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Making Sense of Government Policy 2010-2015

The Coalition Record

Cutting the deficit

The only consistent refrain from the Coalition has been that they would eradicate the deficit over this parliament. They haven't. They claim to have halved the deficit, they haven't, they've moved the goalpost. Deficit reduction was never originally sold as being relative to GDP, the reduction was going to absolute but the only way the Dave could save some face was by lying. They have only reduced the deficit by a third.

Meanwhile, the national debt has increased by £650bn and by a conservative estimate stands at £1.5tn.

Reducing immigration

The coalition promise here was to reduce net migration to tens of thousands. In the past year net migration stands at over 300,000.

House building

Britain needs to build 300,000 homes a year. In 2014, the coalition only managed a high point of 141,000. Well, that's what happens when you leave things to the market? House builders blame restrictive planning rules for their sloth but why wouldn't they, fewer houses means the ones you have for sale will earn you more.

English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBC)

The proposed introduction of the EBC to replace the GCSE was arguably this government's biggest U-turn and Michael Gove's biggest mistake. Gove wasted two years of everyone's time with this lunatic idea and only changed his mind when the whole population of the world told him he was wrong.

Unannounced Ofsted inspections

In January 2012 the plan was to introduce no-notice inspections, but Gove backed down a few months later following protests from headteachers, and admitted there was a perception that Ofsted was becoming "an arm of the Spanish Inquisition”.

Pasty and Caravan Tax

The coalition's silliest moment: The 2012 budget levied a 20% tax on static caravans and food designed to cool down, like the humble pasty. Well, the Caravan and Pasty Club lobbied hard like hedge fund managers and George Osborne backed down.


71 out of 118 prisons in Britain are overcrowded. Britain has the highest prison population in Europe. They said they would send anyone carrying a knife to prison, they haven't. Prison rehabilitation is in a shambles, only 10% of the prison population is engaged in any kind of meaningful work and the probation service has been largely farmed out to the cheap as chips, payment by results, private sector. Dave's solution to the overcrowding problem was to suggest a 50% sentence discount for offenders who submitted early guilty pleas. That idea didn't fly with the populist press, so he forgot the idea.

Top-down reorganisation

"We will stop top-down reorganisations of the NHS," said the coalition agreement. The coalition promised "we will guarantee that health spending increases in real terms”.

The reality: they introduced the Lansley Act and begun the biggest top-down reorganisation ever. Spending increased in real terms by less than 1% over this parliament.

"greenest government ever"

Dave said he would lead the "greenest government ever". But then green turned to brown sludge when Dave endorsed fracking as the way forward for Britain's future energy needs. The bulk of our energy needs are still being met by coal! But wait a moment, the coalition are investing big time in nuclear, that is to the French and Chinese; so if you don't mind waiting for around 15 to 20 years we will be able to keep the lights on - don't bother yourself with the cost!

Energy Tariffs

Dave said: "we will be legislating so energy companies have to give the lowest tariff to their customers", Cameron was forced to admit the next day that he had only raised an option for inclusion in the energy bill. It never happened.

No frontline reductions

Three days before the 2010 election, Dave said on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, "any cabinet minister" … who comes to me and says 'Here are my plans' and they involve frontline reductions, they'll be sent straight back to their department to go away and think again". Yet £81bn in cuts have rained down on frontline services.

Would VAT rise?

A month before the election, Cameron said: "Our plans involve cutting wasteful spending … our plans don't involve an increase in VAT." VAT rose from 17.5% to 20%.

Internet Porn

"Enough is enough. Our children are seeing too much, too young. If we want to make Britain a more family-friendly place to live – which is my passionate ambition – we have to take a stand. That’s exactly what the Conservatives would do in government." Dave

He hasn't taken a stand, he's done precisely the sum of nothing on this issue, apart from grinding his teeth.

Cared for children

Dave has been mainly silent on the disgrace of 'cared for children' living in private care homes where they are treated like objects kept in a dark attic - not totally discarded, just out of sight and out of mind.

This government only bothered to notice these children after child abuse scandals in Rochdale, Rotherham, Oxford and elsewhere.

On Child benefit

Dave said, "I wouldn't change child benefit, I would not means test it, I don't think that's a good idea." He has.

Ending EMA

On EMA, Michael Gove said, just before the election: "Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping EMA. I have never said this. We won't." He did!

Tax Credits

On tax credits, the promise was to cut them only for families on £50,000, but the budget book shows families with an income of just £30,000 lose all credits.

Army Cuts

Liam Fox promised "a bigger army for a safer Britain", but it's set to lose 11,000 soldiers. These losses are to be made up by part-time reservists, if the MOD ever manages to fix the computer that recruits this reserve army?

Military covenant

In June 2010 Cameron said a promise of duty of care in return for the military's sacrifices would be enshrined in law. But the armed forces bill eventually published required the Ministry of Defence only to produce an annual report on the covenant.


The coalition were primed to remove funding for this scheme, which provides free books to young children, but flinched when accused of "gross cultural vandalism". Then like thieves in the night, two months later, they halved the funding!

The badger cull

The badger cull aimed at curbing the rise in bovine TB was postponed until summer 2013 following public and scientific opposition. Owen Paterson, the environment secretary, blamed the rainy weather, time-consuming legal challenges, and the Olympics taking up police resources for the delay. When the cull resumed the badgers went to ground and refused to play with the men with the high powered rifles, cull targets were not met and oddly, Mr Paterson went quiet on the idea of killing the badgers.

Buzzard cull

A controversial plan to trap buzzards and destroy their nests to protect pheasant shoots was abandoned.

Richard Benyon, the wildlife minister, said: "In the light of the public concerns expressed in recent days, I have decided to look at developing new research proposals on buzzards." What the minister means is that he does not have a clue how many pheasants the buzzards are eating?

Forests for sale

Back in February 2011, the government announced plans to sell state-owned woodland, 258,000 hectares of it. However, it did not take long for then environment secretary, Caroline Spelman, to realise it was not a popular move. The sale didn't take place.


The Big Society

Most ideas are recycled, repackaged, or simply re-imagined. In the Sixties, US President Johnson kept inserting the phrase Great Society into his speeches, few knew what he was talking about. Johnson never did clarify his message, he decided to napalm South-East Asia into oblivion instead and then there wasn't enough money available to build the Great Society.

Anyway, the Great Society didn't really fit with America's ruling elite's mantra: that taxation is theft, social justice is communism and those at the saturated fat end of the food-chain don't deserve to share in the Great Society.

Mr Cameron is smarter than President Johnson. His Big Society doesn't appear to rely on massive spending by government, rather it relies on good will, dorment bank accounts, charity, cooperation and self-help and, he also has plans to slim down larger people.

Be in no doubt, Mr Cameron's Big Society is no vacuous piece of hot air, to be dismissed as meaningless twaddle by Labour's yesterday men. Throughout the land the printing presses at Town Halls have churned out glossy brochures, complete with 'how-to' guides for citizens who want to work for nothing. The first 'schools' for Social Entrepreneurs signed up those with a passion for turning a penny from the free labour of others. The Hampshire School for Social Entrepreneurs led the way, offering a one year course, enabling people to set up businesses with a social purpose? Now, you have to admit it, this is a nifty idea, setting up businesses for society not personal gain... hope we haven't misunderstood the purpose.

Big Society: What does it all mean?

Well, that’s like asking, what is the sound of one hand clapping. Central to your grasp of the Big Society idea, you need to imagine a morally heightened collective state of mental awareness, in which operatives choose to work for nothing in public service and survive on the succour and warmth derived from contributing to some mythical greater good. Well, this is the sort of ethos that Dave is trying to engender with his Big Society idea.

No. 10 says: the idea is "to create a climate that empowers local people and communities, building a big society that will 'take power away from politicians and give it to people'." This quote is a clarifying statement from No. 10 but there still appears to be some confusion in the land.

Critics say:

It is merely an attempt to hand state-financed services to the private sector and a cynical "cover" for spending cuts. Farming out services will cost the Government vast amounts and they will still act as the managing contractor, secondly, the Cuts would occur whether or not Mr Cameron got passionate about the Big Society. Apart from subsidizing co-ordinating sub-contrators, substantial costs will be incurred by training the first 500 organisers, £80,000 a piece over four years, plus the fee (unknown millions) to the training organisation, a so-called 'social action trust' called Locality.
The architects tell us: The Big Society means injecting some oomph into communities, fuelled by citizens with a passion for volunteering. It means empowering citizens by engaging them in decision making at a local level. It means encouraging active citizenship, parish pump politics, i.e., citizen groups running post offices, libraries, transport services and shaping housing projects. It means giving people the right to veto council tax rises and for new providers to be able to set up so-called "free schools" in the state sector. Ah, but, please don't start asking for 'local' flood defences, you see flood defence isn't a 'local' issue. This may be hard to take in as you watch your sofa floating down the high street, no, flood defences are a national issue, even if its happening in your locality on a regular basis. So while you're waiting for the walls to dry out, don't be idle, why not set up a free school.

Encouraging Vulture Capitalism

Opportunities to make money abound in the Big Society. Big Society Capital was launched with £600 million. The Cabinet office tells us: "Its mission is to grow a new market – social investment – and so make it easier for charities, social enterprises and community groups to access affordable finance. In turn, this will help them innovate, expand their services and develop better solutions to social problems."
The £600 million will come from dormant bank accounts, i.e. left untouched for over 15 years, and £200 million will come from the UK’s four largest high street banks Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC and RBS. Can these banks really afford to go giving all this money away?

The Chairman of Big Society Capital is the one and only Sir Ronald Cohen, the genius behind 'social impact bonds', i.e. rich people making money out of poor people (explained below). Can't you just see all those social entrepreneurs salivating over the prospect of tapping into this new pot of money. Impetus Trust, the UK venture philanthropy association, has received a £310,000 investment from the Cabinet Office, designed no doubt to improve the private equity industry's public image, well done to them. Companies like these are into 'social impact investment'. These companies are not new to the Big Society tea party (in fact, they were not invited) just well placed to deal with the additional funds flowing from the tax payer. Big Society Capital says its developing a strong, diverse and sustainable social investment market in the UK, enabling organisations tackling social issues to grow by encouraging investments made for social as well as financial return.

Social Impact Bonds

Monetizing schemes like social impact bonds can only be understood in the context of the Tory Cuts; £1.3bn from charities and up to 20% from the Sure Start interventions.
Sir Ronald Cohen, is busy launching a plan for rich people to invest in, for a return of up to 13%: the government will pay out rewards for future costs saved by social interventions. For years Cohen has developed social impact bonds, launched, as a way to monetise social problems and raise private revenue to solve them. It's a novel solution to extreme inequality, inviting the rich to make money out of the poor.
The first pilot began in 2010: bonds were sold to cover a charity's promise to reduce re-offending by 3,000 prisoners released from Peterborough prison. And how was this scheme to be evaluated? Well, badly, because it proved very difficult to track the saving where re-offending didn't occur; gauging improved health outcomes, saving to the justice system, social services, benefits, and police - not enough hours in the day to cull the necessary data.
A much bigger scheme

So being unable to properly evaluate the worth of a small pilot scheme, the ConDem's extended the idea of monetizing poor people to 120,000 problem families. This conjures up an hysterical scenario as some agent, (from a charity) working for a private equity cowboy, attempts to assess the needs of a schizophrenic mother, with six dysfunctional children and remedy her problems, and then, some chump from the local authority (the managing scheme agent) attempts to assess the success of this intervention. Payment will apparently be by results - but again, assessing the value of outcomes might prove a problem. This however will not stop the money go-round, as bonds will be sold based on the likely success of outcomes and the government will waste fortunes getting everything in place.
Why you may wonder does the government bother engaging the services of the likes of Sir Ronald Cohen. Does the government really need to attract private money for intervention schemes, which will undoubtedly lead to massive public losses. (Due to the fact that money will be paid out regardless of outcomes). The fact is the private sector cannot borrow money cheaper than the State, so involving private finance is just short-sighted; just think PFI schemes. And the irony is compounded by the fact that charities, denied funds by the government, will become proxy sub-contractors instead of the leading agents.

Privatising every orifice of social life

Dave's big idea then is to replace New Labour's Big Government with the Big Society, in which citizens, i.e. social activists transform the the coral reef of life, i.e. like fish do apparently.
Now, sit back and watch those social entrepreneurs scoop the pool. Thatcher privatised the infrastructure and industry, now Dave's here to finish the job - by privatising every orifice of social life.
The 'Big Society' is all about self-help and Samuel Smiles. Smiles told his readers, "God helps those who help themselves" and self-help is "the true source of national vigour and strength". In Sam's world, State help weakens individual effort and thereby weakens the whole of the big society. Add in a dose of Adam Smith's self regulating market efficiency to a meal of individual self-interested rational behaviour and there you have it: the recipe for the

Big 'bang' Society.

The financial de-regulation of the 1980s was a precursor to Dave's Bigger Bang; total de-regulation of the whole of society. Be in no doubt, Thatcher's Tory boys laid the historical groundwork for Dave's Bullingdon boys. The privatisation of Britain plc, begun under the Thatcher interregnum, will continue apace during the reign of Dave. Thatcher put an end to ideas, put an end to the idea of struggle between owners and workers; she destroyed the industrial base of that struggle. The ships could be built in Taiwan, the coal dug in Mexico, the cars made in Japan and the steel in India. In services and utilities like transport and communications, gas, electricity and water could all be supplied by foreigners. Hard to wage a class struggle against a State that's divested itself of responsibility for producing and managing anything; except the behaviour of its citizens.

Dave does not have to worry about trades unions either, where they exist, they now barter for shells and trinkets like natives welcoming Captain Cook ashore.
So it's full steam ahead Captain Dave, sleeves rolled up and ready for action. Free up the markets, trust the markets. Let the food industry force feed children with its filthy muck, cunningly disguised in nice wrappers, unregulated. Where no natural market exists, create a market; make GPs accountants,remove oversight, make hospitals hustle for business, turn patients into consumers. And if the local school roof is leaking, let the parents put their hands in their pockets, there'll find a wide range of buckets at Dave's DIY World.


A tea party took place in May 2010 at Dave's place to launch the Big Society, two years later, the 16 social entrepreneurs present reflected, all were clear on one thing, Dave's cuts made a mockery of the project and, although these people were generally optimistic, they were also clearly disappointed with progress. (Guardian, 7th May, 2012)
Hilariously, Dave and his Baldricks failed to notice that the Big Society is inclined towards socialism, with its intention to devolve power from the centre towards the locality, with cooperative development as its central driving principle. However, such inclinations were done for by Dave’s cuts to local services. Further, the Localism Act 2012 set about demolishing all vestiges of community, with the introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’.  So, apologies to  all those aspiring social entrepreneurs out there, Dave’s Big Society has already been doomed by his own policies.



The Third Sector: Who's rattling the charity tin?

Few trust politicians anymore but they may trust a house-hold charity name like Age UK or Oxfam, or any one of the 160,000 plus charities operating across the UK.
A 2010 survey found that 75 per cent of the public believes that most charities are ‘trustworthy and act in the public interest’. A different survey conducted a year earlier found that only 44 per cent trusted civil servants and just 13 per cent trusted politicians.

Charities, voluntary groups, and NGOs are, in the parlance of our times, referred to as the Third Sector, and the third sector employs more than 600,000 people. This sector plays a key part in government policy, firstly, as a key player in Mr Cameron's Big Society project and vitally, as propagandist for various government schemes. "Charities perform a valuable role in campaigning for social change. The guidelines on campaigning should be revised to encourage charities to play this role to the fullest extent." (Cabinet Office Strategy Unit, 2002)
Since around 2000 the relationship between charities and the State has changed. By slow degrees the extent to which charities are able to promote an openly political message has loosened. To the extent that the present government is using charities to lobby for itself, i.e. the good causes, schemes and common sense that the State wishes to promote. Consider the case of the Remploy factory closures...

Charitable support for the Remploy closures

The government says that most Remploy factories are losing money and should be closed because the money saved would be better spent assisting the disabled and employers in the mainstream workplace - a lot cheaper.
Now, where we wonder do these ideas come from, yes, there is an idea embedded in there somewhere. Yes, the closures are about cuts but there's more to it. The idea is that disabled people would be better off in mainstream employment rather than segregated inside Remploy.

Back in June 2011, Liz Sayce, chief executive at the disability rights charity Radar, suggested 35,000 more people could be helped into work for the same cost as supporting the 2,300 Remploy employees. She was carrying out a review into disability employment, commissioned by the Coalition.
Reading Sayce's review, 'Getting in, staying in and getting on', it would be hard to argue against her ambition to improve employment opportunities for the disabled. However, it would be hard not to see her ambitions as starry-eyed, in circumstances of mass unemployment and intense competition in the low-wage jobs market. When the labour is shed from Remploy they'll wait a long time for their next job, if ever. The world beyond the Remploy gates has become more inhospitable, not less, in recent years.

(Note: When the government said it was going to close the Remploy factories, it didn't mean it was going to close the factories, don't be silly, what it meant was, it would be selling them off to the private sector and a paying a tidy subsidy for each employee retained.) In the case of Radar we have a charity writing a State commissioned review of sheltered workplaces, which the State would like to be rid of and the review it has commissioned supports the notion that this would be good for all concerned.

State funding for charities

Over the past 15 years, the looser regulations surrounding charity lobbying has been accompanied by a very large increase in State funding for (some) charities.
Between 1997 and 2005, the combined income of Britain’s charities nearly doubled, from £19.8 billion to £37.9 billion. By 2010, charities received more money from government than they did from voluntary donations. Parts of the voluntary sector had in effect become not for profit businesses. The old idea of self-sacrificing volunteers and jumble sales was becoming a thing of the past. Communications, raising awareness and education became the new core functions of many charities, in particular those receiving the bulk of their income from the State. For instance, The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) by the end of the New Labour period was receiving half a million pounds from State sources and only £76,000 from donations.

Charities come in all shapes and sizes and motivations. Most charities, 75%, received nothing from the State directly, and some well known charities like the RNLI have no truck with State funding, and some like Keep Britain Tidy or Citizen's Advice are largely dependent on State funding but are not into political lobbying.

The Government Lobbies Itself

Organisations like the Pedestrians Association, (PA) founded in 1929, when cars were killing 6000 people a year, is of a different type. Their good works included, pavements, speedometers in cars, driving licences and speed limits. In 2001, the PA changed its name to Living Streets and receives grants from the Department of Health, the Department of Transport, the Scottish government and the National Lottery which account for half of its income today. Beyond selling its message, that it's better for children to walk to school, Living Streets spends its time promoting its anti-car message. Clearly, Living Streets is on message with government thinking.
Stonewall, the gay rights campaigning charity, have an even longer list of State clients, including the Arts Council, Department for Trade and Industry, Department of Health, Home Office, Scottish government, Welsh Assembly, Greater London Authority and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Most of these grants are restricted, typically for ‘education’, ‘research’ and ‘health policy’.

Such charities are State funded pressure groups and their ultimate aim is to influence public opinion. Naturally, you might think, that's obvious, they are pursuing their causes but what if their ability to do so becomes mainly reliant on State funding. Do charities then become puppets of particular ideologies? Guidance from the Charity Commission states charities must only engage in political activity when it relates to furthering the goals of the organisation.

“Political campaigning, or political activity, as defined in this guidance, must be undertaken by a charity only in the context of supporting the delivery of its charitable purposes. Unlike other forms of campaigning, it must not be the continuing and sole activity of the charity.”

Under the 1968 Health Services and Public Health Act, the Department of Health (DH) was permitted to issue Section 64 grants to voluntary organisations for the provision of health services which would otherwise be offered by the NHS. Initially, these grants incorporated the use of hospices, centres for the disabled and family planning clinics. However, over time some kind of 'creep' occurred and groups were included to promote a range of public health goals, especially those involving eating, drinking and smoking,

The case of ASH, Action on Smoking and Health, is instructive. ASH was set up in the hope that it would raise £500.000 a year from donations, the money didn't appear, so ASH applied for and received a grant from the DH and by the 1990s, 90% of its funding was coming from the State. Alcohol Concern was set up with a £350,000 grant from the government. These organisations are part of a model of state-funded activism in contravention of the Charity Commission advice. The secure source of funding enabled these groups to become highly professional lobbyists, they had no popular mandate so they focused on networking, manoeuvering behind the scenes. Eventually, the government yielded to their demands, demands that they were not opposed to in the first place but yielding made it look like they were giving in to the popular will - which only goes to show that Dave didn't invent cunning. This was the government lobbying itself.

Civil Society

Until 2010 something called the Office for the Third Sector existed, this was rebranded under Dave as the Office for Civil Society. The Third Sector has been defined as "the place between State and private sector." Safe to assume then that it hasn't moved and that Civil Society is occupying the same space. Civil Society is the place where the will of the people is formed.
Interesting to note then, that the role of many so-called charities is promoting themes that the people are not exactly inspired by, if not hostile to; for instance, foreign aid, climate change, temperance, anti-smoking, ‘sustainable development’, radical feminism and support for the EU. You might suppose that the political elite, with their finger on the pulse of popular opinion through incessant polling and focus groups would sense the public's ambivalence to numerous issues and set policy accordingly but what we actually see is a kind of subversion of public opinion through the use of voluntary organisations, trumpeting phoney causes paid for by the same public that do not support these causes. For instance, the Department for International Development spends a fortune persuading the public that international aid is a good idea.

Rent Seeking

Under Dave's Big Society project, Civil Society is supposed to be the place where local people are making the choices but in that space the locals are being bombarded by messages from agencies sponsored by the State, about how they should live and what they should believe. The man from the Couch Potato Council, Eric Pickles, banned local authorities from political lobbying, saying:"Taxpayer-funded lobbying and propaganda on the rates weakens our democracy. So-called town hall newspapers are already closing down scrutiny from independent local papers. Now lobbyists are being used to sidestep transparency laws and shadowy figures are peddling more regulation and special favours." Our thanks to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government for raising the topic of special favours because taxpayer funded lobbying by charities weakens democracy even more so, not just in terms of the true expression of popular will but also in terms of squandering resources. Those charities chosen to promote State messages are commanding resources that would otherwise be used to produce goods and services that consumers value, spending billions of pounds selling ideas is nonsensical. These agencies may be described as rent seekers, i.e. they do not create wealth, they tap into the wealth that exists and through the privilege of State endowments, they take command of the resources and prevent their use in more productive areas.

The word charity carries a halo effect, the term Civil Society conveys a notion of a private place out of reach of government and business. Charities operate within Civil Society, tapping into popular sentiment, addressing the excesses and disappointments of political and business decision making, campaigning for a better world. The halo effect and the perception of trust wears thin in circumstances where charities are no more than State sponsored message systems. And why wouldn't they be, over a three year period charities received over one billion pounds in public handouts, that is, money from government, the EU, the UN, and local authorities.

Charities and the end of the Big Society

Each year several thousand charities come and go, in 2011, 7,350 were removed from the register and 5590 signed on. Figures supplied by the Charities Commission show a similar picture of comings and goings in most years. However,  the number of charities has declined in the past decade but not by a significant amount. A big decline can seen following the credit crunch but we see gross income increasing. How much of this increase was due to government propaganda spending; we can only wonder. That's the beauty of living in an open society, it's full of wonder.
The press, specifically the Daily Mirror in this context, seemed to find the fact that over 7000 charities had disappeared cause for concern for Dave's Big Society. They thought that it signified a lack of willingness of people to support charitable good works, undermining the Big Society project.

"David Cameron’s Big Society plans were ridiculed yesterday as it emerged more than 7,000 charities went under last year." The Mirror, (17/08/12) The net fall in registered charities was 1,760, we don't know how many of these were one-off fund raisers that had run their course and no longer required; more to wonder about; reliance on partial surveys produce partial pictures. For instance, if a social enterprise, i.e. a business that performs a social purpose, e.g. helping prisoners on release, loses its funding due to local government cut backs, how can that be used as an example of the decline of charitable good works - as the Mirror claims. All such examples demonstrate is government reneging on its social responsibilities but then, that's the Tory project. The Big Society is about shifting responsibility and outsourcing the functions of local authorities. The Big Society project is as alive and well as Monty Python's Parrot but all those rattling the charity tins and clipping the coupons don't seem to mind.


The Politics of Happiness

What is happiness?  "It requires that basic needs are met, that individuals have a sense of purpose, that they feel able to achieve important personal goals and participate in society. It is enhanced by conditions that include supportive personal relationships, strong and inclusive communities, good health, financial and personal security, rewarding employment, and a healthy and attractive environment." Margaret Hodge
Wow, hold that thought! Hodge covers all the ground in what she says, she describes an ideal set of social circumstances. And the Dalai Lama tells us: "Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions”. Something for Iain Duncan Smith to think about there?

The Happiness Quotient

If the Big Society is to succeed there is much work to be done, fundamentally people must become happier.Apparently, our political elite are taking the idea of social happiness seriously. Work is in process attempting to measure the impact of policy measures designed to promote happiness rather than economic growth per se. Positive psychology has been used for years in the work place to encourage higher productivity but it's never been employed on a social scale. The Office for National Statistics is to devise questions for a household survey, to be carried out up to four times a year, this began in Spring 2011.
According to Dave, the Royal millionaire, "there's more to life than money" and wellbeing is one of the "central political issues of our time". (Dave borrows most of his ideas, this one comes from Robert Kennedy.)
Other politicians, who think they know what Dave is talking about, say that it's not the Government's job to make people happy but they should take account of the policy effects on health and wellbeing. Indeed, almost 30 MPs signed a Commons motion, proposed by Lib-Dem Jo Swinson, arguing that "promoting happiness and well-being is a legitimate and important goal of government".

Beware! Psychologists at Work

A highly entertaining new report was published by Demos, with some help from PricewaterhouseCooper, entitled "Good Growth".
Demos, for those who don't know, is a Tory 'think tank' and PwC is the largest financial services company globally. The report we are told is tentative and preliminary, however, it's also important.
It's important because it's part of a futuristic trend in economics that attempts to reassess the role of government in the regulation of economic activity by identifying outcomes that enhance social wellbeing.
The focus of the report is "Good Growth", i.e. those variables that citizens consider central to promoting a happier existence than would be the case if the focus was simply on the growth of GDP.
Demos and PwC are not a bunch of happy clappers seeking to enlist citizens in a chorus of chanting for the sake of harmony. Their report fits with ongoing studies by the World Bank, the IMF, the Stiglitz Commission and the United Nations, as well as, our own ONS - busy compiling Dave's 'happiness index'.

Why, we need to ask, all this effort on what used to be called 'welfare economics' now, when that branch of the subject has largely been ignored by our politicians and the City spivs at the sambuca trough.
The whole of the capitalist enterprise can be summed up as follows, production damages people, government intervenes to alleviate the damage, over time material conditions improve but the damage takes on new forms, less obvious and more subtle, more psychological than physical.

The current prominence of the welfare agenda recognises that the pursuit of economic growth has had its day. The idea behind the current spate of studies into wellbeing is twofold; to inform the political elite's decision making in order to quiet the troubled minds of the citizenry, and to use the current economic crisis to reassess economic activity in order to promote human wellbeing rather than profit.
And can't you just hear Louis Armstrong singing 'And I think to myself, what a wonderful world'.
Economics has failed, so send in the psychologists. In particular, send in B F Skinner, guru of behaviourism. All these reports and studies, all the data gathering are designed to capture the ingredients that Skinner identified for creating the engineered society.

A cynical view

Could it be that compiling a 'happiness quotient' will only serve to make politicians feel better, dare we say happy?
The big idea underpinning all this measuring of happiness is that the exclusive focus on GDP, as a measure of national success, has ignored much and might have led to a less than optimum outcome for the economy.
This might be a good time to point out that welfare economics is not new, it's just that part of the economics textbook that politicians prefer to leave to the market. Where it naturally gets ignored or the problems get exported to West Africa or sold as carbon credits on the global exchanges.

Beware ideologues dressed as sheep

Are we now being expected to believe that politicians are going to start taking our happiness seriously, in the midst of an economic crisis.
Yes, is the answer, our political elite have no ideas except recourse to a fantasy world - where everything and anything is possible. In this magic place new crusades will be forged and ideologues like the economist Richard Layard (now Baron Layard of Highgate) will carry the banner of happiness.
The Baron told us in 2007, ‘What we need is an educational revolution in which a central purpose of our schools becomes to help young people learn the secrets of the happy life and the happy society’.
The Baron is of course standing on the shoulders of the great ideologue of the happiness movement, positive psychologist Martin Seligman. However, close up, Seligman is more behaviourist than humanist and Layard is more a moralist than economist.

These people are not leading us in a pursuit of happiness, they are redefining happiness; this is a moral crusade, this is social engineering and the factories are the schools.
Read Layard's Happiness and the teaching of values and make up your own mind.

Happiness is not a new idea...

Tony Blair’s Strategy Unit was exploring the potential for promoting ‘happiness policies’ at a ‘life satisfaction seminar’ in Whitehall 2002. Defra was set to work compiling a 'happiness index', we don't know what happened to it or Defra. We think that Defra went into hiding following a toxic leak from a secret research establishment in Surrey, and this made them very unhappy.
Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, affectionately referred to himself as the ‘constructor of happiness’, he also took a great interest in imaginatively inventing statistics to prove it. Pictures of smiling Soviet peasants attending to their chores provided everyday proof; only Enver Hoxha’s Albania provided more proof, i.e. through the great leaders published writing. Given that Enver was the only writer published during the period between 1944-1985 in Albania, we'll have to take his word for it. These men were real social engineers, although they did not score very high on the happiness index.

Happiness: update

Action on Happiness, launched Tuesday 12th April, 2011, boasts more than 9,000 members from 68 countries, all of them committed to building happiness. Well, actually, that's just the number of people who have signed up via the Action for Happiness website. Happiness guru, Lord Richard Layard says:

"This is a movement for radical cultural change which can provide the basis for a better culture in the 21st century, we want millions of people around the world to form Action for Happiness groups to do just that - using the tools which we are able to provide."

Tools, tools, they've got tools....

Layard believes people can take specific actions to boost happiness. He acknowledges that genes and circumstances - factors outside one's control - will affect happiness. But he says happiness also depends on conscious choices and conscious reaction to what happens to us.

"Happiness is also contagious, so when we feel good we help make others around us happier too," the website says. The website also provides visitors with a list of ‘tools’ which are not tools at all but rather a list of things to do, to guide you to the happy garden of life.

You can also download some free posters for your bedroom wall to make you happier. However, often the massive thrust of initiatives like producing a web site (with tools) do not always produce the desired result, sometimes a bit more is needed to guide people along your chosen path, sometimes people need a nudge; Dave has a plan for that too.
The Technical Bit: Measuring National Happiness The plan is to measure both subjective and objective data, and in terms of the latter, try to assess the way our changing economic fortunes affect outlook. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) will be in charge of the data gathering. They will use the Integrated Household Survey (IHS), which will collect responses from 200,000 people - that's the subjective part of the study. The objective part of the study will rely on more traditional economic measures like GDP.

However the first results, published in 2012 were not conclusive in any sense. Importantly, some working on similar projects, across Europe and US, question the value of including measures like GDP. And economist Simon Kuznets, who first developed the measure in 1934, was adamant it should not be used to measure the wellbeing of a nation. The essence of the problem in a nutshell is this: how do you add apples and pears and then agree with 30 other nations on your method, so that you can discover whether you are happier than the French? Dave will not be happy if he finds out our chums across the Channel are happier than we are. The Happiness Index is costing £2m a year. Someone responding to a BBC questionnaire wrote: "Lord save us from mirth monitors, community grin assessments, and personal smile quotas."
How long will it be before Call Me Dave's Big Society commissars issue us all with Smiley Face stamp books? They say that in some US states utility bills are sent out with smiley faces on by way of congratulating consumers for cutting their energy consumption.


When Push Comes to Nudge

Nudge Theory: it's all part of a cunning Baldrick type plan to persuade you to live more healthily, on the grounds that healthy people are happier and will make a more positive contribution to the Big Society.

The Agenda

‘Today we can’t escape the fact that many of our most severe health problems are caused, in part, by the wrong personal choices. Obesity, binge-drinking, smoking and drug addiction are putting millions of lives at risk and costing our health services billions a year. So getting to grips with them requires an altogether different approach to the one we have seen before. We need to promote more responsible behaviour and encourage people to make the right choices about what they eat, drink and do in their leisure time.’ (David Cameron, foreword, A Healthier Nation, Policy Green Paper No.12, Conservative Party.)
Here we see Dave taking time out in his busy life, i.e. dining with his chums up in Chipping Norton, to consider how we spend our leisure time.

Behavioural  Insights Abound

This outrage has been designed by Cameron's Behavioural Insight Team, otherwise known as the Nudge Unit. That is a group of people being paid to think up ways to persuade us "to make better choices for ourselves".
The inspiration behind the Unit, which is central to Dave's Big Society plans, is behavioural economics expert Dr David Halpern. The Unit's focus is on all the problems associated with unhealthy life-styles.
Halpern is no stranger to the Cabinet Office, he was one of Blair's glove puppets under the last regime. His most famous contribution at that time towards a Nudge Theory was the paper 'Personal Responsibility and Behaviour Change'. However, more recently, a 2008 book called Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein sets out the full picture. (P.S. Sunstein works for Obama and Thaler works in the Nudge Unit). The book explores "libertarian paternalism", or how public and private organisations can help people make better choices through market incentives.
In practice this will mean giving poor people food vouchers that can only be used on healthy choices. In New York, this thinking inspired Mayor Bloomberg to try to stop poor people spending their welfare vouchers on soda pop.
It get's worse.....
Halpern said in his blog that his work will build on the Mindspace report commissioned by the previous government. Mindspace looked at ways of changing people's behaviour by influencing not just what they consciously think but also by influencing their "automatic processes" – cues from the subconscious, from the behaviour of people around them, and from emotional associations that affect their decisions.
For year's we have grown used to advertisers' tricks, now the Government will be doing it as well. Even the Department of Health has set up a 'Behaviour Change Unit', informed by ad-men.
George Osborne told us in 2008: "Our work with the world's leading behavioural economists and social psychologists is yet more proof that the Conservative party is now the party of ideas in British politics."

People are, apparently, powerfully influenced by the people around them, this insight is one of the driving forces behind Nudge Theory for policy makers. The basic idea for policy makers is simple, tell people what the norms are and people will fall into line with those norms. Evidence from America suggests that a simple metaphorical pat on the back, like a smiley face on your energy bill, does the trick.

Beware! Behavioural Psychologists at Work

The Royal Society of Arts’ Social Brain Project, which is spawning many of these ideas, says ‘people are often systematically irrational’. And why would you care what irrational people think, unless you were engaged in a project to make them think rationally, you know, like you do.
When Orwell told us in his 1984 that "freedom is slavery" he must have had Nudge Theory in mind "We create human nature. Men are infinitely malleable." Big Brother wanted citizens to believe that ‘freedom is slavery’, this was 'doublethink at work'. Osborne is talking about creating a politics of behaviour, just another variant of doublethink. When Osborne talked about the Tories being the party of ideas, he should have said 'old' ideas.
Readers are reminded that in the 2005 election campaign  the Tory slogans was ‘Are you thinking what we’re thinking?’ If you weren't then, you will be soon.
Nudge theory is Skinnerism designed to reduce our comprehension and responses to a matter of unconsciously responding to stimuli, the focus is on wrong choices, the context in which behaviour can be understood and corrected.

New York is currently the lab in which much of Nudge Theory is being tested, where the politicians are ‘changing the entire cultural landscape in order to make bad choices harder and good ones easier’ to ‘an overhaul of human behaviour’ it's ‘a vast population experiment with no control group’.
Dr Thomas A Farley, the main architect in New York's experiment tells us ‘if we really want to change how we behave, we must change the environment in which we live’. Read Skinner's Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971), he says exactly the same thing? It has taken several decades for Skinner's ideas to find favour, now they have.
Beyond Nudging: Refusing, sorry, Rationing Healthcare
People who over-indulge like smokers, drinkers and food gorgers can be difficult to nudge, the solution for such types is to ration the help they get. Hippocrates wasn't available for comment but 57% of doctors responding to a questionnaire (on said that they supported the idea of restricting and withholding healthcare to people who insist on pursuing their unhealthy lifestyles. So, because these recidivists will not desist they will be blackmailed by their medics. They will refuse non-emergency treatment to patients unless they lose weight or stop smoking, or at the minimum participate in nudge courses. A question mark has been placed over those who play sport and hurt themselves.

In March, 2012, the medical magazine, Pulse, published the results of 91 freedom-of-information (FOI) requests to primary-care trusts. Twenty-five of the trusts had some kind of lifestyle or bodyweight restrictions in place. So it seems as if there's an institutional twist to the prejudices of the medics - which is gathering pace as Dave forges on with his plans to make everyone healthier.

Dealing with drug and alcohol addiction

The thing about alcoholics and drug addicts is that they don't much care what you say and do; they care about where the next drink or fix is coming from. No one doubts the immense tragedy that addiction inflicts both at a personal and social level but these problems are not new. And Dave's latest scheme, to remove benefits from addicts to force them into work, is hardly likely to dent the problem.
The new universal credit will be used to switch the support that is currently on offer from ‘passive’ to ‘active’ intervention. Active appears to mean that the addicts will deal with their problems or lose their benefits.
The Department for Work and Pensions tells us that 160,000 dependent drinkers are in receipt of one or more of the main welfare handouts, 13,300 have been claiming for a decade. Almost 40,000 people who claim incapacity benefits have alcoholism as their primary diagnosis. Around 80 per cent of Britain’s estimated 400,000 ‘problem’ drug users are also claiming.
Sir Ian Gilmore, Royal College of Physicians, special adviser on alcohol, said: "Current treatment facilities for addicts in this country, particularly those with alcohol dependence, are woefully inadequate....." And the man from Alcohol Concern said "At the moment only one in 16 people with an alcohol problem is receiving specialist alcohol treatment. In order to make this work, jobcentre staff will need to be properly trained in order to recognise when someone has an alcohol problem and to be able to offer the right advice." And the charity Release reminds us that this too was a New Labour reform, one which they dropped.
Each year, there are one million alcohol-related violent crimes and 1.2million alcohol-related hospital admissions. And you can expect the numbers to increase as addicts adopt plan B, more crime and violence.

Bread Crumbs

Every time you go shopping for points at your chosen supermarket you leave a trail of consuming behaviour. Now, Dave is backing the idea that his Nudge people tap into your shopping habits, using the information that your Sainsbury’s Nectar card or Tesco Club Card contains. They'll be on the look out for too much fatty food and alcohol in particular. Now, you may be wondering how, having discovered that you are making poor choices, the Nudge Unit are going to sanction you. In truth, they don't actually know how but if points start disappearing from your card’s tally, it could be retribution from those puritan nudgers.
From excess to responsibility: Dave's Plans for drinkers

A minimum price of 50p to "turn the tide" against binge drinking was put forward. North of the border, the Scots imposed a minimum price of 50p and booze cruises to Newcastle are the expected outcome. The ConDem's are also proposing a crack down on multi-buy offers, restricting opening hours and density of licensed premises, and sobriety schemes.

Dave was a trifle over-optimistic about the outcome of his new scheme:"We're consulting on the actual price, but if it is 40p that could mean 50,000 fewer crimes each year and 900 fewer alcohol related deaths per year by the end of the decade."Dave didn't discuss the 50p option, similar to the level agreed in Scotland, which would seriously damage alcohol sales and therefore slash the £9bn plus in annual tax revenues from sales of wines, beer and spirits.The man from Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said: "Minimum unit pricing will unfairly punish millions of consumers and businesses in the UK, while doing nothing to tackle the root causes of alcohol misuse."And the man from Diageo said: "Our position has always been that we don't believe there's a relationship between price and alcohol harm, so we're fully against minimum pricing," that was Mark Baird, corporate social responsibility manager for Diageo UK - maker of Guinness, Johnnie Walker, and Smirnoff. Molson Coors, the US-Canadian brewing giant which makes Carling in the UK, also has a head of corporate responsibility and he says:
"Extremely cheap alcohol prices are not good for society and we believe some form of pricing intervention may be required." He advocates no "below cost" selling, defined as below duty, VAT and a "nominal" cost of production for the brewer or distiller. The nominal production cost for each category of beer, wine, spirits and cider could be decided by industry bodies. All very interesting but it also appears like some form of industry appeasement. No matter, Dave finally decided that it was all too difficult tangling with the drinks industry and supermarkets - best to focus on the drinkers.

Spot the difference

Diageo Man says no to minimum pricing but the response from Coors Man seems much more measured, with his talk of below cost selling. Were they talking about the same thing in different terms or were they talking about two different things - who knows? We do know that Dave forgot all about the idea of minimum pricing in July 2013 and dropped it as the answer to the nation's drinking problems.
Curiously, in February 2014 he popped up with a new policy on drink pricing, no "below cost" selling.
Alcohol Concern said: "The idea that banning below cost sales will help tackle our problem with alcohol is laughable. It's confusing and close to impossible to implement and it will only affect about 1% of sales."
Meanwhile, Scotland's minimum pricing campaign hit the buffers due to legal challenges from the drinks industry.

Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, Dec. 2010

This Bill contained measures to reshape Labour's Cafe Culture approach to 24 hour drinking. Majorly, councils were given the power to impose a late night levy of £4,500 on pubs and clubs that cause public order problems. Also, councils will be able to prevent 'problem' pubs from staying open late. GPs and NHS trusts and members of the public will be given a key say in licensing applications. Fines for selling alcohol to those who are under age were doubled to £20,000.

24 hour drinking

A Select Health Committee report, (Jan 2010), on alcohol accused the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) of "extraordinary naivety" over the introduction of 24-hour drinking. Their report was particularly critical of the DCMS, which sponsored the Licensing Act 2003 that allowed licensed premises to open around the clock from late 2005, and its claim that extended licensing hours would lead to more laid back, European-style drinking patterns in the UK.

"The department has shown extraordinary naivety in believing that the Licensing Act 2003 would bring about a civilised cafe culture."
Interesting that the Dept. for Culture didn't have a grasp of English culture.

Drug Dependency

Britain is winning the war against heroin and crack cocaine with a 10 per cent fall in users over five years, the head of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA) told the world in March 2013. Chief executive Paul Hayes,, said among under 35’s the numbers were “not falling, but plummeting” thanks to a “world class drug treatment system”. (The NTA was merged into Public Health England in April, 2013.)
This is odd when we consider that that font of all knowledge, Nick Clegg, said a few months earlier that Britain was “losing the war against drugs on an industrial scale.”
The number of registered addicts was down below 300,000, the number injecting drugs was below 100,000 and treatment programmes had cut offending rates, preventing almost 5 million crimes. The success story is due to a “world class drug treatment system”. However, this system relies on funding from local authorities and can we expect them to continue their commitment in this age austerity?
A spokesman for Drugscope thought these figures evidence that the heroin epidemic of the 1980s was over but conceded the increasing use of new club drugs such as ketamine, GBL and mephedrone was a major cause for concern. We think that’s what you call an understatement.


A Design for Healthy Living

Change 4 Life - you know it makes sense? 'Change4Life' is all part of a campaign, started under New Labour a few years ago and continued by the ConDems, to persuade citizens to eat properly. It is all part of a bigger campaign to encourage a state-approved healthy lifestyle. Visit the Change4Life website and this is how you will be greeted....
"Well done! Visiting this site is your first step in making a Change4Life, and you’re not alone." Well Done! A nice big dollop of patronage there and the piece at the end about you not being alone is designed by the Baldricks in the Nudge Unit to provide you with a warm glow of being part of a much wider movement for change. The message continues..."The way we live nowadays means a lot of us, including our kids, have fallen into unhelpful habits. This means all of us need to make small changes to eat well, move more, and live longer." Suffice it to say, the three sentences taken from the Change4Life website tell you all you need to know about the State's intentions in relation to its citizens.

Straightforwardly, citizens can't be trusted to eat properly, they've become unhealthy and have fallen into unhelpful habits; now they need help to get back to the correct path again.
We have been told for some time now that eating five portions of fruit and vegetables is supposed to guarantee a healthy lifestyle. Recently, a new study suggests that we should all be eating '8 a day'. What the commissars of health forget to mention is that there is no evidence that sticking to 5 or 8 portions a day does any good at all.Five Scottish brothers, average age 85 years, have rejected vegetables all their lives and lived to tell the tale. The Artic Inuit and Kenyan Masai do not consume five vegetables a year, let alone a day and they manage to thrive, curious that. Let's hope these people never discover the Change4Life website.
Health secretary, Alan Johnson, back in October 2007, commenting on the launch of a report by the UK government’s Foresight project said:
‘We cannot afford not to act on obesity. For the first time we are clear about the magnitude of the problem. We are facing a potential crisis on the scale of climate change and it is in everybody’s interest to turn things round. We will succeed only if the problem is recognised, owned and addressed at every level in every part of society.’ The report declared: ‘By 2050, Foresight modelling indicates that 60 per cent of adult men, 50 per cent of adult women and about 25 per cent of all children under 16 could be obese. Obesity increases the risk of a range of chronic diseases, particularly type-2 diabetes, stroke and coronary heart disease and also cancer and arthritis. The financial impact to society attributable to obesity, at current prices, is estimated to become an additional £45.5 billion per year by 2050 with a seven-fold increase in NHS [National Health Service] costs alone.’

All very worrying then, half of the UK population will be like beached whales, marooned on their sofas, half dead couch potatoes in 40 years from now. Clearly, based on this evidence we must act. But wait, this is not evidence, this is a projection from a computer model. And the report definitely has not factored in the important contribution that will be made to healthy living by the mass consumption of games consoles like the Wii and Xbox Kinect. True these house-bound Olympians might suffer from vitamin D deficiency but they can take tablets for that. The Health Survey for England tells us that obesity across all sections of the population has been falling for the past few years, so why the panic? Could it be that the State, having been spooked by zealots in the health business, now feel obliged to tilt at large fat windbags even though it doesn't make much sense. And another thing, why do Fish Fingers have added Omega 3, if there's any evidence of fish in those fingers it shouldn't be necessary.

A Tax on Fat - apply salt liberally

Where subtle 'nudging' fails it has been suggested by some spook elements that taxes might be applied. Ah, now what you need is a rigorous argument, backed by good research, that applying tax to fatty foods will achieve some stated aim, e.g. reduce ill-health associated with fat ladened food.
Enter the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (2007, 61, 689-694) who reported that various studies into cardiovascular disease in the past have concluded that an optimum application of VAT on fatty foodstuffs could avert ‘up to 3,200 cardiovascular deaths’ per year.
You can take that rather impressive claim with a pinch of salt due to the large numbers of citizens who succumb to cardiovascular disease. In percentage terms 3,200 is 1.7 percent of all deaths caused by heart disease - rather less impressive. More seriously, those in Government and the media, who have a vested interest in blowing up headline information, do not always worry about the fine details of the research that will not persuade or sell.
Healthy lives, healthy people (White Paper Nov. 2010)

The White Paper told us that government intervention will be based ‘on a rigorous assessment of the evidence’. Good, that's reassuring, given that we live in contradictory times.
‘People in England are healthier and are living longer than ever’ and '‘life expectancy is expected to continue to rise for both men and women’ but we are also told about the big concern over the nation's unhealthy habits. For instance, there's the concern about people who consume too much fat, people who drink to excess, people who don't exercise and so on. However, put the worry to one side, the vast majority of citizens are moderate in their behaviour in all regards; it's just the way people are. And interestingly, moderate drinking, for instance, is associated with the lowest mortality rates in alcohol studies. There is evidence that tee-totallers will depart the planet before the drinkers do (evidence from the journal Alcoholism).

