

Having signed up with Chartwell Speakers agency, she also received £32,000 for a speech to a newspaper in Switzerland, £65,000 for a speech to a media firm in India, and £6,000 for a speaking engagement at Tokyo University.

Ms Truss received an extra £18,000 from the taxpayer as part of the severance payments given to exiting prime minister, despite howls of outrage from Labour and the Lib Dems. Mr Kwarteng received £16,000 severance payment.

These people are elected to do a job, not to swan around the world enriching themselves. If they want to do these gigs then they should resign from Parliament. At a time when many people are struggling to make ends meet, those MPs with second jobs are taking the piss.

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

Holding the sewage companies to account

The Guardian reports that the public could receive hundreds of millions of pounds in compensation in the first class action against water companies which are alleged to have failed to reveal the true scale of raw sewage discharges, and abused their position as privatised monopolies.

They say that a collective case against six water companies alleges they have failed to properly report sewage spills and pollution of rivers and seas to the Environment Agency and Ofwat, the regulator for England and Wales:

The first of six parallel claims is against Severn Trent Water on behalf of its 8 million customers. Claims against Thames Water, United Utilities, Anglian Water, Yorkshire Water and Northumbrian Water are being brought in the coming months.

The legal claims allege the water companies have breached competition law by failing to report discharges which would have affected the price they can charge to customers.

The number of pollution incidents a company reports, and any breaches to permits attached to water treatment plants to control raw sewage releases, are actors in determining the price water companies can charge for their services. So, the claims allege, underreporting of pollution means water companies could have been overcharging customers.

Prof Carolyn Roberts, an environmental and water consultant represented by the law firm Leigh Day, is bringing the claims at the competition tribunal on behalf of more than 20 million householders who are customers of the water firms. The claims say customers have been overcharged because the companies abused their monopoly positions. They failed to fully report the scale of raw sewage discharges into rivers and seas, and in doing so avoided penalties which would have had an impact on the price they could charge customers, the claim alleges. As a result, Roberts says, customers have been overcharged to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds.

Roberts, emeritus professor of environment at Gresham College, said she had been researching rivers since the 1970s. “The last two decades have been catastrophic for rivers and I want something done about it,” she said. “The population of the UK has a right to expect that our rivers, lakes and seas will generally be clean, except under exceptional circumstances.

“It appears that because of the serial and serious underreporting at the heart of these claims, water companies have been avoiding being penalised by Ofwat. I believe this has resulted in consumers being unfairly overcharged for sewage services.”

Roberts said millions of customers had been paying their water bills on the basis that water companies were meeting their targets, but instead every year water companies let raw or partly treated sewage into the environment in breach of the rules.

She argues in her legal claim that the water companies have been breaking competition law by misleading the Environment Agency and Ofwat as to the number of pollution incidents they made into rivers, lakes, coastal areas and other waterways, causing damage to the environment. The number of pollution incidents a company reports to the regulators is an important factor in determining the price water companies can ultimately charge for their services.

If she is successful, anyone who has paid a water bill to one or more of these water companies from April 2020 may be entitled to compensation. The value of the claim against Severn Trent Water is estimated at more than £330m and if successful, the six claims could lead to compensation payments of more than £800m.

Compensation is being sought through competition opt-out collective proceedings, which allow legal claims to be brought by a single class representative on behalf of a group, or groups, of affected individuals in the Competition Appeal Tribunal. Customers do not have to sign up to the case. They will receive compensation if the claims are successful.

The dumping of raw sewage into our waterways is a national scandal and it is about time that water companies were held to account for their complacent actions. It is also pleasing to see that Ofwat and the Environment Agency are investigating water companies for not disclosing the scale of raw sewage discharges and non-compliance with its permits.

What we really need though is investment in the infrastructure to stop these discharges happening again, and that is a matter for the UK and Welsh governments to insist on.