Unfortunately, the White Paper is not based on a rigorous assessment of the evidence, it also contains a fair few unsupported assumptions about health.
For example, regular physical activity keeps you healthy or gets you healthy. Recently, a TV programme told the story of a super fit fell runner who found it impossible to reduce his cholesterol below 7, by conventional wisdom he should have died long before now. Why isn't the man dead, no one knows, he's a statistical anomaly. But no one has proved a causal link between an active lifestyle and improved health. It might just be the case that you just feel better following physical activity, due to the release of chemicals in the brain; you might not be fitter at all, you might just think you are.
Also, doctors reading this might like to recall that over the past few decades acceptable measures of cholesterol have fallen. Once a reading of 7 would not have been considered significant, now 4 is becoming the recommended norm, soon it will not be too much cholesterol that's killing people, it will be too little.

The White Paper proposes an expansion of the Change4Life programme, this proposal takes no account of evidence that doesn't support the use of community wide behaviour control experiments. Beyond beating up poor people with vouchers, Change4Life is unlikely to impinge on the lives of the moderate majority.

Central to the White Paper is the notion that eating 5 a day is crucial to securing improved health outcomes but no clinical link has been established. Indeed, the Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial, found no statistically significant differences in the risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, or cardiovascular disease (CVD) between the intervention and control groups.
Obese people, the Paper assumes, are more at risk of premature death. A seminal study reported no relationship between overweight and excess mortality for cardiovascular disease or coronary heart disease (Flegal et al). Other studies have found negligible differences in risk of death among people with body mass index (BMI) values from 20 to 35 (that is, from ‘normal’ right through to ‘mildly obese’).
And finally, most political sound bites, never leave out the expected savings to the health service from citizens choosing the healthy option. Unfortunately, it costs the health service more to care for healthy people, who live long lives, than it does to care for those requiring treatment due to supposed poor lifestyle choices.

Healthy lives, healthy people slots into the Health and Social Care Bill which it's hoped will bring 'Healthy lives...' into being (including the switch on of Public Health England from 2012). And be in no doubt, no aspect of public health will be left out of the remit: health visitors, mental health, tobacco control, the public health “responsibility deal” with industry, obesity, physical activity, social marketing, sexual health, teenage pregnancy, and pandemic flu – not forgetting health protection, emergency preparedness and response. Hopefully, this will also include earthquake training.

Something to chew on for 2014

In March, the Mail and the Telegraph told us that 1 in 30 will die before their time due to eating processed meat. Now, reading the funny papers you'd believe that the study this amazing fact came from was exclusively about the effects of processed meat. It wasn't, the study was broadly concerned with examining the life-styles of meat eaters. The bottom line to this story is not that eating processed meat will shorten your life but eating cheap processed meat will shorten your life - it's cheap for a reason, it's designed for poor people. So good journalism, rather than the churnalism we get from the Mail and Telegraph, would have reported that poor people are dying before their time due to the life-style choices that poverty forces upon them. The press release that accompanied this study's results tells us:"One of the difficulties in measuring the effect of eating meat on health is the confounding effect of lifestyle on health." There you have it in a nutshell, without confounding factors the world would look just like the Mail and Telegraph thinks it looks. And keep in mind what Marshall McLuhan told us 50 years ago... the medium is the message, the content is "like a juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watch-dog of the mind”. If you do nothing else for the rest of your life, focus on the confounding factors.

It's not fat people that are the problem, it's fat cats.

The issues surrounding eating, health, and State intervention in citizens lives is complicated. The Government is telling people that their eating habits are unhealthy, it further presumes to tell us that this disorderly eating is storing up big trouble for the future. It might just be that the Government is coming at the problem of obesity from the wrong direction, i.e. by focussing on fat people when it should be focussing on the fat cats who drive the food industry.
Most of the food sold to poor people is junk!, recycled, reconstituted, reclaimed and fucking revolting. The poor get served up the left-overs, after the prime cuts have been sent off to Waitrose. Add sugar to shit, place in a deep freeze for ten years and then put it on the supermarket shelf and call it fish fingers. The poor should eat the packaging, that has more nutritional benefit than the contents and they wouldn't get fat. Ah, but soon some eco-warrior will want to take the packaging away from the poor because its destroying the planet. Stop press: some clever people at US firm Monosol will soon be launching edible packaging - tell the eco-warriors to get lost!
The Ministry of this that and the other tinkers around with information supplied on the packets, E numbers, fat content, salt etc., and then congratulates itself for getting one over on the profit gorging food industry. It's as if they are saying, well, read the back of the packet, it tells you that the contents in that fish finger was once almost a fish - what more do you want? If the State was serious about improving citizens health, artificial trans-fats would be banned and the food industry would be told to stop putting wall paper paste in our food, stop using bulking agents, stop reconstituting meat and fish and stop modifying everything we eat!

In 2003, the Food Standards Agency issued new guidelines for butchers on the amount of connective tissue that could be classed as meat, for beef, lamb and pork, 25% was allowed - why wasn't it zero? Connective tissue is inedible garbage. Citizens do not need more labelling information, what they need is a government prepared to police food production for the benefit of citizens, then everyone would be far healthier.



Sure Start

Dave is concerned about everyone's welfare, throughout the whole life-cycle and he has plans to ensure that children have a good start. Sure Start is another New Labour legacy item , one which our leader Dave is committed to. Sure Start is all about early intervention. The idea being that if you can spot the problems and correct them early, you end up with a bunch of good citizens. And for those of you interested in the history of ideas, Sure Start is based like much else that politicians here do, on a US scheme called Head Start. At a deeper level, the idea is that poor parents have a skills deficit when it comes to child rearing, this can be remedied by education - you see these schemes are not just aimed at 2 year olds. They represent the transfer of the social problem of child poverty – poor children – into an individual problem of poor parenting.

However, a three year study carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that early intervention had little or no effect on outcomes. All very interesting, when you consider that Britain is spending £5bn each year on various types of early intervention. A study by Birkbeck University supported the ONS findings, and some gloomy academics completed the picture by adding evidence from the US, Canada and Australia.
If you delve down far enough, I'll bet you could find a report buried somewhere that says, 'for every £1 spent by LAs in the  early years saves £8 further down the road. In fact, there is Department of Health research that suggests just that - it was a work of fiction.

Perversely, however, the Sure Start scheme proved a big success with middle class parents. The target audience, poor people, preferred to steer clear of State sponsored interventions. And although evaluation of these schemes has been negative, the Tory government is pushing ahead with them. Initially, Sure Start funding was ring fenced but that has been removed and funding has been cut. The Day Care Trust says that 250 Sure Start centres will close due to the cuts. Mr Cameron says he's committed to early years intervention. Contradiction, what contradiction? The cuts to the Early Intervention Grant (EIG) to local authorities, around 10% in 2011/12 fits perfectly into the Tory philosophy of 'more for less through greater efficiencies'. In short, the problem belongs to the local authorities, should they fix the potholes or fund childcare?
 Only 6% of EIG is spent on parenting support and the view on the ground is that it is inadequate to meet the intervention aims of Sure Start.


Something very confusing was happening to the Sure Start scheme. The Labour party was claiming in November 2013 that there were 578 fewer Sure Start centres. The Tories said no, there were only 45 fewer centres. Interestingly, the Department of Education's own figures support the Labour assertion. But Liz Truss, education minister, said no, it's still only 45 fewer, apparently, the other 500 or so have been 'restructured', some have been merged and new ones have been opened. Perhaps someone should tell the Education department, so that they can keep their records up to date.
Something more confusing was happening to the finances for the Sure Start scheme. The Children's Services Grants morphed into the Early Intervention Grants, the latter was phased out to be replaced by the Business Rates Retention scheme. The argument for the latter scheme is that it will encourage local authorities to grow the local environment and thereby retain a larger proportion of the business rates, which may be used for early years intervention schemes. According to Tory thinking this is all far more flexible than ring fencing monies for the purpose - obviously, it also means that the money may get spent elsewhere.
It's what the Tories call 'localism', i.e. freeing government from making difficult spending decisions about policies that it claims to support.
The national picture for Sure Start is clear, due the cuts to local government, centres are being closed and for those that are hanging on, the number of services on offer and trained staff are being scaled down. 


Social Mobility: A Homage to Hope

Stalin pronounced in 1934 that equality was now "a piece of petty bourgeois stupidity, worthy of a primitive sect of ascetics but not of socialists". Clearly Joe had given up on the idea of creating a Communist utopia in the Soviet Union. In fact, by the mid-30s he had created a caste system, in which citizens were graded like eggs. In that circumstance social mobility didn't exist; party members begat party members. The masses had no prospect of going anywhere, except to an early grave or the Gulag. Joe's excuse for giving up on the ideal of equality was that the revolution had more pressing business like meeting production targets, individual striving hindered national goals.
A Homage to Hope
In the Capitalist world, the fiction that all have the opportunity to rise to the top with some hard work, where social mobility is encouraged, is central to all political and philosophical discourse. All that talk of equality, fairness and justice, most necessary within a system reliant on social harmony for increasing profits, and the notion of hope, even more so. The concept of social mobility is a homage to hope.
What is Social Mobility?
One definition might be, the degree within society that an individual can move up the food chain, the movement from scrabbling around on all fours for the crumbs from the rich man's table to actually dining at the table.
However, social mobility isn't really about some metaphorical individual's progress, it's a key measure of social progress.
Listen to the present ConDem Government... (1)
"A fair society is an open society, one in which every individual is free to succeed. That is why improving social mobility is the principal goal of the Government’s social policy. No one should be prevented from fulfilling their potential by the circumstances of their birth. What ought to count is how hard you work and the skills and talents you possess, not the school you went to or the jobs your parents did."
What ought to count is an honest admission of policy failure in a world where hard work, skill and talent guarantee only an outside chance of producing a free and open society.
Social Mobility: the facts of life in Britain today
Bright children from poorer families tend to fall back around the age 6 relative to more advantaged peers who have not performed as well. Once these poor children begin to decline, this persists throughout their school career and beyond.

Is there something special about private schools? Could it be something to do with the belief that attending a private school (and the ability to pay) guarantees success in the world beyond school? Or does it have something to do with all that social capital you build up just by being there. The fact is that top professional occupations are dominated by the privately educated, from vice-chancellors and journalists to MPs and high court judges.

Old School Ties

A group called Future First was awarded half a million pounds to pilot a scheme to encourage social networks in 500 State schools. The initiative encourages the use of databases and emailing, texting and social-networking websites to help schools keep in touch with ex-pupils. Schools can then contact alumni and recruit them as pupil mentors and invite them to give careers talks or even become donors and fundraisers. Future First will collate data that will help pupils at a school contact former pupils from that school who are now in the world of work, for advice or work experience.

Life as a zero sum game

International comparisons may give the lie to the right-wing nonsense that increasing equality decreases economic incentives. For such types, government meddling in social mobility interferes with the natural order of the game - which is all about winners and losers, life is a zero sum game. In the competition for scarce resources; for the best school places, the best jobs and the best houses not everyone can be successful. Indeed, in the current circumstance few will be successful - the game is not fair. In another context, Gore Vidal, once observed: “It is not enough that you should succeed. Others must fail.”

The National Equality Panel tells us: (2) "Britain is an unequal country, more so than many other industrial countries and more so than a generation ago. This is manifest in many ways – most obviously in the gap between those who are well off and those who are less well off."

An earlier report from the Sutton Trust (3) showed a decline in social mobility, there was a increasing relationship between family income and educational attainment, children between 16 and 18 from better-off backgrounds disproportionately benefited. The conclusion is straightforward, family income and background is central to social mobility in Britain.
Ask Ed Miliband, at 15 he got work experience in Tony Benn’s office at the Commons. He was born into North London Marxist 'aristocracy' and he had parents who could open doors for him. Or perhaps we might ask Julia Hobsbawm, daughter of Marxist academic Eric. Once she ran a PR business with Gordon Brown's wife (it went bust) now she has a new business, Editorial Intelligence. EI's purpose? to put opinion formers and commentators in touch with each other, for a membership fee of £4000. We can only guess whether all that 'getting in touch' might secure some advantage for members.
People like Ed and Julia provide good examples of how family connections can help personal mobility. Individual stories provide some interest but it's the bigger picture that's important. Research gathered by The Equality Trust provides that bigger picture: (5)
"Greater inequalities of outcome seem to make it easier for rich parents to pass on their advantages. While income differences have widened in Britain and the USA, social mobility has slowed. Bigger income differences may make it harder to achieve equality of opportunity because they increase social class differentiation and perhaps prejudice." (5) This comes from a book called the Spirit Level which came in for a good deal of abuse from right-wing think tanks like the Policy Exchange and the Institute for Economic Affairs. The conclusions drawn in the book are drawn using statistical correlations, the critics point out that the data has been cherry picked and doesn't support the overall conclusion that more equal societies are better for everyone. In fact, the critics argue, the opposite conclusion may be drawn:
“As countries become more equal, life gets more miserable" (7) - just ask the Russians.

Britain is a very unequal place

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation in its 'Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK' concluded: (2)
"Moving up a ladder is harder if its rungs are further apart, and those who start higher up fight harder to ensure their children do not slip down".
The current government has all the data, it knows all about Britain's embarrassing performance in terms of social mobility. It has drawn up an impressive blueprint detailing how it will address the problem. It intends to intervene at every stage in the life cycle to encourage and support the most disadvantaged in their struggle up the ladder.
So will the strategy work? Conveniently, you might have to wait a life cycle to find out.

Monitoring progress on social mobility

We are told: (1)
“We have set ambitious goals for social mobility. Achieving them requires robust mechanisms to underpin the commitments in this strategy. So we are taking steps to ensure: external scrutiny; a new set of leading indicators to help us track progress; and ministerial activity to ensure social mobility is and remains at the heart of our policy agenda."
Yes, that's right, the government has set up a new quango to oversee progress, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. No one would deny that such an important set of issues must be policed by an external body. However, the government has changed its mind before on the subject of external oversight.
Sustainability lost its commission, the Sustainable Development Commission in 2010, with the government arguing it was far too important to be left to external monitors and now, social mobility is deemed far too important to be left in-house with government departments (or mainstreamed as they call it in Whitehall).
Point: the government doesn't appear to have a coherent model for monitoring the implementation of its schemes.
Economic Inequality
There is no need to wait a life cycle to discover whether the government's social mobility strategy works, the strategy is flawed, according to the National Economics Foundation (nef): (4) "Firstly because public spending cuts will hit the poorest the hardest. Secondly, their approach does not tackle wealth inequalities, leaving the wealthy to convey their advantages to their children.Thirdly, initiatives are not universal, meaning that the richest will still segregate spatially and/ or opt into private alternatives. This will protect and reproduce the existing hierarchies in education and the labour market." Social mobility refers to people’s ability to transcend the problems created by economic inequality, those problems are absolutely getting worse in the UK and relative international comparisons show that the UK is among the least equal of developed nations. (5)


Bottom Line: the high degree of economic inequality found in the UK has created an unfair society. The low level of social mobility in the UK is a function of that unfairness.
Combating unfairness calls for a re-evaluation of the way the value of a person's social contribution is recognised and rewarded. Fairness dictates that the financial rewards of labour should correspond to its social contribution.
Several thousand tax accountants spend their working life helping individuals and corporations avoid paying their full tax entitlement. The Tax Justice Network estimate the loss to the exchequer of £25bn annually.
Contrast the negative efforts of the tax accountant and his rewards, with those of a home carer, who saves the state a small fortune, providing a higher level of personal care than any hospital or care home, for a pittance. The reward here is negligible and the contribution hardly recognised by society. These are the contrasts that lay at the heart of the problem and they will not be tackled by Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers because the strategy is based on encouraging individuals to improve their circumstances. Individual improvement is always to be applauded but the idea of a critical mass of individuals rising above their circumstances to generate an additional 4% of GDP by 2050, as the ConDem’s do, is a homage to hope, unless, we have some policies to deal with economic inequality.

Some superficial arguments over inequality decry the idea of tackling it, saying as some pundits do, that 'we can't all be equal' because inequality is a natural state. It may be true that individuals can't all be the same but a strategy to combat inequality is not about making everyone the same, it's about making society fairer because there's nothing natural about an unfair society and that's what Britain is - according to the government's own account in Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers: A Strategy for Social Mobility.

1. Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers: A Strategy for Social Mobility April 2011.
2. An anatomy of economic inequality in the UK: Report of the National Equality Panel, Jan. 2010
3. Intergenerational Mobility in Europe and North America., April 2005, Sutton Trust.
4. Why the Rich are Getting Richer, The determinants of economic inequality, NEF report
5. The Spirit Level, Wilkinson & Pickett, Penguin 2009.
6. A Bit Rich, NEF report.
7.  Beware False Prophets: Equality, the Good Society and The Spirit Level, Peter Saunders, Policy Exchange


Terror, Surveillance, Snooping and Cyberwar

Apparently, we are at war, with terrorists, criminals and drug barons and in order to protect us the government needs to listen to all our conversations, read all our emails and track our web use. You know it makes sense or does it? Well, Call Me Dave thinks it does, Theresa May thinks it does and so does that well known security expert Nick Clegg (he's now having second thoughts or rather he thought he needed a campaign to make himself look interesting).

Well, in truth, these people do not know if it makes sense or not - that's what they pay the spooks for and the spooks have told them it's all necessary - so it must be. And silly ex-Tory ministers will add fuel to their fire by saying silly things: "A majority of people will accept that an ideological battle means that the authorities will need greater powers to intercept the communications of extremists." That came from  discredited defence secretary, Liam Fox responding to the alarm caused by returning ISIS fighters from the Iraq conflict. And we know that you will feel the warm glow of contentedness washing over you when you learn that the Met has 'shoot to kill' Cressida Dick on the case of the returning Jihadists. We can only advise returners to walk rather than run - Jean Charles de Menezes made that mistake because he was late for work. Note: Dec. 2014, Cressida Dick is standing down from tracking returning Jihadists. She has been headhunted by the Home Office to do, well we don’t know what her role will be, the Home Office is not saying? Also, for the record, Dick has always denied giving the 'shoot to kill' order in the case of Jean Charles.

However, the plan is to install a mass surveillance system, which will put Britain on a par with China, Vietnam, Iran and Syria, and yes, the USA. And Britain is well placed to set up such a system since it is British companies that supply most of the technologies to all the nasty regimes around the world, who care nothing for their citizens civil liberties.
Internet service providers (ISPs) will be forced to install hardware that would give law enforcement real time, on-demand access to every internet user's IP address, email address books, when and to whom emails are sent and how frequently - as well as the same type of data for phone calls and text messages.

Also, not a few MPs and peers have urged the government to consider introducing censorship legislation that would force search engines to censor search results to block material that a court has found to be in breach of someone's privacy. They have in mind protecting wealthy individuals and companies who take out “super-injunctions". Several hundred requests have been received by Google to take down search results, under new ‘right to be forgotten’ legislation. Wikipedia has also been hit, a number articles, although still there, cannot be accessed via search engines.
The government is also keen to introduce the Online Safety Act, which would force ISPs to block access to pornography by default. Users would have to contact ISPs for access, having established some kind of age verification. Dave also wants websites playing music videos to install age verification systems, to stop children seeing grandmother Madonna prancing around with next to nothing on. They also considering how they can use ISPs to combat copyright infringement by blocking access to offending websites.

Recap: the ConDems are proposing legislation to protect children from porn and music videos, to protect footballers caught with their trousers down and to protect us all from nasty people.
What evidence is there that these new surveillance measures are necessary? How do independent experts assess the reliability of this evidence? Will the spooks provide any evidence or will they claim it's all too secret to be shared? How will we know if the proposed measures are protecting us effectively? And importantly, how much will all this cost, assuming that someone has bothered to cost it at all. These are just questions, don't expect any answers.

However, with the Communications Data Bill, Britain was attempting to get ahead of the pack, the Bill was announced in the Queen's 2012 Speech. The idea behind the Bill was to make it easier to discover who has contact with whom, when and where, via internet services such as Facebook, Gmail and Skype. ISPs would be expected to intercept and store the relevant data for 12 months. In the land of the free, the liberal democracies, can use the Act to eavesdrop on citizens, just in case they might become dissenters. The Bill appears to have hit the buffers and as of mid-2014 is still not passed into law. However, given the news over Prism and Dishfire we have to ask why the government needs to put a sham legal gloss on its snooping activities, especially when the cost of this legislation is put at £1.8bn.
The Internet provides a means to convey samizdat, to give a voice to the dissenters, to reach out in a way that radio and TV do not allow the average citizen to do. Any fool from GCHQ can eavesdrop on Facebook and Twitter but will struggle to do much more no matter how much money they throw at their snooping projects. Savvy web users would do well to use the web independently of Google, Facebook and Twitter, these money grubbers are the unwitting assistants of the State snoopers as they amass a vast store of personal data for their own marketing purposes. And let's not forget, Google's own snooping activities whilst gathering data for its Street View project. Google's software mistakenly gathered data from citizen's wi-fi connections as it filmed the streets. Well, that's what Google told the world, a US investigation found that the engineer who designed the software specifically intended to collect and analyse the data. (Big Brother Watch website) The company was fined $25,000.
Readers’ note: you will find the details of the government’s latest plan to snoop on you in Part 4.

Local Authority Snoopers

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) is another part of New Labour's legacy. The Act has wide-ranging surveillance powers introduced to tackle terrorism and serious crime but is being used regularly by councils to tackle relatively minor problems and to routinely snoop on citizens. Councils are using RIPA to snoop on residents leaving their bins out on the wrong day, on the look out for dog-foulers, people 'fly tipping' donations outside a charity shop, and covert surveillance on their own staff.

This Act is 'self-authoring' which means that councils can decide for themselves to use the legislation and they have and they do, hundreds of times a year, to little effect, prosecutions have been few. 372 local authorities in Britain have conducted RIPA surveillance operations in 8,575 cases over two years and managed only 300 convictions. Incredibly, some authorities said they didn't keep records of successful outcomes? (The Grim RIPA Report, BBW)
The cost to rate payers of this grossly irresponsible use of anti-terrorism legislation is impossible to calculate but Dave has had enough:
"We will ban the use of powers in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) by councils, unless they are signed off by a magistrate and required for stopping serious crime." (Cabinet Office)
Which should mean, when it happens, that councils can no longer use RIPA since they have no business dealing with serious crime - that's what the police and real spooks are for.
Voice Risk Analysis (VRA) Many local authorities are keen on the use of 'voice risk analysis' to catch people trying to fiddle their council tax discounts. The idea here is akin to the use of lie detectors, where software is used to gauge how nervous people are when answering questions.

Campaign group False Economy gleaned information about the use of VRA from FoI requests of more than 200 local authorities.
The VRA software was originally sponsored by the New Labour government, to the tune of £1.5m but the coalition cancelled their support in 2010. The DWP decided that the software didn't work. Local authorities have continued to fund the use of VRA, having been convinced by outsourcing cowboys, Capita, that its use provides a valuable tool in the fight against benefit cheats.
However, language experts tell us:
“From the output it generates, this analysis is closer to astrology than science.”
Councils seem to believe that whether it works or not is beyond the point since if people think they have got a high tech weapon in their armoury, they will be more honest in their claims for council tax discounts. There appears to be a fly in the ointment because it's not generally known that councils are using the weapon, so why would it encourage honesty?

Citizen Snoopers

"If you're worried, so are we, don't worry alone..."

Radio request for citizen spooks: The Met Police placed radio adverts asking citizens to be alert for odd behaviour. The ad' campaign seems reminiscent of War-time calls for vigilance, 'careless talk costs lives' and all that. As you would expect there's a dedicated call centre waiting for all that vital citizen intelligence to come pouring in - who needs M15?
See them, report them: a local council snooping scheme was launched in London and could eventually be rolled out across the country. Residents were being told: “We need your eyes and ears to help us wipe out enviro-crime.” SNOOPING residents are being offered rewards of up to £500 to spy on their neighbours.

Let's look at that again....
"If you're worried, so are we, don't worry alone..." If you are worried, you've got every right to worry because you are alone, when you ring the bell at your local police station and the voice speaking to you on the answer phone is coming from several miles away. Your police station has become a victim of Dave's Cuts!

Cyberwar - the new panic

The cost of cyber crime is estimated to be between £18bn and £27bn a year. And cyberwar is a reality and cyber espionage is perfectly logical and real. The Chinese have a cyber crack commando unit tasked with stealing secrets from commercial and military targets abroad but they are Dave's new best friends, so no worries for us but America are mightily concerned.
The National Audit Office warned that threats were evolving and that more cyber crime fighters were needed to meet these threats but education experts have warned that it could take 20 years to fix the skills gap.
In 2011, ministers announced funding of £650m to implement the UK's Cyber Security Strategy, which set out the risks of the UK's growing reliance on cyber space.
The strategy identified criminals, terrorists, foreign intelligence services, foreign militaries and politically motivated "hacktivists" as potential enemies who might choose to attack vulnerabilities in British cyber-defences.
New regional police cyber crime centres and a trebling of the size of the Police Central e-crime Unit has helped but there are not enough techies in the pipeline to meet the challenge.
The government's proposed Strategy promises to protect citizens' cyber freedom, so don't have nightmares.
Reference: The UK Cyber Security Strategy 'Protecting and promoting the UK in a digital world' (2011)

Prism and colourful ignorance

Watching from afar, i.e. a Russian airport, Edward Snowdon decided that he didn't want to face the same justice as Bradley Manning for revealing the private moments of the NSA. Snowdon's revelations were to some extent more far reaching than Manning's, involving the British government and the major Internet players like Google, Facebook and Microsoft.
The Empire of America is spying on the world of Internet communications using a snooping program called Prism. At an internal presentation, given to NSA employees, it was revealed that the program was used to access data held by the world’s major Internet companies, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo and Skype. These companies all claim to know nothing of the program's use and are keen to assure citizens that they take your privacy seriously. All very mysterious, given that this has been going on for years and our own 'listening spooks' at GCHQ have been receiving reports from the NSA, acquired using the program. Further along, we discovered that the NSA were using a text message collection system called Dishfire; the big telecoms companies were shocked and surprised.
Politicians of all shades here also claim to know nothing about these programs and its use or GCHQ's involvement. Laughably, opposition MPs lined up to ask Theresa May, the Home Secretary, questions in the House - the odds of Ms May supplying a useful response were inestimable, according to William Hill, the bookmaker.
The interesting thing about Prism is that it is able to access the contents of emails and live chat. This takes it way beyond the now discarded Data Communications Bill, with its focus on capturing metadata, i.e. simply listing the destination and duration of communications.

News of the use of Prism came to light in June 2013 and the big Internet players were mightily embarrassed by it since it made it look like they were colluding with the spooks.
A few months later we saw Microsoft and Google preparing to sue the US government to win the right to reveal more information about official requests for user data. This heralded the start of a legal battle over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa), the mechanism used by the National Security Agency (NSA) and other US government agencies to gather data about foreign Internet users.


National security is usually given as the justification for spying on the citizenry. The mass surveillance that Edward Snowden revealed was undertaken to protect you against terrorism and crime.
According to Charles Farr, the government's top security official, social media chatter can be monitored because it is judged "external communications". Farr just wants you to know that no laws are being broken when the spooks are listening to your conversations. This is analogous to torturing someone in a foreign country and claiming we don’t torture prisoners here.
And if the law is being broken when surveillance takes place, how would we know. Well, a number of agencies are tasked with watching the snoopers, like the Office of Surveillance Commissioners, there's a commissioner for intercepts, and one for the intelligence services - he's part-time but has a staff of one. There's also the investigatory powers tribunal taking care of complaints. That's all very reassuring, isn't it? Well actually no, all these commissioners are not part of some joined up oversight project, quite often they just trust that the snoopers are doing the right thing. A report from the Intelligence Services Commissioner tells us that only 17% of warrants for intercepts were checked by his office, there's only so much one man and his sidekick can do.
Bottom line: Oversight is weak, accountability is non-existent. So, citizens should take it on trust that the snoopers are acting in the public and national interest. It's a classic 'Catch 22' circumstance, the interests that inform the actions of the snoopers cannot be relaid to the public because its not in the public’s interest to know. We hope that's clear! In the meantime, Ms May has another ‘initiative’ to assist in the fight against the terror threat, a leaflet campaign entitled “Run, Hide, Tell”, which seems reminiscent of the US “Duck and Cover” campaign of the 1950s, designed to protect citizens following a nuclear explosion.

And did you Know?

In 2013, more than 570,000 data requests were made to companies by the police, security services, HMRC and various public bodies. Why these requests were made will forever remain a mystery.
Still, if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear. Now, remind us again, why wont Dave release those papers for the Chilcott Inquiry?







Setting the agenda

A YouGov poll for the TUC in 2012 found that, on average, people think 41% of the welfare budget supports the unemployed – the true figure is 3% – and people believe the fraud rate is 27%, the true figure is less than 1%.
Now where are people getting all these ideas from, could it possibly be from ministers working out of the Department for Work and Pensions? Research carried out by the Guardian tells us that the word fraud was used in connection with benefits 85 times in government press releases during 2012. And in the same period, analysis of the media shows the term "benefit cheat" was used 442 times.

1. The Daily Mail (April 2013) told us that murderer Mick Philpott was living on welfare benefits of £100,000 a year. In fact, Philpott was in receipt of £67,000. The Mail managed this trick by assuming he was a working tax payer.

The Mail's pitiful attempts to present Philpott as the tip of an underclass iceberg, representative of all that's wrong with the benefits culture, is statistically unsound. Philpott had seventeen children living under one roof, that's rare, if not unique, it's certainly not a typical example of a family living exclusively on State benefits.
2. In January 2012, The Mail found someone intelligent enough on its staff to make a Freedom of Information request. Now, this is odd behaviour for the Mail because their norm is making stories up, and so armed with the stat's they made things up. Their headline read:"The 190 families with ten children who cost you more than £11million in benefits A YEAR" What the headline does not reveal is that the £11m figure is only a potential figure, i.e. if these 190 families were to claim everything they were entitled to or eligible for then it would reach the Mail's mythical target figure. So these families were not costing you £11m a year.

3. The man responsible for the benefits cuts regime, Iain Duncan Smith, misrepresents the figures on welfare spending all day long. He told the Telegraph (March 2013) that under Labour, fraud and error in the tax credits system cost over £10 billion - the actual figure between 2003 and 2010 was £11.16bn. However, breaking down the figures, we see that only £1.27bn was deemed to be fraud, which leaves a lot of error to be explained by HMRC.
Duncan Smith then went on to claim that much of this fraud was perpetrated by foreigners taking advantage of our tax credit system. He said:
“It will come as no surprise therefore that fraudsters from around the world targeted this benefit for personal gain.” The fact is, he can't know that, because HMRC do not know the ethnicity of those claiming tax credits.


Beveridge: The Welfare State 70 years on

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said the soaring cost of the welfare system had lost touch with Beveridge’s original vision of ensuring ‘freedom from want’.
He told the world: "Beveridge’s pioneering vision for welfare has been completely lost. ‘The system is complicated, expensive and open to abuse. Our reforms will restore confidence and bring the benefits system back to Beveridge’s founding principles." And to reassure us of his Tory credentials, he said: "We will deliver his vision of a Welfare State that provides a safety net for those who need it, without stifling incentive, opportunity or responsibility."
This may sound like good old fashioned Daily Mail sense. We are being offered the proposition that Beveridge had a vision that got itself out of focus and crucially that that distortion of the original vision has led to a stifling of incentives and opportunity....

Interesting to relate that Beveridge himself told us: The state "should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility; in establishing a national minimum, it should leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than that minimum for himself and his family".When we revisit Beveridge we see that the State had no choice about putting in place the safety net of social welfare support. The private sector was failing the economy prior to the war, the whole social fabric was in disrepair, housing, road, rail, coal mining, steel making, health service, etc., in particular health was in a chronic state. Private provision was chaotic and importantly could not deliver or begin to guarantee full employment, which was by then generally accepted as the wisdom of the day. If full employment was to be the aim, the State would need to take greater responsibility for the health of the nation and the management of the economy.

The Beveridge report may have identified five ‘giant evils’ in society: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease but this should not be seen as the dawn of the New Jerusalem. Stamping out these evils was vital to building a modern economy. What followed from the Beveridge report was the minimum of social provision, nothing to encourage anyone to decide to turn benefits cheating into a life-style. In fact, so-called National Assistance was already in place but in the popular mind this was seen as 'poor relief', what Beveridge did was put forward the idea of something more rigorous and less tainted by social stigma, i.e. National Insurance based on compulsory contributions from workers and employers, so there was not much State largess at work here.
When Iain Duncan Smith talks about Beveridge's vision he's misunderstanding the moment, if he tries to see the minimum of social support suggested, outside of the context of the need to build an economy working close to the production possibility boundary and, at times of market failure, to have a backstop in place for idle workers.

A sense of entitlement

At what point in time the minimum provision suggested by Beveridge became the sense of entitlement to welfare handouts, that so concerns Duncan Smith, is difficult to pinpoint but the curse of the business cycle bears a large portion of the blame. The State management of the economy that took place in the post-war period was just as hit and miss as the free-for-all that reigned previously (and reigns now). Over decades following the war a reserve army of labour has been parked on benefits, rising and falling in size with the fortunes of the economy.

The growth of expectations

We need to take account of the growing importance of the growth of expectation among the workers, in terms of material wellbeing. The growth of those expectations was essential to the producers. The consumer society had come to pass, the distinction between wants and needs had become blurred. State 'handouts' that merely put a few scraps on the table, to tide workers over, were no longer sufficient to meet the wants of a new generation. Even given the huge growth in the economy over the past seven decades, the increase in the cost of the benefits system has been dramatic. In 1948 spending on benefits accounted for 10.4 per cent of Britain’s total income, against 24.2 per cent in 2012. The difference between now and then, not withstanding population increase, is not just about expectations and consumption patterns, a key major difference is that now everyone is on benefits, from the poorest to the well off middle class and beyond.

However, the important point here is that it was not the displaced workers, the incapacitated or the homeless who drove up the welfare bill, it was the politicians. Successive governments increased and expanded welfare provision to suit their policies and to conceal their failures. The tens of thousands of ex-steel workers and coal miners placed on incapacity benefit by Thatcher to conceal the true unemployment figures cannot be redacted by Duncan Smith to suit his arguments now. Although Atos Healthcare are doing their best to get Thatcher's hardly incapable workers off of benefits. We should also remember that it was Thatcher's 'property owning democracy' which created the shortage of social housing, that enabled the private sector landlords to help themselves to the cash by driving up rents for those on benefits. Then, it was New Labour's inept managers who failed to anticipate the impact on the benefits payment system of European enlargement, they could have put quotas on new comers from eastern Europe but failed to do so. The openness of Britain's borders, under New Labour, hastened the nation's descent into a low-skill-low-pay economy, where benefit top-ups became a necessity.
The proposition from Duncan Smith that Beveridge's original vision has been distorted is not true. In reality the vision got larger of necessity, responding to changing economic circumstances and political manoeuvring. Duncan Smith's proposition that he can restore Beveridge's vision back to its original limited ambition is nonsense.
It's not nonsense simply because it's impossible to turn back the clock, it's nonsense because Duncan Smith has already succeeded in mangling Beveridge's original vision, which was based on fairness, on a contributory system of support through National Insurance payments. Now, a displaced, dislodged worker has to wrestle with the benefits system to secure any financial support. Duncan Smith's benefits system is in no fear of stifling incentive, opportunity or responsibility; anyone who chooses to create a 'life-style' on benefits is living a very rare existence, that is, a life pretty much devoid of style.

Making adjustments

The present coalition government believe that changing attitudes is the way forward, that is, the attitudes of workers and potential workers, if only they could instill a more thrusting and dynamic activism by removing any temptation towards idleness, then we will be on the optimum path to success.The fixation with idleness overlooks a far greater problem, the inefficiency of success. The evolution of capitalism has not led to the survival of the fittest, that is, natural selection has not assisted those most able to adapt, it has led to malignant distortion by assisting those most able to manipulate the market. Pick a market, any market and then look at how the big players in every market conspire against the consumers. And in every market observe how smaller players feast like parasites on the left-overs that they call market opportunities. The seedy, underhand, conniving behaviour of the business world is not some closely guarded secret; insurance companies rob old people with their over-50s plans, banks fiddle global interest rates to conceal their own failure at a cost to everyone else, shops sell food falsely labelled. All rotten to the core, unable to provide a honest service.

Those who inhabit the so-called dependency culture are publicly ridiculed, those who inhabit the thieving enterprise culture are rewarded with knighthoods and lavish pensions. According to Adam Smith, unfettered markets would provide the optimum conditions for wealth creation. That optimum would be reached by the invisible hand of the price mechanism. Following Smith, a host of philosophers provided utilitarian underpinning to his economic theory. If all economic agents, buyers and sellers, maximised their personal utility without damaging the utility of others, then everyone would be better off - utopia? Smith's view of human nature was that it was self-interested but it was balanced by a sympathy for others - Bless his heart.

Adjusting expectations

The Tory agenda is not exclusively focused on ending an imagined dependency culture, its key focus is realigning the mentality of the middle income and low income majority.
Adjusting expectation, that's the new biggest game in town. In the public sector pay rises have been frozen, in the private sector they are going backwards, inflation erodes earnings further and low interest rates erode future pension incomes. In real terms, average incomes in 2013 were the same as they were in 2005.

The national debt must be brought under control and everyone's expectations must be adjusted to face up to this imperative. It's imperative because the 'markets' demand it and the 'markets' fund the debt. So we must convince the 'markets' that we are serious about reducing our long term debt obligations. This notion of appeasing markets is pure fiction, the money grubbers, who rule the world, want indebtedness not austerity.
Yet, austerity has become the accepted wisdom, a new panic to frighten the children. Across Europe nations receive accolades from the International Monetary Fund for tackling the excesses of the past and everyone looks the other way as the jobless eat from the garbage cans and the fascists rekindle the wisdom of another age. Here in Britain, expectations have already been nicely adjusted, new food banks open daily and local authorities are to receive additional contingency funding to cope with the collateral damage during the adjustment phase as we all drift into dystopia.

And every night on our televisions we are told that there's no alternative to austerity. Frequently, the media gives air time to Mark Littlewood, the Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs, a man who clearly would not register too highly on Dave's Happiness Index, a man certainly as mad as a box of spanners, possibly madder than Ayn Rand (she was the free market worm inside Alan Greenspan's head, as he watched the US banking sector go to the dogs and persuaded him to do nothing about it) and like Rand, Littlewood thinks that living at the margin for the majority is the only reality. Littlewood is the man from the school of rational expectations, i.e. expect little or nothing and you will not be disappointed.

Littlewood is also one of R D Laing's deluded individuals, seduced by the ideas of mad people but importantly, people like him are given the frequent opportunity to peddle the message that collateral damage is the price we must pay as we make the adjustment towards the new reality of Dave's brave new world, from rational expectations to limited expectations.
Footnote: Psychiatrist, R. D. Laing, once observed that the deluded man finds his delusions so obvious that he can't understand why the rest of the world doesn't want to share them. (The Obvious, Laing, 1968) Frequently, however, people do share the delusions of mad men, they believe things are as they are because it's obvious and then, they call it common sense - a shared understanding of the way they want the world to be.


Ending the Culture of Dependency

The Welfare Budget

The welfare bill is now nudging just over £200bn. (March 2013)  Pensioners and children account for just over £100bn of spending but that they hardly fit into the scrounger profile.
The scroungers must be getting the other £100bn. Not quite, £18bn goes to support disabled people, through the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and other benefits. This group are the genuinely disabled, not those receiving 'incapacity benefit', i.e. those parked by various governments, depending on the state of the nation. Add in money going to home carers, mothers on maternity leave, and help for the working poor and you have accounted for another £9b of non-scrounger spending. That leaves £53bn, from which we can deduct working tax credit, £8bn. Jobseeker’s allowance, income support and Employment Support Allowance (ESA is the new name for 'incapacity benefit') amounts to £21bn. Lastly, council tax benefit (£5bn) and housing benefit (£20bn). Given that Atos Healthcare are being paid half a billion pounds to 'assess' those in receipt of ESA and DLA, the government clearly feels that this is where the scroungers are to be found.

The Welfare Reform Act (March. 2012)

The rationale for the Bill is simple: a large number of citizens have been on benefits for more than a decade, they have developed a dependency on benefits, they don't understand that work is good for them and need some encouragement to get back to  work. So if they don't work we will take away their right to benefits.

“A life on benefits will no longer be an option for somebody. That system has got to change.” Iain Duncan Smith (IDS)

A life on benefits has become part of our folklore and in order to buy in to the necessity of ConDem reforms, it's important that citizens support the idea of beating up workshy scroungers. However, it might be good to also question the notion that a 'hard core' of long-term unemployed actually exists. Is IDS behaving like a conjuror, diverting public attention away from policy failure by blaming the poor for poverty.
It just might be that in order to dismantle the decades old consensus of the Welfare State, you begin by exaggerating the size of the bogey man, the long term claimant. However, the figures for people unemployed for five years have been falling for the past 10 years, in 2000 there were 48,000 long term unemployed claiming benefits, by 2010 that number had fallen to 4,300. (source ONS)

The size of the 'hard core' that concerns the ConDems so much is relatively small. So for now it might be a fair assumption that there's more going on here than meets the eye. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith told us when he introduced the reform bill:“The publication of the Welfare Reform Bill will put work, rather than hand-outs, at the heart of the welfare system. Nobody will be worse off.”
Very interesting, the Institute of Fiscal Studies said that 1.7 million people would be worse off?

Welfare Reform introduces some important changes, the notion of a Universal Credit is central. The idea will be to introduce a single payment that combines a number of existing benefits. Supposedly, a computer somewhere will work out what people are entitled to as their circumstances change. Progress on this scheme to date has been slow. Mr Duncan Smith excused the slow pace of introduction, saying that he had “reset” the scheme to ensure a successful roll out. The whole package contains many elements but at root it’s designed to get the work-shy and sturdy beggars into work and JobCentre staff will be actively looking out for drug and drink dependent malingerers. In some parts of the country, centres are being set up to provide 'food aid' for the poor. The food is provided by shoppers as they exit the supermarkets, how long will it be before the poor go shopping on their own account - chanting Can't Pay? Wont Pay! This is now happening in Spain, thanks to the marvels of the Euro. In the interim period, until Job Centres are completely privatised, Job Centre staff have been told to make life very difficult for long-term claimants. In addition, long-term disability claimants are all to be assessed to gauge their suitability to work - this process is already underway.
Contracts have been handed out to 40 preferred bidders charged with finding work and training the long-term unemployed. The assumption here is that outfits like Serco, G4S and other service agents will be able to do a better job than the private agents formally charged with the job. In terms of the Big Society, the idea is that Serco and Co. will parcel out contracts to voluntary and special agencies to deal with people that have learning difficulties and other handicaps that have prevented entry into the jobs market. The contracts rely on payments by results, which may cost between £3 and £5 billion pounds.

The case of A4e

A4e are one of the ConDem's chosen preferred suppliers for their Work Programme, through which A4e supposedly find work for people, and as long as those people stay in work for a few weeks, the company gets paid a tidy fee. Problem is, some A4e agents don't actually place people in jobs, they just say they have and claim their tidy fee, having filled out all the necessary paperwork themselves.
A4e's Work Programme contract with the government is worth millions and A4e is not the only company collecting money for finding people jobs, which quite frankly any halfwit could find by looking in a newsagents window. Point, these companies are not doing anything special and the money being wasted on their interventions would be better spent within the existing Job Centre system, specifically on staff training to focus their efforts away from processing people to actually finding people those elusive minimum wage jobs. Bottom line, A4e have been fiddling the books, the fiddling is systemic across the country. The company lost its contract in May 2012 - red faces all round. However A4e only lost one contract, it still has contracts worth £500m - the Public Accounts Committee is investigating.

Give us the numbers (figures provided by DWP)

In Merton, south London, A4e found sustainable work for just eight people over nine months for which data is available. Contractors like A4e are paid by results, so after a year in action, you might expect that the government would be keen to publish some performance figures - to demonstrate the success of the project. By the end 2012 only a partial picture of the success or otherwise of the programme has been provided.

Over the first full year more than 93,000 unemployed people went on to A4E’s books. That alone netted the company more than £41m of taxpayers’ money in “attachment fees”. A4e found work for only 4% and were paid yet more money for this marvellous achievement. Note: “attachment fees” are paid for just having a name on the books, it does not mean finding them a job.
A4e are dealing with three groups: 18-24-year-olds claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance, over-25s claiming the same benefit and the supposedly ill or disabled people getting Employment and Support Allowance who have been assessed as fit to work after all. At the bare minimum they need to find long-term work for 5.5 per cent of all these kinds of claimants to hit the minimum standard set out by the DWP. This figure is the DWP's estimate of the numbers who would find work without any help. Company targets for 2013 and 2014 are 20% and 30% respectively. A4E have failed - they only found work for just over 3 per cent in 2012 for 18-24-year-old jobseekers, just under 4 per cent for the older group, and barely 1.5 per cent for the Employment and Support Allowance section.
In total, A4E has received £45,893,535 from DWP, most of that, as noted above, from the initial attachment fees. The cost to the taxpayer per job outcome so far is £13,498.
A4E aside, the picture for all companies involved in the Work Programme show that between June 2011 to July 2012, 878,000 people who joined the programme, only 31,000 found a job for six months or more.
Joining the work programme is mandatory for people aged over 25 when they have been out of work for a year and for under-25s after nine months. People in certain circumstances, like young offenders, must join after a shorter period of time.

Work for Free scheme is just wrong

The Back-To-Work scheme requires claimants on job seekers’ allowance to take work with companies like supermarkets for no wages. Failing to cooperate leads to a loss of benefits. Well, university graduate Cait Reilly, challenged having to work for free at a local Poundland. Her case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where the government scheme was ruled invalid.
So the politicians passed some retrospective legislation to validate their scheme. In effect, the government criminalised the act of refusing to work for free. That’s democracy in action!
Then in July 2014 the Court of Appeal said the retrospective legislation was unlawful and a breach of the Human Rights Act. The DWP were clearly not winning the argument but neither were they giving up and have no intention of repaying the £130 million of benefits they have withheld from job seekers. What citizens need to understand is the fine distinction between a government infringing human rights and the public interest. The retrospective creation of criminal offences is prohibited under both international and domestic law but when the government appeals against the Court of Appeal decision it will justify it on public interest grounds.

Universal Jobmatch revolution

The government's Universal Jobmatch website was found to list duplicate and bogus jobs. A check carried out by Channel 4 News has found that a random sample of 2.7 million jobs placed on the site over 12 months, more than 650,000 offered duplicated descriptions.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has acknowledge that more than 350,000 vacancies advertised breach its own conditions. Jobseekers' have to use the site if they expect to claim benefits. The DWP says of its website:

"Universal Jobmatch revolutionises the way jobseekers look for work. The vast majority of employers post genuine jobs, and we crack down on those who don’t play by the rules."

Well actually, what it revolutionises is scrutiny since it enables JobCentre staff to track how often and how many jobs claimants are pursuing. Perhaps JobCentre time would be more profitably spent checking how genuine the job ad’s on their site really are. Jobseekers may find the website a trifle less than useless but hackers are finding it very useful, that is, for scramming the personal details of benefits claimants using the site. Data stolen via the site includes passwords, national insurance numbers and even scans of passports. The contract (£15m) for running the Universal JobMatch website does not come to an end until 2015 and so the DWP has decided to do nothing, even though it is more than aware of how useless it is.

Vanishing jobs helpline

A helpline, set up to assist the unemployed to get back into work has been hit by the cuts but is not being upfront about its hours of business. Careers advisors working for Broadcasting Support Services (BSS), a private company running the helpline, were told to tell customers that there was no one currently available, when in fact there was no one there at all. BSS is funded via the government quango the Skills Funding Agency and Vince Cable has told them to investigate why they are not providing the service that they are being paid £9m a year to provide. However, it was the National Careers Service who left BSS short of staff, by making careers advisors redundant. We hope that's clear?