Tuesday, August 08, 2023

Our broken energy market

The Independent tells us that a new report has revealed that Britain’s energy suppliers are set to rake in a massive £1.74bn in profits from hard-pressed customers’ bills over the next 12 months.

The paper adds that a separate study has found that regulator Ofgem’s energy price cap is preventing customers from accessing lower tariffs, harming competition and boosting inflation:

Rishi Sunak’s government has indicated it is unlikely to step in again to protect Britons still struggling with their energy bills – dismissing the idea of another subsidised price guarantee.

However, despite the ongoing cost of living crisis, UK energy companies will be allowed to increase the amount they make from customers on variable-rate tariffs.

Suppliers have seen the annual profit they make from the average customer on a variable tariff rise from £27 in 2017 to £130 in early 2023, according to Warm This Winter – a coalition of anti-poverty and green groups.

The gas and electricity giants will make £1.74bn profit from variable customers alone in the year ahead, according to the report, produced in partnership with the Future Energy Associates (FEA) analysts.

Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty campaign, said the report “shines a light on the murky depths of Britain’s broken energy system”.

Calling for the Sunak government to introduce a “social tariff” to guarantee an affordable rate for low-income families, Mr Francis added: “Without a fundamental overhaul of the energy grid and energy tariffs, households will continue to lose out while suppliers will profit.”

The figure does not include fixed-rate tariffs – or profits made through allowances for Covid debt and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which helped contribute to the enormous profits announced by British Gas and Scottish Power last month.

Ofgem recently raised how much gas and electricity suppliers could claim from hard-hit households to make up for costs incurred from both the pandemic and Ukraine war.

Since October 2022, energy firms have added an average of £41 a year to each bill as a “wholesale cost adjustment” to cover the extra costs of Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

And since April this year they also added an average of £12 a year in “Covid true up allowance” to cover the costs of bad debt which mounted up during the pandemic.

Last month British Gas announced record profits of £970m for the first six months of 2023, while Scottish Power made £576m in profit during the same period.

Labour condemned the “windfalls of war being pocketed by oil and gas companies”, while the Liberal Democrats said energy companies were being allowed to “rake in extraordinary profits while millions of families struggle”.

Suppliers are also set to make an increasing amount of profit from so-called EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) and headroom allowances in the energy price cap set by Ofgem.

While household energy bills are set to rise again before falling back only slightly next year, the regulator said it will allow the permitted profit margin further to rise from 1.9 per cent of EBIT to 2.4 per cent from later in 2023.

Tessa Khan, director of the anti-fossil fuel group Uplift, part of the Warm This Winter campaign, said: “The government seems to think the energy crisis has gone away, but for millions of households this winter will be as hard as the last.”

She added: “For energy companies to be pocketing this money, when bills are still twice what they were and so many people are being pushed into energy debt, is completely unacceptable.”

It seems that the energy market is well and truly broken, with ordinary families the victim of big companies pursuing excessive profits.

Monday, August 07, 2023

Cooking the books on asylum

The Independent reports that Rishi Sunak has been accused of “cooking the books” as thousands of asylum claims are removed from the system following his vow to clear a historic backlog by the end of this year.

The paper says that more than 6,000 people have been wiped off the list without being fully assessed in just three months, for reasons such as failing to attend interviews or appointments, and not filling in new “fast-track” questionnaires:

The figures have quadrupled since the prime minister pledged in December to clear the pre-June 2022 asylum backlog. The government is now withdrawing more claims than it decides, sparking accusations the backlog is being cut “by the back door”.

Official guidance seen by The Independent states that applications can be withdrawn by the Home Office without the asylum seeker’s consent – even if it has been unable to contact them and does not know where they are, with a notification letter “served to file only”.

Once removed from the system, people are ineligible for the housing and financial support offered to destitute asylum seekers, with a Tory MP warning they can then “disappear without a trace”.

Labour accused the government of “cooking the books” to reduce backlog numbers, while charities accused ministers of leaving asylum seekers at risk of deportation and homelessness.

Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay told The Independent: “This seems to be an amnesty by the back door and yet another loophole allowing many thousands of potential asylum claimants with or without a valid claim to just disappear into the underground economy without a trace.”

The use of the tactic has rocketed since the prime minister pledged to clear the 92,000 asylum applications waiting by June 2022 by the end of this year.

In the three months before Mr Sunak made his vow, 397 asylum claims were withdrawn by Home Office officials without the applicants’ consent, but between January and March the number rocketed to 2,029.

The government made a further 4,039 asylum withdrawals in the period for other reasons, including when someone formally consented.

Only 5,800 cases were fully decided in that time, with 4,000 people granted protection and 1,800 claims refused.

A Home Office official told The Independent that failures to attend asylum interviews or report to an immigration centre were being used “a lot” to trigger withdrawals.

“This is done to basically bring the backlog down,” they added. “A lot of interviews were booked to withdraw as many claims as possible [if people didn’t turn up].”

Official figures suggest the tactic is mainly being used against Albanians, but Afghans are the next highest nationality affected, and Syrians, Iranians, Eritreans and Iraqis are also being caught in the process.

What is it that they say about statistics?

Saturday, August 05, 2023

US money raises question as to who runs the UK

Unelected thinktanks have a disproportionate influence on government, especially this Tory government, so it is important for there to be complete transparency as to how they are funded and who they speak to. Alas neither of these is true.

That is apparent from this worrying article in the Guardian, which reports that some of Britain’s most influential thinktanks received more than $1m (£787,000) from donations in the US in 2021.

The paper says that the recipients of this money include the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), regarded as an inspiration for policies adopted by the Liz Truss government, and Policy Exchange – a conservative thinktank used as a platform by ministers to trail new measures and which recently incubated hardline immigration plans:

Steve Goodrich, head of research and investigations at Transparency International UK, said: “Ensuring transparency around who funds our politics is essential for public confidence in how our democracy works.

“It is particularly concerning that those organisations with the most opaque funding arrangements are seemingly those getting the biggest hearing from ministers. We would urge any thinktank seeking to influence policy development to declare their funding sources and be transparent about their governance.”

Policy Exchange, where Truss was head of economic and social policy before entering politics, received almost $100,000 from a foundation controlled by Leonard Blavatnik, who has joint US-UK citizenship and was listed this year by the Sunday Times Rich list as Britain’s third-richest man.

The organisation’s American arm received $34,786 in 2021 from the Blavatnik Family Foundation 2020 – which is run by Blavatnik’s brother Alex – “to support and advance the program of policy exchange between the UK and US”.

It also took more than $270,000 from the family foundation of Yan Huo, a hedge fund magnate with US citizenship who has donated more than £1m to the Tories, including £200,000 shortly before the 2019 general election.

The IEA’s US wing, American Friends of the Institute of Economic Affairs (AFIEA), has accepted $118,000 since 2020 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation, a private foundation set up by the billionaire libertarian heir to an oil and banking dynasty.

The IEA is believed to have inspired many of the free-market policies pursued by Truss and the then-chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng. Some of her staff worked at the IEA, and she founded its political wing, Freer. Truss spoke at more of its events than “any other politician over the past 12 years” according to the head of the IEA.

The figures on US funding were identified by the investigative journalist Peter Geoghegan, who analysed recently published US tax documents.

Tom Brake, the director of Unlock Democracy, a pressure group campaigning for greater transparency from thinktanks, said the figures “underlined the urgent need to break the secrecy that surrounds the funding of many of the UK’s thinktanks”.

He added: “Some thinktanks exert huge influence over government. For that reason, we need to understand who stands behind them financially and what their agenda might be. They aren’t innocent bystanders.”