Government created the 'benefits culture'

Following advice from government officials, many were undoubtedly led to believe they were genuinely incapable of working. In the 1980s and 1990s, the numbers of men claiming incapacity benefits rose sharply, increasing almost every single year, from 463,000 in 1981 to 1,276,000 in 1999. A significant proportion of these claims came from areas of the country which had seen the disappearance of productive industries, and the jobs that they provided. It’s not feasible that so many people have actually fallen ill. Rather the welfare state was cynically soaking up these people, desperately attempting to offset their potential political anger at being unemployed by inviting them to view their predicament as a health-based problem instead. And of course, if you are claiming incapacity benefit (now called Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)) you wont show up in the unemployment statistics.

Work Capability Assessment

At the end of April, 2012, about 70,000 seriously ill, disabled people lost some or all of their £99-a-week ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) allowance. A new limit for receipt of the contributory allowance of 365 days was put in place. The government aims to test all claimants' ability to work "some time in the future" using the controversial work capability assessments (WCA). If a disabled person is judged to be able to do some "work-related activity", then the household is means-tested for contributory benefits, i.e. to see if a partner is working more than 24 hours a week, which could lead to an end to benefits.

The WCA tests are designed to catch claimants out. For example, the question, do you brush your teeth regularly is used to assess manual dexterity. Questions about claimants TV viewing habits are used to attest to their ability to sit and concentrate for prolonged periods. Now even to the untutored mind that is a fatuous conclusion, seldom does any thing appear on television that requires an ounce of concentration.
By 2015 almost 300,000 people will lose out – saving the public purse almost £2bn a year. It will also mark the end of the idea that the welfare state is a piggy bank to be emptied in hard times. Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy calls this a "betrayal" and argues for a rethink. According to the government's own estimates, 94% of people in the "work-related group" on contributory ESA will continue to need support for longer than 12 months. Even average earners will pay in more in taxes annually (£5,800) than they will be able to take out in ESA (£5,200) in the event of being disabled.... sorry, that last phrase should have read 'in the event of being "adjudged" disabled since having no arms and legs is no gauge of capability to work.

At least that's the view of Iain Duncan Smith, who announced May 2012, that he also intends to cut Disability Living Allowance and replace it with PIP, personal independence payments. DLA was intended to help people meet the extra costs of disability-related care and mobility but the system is being abused says IDS. Disability Rights UK says that at least 25,000 people could be forced to give up their work as a result of the drive to restrict payments, pushing up unemployment payments. Also, campaigners have raised concerns about the assessment process that IDS puts so much store in, where a blind person is called back frequently to see if their condition has improved.

The contract to carry out PIP assessment on behalf of the government is up for tender and worth between £300m - £1b over four years. Atos Healthcare is not doing too well with ESA assessments (40% of cases going before a tribunal are overturned in the claimant's favour) will be at the head of the money grubbing queue.
Update, March 2013, on PIP contract: Atos Healthcare has got the contract and are now busy subcontracting NHS hospitals to carry out the work for them. You know it makes sense.
Note: DLA is far from generous. There are different rates awarded depending on the amount of help an individual requires. The absolute maximum benefit for someone with the highest level of both "care" and "mobility" needs would be £131.50 a week. To qualify, a person would need frequent help day and night, and be unable or virtually unable to walk. The minimum level of benefit is just over £20 a week.

The role of Atos

French company, Atos Healthcare has been contracted (£100m a year) by the government to assess ESA claimants' capability for work. Be aware, the good works of Atos are not exclusive to the Tory led coalition, the work actually began under New Labour in 2008. The difference is that under the Coalition it is now much harder to make a claim. Atos's work has come in for a good deal criticism. In 2011, a work and pension select committee described Atos as inspiring "fear and loathing" among claimants, and concluded that there had been "failings" in the service provided by the company, which had "often fallen short of what claimants can rightly expect". One MP on the committee described the process as "disastrous". Appeals against Atos decision can take a long time, between 2008 and 2011, 31 people died whilst waiting for a decision on their claims; these included cancer patients found fit for work.

An example of Atos's good work: "One of my constituents suffers from Parkinson's disease. Anybody with even a very basic knowledge of this condition knows that it is incurable and progressive. It can be managed, but over time the sufferer's health will deteriorate. Things will not get better.” “My constituent has been assessed twice by Atos for his fitness to work. Both times he was found able to return to employment. Both times that decision was overturned on appeal. It is not difficult to imagine his anger at receiving a third letter shortly after his second appeal instructing him to present himself for a third work capability assessment. This time, he was assessed as being unfit for work. However, my constituent knows that he will likely have to go through the process again in a few months time.” Reported in the Guardian by MP Tom Greatrex, Feb. 2012
Citizens Advice, who deal with the fall out of Atos decisions, are very concerned about the inaccuracy of Atos capacity reports. Particularly because these same reports are being used to assess claimants for other benefits, such as disability living allowance (DLA), which will be called personal independence payment (PIP) from next year. (Try to keep up) And going forward the main route for all disability benefits will be through ESA assessment.
(Source: Right first time? An indicative study of the accuracy of ESA work capability assessment reports, Citizens Advice Report, Jan 2012.)

Most recently, September 2012, a survey of 1000 GPs reported 6% of doctors have experienced a patient who has attempted - or committed - suicide as a result of “undergoing, or fear of undergoing” the Atos test, the survey also found 14% of patients had self-harmed as a result of the test. It's estimated that 2 million people are eligible for an Atos interrogation - so we can expect the number still alive at the end of the process to be much reduced. Factually, there is no end to the process because Atos will keep calling you back until you lose the will to live.
However, should you decide to appeal against an Atos decision, be heartened by the fact that the majority of appeals are successful and be heartily warmed to learn that the tribunal that hears your appeal will cost up to £14,000 per head. However, appeals can take up 6 to 9 months to be heard, and there is a high likelihood that as soon as you win your appeal you can expect to be contacted again by Atos, for another assessment - after all they haven't seen you for several months.

Atos and imaginary co-operation with disability groups

Claims surfaced that the private IT firm Atos made misleading statements about proposed co-operation with disability groups to help secure a £400m contract to perform disability assessments.
The Atos tendering documents reveal that the firm said it would work with a number of disability organisations to carry out eligibility tests for a new disability benefit but at least four of the agencies mentioned in the documents had no knowledge of or intention of working with Atos. Disability Cornwall said: "We would not consider working with an organisation which has caused so much distress to so many disabled people. We have also voiced our concerns about how Atos Healthcare were able to win contracts [and] implied it would work with organisations such as ourselves without first seeking permission from the organisations it quoted. We hope the pressure on the government to investigate the manner in which this tender was won is successful."

In its bid for contracts to provide assessments for PIP, which is due to replace the disability living allowance from 2013, Atos said it would be working in partnership with charities "such as" the Essex Coalition of Disabled People (ECDP), and the Greater Manchester Coalition for Disabled People (GMCDP). A spokesperson for Atos Healthcare said: "We would hope that disabled people and their organisations will work with us to make the delivery of PIP as smooth as possible for those going through the process. We are making contact with those named in our tender document to ask them to share their expertise and knowledge with us."
A spokesperson for the DWP said: “The mention, or not, of any particular organisation in the bids to deliver PIP was not material in the evaluation. This had no impact on the result and there is no reason to review the competition.” So, the final piece of the plan to put an end to the culture of benefits is in place, now what we need is an economy that can supply the jobs for all the sick, lame and wounded being shed from the benefits system. Ex-claimants may find themselves in a very crowded market for disabled workers, given that the government also intends to empty out all the Remploy factories.

The new target for 2013: Tax Credits

At the beginning of 2013, Iain Duncan Smith, writing in The Telegraph told us:"Labour’s legacy on tax credits tells a sorry story of dependency, wasted taxpayers’ money and fraud."
And why pray, did Labour behave so despicably?"At the most basic level, Labour used spending on tax credits as an attempt to gain short-term popularity. It knew what it was doing – this was a calculated attempt to win votes."
New Labour says it was attempting to reduce child poverty but IDS supplies some evidence to support his claims, unfortunately they are way off: "Tax credit payments rose by some 58 per cent ahead of the 2005 general election, and in the two years prior to the 2010 election, spending increased by about 20 per cent."

In the run up to the 2005 general election, based on official HMRC figures, tax credits increased of 8 per cent, not 58%. In the two years prior to the 2010 election, tax credits increased by 8.8 per cent, not 20%.
“Between 2003 and 2010, Labour spent a staggering £171 billion on tax credits, contributing to a 60 per cent rise in the welfare bill. Far too much of that money was wasted, with fraud and error under Labour costing over £10 billion.”

Again, using HMRC figures, Duncan Smith is wrong again, the figure for the period was £147bn not £171bn. For some strange reason IDS included the Coalition's 2010-2011 spending on tax credits in his calculations.
However, if we put to one side the New Labour argument about the need to use these credits to end child poverty and replace the aim with a lame attempt to support a low wage economy with top ups, then we can see that IDS is on dangerous ground cutting benefits to low waged working families. Tax credits are a subsidy to employers, strip out all the props and you'll reveal the starkness of a failed economic system, failed, because it's dependent on state handouts.

The End of Atos

With appeals against Atos judgments standing at 600,000, costing the taxpayer some £6m, the company’s decided to pull out of the its contract for making ‘fitness-for-work’ assessments. Maximus Health Services UK has been given a three-year £500m contract to carry on the good work of Atos. Maximus says it has inherited an 18 month backlog of claims. The company told the BBC that improvements would not happen over night: “It’ll take some time to hire the healthcare professionals. The expectation is that in 12 to 18 months, we should be able to catch up on the waiting times…” Interesting that the DWP hands out a contract to a company that is not fully prepared to take on the job. We can only wonder if they will be re-employing the healthcare professionals shed by Atos? The Commons work and pensions select committee suggested in July 2014 that taking on a new provider would not solve the main problem with the ESA system, the assessment process is flawed.


The Underclass Crackdown

The underclass in Britain today have only one purpose, to provide the political class with an excuse to pursue their social engineering project, of which the benefit cuts form a substantial tool in reshaping behaviour.
The functionaries of New Labour's 'black hand' of political correctness and the puritan apparatchiks of the ConDem Party squirm like maggots in a fisherman's tin, when they have to acknowledge the salivating underclass scum smirking at them from rent free social housing squalor.
The underclass kill, drug, imprison and feed their own children to savage dogs or turn them into 20 a day nicotine addicts before they start school.  They camp like Wilburys on the verge of an imaginary Internet world, creating ego-centric, self-regarding persona, waiting like parasites for the next helping hand to arrive - so they can eat it.
Marx described them as the lumpen proletariate, the depraved elements of all classes. Today's underclass are not elements dislodged from their social roots by economic upheaval, as Marx described. Today, the underclass are like tooth decay.   They form a tribe like the armies of wandering vagabonds that Henry VIII killed with such glee. Latter day Marxists, with their syrupy liberalism believe the likes of  Karen Matthews to be role models for independent living in the 21st Century.

Note: Matthews was released from prison in early 2012, after arranging the kidnapping of her daughter Shannon, in order to claim £50,000 in reward money.
Intervention is now the rationale for social workers
Today,  social apologists of all descriptions seek to understand the killers of Baby P by appeal to the departmental handbook of individual needs failure. The handbook provides a tidy solution for the end of year review of the 'seen to be doing something' cycle. Successful reviews are based on the number of interventions by handbook operatives. The process of intervening becomes the rationale. During the intervention process no attempt is ever made to address individual needs failure, to do so would damage the self-worth of the case (underclass scum) and undermine an empathetic and healing discourse.
The history of the modern underclass, as a collection of failed individual misfits, is inextricably bound to Dave's social engineering project. We can say with some certainty that Henry VIII was no apologist and neither is Dave and his plans for the underclass are among his most strident.

The first rule of politics, create a panic before you do anything

Government officials said that the ‘permanent and embittered underclass’ might take their anger out on ethnic minorities. Then the government announced that it would train an army of therapists to deal with what it labelled ‘the epidemic of anxiety’ that the recession would cause. New Labour’s Baroness Scotland warned that ‘domestic violence will rise with increased financial worries’.
The Big Society requires more than anything else a positive mental attitude on the part of its citizens. The Underclass has an attitude problem, generational wallowing in a culture of benefits does not lend itself to an upbeat temperament. Current political rhetoric says, getting all these sturdy beggars back into work can only be good for them. It would also save a very big slice of welfare spending.
Cracking down on the Underclass - Phase one.
Chancellor George Osborne signalled a renewed crackdown on the "out of control" welfare budget. He plans to cut another £4 billion, after announcing an £11 billion cut in June 2010. His aim was to encourage people, who from some 'life-style' choice remained idle and living on State handouts, back into work. Osborne's master plan was to make £18 billion in welfare savings by 2014-15.
The main problem with this National Socialist strategy is that the work is just not there. However, there is also a key structural problem, long term scroungers are ill-prepared for the discipline of work and do not have the skills required in any work place. A further major problem will arise when those people who have genuine welfare needs get caught up in the cull of the underclass. Could be that George, the son of a baronet, is behaving like a mad knight errant, slashing left and right, ploughing his charger through sturdy beggars and deserving poor alike.
George says: "Of course, people who are disabled, people who are vulnerable, people who need protection will get our protection, and more." Nice sound bite but when George sends out his cuts diktat to his people on the ground he will have to rely on their ability to discriminate, to apply some intelligence and judgment to individual cases. Be in no doubt there will be collateral damage.

Taskforce to tackle Gang and Youth Violence

Theresa May, MP, Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities finally launched (Nov 2011) 'Call Me Dave's' blueprint to intervene in the lives of tens of thousands of poor people. She published the details of how the Government intends to end gang and youth violence.
She has a crazy blueprint, she has a taskforce of a mere one hundred advisors and a miniscule budget. In total the budget for this scheme adds up to £11.2 million, that's £10 million siphoned away from other Home Office initiatives and £1.2 million of new money, to be used over 3 years to tackle gang crime against girls.
The brains behind this scheme is Iain Duncan Smith MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. He says, "there is no quick fix" for the problem of Gang and Youth Violence.
You could download his report but I'll save you the trouble. Now, if you have a son or daughter involved in gang violence and they come to the notice of The Taskforce you can expect a knock on the door. Open the door and you'll find a Multi-Systemic Therapist (MSTs) waiting to swing into action.
We don't actually know what training these MSTs have had that enables them to save the family from what ails them but rest assured, they form part of a multi-agency intervention army. This emphasis on 'multi-agency' is vital because it enables the lead agency, i.e. the Home Office to spread the load in terms of finance and responsibility. Hidden within the report is an unspoken assumption that up to 30 agencies, who at some time or another, come into contact with young people who might, potentially, become drug dealing knife wielding raping nasty bastards by the time they reach 15 years old will receive intervention along the way. In short, their sickness will be spotted and dealt with - an end to Gang and Youth Violence.

A return to a by-gone age of roaming vagabonds: The Second Phase

Millions of welfare claimants are set to have their benefits scrapped and replaced with a single "universal credit".
Under the changes, housing benefit, income support, incapacity benefit and dozens of other payments will be swept away in a major reform programme intended to break the culture of welfare dependency by making work pay. The intention to reduce housing benefit will have a major impact on the life of the underclass, forcing many to move out of the centre of towns to the margins, i.e. no doubt based on the Paris District 13 model. A key advocate of benefit cuts is historian David Starkey.
Starkey has said (filmed for BBC's This Week) he believes "the poor" should live in areas where they can find work. He wants "the poor", the man servants and the kitchen maids to move out of the gentrified Islington squares to roam around the nation seeking out job opportunities.
And, fundamentally, he insists "the poor" must ditch their values of fairness and entitlement - it's all gone far enough, too far! They, "the poor" expect to remain idle, living in properties (among their betters) that they will never be able to afford without state support - they must roam. Starkey is a 'better' and he knows best what's good for "the poor".
Starkey is on message, asking his audience to revalue the meaning of words. New Labour began the process of newspeak. Telling citizens which words could no longer be used, telling citizens how to think about things correctly. What Starkey is doing is adding intellectual support to the ConDem cuts agenda. Telling citizens, forget what you were entitled to and what you thought was fair, adjust to the new reality.
Clearly Starkey is advocating a return to the days of his hero, Henry VIII, and a return to the days of armies of wandering vagabonds. And everyone, except historians like Starkey, knows how Henry dealt with the embarrassment of these 16th Century job seekers. They were hacked down in the fields by his knights.
This is not the 16th Century, it's all far too complex for the superficial analysis provided by Starkey. The poor of Islington are being contained by welfare handouts, these local handouts prevent the disturbance that would be caused by wandering and roaming. That's what the welfare system is in place for, to consolidate the indigent poor, to keep them holed up watching their flat-screen tele's 24/7 and not out roaming around upsetting the Somali tourists, that one sees so many of in Islington.

Perhaps Starkey would like to see a District 13 on the outskirts of London, like the one seen in the futuristic French film in which the underclass are marginalised within a walled ghetto - the film was described by the Daily Mail as "socially clueless drivel" - that translates into "a bloody good film".
It would appear that Starkey was hooked by the drivel of Grant Shapps, one time Tory Social Cleansing commissar, his cleansing programme is now well underway. A report from the BBC suggested that most inner London boroughs are moving hundreds of people out to the capital's margins, or further afield to Wales. Kennsington and Chelsea have already dislodged 800 souls, some of them lifetime residents in the area.

Send For Pickles: Phase three of the crackdown

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is to spearhead a ferocious crackdown on 120,000 problem families who blame everyone but themselves for their miserable behaviour. Pickles obviously will not be doing any work himself, he has a new quango for that, the Troubled Families Team.

Just how Pickles came up with the figure of 120,000 is just a mystery. Does anyone believe that he has an address book with a 120,000 names in it, probably not. Pickles is using the cover story that these 120,000 troubled families are costing us all £9 billion pounds a year. Another mystery, how the figure of £9bn was computed.
What he actually intends to do is off-load the identification of these families to England's 152 Local Authorities, who he intends to pay a finder's fee, plus a bonus for fixing the problems like, anti-social behaviour, school truancy, life-long benefit scrounging, etc. And he's got a big pot of money to dish out, around half a billion pounds. The councils have been instructed to draw up their intervention plans.
Pickles says: 'Sometimes we've run away from categorising, stigmatising, laying blame. By what criteria does our Eric plan to categorise, stigmatise, and lay blame?
They are low income, no one in work, parents with no qualifications, mother with mental health problems, one parent with long-standing illness or disability and if the family can't afford basic food and clothes. So we are going to categories, stigmatise, and lay blame on people for being poor or ill?
These indicators of "multiple disadvantage" were drawn from research by Tony Blair's Social Exclusion Unit and take note, no connection was made with anti-social behaviour, crime or truancy, etc, that was made by the current Department of Education to support Tory anti-poor prejudice.

The Daily Mail tells us:
"The councils will get £3,900 if they can achieve at least 85 per cent school attendance for children from problem families, a 60 per cent cut in anti-social behaviour and if youth offending falls by a third. Getting one adult from the family off benefits and into work for three months would earn the council £4,000."
Now, no one expects the Mail to spot that there's nothing in what it says that meets the actual criteria used to identify these families in the original research, from eight years earlier.

Making progress on Troubled Families

Dave's crackdown on the most troubled of families is turning into a most marvellous success, well, at least according to everyone involved in the scheme. As of April 2014, big Nick Pickles and his team had managed to identify up to 109,000 troubled families and we are told that 29,000 were no longer 'troubled'.
The government said its efforts were "on track" and having a "big impact" but the Public Accounts Committee said it needed to speed up. The thing is, Dave said that 120,000 families would be turned around by 2015 and with only eight months to go things are not looking that clever. For one thing they still have to identify 9,000 and then turn around 81,000; whatever turn around means.
Louise Casey, Head of the Troubled Families Programme had this to say:
"This programme is getting to grips with families who for too long have been allowed to be caught up in a cycle of despair. These results show that a tough, intensive but supportive approach has a big impact; giving hope and opportunity to the families and respite to the communities around them."
Good use of language there from Louise and one supposes that you need to be tough when you are saving people from a cycle of despair. And be in no doubt Louise is tough, showing no mercy to family members who attempt to resist.
We need to remind ourselves at this stage that this scheme is costing half a billion pounds, with local authorities and others being paid on a payments by results basis. Again we may wonder, by what criteria will success be signed off and paid for. Who for instance will do the checking, surely not the same people being paid to deliver the results - don't bet against it. We do know that local authorities have struggled to find families who match the criteria set by the scheme and so have been allowed to add some local criteria to meet their quotas. And we need to remind ourselves that Pickles was saying that the figures provided by local authorities are not 'official' - that's worrying.
The only certainty in all of this is that ‘troubled families’ make good headlines for the right-wing gutter press. The latest count tells us that the Wilburys now number half a million and cost us £30bn a year. Louise Casey believes passionately that her interventions can make these people good and useful citizens, even if they do not want to take part in the big society. It could be that these families are not troubled in the least but rather it’s Louise Casey that’s troubled.
These people did not just fall to earth in last winter’s rains, they are products of this society. Dave’s Troubled Families Team is  a disgraceful reminder of the way we do business and perhaps, it’s the way we do business that needs intervention.


The 2013 Cuts

Bedroom Tax: Anyone on housing benefit, with a spare bedroom, is faced with a choice, move or start paying for that empty room, alternatively they may choose to become a foster carer or sub-let the room and become a landlord. Housing benefit was cut by 14%  for one extra bedroom and 25% for two or more extra bedrooms.
Council Tax: Also, and this may come as a shock for those intent on becoming a landlords, support that they may have been receiving for their Council Tax is being reduced by 10%. Staggeringly, nearly 6 million households are claiming this benefit.
The Social Fund: Parts of the Social Fund will be abolished, including Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans. Local authorities will be given money to spend on local schemes such as food banks and to provide subsidised furniture and white goods.
Benefits cap: Increases in all benefits will be capped at 1%. So with inflation averaging 2.7% (RPI), if you believe the government, start spreading the marg' a bit thinner. And a little known fact here, most of those affected will be people in work, because it includes tax credits.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies tells us, 2.5 million households without someone in work will lose an average of £215 per year in 2015-16, while seven million households with someone in work will lose an average of £165 per year.

Total Benefits Cap: As from the 15th April, 2013 four London Boroughs will pilot the new annual £26,000 total limit on benefits and out of work family can claim. Duncan Smith says this is only fair as scroungers shouldn't be earning more in benefits than the average of those who actually get up in the morning. However, he's not being honest, because working families are receiving tax credits and this takes the average wage to £31,000 not £26,000. However, going forward the plan is to reduce  the cap to £23,000.

Universal Benefit: This will replace the following benefits: Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseekers Allowance and parts of the Social Fund.This benefit will paid monthly and will be constantly under review by a new computer system, that currently is not working properly, so that as claimants circumstances change, so will their benefits. The people of Tameside, Oldham, Wigan and Warrington will be the guinea pigs for this one. No new claims for Tax Credits will be accepted after April 2014. Claims will have to be made for Universal Credit instead.
From mid-2014, it was hoped that all new benefit claims across the country would be for Universal Credit? Sadly, for Iain Duncan Smith that moment never came to pass; his plans for UC are in disarray and he’s in denial.
Disability: the torment continues

Those who support the cuts will be heartened to learn that the torment dished out to disability claimants by Atos Healthcare will continue apace. Atos have just received a new contract to administer assessments for Employment Support Allowances and they have been good enough to sub-contract this work to various NHS Trusts.

The Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is being replaced by the Personal Independence Plan (PIP) and some 30,000 disabled citizens will have their benefits reduced as a result. PIP will be introduced in Cheshire, Cumbria, Merseyside, North East England and North West England for people who are very ill or disabled and who need help with day-to-day living. It will gradually replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which is currently paid to under-65s who have daily care needs or difficulty getting about. Not everyone who gets DLA were not able to get PIP and after June 2013 no new DLA claims were being taken.
And here's a nice twist, anyone still in receipt of DLA in October 2015 will have to apply for a PIP, if its refused, their benefit will cease.
Benefit Cuts and income elasticity

Dave's apprentice chancellor, George Osborne, is unable to make any distinction between skivers and strivers. Osborne's cuts in benefit will hurt more people in work than at home in bed. Cameron, Osborne and Duncan Smith persist with their claim that everyone on benefits is part of what they brand as the "dependency culture".
Boy George fails to grasp the basics of economics, people working for minimum wages spend proportionately more on items such as food, heating, transport and rents than those who shop at Harrods, all these items are necessities and the overall impact of George's benefit cuts will be dire. Dire because the incomes of the poorest will be driven down, making work a more pointless enterprise for these people and instead of reducing the numbers of skivers, who keep George awake at night, he'll see a big increase to haunt his dreams and spending in the high street will take a dive.

Unintended consequences

Manipulating the public's outlook has been quite successful, up to a point. However, some of Dave's policies have not yielded the desired results and in some cases have turned out to be perverse. He was hopeful that few beyond the hacks at the Guardian and the Independent have noticed.
Labour had not noticed the many complications arising from Dave's policies since all they cared to complain about was the 'cost of living crisis'. And as long as Labour insist on allowing Ed Balls to keep uttering his refrain about the economy flatlining, instead of putting forward, at least one radical alternative to the same old tosh, the result at the next election is in the bag for Dave.
At this point we need to remind ourselves that Labour are full square behind Dave in his efforts to give benefit claimants a good thrashing. For instance, Labour believes that Universal Benefit is a marvellous idea. However, private landlords are not so sure because under this scheme the rent goes to the claimant, not the landlord. This idea is causing not a few landlords to become a bit jittery, well, the drug addicts, alcoholics and scallywags can't be relied upon to pay their rent in preference to enjoying themselves - just one more time.

However, Dave has a plan to help out private landlords, introducing new legislation to make evictions easier. This is probably not his soundest scheme, when we consider that the court system is already being overrun due to lack of resources and perhaps more importantly, there are now more private tenants than social housing tenants. Why, because the social housing stock has dwindled to such an extent that councils are being forced to rely on private landlords to house the homeless.

Bless those landlords, they really are being besieged on all sides, the benefits cap is also causing them to rethink their letting policy. Claimants having their benefits capped increases the likelihood that they will default on the rent - might be better to evict them and let to foreign workers - key word, workers.

Currently, January 2014, Universal Benefit is still at the pilot stage, having suffered from some kind of computer malfunction. When UB goes nationwide, the combined impact of that and, the benefits cap, on the private rented housing market could be significant, as thousands of people are turfed out by their landlords. No doubt local authorities are already gearing up for this eventuality?

Bedroom tax

Local authorities, bless them too, are already busy dealing with the fallout from another of Dave's policies gone wrong, the 'spare room subsidy', otherwise known as the bedroom tax.

Imagine a situation where a couple have a one room ground floor flat with a garden and they want to transfer to a two bedroom. Many have declared an interest to downsize due to pressure from the spare room subsidy but were unable to exchange with the one bedroom couple because they were in rent arrears and you can't swop homes if you are in arrears but they were put in arrears by the government's policy.

However, government policy on social housing is fatally flawed by the fact that the number of smaller properties that people are expected to move to just do not exist. A number of housing associations in parts of the long gone industrial north have larger properties sitting idle, leaking revenue for months on end, soon they'll be calling in the bulldozers - the cheapest option.

Loophole, do you mean black hole? In the meantime, IDS wants the names of whoever it was that missed the loophole that allows anyone who has lived in a property for 17 years to ignore the bedroom tax. More than a slight error since up to 40,000 could be exempt from the tax. Be assured, the loophole will be closed forthwith or as quickly as it's possible to get a piece of legislation through parliament - let's call it two years then. Objective criticism
In September 2013, the special UN rapporteur was very critical of the bedroom tax. Raquel Rolnik, the UN inspector, says she has never faced such an aggressive, hostile reaction from a government before. She was here to investigate social housing provision. Rolnik observed that the bedroom tax was causing great hardship and distress to the most vulnerable. The Bavarian Wing of the Tory party called her names. They just couldn't appreciate someone from Brazil casting a spotlight on their shadowy misdeeds. However, people's lives are being seriously disrupted and damaged by this coalition's penny pinching bedroom tax. The discretionary payments, that are supposedly in place to protect those in real need, i.e. the disabled and chronically sick, are insufficient to meet all the claims. At least one third of those claiming a discretionary payment are being refused.

More UN criticism (August 2014)

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities launched a formal probe into whether this country has committed ‘grave or systemic violations’ of the rights of disabled people. Tory MPs said Britain’s record on help for disabled people was among the best in the world. They claim this is proven by spending amounting to £50bn a year on the disabled. They did not tell us how many billions they are paying out to their private sector sub-contractors.


The Future of Welfare

What sort of world do you want to live in? As from April 1st, 2013, people reliant on benefits took a pay cut. According to Iain Duncan Smith, it's for their own good, hand outs are no good for anyone, what people need is a hand up. For Duncan Smith, a world without benefits is fairer for everyone - we hope that's clear.
Beyond the 19th century paternalism of Duncan Smith, as necessary to his existence as CO2, we hear George Osborne telling us that we simply can't afford the £200bn plus welfare bill. Totally unaffordable!
Well, how much would be affordable, how much of the welfare spending is vital and necessary; and importantly, how much of the welfare bill is actually a subsidy to employers paid to their employees to keep wages down.

Time to stop and think

The world that Beveridge was looking at was vastly different to that of today, the material conditions of life were more basic, as were the expectations of the working class - back then, still able to identify itself as such. You were in work or you were out of work. In work you had some meagre assurance that you had food on the table and a roof over your head, out of work was nowhere, out of work you were a stranger in your own land. Beverage's world was not utopia but it was a big improvement over what preceded it.
It's interesting to note that Tory hero, Benjamin Disraeli, wrote in his 1845 novel, Sybil: "the only duty of power, the social welfare of the PEOPLE."
It took several decades, however, for the wealthy and privileged to realise their responsibility towards the less fortunate in society. Although, society didn't exist and that's what Disraeli was writing about, the need for something more than the uncaring indifference of those in power and their wealthy backers.

By slow degrees those who ruled recognised the need to provide support for those who needed help, beyond the whims, wonders, and sanctions of charitable giving. In Whig terms, the welfare reforms of the Liberal Party between 1909-1914 were ambitious; an old age pension, unemployment and sick pay, based on national insurance contributions. It wasn't much, some crumbs from the table that was paid for. And it's worth remembering the Work Houses were still there but their name was changed to Poor Law Institutes, for those who fell through the cracks. And we can also find traces of Iain Duncan Smith's ideas in the shape of the "Seeking Work Test", introduced in 1921, full unemployment benefit was only paid upon evidence the recipient was looking for work.

The workers mainly took care of themselves, through the a vast network of Friendly Societies and trades unions. The Church of England also played a major role in alleviating poverty and distress. The Poor Law system began to fade away by 1930 but was not formally abolished until 1948. That was when something approaching social democracy finally began to emerge in Britain. Meaning, that for the first time in British history, government took responsibility for the welfare of its citizens and was prepared to redistribute the national wealth in pursuit of the goals set out by the Beveridge Report: to end Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness. Let's consider that a work in progress.

And the point is?

The post-war government at least had a plan and set out in detail what they were trying to achieve through their reforms. The current government has no plan except making cuts to benefits and making life difficult for millions of citizens, in particular, those caught up in the 'bedroom tax' nonsense and genuinely disabled people.
The supposed savings from benefit cuts will be eaten away by payments to the private contractors, employed to police the new system, the likes of A4e, G4S, Atos, Serco etc, and for computer systems that don't work. Tribunal appeals against Atos for its woeful Work Capability Assessments has already cost millions of pounds. With the change from DLA to PIP we can expect the costs to increase all the more with the likes of Capita and Atos in the driving seat.

Talk of benefit cheats and scroungers, is just verbiage inserted by Tory spokesman and fellow travellers, in place of a meaningful rationale for the cuts. Benefit cheats are few, certainly not significant enough to transfix the whole Tory party, while they ignore the £70bn and more lost through tax evasion/avoidance.


The persistent argument that the welfare bill is unaffordable displays an understanding of economics that falls short of a C grade. Not that we have ever been told how much would be affordable. What we have been told is that some benefit is unaffordable, the bit that goes to the undeserving and no one has told us how many Wilburys we are here talking about.
The £200bn of spending on benefits is unaffordable if you view it as a handout, money given away, never to be seen again. This is the logic of the current government, how often have we heard the refrain "a hand up, not a hand out" that's what people need. Fine, but benefits are not a 'hand out', they are largely transfer payments in recognition of the fact that income inequality in Britain shames everyone. And what do the benefit recipients do with their windfalls, they spend them in the shops here, they don't put it in offshore tax havens. On second thoughts, benefits payments may end up offshore, if they are spent in Top Shop.


Cutting the welfare budget will do nothing to correct Britain's national debt and that debt is the key issue for Dave. The coalition's fixation with the structural deficit is another piece of obfuscation, the national debt is rising because we are not selling enough to pay our way in the world. We borrowed on a promise and got caught out, the whole ship of state was suckered by the snake oil peddlers, well it happened and it needs to be dealt with and picking on some poor people will not fix Dave's 'broken Britain'.

Is a world without benefits possible? There are those down at the Institute of Economic Affairs who believe that such a world is possible. We do not know if the current government wants to end all but an 18th century regime of outdoor relief. We do know that they say the current benefits bill is unaffordable. Yet, they are unable to tell us what is affordable? This may actually mean that they do not know what they are trying to achieve through their current hostility towards benefits claimants.



The Wasteland and the High Street

Food Banks: the new UK growth industry

Food banks are becoming a common feature of the wasteland. Big Dave says that growth in the food bank sector does not signify growing poverty but rather growing awareness of food banks. On another planet this nonsense from Dave might have meaning but in the current circumstances its drivel.

The Trussell Trust, who now run 400 food banks, were feeding 3000 people in 2006, in 2012 they were feeding 120,000. Chris Mould, the chief executive of the Trussell Trust, told the Independent:

“When people are on low incomes and just managing to get by, marginal changes that appear to other people to be really quite small, just a few pounds here and there each week, are very significant,” he said. “They can be the difference between getting food on the table or not. People that have been involved in formulating the new welfare policy don’t have an adequate understanding of how precarious the situation for people on low incomes has become.” The marginal changes that Mr Mould spoke of became a reality on 1 April, 2013, annual rises in benefit payments would increase by just 1 per cent. On the same day, 660,000 households with a spare room would see an average £14-per-week-cut to their housing benefit with the introduction of the “bedroom tax”.

Food banks have seen steady growth since they first appeared in the UK back in 2004. The Trussel Trust set up the first food bank in Salisbury, having switched their humanitarian efforts in Bulgaria when it became clear, that apart from Blair and his cronies gorging themselves at the bankers' feast, many citizens here were not feasting. The Tory mind believes that a big increase in the numbers being fed by food banks, may be the result of a big increase in the number of food banks. In other words the demand or rather need for the food banks was already in place.
However, as an indicator, back in 2004, the Salisbury food bank fed 500 people in its first year, last year it fed 4000 people. So it might be a fair assumption that the numbers in need of free food are increasing and that the increase may be a consequence of the government's benefit cuts.


The Council are cutting back on non-essential services and are waiting for an army of volunteers to step forward to fill the void left by the cuts. This community is in a void, a soulless wasteland, there's nothing to volunteer for here, nothing happens here. Those with talents and skills have taken their non-essential services elsewhere, they wont be sitting around waiting for something to turn up.

This is the new politics, the politics of austerity, the politics of the wasteland. There'll be no more icing on your cake, unless you can afford it, or unless you can find a bank to lend you the money to buy some.

Ah, but wasn't that how we got here in the first place? Encouraging people to buy things they couldn't afford because the clever people skewed the economy towards consumption, that could only be sustained by debt - now, you can't blame that on New Labour, although they did nothing to reverse the trend.

Now, everyone thinks debt is the natural state, some money saving guru (Martin Lewis) is telling his TV audience, "debt's OK", as long as you don't have too much debt, as long as you can manage the debt - his rapid fire mouth doesn't allow his brain time to pause and consider the £57 billion of personal debt that citizens are currently trying to manage. We do know that some talented spivs wrapped up their debt in brown paper parcels, gave it a special name and sold it to an Icelandic bank, for British local authorities to invest in.

Ah, but wasn't that how we got here, in the wasteland, being less than clever managing our debts. Ah, but here's the thing, the ConDem government is not really cutting the current debts by much, if at all, two years after coming to office much damage was being done to the national economy - how do we explain this absurdity?

The failure of confidence, of mistrust, is logical, rational in the current circumstances. Economic growth has come to mean consumers buying things they can't afford today, in the hope of paying for them tomorrow. And if tomorrow brings more of the same, no worries, every other shop on the high street is a Cash Converter, where you can part with the goods that you borrowed to buy and you can top up your wallet with a pay day loan, even if you don't have a pay day to look forward to.

The culture of debt that we live with has reached such absurdity that citizens, who have never borrowed money and never got themselves into debt, are the least likely to be lent to. Those without a credit history wishing to get a mortgage, even if they have the funds in the bank for a deposit and can prove their work provides sufficient money to repay the loan, will not be looked on favourably.
Dave does not have a plan to deal with this absurdity. He thinks he can Cut in the short term, correct some fresh air deficit and then proceed as if the credit fiasco was just a gremlin in an otherwise natural way to run an economy.

A Plan to revive the wasteland

Dave does not have a plan to deal with the absurdity of running an economy on borrowed money. But he does have a plan to revive the high street and the plan is being spearheaded by Mary Portas, television name, Mary Queen of Shops. Supposedly she is famous for being a de-cluttering expert, with an uncanny ability to state the ****ing obvious, without a trace of sarcasm.
In May 2012, £1.2m was assigned for a pilot scheme to revive a dozen selected high streets. Well, after a year, results were not good. Only 12% of the money had been spent, spent unwisely. Much of the funding has gone on meetings, expense claims and consultants. Councils just love their consultants, as much as Dave loves his celebrity experts like Ms Portas.

During May 2011, when Grant Shapps was Local Government minister, he said:
"These pilots can be the vanguard of a high-street revolution, and others can look at their example to kick-start a renaissance of our town centres."
Wow, vanguards, renaissance - someone should have told the chosen Councils how important this scheme was, then they might have got a shift on and spent the money they've been given on something worthwhile. Dartford Council spent £5,983 on newspaper adverts, £1,317 on surveys, £1,610 on hiring a person in a Peppa Pig costume, and £317.46 on items from Waitrose. This sort of spending has been repeated by the other Councils involved in the pilot but did it match up to expectations.

This scheme was meant to harness the energy of local people to breathe new life into the town centres and make them the hearts of their communities again. In this regard someone from the Department for Communities and Local Government said: the pilots are working "very successfully". Just how that judgment was arrived at is unknown. Surely, the only way to revive the high street is to take a pair of scissors to Amazon's Internet connection.

Looking back, Mary Portas seems less than impressed by her experience of trying to energise local authority dunderheads to take some action to revive their tired old high streets. Of course, it doesn't help when Communities Secretary Eric Pickles undermines what you are trying do, as he did in Margate, by signing off on the building of an 82,000sq ft. superstore outside the town.
Ex-Wickes boss, Bill Grimsey produced his own review of the high street and suggested that the focus should go beyond just enhancing the retail environment to include healthcare, entertainment, education and housing. Grimsey also suggested that we need a minister for the high street, it must have escaped his notice that we already have too many ministers doing bugger all. He's also calling for the reform of the business rates system, car parking and access to funding for businesses. He also ignores the fact that Portas did actually put forward some good suggestions, like evening markets, 10p parking after 3pm and food and drink festivals.

Mr Grimsey has been a trifle critical of Portas’s December 2011 review, saying it “promised the Earth but delivered little”, and that it was “little more than a PR stunt” for a tie-in television show. He says that half of Britain’s 44,000 retailers are now in poor financial health and 45 retailers a week are failing since the start of the recession. Britain now has 250,000 shops, compared to 750,000 in the mid-1960s. According to the Centre for Retail Research, a further 22pc of all stores – some 61,930 shops – will have gone by 2018. And the fallout from the 20 biggest business failures in 2012 cost unsecured lenders £2bn. Some 20,000 retailers, still trading in 2013, described as the army of the retail walking dead by Grimsey, have net liabilities of £2.3bn to service.

The Internet economy in the UK accounts for more than £120bn of sales - a higher proportion of GDP than any other G20 country, that's what we call an indicative trend and these are some of the casualties in 2013: Comet, Jessops, HMV, Blockbuster, Dreams, Axminster Carpets, and Thomas Cook. Update: Jessops and HMV have been thrown a life-line but will they survive?

The Bottom Line

Progress to date on revitalising the high street has been slow to useless. However, the government has a new scheme, the Future High Streets Forum, apparently set up to search for further understanding into the problem. The business experts who comprise the Forum will be visiting over 300 town centres where little bits of government money has been spent under the Portas scheme. They can search away but two significant factors in the decline of the high street are crystal clear, the growth of Internet shopping and the government's cuts to local authority funding.
The Government claims it has lifted planning restrictions to bring more housing to the high street, cut business rates for thousands of small businesses and scrapped Whitehall guidance that pushed for higher parking charges.

But the government knows that business rates are too high, having been set in 2008 at the height of the boom and they will not be reassessed until 2017 and the punishing effects of inflation is making the situation worse. For example, a chip shop on the high street can expect to pay some £30,000 in rent and rates a year.

Update July 2014: Enter an initiative called Healthy High Streets. Yes, this is another scheme to revive the high street, this time it’s a three year affair. Each of 29 cities will be provided with their very own ‘champion’ from a big name store like Boots. There’s also a  high streets minister in the shape of Brandon Lewis: he said, “It’s great to see some of the biggest names in British retail like Boots UK, the Co-operative Group, Marks and Spencer and Santander using their business expertise and local knowledge to help others on the high street attract more shoppers.”

Without wishing to be cynical we have to wonder what M&S and the Co-Op are doing in the list of champions, they could use some help themselves.


Economic Policy: Open for Business


Fairy Stories

Economics seeks to understand how markets work. All economics textbooks tell the same fairy story. A market is a place where buyers and sellers come to together to exchange goods. In the market place, resources are allocated by the price of the goods being traded. Price signals tell buyers and sellers how much to buy and how much to sell. This price signalling mechanism establishes the level of demand and supply in the market place, it finds a natural balance; economists call this equilibrium, i.e. where supply exactly matches demand at a given price.

Equilibrium is a harmonious state, buyers and sellers are both as happy as Larry, (the Downing Street cat), and there’s no market interference, perfect! Also, buyers and sellers have perfect knowledge, i.e. when making decisions they know everything there is to know about the markets they trade in.

But, you knew there would be a but, the perfect market doesn't exist. Otherwise, economics textbooks would be printed on beer mats. And neither do people with perfect knowledge exist. Otherwise, there would no scope for banks to rob their customers by selling them worthless insurance.
In truth, economics as an academic discipline is a time wasting pursuit. All markets are subject to interference, that is, political interference, scamming, special interest lobbying, monopoly power, deceitful criminality, scheming, colluding, and pickpocketing on the part of the business community and, ignorance on the part of consumers.

We have a political class who put blind faith in perfect market outcomes, driven by the private sector, in the hope that this will some how result in an increase in social welfare.

Tory Economics

In 1936, Keynes used the term animal spirits in his seminal work The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money to describe the chief motivating factor in economic activity, confidence. An economy devoid of confidence is stagnant or going backwards. Engendering confidence is a prime activity for government, if their policy objectives are to succeed then they must persuade us that their policies are sound. The present Tory government is attempting to do this by adjusting our expectations to a sub-optimal future.

Tory economics is simple to understand, it's based on hope, osmosis and the Chinese. Central to Tory thinking here is the work of Adam Smith, and the retelling of Smith by Hayek, with a pinch of Milton Friedman thrown in to spice up the mix. The Tory economy works as described in the school boy text book model, supply and demand, perfect knowledge and price signals - that's it, competition will produce an optimum outcome - just wait and see. Now, if we add in some hot air to hope and osmosis we have the measure of Tory economics. For good measure, we may also add in a couple of false prophets like Reinhart and Rogoff, whose assertions Boy George Osborne thought so profound that he used them to support his public sector cuts agenda.

If you torture the data long enough it will confess

Every month the Back of England Monetary Policy Committee meet and decide to do nothing, except, occasionally, print some more money. Most of those who turn up for a few hours a month for tea and biscuits are signed up members of the school of econometrics.
Econometrics is a process that uses mathematics and statistics to test aspects of economic theory. They prefer to overlook that every aspect of economic theory has been tested to death over many anguished years.

If you create an industry, i.e. econometrics, it will produce a stream of data gathered from its testing frenzies and as likely or not it will tell you, after much hot air and convoluted nonsense, things you already knew; and you'll never know whether the data owned up honestly or confessed under torture.

As far back as the 1790s, Charles Babage, the father of computing, was writing about the cheating tricks of statisticians, principally manipulating the data to fit the theory, i.e. the outcome they desired. It was back then, in the eighteenth century that economic theory got started with Adam Smith's 'invisible hand', the idea that without any government meddling markets would manage themselves. In short, there would be no long term overpricing because the market by magic would correct the situation.

Now, fast forward a couple of hundred years, to the aftermath of the credit crunch of 2008, where much soul searching and blaming has taken place; it was the bankers, it was the regulators, the ratings agencies, it was the politicians and central bankers. Yes, it was all these guilty parties. Why, because underpinning their actions or lack of action was the notion that markets would be self-correcting. Alan Greenspan, at the time in charge of the US Fed, told a suspicious regulator not to worry about fraud in derivative trading because the market would take care of it. Not only were markets self-correcting, they were also capable of policing themselves.

The credit crunch, the crash, the recession were proof that markets were not working as described by the theory. Assets were over-priced, the free market believers knew this, like addicted gamblers, they just kept betting and believing. A study carried out by the IMF in 2002 found that 97% of economic forecasters failed to predict impending national recessions in the 1990s, let alone coming close to predicting their severity.

In sum, Tory economics is a credo that places blind faith in the power of the market place and seeks reassurance from charlatans and errant number crunchers who have a worse track record than Mystic Meg.
What does Dave's economic policy look like and will it resolve Britain's debt problems and lead to some virtuous growth path?

Open for business

"We are an open, global economy. We cannot start creating ownership barriers, trade barriers and protectionist barriers." That was how Dave set out his economic insight, quite where his current position on putting up barriers to the movement of labour fit in is something to wonder about.
However, Dave is happy to consider letting a Russian firm, the one behind the Chernobyl accident, run some of Britain’s next generation of nuclear power stations. He was only echoing governments' default position for the previous three decades. However, other developed economies have protection in place for what they consider key assets.

Three factors have encouraged foreign takeovers: the cheap cost of borrowing; liberal takeover rules; and the presence of global investment banks in the City, with ready access to the world’s capital.

The removal of regulations on overseas investment by former Tory Chancellor Geoffrey Howe in 1979 began the asset sales. This was followed in 1986 by what’s known as the ‘Big Bang’, foreign banks flooded into the City, gobbling up SG Warburg, Robert Fleming and Schroders to provide the cheap money for the takeover binge, and then Blair and Brown actively encouraged every foreign deal.

So most London buses are run by a Spanish company, Italians own Boots, Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason and the Savoy are owned by Canadians; Harrods has been bought by a firm based in Qatar, the Dorchester by one based in Brunei and Thames Water has gone to the Australians.
Britain's Sale of the Century includes Jaguar Rover (to India), Asda (to the U.S.), MG Rover (to China), P&O Ports (to Dubai), the British Airports Authority (to Spain), Corus (formerly British Steel, to India), British Energy (to France), and lottery operator Camelot (to Canada), ICI was snapped up by the Dutch. Shareholders and directors took the money and ran, and watched from a distance while the private equity cowboys brought Debenhams to its knees and nearly destroyed Southern Cross care homes. Laughingly, we even needed to rely on the computing power of Lockheed Martin to carry out the 2011 Census, at a cost of £160m.

The key problem with foreign ownership is that it's hard enough to collect taxes from a UK-based multinational, it is even harder to do so from one based in Munich, Lucerne or Washington DC. Boots the chemist was sold to the Italian pharmacy king Stefano Pessina and private-equity outfit KKR in 2007 for £12 billion. Boots — which had been based in Nottingham for 161 years — moved its headquarters to Zug in Switzerland. Before the takeover, Boots had paid £89 million in British tax in its final year as a quoted company on the London stock market. Now that it pays most of  its tax in Zug, that figure has shrunk to just £9 million. Also, foreign firms who buy British companies using borrowed money are able to deduct the interest they have to pay on those loans from their tax bills.

Job losses, pay freezes, and vanishing skills

Beyond the loss of tax revenue; skills, scientific and technical know-how are lost when the foreigners come to town. These are key national assets in terms of global competition and when they've gone, as happened in the case of ICI they wont be coming back. AkzoNobel (the new owners) revealed massive losses of £970 million, largely as a result of buying ICI. Job losses at ICI reached 3,500 due to the takeover, more job losses were projected, and a pay freeze was imposed on most of the company’s employees.

When Kraft Foods took over Cadbury in 2009, it promised to keep open the Somerdale factory near Bristol but one month after buying the company Kraft closed it - leading to the direct loss of 400 jobs, and the indirect loss of others in the supply chain. Cadbury staff were told that pay would be frozen for three years unless they agreed to opt out of the firm’s expensive final-salary pension scheme.
Source: Britain For Sale: British Companies In Foreign Hands by Alex Brummer, April 2012.

Confusing a debt with a deficit

The Coalition government only has one policy, or only one that they have been consistent on, i.e reducing the structural element of the current deficit. The cuts agenda and the privatisation of all public services are presented as the solution to the debt problem.

This policy is the cause of Dave's main worry. Not because he may succeed or fail in his ambition but because the public do not understand it and quite often, when otherwise rational people do not understand, they discount. Now Dave's problem is this - come the next election, when he attempts to buy some credence for his valiant attempts to reduce the deficit, voters will still be scratching their heads. For instance, in a 2012 survey, 47% of people thought that the national debt would fall by £600bn by the end of this parliament. (Institute for Policy Studies, A Distorted Debate). The thing is, both Dave and his chum Boy George Osborne are both on record confusing the structural deficit with the national debt, so small wonder that citizens seemed confused. Other results from the survey showed that only 39% of the public correctly identified that the deficit has fallen since 2010, compared with 28% who believed this to be untrue.

Now, at the Tory Party Conference, Dave told the world that he had successfully reduced the deficit by 25%, not true. The structural component of the current deficit had only fallen by 13.2% by the end of 2011/12. In his 2014 Autumn statement, Boy George announced that the deficit had been cut by 50%. George is a liar. How can a government borrowing £250m a day be reducing the deficit? Fact, this coalition government have borrowed more in the past five years than New Labour did in 13 years.

The 2010 Fiscal targets

1. To eliminate the structural component of the current deficit within five years. (Note: the structural component arises because governments are continually and persistently spending more than they have coming in in revenues. Hence the attempt to reduce the borrowing that funds public expenditure.) This target will not be met. Elimination may be achieved by 2016/17 but then, it is a rolling target. The rolling target doesn't conceal the truth that spending is rising although cuts are being made to a variety of public sector budgets because as we roll along the proportion of claims on those budgets is rising, e.g. housing benefit has been capped but the number of working people claiming has risen over the past two years. Also, revenue is falling due to the success of our marvellous low wage economy.    

2. The second target, for debt, as a proportion of GDP, to be falling by the end of this Parliament will not be met.

Hidden Debt

Let's be clear, when George Osborne talks about the debt, he is talking about the 'structural deficit', i.e. his big problem. He and Dave claim to have reduced it by 50% already.  The national debt, will also begin to fall, at some point in another lifetime. Sounds good, but not if you are hiding some of your current spending off balance sheet and if you are choosing to ignore a whole set of liabilities. If we add in these liabilities, items like public pensions, PFI funding, Network Rail, and bank bail-outs, we see the government’s official £1 trillion figure more than double that. (See The Hidden Debt Bombshell, Centre for Policy Studies)
The Institute for Economic Affairs tells us:
"The latest official national debt figure is seriously misleading. Looming in the background are pension liabilities." and "our real national debt stands at 333pc of GDP." That's £4.8 trillion.

The Fresh Air Deficit

Hidden debt is one thing, at least when we find it we can pin it on someone. However, we have another problem. Theory says that somewhere in the universe all loans are equal to all deposits. This is the universe of academic economists, where the potential for the endogeneity bias and the problem of reverse causation can be ironed out in models based on regression analysis. Ah, but what if there's an alternative universe, where deposits do not match loans, where not only is some of the debt fresh air, more debt is being created on a daily basis by the banks and the very idea of a central bank that controls the money supply is patent nonsense. In this universe, economic models have no answers. All you need in this universe is an error term to cover for the unaccountable funds.
Fictional Balance Sheets

PIRC, the shareholder advisory group, analysed the 2011 accounts of the UK's top five banks to calculate how much they expect to write off as bad debt in the coming years but haven't done so because they can hide behind some clever IFRS accounting rules; that they made up to protect themselves. However, the PIRC study provided the following picture, under the heading “Undeclared losses £bn”; Lloyds and Standard Chartered 3.6, Barclays 6.7, HSBC 16.1, and RBS 18.2.

So, not only are the government concealing the true national debt, the banks are concealing their own indebtedness. Dave can't be doing with alternative universes, fresh air deficits and fictional balance sheets, he needs someone to provide a realistic picture of where we are. It's a shame that Dave never considered popping round to the Treasury to remind the lazy buggers there that it was their job to provide the realistic picture. Enter the Office for Budget Responsibility. The role of the OBR is to monitor the government's fiscal targets and report on progress. Setting up the OBR was one the first acts of the ConDem regime and may have been cunningly designed to make it look to the outside world that we had an independent body overseeing the books - a confidence boost for global loan sharks. However, we also needed someone to monitor and investigate the dodgy balance sheets of the high street banks, and if ever the day comes to pass, someone to police the banks’ activities when their investment and retail antics are split. Dave has a plan, he's set up the Prudential Regulating Authority, to be run by the Bank of England. Dave also introduced the the Financial Conduct Authority in 2013 to replace the disgraced Financial Service Authority. So we can all sleep soundly now.

Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee

The Bank of England Monetary Policy (Biscuit) Committee was set up in 1998 by Gordon Brown, so that he wouldn't have to do anything. The Committee's remit is to set interest rates, to keep inflation within certain limits and to focus on growth and employment. The Committee is made up of a small select group of over-educated economists, including the Bank's Governor, four other bank employees and four external 'experts'. For the past several months, the Committee, has done little except consume vast quantities of digestive biscuits and voluminous quantities of tea. The Committee meet for two and a half days each month to deliberate. Most of this time is spent trawling through data both from the real economy (where goods are made and traded) and the Disney World of the money grubbing spivs.

The Committee's Record To Date

Up and until 2008 the Committee failed to notice the looming crisis, after all Gordon had banished boom and bust. From 2008, the Committee were on two packets of digestives a month. Clearly action was required, they cut interest rates. Then they cut interest rates again. They kept cutting interest rates until they got down to 0.5%. To go lower wouldn't make any sense. The cuts already made had no impact on the real economy. Inflation continued to rise. Obviously, the rate cuts were holding inflation in check, meaning without the previous rate cuts, things would have been worse. Obviously.

However, inflation was above the 2% target, well above. So what do you do when the only tool you've got is interest rates and it doesn't work. Have another packet of biscuits. No! You create something called the Asset Purchase Facility (2009). Brilliant idea, basically you print some money, you use the money to buy assets that the banks are holding, the banks now have the cash to inject into the real economy. Well, dunk me another biscuit Mervyn. Thus far, the Bank has made £275bn available to the banking community through its policy of Quantitative Easing, QE.
The Committee couldn't do anything about inflation so it turned its attention to growth. The combination of low interest rates and liquidity in the system must engender some growth. Well, no, the banks didn't play the game and weren't keen to lend to support British business.
The reason the banks didn't play the game is quite simple. They were unable to find a way, after years of recklessness, to lend sensibly. So like an individual faced with an impending nervous breakdown, the best course of action is to do nothing, except speculate in commodities markets and push up domestic inflation? Essentially, the Committee put its faith in a banking community that was behaving like a stroke victim, fully conscious but seemingly unable to act.

The last quarter of 2010 saw -0.5% growth, the first quarter of 2011 saw 0.5% growth, in other words, no growth for six months. By the end of 2011, still no green shoots in evidence, moving on to the second quarter of 2012, sorry still no green shoots. Good news in the third quarter of 2012, Osborne claimed 1% growth and hailed the end of recession; Mervyn King announced a week later that the recession would continue for perhaps another three years. Mervyn has always been a glass half full sort of guy, by August 2014 the public were being told by Boy George that the recession was over.

In Sum: The Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee appear to be wasting their time. Admittedly, they are only paid in biscuits but that's far in excess of their economic rent, i.e. the difference between what they are paid now and what they would receive if they were selling the Big Issue. Their low interest rate policy has done nothing for the struggling real economy, it has helped existing mortgage holders but ill-served everyone else.
Globalisation has signed the death knell for inflation control, Britain is a price taker, not a price maker anymore. Low interest rates have forced down exchange rates and should encourage exports but can't stem the tide of imports for an economy reliant on imported goods. The balance of trade is unfavourable. Time to end the monthly biscuit beano.

Quantitative Easing is the means by which a failed political class attempts to ensure that a reckless financial community (reckless with other peoples' money) can continue to maintain its hedonistic lifestyle at the expense of the general populace. This was the Bank's key policy tool designed to boost growth in Britain plc. All we know about QE is that no one knows if it works. It has been tried across the globe variously, most famously in Japan but even after that experiment they don't know if it worked or not - brilliant. We also know that governments do not pursue a course of QE until they have taken interest rates as low as can before they become meaningless and then they start printing money - and hope.
The evidence is now legend, hope was hopeless, banks are not trustworthy intermediaries, so why does this Government insist on asking them to oil the wheels of recovery?

Why not create another scheme

Funding for Lending, i.e., another scheme to give the banks more cheap money to encourage them to lend to business, to help kick start the economy, seemed like something that might work but the banks showed a preference for lending to people wanting to buy property. The key idea behind this scheme was to help the banks out with the mismatch that exists between their assets and liabilities, given the term nature of mortgage debt. That is, too much mortgage debt can cause cash flow problems.

This scheme also meant that the banks had no incentive to increase rates for savers, after all they were getting cheap funds from the government. Mark Carney, George Osborne's new miracle man at the Bank of England, spotted that his funding for lending was not going to its intended recipients and blocked the banks dishing out this money for mortgages but he's still doing nothing for savers and he seems to be oblivious to the effects this cheap money is having on the annuities market. An annuity like a tattoo or dog is for life, citizens retiring now and in the near future are faced with a choice between one bad deal and the next to fund the rest of their lives. Osborne put an end to this disgrace in his 2014 budget, allowing retirees to do what they liked with their pension pots but he forgot to apologise to all those who have been ill-served down the years by the annuity scam.

Footnote: Mark Carney

After Pasty-Gate, no one expected Chancellor George Osborne to make an even bigger fool of himself. However, going to the best schools equips one for foolishness - must be all those cold showers. Boy George introduced the world to his comic book creation, Mark Carney, as the Governor of the Bank of England. Osborne told the press: Carney was the "outstanding candidate" for "avoiding big bail outs and securing growth."

Carney's record

This was supposedly whilst Carney was in charge of the Bank of Canada. There's only one thing wrong with Osborne's gushing praise, he made it up. Carney didn't avoid big bail outs, there was no need since Canada was not exposed to the nasty antics of the banks to anything like the US and UK - so no bail outs were required. And worth noting, Carney arrived at the Bank of Canada in 2008, by then, any 'saving' policy was already in place, so no action required on behalf of George's superhero. Also, in terms of growth, resource rich Canada has done very nicely over the past five years with the rise of China and India, hence growth required no intervention by Carney.
We do know that Carney was very active during his time at Goldman Sachs, advising the Russians over their financial crisis in the late 1990s, however, he failed to notice that his own company were betting against the Russians sorting their problems out or was it that Goldman thought that Carney was less of a superhero than Boy George thinks he is.
The question has to be asked, is Carney  the right man for the job, as the man in charge at the Bank he will now be responsible for regulation, as well as, running the biscuit committee and printing money but can we trust a man who failed to notice what he's own company was doing in Russia?
However, once installed as the new Governor, Mark decided to put his own stamp on things. He introduced something called ‘forward guidance’, we think that means giving everyone plenty of notice of interest rate rises.
He announced that an interest rate rise would not be considered until unemployment fell to 7%, probably not before 2017 he confided. When unemployment fell to 6.7% in April 2014, he said the 7% figure was not really a hard and fast decision making rule. All very confusing for the common man, that is, trying to work out what genii and super heroes mean. However, even the Times newspaper were starting to question Carney’s confusion on so-called interest rate policy. There’s no confusing, Carney is just a stooge.

Cutting Red Tape and ending the compensation culture

Tories have been trying to cut red tape items like health and safety at work for a long time. A 1994 review recommended 100 laws be removed, and in 2010 Lord Young published a review called "Common Sense – Common Safety".
However, the basis for current thinking on the subject stems from a 2012 review of existing health and safety regulations conducted by Professor Ragnar Löfstedfrom. New legislation will make it incumbent on the worker to prove that the employer was directly to blame for their accident. At the moment the legislation contains the concept of "strict liability" – whereby companies are liable for injuries regardless of negligence if certain health and safety rules are breached. The Tory view is that this is unfair to the employer because it forces employers to put unnecessary and costly health and safety measures in place.

Be in no doubt, the workplace is still a dangerous place; figures released by the Health and Safety Executive show that in 2011, 173 people died as a result of workplace accidents and 22,433 were seriously injured. The Professor never suggested that 'strict liability' should be removed in all circumstances but the Tories have other ideas.

The man from the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said the Government's proposals would "turn back the clock on workplace safety to the 19th century". Ah yes, marvelous times, 10 year olds getting mangled up by machines but let's also recall that it wasn't until 1974 that employers had to keep a record of accidents in their workplaces, and not until 1981 that they had to have first aid kit available and even later before stricter controls regulating dangerous chemicals came into being.

The Economy: is the plan working?

Job creation

Tory politicians never tire of telling us that the private sector has created 1.4 million new jobs under the coalition government. They seldom mention the 455,000 jobs lost in the public sector.

The 1.4 million new jobs claim is factually incorrect. Almost 300,000 jobs appeared in the first half of Q2, 2010 under the Labour regime, and so can't be claimed by the coalition, also the number has been inflated by the transfer of public sector jobs to the private sector.
More importantly, we need to know how many of these jobs are part-time or zero hours. We also need to know how many of these jobs are second jobs, just in case we mistake these jobs for increased employment. The fact is that the fine detail does not exist but they say the ONS is working on it. We do know that since 2011 self-employment has risen by 220,000 and that average earnings from self-employment have fallen from £15,000 before the crash, to £10,400 by 2011 - not much there for those who extol entrepreneurial spirit to celebrate.
More people in work than ever?

Mr Osborne claims that "employment is now above its pre-recession peak in the UK." ONS data tell us that 29.8 million people over 16-years-old are now in work. This is apparently a record. Interestingly, every year between 1995 and 2007 was a record year for employment levels. Point: Mr Osborne's crowing about the number of people in work is not significant because it doesn't take account of the changing size of the population, i.e. 3% up  since 2010.

A much more meaningful measure is the employment rate, i.e. the proportion of the working age and economically active population in employment. The employment rate reached a pre-recession peak in 2005 at 73%, today the figure stands at 71%. So, it was very nice of Mr Osborne to put a positive spin on the employment figures but the number of people capable of working in work is still not back to its pre-recession level.

New business start ups

Leader Dave told the 2013 Tory Conference: "Let me tell you how many businesses have started up in Britain since the election: over 300,000."

You might say, where did Dave get his figures from, Companies House? This would not be a useful source since it will not tell us how many firms are now dormant. And how impressive would it be when we discovered that a high percentage of these new start-ups do not actually employ anyone, that's according to the the coalition's own Business Department, who's record keeping is hardly reliable (something to do with computer problems).

Telling us about all these new business start ups is designed to persuade us, that in the words of Boy George, "we have turned the corner". But any chump with a pound and some ambition can start a business, so the headline is really not that exciting.

Private Debt

George was also keen to tell us that a key sign of the nation's now economic health was demonstrated by the fall in the debt to income ratio.

He said:

"The ratio of household debt to incomes has fallen too, unwinding all of the increase seen during the credit boom of 2004 to 2008."
This statement is true but the use of the word "all" is an exaggeration and George only makes mention of it as if it somehow symbolises his good stewardship of the economy, overlooking that the downward trend in this ratio started in 2007. Total private sector debt was down by around 40% at the end of quarter 2, 2013, but it still stood at 100% of GDP. Nothing there to be complacent about. And why wouldn't it be down, people are not stupid, during the worst of the recession people saved more and borrowed less. Now, that pattern is changing and unsecured lending is on the rise again. For instance, 75% of cars sold during 2013 had a financing deal attached – compared to pre-crash levels of just 50%. Mark Carney expressed his concern over the housing bubble in London but it seems he should also be concerned about the rise of unsecured lending.

In sum: the Tory economic plan does not have much substance, consumer confidence has returned and private household debt is on the rise. This trend has to be choked off by a rise in interest rates. This places Mark Carney in a bind, does he do the right thing and raise rates sooner rather than dithering further or does he support Dave and keep rates low and add fuel to the debt led false dawn of sustained recovery.

'The plan is working'

The plan is working means that there are signs that the economy is beginning to grow again although the ground lost since 2008 is a long way from being regained. However, no degree in economics is required (as George has proved) to engender some growth in Britain plc. The City of London is the counting house of the world, the City of London is Britain's Treasure Island. Forget Paris, Bonn, Hong Kong etc., the City has an independence that other financial centres envy.  The growth of new technology start-ups in mobile apps and games  is also making a significant contribution to Britain’s rise from the ashes.

Add in the magnetic attraction of London and the South-east generally for the world's wealthy elites, as well as, advantageous tax incentives prevailing for foreign business as they queue to sell their products into Euroland. Add in the low-wage costs, zero hours flexibility then small wonder that we have signs of growth.

Part of the plan was to spread growth more broadly across the nation, away from the reliance on the South-east corner - this is not happening and there's nothing in place to make it happen. The idea that building a high-speed train line to the north as part of the solution is just fatuous. Talk of re-balancing is just that, talk, ill-conceived talk. And latterly, we are hearing Tories telling us about their intention to establish a “power house in the North”,  of devolving of powers away from Westminster and no doubt, shifting responsibility for economic decision making in the wasteland of the North.

No plan for you, only big business

The truth is that Dave does not have a plan for the economy, beyond facilitating through quantitative easing and low interest rates at the macro level and by removing health and safety protection and planning regulations at the micro level. Dave also intends to cut further and deeper into public services, given a second term of office. Some commentators are saying that Dave wants to take us back to the 1930s. I would argue that they are not looking far enough into the past. Dave plans to take us back to the 18th century, in terms of the size of the State and in terms of working conditions.

Tory austerity propaganda has done its work, expectations have been suitably lowered to accommodate the broken Britain refrain, with the citizenry and media obsessed with Mr Osborne’s cuts agenda. While quietly, behind the scenes, matters of far greater importance are about to become facts of our economic life.

Over the past year, hundreds of secret meetings have taken place between the EU Commission and US lobby representatives from multinational corporations. Under discussion is something called  the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).  It’s not really a ‘partnership’, it’s a strategy to facilitate, i.e. remove all and any hinderance to the corporations’ profit gorging activities. TTIP will arrive as a legislative package, through which host countries will be heavily penalised for impeding the gorging frenzy. The director of War on Want, John Hilary tells us that officials doing the negotiations acknowledge the truth of the following:

“The main goal of TTIP is, to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ which restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations on both sides of the Atlantic.”

Now ask yourself when you last heard any government minister mention TTIP or its Canadian sister, CETA.
Source: TTIP report, John Hilary, 2014.


So, what happened to work?

The disappearance of British manufacturing, finished off during the Thatcher interregnum, destroyed the trades union movement, along with the last remnants of working class solidarity. Coal mining, ship building, and much of steel making also all disappeared, along with thousands of small ancillary workshops and skilled craftsman. The old certainties of the work place, for instance, the 'closed shop' would not be found in the growing service sector, there, unions struggled to organise workers and workers were expected to lamely turn their hands to every expectation of their employers. Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, calls this approach to work “freedom and responsibility.” That is, meet the expectations or get lost!

Now work resembles something like it did when the 1847 Factories Act put in place the ten hour day. The only difference between now and then, the worker now can, apparently, choose to be flexible in a way that his forebears could only dream of.

Apart from flexibility, intensification has made a return to the modern workplace, everyone doing more work in the same space of time. And here we see another difference with times past, the increase in work intensity is not being policed by an overseer, it's discretionary effort, people working harder having persuaded themselves that the 'work' requires nothing less than maximum effort. In a sense the worker is continually evaluating his own performance, whether he is being watched or not, continually evaluating his performance against that of co-workers.

This evaluative process certainly negates the need for management supervision in many workplaces. The worker has fully absorbed the business psycho babble about self-realisation through work, you are what you do, therefore, the more you do the more you become - you know it makes sense. However, the compulsion to do more, combined with competition between workers avails them little in most circumstances, rather it is likely to have dire consequences. In Taiwan they are having second thoughts about overwork, there were 50 reported deaths in 2011 from over-work, mainly among men between 30 and 40 years old.

There is deep irony in the rise of the self-regulating worker, who organises his own time and pace; this almost seems socialist except that under capitalism the worker works as if being watched, out of fear. The process demonstrates that the workers can organise without managers, perhaps they may also thrive without the need to share the profits with coupon clippers (euphemistically known as share holders).


Tax Dodgers


"Only the little people pay taxes", tax evader Leona Helmsley

Finance Bill 2013: provides boost for tax dodgers

The General Anti-Abuse Rule (GAAR) forms a key part of the Finance Bill 2013. Tax avoiders need to be aware that any tax arrangements put in place prior to the legislation coming into force will go unchallenged - corporate dodgers need worry not, the new rules will not affect their tax avoidance schemes..The GAAR was dreamed up by Vince Cable, before he became a Tory fellow traveller but that doesn't matter. The idea became central to coalition thinking and they made a pledge to tackle tax avoidance but we don't want to dwell on pledges, do we.

Legislation has become more urgent with all the press coverage of tax avoidance by large companies and wealthy individuals. So, should it be three cheers for the government, for finally dealing with the tax avoiders? Sorry, there's not much to cheer about. The man who put the whole thing together was leading tax QC, Graham Aaronson, who describes his watered down handy work as "narrowly focused", and applying only to the "most egregious tax avoidance schemes". In plain English that means the convoluted arrangements involving multiple transactions that circumvent the spirit of the law – think Jimmy Carr, it doesn't mean Starbucks, Amazon, or Vodaphone, the latter will continue to pay only 5%. The Lords economic affairs committee tells us: "There is a misconception that Gaar [general anti-abuse rules] will mean the likes of Starbucks and Amazon will be slapped with massive tax bills. This is wrong, and the government need to explain that to the public."

The tax inspectors' union don't think much of GAAR either but the big four accountancy firms love it, this is what KPMG is telling its potential customers:
"For every £1m of finance income received in the UK, the finance company regime could save tax of £165,000."
And even better:

"As the new rules have been designed and enacted by the government, this should represent a low-risk tax-saving opportunity." (from a KPMG pamphlet)

Confidence: that's the trick

Out of sight, behind the scenes Boy George has been busy rewriting the tax rules, but his anti-avoidance rules will not trouble the big boys, indeed they will be encouraged by the new rules.
In the dim and distant past Nigel Lawson put laws in place to stop the tax abuses of large multinationals but these have been 'relaxed' by Osborne, i.e. relaxed into retirement.
In Davos, David Cameron said that businesses are "setting up ever more complex tax arrangements abroad to squeeze their tax bills right down ... Well, they need to wake up and smell the coffee". Given low corporate tax rates, soon to be 20% and by far the lowest among G8 countries, the PM insists they "should pay that rate of tax rather than avoid it".
Note: PricewaterhouseCoopers apart from advising Vodaphone on maximising their income in the UK is also now advising Ed Miliband's One-Nation-Labour Party on corporate tax affairs.

HMRC: not fit for purpose

When a large union like Unite tells you that it is estimated that somewhere between £25-£40 billion is lost to the tax man due to tax avoidance schemes it’s fair to conclude that no one knows how much is being lost.

Incompetent tax authorities annually inform tens of thousands of citizens that they have underpaid their taxes. Citizens on PAYE have their tax removed from their wage packets, large corporations please themselves how much tax they pay, i.e. if they don’t like the tax regime they move their tax affairs to other corners of the globe. Alternatively, the ‘big dogs’ sit down with the boss of HMRC for a cozy chat.

Large corporations are tax-dodgers, underpaying citizens are the victims of gross inefficiency, however, they will not be treated equally by the tax authorities. For the ordinary taxpayer, the penalty for filing your tax return late is an immediate £100 fine with no appeal, and a potential charge of £1,500, multi-national bosses are allowed to negotiate their taxes over a prolonged period, until they are happy with the outcome.
The inefficiency at HMRC might be partially explained by IT systems that don’t work, regulations that few comprehend, data loss, poor management, staff shortages (25,000 jobs went by the end of 2011, job losses have already seen a substantial rise of uncollected taxes, from 23% in 2006 to 40% in 2009.

Sacking tax collectors is probably one the most bizarre aspects of the current cuts agenda when you consider that the average tax inspector generates up to 30 times the cost of his/her salary. However, encouraging  tax-dodgers is a far greater cause of  inefficiency at HMRC. And several large foreign companies don't have to worry about talking to anyone, they pay their tax elsewhere.
Meet the tax-dodgers best friend, the story of David Harnett

David Hartnett was the UK’s top tax man at HMRC and he liked to be indulged by the high rollers. Hartnett liked to enjoy the best food and wine while negotiating with Goldman Sachs and Vodafone, letting them walk away with millions of pounds that should be in the tax coffers.

He accepted corporate hospitality on 107 occasions over three years. Some 27 times he dined at the tables of the ‘big four’ accounting firms, i.e. Ernst & Young, KPMG, PriceWaterhouse Coopers, and Deloitte. It’s these companies that do battle with the HMRC over the tax affairs of the big companies and corporate fat cats they represent.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism puts Hartnett at the top of corporate hospitality table. A survey of 172 senior civil servants by City University shows Hartnett to be well ahead of the field. They found that top civil servants were entertained on 3,151 separate occasions between 2007 and 2009, including trips to the tennis at Wimbledon, football matches at Chelsea and Manchester United, opera performances and fashion shows.

Calling Hartnett to account

Hartnett was quizzed over his dealing with Goldman Sachs by the Commons Public Accounts Committee and stated: ‘I do not deal with Goldman’s tax affairs.’ He then admitted intervening, which resulted in Goldman’s not paying up to £8 million in unpaid taxes. The case against Goldman’s goes back to the 1990s. And current PAC investigation is not the first that has tried to dig into the fog of Whitehall secrecy and corporate deception. Goldman’s set up a company in the British Virgin Islands. This entity, called Goldman Sachs Services Ltd, supposedly employed all of Goldman's London bankers, who were then "seconded" to work there. Quite simply this was done to disguise bonus payments and thereby avoid paying tax. The company, along with 21 investment banks and other firms, purchased blueprints for an avoidance scheme called an employee benefit trust (EBT). The bonuses were indirectly invested into elaborate share option schemes.

It took the Revenue until 2005 to demonstrate in court that these EBTs were merely illegitimate tax avoidance devices. The 21 other firms surrendered, and handed over what they owed.
Goldman Sachs refused to pay its £30.81m bill. Instead the city firm Freshfields and the tax QC David Goldberg fought tooth and nail on Goldman's behalf through the courts. By 2010, according to a public judgment, the unpaid bill with accumulated interest amounted to £40m. And while HMRC were battling in the courts to get this full amount out of Goldman’s, Hartnett did a private deal with them and waived the interest element. In doing so he contradicted his own evidence in which he claimed that "the Revenue never charged less than the tax owing".
Hartnett misled an earlier Committee by claiming that his dealings with Goldman’s couldn’t be revealed for legal reasons. This was rubbish and disclosure was in fact at his discretion. He still refuses to be upfront about his relationship with Goldman’s. This is not just rubbish from Hartnett, it's also very odd, given that when questioned about his splendid performance for Vodafone he was more than forthcoming. Vodafone owed the Exchequer £6 billion in unpaid taxes, Hartnett, after a series of private meetings, settled on a £1.25 billion payment. pointed out, the man who negotiated on behalf of Vodafone for its tax settlement – John Connors – had worked at HMRC until April 2007. When Vodafone hired him, he simply moved to the other side of the negotiating table on this matter. In fact, the Board of HMRC seems to have a number of people in charge with a foot in more than one camp - in terms of their loyalties.
Stephen Barclay, Tory MP and member of the PAC, had accused Mr Hartnett of misusing confidentiality rules to "cover up his own mistakes". We understand that two further very large deals have been done that Hartnett is keeping to himself.

The situation was a mess. HMRC is not properly accountable either to Ministers or to Parliament and there's never been a genuine attempt to assess its performance, except via the National Audit Office, indirectly and long after the event. It very much looked like confidentiality is being used as a shield to hide bad decisions and incompetence by officials and in particular by Dave Hartnett. Update: Jan, 2012, Hartnett announced his plan to resign, he went in September 2012.

Tax Dodging and Morality

Britain's rich and famous, from comedians to pop celebrities and footballers are all finding ways to avoid paying to reduce their tax liabilities. They can afford smart accountants to handle their tax affairs, good luck to them - what makes this behaviour wrong is that it's a game that only the rich man can play. The average wage earner on PAYE has no opportunity to participate in the scams of the wealthy.
A favourite tax dodge involves transferring ownership of a property to an off-shore company so that when it comes to be sold the buyer purchases the company as a whole assuming de-facto ownership of the property. Because the deal is classed as a corporate transaction as opposed to a property sale there are no stamp duty obligations involved.
This means that while a family buying a home costing £400,000 would pay £12,000 to the Government, a multi-millionaire buying a luxury pad could pay little or nothing.
The most popular spot for home registration is the Isle of Man, with 23,147 properties registered since January 1999. Every single home in Cornwall Terrace, North London, average house price £35 million, has been transferred to a company on the Isle of Man.

Apart from the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands is the place to go to avoid your tax, these islands wouldn't have a livelihood without their shadow banking activities. They are like a clearing house for a whole raft of dodgy transactions. After the press's mock outrage over comedian Jimmy Carr's tax dodging, the Jersey government (yes, they have their own government) said it was considering becoming independent from the UK. (Who do they think they are, the City of London Corporation?)

Apologists for the money grubbers say straightforwardly, well, if you had the opportunity, you'd dodge paying as much tax as possible. Implying that it's only human nature to find a loophole and exploit it. And if you say no, I wouldn't do that, you're not believed. What you can believe is that billions of pounds are lost to the nation every year. No one knows how much is being lost, if they did, it wouldn't be called tax avoidance. The loss of this money has induced an untold number of moral debates - which are all beside the point and pointless, when the answer to this problem is simple: in the USA Obama has introduced the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act which will force financial institutions outside the US to report to Washington on income and interest paid to the accounts of American clients; time for Boy George Osborne to do the same.

The multinationals who pay next to no tax

The scale of tax avoidance by high-street brand multinationals; Asda, Google, Apple, eBay, Ikea, Starbucks, Vodafone: all pay minimal tax on massive UK revenues, mostly by diverting profits earned in Britain to their parent companies, or lower tax jurisdictions via royalty and service payments or transfer pricing. Four US companies – Amazon, Facebook, Google and Starbucks – have paid just £30m tax on sales of £3.1bn over the last four years, according to a Guardian analysis. Apple is estimated to have avoided over £550m in tax on more than £2bn worth of underlying profits in Britain by channelling business through Ireland, according to a Sunday Times analysis, while Starbucks has paid no corporation tax in Britain for the last three years.
The Tory MP and tax lawyer Charlie Elphicke estimates 19 US-owned multinationals are paying an effective tax rate of 3% on British profits, instead of the standard rate of 26%. It's all entirely legal, of course.
Following the disclosure that these big names were not paying their fair share of tax, consumers decided to boycott Starbucks; the company issued a press release saying they would pay £20m in tax over two years, even if they made no profit - which was very nice of them but left the populace wondering if this was the new way of the world, where companies decided for themselves how much tax they would pay.

The Premier League of tax dodgers

Premier League clubs made more than £150m profit yet paid less than £3m in corporation tax, according to analysis of their most recent accounts. This is an effective tax rate of 2 per cent. Equally startling is that a profit of £150m made by eight clubs is all that the Premier League has to show for a turnover of about £2.2bn a year. Five clubs, including Manchester United, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur, paid no tax at all, despite a combined surplus of more than £70m. Blackpool, relegated from the Premier League last year, paid just over £100,000 on profits of £21m – a rate of 0.5 per cent. The club was able to pay minimal tax on its substantial profits because of the effects of a £6.7m loss the year before. The club also donated just over £5,000 to charities. Of the other profitable elite clubs, Arsenal had the biggest potential tax bill – £7m on group profits of £36.6m – but paid less than half a million pounds while deferring more than £6m. West Bromwich Albion topped the company tax table, paying £1.8m on £18.9m profits.

Simon Hughes, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, assessed this situation with blinding insight:
"Whatever the accounts of these clubs say, everyone knows that the Premier League is awash with money. This and many other examples that have emerged over recent months demonstrate that the Government should conduct a serious review of our corporate tax regime."

More usefully, someone from the Tax Justice Network observed:

"Football enjoys an incredibly generous tax regime. First, because the UK asks very few questions about the interest that can be offset by companies against their profits. HM Revenue & Customs has been giving massive tax subsidies to foreigners to buy UK football clubs. Second, the tax treatment of transfer fees means that tax relief is given on these when paid.”

“Since most Premier clubs pay out more than they get in transfer fees, the result is that they get up-front tax relief on payments that may not be reflected in their accounts for some time to come, meaning that many have considerable tax losses available to them not reflected in their reported financial performance, and pay little or no tax as a result. This needs review.”


At the poor end of the social spectrum, benefits are being cut and parents are queuing at the food banks to feed their children. At the other end of the spectrum, the richest 1,000 people in Britain have seen their wealth increase by £155bn since the crisis began. Anyone earning over £1m a year looked forward to a £42,000 tax cut in the spring 2013, while firms have been rewarded with a 2% cut in corporation tax to 24%. That's the real story of Mr Cameron's Britain, two nations, the haves and the have nots, the tax system favours the former over the latter.
However, Britain's economic malaise is not helped by its shambolic tax system, that allows wealthy individuals and large corporations to evade and avoid their tax liabilities. The liberal minded may dream that the money grubbers like Starbucks will be shamed by bad publicity into paying their fair share, this is unlikely, only change to the tax system that makes their tax dodging antics impossible will do. Cameron and Osborne have no plans to deal with this problem. Fundamentally, it appears as if the tax avoidance industry and the tax authorities are in bed together, it also appears as if the tax dodgers are making monkeys of the tax man, when in fact they may just be sharing the same bunch of bananas. 

The Tax Gap

It's estimated by Tax Research UK the total tax gap between what's owed and collected is £120bn a year: £25bn in legal tax avoidance, £70bn in fraudulent tax evasion and £25bn in late payments. In truth, this is all guess work, no one knows what the size of the tax gap is.


The Justice System

Many of Dave's policies are either confused by over-ambition, e.g. education or threadbare, e.g. transport, or just nuts, e.g. energy policy. However, Dave's plans for the justice system, as set out in Breaking the Cycle: Effective Punishment, Rehabilitation and Sentencing of Offenders are remarkable in their completeness and clarity. In fact, the ministerial forward to the Green Paper, Breaking the Cycle provides us, bizarrely and usefully, with a summary statement of Tory thinking on everything: "We will base our plans [for the Justice System] on the same insights that are driving reform across Government: increasing competition; decentralising control; enhancing transparency; strengthening accountability; and paying by results. We will draw on the skills of the private sector and civil society, as well as enabling public sector organisations to compete in new markets."

A cautionary tale of private sector efficiency: Lost in Translation

ALS has a contract to supply the justice system with court translators but failed miserably to meet its obligations in that regard. The thing is it didn't have enough translators to cover on a day to day basis, and many of its translators were not qualified to do court work. The upshot, court cases are being cancelled, defendants are being remanded, and the tax payer is throwing money away.
Employing ALS was supposed to save £18 million, currently it's costing thousands every week and causing a good deal of upset for defendants and their families. It's worth noting that ALS also has a contract with the NHS, and the Border Agency, both no doubt worth more millions. ALS got the court translation contract because they were the cheapest. Well, they intended to be cheapest by cutting the wage bill by 30%. Nice idea but the translators didn't find the idea that brilliant and many refused to work for ALS. How on earth the MOJ can tolerate ALS is a mystery, especially when we learn that courts are turning to Google translate so that defendants at least know what they are charged with.

What about the victims of crime?

Much of what the coalition proposes for the justice system focuses on prisons and the rehabilitation of offenders. When it comes to the victims of crime, the way they are dealt with by the police and by the adversarial court system leaves much to be desired and the attorney general, Domin
ic Grieve QC seems to think we have no need for reform here.
Grieve was responding to Sir Keir Starmer QC, who said:
"Without casting around the world for the elusive perfect criminal justice system, the taskforce will consider the extent to which it might be possible to blend the adversarial and inquisitorial systems. Perhaps judges should be given the task of questioning young and vulnerable witnesses?"

The 'taskforce' in question has been set up by Ed Miliband's party, who believe the system does need some tweaking. Grieve does not believe that you can have a "mix of the inquisitorial and adversarial system."

And anyway the coalition are already doing things:

"We are piloting pre-trial cross-examination. So for the majority of young and vulnerable victims, I hope we are soon going to move to a position where the cross-examination takes place by video link prior to the actual trial taking place."


So, Labour has a taskforce and the coalition has a pilot, excellent, now all they have to do is explain how they will encourage victims to trust the justice system.
Keir Starmer again:

"Many victims, particularly victims of personal or sexual violence, lack the confidence to come forward to report crime … and face an unacceptable ordeal in the courtroom if their case gets that far."

Why does the Justice System need reforming?

Let's be clear, Dave's plans for Justice have the "safety and security of the law-abiding citizen as a key priority for the Coalition Government." That's the citizen taken care of, what about the rest of us? It's the job of the justice system to deliver a response: punishing offenders with intelligent sentencing, protecting the public and reducing re-offending by providing effective rehabilitation. The latter being most necessary given a 50% increase in the budget for prisons and managing offenders under New Labour.  It was New Labour that piloted the first payment by results scheme at Peterborough prison. They also attempted to make community sentences more punitive and visible. They also locked more people up but they run out of prison space and had to start letting thugs out early and their record on rehabilitation was desperate.

Dave says:

1.    Prisons will become places of hard work and industry, instead of enforced idleness.
2.    There will be greater use of strenuous, unpaid work as part of a community sentence alongside tagging and curfews.
3.    When fines are a sensible sentence, we will place a greater focus on enforcement and collection.
4.    We will put a much stronger emphasis on compensation for victims of crime.

The Rehabilitation Revolution

The intended reforms include at least six new rehabilitation programmes, delivered on a payment by results basis. Providers will be paid to reduce reoffending, funded in the long run by the savings to the taxpayer that this new approach is expected to generate. How many times will a Tory tell us how the private provider will save the taxpayer money. Do they mean like G4S and Serco did with their tagging contracts, you may recall these companies had to pay back over £200 million for over-charging for their good work. Serco also had to pay back £2m for ‘mis-recording’ the number of prisoners it delivered to court. And Justice Secretary Chris Grayling noted an “audit of G4S contracts has uncovered problems” ..... “serious issues relating to invoicing, delivery and performance reporting” - is that all?
They also intend to stop sending people with mental illness and drug dependency to prison, they are hoping to pass the parcel here to the NHS, as long as public safety is not compromised. Foreign criminals, unless they have a legal right to remain here, should be deported at the end of their sentence. They are also considering immediate removal, rather than imprisonment for some foreign offenders. After all, we don't want a repeat of that nasty Mr Abu Qatada making a monkey of our Home Secretary, do we.

A note on drug use in prison

The Prison Service has no idea how much drug use there is and no incentive to stop it. The Prison Service relies heavily on mandatory drug tests (MDT), whereby a small proportion of prisoners are tested every month because it paints such a positive picture, i.e. it provides figures suggesting that only 8% of prisoners are using drugs. The Policy Exchange discovered that up to 35% of prisoners were taking drugs and 80% reported that they could obtain hard drugs if they wanted them.

MDT rates are a key target within the performance management regime. This incentivises prisons to cover up the problem rather than confront it. This is exacerbated by the worrying overuse of methadone and other opiate substitutes, which allows prisoners who are being maintained to use heroin on top, because any positive test is overturned on appeal. It also encourages the use of hard drugs like heroin and cocaine since they leave your system quicker.
In sum: Breaking The Cycle of crime means reducing crime by reducing the number of criminals, according to Dave. However, not wishing to be pedantic but being unable to resist the necessity, reducing the number of criminals may not reduce crime if the reduced number of criminals increase their productivity. Also, and perhaps more damning to Dave’s ambitions, reducing the number of mentally ill inmates will never happen since our prisons are being used as holding pens for all those that care in the community has failed.

And for our corporate friends

The Legal Aid Bill sets out Dave's plan to look after his corporate friends by making it harder, no impossible, for poor people to take on big companies, including media corporations through the courts. For instance, parents of babies brain-damaged at birth due to dodgy medication or victims of human rights abuses at the hands of Britain's security services will not be able to pursue the guilty. Dave is selling this legislation as an attack on ambulance chasing lawyers, as seen on afternoon television, as an attempt to reduce motor insurance premiums.

Currently, under the no-win, no-fee arrangement, if a poor person wins the case, the loser pays all th
e fees. Under the new system, the loser's liabilities will be limited and the average winning claimant will end up paying not just their lawyer, but also the insurance they have to take out to protect against losing. So taking on Murdoch in future could mean you lose your house in the process.
Another nail in the coffin of welfare provision, the disappearance of legal aid for a whole range of cases. For instance, citizens will struggle to get legal aid for divorce and custody battles, personal injury and some clinical negligence cases, as well as, debt, housing and benefit issues. Crucially, you will not be able get help at employment tribunals and in cases involving large corporations, e.g. a Murdoch newspaper that defames you.

The coalition’s cuts to the legal aid budget are not just unfair, they are undemocratic, denying access to the justice to a whole swathe of poor citizens. However, marginalising further those already at the margin are of no concern to the Tory mind but their actions on legal aid have made some powerful enemies. To wit, the Treasury Counsel, the Bar Council, and the Law Society have all condemned these reforms. This reaction should be expected, the system of legal aid, established in 1949, occurred very much with both sides of the legal aid equation in mind, support for the marginalised and a pay day for the elite. The news was full of people in gowns and wigs protesting over cuts to the £2bn legal aid budget of some £320m. Typically news coverage has tended to be presented as a debate about the loss of earnings to the lawyers and barristers.

We have seen the tabloid press misrepresenting the published legal aid bill for 2012/13, in an attempt to establish that the legal aid budget was being exploited by fat cat legal types. However, the official figures could not be used to support this argument for two reasons, the numbers were not just for one year, the statistics did not reveal how much spending related to work carried out across one or more years, and, there was no breakdown of how payments were shared out across the contributions of a number of professionals working on the case. The last point is the most important since the tabloids' did their best to concentrate on the people earning six figure salaries. Also, VAT is included in the figures, along with expenses that have to be paid back to the government.

Justice Minister, Shailesh Vara also focused the debate on the legal profession, saying: "We are living in difficult economic times and lawyers are not immune from the economic climate". Clearly, the Minister is not much of a philosopher, lawyers are immune to the economic climate. In the past year we have seen instances of chambers refusing complex legal aid cases. In one fraud case, 17 different chambers refused to take briefs. Those people in gowns and wigs were on strike for issues beyond their loss of earnings. More importantly, cutting the legal aid budget will hurt those denied justice or who end up with second rate advocates far more - that's the real debating point. And worryingly for Dave, it's his brother Alex who is heading up the campaign against legal aid cuts.

 Dealing with Internet 'trolls', apparently

The Defamation Bill is a tweak to existing legislation, that makes it harder for a defendant to prove his own innocence rather than the complainant having to prove the defendant’s guilt. If that last sentence appears difficult to grasp, just imagine how the peasants felt at the signing of the Magna Carta, written in Latin for the benefit of the barons.

Also, and more worryingly, this Bill will see trial by jury go out of the window and a solo judge will decide if someone's reputation has been harmed by what someone else has said about them. The excuse for this is that it will make the whole process quicker and less costly. It will also mean a loss of anonymity for trolls as Internet Service Providers are forced to reveal the identities of their nutty customers. This anonymity should be seen as equivalent to parliamentary privilege but the ISPs are not shouting about it because this legal tweak means that if they comply by supplying information about users they don't get caught up in a libel case. The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA), are also happy with this new legislation  because it means they don't have to do anything, i.e. like moderating their users.

However, there's a fine line between being nasty and introducing some light into the dark corners of the private lives of the great and the good. The removal the jury and anonymity smacks of big brother deciding what is acceptable commentary in public life.

No answer to Twitter Trolls

However, events, at the end of July 2013, relating to Twitter's lack of effective moderation has led to calls for the company to start taking its responsibilities seriously. Twitter trolls attacked feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez after she successfully campaigned to have author Jane Austen depicted on the new £10 note. Everyone who went to Caroline's defence was also rudely and violently abused by the trolls.

Following complaints across the media, Twitter managed to use an Avatar in the shape of Del Harvey to answer for the company's poor record in dealing with personal threats to users. The reporting procedure that Twitter urrently employs is ineffective. And given the anonymous nature of tweeting, the problem will not be dealt with unless everyone is required to register with some proof of identity.

Special Courts

The Special Immigration Appeals Commission, is a very special court, a court like no other in the land (although the Family Court comes close). What makes this Appeals Commission special is the fact that the facts do not get interrogated the way they do in other courts. The accursed and his defense lawyers do not know what the facts are, the prosecution does not have to divulge anything it knows and no one knows what the judge knows. In the Appeals Commission, politicians and the 'spooks' who inform them, decide what the judge knows.

Not a few legal professionals have walked away from the business of the Commission, finding it too distasteful. One QC, Dinah Rose, described the process as like "being asked to shoot blindly at a concealed target".
Enter the Justice and Security Green Paper designed to introduce that system of trial on a need to know basis to any case that the State finds embarrassing or might find embarrassing. Update: March 2013, the Justice and Security Bill was passed by 71 votes.

The argument for this Kafkaesque approach to justice is a familiar one. Openness in certain circumstances may be against the national interest, or not in the public interest. After all, it doesn't do the public any good to know that British spooks have had a hand in torture, it might upset them.

Our current 'openness' is more upsetting for our chums across the pond, specifically, the CIA have said that if we persist with our outmoded fair and liberal legal system they will stop sharing so-called 'intelligence' with us.
The Cabinet Office, which handled the consultation process, have entered the spirit of things by withholding details of some of those who gave evidence. Ken Clarke was charged with blustering through this radical change to the British legal system but they say his heart was not in it.