Policy Exchange and the IEA have long faced questions about their refusal to name their donors. They argue that they respect their backers’ right to privacy unless the backers wish otherwise. Critics say the lack of transparency allows unseen donors to influence political debate.

The first question that should be asked of any organisation proposing policy change should be 'who funds you?' followed by 'what is their interest in your research?' and 'what contact do you have with government ministers?' 

 It is bad enough having government undermining our democratic rights through legislation, without also discovering that any government's policy agenda is being driven by overseas money. We need more transparency in public life, period.

Friday, August 04, 2023

Playing the blame game

With waiting times in the NHS in all three nations spiralling out of control there is no doubt that urgent action is needed to put our health service on a more even keel. What is not helpful though is government ministers seeking to blame others for their own policy and organisational failures.

The Independent reports that Rishi Sunak has blamed striking doctors for pushing up NHS waiting lists in a fiery exchange with an A and E worker.

The paper says that the prime minister was taken to task over his pledge to cut soaring waiting lists, which last month jumped to see a record 7.5 million patients waiting to start treatment. But when he was asked whether he was failing to deliver on his pledge, Sunak said “we were making progress” but said staff walkouts had undermined that progress and driven up waiting lists:

During an LBC phone-in, Mr Sunak said while nurses and some NHS workers had accepted the government’s offer, “unfortunately we still have groups of people who are not doing that”.

“They are striking and that is the reason that the waiting lists are going up,” he said.

A furious A and E registrar named Olivia said it was “amazing” to hear the PM blame spiralling waiting lists on doctors going on strike.

“You are losing staff because we are undervalued,” she said.

The British Medical Association member said: “It is not just doctors, it is everyone, we are all leaving.

“A happy workforce is your responsibility. You’re the prime minister, you are the government, your staff aren’t happy and that’s your fault.”

Mr Sunak told the doctor: “Fundamentally, you and I are not going to agree, because your union is asking for a 3 per cent pay rise.

“I don’t think that’s reasonable, I don’t think that’s affordable and I don’t think that’s fair.

“Millions of others have accepted the recommendations and I would urge your union to do the same.”

But nursing union the RCN said Mr Sunak’s comments “add insult to injury”. “Blaming nurses for the state of the NHS is a low blow,” said director Patricia Marquis.

She said NHS staff took industrial action because of the deteriorating standards of care and spiralling waiting lists - which were growing “a long time before the pandemic and strike action”.

“The prime minister should take responsibility for the knife-edge position of the NHS and not point the finger,” she said.

These strikes are not just about pay, but working conditions that have seen the health service haemorrhage staff, a major cause of longer waiting times, and the responsibility for that lies with all the governments who have responsibility for health, including Labour in Wales.

Thursday, August 03, 2023

The escalating cost of Brexit

As if Liz Truss had not done enough damage in her brief tenure as Prime Minister, the Independent reports that Liz Truss’s mini-Budget caused the UK’s EU divorce bill to soar by tens of millions of pounds because of the resulting crash in the value of the pound.

The paper says that Treasury documents show that the disastrous tax-cutting plan piled an extra £91m on the UK’s payments to the bloc required as part of the deal to leave:

The loss arose because the UK pays the settlement in euros, meaning the cost of meeting the payments rose sharply due to the hit the exchange rate took.

Half of the £91m came from an €855m payment, which cost £764m at a time when £1 was worth €1.12. By the time the UK paid the bloc in April, the exchange rate was £1 for €1.18, Reuters reported.

The negative impact on public finances of this Tory Government continues to escalate.

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

The attack on our democracy

The Guardian reports on a new study by thinktanks Civil Exchange and the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, which argues that anti-protest laws and culture wars perpetrated by the government, and imposed on the charity sector, are having a “chilling effect” on public campaigning.

They say that the findings came in a report titled Defending Our Democratic Spaces:

In an assessment about the state of British democracy, the report said there had been attempts to portray judges, lawyers, charities, campaigners and parts of the media as a “block to democracy rather than key components of it”. The report added: “We must recognise the crisis before it is too late.”