Clarke is arguing that we need 'secret courts' because without the secrecy we end up paying out massive compensation claims to people who have implicated the security services in ‘extraordinary rendition’, which the establishment is still in denial about. However, the evidence against MI5 and MI6 and ex-government ministers is growing.
Closed Material Procedures (CMP)
CMPs were introduced by New Labour to restrict the need to know in the following circumstances: national security cases, deportations, T-Pim (restrictions on movement) cases, Employment Tribunals, and Parole Board challenges. In some recent high profile cases the government has been able to invoke CMPs and chosen to pay out millions to protect its collusion in misdeeds. The new Bill allowed then justice man, Ken Clarke, to decide that a case requires secret hearings, end of debate. Clarke told the press, following a fair bit of concern from the Primrose Hill Marxist collective, that it should not be politicians who decided that a case would be heard in secret but the judges, he was being disingenuous. Critics of Clarke's Bill argued that changes to the law should be to improve and strengthen our legal system, not destroy it. Don’t these people know we are at war?

Third Sector Involvement

The National Offender Management Service (NOMs) is an executive branch of the Ministry of Justice and combines the Probation Service and HM Prison Service. The part played by charities and voluntary organisations in offender management services is not significant, beyond government rhetoric, the bulk of probation work is going to big corporations, who sub-contract out the work to third sector agents.
They do not always get on though, the governor of three prisons in South Yorkshire ordered all probation staff (March 2012) off the premises after discovering that the local probation trust had formed an alliance with the private security company, G4S, to take over the running of his jails. The bust up arose because of, then justice secretary, Ken Clarke's drive to privatise up to nine more prisons. The governor objected to the probation trust giving the edge to G4S against public sector bidders, HM Prison Service, who was bidding for the 15-year contracts to run all the jails in partnership with Mitie Group, an outsourcing and energy services company. Why did the probation trust side with G4S, because they would be partners going forward, not sub-contractors. However, the government has plans to disappear probation trusts.

Be in no doubt prison privatisation is big business. Serco, owners of Premier Custodial Group has contracts valued at £5-6bn over the next 20 years, these include, beyond building and running prisons, five immigration facilities, police custody suites, probation services, mental health services, customs and excise and tribunals. It looks like the probation service in South Yorkshire has lost the missionary zeal that established help for offenders in the late 19th century. To survive today in the public sector you either become market facing or you take yourself off to the JobCentre.

Probation services were provided by 25 Probation Trusts across England and Wales. All received funding from NOMS to which they were accountable for their performance and delivery.

Well, Mr Grayling abolished the Trusts in May 2014, all part of what he calls a new National Probation Service. We think that means a privately run, payments by results probation service. We don’t know what happens to accountability etc., when they start going private. Actually, we do know, accountability happens when these companies get caught out with its hand in the public purse.

What is happening in the  privatisation in the prison/offender services arena is setting the pattern for the provision of all social policy. Large corporations, e.g. G4S, Sodexo, and Serco, subcontract to charities and voluntary groups; direct funding and the role of local authorities are being air brushed out of the picture.

In the latest round of bidding for probation services, October 2014, Sodexo and Interserve have been contracted to run half of the probation services, for up to 70% of low level offenders.  G4S and Serco did not appear in the latest round of bidding, something to do with their over-charging for tagging?  Companies now bidding for contracts are being referred to as Community Rehabilitation Companies or CRCs, i.e. Grayling’s replacement for the Trusts. Both the Public Accounts Committee and Napo, the probation staff union, have condemned the lack of real competition among bidders and raised safety concerns. The failures of the private sector in relation to asylum accommodation, the Work Programme, tagging, and court translation are all being ignored by Grayling. He seems to believe that ‘facilities management’ companies, with expertise in food supplies, will do a better job of offender rehabilitation than the Probation Trusts. And a minor detail, these ‘poison pill’ contracts, once allocated, will not be cheaply undone by future governments.


Probation service in chaos as privatisation goes ahead, Philip Hadley, Oct. 2014
Repeat offender: why outsourcing probation is a risky mistake, NEF blog, July 2014

Grayling forces through probation sell-off despite safety fears, Ian Dunt,, Oct 2014

Justice for sale – the privatisation of offender management services, TUC report based on research by NEF, 2014

Private Prisons

There are currently 133 prisons in England and Wales. The management of 14 of these are contracted to private sector partners and the rest are run by the public sector through Her Majesty's Prison Service. It was Ken Clarke, under Thatcher, who opened the first private prison in 1992, New Labour during their regime went for the idea big time.

However, the big question is, will private prisons better enable the justice system achieve its goals relating to making everything more efficient and effective; cracking down on drugs, improving the work and education regime within prisons, improving relation between staff and prisoners. The short answer is that some private prisons have proved innovative and successful while others have been criticised for their high staff turnover, tendency to cut corners and weaknesses in security.

The National Audit Office has pointed out that corner cutting like employing inexperienced (i.e. cheap) staff does not lend itself to a safe environment for vulnerable staff and inmates, in a world where the habitual criminal is king. Also, the ratio of prison staff to prisoners is usually lower in private prisons.


Prison Education

Half of all prisoners have literacy skills at or below those expected of an 11-year-old. Britain's prisons are home to an itinerant population of 86,000, these people are constantly churned between different establishments within the system. 72 charities across 118 prisons are involved in education, a 2005 report suggested that the government should devolve their responsibility for prison education to charities or should involve them more formally in the process. (House of Commons Education and Skills Committee, 2005)

Prisoners who do not take part in education or training are three times more likely to be re-convicted than those who do. Three times more likely, should we read this as evidence that points to the importance of education in cutting recidivism. No, because first you will have to find a causal link between education and not reoffending, it just might be pure chance.

Individual Learning Plans

Prison education has always been about basic skills but basic skills do not enhance peoples' employability. Employers have been conditioned to expect not very much from a 16 year old but when someone in the thirties turns up, they expect a trifle more. However, before Dave invented cunning, some bright spark came up with the idea of the 'The Individual Learning Plan'. The idea being, that following an assessment of the individual's needs, an educational plan would be drawn up that would travel wherever the inmate travelled. Unfortunately, the inmates records didn't always travel as well as the inmate. For every headlining Bachelor of Philosophy success story, you can find 10,000 forgotten souls, who didn't even manage to complete Level 1 Basic Skills.

The whole process of prison education is haphazard, hit and miss, inconsistent and vague in purpose and outcomes, and does Dave have a plan to improve this mess, no, what he has is a set of clearly defined good intentions but not the means to bring about real change: in terms of rehabilitating criminals and reducing reoffending.

In sum: Dave's plans for Justice have your safety and security as a key priority, the plans have all been written down but there's a big question mark over the increasing role of private money grubbers in the prison system and the uncertain position of the third sector partners due to lack of support and funding. Improvements to prison education is central to the success of the project but the omens here are not good. Also, providing meaningful work within the prison system has not proved easy in the past and given the present market conditions there are no reasons to be optimistic.
We can be certain, however, that the great and good will be kept safe thanks to Ken Clarke's legacy of secret courts - there will be no redress in this new system for the poor.

The Forward March of the Privatisation Project

In September 2012, Mr Cameron reshuffled his Cabinet, old duffer Ken Clarke was replaced by Chris Grayling as Justice Secretary. When the Coalition was formed, Grayling was given the job of Minister of State for Employment and spent two years working for Iain Duncan Smith's honing his craft. Now he's the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary and is forging ahead with the Tory project to privatise the whole justice system.

"We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right" (Clause 39 Magna Carta, 1215). Tell that to the Tory party.
The MoJ stated (May 2013) that it had no plans for the "wholesale" privatisation of Her Majesty's Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS). What they meant to say was, what's left of it. Grayling has every intention of outsourcing as much of the justice system as he can get away with, before anyone notices that the rights set out in the Magna Carta have all gone.

The plan going forward is to outsource the courts and buildings to the lowest bidder and to sell services to litigants, over and above their fees, turning court users into customers and thereby making the sale of court services an investment opportunity. For instance, wealthy litigants could obtain preferential treatment, like deciding to have their case heard when they want it. Perhaps, as the judiciary become part of the corporate landscape explicitly, complete with G4S logos, rich people will be able to choose the judge they prefer or the perhaps the location and time they prefer for their hearing.

Thus far the private sector has been allowed to turn a profit from security, prisons, probation, transport and interpretation services, child-abuse investigations and rape recovery suites. They now being allowed to take over the courts as well.

And don't waste your time looking for any mention of the wholesale privatisation of the justice system in the Conservative manifesto 2010, cunningly, the whole project comes under the rubric of Value For Money. In fact , all you will find is the following: "We will raise public sector productivity by increasing diversity of provision, extending payment by results and giving more power to consumers."
Grayling's Pipe Dream: prisoner resettlement (July 2013) Chris Grayling announced plans for 70 'resettlement prisons' that hold offenders close to home before their release. All very interesting but Mr Grayling does not have 70 extra prisons available, he has 130 prisons, all currently very much overcrowded. His apparent intention is to designate parts of existing prisons for the resettlement of soon to be released inmates. This will mean moving prisoners close to release on a massive scale. Perhaps he intends to install a new IT system to manage the chaos resulting from his plans to move the majority of inmates serving longer sentences to a resettlement prison at least three months before the end of their time in custody.

His plans include prisoners serving 12 months or under to spend their time in a resettlement prison and receive a "tailored package of supervision and support" on their release. He has not said what this tailored package will mean for the 30% of prisoners who leave prison homeless. Will support begin by supplying somewhere to live for these people. Who we wonder will be supplying the package of support.

Well, we do not have to wonder for long, it will be the same incompetent outfits running the Work Programme. In effect, Grayling plans to privatise his new scheme, using a payment-by-results model, knowing full well that it will be impossible to evaluate the results. For instance, at what point following release will it be decided that support has been effective and money changes hands; will it be six months, a year or longer without any re-offending. Clearly, only the biggest players in the market will be able to take the strain of not receiving any income for their services.

Mr Grayling said: "Rehabilitation in the community must begin behind the prison walls and follow offenders out through the gates if we are to stand a chance of freeing them from a life of crime."

Trials of the scheme will begin in the North west in the autumn with full roll-out across England and Wales by autumn 2014. Grayling can have as many trials as he likes, the project is doomed.

Rehabilitation but no books (2014)

Dave is scratching his head in wonderment over what Chris Grayling, Justice Minister, is up to with his new initiative to improve offender behaviour. The scheme entitled 'Incentive and Earned Privilege' is straightforwardly a scheme designed to encourage offenders to conform to earn higher wages and gain privileges like television and books.

The books in question may be purchased from the prison shop. Now, in order to make the 'Incentive and Earned Privilege' scheme work you need to control the supply of books. So, an essential part of the scheme is Grayling's ban on prisoners receiving books from outside.

Now, this may mitigate against the notion of rehabilitation since offenders were being asked to trade off gratification now, i.e. some smokes or a bar of chocolate, for some intellectual improvement further down the road. Also, the scheme makes the assumption that offenders will behave themselves for a small increase in wages. Clearly, Grayling does not understand the concept of opportunity cost. Offenders spend most of their days locked up, denying them access to books like Fifty Shades of Grey, provided from outside, is a trifle inhumane and is unlikely to improve behaviour.

Just the facts

England’s 124 prisons are holding 86,000 souls, that population has doubled in the last twenty years. England locks up far more people than any other comparable European country.  Over half of all prisons are overcrowded although prison minister Jeremy Wright tells us “we have enough space within our prisons to accommodate all offenders”. Yes, minister, and there’s enough space on the Isle of Wight to accommodate half the world’s population, as long as no one wants to sit down. Staff shortages are major problem, both in terms of maintaining control, the health of staff and even pretending to run a rehabilitation programme. The ratio of prison officers to prisoners in 2000 was 1:2.9, by the end of September 2013 this had increased to 4.8 prisoners for each prison officer.

Staff shortages are compounded by the mental health of many inmates, 90% of whom are said to have some type of mental ailment; which is made worse in turn by the free availability of drugs of all descriptions. Rehabilitation is not working, 49% of all those leaving prison reoffend within one year.

You may recall that Dave told us: “Prisons will become places of hard work and industry, instead of enforced idleness.” Well, enforced idleness is the norm, fewer than 10,000 inmates are gainfully employed within the prison estate.

The Tory solution to this malaise is to parcel out as much of the justice system to the private sector as it can. We are told that the private sector offers better value for money, it does not, it’s just cheaper. And cheaper is all this government cares about.

According to HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, both “the quantity and quality of purposeful activity in which prisoners are engaged [has] plummeted” in 2012-13, reporting the worst outcomes in six years. In over half of prisons results were judged to be not sufficiently good or poor. He also warned in 2012 “Resources are now stretched very thinly [...] there is a pretty clear choice for politicians and policy makers - reduce prison populations or increase prison budgets.” (Prison Reform Trust website) This government intends to keep  cutting budgets.



The Vanishing Blue Line


In the 1840s the ideal Metropolitan Policeman was described:

‘Perfect command of temper is indispensable.’ Police training should transform a ‘wild young fellow’ into ‘a machine, moving, thinking and speaking only as his instruction book directs… Stiff, calm and inexorable, an institution rather than a man’ (see Policing Victorian London, by Phillip Thurmond Smith).

Surrey Police Force is one of the only two in the country that employs more civilian staff than police officers, otherwise known as policing on the cheap. Police figures reveal that Surrey has fewer police officers than support staff, 1,785 to 1,938. The trend across the nation appears to be heading towards a 50:50 split.

The situation in Surrey presents a new model whereby a professional policeman has a team 'purpose built' to support his crime busting activities. The latter appears to be central to the core business of the Surrey Force. According to the recently published three year development plan for the County Force, "catching criminals is central to the forces purpose" - takes your breath away.

Quite how you catch more villains with less policeman remains a mystery that only Chief Constable Mark Rowley understands. Strange man Rowley, he says that the work of Surrey Police is not 'target driven'. The mystery deepens, how does a plan that has no targets achieve its aims, sorry, apart from catching criminals?

The Private Policeman

Chief Constable Rowley moved on to Scotland Yard and we can now answer the question at the end of the last paragraph. New Chief Constable, Lynne Owens, is intending to outsource frontline police functions to private contractors. In March (2011), the West Midlands and Surrey forces invited bids for £1.5bn worth of services from private firms. Companies attending a bidders' conference in London were told work that could be contracted out included guarding crime scenes, patrolling neighbourhoods and collecting CCTV footage.

Interesting to note that Lynne Owens and other chief officers around the country are being pestered daily by ex-colleagues, now working for private security companies, touting for business. (reported in the Independent, August 2014)

G4S has signed a deal, thought to be the first of its kind, with Lincolnshire Police Authority in a move which could save the force £28 million. The firm has signed a contract to build, design and help run a police station.

From April 1, 2012, and for at least the next 10 years, G4S Policing Support Services will also provide Lincolnshire Police with administrative and operational services including human resources, IT, fleet management, custody services and firearms licensing.

All very interesting but the private sector have often made big promises about what it will save the tax payer but the supposed saving rarely materialise without the service declining substantially.

G4S have also been supporting investigations on Operation Yewtree, the Jimmy Savile investigation. And advertisements placed in the Sunday Times (April 2013) by the company show that they have been chosen to hire investigators to assist with murder and serious crime, leading a team of officers conducting interviews, door-to-door inquiries and tests.
It appears that the police have a manpower problem but there's a big question mark over G4S's ability to supply people with the right qualities. The status of these individuals is also a subject of debate, currently they do have to answer to the IPPC - mind you, the police are not renowned for assisting the IPPC - e.g  the Duggan shooting.

In 2010 there were 144,353 police officers in England and Wales, 28,000 could disappear over the next few years. In response to the cuts the force is seeking improved efficiencies, mainly through greater cooperation between police forces and the involvement of the private sector.

Charging Powers

The Labour government removed charging powers from the police in 2003. Home Secretary, Theresa May, told the Police Federation's annual conference (2011) that she will take away the right of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to decide on whether to proceed in every criminal case. The CPS will retain rights over charging on more serious offences which are automatically heard in the crown court. In 2012, Ms May told the Police Federation's annual conference she knew they would be with her over public spending cuts - they laughed.
An FBI type agency to be set up

The government has set up an FBI type agency? They argue that the 43 regional forces have no answer to serious organised crime. The new National Crime Agency has replaced the Serious Organised Crime Agency and incorporated the National Policing Improvement Agency and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

Crime Commissioners

They also decided to replace "invisible" police authorities with directly elected police and crime commissioners". The idea is to make the police service more accountable to local people by replacing police authorities with directly elected police and crime commissioners, introduced from May 2012. However, at the rate the police are disappearing from local communities, the idea of greater local accountability may mean that the new commissioners are underemployed. Having not much to do is a bit of a joke, when you consider – these posts have a salary of between £65,000 and £100,000 – at a time when the police service faces cuts to staffing because of the Government's austerity drive. The major problem with the election of commissioners is that the hoped for well-known non-political figures did not materialise and the elections were fought out between unremarkable party stalwarts, including former ministers and MPs. This meant that party finances were put behind these political candidates, making it difficult for independents to compete.

Moral order of the crown and the state

So a policeman is supposed to be more institution than man. Where do PCSOs fit into this framework? They are not policeman, so they can’t be an institution; they have uniforms and any authority resides in the uniform – designed to mask their lack of power.

PCSOs are nearly-police and now we have 16,000 wandering the town centres of the nation, in their hi-viz masks. Their training is basic, their aptitude questionable – watching a small boy drown because they hadn’t received training for such an emergency. Their integrity is also questionable, responsible for half of all cases of gross misconduct across the police workforce.

Beyond nearly-police to not police at all

Beyond PCSOs there are between 8000 and 9000 Street Wardens issuing on-the-spot fines for anti-social behaviour offences. In addition, a 2009 audit found that there are 1,667 ‘accredited individuals’, including private security guards, railway employees and park rangers. Chief constables do the ‘accrediting’, and now it’s common to see private security firms ‘policing’ shopping malls. These private police are not under the control of the police but rather their bosses, the owners of shopping malls or the council.

There are an estimated 150,000 private security guards in the UK, some security companies are patrolling neighbourhoods for as little as 39p a day. The latest nutty scheme from the ConDem government is to beef up its crime fighting efforts by encouraging ‘community crime fighters’, who will go on patrol with the police. And even nuttier, a primary school swore in pupils as their own ‘Junior Police Community Support Officers’, to deal with the issue of ‘irresponsible parking’ around the school.

The demise of the Special

Special Constables, the volunteer reserve force has fallen from 67,000 in the 1950s, to 60,000 in the 1960s to some 15,000 today. The key word here is ‘volunteer’, people who give of their time freely; it seems there’s a decline in citizens’ willingness to work for nothing. The ConDem government are set to reverse this decline and have big plans to encourage a citizens’ police force. These plans are set out in their consultation document, Policing in the 21st Century. At least they've got the right century. Policing minister Nick Herbert said the government aimed to see levels of volunteers return to those of the 1950s and 1960s. "We want to see the police family extended," he explained.

New forms of social control

And Thus Spake Brown...

When Gordon Brown was Prime Minister he said: "Every community now has a visible, contactable, and accountable policing team, working with local people to keep their neighbourhood safe. "I'm determined that every person has access to the same level of support and service when it comes to policing." Mr Brown was clearly an ambitious man but his determination on this issue amounted to not a lot.

The PCSOs and their assorted patrollers set up by New Labour represented a shift of the police into a new role: a shift from traditional policing (protection of property, person, and public order), to behaviour policing (those violations of public order that include dropped chewing gum, drinking in the park, dogs without collars etc, etc.)

PCSOs are not police but behaviour police. They cannot arrest somebody or investigate a crime: they wander around telling people off for doing whatever it is they are doing, and deliver state-issued tellings off in the form of on the spot fines.

The police have become embarrassingly inept at dealing with public order situations – witness impotent officers standing by while a handful of students took their time to smash Millbank Tower. They have also apparently lost the ability to perform armed sieges, either shooting the gunman outright (Mark Saunders) or sitting by and letting him get on with it (the Hackney siege, which was resolved after the gunman set fire to himself and the hostage escaped).

Yet officers become surprisingly agitated when they encounter situations such as one 10-year-old child calling another child ‘paki’ in the playground, a man clipping his neighbour’s honeysuckle, a Christian handing out leaflets criticising homosexuality, a drunk student asking an officer if his horse was gay… or any other of the myriad trivial everyday incidents that have been sternly brought to justice by our boys in blue.

New ways of thinking about and dealing with crime

Bright yellow police signs appealing for witnesses to serious offences are no longer such a feature of grim city streets - in London at least. In an attempt to reduce 'fear of crime', the Metropolitan Police has effectively banned the use of the distinctive signs in all but exceptional circumstances. So London police have given up on fighting crime, preferring instead to combat the fear of crime. We feel safer already. Except that the 2013 ONS Crime Survey tells us that the capital is the most dangerous place to live in the country. Norman Baker, crime prevention minister, tells us, it's all the fault of television crime series, making everyone think that crime is rampant. Across the nation crime is down significantly but this is largely due to advances in technology, not policing, the average PC makes a significant arrest once every seven years (another ONS statistic).

Three significant moments during 2011

Britain appears to be on a stealth-like creep towards a police state, under the guise of safeguarding law and order, and the fight against terrorism. Students and others protesting in London were subject to what can only be described as a moving corral. Four thousand police offices were deployed to encircle the 5000 protesters. Letters were sent out to activists arrested on previous marches, warning of the consequences of attending. Leaflets were issued telling marchers how they were expected to behave. And crucially, prior to the march, protesters were informed that police would use plastic bullets if necessary. Plain clothes officers were grabbing protestors, using a section 60 order empowering officers to force the removal of masks (on pain of arrest).

Protesters were also informed, via Twitter and megaphone, after the march started that the gathering at London Wall, the end of the march, would be limited to two hours. Anyone over staying would fall foul of the Public Order Act. In the event, a breakaway group, attempting to set up tents in Trafalgar Square were arrested under that Act. All of this represents Met Chief Hogan-Howe's idea of 'total policing'. Except that currently it's a bit less than total. However, Theresa May will soon re-introduce powers under the Riot Act to police, at Superintendent level, in order to remove the public from a specific location.

Moment two....

Home Secretary, Theresa May outlawed Muslims Against Crusades (MAC) for the 'glorification of terrorism', under the 2000 Terrorism Act. MAC were set to disrupt the Armistice Day ceremonies, with a lot of shouting and burning of poppies. The MAC is the fifth incarnation of Anjem Choudary's sharia fantasy, the others are Al Ghurabaa, The Saved Sect, Al-Muhajiroun and Islam4UK.

Choudary told the media, "I think it is an abject failure of democracy and it is a victory for sharia Muslims. The truth is something the government would rather silence." Here, Choudary seems to misunderstand his own creed, sharia and democracy are mutually exclusive.

Moment three....

So thanks to May's ban on Muslims Against Crusades, Hogan-Howe was left free to devote all his attention to the English Defence League.
For reasons best known to the EDL they were in the vicinity of the Armistice Day ceremonies. Perhaps, the EDL thought that Muslims Against Crusades might turn up for some fisticuffs, despite their ban. In the event the police turned up and arrested them all. For effect, let's repeat that, every EDL follower was corralled, processed and arrested. What were these EDL members doing that inspired the thin blue line to swing into action? Nothing! Apparently, they were arrested by virtue of the fact that they were there. The police, we are being told, were responding to an "imminent" breach of the peace. Apparently, the EDL was set to launch an attack on the St Paul's Occupy LSX Camp. Oddly, the EDL had decided that St Paul's was 'their' church and they would not tolerate a bunch of hippies making it look untidy.

In the foregoing instances the forces of law and order have not introduced much, if anything, that's new. What is new is the use of existing tactics and powers that in the past it was not deemed necessary to employ.

The strident pronouncements of politicians and police have set the tone for future developments. Extreme views, no matter what the source, will not be tolerated. Protest will be conducted according to rules stipulated by Hogan-Howe.

Three cheers for democracy

Many, who think of themselves as democrats and liberals, may well have applauded State actions. Is there really that much to cheer. In 2010, the student demo in London had a turn out of some 50,000. Has the rage over the loss of ESA and the staggering increases in student fees evaporated so soon. Or could it be that many decent kids were frightened away by Hogan-Howe's boys with their plastic bullets.

Theresa May's populist ban on Muslims Against Crusades was an exercise in futility. We need to hear the voices of people like Anjem Choudary. Choudary's is the voice of Islam as a political ideology. So-called moderate muslims may not buy into it but can they pick and choose which bits they want to subscribe to, it's not a Sky TV package; are they not automatically signed up to the Large package. Moderate British politicians and citizens who want to silence Choudary are no less in denial: if you genuinely want democracy, then you take the whole package.
The arrest of the 170 members of the EDL, who decided to have a few beers at the Red Lion, before moving on to St. Paul's is really a lesson in tactical error. However, the EDL also has a voice that needs to be heard because they believe that they represent a common sense, working class, right-minded, flag of St. George approach to things. The EDL have not been banned yet but arresting them for turning up is a bit rich. Are we likely to see this idea of "imminent" breach of the peace being applied generally. Today the EDL, tomorrow, the arrest of the radical wing of the Save Our Public Toilets Campaign, as they exit Green Park tube station, heading for their advertised 'let's piss in the park' gathering.

The August Riots 2011

Call Me Dave had to return from his holiday early as London smouldered and he was in no mood to start "hugging a hoodie". Dave did not want to end his holiday early, he was sunning himself with Baron Luca Sanjust among the vines of Chianti. The people under the stairs at No. 10 phoned him several times, pointing out that he was heading for a Hurricane Katrina Moment, i.e., like silly George Bush who failed to visit New Orleans in the aftermath of the flooding.

Back in No. 10, he rolled up his sleeves, ready for action. He spoke like a biblical prophet about a plague of sick rodents infesting the land, he presaged the great revenge of the law, followed by a period of understanding.

Following the shooting by police of innocent family man Mark Duggan (and all round nice gangsta), a group started protesting about the lack of information surrounding the death outside Tottenham police station. A teenage girl decided the proceedings were a trifle dull and started throwing stones at the police lines. For some unaccountable reason the police found this behaviour unacceptable and they piled in. Unbelievably, members of the crowd took exception to the police behaviour... the rest is tabloid fish paper; arson, looting, and violence - otherwise known as a riot. Although the authorities were careful not to utter the word riot, preferring instead to refer to unrest and disturbances - riots mean culpability and compensation.

The rioting spread across London on subsequent nights and as far north as Manchester over four nights. Commentators believe that these subsequent events were unconnected to the Mark Duggan affair (oh, really?) - who we learnt never fired his gun at police, in fact, he was no where near a gun when he was shot.

The police stood by and watched as the looters and arsonists went about their business, they stood by and watched as Tottenham High Street was destroyed. Dave was not happy with the police, he decided to hire an American super cop to advise him - having already decided the criminality was all down to gangs.

In the aftermath of the riots the police were not  idle, some three thousands suspects were arrested, many received stiff sentences from the courts. There's now much talk of arming the police with rubber bullets and water cannons and - STOP PRESS - shooting rioters with real bullets next time. Excuse us, the next time? Can you just imagine all those chief police officers' seminars going on around shiny tables, next time there's civil unrest, whatever the source, aggrieved relatives, striking public sector workers, students, pensioners - the forces of law and order will be ready - they wont be made to look stupid again. Talking of stupid, Bonkers Boris, Mayor of London, bought three second-hand water cannon in May 2014 from Germany to support the fight against protesting insurgents


By the 1820s it became clear that the locally maintained system of volunteer constables and "watchmen" was ineffective, both in detecting and preventing crime. Hence, the introduction of the Peelers and the beginnings of a modern police force for London.

And yet here we are, in the 21st century, going back to a reliance on volunteers and private security watchman. What next, Bow Street Runners and thief takers? Meanwhile, senior officers welcomed the latest roll-out of tasers and called for them to be available to ALL frontline officers. By the end of 2012, all police cars had a taser on board. In October 2012, the taser was used to good effect..... Colin Farmer, 61, a blind stroke victim, out for a stroll was tasered by police, who mistook his white stick for a Samurai sword. Once on the ground, Mr Farmer was pounced on and handcuffed. This incident calls into question the state of the police officer's eyesight, the officer must have been short sighted, given that the range of the X25 taser is a mere 21 yards.

One thing seems clear, when the police are found wanting you can expect over-reaction as the response next time; or else someone will need to explain what the point of all that Common Purpose earthquake training was?

Common Purpose

In criminal law, the doctrine of common purpose or joint enterprise refers to the situation where two or more people embark on a project that results in the commission of a crime. And judging by some of the prosecutions brought using this law, defendants  do not even have to know they are taking part in a joint enterprise to be convicted. In what follows the jury is still out as to whether a crime has been committed.

From odd to suspicious to conspiracy theory

Introduction: September 2010, police officers from four forces took part in earthquake training. This training cost £1 million. The last major earthquake in Britain took place in the 10th Century, 11 people died. In recent times, a sizeable quake occurred in 1931, a women died of heart attack. There is no evidence that a major earthquake is imminent.

Such behaviour, leaving the cost to one side, does appear a trifle odd. This has led some people to question its real purpose. The suggestion is that it's a part of some kind of contingency planning to deal with civil unrest. After all, training to deal with large scale rioting is hardly likely to be billed as such.

Add in some curious information relating to the Ministry of Defence buying up large quantities of tear gas, riot shields and other riot equipment. Factor in other rumours that army personnel transfers to home regiments are being selected on the basis of a willingness to open fire on UK citizens. Now, to a fertile mind, all of this isn't just fishy, its right-wing sinister.

Could it be, at a time of impending disaster, i.e. the massive proposed cuts in public services for 2010 and beyond, that the common purpose is to add the final preparations for dealing with civil unrest. Be in no doubt the laws for dealing with unrest are already in place, in the shape of the Civil Contingencies Act, a set of laws to allow the State to do whatever it likes without a court of appeal. The earthquake training and a whole series of other 'training' has taken place over the past few years. The conspiracy theorists believe that central to this contingency planning is a training organisation called Common Purpose.

What is Common Purpose?

Common Purpose is a registered charity and limited company, whose purpose is to deliver/provide leadership training courses. Key customers of Common Purpose are government departments and local authorities. The Common Purpose website says it was set up in 1989, the conspiracy theorists say it was initiated by Ted Heath in 1970.

Now, the interesting thing about Common Purpose is that it just appeared, fully formed and ready to deliver expensive training courses. And even more intriguing, Common Purpose has received a fair degree of special treatment, like rent free office space at the Department for Children, Schools and Families in Sheffield, and has enjoyed its use since 1997. New Labour's David Blunkett took over as Education Secretary in 1997 and claims not to know who sanctioned rent free office space for Common Purpose.

The Department for Work and Pensions spent £238,000 between 2002/03 and 2006/07 on leadership courses run by Common Purpose. A string of local authorities have also used the organisation at the rate payers' expense. They have also run courses at No. 10 and for some of the nation's largest PLCs. Common Purpose has a very privileged position in the world of training.

One thing is clear, Common Purpose do not like people asking questions. The organisation compiled a list of names of 90 people who applied for information on the organisations activities under the Freedom of Information Act. They then sent this list to local authorities by way of a warning not to supply these individuals with information. This was of course a breach of data protection rules but the Commissioner just ticked off Common Purpose and they said they wouldn't do it again. The jury may still be out as far as Common Purpose is concerned but when it comes to trust in the police, the jury’s packed up and gone home.

The Plebgate thing

Gosh, egads, Dave is talking to the Downing Street cat again, as he does when the black clouds of silliness cast a gloomy shadow over his Poundland of Opportunity.

How did it come to this Mr Cat, we have spent £230,000 investigating this Plebgate incident. The whole charade has taken over two years and thirty of Hogan-Howe's finest, toiling night and day, to uncover the truth of a 45 second incident. Dave reflects on the sloth of his Total Policeman, Hogan-Howe is not good at old fashioned police work - he may have to go. Theresa May is wondering why the Total Policeman will not be arresting the guilty 'stitch-up' boys.
Dave's brow is now beaded with uncharacteristic sweat, he's having an ash and sackcloth moment. Dave knows how easily he let Mitchell go, why didn't he stand by his man - that, he tells Mr Cat, is what the biographers will want to know. Bad advice again, he reflects... Yes, that's it, didn't he ask his Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood to sort things out and didn't he make a mess of things? Come on, Sir Jeremy told the Public Administration Committee that he was suspicious about the circumstances of the incident but decided not to act. I mean, let's remind ourselves what he told those MPs on the Committee:

"We accepted there were unanswered questions including the possibility of a gigantic conspiracy, or a small conspiracy, but we decided on balance to leave things as they were."
Now, you tell me, why didn't any of those MPs ask him who the 'we' were. Why don't these people pay attention? And why didn't anyone notice that he was reading from the same script as that clueless twerp George Entwistle, the disappeared past Director General of the BBC.

And now it's come to this, the protection officers at the gate colluded, the Police Federation colluded, three separate police forces colluded, Hogan-Howe and Boris Johnson watched like rabbits caught in the headlights, the Cabinet Office made a mess of things - can it get any worse. Well, yes, the IPCC had an attack of honesty. Keith Vaz was taking a hand - could this be the beginning of the long goodnight for Dave? Would Dave be doing something to address public concern over police behaviour?

Dave addressed a Police Federation gathering thus:

"Britain has the bravest and best force anywhere in the world."

Would that be the same police force that some quarters are telling us we need a Royal Commission to investigate. Investigate things like "the fabrication and destruction of evidence, deaths in police custody, framing of suspects, abuse of databases for personal reasons, punitive attitudes to innocent members of the public, abuse of the Taser stun gun, contempt for legitimate protest, examples of racism and use of excessive force and restraint ..." (Henry Porter, The Observer, Sunday 20 October 2013) And for Dave's information, we do not have a 'police force', we have a 'police service'. That is, the police are servants of the court, nothing more than warranted bailiffs.

And the saga ticked on... the Former Chief Whip was facing  a large bill for a libel action, April 2014, brought by PC Toby Rowland. Mitchell told friends the bill could force him to sell his £1million London home. Whatever happened to legal aid Andrew? In the legal joust between Rowland and Mitchell, the judge decided in favour of Rowland, the poor man had been called a pleb by Mitchell. This farce will cost Mitchell £1.5 million, Rowland’s tab was picked up by the Police Federation. Dave breathed a sigh of relief: “On the issue of Andrew Mitchell, I mean, let me be clear, it is never right to be abusive or rude to a police officer. I think that is extremely important. But, look, we’ve had a court case now. That’s how we do things in this country. The judge has made very clear his verdict and I think everyone should accept that verdict and move on.”

Dave must be the only person in the nation who thinks the judge was “very clear”. The judge in this case seemed a little hazy in his conclusions, meaning he was not categorical but spoke in terms of “the balance of probability” - thereby leaving a little bit of doubt in the public mind about Mitchell’s use of language. However, he was crystal clear about how he viewed PC Rowland, saying: “The policeman didn’t have the wit or invention to make it up.” I think I would rather be called a pleb!
Clearly, the Police Federation had an anti-government agenda of their own in the Mitchell affair. Home Secretary Theresa May decided to get her own back and told them that the government would cease giving the Federation £180,000 a year, having discovered that they had several millions sloshing around in their bank accounts. We can only wonder why government would be giving gift aid to the enemy within.

The Duggan Thing

Two years after the riots following the shooting of Mark Duggan, the inquest into his death opened and key witness evidence did not make sense. The police marksman who shot Duggan said he had to take the shot because Duggan definitely had a gun, that he was about to use. Then, we are told, the gun mysteriously vanished. A gun was subsequently found, ten to fifteen yards away, inside a sock?
However, in January 2014, the inquest concluded that Duggan was lawfully killed. This case and the Mitchell case leaves Dave with two significant issues that he seems incapable of dealing with; the IPCC are not fit for purpose. The police are increasingly behaving like a rogue agency, for whom the normal sanctions of the law do not apply. He can't keep pretending that he's a mere spectator to events but he will.

Bernard Hogan-Howe knows nothing

Can Dave trust Met Commissioner, Hogan-Howe? The Total Policeman appeared before the Home Affairs Committee to answer questions over the shredding of documents relevant to the Met’s anti-corruption investigations. He came across like a stunned simpleton. He didn't know why the shredding had taken place, he didn't know if it was for malicious reasons. He hadn't talked to the predecessors in his job, yet. He didn't know if that would be necessary? He had a witness to the shredding but he didn't want the witness "intimidated". Intimidated by who, no one on the Committee had the wit to ask "Intimidated by who?" If the shredding was not an innocent act of data protection, why would the witness feel threatened? A few too many questions for a man who looks like he's having a nervous breakdown to contemplate.

We know that the Met has spent almost £45m on a number of inquiries related to malpractice, including the phone-hacking, bribery and computer-hacking probes, detectives trafficking drugs, fabricating evidence and leaking sensitive intelligence to organised crime gangs. Inquiries with spooky names like Operation Zloty, Operation Othona, and Operation Tiberius, none of which have brought anyone to book because the evidence has been shredded; Lords Stevens and Blair were Commissioners at the Met when most of the shredding took place. In particular, material gathered during a four-year investigation, codenamed Operation Othona, was inexplicably destroyed in 2003. Information covering up to 17 investigations was gathered under the umbrella of Operation Zloty, all disappeared.

According to the Independent:

"Crucially, Zloty included bombshell evidence from Othona about a “persistent network” of corrupt officers that could have been beneficial to a landmark review commissioned by the Home Secretary into how the Stephen Lawrence murder was handled by the Metropolitan Police."

Now, here's where things get spooky again, although the evidence of corruption has disappeared, Zloty may still exist but no one at the Met is prepared to confirm this - its secret.

Hogan-Howe knows nothing of all this.... he told the committee, on the shredded documents issue “I would expect to keep it". On calls for a wider inquiry into the Met “There’s no need, it’s absolute nonsense.” On speaking with former Met chiefs “I’d like to reassure you, if there’s a need to contact my predecessors we will; if I’m the right person to do it, I will.” On the memo summarising alleged wrong-doing “I can’t give you a list of who has seen it.” On the shredding “Did the shredding happen? It sounds like it did. The question is about the motivation to the shredding. There is an innocent one, it’s a normal process of… getting rid of documents. There is a malicious one. We have to establish which it was.”

The standing of the police service is at its lowest ebb ever, so-called 'hard stops' with shoot to kill outcomes haven't helped the image. However, when citizens learn that a report penned some dozen years ago and kept under wraps reveals massive corruption within the Met, the image is shot. Operation Tiberius reveals that criminals were given access to confidential databases; obtained live intelligence on criminal investigations; were provided with specialist knowledge of surveillance, technical deployment and undercover techniques to help evade prosecution. Tiberius identified 80 corrupt individuals with links to the police, including 42 then-serving officers and 19 former detectives.

This sort of publicity is not good for the party of law and order, especially when the press is also full of stories of police across the nation fiddling the crime statistics to make their crime fighting efforts seem more successful than they actually are. In the case of Tiberius we don't know how high up the food chain the corruption went but it's clear that massaging the crime statistics goes all the way to the top.

A corrupt and lying police service serves no one and Dave should be mightily concerned by the failure of his police service but he is oddly quiet on the matter. Which is all the more odd when we learn that even the very special SO6 Diplomatic Protection Group have three of their team arrested for sharing hardcore pornography on their mobile phones - degenerates. And wasn't it officers from the DPG who revealed the details of their notebook encounter with the arrogant Andrew Mitchell? Of course it was, the porno ring was uncovered by officers investigating the Plebgate scandal. Who can Dave trust if not the men and women charged with his very own wellbeing?

It doesn’t help the cause when UK Statistics Authority boss Andrew Dilnot, says official police-recorded crime will rise once a full audit is carried out - because the figures were being kept low through dodgy recording practices. He commented after the police watchdog HMIC admitted figures were being fiddled by officers.

The allegations led the UK Statistics Authority to admit the figures could not be trusted. Sir Andrew also told MPs that his team would now check ALL government statistics in the wake of the crime-fiddling revelations.

The response of the Met police to the lack of trust has been underwhelming. May 2014 saw the introduction of body cameras to capture evidence at crime scenes and support prosecutions. The Total Policeman said: "Body-worn video will not only help us fight crime and support victims but help the Met to be more accountable.”

The cameras would not be routinely switched on. The intention is to retain camera footage for 31 days, if not required for evidence. At the end of each shift, footage will be uploaded to ‘the cloud’ and will be  managed via a website - all very interesting.

Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

November 2013

Just another new piece of legislation silently wending its way through the parliamentary process. Nothing for citizens to be concerned about.

Well, actually, apart from dumping the discredited ASBO system, this legislation is giving local authorities, the police, and private security firms new powers to prevent lawful protests, disperse, and direct protestors away from particular areas. So protests like the Occupy Movement's camp at St Paul's or the anti-war protest of Brian Haw at the Houses of Parliament will not be allowed.

Under the legislation, local authorities will be allowed to invoke public spaces protection orders (PSPOs), allowing it to prevent everything from skateboarding to public meetings. The space in question is undefined, or may be defined by the apparatchik making the order, in other words the order will be open-ended, and open to abuse. This Bill passed into law in 2014, so you need to be aware of the space you are in at all times.

ASBOs are being replaced by the Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNA). And the difference between the old and the new is subtle. ASBOs were designed to crack down on behaviour considered as causing “harassment, alarm or distress,” the IPNA replacement will target conduct “capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person.” So, don’t have nightmares.


Transport Policy: A Slow Float to Nowhere

A vibrant economy needs to move people and goods around the nation efficiently. Britain does not have a vibrant economy, neither does it have a transport policy. What Britain has is projects and cones. It has a quango, the Highways Agency, responsible for moving the cones around. It has a Department for Transport, responsible for projects. It doesn't have a transport policy.
Joined up transport

John Prescott famously said in 1997,

"I will have failed if in five years time there are not far fewer journeys by car. It's a tall order but I urge you to hold me to it."
Five years later car journeys were up 7%, another disappointment for JP. However, in Presott's favour, at least he had the nerve to talk about an integrated transport policy, no minister since has ever bothered. However, be aware that JP can get a bit carried away, for it was he who told MPs in January 1999:

"Under this government, an integrated transport system has been established for the first time. We have provided resources for that system, which will begin to be delivered this year and should be completed by the time of the next election." Hansard, 12 Jan. 99.
What Prescott did was introduce a number of schemes at the local level, mainly anti-car schemes, which had nothing to do with integrated transport. In fact, it seems that two jags just simply misunderstood the term integration, he thought it meant having a bit of everything in the mix, not worrying about whether it made travelling more efficient.

Prescott's New Deal for Transport has much in there; there's walking, cycling, traffic calming and bus lanes, and yes, lots of parking restrictions and congestion charging . Trains also make a cameo appearance. The thing about Britain's rail network is that it’s not a network, it’s a collection of 25 franchisees pleasing themselves, rolling along on a 'steady state' track of constant disrepair. Prescott called the privatized railways a 'national disgrace'. That was a Tory bequest but New Labour didn't do anything about it.

High Speed 2: Unquantifiable strategic benefits

Dave sent former Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, to Birmingham to launch what he called "one of the most extensive consultations in history" it was a strange day because the decision to build the £33bn High Speed 2 rail link, between Birmingham and London and beyond to Leeds, had already been made. (It was actually made by New Labour but they have gone off the idea now. No, wait, they now think it’s a good idea again.)

Hammond went clutching his launch document, The Fast Track to Prosperity, and a scrap of paper with mad things to say written on it, like:

"this could transform Britain's competitiveness as profoundly as the coming of the railways in the 19th century",

this could "reshape Britain's economic geography", and this could deliver "massive improvements in journey times"

and bring "unquantifiable strategic benefits".

A strange day indeed, what on earth is an unquantifiable strategic benefit? And at a deeper level, why on earth does anyone want to go to Birmingham. Once Birmingham was at the heart of small manufacturing enterprise, it was the city of a thousand trades but lack of support for small business during New Labour's time in office and cheaper foreign labour costs destroyed all that.

The HS2 plan, which requires massive property destruction in London and the despoliation of the country-side through the Chilterns, will get you to Birmingham New Street 10 minutes quicker than current services. Yes, we know the train is not stopping at New Street, the calculation takes account of your 15 minute walk from the new terminus to New Street. And while you are saving all this time on your journey, spare a thought for the 750 trains every day that will be slowed down, or scrapped; HS2 will have an impact on a quarter of the country.

However, by March 2013, the HS2 project had already started to run into difficulties, four years before any real work begins. So still at the design stage and £250m has already been spent on contracts for engineers, PR firms, property agents and market research outfits. One PR firm, Westbourne Communications, was paid £61,000 to talk up and win support for the idea of HS2. How odd, our government spending our money to persuade us that a bad idea is a good idea. Normally, government would use a charity to promote its ideas but on this occasion there wasn't one espousing a moral position on high speed trains.

Wasting money on propaganda is not all the government has been doing. For some unfathomable reason, Fujitsu has been paid £16.8m to handle the HS2 IT systems. That would be the same Fujitsu, who in 2008, was fired by the Department of Health for "non-performance" in an £896m contract to upgrade NHS systems.

So yet again the government are making a mess of the cost of a major project but the farce doesn't end there. 24 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and hundreds of other wildlife and woodland sites will be destroyed when phase 1 and 2 of the HS2 project begin.
High Speed 2, you might think, is indicative of the Coalition's boundless ambition to modernise our infrastructure but there's more - they are even planning to link up HS2 with HS1. Do visit the Dept. of Transport website for all the route maps, i.e. to see if they will be knocking your house down along the route.

Note: Mr. Hammond moved on to the MOD as Defence Secretary but before he went he suggested the motorway speed limit be raised to 80 mph by 2013, now that doesn't appear to be very environmentally friendly. Sorry, forgot to mention, being friendly to the environment must be built into ALL government policies, apparently? Hammond was replaced by Justine Greening - she didn't last long in the her new post - she was deemed to be a third run-way blocker and therefore better suited to International Development. Worth noting that Dave was also a third run-way blocker, when it suited him, that is, when he was trying to get Zac Goldsmith elected in Richmond in 2010. He’s whistling a different tune these days.
Greening was replaced by Patrick McLoughlin during big Dave's 'night of the long knives' reshuffle in 2012. However, before she left, as is the want for Tory ministers, she had a vision.

A Visionary Transport system

"Our vision is for a transport system that is an engine for economic growth, but one that is also greener and safer and improves quality of life in our communities."

Justine Greening moved into Hammond's chair at transport in October 2011, she was as unqualified to be in charge of transport as he was. Transport is only a stepping stone to bigger things for the political class.

She had a vision, not unexpectedly it involved privatising the road network. She said it was all about "the feasibility of new ownership and financing models for the strategic road network." and naturally, she found time to utter the usual Tory claptrap: "this will lead to increased investment and driving further efficiencies in the network." Put simply, Justin planned to let the private sector build new roads and put tolls on them.

It's not really visionary, is it?

Generally the plan is to encourage local authorities to “innovate and try out new ways to make traffic flow more smoothly", you know, by messing around with traffic light phasing and dealing with those awful utilities companies by imposing bigger fines for road work overruns and make utilities pay to rent the road space they dig up. They have set up a new quango, the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which will take decisions on major transport and other infrastructure projects - will we ever know if they make a decision?

For rail, they plan to reform Network Rail (nobody knows what this means) and they plan to provide longer and better rail franchises; better co-operation between the management of track and train, and they also plan to end Whitehall ‘meddling’ with train timetables.

And for air travel, they can't make up their mind about a third runway or a 6th terminal at Heathrow. BAA want to go ahead with both schemes, as well as, building a new runway at Stansted; the new owners of Gatwick are also keen to build another runway. Environmental campaigners and local residents are keeping the expanders at bay. Anyway, once everyone starts using HS2, space at Heathrow will be freed up - that will be around 2030 then.

West Coast Rail Fiasco

No sooner had Patrick McLoughlin taken possession of the national train set from Justine Greening the wheels came off and this time we couldn’t blame Railtrack and Jarvis. No, this time it was those silly mandarins at the Department of Transport, apparently they were fingered for making a mess of the franchising process for the West Coast Line. The line was run by Virgin but FirstGroup won the bidding process for the new franchise. Richard Branson complained that the process was flawed - he was right, the civil servants had made a mess of things - they were suspended for being hopeless, so has the franchise, leaving the taxpayer with a £40m bill, as the DfT repays the bidding fees to the potential franchisees.
And worse, the man who helped to set up franchising back in the 1990s said the cost may come out at £100m to the taxpayer, another commentator put the cost as high as £200m. Phil Marsh, a former senior executive for Network Rail, described the DfT as "robbing the taxpayer". (From the ITV Tonight programme Off the Rails? 25 Oct 2012.)

The Department for Transport was stunned into inaction. This inaction is interesting, with a number of franchises up for renewal, leaving franchisees in wonderland. Everything was in the balance while McLoughlin carried out two inquiries into what went wrong with the West Coast bid. It's worth mentioning that these inquiries will cost the tax payer more money.

In the meantime, the plan was to run the west coast using the DfT's Directly Operated Railways (DOR). And other franchises were extended without any bidding process, until McLoughlin gets his wheels back on the track. Previous Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, went to ground in order to dodge tricky questions over her handling of the West Coast bidding process, like her department number crunchers did for not taking account of inflation when accepting FirstGroup's future profit projections.

In Sum: Dave's transport policy is a patchwork quilt of projects that doesn't come close to an integrated transport system and which will let the economy down badly, if it ever becomes vibrant again. However, Justine Greening thought that the future is all about electric cars, in fact, the only vision in place is Justine's vision of a network of electric sockets up and down the length of Britain's motorways. Justine didn't explain how  she would make electric cars affordable.

Crucially, the rail network is a natural monopoly, Germany, France and Spain seem to understand this but here our railways have fallen prey to the ideology of the money grubbers. For every one pound the private rail operators give to the government, they get two back from the taxpayer and every rail user is being subsidised by people who don't even use the railways. And the bill for HS2 has been reassessed, it's now £80bn. The latest (2013) cost/benefit analysis suggests the project will only return 50p on the pound.

More Cones Required

Five months away from the General Election, the coalition seem to have discovered that many marginal seats around the country are in urgent need of road upgrades. In fact, they are planning 100 projects, this will include 80 new schemes costing around £15bn. This spending was first announced in 2013 but now they have a investment strategy running up to 2021.

The man with the national train set, Patrick McLoughlin, said this was “the biggest, boldest and most far-reaching roads programme for decades”. Which in English means addressing issues that governments of all shades have wilfully  ignored leading to an economically damaging third world road network. Although not announced but no doubt will be included in the investment strategy, a new supply of cones, which will be made in China.


Energy Policy: Keeping the Lights On


The only imperative

Over the next two decades Britain will have lost around half of its ability to produce electricity, the old nuclear plants will be useless and many coal fired power stations will close within the next decade, several before the end of 2013. Speeding up the building of a new nuclear plants seems the only option, except that the private sector are looking for handouts to subsidise the building. Stated government policy is not to subsidise nuclear plants. Also, environmental campaigners are still on the rampage, having recently scuppered plans to build the first coal-fired power station in the UK for 40 years. Greenpeace continue to make the case for off-shore wind farms and other low carbon options and describe nuclear as a dinosaur.

Nuclear Subsidies: So That's How Capitalism Works?

So due to the mismanagement of Britain's energy policy over three decades we face a bleak and cold future.
In the short term, only liquid gas is going to save the day, that's right, imported liquid gas. Longer term, the future's nuclear but the energy companies will not build the next generation of power stations unless they are guaranteed a nice subsidy for the next forty years.

And guess what, that's just what the Coalition government is planning for our energy future, another mortgage for future generations to pay. That would be the same Coalition which promised in 2010 that nuclear power stations would be built only if the industry got no public subsidy.
Ah, but the Fukushima disaster in Japan placed the spotlight on reactor safety and global enthusiasm cooled slightly, particularly in Germany - which of course made German nuclear companies consider their futures. Ah, but also, costly overruns elsewhere, e.g. at Flamanville in France and Olkiluoto in Finland. Flamanville is four years behind schedule and the cost has doubled. Meanwhile, Centrica, EON, and RWE have departed Britain's nuclear arena, all a bit too uncertain for them. That leaves the Russians and the marvellous EDF but wait, Spanish looking types have been spotted in Anglesey, taking tea with the Chinese - we are getting desperate now.

And desperate we are, by 2023 only one old nuclear plant will still be operating. One plan stemming from the department of energy and climate change, imagines a big future for nuclear – 75GW of nuclear capacity in 2050 providing 86% of the UK's electricity, the current picture in France today.

And here comes the bad news

The government has moved its target for the replacement nuclear power plants, they are now not expected to be puffing away until 2030. That's five years later than had been planned. The Energy Select Committee warned there's no "plan B", if the new nuclear plants are not built on time and on budget and then we will be in trouble, they concluded that 2025 timetable was “ambitious at best and unrealistic at worst”. Plan A proposes to build five new nuclear plants, the first at Hinkley Point will cost between £12bn and £14bn, that will be £25bn then!
Also, in terms of bad news, the government and its experts has no sensible plan, as yet, on how to get rid of the 100 tonnes of spent fuel, i.e. plutonium, that we are currently stockpiling. Add to this problem, the decommissioning costs of the redundant nuclear plants.

“Contracts for Difference”

What, you may be wondering, does 'contracts for difference' mean. Well, this is at the heart of the Coalitions energy policy. The likes of EDF will not build and operate the next generation of nuclear power stations unless they are guaranteed a set price per megawatt hour. If the market price falls below the set price or 'strike price', the tax payer makes up the difference, if the price is above the strike price, the company repays the difference. Ed Davey says this is not a blank cheque for the nuclear industry - really?

Shaping Nuclear Policy

In order to ensure that the future of nuclear fits with the industry's vision they have people working inside government agencies. EDF have two staff at the Health and Safety Executive, inside the door marked the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR). Babcock also have two people inside the ONR, one of whom is involved in the ‘Development and review of ONR wide processes’. And, over at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' (BIS), engineering consultant Atkins Ltd, has a policy adviser for the commercial nuclear policy team. So far, NuclearSpin have identified 15 ‘company men’ within government departments.
We don't know if the taxpayer is funding these work experience interns because no one is prepared to talk, due to the terrorist threat. No, wait a minute, at the Department for Energy and Climate Change they have owned up to paying a consultant from Rolls Royce and said that there were safeguards in place to ensure no conflict of interest.

It's nice to know that these industry moles will not be influencing policy because the stakes are very high, e.g. the Treasury's onshore wind subsidy amounts to about £20 million per year, EDF are demanding £2.8 billion a year, for at least the next 25 years.

Sellafield decommissioning problems (2013)

Everyone knows that the big problem with nuclear power is disposing of the waste products safely. This problem has not just been recently discovered, those people responsible for producing the material for nuclear bombs at Sellafield (when it was called Windscale) in the late 1940s knew about the problem and every government since has known about it and done nothing.
Now it appears that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is a trifle worried about the private sector consortium in charge of cleaning up the nuclear plant at Sellafield. This plant has 60 years of nuclear waste to clear up.

Thus far the consortium of US, French and British engineers has cost the tax payer £70bn and hasn't been very good in the cleaning up department. So worried are the NDA that they have called in accountants KPMG to review how Sellafield is run - now you know how serious things are?
The private consortium, Nuclear Management Partners, got behind on 12 out of 14 projects scheduled and they have been fined £700,000 for sending bags filled with radioactive waste to a landfill site in Cumbria rather than a specialist facility. Mysteriously, £54m in performance-related fees were paid out in 2012 despite so many missed deadlines.

The NDA is thinking about plans to take the work back in-house, in preference to renewing the consortium's contract. It might also run a competition to find another private sector grouping to clean up the nuclear site. This last action would of course be very silly but don't discount further silliness.

The NDA's search for a private sector group to decommission 12 other nuclear facilities is also in trouble because of the bidders' track records. The four consortiums chasing a £7bn contract include Serco, the well known electronic security tag overcharger, and Rolls-Royce, which has teamed up with Amec, (Amec is a key player in the Sellafield mess). Rolls-Royce is being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office over allegations of malpractice in China. Bechtel has a poor security record and CH2M Hill has a question mark over what it charges for its services.

More on Nuclear Waste

The problem of disposing of nuclear waste from power stations is generally not mentioned by governments. To date, efforts to deal with the problem have been dismal, the decommissioning saga at Sellafield demonstrate the enormity of the issue.

Much to the dismay of George Osborne and big Dave, many people have noted that the National Debt that they keep talking about is not the actual debt since much of the debt is not on the books. However, ask yourself how many times you have seen mention of the cost of clearing up nuclear waste. The current figure could be as much as £300bn but you will not find this sum on any government balance sheet.

Also, Ed Davey might like to tell us why the Germans are ridding themselves of nuclear? Also, has he considered the future of encroaching seas on nuclear plants (which tend to be sea-side based for cooling purposes) and the prospect of nuclear islands occurring, repeating a Fukushima type catastrophe.

The Chinese to the rescue

Ed Davey announced that a new nuclear power station would be built at Hinkley Point. The new plant will be built by EDF, the French supplier and bank rolled by the Chinese government.

Talking silly, Davey said that this would reduce consumers' energy bills at some time in the future. Indeed, he even put a number on consumer savings, saying everyone would be saving £77 on annual bills, 20 years from now. The Hinkley scheme will not be up and running until 2030 and will be unlikely to keep the lights on. So for now we need to have some faith. The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, said the companies had to be "conscious of their social obligations" and "behave with generosity and not merely to maximise opportunity". May the Force be with Justin but he should know that the term 'social obligations' and private enterprise are contradictory.


When Call Me Dave promised to lead “the greenest government ever”, did he really believe that included fracking? Fracking is shorthand for 'hydraulic fracturing', a technique in which you blast the rock with one to seven million gallons of water that has been combined with up to 596 rock-dissolving chemicals. This penetrates 800ft into the ground and causes something like a mini-earthquake, breaking the rock into thousands of pieces and allowing the gas out.

Where it’s already being used, fracking has been accused of three fatal flaws: contamination of the water supply, contamination of the air, and contamination of the climate.

Scare stories from the US

In a called town of Dimock, on the border between Pennsylvania and New York state, they had over 40 gas wells that used fracking, the community there started to notice something odd. Their water caught fire when it came out of the tap, the water smelled of gas – and when it got anywhere near a flame, it combusted. Well, that is, it caught fire when the householder put a match to it for the TV crew.

A report by senior Democrats in the House of Representatives in 2011 found that this waste water contained at least 29 chemicals that are known to cause or strongly suspected of causing cancer, including methanol, benzene, sulfuric acid and lead. None of this biodegrades. When the fracking companies came and assured the residents of Dimock the water was perfectly safe, the residents' said, try drinking a glass – the company men declined.

Carcinogenic Clouds

Fracking has also been shown in the US to contaminate the air. In the town of Dish in Texas, where large chemical clouds sometimes form over the gas wells. The town’s mayor, Calvin Tillman, said that when the clouds form, “most of the people in this community think they’ve just taken their last breath”. He commissioned an independent scientific analysis of the clouds – and it found “amazing and very high levels of known and suspected human carcinogens and neurotoxins”, including one carcinogen that was at 107 times the safe level.

The chemicals that have been found in the fracking waste include glycol ethers. Its known effects on humans include testicular toxicity, malformation of embryos, bone marrow depression, and destruction of red blood cells. Dr Theo Colborn, who has been named Time magazine’s environmental hero of the year, warns: “The workmen are inhaling these chemicals round the clock, 24/7.”

Warming up nicely

A study by Cornell University, published in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Climatic Change, found that the process of fracking releases so much methane – one of the most potent warming gases – that it could be as much as 43 per cent worse than coal. (The US fracking companies are refusing to co-operate, so the authors stress it’s hard to be absolutely precise with figures.)

France banned fracking

France announced a ban on fracking, saying it is unacceptably dangerous. The US is expected to depend on shale gas for 45 per cent of its energy needs by 2035. Britain is expected to follow the US lead, ignore the pollution and pretend fracking is a green technology. In october 2012, George Osborne announced that the shale gas industry would be given tax breaks to encourage investment. A survey has estimated that a potential £1.5 trillion of gas is under the ground, although only about a tenth is likely to be available for extraction.

Fracking in the UK (2013)

Licences to frack have been issued for a large number of sites across Britain but as yet planning permission has not been granted. Mr Cameron is very keen on fracking and has told local communities to back his enthusiasm. He claims it makes sense because consumers' energy bills in the future will be much reduced. The PM has already shown what he thinks of local protest in Balcombe, Sussex, where 85% of locals do not want fracking but the riot police were sent in to ensure the frackers' access to start test drilling. And disingenuous as ever, he's been telling uppity locals that they will receive upwards of a million pounds for the inconvenience. What he meant to say was £100,000 and a possible 1% from licence fees further up the road, maybe. (Note: in Balcombe, Caudrilla are looking for oil, not gas, and if they find any they will be using the fracking process to get it out of the ground.)

Dave has no evidence for his optimism; an OFGEM report tells us that low gas prices here will be reliant on the wider European market for shale gas and goes on to suggest that it does not expect a boom resulting from fracking in Europe. And a minor detail, that Dave has overlooked, neither he nor his experts have a clue how much gas is down there, not a clue. The British Geological Survey said in June that there could be 1,300 trillion cubic feet of gas in northern England alone. That should please George Osborne's father-in-law, Lord Howell, whose keen to promote drilling in the North. However, there may be problems with the suitability of Britain's geology, which may reduce the 'could be' total.

Comparisons with the shale gas bonanza occurring in the US are misleading because for one thing, land ownership gives no rights to minerals under the land here and therefore no incentive for owners to be compliant, and the planning laws here are far more stringent than in the US.

And it is to America that Dave is looking:

"Even if we only see a fraction of the impact shale gas has had in America, we can expect to see lower energy prices in this country."
And on the environmental impact: There was "no evidence" that it would cause contamination of water supplies or other damage if properly regulated. He also said that "it was myth" that fracking damages the countryside.

We may wonder at Mr Cameron's keenness for the potential of fracking to rescue the nation's woeful energy policy. However, when we learn that his top business advisor is Lord Brown, formally of BP and now 40% stackholder in Caudrilla and on the board of Riverstone, private equity cowboys in the energy market, we may be less surprised by Dave's position. Brown has said that he will "‘finance whatever it takes, up to billions of pounds".
It will be recalled that Caudrilla made headlines in 2012 when its test drilling around Blackpool led to two earthquakes which caused the well casing to deform. Caudrilla didn’t inform authorities that the well was deformed until asked, despite the fact that a leak could have occurred. Clearly, Mr Cameron doesn't mind doing business with companies devoid of corporate responsibility.

Indeed the Treasury has announced a 30% tax rate for onshore shale gas production. This is a big difference when compared to the 62% on North Sea oil operations and 81% for offshore oil fields. Providing polluters with such a sweat deal doesn't do much for Dave's green credentials. Let's not forget, his government was going to be the "greenest ever".

Dave summed up his position on fracking in the Telegraph (11/08/13):

It will supply the nation with 50 years of cheap fuel. It provides local authorities with financial rewards. It will create upwards of 75,000 jobs. And it will not damage the environment.

He did not mentioned not meeting his CO2 emissions targets. His assessment also misunderstands the European energy market, in a very short space of time there will be an equalization of gas prices as traders buy here and sell into Europe. If the volume of trading is substantial, we may expect energy trading to have an adverse effect on the exchange rate. Also, the population density here relative to the US will also make public resistance to fracking an important variable. The present government is decidedly unclear on its energy policy. Two leading think tanks* have told the government it's time to stop dithering with wind-farms and to construct a credible energy policy, i.e. based on nuclear, fracking and coal.*Centre for Policy Studies and the Institute of Economic Affairs

Investigating the energy market

At some point during 2013 Ed Davey popped up on the BBC’s Watchdog programme to announce a wide ranging review of the energy market, to be headed up by OFGEM. Davey’s appearance may have been inspired by Ed Milliband’s appearance the week before, promising to freeze energy prices for two years, after the 2015 election.

Six months later the man from OFGEM appeared on the programme in an effort to justify the existence of his quango, after it was unable to carry out Davey’s review - all too complicated. The job has been passed on to The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) - they are expected to report back at the end of 2015.

Where your electricity comes from:

Coal - 38%
Gas - 27%
Nuclear - 19%
Wind and Solar - 6%
Bioenergy - 4%
Offshore wind - 2%
Everything else - 4%

Source: Department of Energy and Climate Change, 2012

The figures above show you where are now, going forward you may expect your energy future to be gloomier, flickering into darkness.
Hope and osmosis will not do it, we need energy!

The British economy has a number of problems that are not being addressed, many due to the political mistakes of the past. In particular, the privatisation frenzy of the past 30 years that saw the sell off of natural monopolies like energy to an oligopolistic cartel has been a disaster. Dave's best option of the moment was to ditch his pledge to become the 'greenest government ever' and remove 'green taxes' from consumers' energy bills. This tactic was forced on Dave by Ed Miliband's pledge to freeze energy prices for two years and to reshape the energy market, if Labour were to be elected in 2015.

But being Dave he counter-balanced his negative reactive position with some positive citizens' advice. He told poor people, who can't afford their energy bills, to put an extra jumper on. He also suggested that they might like to try one of those price comparison websites that he has heard tell of. And getting really technical, he suggested people might like to fiddle with their thermostats. Saving the best until last, he announced his 'huddle and heat' scheme, whereby citizens only heat one room and huddle together for warmth. Dave seemed to be unaware that stark temperature differences between rooms causes condensation, this in turn leads to mildew. Dave is also unaware that mildew is a parasitic fungus that will cause illness in the very young and old. Dave is in denial over the energy companies, they are ripping people off but they are private companies and therefore must be the best agents to deliver our energy needs. This is at the core of Tory thinking, private is best, private is most efficient, meaning, most cost effective. Dave will simply ask them to play the game like gentlemen, that ought to fix it.


The Gaia Panic, aka, Climate Change

In recent times humans have been panic struck by Gaia. Now, discussions of energy policy must take account of climate change, ongoing environmental destruction and sustainability going forward. Above all, energy policy must be green because greening is where the smart future money will grow. Everyone knows that Dave foolishly said his government would be the greenest government ever but now he's decided that tokenism, like forcing all households to fit dull bulbs, is a far more pragmatic option.

Climate change is an important issue for any government although Dave's response to the crisis appears to rely on the consensus view that the planet is helpless and will perish unless some concerted action happens now.

James Lovelock, the man who developed Gaia Theory disagrees with the consensus view. Lovelock says the planet is a self-regulating organism, that has managed fine without help from climate controllers for millions of years and it does not need any help now.

The Climate Change Debating Society vs the Sooty Society

The 1997 Kyoto protocol is the world's only existing treaty stipulating cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, but the cuts only apply to developed countries and the US has never joined in. The current Kyoto targets have expired, the EU intends to press on but Japan, Russia and Canada have all dropped out.
Accords were also struck in 2009 and 2010 at Copenhagen and Cancun respectively, by which most countries and all of the biggest economies set out national targets on emissions curbs up to 2020. But these are voluntary, not legally binding.

And then came Durban, 2011, did they reach a legally binding agreement, no, but they gave themselves three years to think about it. Meanwhile the Sooties, that's the Bric economies, will press on with their polluting industrial revolutions. However, by 2015 they will have a legal document ready to be signed. Governments will then have five years to ratify it. Will it then be legally binding? No!

Result? The Climate Change Debating Society have taken the moral high ground but the Sooty Society are refusing to engage with them, in fact, they couldn't care less about carbon offsetting.


"I have three children. I feel it is my duty to attempt to re-populate the World with intelligent individuals in an attempt to offset Jonathon Porritt's stupidity. Idiocy-offsetting, kind of like carbon offsetting, just a little more immediate."

A lady posted the comment above after reading Mr Porritt's thoughts on population control, in which he states that people who choose to have more than two children are selfish and irresponsible. To wit: "Every additional human being is increasing the burden on this planet which is becoming increasingly intolerable," J Porritt

Mr Porritt is a patron of the Optimum Population Trust (OPT). For the pedants among you, for those who live in fear of "over-population", the optimum number is 70 million for the UK.

If you have never heard of Porritt, he's been around for years talking about environmental issues. Everyone should have a hobby, however, Porritt has no expertise in climate science, or anything else. The problem is that people like Porritt represent a strong body of opinion that taps into human vulnerability and provides the fuel for the continuation of the Gaia panic.

Footnote? The entire world's population could stand upright on the Isle of Wright and the Isle of Mann - fodder for a trivia quiz. The entire population of the UK, 60 million, live on only 10% of the land, with room to sit down. And if you have ever wondered why England is so keen to hang on to Scotland, it might have something to do with all that empty space up there.

Climate Change: Panic if it suits your personality

The argument: The Global temperature is rising, this rise must be held in check at 2°C by 2050. If nothing is done, the global temperature will see a rise of 4°C by 2100, with catastrophic consequences for the planet. This warming is being caused by man-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that trap heat rising in the atmosphere, causing the earth to warm, disrupting the earth's climate.

At this point let’s resist the temptation to  start chanting like Bono or Sting about saving the planet for future generations. Or conversely we may choose to argue against the case for global warming. In either case it would be a waste of words. Generally, the common man does not know enough to argue either way. Recent data evidence has been the preserve of a very small select group of climate scientists who have been busy sharing their conclusions that support the global warming argument, but not allowing anyone else to see their evidence base.

 The Argument becomes Common Sense

So good has the global warming marketing campaign been that only a mad person will dare to question its truth. Saving the planet is the new religion, the scientists its apostles, the politicians its acolytes. The people will cooperate without any opt-outs, the need for action on climate change outweighs individual preferences, indeed individual preferences will be shaped to favour pro-planet activity, e.g. driving your car five miles less a week, fitting dull light bulbs etc. Saving the planet is the only rational consumer choice.

Dissenting voices within the science community are not being funded and their ideas are going unpublished. At climate summits no dissenting voices are heard or indeed tolerated.

A publication, advising magistrates on sentencing in pollution cases, told them to be strident and as environmentally active as any Friend of the Earth in their condemnation of polluters, i.e. smokers who use the high street like a giant ashtray. So from a scientific endeavour to explain the anomalies of climate change and from funding pressure on that endeavour for answers, a whole belief system is building into a new and unquestionable common sense.

There's a major catastrophe on the horizon and action must be taken. The key message of this campaign is that it's everyone's problem.
Who are the key players in this new hysteria?

The UN Inter-government Panel on Climate Change, the Climate Research Unit and the Hadley Centre (Met Office/MoD). These agencies supply the 'evidence' that activist lobby groups and politicians embellish to suit their own agendas.
The Met Office claims that it can't support or participate in any kind of lobbying activity because it adheres to the Civil Service Code of behaviour. And sometimes, climate change zealots let their passions get the better of themselves.

The significance of Copenhagen (Dec. 09)

The Copenhagen meeting of the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or COP15 for short was about money.

Of the 190 countries attending, around 130 can be described as poor. Some of these countries can't even afford to send more than a couple of representative to the meeting, they are being given an attendance allowance of $220 a day. Once they have arrived they couldn't function without the assistance of organisations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth acting in support roles for them.

In contrast the US will had around 100 rep’s present and ditto the rest of the G20 countries. These rich countries will pledge £100bn to assist the poor countries in their efforts in the fight against global warming. This 'gift' will also allow the rich countries to dodge their own responsibilities, using language like 'common and differentiated' responsibility. Meaning due the variability of economic development existing globally, key polluters will be reviewing and revising emissions targets annually rendering long-term targets worthless.

Copenhagen was also about technology. The rich countries have it and the poor ones want it. The question is, how willing will the rich be to share with their poor neighbours. They will need to draft in a Russian chess master to figure the geopolitical consequences of giving away technological advantages to potential competitors. These poor countries don't like the rich ones. Let's remember our competitive edge was won by the bullet. We distorted the natural developmental paths of many poor countries for our own gain in the past.

Ultimately, Copenhagen was just about preparing the groundwork for a series of other meetings already on the agenda for the coming years. The circus rolled on.

So is the planet at DEF-CON 1

No. Man-made activity is causing irreparable damage to the planet, a long list of examples could be provided but to no purpose. The real problem is the lack of regulation by governments. The real problem is government denial of polluting activity. The real problem is the cavalier attitude of business.

The real problem is McDonald's - you can't have your burger and eat it! It doesn't matter how much nutritional information McD provides, too much of it is not good for you but its quick and cheap, allowing you to get on with your life... to do what exactly? Save the bloody planet, what else!

The Outcome of Copenhagen, wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen....

Nothing meaningful happened at this Climate Change Conference in terms of reducing carbon emissions. A few promises were made but without any kind of verification.

However, the conference was different to all that went before in a couple of respects. Firstly, developing countries showed that they have had enough of being treated like small children who really don't understand the arguments and that are best left to the G20 grown-ups. Secondly, the transparent cynicism of the organisers was laid bare to the world's public, as they watched thousands of delegates being barred from entering. Fire reg's were used as the excuse.

CO2 emissions = GDP x Carbon Intensity

Gordon Brown offered to cut CO2 emissions by 42% by 2020. So, the question is, could the man who had already saved the world once do it again, even more miraculously, i.e. by simultaneously reducing carbon intensity and not reducing the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. (Update: Obviously not.)

The figures suggest that a 42% cut in emissions will result in a corresponding fall of 30% in output, that is, by 2020 the value of production will be the same as it was in 2004. Progress on cutting emissions has been quite good to date but in order to meet the 42% target the rate of improvement would need to double over the next ten years and the technology to support that improvement is just not available. To a large extent the gains made in reducing emissions over the past decade have relied on the ‘dash for gas’ but further opportunities here are now limited and there’s a big security question mark over using imported gas.

However, the Brown promise relied heavily on a technological solution; the introduction of new nuclear power stations, more wind and tidal power, and the widespread introduction of carbon capture and storage. In sum, carbon intensity reduction that does not harm the nation’s prosperity can only occur via rapid technical change.

Alternatively, CO2 emissions could be reduced by producing less. We know this is not possible for a nation with a massive debt problem. The economy must grow, must produce much more rapidly and this will lead to increased emissions over the next ten years.
Cancun 2010

Nothing happened, third world countries went home happier, based on big promises from rich countries but all serious decision making was deferred until Durban 2011 - where again nothing decisive came to pass.

Carbon Credits: the dream scheme for saving the planet

Lehman Brothers, famously one of the first casualties of the fresh air trading frenzy that brought down the banking community, had plans to move into the trade in emissions permits, i.e. carbon credits. Banks that survived the crunch have moved into the trade in carbon credits in a big way, the market was worth $130 billion 2006, by 2020 the market will be worth $3 trillion.

Governments issue emissions permits to polluters, these allow the polluter to pollute up to a stated limit of CO2 emissions. If the polluter pollutes less than expected they are allowed to sell the permit to another polluter, so that they can pollute a bit more. The surplus of permits, known as carbon credits are traded like other financial products by banks.

How exactly a price for a carbon credit is arrived at is one of life’s abiding mysteries, in fact the price is arbitrary. Lord Nicholas Stern of Brentford, green economist, wrote a seven hundred page report for the Government on the subject of carbon credits and wrestled variously with the problem of price setting. Well, he meandered but that failed to provide an adequate answer, he acknowledged that the notion of ‘marginal social cost’ just didn’t do the job – just too difficult to calculate. The upshot was that they left price setting, not to the market but to the bureaucrats. So, some chump with a biro said that a metric tonne of carbon was worth $30 – let the trading begin.

Now pay attention: emissions permits are monopoly rights to pollute, they are limited in number and therefore susceptible to big price swings, and are therefore ripe for speculation. Which becomes very lucrative for polluters when the fool with the biro issues too many permits. In 2005, the EU carbon trading authority issued 170 million surplus credits, UK electricity generators earned £800million in each of three years by selling their spare carbon credits, oil companies also made a killing. Basically, these companies were able to make a small fortune for doing nothing?

Doha: Another Year, Another Five Star Bash

The Climate Change Debating Society, the UN talking shop, spent 10 days in Doha, where 200 countries hammered out a final deal – called the Doha climate gateway. For the first time those countries who are damaging the planet with their CO2 emissions have pledged funds for poor countries suffering 'loss and damage' caused by the polluters.

The Kyoto protocol, the initial targets which ran out at the end of 2012 will be renewed and raised, even though the initial targets were not met? The EU, Australia, Norway and a handful of other developed countries have agreed to take on new carbon-cutting targets under the treaty, running to 2020.

The treaty is supposed to be signed in 2015, at a conference in Paris, and come into effect in 2020. And will the US be signing, probably not and will China, the world's biggest polluter, continue to hide behind its 'developing' country status, almost certainly. And will consumer bills rise and rise, almost certainly.

The Consequences of the Gaia Panic

Throughout the land citizens are being encouraged to support the State's efforts to reduce carbon emission targets by fitting dull bulbs in their homes.

The rallying cry being that all citizens should do their bit to hold back the inevitability of Global Warming - the latest ad' campaign suggesting that citizens drive their cars five mile less a week. We can just see all those government ministers in Copenhagen stopping five miles short of the conference venue and walking the rest of the way.

The Evidence that favours dull bulbs

Well actually there is none. Yes, dull bulbs waste less energy but how much in total, in terms of carbon emissions, will it save and will this saving add towards stalling Global Warming. No one knows.

What we do know is that all the measures proposed to date to fight the catastrophe of Global Warming have been half measures designed to put things on hold. And some citizens actually feel that life is dull enough already.

We also know that the total cost of production of dull bulbs is the same as for tungsten bulbs. We can infer this from the fact that the State has not produced any figures to show that carbon emissions are less for the production and transport of  dull bulbs.

We also know that the mercury in dull bulbs present a major future waste problem, one that is not currently being address. Did you know that retailers have to take back dull bulbs that have lost their dullness for 'safe disposal'. Where? And have you tried taking a dead dull bulb back to the supermarket where you bought it?

Dull bulbs really are duller

And there's more... EU bureaucrats have admitted that the dull bulbs really are dull, despite reassurances that the technology had improved and that we wouldn't notice any difference between a dull bulb and a real light bulb. Also, tests of various brands of dull bulbs reveal that all manufacturers are exaggerating the brightness of dull bulbs by an average of 40%.

Wait... there's still more, apparently the UK Government does not have the power to enforce the ban on 'real bulbs'. Why? Because some dullard forgot to draft new legislation; Ed Miliband's minions thought the paperwork was in place but when someone bothered to read it they found that it only applied to bulbs in domestic fridges. Meanwhile, real bulbs will be on sale marked "not for domestic use", so that we can all take part in another silly charade.

The State outlaws real light bulbs

From January 2009, shops in the UK began the process of phasing out traditional tungsten bulbs as part of a government plan to completely replace them by 2011. So whether you like or not your future will be gloomier than it is now. But well done for saving the planet.
(Survival tip: use twice as many bulbs to lift the gloom, it wont cost you any more, given that the dull bulb uses 80% less energy.)

 Biofuel: Would you swap a litre for a loaf of bread

Green Party members put biofuels in their cars to save the planet, feel good in their hair shirts but hardly spare a thought for the orangutans dying in Malaysia or the plight of the Amazonian slave workers who produce their feel good feelings.

Globally, 100 million tons of food production is being diverted to biofuels. Do we know how costly this hopelessly irrational quest for cleaner fuel has been to African farmers, as local environments are destroyed and the top soil disappears with the wind? The financial loss to small farmers has been put at $50 billion over the last 10 years.

And yet, the US and EU has targets to increase the production of biofuels, in the case of the EU, by 2020, they want 10% of petrol and diesel to be replaced by biofuel. In the short term and ultimately, the only winners will be the Biofuel Industries.

Wind Turbines: When the wind forgets to blow

Britain’s 3,000 wind turbines were virtually still in December of 2010. Working at less than one-hundredth of capacity, producing electricity for fewer than 30,000 homes. Conventional coal and gas-fired power stations filled the void.
The capacity of Britain's 280 wind farms is around 5.2 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power almost three million homes. The plan is to increase the number of wind turbines by another 10,000 and be producing 30% of the nations energy by 2020.
At best wind turbines work at 30 to 40 percent of their potential and when it's really cold at a lot less. For example, on the December 20, 2010, the average temperature was minus 6C, output from wind farms was 59 mW, according to the National Grid. But the NG only collects data for half of the farms, so the true figure was around a 120 mW; that's one fifth of capacity.

Built in the wrong place

More than half of Britain's wind farms have been built where there is not enough wind. But more than half of Britain’s wind farms are operating at less than 25 per cent capacity. In England, the figure rises to 70 per cent of onshore developments, research shows. Europe's biggest windfarm, Whitelee, near Glasgow, boasts 140 turbines which in 2010 ran at less than 25 per cent of capacity
Experts say that over-generous subsidies mean hundreds of turbines are going up on sites that are simply not breezy enough. Britain’s most feeble wind farm is in Blyth Harbour in Northumberland, where the nine turbines lining the East Pier reach a meagre 4.9 per cent of their capacity.

Beware! Subsides at Work

Michael Jefferson, the professor of international business and sustainability who carried out the analysis, says financial incentives designed to help Britain meet green energy targets are encouraging firms to site their developments badly.

Under the controversial Renewable Obligation scheme, British consumers pay £1billion a year in their fuel bills to subsidise the drive towards renewable energy.

Some argue that the full subsidy be restricted to turbines which achieve capacity of 30 per cent or more – managed by just eight of England’s 104 on-shore wind farms in 2010. This figure seems a trifle low for such a big investment.

Nick Medic, of Renewable UK, which represents the wind industry, said talk of efficiency was ‘unhelpful’. You could always put one in your front garden. These are also eligible for the feed-in tariff and can provide greater savings than solar panels, though your home is less likely to be suitable for them.  A wind turbine costs between £15,000 to £22,000 to install, but this should provide enough electricity for lighting and appliances in a typical home, according to the Energy Saving Trust. A 2.5 kWh turbine should generate around 4,000 kWh of electricity per year, which could mean income and savings of £1,300 per year. However, your home may not be suitable if there are large obstacles such as buildings, trees or hills nearby, as turbines work best in exposed locations with an average wind speed of no less than 11 miles per hour. You will probably need planning permission, too.

Solar panels: When the sun forgets to shine

Estate agent Jonathan Cunliffe, says: 'While solar panels do not necessarily add value to a home, they are an increasingly appealing feature for buyers, especially if there is the opportunity to sell energy back to the grid. They are becoming a standard piece of kit on new-build homes.'
However, consumer magazine Which? tells us, consumers are being misled over how the schemes work and how much money they can save. In fact, the Which? survey says "the solar panel industry is blighted by mis-selling." Ten out of 14 solar thermal panel companies made misleading claims. The misleading claims within the industry prompt the question: Can solar panel savings ever eclipse their costs?

Beware! Free Lunches and Solar Panels

Consumer groups warn that householders should think carefully before entering into contracts with companies offering free panels. If you don't want to pay for the panels, then you could sign up to a 'rent a roof' scheme. These are soaring in popularity after a glut of companies, including British Gas, starting offering free panels in return for pocketing the feed-in tariff. Liz Laine, of Consumer Focus, says: 'Customers need to go into these deals with their eyes open. Asking the right questions and getting legal advice could help them avoid the potential pitfalls.

The greenest government ever (according to Dave) cuts the feed in tariff

In 2011 the feed in tariff was cut from 43p pkwh to 21p pkwh. In 2012 the tariff was cut from 21p to 16p. Now, that's what we call government support for alternative energy. The coalition government also reduced the length of the subsidy period from 25 years to 20 years.


Britain's energy policy is in the grip of the Gaia panic, the imagined imperative that the planet must be saved from man-made pollution. This panic has given rise to a form of tokenism to appease the planet god by building wind turbines at fantastic expense, in the certain knowledge that they will never produce enough electricity to boil a kettle of water, a tokenism that sets fanciful targets for reducing emissions so far into the future without a hope of achieving the goal.
However, at the level of the citizen, the government's tokenism become insidious; attempting to make the populace feel guilty for leaving the TV on stand-by. Like the man said, "If we all do a little, all we will achieve is a little".

The Government talks about a green energy future but it's not beyond imagination that soon they'll be digging for coal again. For certain they will be building nuclear power stations, or rather the Chinese will be building them. All the green energy solutions added together will not produce enough energy to meet our needs.



The rain caused Dave problems at the beginning of 2014. The Somerset Levels were under water for a month due the failure of the Environment Agency to listen to local calls for dredging. Dave expressed his concern, "unacceptable" he said, he sent in the army. Well, two majors turned up, just two, no troops, they looked at the water and went back to base. The locals told the army that they were not needed, dredging was needed. Owen Paterson, Environment Secretary, also visited the Levels; the locals told him to get lost and resign. The poor man just couldn't comprehend their hostility - paddling around in their front rooms for a month may have had something to do with it. And clearly it doesn't help when some Tory talking head says in a radio interview:

"The problem with dredging is that you have to keep doing it."

The flooding in the West Country was a big moment for government, especially when the water lingered because the longer it lingered people began to start asking questions. Like, who's supposed to be maintaining our rivers and canals? What happened to that agency that used to dredge rivers and such? Actually, history is not that important here, the work of the Water Authority passed to Defra and within Defra, keeping the water where it belonged was passed to the Environment Agency. Lord Smith is in charge of the EA but the poor man is quite clueless when it comes to water. For the record, Smith gets paid £100k for a three day week and a dozen other individuals 'working' for the EA receive a similar pay packet.
Dave decided to take a hand by chairing a Cobra meeting himself. All these Cobra meetings are secret, so we can only wonder if the full array of flood management schemes were working effectively around the country. The expertise exists to prevent the flooding seen on the Somerset Levels, it’s just not being deployed or invited to contribute - it may not be all about dredging but a little bit of dredging would not have gone amiss.

Misplaced training

Mysterious groups called Gold and Silver were apparently spearheading the rescue on the ground. These shadowy groups are supposedly coordinated by senior police officers. Although, it appears, judging by the limp efforts of those 'on the ground' that Gold and Silver are not that well  prepared for this type of disaster. Indeed, we know for sure that in September 2010, police officers from four forces took part in earthquake training. This training cost £1 million and was provided by leadership training outfit Common Purpose. Perhaps the police should have gone on to stage two 'Flood Defence and Rescue'.

Water: A prime example of corporate welfare

With the introduction of the 1989 Water Act, the ten Water authorities in England and Wales, which had previously been created under the 1973 Water Act, became private limited companies. The Water Services Regulation Authority (OFWAT) was set up to add legitimacy to the privatizations project. OFWAT provided the regulation framework, setting out performance standards and targets, a cap on price increases being key.

There can be few examples of other private companies throughout the world which have a regulator to ensure that they receive a set rate of return on their investment. This could be described as a prime example of corporate welfare.

Changes in the Pipe Line

The water companies are not happy anymore. Over the next 20 years the water companies will need to fund a £90billion upgrade of the system (you know, for things like plugging leaks) and we know the water companies don't like spending money. In November 2012, the regulator had plans for changes to the way companies charge for supplies.

Obviously, the water companies would be borrowing the money they need and the changes proposed by the regulator would add a degree of uncertainty to their revenue streams. The banks will raise interest rates to cater for this uncertainty. Under the existing system the regulator sets a maximum price ceiling for water bills overall. Under the changes, it would set a separate limit for each element of the bill, such as sewage, running call centres and maintaining pipes. Naturally, the consumer will pay for all this.

Almost every water supplier in England and Wales rejected or criticised the planned reforms. They can complain as much as they like but unless they start spending some serious money on the UK's water supply you can expect big trouble ahead. And the coalition are doing not much at all about the problem, leaving things to OFWAT is not good enough.

Water Quality Around the British Coastline

The capacity of the privatised water companies to deal with waste treatment is woeful. This is due in part to the Victorian infrastructure they are using to deal with the problem but it is also due to poor investment on their part. They are only interested in short term profits not long term improvements in water supply and treatment.
Fact: the water companies are responsible for over 20,000 Combined Sewer Overflow pipes. These are used to cope with the pressure placed on the system by heavy rain fall and flooding, the alternative would be to have sewer waste coming back up domestic toilets.
However, some water companies are using these overflow pipes routinely to dispose of waste and the Environment Agency is not bothering to check up on their activities; they prefer to use a system of limits on use and self reporting if limits are exceeded.

In Sum

It is estimated that at least 500 overflow pipes discharge directly onto or near beaches, exposing bathers to a high probability of disease. The Environment Agency's performance can only be described as limp. Water companies are dumping raw untreated sewer waste into the sea around Britain's coastline and they are under-investing on new infrastructure. OFWAT tinkers but has nothing radical to offer and the Government has no plans to manage our water stock into the future.

Governments see their role as delivering water to the public and industry. This has to change to sustainably managing water resources for society and the natural environment.

Findus horse lasagne, an inedible plot

This story started out simply enough, during early February 2013 and the more it unfolded the more we learnt about how rotten the food industry is but not because some abattoir in Romania hoodwinked a food processor France but because of greed and ignorance right here in Great Britain.
Findus, the private equity supplier of ready-meals was shocked to learn that its 100% beef lasagne meals contained horse meat. Comigel, the French supplier, was surprised to learn that it was making fraudulent claims on its packaging about the beef content of its ready-meals.
Romania, the source of the horsemeat said they hadn't supplied Comigel with any meat. Ah, but they did supply someone in Cyprus, who supplied someone in Holland, who supplied a French firm, who supplied Comigel. Then, the FSA raided abattoirs here and found horse!
We have heard from the Food Standards Agency, they do not test for horse meat, that's the job of the supermarkets. And why doesn't the so-called Food Standards Agency test for adulteration of meat products, because some clever person decided back in 2003 to adopt instead an “intelligence-led” approach to detect fraud or adulteration. Well, intelligence in this instance seems to have been at a premium. Testing DNA to check for “food authenticity” passed to Defra, that would be the same Ministry that managed to loose 700 trading standards officers over the past couple of years.

We have also heard from the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who says, everyone who has some responsibility should be responsible (roughly translated as, 'I don't have a clue').

We also heard from then Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, taking time off from his day job, digging up the green belt, to tell us that it's an industry problem but it's all safe to eat. Pressed to say how he knew it was safe he said "because the industry says so". Pressed again on his certainty, given that the industry had not reported back before he spoke, he said, "because the industry says so". He then mounted his tractor and went back to his digging.

Apart from Findus horse lasagne, supermarkets have been busy clearing their shelves of 'beef' burgers, full of horse meat supplied from Ireland. And stop press! Waitrose removed their beef meatballs because they were found to contain pig.
No Conspiracy, and more regulation is not the answer

The Government has spoken darkly of a conspiracy by organised crime to pass off horse meat as beef. Every consignment of unprocessed meat must be fully traceable, but there is no rule governing origin labelling for processed products like mince. So where's the conspiracy, where's the crime? There's a hole in the regulations and meat processors have used it as adeptly as the tax lawyer working for the Man from Top Shop.
This fiasco shows us clearly that the regulation of meat production is not the glowing tale of efficiency that we have been sold by government agencies; they can trace every cow but can't trace every bag of mince. Ah, but you watch, they will try - everyone involved in the industry will be given even longer forms to fill in, with more boxes to tick; abattoirs, processors, butchers will all have more rules to follow. This will happen because this is what always happens but it doesn't necessarily improve the situation. And big Dave Cameron is making noises about people facing the full force of the law - which law would that be Dave?

John Seddon of the Guardian summed up the situation as follows:

"Witness the Mid Staffs inquiry: Robert Francis QC acknowledged the dysfunctional consequences of form-filling, cost-management and regulation, but promised more of the same. Doing the wrong thing righter, whether with health or horse meat, will make neither our healthcare nor our food any safer."

Surplus Profit

So, lots of surprise and ignorance all round; it's amazing how silly big business and government agencies become when the mystery ingredient of surplus profit is discovered. The real criminals in this affair are the supermarkets, forever looking for the cheapest supplier, for forever putting pressure on suppliers to reduce their costs.

Brussels abruptly banned the use of desinewed meat (DSM) – the scraps recovered from animal carcasses after the prime cuts have been removed. DSM had long been a major part of the supply chain for British meat products. Suppliers here were given just 48 hours to find alternative sources of cheap meat for things like ready meals and burgers, they chose horse.

The supermarkets probably didn't even notice the switch from DSM rubbish to horse because they only care about costs, they don't have people in labs testing everything to make sure their consumers are safe. They do not have harmonious long-term relationships with suppliers.


More regulation may provide reassurance for the public but it will not tackle what is essentially a business problem. When and until the supermarkets re-think their relationships with their suppliers, i.e. being prepared to form relationships built around quality control and consistency rather than the short-term quest for lower costs, nothing will change.

Defra stands for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and this covers the activities of 28 different agencies. In 2013 we had the horse meat scandal, the abandoned badger culls, the ash dieback crisis and in 2014 the flooding; Defra was found wanting in all cases. Defra has had their budget cut by £500m to date but curiously found money to pay performance bonuses of between £10 and £15 thousand to senior staff - we may wonder what exactly they were congratulating themselves for? Perhaps the bonuses were being paid in advance of an expected dividend from Defra's promotion of GM crops.

Questioned over the impact and size of the cuts to this important department Owen Paterson said "resources will be shifted to respond to changing needs". As comedian Frank Carson used to say "it's the way I tell 'em".

Update: Dave put an end to Paterson’s stand-up routine by sacking him in his re-shuffle of July 2014.


Gimme Shelter : Housing Policy

Social housing in Britain is facing a crisis, anyone who doubts this should consider the numbers from London's Tower Hamlets, where 24 thousand families are chasing two thousand homes. Each year the number of applicants rises and the number of properties falls.

The year of the clearances

The Localism Act 2011

As of 9 November 2012 the Localism Act 2011 came into force. Significantly, a homeless family cannot refuse an offer of accommodation from a local authority, if they do refuse, the local authority is released from its duty to provide accommodation. Further, by finding short-term private accommodation the council has fulfilled its obligations, it no longer has to provide a home for life.

The Tory Social Cleansing programme continues apace and one day, when the historians find the courage to pick up their pens again, they will write of now as the time of the clearances. We are not here talking about Dale Farm's immobile travellers, the victims here are the poor of the inner cities. Poor people who lower the tone are being moved to the marches, to the dark corners of the nation, to Hull and Bournemouth.

Yes, the historians will say that this was the time of the slum landlord and bailiffs, of the council chiefs, washing their hands like Pilate, of the conniving developers, of alarmist politicians frightening the nice people with tales of the human leeches sucking the life blood out of the housing budget.

The historians will tell us of the face of compassionate Conservatism, a land of sheds with beds and a stealth-like housing law that removed the rights of the homeless in 2012, another gouge out of the Welfare State.

Local authorities were given a legal obligation to take families in and find them social housing locally at an affordable rent. No longer. As of now, that obligation has been removed. And no one has bothered to provide a definition of what is meant by an 'affordable' rent. Now, families can be housed anywhere that the local authority finds a rent that suits its budget. Children's schools, local ties, work, now count for nothing - you will move. Kensington and Chelsea have already dislodged 800 souls, some of them lifetime residents in the area.

The master plan is superb, once wealthy areas have purged all the poor residents, at a stroke they have removed all the social costs of supporting poor families in terms of welfare and care. They can then focus on providing homes for aspiring young singles, who don't require housing benefit and can afford to pay top dollar. The receiving local authorities in the forgotten towns of the North, or in the South at the seaside, will see their costs go through the the proverbial roof, assuming the accommodation has one, and they will have their 'tones' lowered.

Now Factor In the Housing Benefits Cap

Housing Benefit Cap, changes from 1 April 2011 (figures from Gov.UK)

A limit will be introduced so that Local Housing Allowance does not exceed:
£250 a week for a one bedroom property (including shared accommodation)
£290 a week for a two bedroom property
£340 a week for a three bedroom property
£400 a week for a four bedroom property.