It called on people to “work together to arrest further decline, and reimagine our democratic space – one where people’s voices count and our democratic institutions are truly accountable”.

The UK was recently downgraded in an annual global index of civic freedoms as a result of the government’s “increasingly authoritarian” drive to impose restrictive and punitive laws on public protests.

A host of other factors were raised in the thinktanks’ report, published on Wednesday, including new ID restrictions on the right to vote and “gagging” clauses being inserted into government contracts tendered to not-for-profit groups.

Other issues – such as reduced access to judicial review to challenge the lawfulness of government decisions, recent clampdowns on the right to strike and claims of anti-terrorism laws being abused – were also highlighted.

“Government transparency, accountability, and willingness to listen are being reduced,” said the report. “The quality of our public services, policies, and governance suffers when this is the case and voter apathy, alienation, and political disengagement result.”

Many of those interviewed as part of the research reported concern about the impact of “culture wars” on political and public debate.

The report said such a move by some ministers had “created an intemperate environment in which it is becoming ever harder for both individuals and not-for-profits to debate differences of view or shape a common culture”.

One interviewee compared the threat to democratic spaces to a frog, which when placed in a boiling pot of water would jump straight out but does not notice the heat if it is only turned up gradually.

This toxic approach to democracy is becoming typical of the far right, a cult that appears to have taken over the modern Tory Party. The tragedy though, is that based on their past history, and their recent voting history, we cannot rely on the opposition Labour Party to undo any of these restrictions on our rights.

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Sunak strikes match while the world burns

Who could have predicted that the UK Government's response to climate change disasters, currently engulfing large sections of the world, would be to make matters worse? Well, okay this government is all about short term political initiatives, so it wasnt that big a stretch.

Nevertheless, Rishi Sunak's decision to authorise more than 100 new North Sea licences on a visit to Scotland does seem an extreeme response even by his standards. It's almost as if he is flailing about looking for an electoral holy grail, while slowly sinking into a swamp of his own making.

According to the Guardian, Sunak insisted the announcement was compatible with net zero commitments because of the country's anticipated part-reliance on fossil fuels for years to come, saying it was more carbon-intensive to ship oil and gas from other countries. But his argument does not hold water.

The paper quotes experts, who say Sunak's plan ignores the fact that much of the UK’s imported gas comes by pipeline and tends to be produced more cleanly than its British equivalent. Environmental groups said Sunak’s plan would “send a wrecking ball” through climate commitments:

Tory and Labour MPs said Sunak’s “economically illiterate” announcement was “driving a coach and horses” through previous promises, and warned the prime minister he was “on the wrong side of history” and that modern voters wanted leaders who “protect, and not threaten, our environment”.

Kicking off a week of announcements intended to highlight the distance between the Tory stance and Labour’s pledge to bar any new North Sea projects, Sunak criticised the latter’s policy as “bad for energy security, bad for the British economy [and] actually bad for the environment”.

He said: “My view is we should max out the opportunities that we have here in the North Sea, because that’s good for our energy security.

“It’s good for jobs, particularly here in Scotland, but it’s also good for the climate because the alternative is shipping energy here from halfway around the world with three or four times the carbon emissions. So any which way you look at it, the right thing to do is to invest into back our North Sea, and that’s what we’re doing.”

In fact, 80% of the oil we produce in the North sea is exported, while despite the fact that the UK is a net importer of gas, only 4% of that comes from Russia, most of it comes from our near neighbour Norway. And increasing production will not even lower domestic energy prices.

Prices certainly went up because of the Ukraine war, but these are set by international traders not local producers. The chances are that the additional licences will have little or no impact on price.

In summary, there are no national security or market reasons for granting more licences, while the impact on climate change and the government's drive for net zero could be catastrophic. This is another misstep by Sunak in his hunt for votes.

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