At the level of ideology the Tory believes that cutting housing benefit will force rents to fall, however, this free market nonsense fails to notice that we have a housing shortage. Why, because New Labour didn't build enough houses and the incumbents only talk about building 'new garden cites' but they have failed to get the private house builders to leave their yachts in the Med, they are sulking because they only want to pay for public land once homes are built and sold. Also consider the role of private landlords here, since the Cap was introduced they are less keen to let to benefits claimants because they can no longer milk the benefits system.

Housing Facts

The Government planned to slash £2bn from the housing benefit bill, it's gone up by £4.7bn. Nearly all new claimants are in work but can't afford to pay their extortionate rents. And 42% of tenants are living in sub-standard properties. The Tories have no plans to regulate private landlords or to introduce rent controls, they prefer people control.
Something to think about: 7 out of 10 homeless people discharged from hospital are discharged back onto the street - more evidence of compassionate Conservatism.

Now factor in the crack down on squatting

Clause 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act is now the law of the land (Sept.2012), this made squatting in residential buildings punishable by up to 6 months jail and/or fines of up to £5,000.
Council and Housing Associations have 5 million names on their waiting lists, 80,000 families are officially classified as homeless, at a time when fewer houses are being built now than in 1923.

Estimates put the number of squatters at around 20,000, dislodging these people could backfire on the government by bringing the woeful ability of Britain to house its people even more into the spotlight. This move will of course help absentee foreign landlords but it will also prove expensive for the police, who will be handling removals and the local authorities, responsible for housing the homeless.
Footnote: Sept' 12, 2012, Westminster Council made the first use of the new squatting law.... only 19,999 to go then.

Factor in plans to cut housing benefit for under-25s

Crisis, the national charity for single homeless people, attacked Mr Cameron’s plans, which would affect 385,000 people in the UK – pointing out that more than half of them have children and many are working, looking for work, or are ill or disabled and many would have fled the family home after suffering violence or abuse.

The average age at which people can now afford their first home has risen to 35 years. Dave says that young people claiming housing benefit should live at home with their parents - he plans to save £1.8bn. His saving plans might make it a tad difficult for the young to get on their bikes and go looking for those elusive minimum wage jobs.

Understanding Tory Housing Policy

There's not much to it really, Grant Shapps talked about being committed to Social Housing, he was demonstrably not. The Localism Act has given the green light to local authorities to do whatever they like on housing and they are. They are moving people on housing benefit out of the boroughs, miles away up North. They are even demolishing social housing stock to make way for private developers and they are not building affordable housing. They are selling vacant homes to housing developers, not local residence under the Right to Buy scheme. They are doing nothing about the rack-renting, slum landlords. Note, 25% of working renters are claiming housing benefit because they don't earn enough to pay the rent. And as the social housing stock diminishes, the rent goes up. The Building and Social Housing Foundation found that 93 per cent of new housing benefit claims made between January 2010 and December 2011 were made by households containing at least one employed adult. Let's recall that the rent capping part of the Welfare Reform Bill was designed to "reintroduce the culture of work in households where it may have been absent for generations", that Bill didn't say anything about working people having to move half way across the country when their housing benefit was cut.

Facts: 4.95 million, the number of housing benefit claimants in Great Britain, excluding Northern Ireland; 300,000, the number of extra claimants since January 2010, of which 279,000 were employed.

Local councils are also rewriting the rule book on allocating homes. There are 5 million people on social housing waiting lists across the country, for many the councils’ new allocation policies are making the waiting even longer. It will also force many more people into the clutches of the slum landlords, and Dave has no plans to cap private rents. The old system of allocation was based on points for those with the greatest need but now extra points will be available for citizens who meet the council's new criteria, in particular, having a job.

In the year 2011-12, there were only 15,500 housing starts. Predictions on the rise in the number of households over the next 25 years say that 230,000 new homes will be needed each year to keep pace with growing demand. These figures alone tell you everything you need to know about Tory housing policy, it's tragic and they are not facing up to it.

Now factor in help for the developers

Planning laws have been altered to make it easier for developers to renegotiate deals with town halls over the number of affordable homes they must supply. Once there existed a sanction that roughly 25% all new builds would be social housing. Now, under the new scheme of things, developers are generously offering to build no social housing. For example, the developer of 211 homes at Bletchley that was due to include 63 affordable homes recently successfully resubmitted their plans, minus any affordable homes. That is, affordable for low paid public sector workers.

Andrew Whitaker, from the Home Builders Federation seems to think that renegotiating deals is perfectly acceptable:

"Private housebuilders deliver the majority of affordable housing in this country. In a few cases, sites where planning permissions were negotiated some years ago are no longer viable to develop in the current market."

Viewed from another perspective, Tory policy on affordable housing reduces to putting developer' profitability before long-term community development.

David Hopkins, deputy leader of Milton Keynes council wrote to planning minister, Nick Boles to inform him his policy
"...unfairly and inappropriately favours the interest of developers over the needs of present and future residents".

Now factor in the bedroom tax

The bedroom tax is being introduced to end under-occupation or make additional savings in social housing benefits. Those affected, some 600,000 souls, will have to find between £14 and £25 extra to keep the spare room. Alternatively, they may have to move to elsewhere in the country since there may not be a property the size they need in their local community.

An interesting feature about those who will be affected by this tax, (which the government insists on calling a 'spare room subsidy' because it doesn't like the association with the Poll Tax,) is the high number of disabled people involved. On the governments own figures 420,000 disabled people will be taxed for their rooms. For example, suppose that each person will pay the extra £14, that amounts to £305m saved in benefit. If they can't pay, the government has set up a hardship fund that local authorities can tap into, of £30m; safe to say, there will be hardship. How much we wonder will it cost local authorities to assess which disabled people to move on and which to leave alone since some, perhaps many, will have specially adapted dwellings?

Deceitfully, Call Me Dave, told parliament (06/03/13) in a response to Ed Miliband, that the retired elderly would not be affected by the tax. It may be true that existing pensioner benefits claimants will not be bothered by the tax but all new claimants, after the introduction of Universal Benefit in October 2013 would be.

Also, families with a disabled child under the age of 10 with their own room may lose that since the new rules state that children under 10 can share. This may cause problems for siblings. The tax will also apply to children of the same sex up to sixteen, who must now share a room.
People who require round-the-clock care will also lose out under the new rules. If the carer is supplied from outside then they will not be affected but if the full time carer is a partner they will be expected to pay up or lose the room.

The history of Right to Buy

Under the old Tory “Right to Buy” scheme, 1.7 million council houses and flats were sold at discounted prices to their tenants between 1981 and 1995. The provision of new social housing was switched from local authorities to housing associations. Whereas in 1978 32 per cent of all housing in Great Britain was owned by local authorities, the proportion was under 19 per cent by 1995.

The ConDem's latest gimmick, sorry, boost to social mobility, is to allow council house residents to buy their properties and gain up to 50% discounts. This of course assumes that the Council of Mortgage Lenders director general Paul Smee will dish out the required mortgages. Mr Smee said: "lenders will need to conform to all relevant regulatory requirements" - but no one knew what he was talking about. And in case you worry that reducing the housing stock in this way will only lead to longer queues on the social housing waiting list - worry not.
Grant Shapps, one time Housing minister told us:

'We are determined to maintain the number of affordable homes for rent - so for the first time, every additional home that is sold will be replaced by a new affordable home on a one-for-one basis.'

Did anyone spot a gap in Shapps's thinking there - i.e. some sort of disjunction between money in and money out. Are we expecting Shapps's house builders to be waiting trowel in hand for a house sale before they set to - all very odd.

On 3 January 2014 the government announced plans to increase the maximum discount for a house to 70% of its value. The five year tenancy criterion will remain, and should the property be sold within the first five years of the original sale, part or all of the discount will be required to be paid back. Right to Buy has been a disaster for the British housing market. It's increased the housing benefits bill, added pressure to local authority waiting list and forced many families into the grip of the unregulated private rented market.

There's more - not a new scheme but just in case you missed it.... Communities have the Right to Buy post offices, libraries, swimming pools or pubs threatened with closure. This move follows the shutdown, over the past decade, of more than 5,000 post offices, 3,500 pubs and 200 public libraries.

FirstBuy/Help to buy

We don't know if Mr Smee liked the FirstBuy scheme started in 2011, through which an interest free 20% loan was made available on new homes, if the buyer could find a 5% deposit and if, Mr Smee would loan the other 75%. Wait a moment! Is this the same FirstBuy scheme that Shapps announced the week before (March 2012). The conditions have changed but its the very same scheme; giving money to people who can't afford to buy an overpriced pile of bricks. Leaving many, further down the road, ladened with debts they can never repay. And deep irony; citizens who can't afford to buy will be subsidising those who think they can.

What exactly does FirstBuy/Help to buy and Right to Buy do for the tens of thousands, perhaps millions of citizens living in sub-standard, rat infested, damp, rotten, virtually uninhabitable private rented accommodation - no question mark required, the answer's nothing. The Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which was due to come to an end in 2016, will be extended until 2020.

This scheme, which involves the government lending prospective buyers up to 20% of the cost of a home so that the buyer only needs a 5% deposit, covers only new-build homes, which has made it less controversial than the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee programme that can apply to any property worth up to £600,000.

The equity loan scheme has already helped to fund the purchase of 25,000 homes. According to the Treasury, extending it from 2016 to 2020 will help another 120,000 people buy homes. Shapps announced a return to 95% mortgages to boost private house building, help first time buyers, and encourage social mobility, blah...

The plan involves the taxpayer underwriting mortgages for first-time buyers who want to buy a new-build home. We will see what happens when the current holiday on stamp duty for first-time buyers ends? The Council of Mortgage Lenders director general, Paul Smee, likes the idea.

What ever happened to the Eco-Towns

House building in Britain is at its lowest level since the 1920s. New Labour came up with the idea of the biggest house building scheme since the second world war, in the shape of Eco-Towns. The original plan imagined at least ten towns, under the current government this has fallen to just three, and the proposed towns, if they get built, will probably end up being small villages.

The reason the scheme has foundered is several fold. Grant Shapps slashed public funding for the scheme by a half. Most the money for this scheme was coming from the private sector and when they don't want to know, it's a sure sign the opportunities to make a fast buck are largely absent. Absent because the building spec' for these eco sites was rigorous, far more rigorous than Mr Wimpy et al was use to bodging to - these builds were supposed to be carbon zero dwellings. Add to the mix, lobby groups such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England protesting against the schemes, and perhaps, more importantly the government reneged on its promise to ease up planning regulations for the scheme.

The present Coalition government is aware that more than 100,000 new homes are needed now, that number is additional to the 120,000 completions to September 2012. New starts for the same twelve months fell by 9% to less than 100,000. New Labour's "eco-towns" project which, similar to the coalition's new towns programme, had intended to construct new settlements of up to 20,000 homes have not materialised. The politics of housebuilding is such that if the Government is not prepared to take on local interests then not much will change.

Nick Clegg says that the government will intervene where schemes have hit a wall and would supply builders with funding, which would be repaid only when the homes were sold. There’s no point here, we are just telling you what Nick said although we don’t know who told him to say it.

Garden Cities?

George Osborne announced his plan for 15,000 new homes at Ebbsfleet in Kent and strangely described it as a new Garden City, "the first for 100 years". In the annals of idiocy that was a seminal moment.

Ebenezer Howard's came up with the original vision of ‘slumless, smokeless cities' was a part of a campaign for co-operative development, land reform and land capture. One school of thought describes Howard's vision as radical and socialist but another suggests that it was reactionary, that is, a reaction to the overcrowding and industrial pollution of growing Victorian cities and a call for a return to pre-capitalist forms of production.
Ebenezer wrote in 1898: "Human society and the beauty of nature are meant to be enjoyed together," and "Town and Country must be married, and out of this joyous union will spring a new hope, a new life, a new civilization." The first and only garden cities ever built were Letchworth and Welwyn, built in the first quarter of the last century but they  did not quite match up to the ideal and soon became nothing more than dormitory towns.

There was no place in Ebenezer's scheme of things for absentee landlords and speculators; his scheme is about self-sufficiency, with industry and services providing for the needs of the local community, with profits ploughed back into community development.

George's Ebbsfleet plan describes no more than another dormitory town, the plans for which have been in place as far back as 1996. In 2012, the government and local councils agreed with the developer, Land Securities, to build 22,000 houses at Ebbsfleet. (We must have missed George announcing that one.) The fact of Land Securities's involvement clearly rules out applying a 'garden city' tag to Ebbsfleet. And let us not overlook the £4000 per house subsidy that George is kicking in, just to encourage Land Securities to build on a low-lying swamp.

And the only reason there is a HS1 train station at Ebbsfleet, in case you have ever travelled to France and wondered why you are stopping at a station where no gets on and no one gets off, is because Michael Heseltine once dreamed of building a financial centre there. Well, that did not happen but promises have been made to the builders and HS1 needs the revenue. The high speed line has been a flop and George is now promoting it as a commuter line "just 19 minutes to St.Pancras".

Asked why Ebbsfleet had been chosen as the location, Osborne gave the Andrew Marr show a pathetic set of reasons for choosing the location:

"In Ebbsfleet there is the land available, there is fantastic infrastructure, with a high-speed line. It's on the river, it's in the south-east of England, where a lot of the housing pressure has been, and, crucially, we've got local communities and local MPs who support the idea."

In fact, the government have already considered far more desirable locations for new building. A Whitehall report recommended they be built in Buckinghamshire, Warwickshire or Oxfordshire. The report was drawn up after Dave gave a speech two years earlier in support of reviving the idea of garden cities to address 21st-century housing needs. Nick Clegg gave his support to the report, "As a government we are committed to publishing a prospectus on garden cities, which I very much hope we will do as soon as possible.” In seems clear that this report will not be seeing the light of day before the 2015 election, Dave would not want to upset all those Tory voters, especially those in Witney. And in case you are wondering, the swamp dwelling denizens of Ebbsfleet are unmoved by the prospect of a new housing development, their idyll of 18th century arts and crafts living was crushed with the building of the Blue Water shopping centre.


Every day in the newspaper you will read someone saying that the answer to our housing problems is to build more social housing. The government says and keeps saying that it intends to but doesn't. However the voices calling for a social house building programme are overlooking the behaviour of local authorities, who don't want more social housing. You don't have to go to Kensington and Chelsea for evidence, try Cornwall, where many influential voices are against social housing because they fear that the tone will be lowered by 'problem' families arriving from Kensington and Chelsea. In Cornwall house prices are high, wages are low and they prefer to keep their local housing problems hidden.

Readers' Note: Grant Shapps lost the housing brief to Mark Prisk in September 2012 but nothing has been seen or heard from Prisk, which makes us wonder whether Dave has actually told him he's in charge of housing now?



Bloody Foreigners: Immigration Policy

Bloody Foreigners, is a marvellous book by Robert Winder (2004) in which he relates the history of immigration to Britain over the centuries, with the emphasis on the positive contribution that foreigners have made to British culture. His account includes gems like the introduction of fish and chips by foreigners in the 19th century.

Multiculturalism comes to an end

Speaking to an international security conference in Munich our leader, Call me Dave, announced the end of 'state multiculturalism'. He said he had finally realised that it posed a threat to British culture. Well, he didn't actually put it in those terms, that would have been too honest.

He actually said:

“Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream,” “We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.” (2011)

All the muslims in the room started asking who 'they' referred to, knowing full well he meant them.
Mr Cameron said that the Government's anti-terrorist strategy was under review and an 'anti-liberal' test would be applied to muslim groups, and those which failed would not receive funding and would not be welcomed for tea and cakes at No. 10 any more.
Sadiq Khan, Labour's shadow justice secretary, accused Dave of "writing propaganda" for the nationalist English Defence League by calling on Britons to be more robust in rejecting Islamist extremism.

If Mr Khan had been a sharper wit he might have noticed a slight flaw in Dave's argument. That is, the assertion that something called state multiculturalism actually exists or did exist under New Labour. He may have also pondered exactly what Mr Cameron was talking about, could it have been the Coalition's own brand of multiculturalism. First, let's be clear, you would struggle to find any government document or act of parliament that gives an official national commitment to the concept multiculturalism. But if a set of policies did exist, it would mean providing positive endorsement, perhaps even a celebration of communal diversity for the wider benefit of the larger society. Strictly speaking, multicultural policies involve the attribution of special rights to groups defined by their cultural, linguistic, religious, or ethnic identity, with a view to preserve the latter against the assimilationist impulses of majority groups.

The populist view

However, in the past, the populist press left its readers in no doubt that multiculturalism was all part of dastardly New Labour plot.
"How Labour threw open doors to mass migration in secret plot to make a multicultural UK" (Daily Mail, Feb, 2010)
The Mail is here referring to a Cabinet Office document from 2000, not intended for publication, which discusses the impact of encouraging immigration, for social and economic benefits. Sir Andrew Green, Chairman of MigrationWatch, decided that this document was evidence of a "Labour conspiracy to change the nature of our society by mass immigration." How this transforms into making the UK truly multicultural is just baffling. A more cogent argument is that New Labour wanted to encourage immigration from the Commonwealth and these immigrants would then look favourably on the party at voting time. Encouraging immigration from Europe also made sense, both in terms meeting skills shortages and more importantly, keeping down wage costs in low skill areas of work. The idea of state sponsored multiculturalism just does not make sense, however, at a local level it is certainly the case that some local authorities through their own activities are doing a fair degree of sponsoring. Perhaps though, it would take a full time social anthropologist to determine what was being seen came under the heading of multiculturalism, diversity policies or pure silliness on the part of local authorities.

New Labour's Actual Policy Position

Contrary to populist views, New Labour was not attempting to destroy the last vestiges of nationhood but since 2001, was moving towards the assimilation of minority communities, of integrating foreigners into British culture. This of course has not worked due the insistence of government pronouncements about not upsetting ethnic cultural sensibilities. New Labour's main policy thrust has always been in areas concerned with discrimination of all descriptions, not sponsoring particular cultures. In fact, Tony Blair made a similar speech to Cameron in 2006, in “Our Nation’s Future”, he cited the London bombings as a reason for adopting a new, critical attitude towards multiculturalism, i.e. muslim bombers.

What was Cameron actually saying?

He wasn't talking about multiculturalism. He was talking about the terrorist threat, which is emboldened by our welcoming tolerance; and which radical muslims see as a sign of weakness to be exploited. So expect the anti-terrorist agenda to become even more strident, expect more laws to restrict civil liberties.

Now, there appears to be a contradiction in Mr Cameron's plan to end the dead parrot of multiculturalism, in that it conflicts with the central thrust of the Big Society, namely, the localism agenda; communities establishing their own private worlds, e.g. free schools, faith schools, culturally based businesses. The Big Society relies on autonomous growth at the local level, restricting anti-liberal tendencies relies on constraint from the centre.

Border Force/Border Agency/Border Farce

The nation relies on the Border Force to keep illegals out. The name Border Force conjurers up an image of an agency like the Special Boat Squad or Navy Seals, highly trained operatives, primed for action.

Unfortunately, the Force doesn't manage to keep illegals out and the Agency does not have a clue where they all are, or what their number might be. Illegals will have no problem finding work in the factories and farms of England, false identities for docile cheap labour is one of our few growth industries. Add in the back of a lorry boys, the visa overstayers, the bogus foreign students and 'failed' asylum seekers (who just seem to evaporate once they realise their claim has failed) and what you have is a lot of citizens that will not be filling out the next Census.
All these illegals have started a bit of a panic for Dave and his team, and sad to report they seem to have over-reacted again. The restriction on student visas from the sub-continent and China and other parts where students are actually prepared to pay top dollar for an education here are forcing these children of the nouveau riche to go elsewhere. And perhaps more worryingly, restrictions on labour from outside the EU are also having dire consequences, e.g. a shortage of Bangladeshi cooks is radically affecting the fodder coming out the those restaurant kitchens.

Cutting Immigration

Nick Clegg's plans (March 2013) to require overseas visitors from certain countries to pay "security bonds" were widely attacked for being “discriminatory”.

Under Mr Clegg’s proposals, visitors would have to put up a bond, of at least £1,000, which would be forfeited if they failed to leave the country when they promised. Clearly, Nick hasn't thought this one through, £1000 for a ticket to the UK is of no concern to someone prepared to hide in the back of a lorry for weeks and pay up to £20,000 for the privilege. He talked about “high-risk” countries to which the bond will apply. The UK Border Agency has yet to draw up a list of countries, that will be when the problems start. If Britain starts charging, other countries will reciprocate. And while Nick was in a tough mood he sent out the message that the Lib-Dems were no longer keen on a previous policy commitment to offer an amnesty to foreign nationals who had been living illegally in Britain for ten years. He didn't say if that was a pledge or not?
Dave says he will end benefits 'free-for-all'

Migrants access to unemployment benefits, healthcare and social housing will be restricted. Dave's main target is "benefit tourists", those who come here to take advantage of our generous welfare system.

He spoke of his plans to strip EU migrants of jobless benefits after six months. He clearly isn't aware that that is what happens to everyone on JSA, after six months you're on the work programme sunshine. So nothing new there then, except that foreigners will have to 'prove' they have a good chance of getting a job. All well and good but as long as we are in the EU the free movement of labour is unqualified, despite the fact that the ConDems want to rewrite the rules.

More radically, the message to local housing authorities is that immigrants need to be here for five years before qualifying for social housing. And for non-EU migrants, paying for GP visits and hospital treatment is being proposed but no one has worked out how this will be put into practice and we have not heard what the doctors think about policing the health service. However, we are being presented with a confused picture, EEA citizens come under various agreements that allow the NHS to recoup costs, that is not happening; combined with those outside the EEA this is costing us between £10m and £20m. Asking EEA citizens to pay would be tantamount to charging them twice. For non-EU migrants the position of the NHS and charging is completely rational. They ask what nationality someone is, so they do not need to waste time chasing people for money. Also, the health secretary, Mr Hunt, tells us the numbers put forward by his boss are simply wrong, it's not costing £20m but rather £200m.

Dave tried to get clever with statistics by telling us that there has been a 40% increase in the number of social lettings taken up by migrants between 2007-08 and 2011-12 but this was only an increase from 6.5% to 9% in the proportion of such lettings.

All of the rhetoric from both leaders of the ConDems distracts the public from the their failure on the economy. The truth is that foreigners do not come here to sponge on our benefits system. The statistics bear this out, of the two million net migrants to the UK from the eight eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004, just 13,000 people have claimed jobseeker's allowance (JSA).

Go Home or Face Arrest (July 2013)

Home Office vans telling illegal immigrants to "go home" were seen driving around London as part of the government's breath-taking new assault on the foreigner problem. The idea here is that illegals will use the text number on the van to get fixed up with a paid for trip home. The Home Office told complaining Liberals like Nick Clegg that the go home campaign was already producing positive results. They were not able to provide any evidence of success.

A second prong attack was being organised by the UK Border Agency. It was reported that the UK Border Agency was stopping and performing random ID checks on foreign looking people at South East train stations. (Aug, 2nd 2013). Non-foreign looking citizens curious to know what the Agency were up to were told to get lost or face arrest.

Unkindly, cynics are saying that the Home Office is engaging in a 'zero tolerance’ pantomime, as the political parties compete in a race to the bottom on immigration policy.

Update: Home Secretary, Theresa May abandoned the van idea, calling it "a too blunt instrument". (Oct. 2013) It's said that her back tracking was inspired by press stories suggesting that only one man had phoned the Home Office to book a ticket home.
Final word: Dave’s pledge to reduce net immigration to tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands before the next election is shot. Figures released in August 2014 show that net immigration doubled over the previous twelve months.

The Final Word Goes to Dave

Sorry Dave must have the final word, he’s now (Nov. 2014) on a mission to rescue communities being submerged by new incomers. Yes, rescue that’s Dave’s watchword now, he seems to have forgotten his talk of putting an “emergency brake” on EU immigration.
Reading his essay on immigration to an audience of boiler suited workers at a JCB factory somewhere, factories have become the chosen venue for coalition politicians these days, the Financial Times found Dave’s words most wise. He’d pulled back from the “precipice”, moved away from crude targets towards “a more nuanced appreciation” of how immigration affects people. The Mail thought his words “full of common sense”.
When the Daily Mail suggests that someone is talking common sense, we should be very afraid. However, Dave’s newly acquired nuanced grasp of the immigration problem is listed below:

    •    Stopping EU migrants from claiming in-work benefits, such as tax credits, and getting access to social housing for four years.

    •    Stopping migrants claiming child benefit for dependents living outside the UK.

    •    Removing migrants from the UK after six months if they have not found work.

    •    Restricting the right of migrants to bring non-EU family members into the UK.

    •    Stopping EU jobseekers claiming Universal Credit.

    •    Speeding up deportation of convicted criminals.

    •    Longer re-entry bans for beggars and fraudsters removed from the UK.

    •    Stopping citizens from new EU entrants working in the UK until their economies have "converged more closely".

    •    Extra money for communities with high levels of migrants. (Note: this bulleted list was borrowed from the BBC website)

All most sensible we are sure but all it represents is a wish list, a tough message to the world that Britain will not be a soft touch for chancers and vagabonds anymore.  All Dave needs now is another five or ten years to get it all in place and pigs might fly? Using language like stop, restrict and remove sounds impressive, that should put the Loonies on the back foot; put out the bunting, after months of dithering, Dave finally had a to-do list, now all he had to do was do.

Looking at this list it seems clear that Dave has worked on it with his behavioural psychologists in the Nudge Unit since all these measures are designed  to lower immigrant expectations. This is the same tactic being employed on the entire resident population, to rationalise the need for cuts to services. But wait a moment, is not the shortage of local facilities like healthcare, schools and housing, that politicians are now blaming on the  the tsunami of immigrants, caused by cuts, closures and lack of investment?


Not Privatising the NHS

Prior to the 2010 election, the Conservatives promised to avoid "massive structural reorganisation", but the health secretary Andrew Lansley had drawn up radical plans which gave spending power back to GPs, sideline primary care trusts, gave the private sector a bigger role, and dismantled much of the architecture of regulation and targets introduced by New Labour.
Commentators call the proposed changes the biggest reorganisation of the NHS for decades. More properly they should say, the biggest reorganisation since the NHS was set up in the shape of the Health and Social Care Act.

All about the Act..

This Act needs to be set in the context of the Coalition Governments’ Cuts agenda. They pledged to increase spending by 4% on the NHS over the life of this parliament. However, there seems to be a bit of slight of hand occurring. Over the same period the NHS is expected to find £20bn in 'efficiency savings'. Beyond the cuts agenda, the Government also claims that the NHS must become more productive and claims that its Health Reforms will deliver this higher productivity. The Lancet (Feb 2012) said that the Government's statistics are faulty and that the real picture is one of rising productivity in health.

This drive for efficiency had already begun - a diktat went out telling hospitals to put the breaks on non-essential surgery, i.e. unless your condition is life threatening, which means you'll have to live a lot longer in pain. Just how making people in agony wait longer for an operation adds up to an efficiency is beyond understanding but it's happening now. The point here is that The Health and Social Care Act introduced massive change in the midst of this efficiency drive.

The State of the NHS

The infrastructure: one million staff, 200 major hospitals, 8000 GP surgeries, being run by 151 primary care trusts (PCTs) and 10 strategic health authorities (SHAs). Prior to the Act, 80% of the budget is held by local managers working for the PCTs. Private sector provision:  the private sector is supplying treatment for 30,000 citizens a month, carrying out hip and knee replacement and eye surgery - now, that doesn't add up to privatisation does it but read on.

And then came the first privately run NHS hospital

Hinchingbrooke hospital, Cambridgeshire, was the first NHS trust to be run by a private company. Hinchingbrooke was making big losses, it was very badly managed, action was needed - enter Circle, a private equity backed mutual, i.e. co-owned by the clinicians and staff who work for them, run by an ex-Goldman Sachs banker and a man from Argos.
Circle was tasked with turning a loss of £40m into a surplus of £70m over its ten year contract. The shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, said it can't be done "Taking a massive £70m out of a small and fragile acute hospital" will require the company to "make eye-watering efficiencies". One can only wonder what an eye-watering efficiency looks like - might it mean job losses combined with the introduction of a flood of private customers.

For Dave, this is a very significant moment although he and Lansley (then Health Secretary) were keeping it low key. The reason for this was pragmatic, the last time it was tried the private equals good, public equals bad brigade were left with laryngitis. In 2003 New Labour signed a three-year "franchising" deal to let a private company, Tribal Secta, run Birmingham's Good Hope hospital. The contract was terminated eight months early after the hospital deficit increased from £839,000 to £3.5m. Circle, after their first three months looked like the real deal, they reorganised the running of A&E, cut waiting times, speeded up throughput, brought in new key personnel and even improved the food. They even got consultants roller skating around A&E sorting out the malingerers.So, a good start, but why wouldn't they pull out all the stops. After all, Dave isn't going to wait ten years to see if his little experiment pans out with Circle. It's highly likely that an impressive start will be all that's required for more contracts to be falling in Circle's lap.

What does the Act propose?

GPs would be put in control of much of the NHS budget. From 2013, they would take over planning and buying local services. These changes will cost an estimated £x billion, and PCTs and SHAs will be scrapped. Note: a new National Board will be put in place to fund 250 plus Clinical Commission Groups. Where these groups can't be set up initially, funding will go directly to GPs and dentists from the National Board.Also, private hospitals will be able to compete with NHS hospitals for customers.

The Cost of the changes, obvious and hidden

One estimate of the cost of the programme is said to be £1.5bn. Most of that will come in the first two years as more than 20,000 management and administration staff are made redundant from health authorities, PCTs and the Department of Health.
However, NHS London paid consultancies such as KPMG and McKinsey up to £1.6m each for training doctors how to handle budgets. Doctors have condemned health service bosses for giving management consultants such as KPMG and McKinsey £7m to teach business skills to GPs in the latest diversion of NHS funds to private firms.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said the money was going "unnecessarily" to private companies as existing NHS primary care trusts (PCTs) had the same skills and should have been given the job instead, blaming the coalition's NHS shake-up.
An internal NHS London document obtained by the Guardian reveals that, by 28 November 2011, contracts worth £6.3m of the £7m had been agreed. The highest-earning firms were: PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) £1.61m, KPMG £1.47m and McKinsey & Co £1.27m. Ernst & Young earned the least, at £332.650.

Readers are reminded that this was at a time when we were in a double-dip recession and the most pressing task for the Coalition government was to cut the country's massive debts left by New Labour.

The Government View

The Government says these changes are necessary to meet present day demands, factors such as the ageing population, cost of new drugs and the rise in obesity. The hope is that the service will be more responsive to the needs of patients with the GPs in charge. In particular, it is hoped that they will help set up more services in the community which tends to be cheaper than seeing patients in hospital. And, of course, opening the door to the private sector will drive up standards - it may also lead to hospital closures. But allay those fears, they have also pledged to spare rural A&E provision - if you believe that you're on the wrong planet. However, David Cameron and before him, Alan Milburn, said “there is no privatisation taking place”.

The case against the changes

Lined up against the changes was just about everyone who knows anything about the NHS; The House of Commons' Health Committee, health managers, the British Medical Association, Royal College of Nursing and Unison. The Royal College of GPs have suggested doctors could have just been given a more prominent role on the boards of PCTs.

In Sum: those against the changes argue that they will destabilise the service, will lead to increased privatisation, lead to closures and most damning - much of the change is unnecessary. It's worth noting that under the proposed new arrangements the existing cap on private patient treatment in hospitals will be removed and that the Secretary of State will effectively be washing his hands of any responsibility for health care in England.
This Government has had more than a few shilly-shallying moments and we expect this to be a great moment - when the vested interests railed against are so tough. However, lined up on the other side are the deep pockets of the global health care industry. They see in the NHS a golden opportunity to make a killing. They are using a network of pro-market and Think Tank lobbying groups to push through the reforms. (Do visit SpinWatch for all the complicated details of how 'deep democracy' really works.)

Beware! Vested Interests at Work, avoiding tax payments

The complicated tax structures set up by firms involved in UK healthcare, or by their parent companies, make use of corporate entities in the British Virgin Islands, Luxembourg, Jersey, Guernsey and the Cayman Islands, according to a report entitled An Unhealthy Business compiled by the website Corporate Watch. (A corporate entity is a company that makes nothing and employs no one, except a man to look after the stationery cupboard.)

The Corporate Watch report tells us that some of the firms or parent companies investigated are already able to minimise their UK tax liability or that of their investors, while others have set up structures that could ensure investors avoid big payouts in future. The man in charge of the stationery cupboard wasn't available for comment. However, it is known that the companies cited in the report lobbied in favour of Lansley's health reform bill.

One of Dave's five a day promises

Dave (Jan 2012) called for the integration of health and social care services. Cameron made integration one of his five "personal NHS guarantees" – can you name the other four? We hope not, apparently, only the Downing Street cat has all the details.

At the moment, health and social care – the help given mainly to old or disabled patients to help them continue to live at home rather than in hospital or nursing homes – are different systems in England. Local authorities look after the social care bit, supposedly. The new duty would oblige providers of medical care to start working closely with social care providers in order to streamline the care patients receive, ensure they have to deal with fewer organisations and departments and deliver more care in community settings rather than hospitals.

Cameron told the then health secretary, Andrew Lansley, to drive through changes that health policy experts claim will make life more convenient for patients, improve care and save the NHS money.

The first move towards creating joined-up services saw Lansley tell the NHS that it had to give integration the same priority that keeping waiting lists under control had had for the last decade. This new target is the key recommendation of a report on integrating care by the King's Fund and Nuffield Trust health think tanks, whose chief executives both advise Downing Street.

The prime minister has been persuaded by senior doctors and Downing Street health advisers that, without integration, the NHS could become unsustainable due to rises in the number of patients with long-term health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and breathing problems; he means bed-blocking old people.

The changes will lead to some hospitals closing, warned the pro-integration NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals and other major NHS employers. The confederation's deputy policy director, Jo Webber, said: "Integrating care will improve services, particularly for people who are frail and those with long term conditions. But it will also involve making some really difficult decisions as hospital activity is reduced and moved into the community."
The care services minister Paul Burstow, who has an Outcomes Framework, said: "Integrated care should be the norm. That's why we asked the NHS Future Forum to specifically work on the issue. Our ambition for the NHS and social care is a simple one – to achieve better results for people and carers." Um, and many doctors believe that the idea of integrated care will be damned by the introduction of the Health and Social Care Bill.
In sum: The NHS is a mess, social care is a mess and Dave’s solution is…. create an integrated bigger mess. However, the privatisation of the NHS that is not taking place makes us curious when we learn about AQPs.

AQP, what's that? Any Qualified Provider

Figures from the Department of Health show that 105 healthcare firms have been granted "any qualified provider" status, which allows them to provide basic NHS services including physiotherapy, dermatology, hearing aids, MRI scanning and psychological therapy. This includes firms such as InHealth, Specsavers, and Virgin Care, these firms say AQP is a major opportunity to increase their role in the health service.
Under AQP each NHS primary care trust (PCTs) in England is required to open up at least three health services to "any qualified provider", whether they are from the NHS or private sector or a charity, social enterprise or voluntary organisation. At the last count, 105 private firms and 140 NHS organisations, mainly hospital trusts, had been approved by PCTs and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).

AQP is still being rolled out across England and many providers have yet to be chosen. But InHealth, which specialises in adult hearing services and diagnostics such as MRI scans, has already been authorised to start operating in 95 different places. "Clearly AQP represents an opportunity for significant geographic expansion", said Patrick Carter, managing director of the firm's community healthcare services division. It currently earns about £80m a year from working with NHS patients in London and the south-east but now plans to set up services at 100 extra locations from Southampton to Newcastle.

Care UK plans to increase the £190m a year it currently earns for delivering healthcare services to NHS patients through 35 new contracts it has won under AQP to provide diagnostic services, elective surgery and diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal conditions in the NHS. AQP "will give scope for other organisations to provide services and should increase competition on the basis of patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes", areas in which it had "an outstanding track record", a spokeswoman said.

Specsavers, the high street glasses and hearing aids firm, has won adult hearing contracts in at least 33 places. Virgin Care, part of Richard Branson's brand bandwagon, has been awarded AQP status in the ten areas it applied in. It plans to start offering dermatology, ophthalmology, ultrasound, podiatry and back and neck pain services and running fracture clinics. BMI Healthcare has begun winning contracts to provide MRI scanning and non-obstetric ultrasound. A BMI spokesman declined to say exactly how many it had gained.

AQP will lead to the fragmentation of NHS services and do away with any notion that there is a national health service. The fact that as many as 13 different providers of the same health service have been allowed to start operating in the same area will baffle both patients and GPs, who will not know which is the best to be treated by.

Earl Howe, the health minister, dismissed doctors' objections.

"This is about offering patients more choice, control and driving up the quality of their care, and the idea that this will have a negative impact on healthcare and patients is nonsense. Patients have already had choice for non-urgent hospital treatments like joint replacements for several years and this hasn't destabilized services".

Clearly, the Earl doesn't have a clue what he's talking about, joint replacements, provided by private companies, have caused major problems for the NHS.

Dial 999 for 111.....or try the speaking clock on 123

The new NHS non-emergency helpline, 111, launched in April 2013, is in urgent need of assistance. A stream of horror stories appeared in the press due to the shambolic performance of the companies running the 111 call centres.
The Daily Mail took the opportunity to blame greedy and lazy GPs for not providing an out-of-hours service. The Mail as ever failed to provide the necessary background to the GP's retreat from out-of-hours provision. And, as usual, focused on doom and gloom without explaining why the new system isn't working.

The new helpline was launched to replace the national coverage provided by NHS Direct, although Direct continued to run some of the call centres for the new service, alongside a number of ambulance services and private companies. Many of these companies undertook the bidding process on the basis that they would win multiple contracts, and therefore set their costs accordingly. The outcome of the bidding process left providers struggling to meet their unrealistic cost projections, when the multiple contracts they'd hoped for didn't materialise. Hence, they cut corners on staffing, i.e. not employing sufficient suitably qualified staff.

However, NHS England, responsible for over-seeing the scheme had run a number of pilot projects and evidence from those indicated that the new system was not ready to be rolled out. IT problems were also reported during the pilot phase.
The person responsible for this fiasco is Dame Barbara Hakin, deputy chief executive, NHS England (just another of those anonymous people who change your world unaccountably). And in case you were wondering, NHS England is a cover for the NHS Commissioning Board, introduced on 1 October 2012, possibly the quango of all quangos.

NHS England was then aware from the pilots of the problems but chose to go ahead and then feigned surprise that people were dying unnecessarily and with great audacity instigated a review of the system by a team of management consultants. Whilst at the same time telling us that the 111 number would be rolled out nationally, in full working order, Dame Barbara guaranteed a 'gold standard' 111 service. And we may wonder whether the Dame knows what the definition of a management consultant is, i.e., someone who borrows your watch and tells you the time.

Update: July 2013, NHS Direct announced that it was pulling out of the 111 service. The Health and Social Care Act became active in April 2013 and some would argue that this marked the beginning of the end for the 65 year old NHS. And many would argue that Dave's pledge that there would be no top down reorganisation of the NHS was a bigger lie than Nick's student fees pledge. And let's not forget that it was Dave's mistake to scrap NHS Direct, which used doctors and nurses to assess non-emergency calls, and replaced them with hardly trained call centre staff, armed only with a questionnaire.


 Child Protection



There are 39,000 children on the child protection register across the country. Putting a name on a register doesn't add up to safeguarding children. The register is part of a complicated process of safeguarding; the process doesn't work.

Ofsted confirmed that between April 2007 and August 2008, 282 children died of neglect, or abuse in the care system. Of that total, 72 died in accidents, stabbings or shootings while in foster or residential care, while the remaining 210 died of abuse or neglect at the hands of their families. This means that 12 children are killed by some form of abuse each month. (The Times, Dec 2008)

Consider the fact that provision for children in care is almost exclusively in private hands. Local authorities are paying around £200,000 per child a year to private providers who seek out the cheapest accommodation, well away from support groups and the case workers who placed the children in care in the first place. Economists call what's happening to cared for children a case of market failure.

Agencies like the NSPCC, CEOP, Childline and many others have a mission to protect children, none are very good at this, mainly they excel at spreading fear of adults among children, and crucially they spread suspicion among adults of each other.

In the history of child protection a big turning point came after the Soham murders. The police were severely criticized by the Bichard inquiry in 2003. Specifically, Bichard was inquiring into procedural failure. Briefly, Ian Huntley, a school caretaker, who killed two young girls was known to police as unfit to work with children but no one was tracking his employment record.

The inquiry's main recommendation was establishing a registration scheme for people working with children and vulnerable adults such as the elderly. The development of this recommendation led to the foundation (2008) of the Independent Safeguarding Authority. It also suggested a national system should be set up for police forces to share intelligence information. The report said there should also be a clear code of practice on record-keeping by all police forces. It was overlooked that Huntley's association with the girls was made through his girlfriend not through his workplace.

The Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) was to oversee a new Vetting and Barring Scheme working with the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), to prevent unsavoury types working with children. Hence, anyone intending to work with children required a CRB check. The ConDems, responding to the outrage that this scheme caused, in which everyone became a suspect, decided to remove the need for people wishing to work with children to prove they are decent people by being checked through the CRB. From 2012, the ISA and CRB are no longer 'working together' they were merged - the main function will now be to 'keep lists' of types unsuitable to work with vulnerable people. Sadly, these agencies of safeguarding have left a dirty stain.

Understanding Safeguarding Failure

Children are killed every day at the hands of their carers. Sometimes the systemic failure of the agencies of caring make the headlines and then politicians leap into action.

Victoria Climbie died Feb 2000, she was starved to death after prolonged abuse at the hands of her guardians. Social workers, police and NHS had failed to raise the alarm. Lord Laming was set to work: he advised a complete overhaul of child protection policies. Most of his 108 recommendations become law in the 2004 Children Act.
Three years later Laming, having been called on again, noted that many of his recommendations had not been taken up by local councils. Laming's observation is crucial to grasping the failure of child protection in Britain. Something mysterious is happening between the passing of laws and their enforcement. Clearly, the agents of safeguarding tasked with following a new set of guidelines and practices, quite simply, didn't. And another child died needlessly.

When Peter Connelly died in 2007 the gaze of the whole nation fell upon the borough of Haringey. The main focus was on Haringey and child services director, Sharon Shoesmith, but once the Sun had finished its vitriolic attack on social workers, the focus was then on the failure of child protection in general.
Could it be that Laming's recommendations were unworkable or simply didn't work, that is, they didn't fit with the actual work that safeguarders were doing. The politicians sent for someone else - Professor Munro.

Professor Munro's report stressed that early help is vital to keeping children safe, and proposed that local authorities should be given a duty to provide early help. Munro made a number of new recommendations but most were contradicted by the ConDem Government's cuts agenda. For instance, services that 'intervene' early to prevent children ending up on the child protection register have been cut by an average of 20% across the country.

However, Munro did recommend that Ofsted be taken out of the picture, if only to improve everyone's moral. That organisation was totally discredited after re-drafting its report, for Ed Balls, into Haringey's performance in the Baby Peter case, 17 times. Ofsted's role is to gauge whether organisations are meeting given standards of performance. One minute they gave Haringey a glowing report, the next, they found the council wanting. Ofsted's somersault was miraculous, for an organisation that can hardly be described as athletic. Historically, this picture has a parallel with the Climbie case, where the Social Services Inspectorate revised its own glowing report into Haringey child services and then, after the first part of Lamming's review had ended they decided to submit their revised report.

Daniel Pelka: No lessons learnt

Victoria Climbie, 2000, Peter Connelly, 2007, Daniel Pelka, 2013, lessons learnt, zero. All the talk of agencies working together, sharing information, to protect children has unwittingly contributed to failure by removing individual responsibility to act. For example, at some point in the early 2000s, school's were told to appoint a member of staff responsible for child welfare, teachers were told to refer any concerns to this member of staff (who had been issued with a Framework Document, containing the details of who they should refer their concerns to), the teachers themselves were told to take no action themselves, like contacting parents directly or questioning children about their condition.

Daniel Pelka spent the four years of his life in misery at the hands of his parents, they beat and tortured him and systematically starved him. Everyone who came into contact with Daniel knew 'something was wrong' but did nothing. Teachers, and other so-called professionals all watched like stunned simpletons, the few who did report their concerns were ignored.
The so-called multi-agency approach that is supposed to protect vulnerable children was introduced after the murder of seven-year-old Maria Colwell in 1973 at the hands of her parents. On paper, this joined up working makes perfect sense but consider the following. Victoria Climbie was known to four London boroughs' social services departments - Haringey, Ealing, Brent and Enfield - three housing departments, two hospitals - Central Middlesex and North Middlesex - two Metropolitan police child protection teams, and a specialist centre run by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. At the trial of Victoria's so-called guardians all these agencies were described as "blindingly incompetent".

The Quiet Abandonment of 'Every Child Matters'

Daniel Pelka died as a result of maltreatment and this led once again to a serious case review which trotted out the same platitudes as the one into Victoria Climbie's murder. When New Labour introduced its Every Child Matters campaign, it did children a disservice. The policies associated with Every Child Matters shifted the focus for those involved day to day with children from intervening to writing down their concerns, passing on their concerns, filling out the necessary paperwork, covering backs but doing not a lot.

The importance of Every Child Matters should not be underestimated, it had a major impact within education and for local authorities and health services. Every Child Matters represented an attempt to raise the profile of emotional development, as well as, intellectual development within education. The focus, the message, was safeguarding the well-being of the child.

A shift of focus from Dave

However, Dave cunningly shifted the focus after his 2010 Coalition deal. Henceforward the focus would be on achievement. He even changed the name of the Department for Children, Schools and Families back to the Department for Education, together with a new logo devoid of happy little children frolicking around. Ofsted would no longer be looking for schools to promote children’s spiritual, social and emotional well-being. In fact, under Dave, Ofsted's checklist has been reduced from 27 items to just five. And schools under pressure to perform may view promoting emotional well-being a waste of time if the inspectors are not looking for it.

The point is that when you are forcing all schools to become academies, outside of local authority control and allowing every me-first parent to open up a free school, it will be pretty hard to do all that joined up intelligence work on behalf of the child. And under Mr Gove’s scheme of things, for-profit schools will be added into the mix, making the idea of all encompassing frameworks ever more difficult. Beyond blurring lines of communication between schools and local authorities, these new schooling arrangements present a further problem, in circumstances where sponsorship is involved, schools may be reluctant to be open about their failures in the realm of child protection.

In sum: all the agencies responsible for looking out for vulnerable children are not doing a good enough job. It's time to build a bonfire with all those New Labour Framework documents and, get back to a position where the people who come into contact with children they have concerns about, do something about it, not just pass it on and forget it but follow things up and ask what's being done.

And do not expect much to improve under the current Coalition, they are not interested, if they were they would have a bigger and better Every Child Matters campaign and they would make sure that all those people who earn their living pretending to care about vulnerable children did their jobs properly. A positive start would be to stand down Ofsted from its brief to oversee the child protection regime - evidence abounds that it is not fit for purpose in this area.

Further, research by Big Brother Watch published at the end of 2012 unveiled the scale of errors in the criminal record check system. Between 2007 and 2012, 11,893 people successfully challenged CRB results after wrongly being branded criminals or had irrelevant or inaccurate information disclosed during criminal record checks. Compensation of £1.9m was paid out as a result.

Big Brother Watch found that when people challenged information held by the police, 3,519 people were given someone else's criminal record and 4,088 people found inaccurate information or a wrong identity was being held on the police national computer.

Rochdale: a case study in failure

In May 2012 nine men received heavy jail sentences for their part in a child sexual exploitation gang that groomed young vulnerable girls in Rochdale. Later in the year there were  more arrests and charges relating to grooming and child abuse in the Rochdale area. Lynne Jones, chairman of Rochdale borough safeguarding children board, told us:

"The board has been working very hard to ensure vulnerable children and young people are protected from all forms of abuse."
"Together with Rochdale borough council, Greater Manchester police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the NHS and our other members we have clear strategies in place to combat child sexual exploitation, which sadly is happening in most towns and cities."

"We are committed to dealing with the issue, ensuring children are protected and those committing this type of crime are brought to justice."
Lynne must be missing something here, the girls concerned were abused, they were not protected by all these marvellous agencies working together. Police, prosecutors and social services faced severe criticism in the wake of the Rochdale trial, victims had not been believed and a series of mistakes were made. Well, nobody likes to be criticized and forces of safeguarding went into overdrive in the Greater Manchester Area, dedicating 400 police officers to crack child exploitation rings.

Buoyed by recent successes the police were uncharacteristically upbeat:

“We now have a much better understanding of the signs to look for, plus there have been significant improvements in the sharing of information between agencies."

This came from Chief Superintendent Mary Doyle behaving as if some miraculous transformation had taken place in the year of 2012, nothing short of a revolution in child protection. Perhaps, all we know for certain is that a particular culture in place at Rochdale’s children’s services led to young girls in distress being dismissed by officials as making "lifestyle choices". Steve Garner, who was in charge of children's services, until just before a damning report into his department was due be published, went to ground, refusing to face the music. Meanwhile, Lynne has been busy handing out 10,000 leaflets aimed at "raising awareness" of abuse among young people.

Bad news from Rotherham

The Jay report into more systemic failings by the safeguarding industry highlighted the abuse of up to 1400 children, some as young as 11 years old. Following the report in August 2014, all the safe guarders went into a collective huddle and claimed ‘collective responsibility’ for the failure to protect the children. The police chief tried to claim it was historic and that things are much better now. The reporter interviewing him pointed out that it was going on last year. The chief ignored the facts and insisted that things are better now. Shaun Wright, South Yorkshire’s crime commissioner refused to resign. Wright was in charge of children's services between 2005 and 2010. He was provided with a report in 2006 which provided "stark evidence" of what was going on in his domain but he appears to have ignored it. His deputy commissioner has fallen on the proverbial plastic sword but Shaun refuses to take responsibility for any failure on his part. Meanwhile, Uncle Tom Cobley and

Nick Clegg have called on Wright to get lost, Nick said: "Please do the decent thing and stand aside because you have to take responsibility."
Jay’s report: Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham (1997 – 2013) points out for Mr Wright that no one can say “we didn’t know” because they were told! Note: we believe that Mr Wright finally got the message and requested the plastic sword.
Joyce Thacker, the director of children’s services (pay £115,000) thought that the emphasis of the her department's work should be placed on child neglect. Apparently, abuse and sexual exploitation took up a very small fraction of the children’s services. It was Thatcher who removed three children from their foster parents because they voted UKIP. She decided they were not multicultural enough?

A year earlier in Derby 11 men faced charges of grooming and sexual exploitation of children. In 2013 seven men were convicted for rape, sexual violence and torture of children in Oxford. As in Rochdale and Rotherham the vast majority of the perpetrators were Pakistani in origin. One argument says that the all the powers of safeguarding were more concerned with ethic sensibilities than protecting children. Another argument says, the parents of the victims are to blame, perhaps and assuming the children were living at home and parental responsibility had not already been removed by the safe-guarders. And worth mentioning, in all instances, the lack of interest on the part of the police was outstanding.

The Great Silence - Jimmy Savile

Cut through all the agonising, and empty expressions like "this must never be allowed to happen again", and children continue to be abused and mistreated. Those agencies with a remit and an ambition to protect children have failed.

Everyone knew about Jimmy Savile, least ways they heard rumours and yet no one spoke out. The few victims who did were ignored or punished by the child protectors, the unwitting facilitators of Savile's abuse. Savile died in 2011 and the BBC were set to run tribute shows over the Christmas period. At the same time, Newsnight were set to air an expose of Savile's abuse, mysteriously this was dropped from the schedule, the tributes were not. The man in charge of Vision at the BBC, then director general, George Entwistle, was told about the Newsnight story but never bothered to ask what it was that Newsnight had to tell. He claimed he didn't ask because he didn't want to interfere, the decision to pull the piece was made by Newsnight editor Peter Rippon. Pressed at an inquiry to explain his lack of interest, Entwistle responded "It was a determination not to show an undue interest".

It was people without undue interest, people without curiosity who allowed Savile to ply his sick trade at the BBC for fifty years. But with over 200 victims of Savile's abuse coming forward, all the safeguarders have displayed a suitably panicked curiosity. Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary told us:

“I hope every single person in the law enforcement world today are accepting the fact that things were badly wrong,” he said. “It should never happen again.”

Young carers - Hidden from view

Child protection is about more than watching out for nasty people like Jimmy Savile. The Children's Society published a report called 'Hidden from View' examining the plight of Britain's young carers, there could be as many 700,000 caring for sick and disabled relatives. They are not really hidden, Mr Cameron knows all about them, indeed he met a small group at No. 10 just after he'd moved in and listened intently to their complaints. Chiefly, they complained about disappearing support from local authorities. And Mr Cameron said it was not on, local authorities needed to reset their priorities, stating that it was not on, that the young were not being allowed to be children and were having their educations damaged by caring responsibilities. He also added in that schools also needed to ensure that they are playing a key support role in the lives of these young carers. He didn't say what he was intending to do about anything.

Institutionalised Abuse in North Wales

'These are very, very concerning allegations, they are dreadful allegations. We must get to the bottom of it as quickly as possible on behalf of the victims." Mr Cameron Nov. 2012
In 1996, the then Secretary of State for Wales, William Hague, ordered the Waterhouse Inquiry into allegations of hundreds of cases of child abuse in care homes, mainly at the Bryn Estyn care home in Wrexham. The inquiry began in January 1997 and published its report, Lost In Care, in 2000. A number of guilty parties were named, some compensation was paid, and the usual recommendation for an overhaul of the care system were made.

However, Waterhouse's work was an abysmal failure and it's worth noting that Hague was less than astute on the matter. Specifically, he found no evidence for the existence of a paedophile ring extending beyond the care system, as had been rumoured. Fast forward to now - we now know there was a paedophile ring extending beyond the care system. We know that Waterhouse had the names of some very prominent paedophiles that he chose not to name, we know that police had evidence from years earlier, we know that the police had photographic evidence of the abuse. We know there was a cover up.

The current Home Secretary, Theresa May, said that "... we should look to make sure that the work that was done in relation to the Waterhouse inquiry did cover everything that it needed to cover." Typical, it wasn't that Waterhouse covered anything up, it was that he wasn't asked to cover enough? Perhaps there's a question here for William Hague who drew up the original inquiry's remit. For instance, it failed to consider allegations about children being taken out of the homes to be made available to abusers.

Steve Messham, who was abused for years at Bryn Estyn says his abusers included businessmen, members of the police and senior politicians, extending beyond the immediate area to London and beyond. It was Mr Messham who supplied the police with the photographic evidence, he also identified a senior Conservative figure from the Thatcher era as being involved in the abuse. But of course no one wanted to know.
Consider this, North Wales Police did investigate the care home abuse claims in 1991. Of eight prosecutions, seven former care workers were convicted but a report produced by Clwyd Council's own inquiry was never published because so much of its content was considered by lawyers to be defamatory, that is, the Council's insurance company did not want to foot the court costs.

So now we are to have an investigation into the earlier investigations, as well as, the work of Waterhouse. And will prosecutions result, will the guilty be named, will someone own up to the total failure of the care system in Wales since the year dot - yes, it really has been that long. In Sum: A child gets abused or dies, politicians react, academics research, recommendations are made, new laws are passed, quangos are set up, practitioners absorb their new responsibilities and clueless inspectors inspect. What should happen, doesn't - another mystery.

Beyond Good Intentions

Beyond initiating enquiries and writing reports, the ConDem Government demanded full discloser of child abuse cases. Possibly a sop to the Sun. Previously, information was only provided in summary form. What followed was interesting.

Before a child is removed from its guardian a serious case review must be undertaken. In the parlance these are called SCRs. They are costly, a simple case may cost £40,000 and something more complex, upwards of £100,000.

Over a twelve month period, the number of SCRs fell by a half. Should we conclude that the number cases of children at serious risk had fallen to a half the level of the previous year.

Again, another mystery, could it have something to do with the fact that councils couldn't afford the cost associated with SCRs? Could it be that the innocents involved in these cases didn't want every detail of their lives revealed in public? Also, staff involved at the time were not being asked to participate fully in an inquiry, they were marginalised; so those that knew most contributed little to the process.
What we do know is that the authors of these reviews were struggling to write them in such a way as to protect identities and thereby, for the best of intentions, were not the telling the full story.
Agencies of Suspicion and Fear

In 1987, 121 children were taken from their parents in Cleveland, based on the views of two paediatricians. Social services were convinced that they had uncovered a satanic coven at work. There is some suggestion that the clinicians were influenced by articles they had read in US journals on child abuse. A Government report in 1994 confirmed there never was any evidence of ritual satanic abuse in Cleveland.

In 1990, the NSPCC decided to issue a ‘Satanic Indicators’ pamphlet to various social service departments. Unsurprisingly, armed with the guide supplied by the NSPCC, social workers started to discover hives of satanic worshipers abusing children. In Orkney, 1991, parents had their children stolen by social services amid suspected ritual child abuse - based on the evidence of three other children.

An inquiry report in October 1992 criticised Orkney Social Services and produced 194 recommendations for changes in child care practices. No one noticed that the whole premise of a child protection service needing 194 changes was fundamentally flawed? Undeterred the NSPCC continued to manufacture the child abuse panic, hiring Saatchi-and-Saatchi to promote its messages that all adults are potential abusers and needed to be watched.

Promoting a panic

The Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme (where parents are able to discover if someone who has contact with their child is a convicted paedophile) which was rolled out to all police forces in England and Wales in 2011 was "a major step forward in our ability to protect children from sex offenders". The Scheme (also known as Sarah's Law) was set up in 2008 and has been rolled out to all 43 police forces in England and Wales. Details of the Scheme can be found on the Home Office website, as well as, The Parents Protect! website. Note: only visit this site if you want to get into a panic.

Institutionalised Suspicion ‘stranger danger’

The Ministry of Justice revealed that in 2005, 1,363 people were sent down for sexual offences against children, in 2010 judges sentenced a record 2,135 people for sexual offences against children, a 60% increase. (BBC story, 2/9/11)
So Donald Findlater of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation (who set up Parents Protect!) was happy that more adults were being convicted. But he was unhappy that the number was not higher still, why? Because ‘it’s still the case that most children who are sexually abused do not report it’.
Its invisibility – the ‘secret crime’, as ChildLine founder Esther Rantzen called it – is proof of its existence, i.e. ‘stranger danger’. Sorry, if its invisible how do you prove that what we are seeing is only the tip of the iceberg - well you just can't.
What you do is set up a Child Exploitation and Online Protection unit (CEOP), the quango behind the Lee and Kim cartoons, SID the superhero in these cartoons is the real-life incarnation of CEOP.  Initiatives, websites, agencies, have all conspired, from the best of good intentions to institutionalise the corrosive expressions of suspicion in the minds of adults and children alike.

The so-called Family Court and the problem of Expert Witnesses

Expert witnesses are being used in secret family courts to help social workers take children away from their parents. One in five experts that are being employed on outrageous fees to provide support for the removal of children are not 'experts'. This conclusion was drawn by Professor Jane Ireland, a forensic psychologist, writing a report for the Family Justice Council.

One expert witness wrote a 235-page report, costing £14,000, finding that a mother was “likely to have a borderline personality disorder” – he had never met her. In another case, three expert witnesses were called to give evidence against a mother, the first two experts commissioned by social workers told the court that they found nothing wrong with the mother, so social workers brought in another witness who found the illusive borderline personality disorder - the mother had her three children put up for adoption.

The president of the Family Division of the High Court, Sir James Munby, called for greater transparency in the family courts (Sept' 2013). Munby described the ‘pressing need’ to open the courts to public scrutiny, he said:

"The powers of the family court were among the most drastic that any judge in any jurisdiction is ever empowered to make".

The powers of the family courts are draconian. The court has a range of powers to break up allegedly ‘troubled’ families, applications can be made without families being present, judgements can be passed in secret, and injunctions placed on reporting some or all of the court’s proceedings.

And will Munby's intervention make an ounce of difference to the operation of the Family Court system? No, legislation created this draconian system, so it will take the politicians to change the way it operates. It also worth noting that Sir James is no civil rights campaigner, transparency to him means, unless there's compelling evidence, don't allow the public to gaze into the secret Family Courts; and who decides on the question of compelling evidence, that's right, the judge in charge of the secret court.

The Kleinman theory

Dr Kleinman's theory is simple, non-accidental injuries are a sure sign of abuse. This idea is frequently heard in the Family Court and when social services wheel out an expert witness, touting Kleinman’s  ideas, there's no chance for the parent on trial. A couple's young son was removed by social workers for nine months, with a view to possible adoption, after two paediatricians suggested that a small bruise on the boy’s forehead was caused by parental abuse – unusually the judge found the doctors’ evidence unconvincing and ordered the boy to be returned to his parents. Typically, in the secret Family Courts, judges just take the word of the experts, which Lord Justice Wall described as "the glory of our family justice system". That justice system is removing 900 children a month from their natural parents, so is the adoption and fostering system in place to deal with this?


The number of children requiring short term foster homes is in the region of 900,000. Local authorities hand out fostering contracts to charities and private companies; there is no common approach and the legality of some contracts is in doubt. The Fostering Network is the forefront foster care, they do not support foster carers who find themselves in the nefarious Family Court, under threat of being delisted. The Network doesn't want to upset the LAs. Foster carers who stand accused by a child of abuse have no right of reply, and there are no tribunals.


Local authorities are not doing well when it comes to placing children, they are not meeting their targets. The best local authorities take 13 months to place a child, the worst over 3 years.

Stop Press: Dave has a plan (July 2012)

Dave decided to speed up the adoption process. Babies finding themselves in the care system are taking too long to be placed with people who want them. Dave's speedier scheme will give them a better start in life. He told the press:
".... I'm changing the law and calling for urgent action – both from local authorities and from potential adopters - to get the system moving."
Dave was forced into action when it was disclosed that just 60 babies under the age of one were adopted in 2010/11.

Safeguarding Agencies: The Protection of Freedoms Act (2012)

Our leader takes safeguarding seriously and he's made efforts to change existing arrangements concerning people who wish to work with vulnerable people. The Protection of Freedoms Act (2012) completed its passage through Parliament and received Royal Assent, May 1st, 2012. This Act removes the Controlled Activity and Monitoring sections from the Safeguarding of Vulnerable Groups Act and creates a new body corporate to be known as the "Disclosure and Barring Service", which would adopt some functions currently held by the Independent Safeguarding Authority. Well, that's the problem of safeguarding sorted and according to Home Secretary Theresa May, it will save the tax payer a £100 million. Excelsior, on to the next problem.

However, the Bill includes a wide range of measures that citizens interested in protecting their freedoms should be aware of but in terms safeguarding, the key part of the Bill:restricts the scope of the 'vetting and barring' scheme for protecting     vulnerable groups and makes changes to the system of criminal records checks. (Source: Parliament UK website)
Clarification: the Queen does not personally give her Assent to make a Bill law, in fact the monarch has not done so since 1854, the Queen's agreement to give her assent to a Bill is automatic.

So when does this Law go live, well it could be on the day it receives the Royal assent, or it could be when the government issues a 'commencement' order; the best way of looking at it is to say that all the departments and agencies touched by this new legislation are under starter's orders. Only those who are really in the know will know when the starting pistol sounds or perhaps you will, if you transgress. The Government is in the process of issuing Guidance on each part of the Act. And Guidance is urgently needed, unfortunately the panic created by child protection agencies throughout the past three decades has now become embedded within our culture. Another piece of legislation cannot undo the damage that that panic has done to social relations between children and adults.


The child protection system is suffering from systemic failure. The tragedy is that all involved know it. The coalition government of  Dave know it but do nothing about it. Political  inaction is far worse than that of the behaviour of the vilest parent or guardian. A snapshot of life for some children in Britain is provided by the following list.

Children negatively impacted by parental alcoholism range in numbers from 920,000 to 3.5million. Those impacted by parental mental health difficulties range from 50,000 to 2million. Children impacted by domestic violence are thought to be just under 1.8million
3.5 million children in the UK are living in poverty. Almost 1.5 million children in the UK experience neglect. 16% of children aged under 16 experienced sexual abuse during childhood. 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 - 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder.

Source: - visit the website for a much longer list.



Education as Salvation

What a Waste

The 1963 Newsom Report Half our Future insightfully pointed out that the half of the school population that was being poorly served would one day be half of the working population, the half that the nation depended on for a living.

In Britain we have a national education system that leaves citizens ill-prepared to go shopping or leave a literate note out for the milkman and fills its job centres with social anthropologists and art historians - so much for a broad balanced education that enables children to explore all their talents.
The current government are not happy with the education system and are on a mission to rearrange much of it.

The past 30 years of educational tinkering may be summed up as follows. The previous Tory regime introduced the Russian tractor factory model into British schools via the Education Reform Act of 1988. The central feature of the new system was measurement, output tables, targets, testing, performance management, and inspection. The whole piece a calamitous experiment in which children (and their teachers) were used as guinea pigs over a ten year period as the finer points of the new production system were revised and tweaked. The overall aim was to improve school performance through competition in the exams' arena - the experiment failed.

New Labour arrived in 1997 and continued tweaking and more. The poverty of New Labour's education policy is reflected in its outcomes. It can be said that the Tory scheme left schools dazed and confused, New Labour's scheme added nausea to the mix.

They introduced the 'everyone's a winner' philosophy, children were no longer failing, they were 'working towards', when in fact they were not working, that was why they were failing but to say so would be costly to a teacher's future prospects. Teachers throughout the land were encouraged to accept responsibility for their students' lack of striving. Another new development, pupils should no longer be referred to as such, henceforth they would be termed students, when clearly they were not students. This was denial on a mass scale, kids working towards bugger all being referred to as students.

More damage arrived with New Labour's 'inclusion agenda', whereby, whatever the transgression, children must be kept in school and whatever their mental condition, they must be taught in mainstream classrooms. Local authorities policed the inclusion agenda by placing a cap on school exclusions. New Labour closed Pupil Referral Units and Special Schools, places that schools would have previously off loaded disaffected pupils to. These extra-school sites provided schools with a safety net, New Labour removed it and the consequences have been dire for some schools. New Labour thought the introduction of an army of Learning Support Assistants and other helpers would correct the damage, they were wrong. The upshot of the inclusion agenda was that schools set up inclusion rooms, sending a child to the inclusion room was daftly referred to as 'internal exclusion'. Beyond the growth of inclusion rooms this new scheme saw a lengthening queue outside matron's room at twelve o'clock midday, for kids to get their Ritalin fix.

And to fix teachers who lacked the capability to teach, New Labour introduced the General Teaching Council. In its short life (from 1998 to 2012) the GTC achieved nothing, its key aim to raise the status of the teaching profession was not achieved. The GTC was replaced by the Teaching Agency, who now act as the final arbiter on failing teachers. However, longer term the expectation is that school managers will face up to their responsibilities, i.e. they will sack people who are useless.

The purpose of education.... reducing inequality?

All we ever hear from the political class is how valuable and important a good education is. Such statements are meaningless. A village idiot cares nothing for all the life chances he's been denied, nor does he care much for the concept of value; indeed he may well consider his contribution to community life to be substantial.

The key function of the English school system has always been to provide a child minding service. The school leaving age merely a function of general economic activity in the world beyond the school gates.

There's no empirical evidence that ever increasing educational investment provides greater social benefits like happier citizens and more productive workers. Or that education plays a vital role in reducing inequality and encouraging social mobility, the evidence says otherwise. How can individual equality be promoted by a system that is itself inherently unequal?

Education is frequently cited as a panacea to treat the scourge of poverty and provide the encouragement, support, self-belief and ambition required to climb the greasy pole of opportunity. But all schools do not supply the same degree assistance and the quality of provision in terms staff expertise, and physical resources vary widely across communities and across the nation.
From nurseries to universities, it seems that the whole fabric of British education needs to be overhauled. We need a statement of clarification about the purpose of education.

A New White Paper: "The Importance of Teaching" Nov 2010

The Importance of Teaching White Paper Equalities Impact Assessment acknowledged that Britain has "the most stratified and segregated school systems in the world, with a gap between our private schools and the state system wider than in almost any other developed country."
The White Paper noted the importance of the quality of its teachers and said that "schools should be engines of social mobility, helping children to overcome the accidents of birth and background to achieve much more than they may ever have imagined."

This second assumption simply reaffirms the same old tired mantra about education as salvation. This White Paper provides a clear blueprint for the coming years for the English education system. Sadly, a purpose for education is still not set out - it cannot be salvation. RA Butler, the architect of the 1944 Education Act, told us:

"The government's purpose is to ensure for children a happier childhood and a better start in life and to provide means for all of developing the various talents with which they are endowed." This is almost identical to the purpose set out in the 2010 White Paper.

Tory Education Policy: Change Everything

The new Coalition government set about changing much of the way education is organised, the centre-piece is freeing schools from local authority control, more PFI, more management companies, changes to the exam system, curriculum changes, changes to teacher training, changes to the inspection regime, Sure Start centres axed, EMA abolished, support for school sixth-forms cut, university tuition fees trebled, special needs support reduced, teaching and support staff cut, QTS no longer compulsory, expansion of academies and free schools, vocational education downgraded, National Curriculum experiment ended, new league tables and new core curriculum introduced, two year pay freeze for teachers, increased pension contribution for teachers, and greater discretion on teacher pay rises given to head teachers, the General Teaching Council closed, fine parents who holiday in term-time and who ignore their child's truancy or send their child to school unprepared to learn.

The Amazing Story of the English Baccalaureate

The story of the English Baccalaureate, Ebacc, started out as merely confusing but progressed to labyrinthine over a two year period. In the passage between confusion and labyrinth, opposition to Mr Gove’s plans grew to such an extent from the whole educational establishment that he was forced to rethink his plans.

In the first phase, Gove informed schools that only a small core of subjects would henceforward count towards points on their league tables. This was done to introduce some rigour and raise standards to the exam system.The Ebacc idea was introduced in January 2011: retrospectively to measure school performance.

Schools in England were to be measured according to how many pupils achieve grades A*-C in five core subjects - maths, English, two science qualifications, a foreign language and either history or geography. Schools were sent into a spin, hastily rejigging their GCSE curriculums to cater for the changes. These changes are reflected in a parliamentary answer to a question by Dan Jarvis, the shadow culture minister, it was reported that design and technology entries for 2012 were down 5.1 per cent, while art and design entries dropped by 2.4 per cent, music by 3.6 per cent and drama by 6.3 per cent. The reason the shadow culture minister posed the question was because the arts world were not enamoured of the affect of Gove’s plans, foreseeing a massive decline in the arts over the next 30 years.

The EBacc should not be confused with the French Baccalaureate, the European Baccalaureate or the International Baccalaureate - these are all recognised certificates/diplomas leading to further education. The EBacc initially was not a certificate and didn’t lead anywhere, except to the establishment of a more accurate measuring stick for exam results. Gove had figured out that schools were using ‘soft’ multiple GCSEs to boost their league table performance and this needed to be stopped. Further down the road he put a stop to it by abolishing vocational courses or barring them from inclusion in the league tables. More for schools to worry about, that is, how to cater for all those children who were not bound for Oxbridge.

Next Gove decided to deal with the exam boards, who he decided were colluding with the schools in the dumbing down of the exam system and 'grade inflation'. We were told in September 2012 to much fanfare by Clegg and Gove that the GCSE was to be replaced by the EBC. From 2015 the secondary exam system would be based on Gove's E-Bacc core of subjects, which will be examined by a single terminal exam - no more modular exams. Also, unit retakes to improve grades under the current system would no longer be allowed and students will see an end to coursework.

Going forward, the plan was to allow exam boards a franchise to supply just one of the specifications for the core EBacc subjects. Thereby ending competition between the exam boards. Once these new exams were in place they would be called EBCs. So from around 2014 onwards, schools would be talking about students gaining x number of EBCs rather than GCSEs. The very idea of franchising exams is pretty worrying, when we recall the mess that the civil servants made of the West Coast rail franchise.

In a masterly piece of action, straight from the cover of Marvel Comics, Mr Gove, managed to do a u-turn and end up facing in the same direction as before he began the turn. And oddest of all, no one in the educational arena even realised they were involved in a consultation process, so who was he listening to, he may have been hearing voices. Gove had decided that instead of scrapping the GCSE and replacing it with the EBC, the GCSE would remain. What difference did this make? None is the answer, when children start taking the new crop of GCSEs around 2014, it doesn't matter what the certificate is called, it will not be
the same old GCSE. The proposed plans for the new EBC will remain in place; to all intents and purposes children will be taking an 'O' Level.

Gove then decided that instead of limiting exam boards to bidding to supply one GCSE exclusively, they will now enter into a new kind of bidding process, that theoretically could allow one board to end up delivering all exams. So competition is not dead. According to a Whitehall source a combination of problems “meant it was better to reform GCSEs rather than accelerate into a morass of judicial reviews and bankrupt exam boards”. Perhaps the only consultation that Gove was paying attention to was the one with the lawyers.

Plans for the A-Level Curriculum

Gove was attacking the GCSE curriculum, insisting on more academic rigour and Willetts was attacking the A-Level curriculum insisting on more specialisation to meet the demands of the best universities. Mr Gove wrote to Ofqual, suggesting greater control of A-level content should be handed to universities. He wrote:

"It is important that this rolling back allows universities… to drive the system."

A spokes person for the Russell Group of top universities was keen on the idea but less keen on devoting resources to the project, this could mean that Gove might have to get his cheque book out. Exam boards would still design the courses but Gove will be looking for signs that universities have had some input. Gove believes that standards must go up if Britain is to compete in the future.
Gove is not telling the whole story. The way that A Levels are taught, i.e. supplying students with a minimum of information to pass their modular exams, leaving them with no real grasp of the their subjects, has led to total public disillusionment with the A Level system. The annual charge of 'grade inflation' is an embarrassment but true.

However, why does Gove believe that the Russell Group can remedy this situation. University degrees have been suffering a degree of grade inflation - since 1995, the number of first-class degrees awarded by UK universities has increased by an incredible 216.8 per cent; in the period from 2002 to 2011, first-class degrees more than doubled, from 26,100 to 53,215. Gove should recognise that the key problem is that A Levels and degrees are served up like 'ready meals' from a supermarket shelf.

Meanwhile further up the greasy pole

The idea of education as a consumption good, consumed for its own sake, without economic motives may have been true up to a point but the rationale for a university education has changed. Many politicians explain their advocacy for the expansion of the university system as crucial to securing the national future. No doubt based on the assumption that what goes on in universities will by some magical act fit the the future technical and social demands of the nation.

What we do know is that the growth of the university sector has been exponential and the sector is now saturated with sub-standard provision. This situation was created by the same Tory meddlers who introduced league tables to schools. Their HEI, 1992, initiative, which transformed every building in the land that had the word College above its door into a university, devalued at a stroke the notion of a university degree.

A character from the canteen based sitcom Dinner Ladies sums up the situation:
"Put a couple of poems up in a bus shelter and call it a university"

Proof of this can be found in the government's intention to end the awarding of degree certificates at different levels, 1st, 2.1 etc, in 2015, in favour of a record card to show future employers. Rationale? An in depth study has found that there exists little equivalence between the degrees handed out by one university and another. So, don't confuse yourself, a 1st from Oxford is not the same as one from Murky Water Academy. For the 'new' universities, the main entry requirement is the ability of the candidate to submit an application form, any old A-Levels will do; after all, these places are where kids go to do media studies. An LSE study found that the rapid expansion of higher education during the late 80s and 90s had not benefited the worst off. During that time the proportion of people from the poorest 20% of society getting a degree rose from 6% to 9%, but for the wealthiest 20% it rose from 20% to 47%.

And Gove said: "Those who are born poor are more likely to stay poor and those who inherit privilege are more likely to pass on privilege in England than in any

comparable country." He also said: "For those of us who believe in social justice this stratification and segregation is morally indefensible."
I think we are getting the message, from university access to pre-school provision, education will be a key lever in determining young peoples' life chances, indeed their very salvation - if they can afford it.

Student Debt Fees

In 2012, when the coalition raised student fees to £9000, they said it would save £1bn a year.

Now, David Willetts, Universities Minister, is admitting they got their sums wrong. The estimated savings were based on the assumption that economy would be doing far better than it is, more precisely that incomes, in real terms, would be much higher.
Real incomes are one of the key variables here since students will start paying back their loan fees once they start earning £21,000. How long it takes a given number of students to reach that magic figure and from there, how quickly incomes rise so that they pay back an increasing amount of their loan are predicated on real incomes growth.

Another key variable will be how much of the student debt has to be written off each year. The government's model predicted 28% of loans would be written off. It now admits it’s looking at a figure of 45%. The government is currently subsidising students to the tune of £10bn a year. For comparison, when the right down costs reach 48%, the new system will be more expensive than the £3000 a year scheme it replaced. So, the claimed saving from the new student fees system will be slight if any and the longer it continues in its present form the bigger the problem will become. Basically they have created a mess.

Selling the student loan book

David Willetts, the universities and science minister, is the man responsible painting a rosy picture of this piece of Tory policy.
He tells us:

"The private sector’s expertise makes it well-placed to collect this debt and the sale will also help the Student Loans Company to concentrate on providing loans to current students."

Is not language marvellous, they say Willetts is an extremely bright person although there is not much evidence from what he says. When he says the "private sector's expertise", he may be referring to its ability to pursue, threaten and intimidate debtors. And just how can the private sector be better placed than the government, with its tentacles into every orifice of our lives. The last part of his utterance, about 'helping' the Student Loans Company, makes no sense. Giving money away does not require any concentration, especially other people's money. The SLC role was clearly mis-specified, set up to give away money but not to get it back.

Solution: sell £900m of the student loan book, dating between 1990 and 1998, to private equity cowboys for £160m. The coalition did not just rush into this, no, they employed Barclays and Rothschild to oversee the sale. According to another government genius, Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury, selling student loans is all part of a long term plan to dispose of public debt over the coming years.

When Willetts talks about the 'private sector' he wants to evoke an image of a special race of beings, able to manage better than the public sector. Private sector is here being used as a metaphor but the reality is otherwise. We may wonder if Willetts or Alexander have a clue what Erudio, the private equity firm who put up the bulk of the money to buy the loan book, do for a living, since this company resides in the shadows of the financial world. However, its lesser partner, Arrow Global, is a specialist debt recovery firm which buys loans that have gone sour from banks and credit card companies. Of Arrow, a reporter wrote, "they might be a bit less sensitive when it comes to debt recovery".
Gove's overly prescriptive curriculum for primary schools

Subject boundaries will be blurred as themes and threads are followed through a range of disciplines, feeding into each other, allowing the student voice to be heard...... The only question remaining is what language the children will be heard in, as the latest fad is that primaries will be expected to start teaching languages. Apparently, there's a theory that if they can interest children at young age they will just long to all become linguists further down the road. Ah, what happens when they get further along to find that their secondary school only offers French, not the Spanish they've been mastering for years.

Since its introduction the National Curriculum has undergone constant revision, attainment targets rewritten and levels sliced and graduated - purpose unknown. At root the idea of a curriculum that has 10 levels of attainment common to all subjects was/is ill-conceived. They reduced 10 levels to 8, it was still ill-conceived. The upshot, little or no improvement in real attainment.

Cultural Literacy lays at the heart of Gove’s plans for primary schools. E D Hirsch came up with this gem and Mr Gove was mighty taken with the idea. So taken in fact, his intention was to build his remodelled primary curriculum on the idea that knowledge leads to understanding, problem solving and critical thinking. So all that nonsense about experiential learning is out of the window. And out goes all that stuff about 'mindstorms', push all the tables back into rows and get ready for a return to rote.

"We are developing a curriculum that specifies the knowledge that we think children need to know to develop these skills." Mr Gove.
Staying on at school, a bit longer

Apparently, 250,000 school children aged 16 failed to gain at least a C in maths and English at GCSE. The Mr Gove's solution, make them stay on for another year. Hence, from September 2013 the school leaving age will rise to age 17 and the following year it will rise again to 18 years.
Now, this is all very confusing, Matthew Hancock, the skills minister, who be warned is not very bright himself, tell us:
“We are saying that they need to continue studying English and maths and it’s for individuals whether they sit exams, but crucially there’s a very high expectation that they will because when you study a subject you tend to sit the exam."

So the intention is to make these children, who have been 'studying' for 11 years and couldn't manage a meagre C grade, to continue studying in the hope that they will eventually take an exam and reach the magical C grade. All very bizarre.

The legislation for this piece of genius was driven through the last Parliament but will there be enough places available to provide something for all 600,000 16-year-olds by the autumn. Ministers argue that massive extra provision is unnecessary since most 16 to 18-year-olds already engage in some form of education. That phrase 'some form of education' is crucial here, it's the government's get out of jail free card. Some form of education can mean anything you want it to mean, it's a new kind of reality, where staying on at school actually means participating in some educational activity that leads to a qualification.

This is made obvious by super brain Hancock:

"If you’re in full-time education, then you have to continue studying English and maths if you don’t have a C, the rules are different if you’re in part-time. Making sure they study the English and maths alongside what they’re studying anyway."
What can he possibly mean starting with "If". What happens if you are not in full time education after 16, what then? And what are these "different rules" for part-timers?

The Department for Education helps out here:

“You will still be able to work full time if you want to or volunteer full time or even set up your own business. You will still be participating as long as you are also doing part-time training which leads to a qualification.”
No one has a clue what to do about children who do not want to participate, One Nation Labour suggested a £50 fine but this was ruled out.
In truth, this scheme is just another example of coalition smoke and mirrors. One of the biggest problems facing the country is the number of 16-24 year olds playing space invaders in their bedrooms and not participating. By getting the media to tell the masses that children must stay on at school ever longer, they can claim they are trying to combat the Neet problem. And just how gaining a belated C grade in English and maths fixes the problem is beyond the grasp of ordinary mortals.

Gove goes to BETT: and announces big changes for ICT in schools.

January 2012. Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, gave a keynote speech at the BETT show. Unusually, Gove had some interesting things to say about ICT in schools. And he also revealed where his ideas derive from.
Specifically, Gove announced his intention to disapply the Programme of Study for ICT at Key Stage 3. Meaning that teachers would be free to teach what they wanted.... you know like they used to before they were forced to follow the schemes dictated by the Department for Education.
Ah, but now the Royal Society has joined forces with Ofstead to tell Gove that ICT lessons are boring, that both teachers and children are bored and things need to change. The very term ICT carries negative connotations, few children at 16 are choosing to pursue more rigorous IT courses post-16.

The main complaint against ICT in schools is that it has only ever taught 'digital literacy' due to the fact that it is mainly taught by non-IT specialists and that training for ICT teachers is non-existent.
The key conclusion of The Royal Society Report is that as presently constructed ICT in schools is not delivering for pupils or society, in terms of equipping children with worthwhile skills and supplying the skills that industry needs.
With the end of ICT in the National Curriculum the destruction of school lT was rapid, less time on the curriculum, reduced funding for new equipment, no development or training for teachers, and IT teachers considering their futures in teaching.

The Games Industry

At this point we find Gove also listening to the games industry; they too have produced a report, Next Gen. The games industry is an important player in the British economy, with global sales of £2 billion (2008).

The games industry have some strong views on ICT teaching in schools, which they describe as only teaching 'office skills'. In short, they want it gone; they want computer science in place as a National Curriculum subject and they want a GCSE Computer Science included into the new English Baccalaureate.

How to influence an Education Secretary

As you read through Gove's BETT talk it's clear that he almost had it written for him by the Royal Society and the authors of Next Gen. It seems Gove has been seduced by the marvels of video games and visual effects, at least twice in his talk he mentions how important it is for children to meet the challenges of 'set theory'. One can only wonder what Gove himself makes of Russell's paradox: "the set of all sets that are not members of themselves" - not a lot is probably the answer.

However, it is clear from Gove's talk that big changes are on the way for ICT in schools - watch this space. That's enough watching! Gove's talk is already having an affect on the delivery of ICT in schools, quite simply because he provided the management with an excuse, if they needed one, to stop offering ICT as an option or to only offer short course GCSEs.

Mr Gove's mirror image, David Willetts, minister for universities and science, at the Google Big Tent (May 2012) conference backed up Gove's thinking on computer courses:

“It’s clear that at all levels, the IT computer science courses at schools, colleges and universities seem catastrophically just to be very boring and putting people off.”

In an attempt to impress the man from Google, Eric Schmidt, he said: “We’ve already got trials going on of new ways of teaching IT in schools using a more creative model.” He also said it would be nice to reinstate the rail link from Oxford to Cambridge - you know, for some real face-time between all those aspiring polymaths.

The Sources of Gove's thinking:

MacTaggart lecture, 2011:  In his MacTaggart lecture, the man from Google, Mr Schmidt, said that he was “flabbergasted to learn that computer science isn’t even taught as standard” in schools in the UK, and that Britain had gradually “stopped nurturing its polymaths”. (Ed. What's a polymath, do we have any of those?) Willetts described Schmidt's lecture as an "intervention", that pushed the issue [the lack of polymaths?] to the top of the agenda in September 2011. Now things are getting confusing, one minute we need to keep kids at school longer so that they can gain a C in English and now we want them to become polymaths.

The Royal Society Report, January 2012, Shut down or restart? The way forward for computing in UK schools. 

Next Gen: Transforming the UK into the world’s leading talent hub for the video games and visual effects industries.

2014 Year of Code - Hello World

George Osborne told the world:

"In the 21st century, the ability to code and program a computer is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s an essential."
And we may wonder what on earth George knows about using a Raspberry Pi? The truth is, George wouldn't know where to find the on/off switch and it's a fair bet that it would take him all day at least to discover that the Pi does not have an on/off switch. So why does George think that 'coding' is now an essential.

 Well, his buddy, Michael Gove has got a lot riding on the idea. A couple of years or so ago, Gove and Ofsted went on the attack against the provision of ICT in schools, describing many schemes as boring and Gove convinced himself that kids didn't need ICT lessons anymore, they already knew sufficient ICT by the time they got to school; they could do things like use Facebook and Google to search for Justine Bieber. Gove was also much enthused by his discussions with the flourishing computer games sector. Hence, computing was what schools needed not ICT. There was and is one small fly in the ointment. Schools do not have the necessary expertise to make Gove's computing plans a reality. Hence, the Year of the Code.

He wants tech firms and universities to share funding worth £500,000 to help get teachers up to speed on coding. As part of the 'programme', there will be a week-long coding event in March 2014 to encourage teachers to give students at least one hour of basic programming lessons during that week. Throughout the length and breadth of the nation,  teachers will be writing up the lesson objective on the white board:
"By the end of this lesson I will write my first computer program "Hello World"!"

On first inspection this initiative, to introduce all kids (and their teachers) to coding, in advance of curriculum changes in the Autumn, looked like nothing more than another underfunded, half-hearted attempt to enthuse the youth of the nation.

But look deeper and you begin to wonder what is going on. The front person for this project is someone called Lottie Dexter, a 20 something PR person, who will probably pop up somewhere else next week promoting the government's next whiz bang idea. Lottie doesn't know anything about coding but she is good looking. Beyond air head Lottie we see former Downing Street adviser Rohan Silva, who describes himself as Entrepreneur in Residence and describes Lottie as "fantastic" - at what? And the big dog behind the scheme is Saul Klein, described by the BBC as "the moving spirit" behind the campaign. We also note that Mr Klein has a finger in the Raspberry Pi, could be a tasty little earner.
However, where are the people with the experience of coding for kids, they are not there. Computing for Schools has been campaigning for years to get some proper computing on the school curriculum. And Emma Mulqueeny, of Young Rewired State and the Festival of Code, has been promoting coding for kids for six years and more but she was not invited to Gove’s coding party.

The end of Vocational Courses

From 2015, over 3000 vocational courses will disappear from the curriculum. One headline read: “Gove Gets Rid Of Mickey Mouse Courses”, the reporter did not tell us what Mickey will do now.

According to the government, schools offer these exams to improve their GCSE league table standings. Gove has been led in his thinking on existing vocational courses by a review conducted for the government by Prof Alison Wolf, said to be a public policy expert.
"English and Maths GCSE (at grades A*-C) are fundamental to young people’s employment and education prospects. Yet less than 50% of students have both at the end of Key Stage 4 (age 15/16); and at age 18 the figure is still below 50%. Only 4% of the cohort achieve this key credential during their 16-18 education. Worse, the funding and accountability systems established by government create perverse incentives to steer 16+ students into inferior alternative qualifications." (The Wolf Report)

Of course schools can continue to offer these 'inferior' courses but they will not get any credit in league tables. Hence they may only offer courses on the government's prescribed list and hope that their customers find these engaging and worthwhile.
"For too long the system has been devalued by attempts to pretend that all qualifications are intrinsically the same. Young people have taken courses that have led nowhere."

Anyway, employers don't understand all this business about league table points and equivalences, they've just got used to GCSEs. There's no doubt though, these changes are intended to meet employers' workforce needs.


A comment left on an education blog sums up the current situation marvellously:
"I've been raised and educated to aspire to be a good employee. Instead of numbing children down with tests on subjects like maths, language and history, we should create an interactive learning environment in schools, where craftsmanship and problem-solving are valued as highly as the ability to absorb and regurgitate information. We need to develop children into people that not only think for themselves, but are also able to act for themselves. I suggest that we start with the immediate reintroduction of some of the most vital aspects of "domestic science" education, before the current lack thereof leads to serious casualties in student halls."

Free lunches in trouble

Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister, admitted that his £600m free school meal programme had a few teething troubles or what he pompously termed "implementation challenges".

Free meals for 5 to 7 year olds were due to start in September 2014 and those "challenges" may add a few million pounds to the cost of the scheme. For a start a £160m capital fund has been put in place to cover the lack of facilities in schools across the nation. Oddly, local authorities will be tasked with deciding who gets what. It will be up to head teachers to ensure they fill out the necessary forms by the due dates or they will get nothing. Beyond not having a kitchen to cook in, some schools will also struggle to make space for mass dining, having abandoned the idea of school meals in the mists of time, when, no doubt, some genius thought they were unnecessary and far too costly anyway - now who could that have been? Extra costs will also be incurred by the need to employ extra supervisory staff.

But Nick is confident that the scheme will be implemented across 24,000 schools by September. Some Tory critics suggested that Nick has not given schools enough notice but he insists that pilots have been underway since 2009, in order to gauge the difference a hot meal at lunch time makes to growing children.

Apparently, these pilots, all two of them, have produced some really informative insights. Children who eat at lunch time perform better academically, and their behaviour generally is much improved - to the extent that some children even become likeable. Sadly for New Labour, the policy was shown to do more to improve literacy levels than the nationwide introduction of a compulsory "literacy hour" in 1998.
However, Nick does acknowledge due to the schemes "challenges", not all the 1.5m meals served up in September will be hot, many will be prepacked cold lunches. Naturally there is an assurance that all meals served, hot and cold, will be nutritious. Apparently again, only 1% of children's' packed lunches are currently sufficiently nutritious. Just how that statistic was gathered by the promoters of this scheme will have to remain unknown.


We know that up to 400,000 entitled children are not currently claiming free school meals. This impacts on school funding because the 'pupil premium' is based on the family's eligibility for free school meals. Basically, the parents have to prove they are poor and then their child gets a free meal and the school gets the pupil premium.

Now, if everyone is getting a free school meal, what happens to the pupil premium? Well, according to the hot meal school of thought, it will not be necessary due to all the improvement expected from a hot meal, so no extra support will be required for poor children. Outstanding! who would have thought a hot meal would solve all the problems of the British education system. If we poked Nick Clegg in the eye with a sharp stick would he notice?

Free Schools - 2010

These new schools will enjoy the same freedoms as academies, which are publicly funded independent schools, free from local authority control. Other freedoms include setting their own pay and conditions for staff, freedom from following the National Curriculum and the ability to change the lengths of their terms and school days. All Free Schools will be accountable like other state schools via inspections and tests.
Evidence from Sweden, where over a 1000 free schools have been set up, suggests that benefits for low income, low attaining pupils are virtually zero. Also those advocating the virtues of 'free schools' might like to consider why they do not get involved in their local schools and seek to improve them rather than abandoning them as a lost cause.

The evidence from Sweden and the US tells us that free schools do not raise educational standards. Free school advocates here like to point to the successes of Charter Schools in the US but they perhaps overlook two crucial factors, the high levels of per pupil funding, e.g. $25,000 and harsh nature of the regimes, failure is not tolerated.

The government says it  received over 130 applications from groups wanting to set up free schools. (Oct. 2010)
A total of 24 have so far been given the green light and opened in September 2011. £130m has been laid out on capital costs already, and there is more being spent that government won't disclose. By 2012, 79 Free Schools were up and running and another 118 were expected to open in 2013.
Their main problem has been finding suitable property for the new schools. Now, the Government plans to let them have space in properties owned by the DfE. But they will also be allowed to open up in empty shops (no shortage of them) and pubs, just about any space will do?

Free Schools: first Ostead inspections 2013

Ofsted have started to inspect Mr Gove's flagship 'free schools' and has found them wanting. In the first official verdict on the Education Secretary's free schools programme, Ofsted inspectors have ruled that three of the first nine institutions to be examined are "not good" schools. Gove told us that his new schools would be "making a significant difference in driving up standards in every part of the country". Well, schools in Yorkshire, Cheshire and Bradford received the accolade of "requires improvements", it doesn't get much worse. Of the nine visited in January 2013, only one managed an "outstanding" tag.

Call Me Dave got behind the free school idea by claiming his Government was taking on "a left-wing establishment that had bargain-basement expectations for millions of children". Thanks to Dave there, for revealing the true purpose of his education reforms; removing local authorities from the picture altogether.

Free Schools in trouble

The Discovery New School in Crawley, West Sussex, had its funding removed and was closed in April 2014, after Ofsted found learning and teaching to be inadequate. The main reason for closure is due to the DfE view that the school will not be able to meet the demands for improving leadership and teaching. Well, that's what happens when you employ untrained teachers. When they are found wanting, a little bit of remedial help will not fix things, meaning they can't be sent off on a few courses to enhance their professional development because they do not have any professionalism to develop - however, innovative they might be.

That's the thing about all that independence afforded to free schools, where's the support network when you need it. Interestingly, Discovery claimed to be using Montessori teaching methods although the school was not a member of the Montessori Schools Association. We may wonder why parents, now so devastated by the schools closure, did not ask the school's management why there was no formal connection with the Association? We do know that the school's founders did approach the Association, after it went into special measures, but oddly, refused to comply with the accreditation process or commit to hiring suitably qualified teachers.

A second free school, the Al-Madinah went into special measures at the end of 2013. On paper the problems at Al-Madinah seemed to outweigh those of Discovery by a margin but mysteriously the DfE stepped in and encouraged a new Educational Trust to assist with the running of the school. However, this school was described as chaotic and dysfunctional by Ofsted, there was also mention of financial irregularities and yet it was not closed.

And yet Skills Minister, Matthew Hancock told us in relation to Discovery: "If a school isn't good enough, it's important that we take action quickly"
How we may wonder does chaos and dysfunction in one circumstance become more worthy than another, only Mr Hancock knows. And Civitas may also wonder where requiring females to wear head covering and other articles of Saudi Islamic distortion fit into the innovative free school ethos.

No matter, finally, February 2014, the DfE bit the bullet and secondary teaching at al-Madinah will be ended in the summer. There seems to be an acknowledgement here that inexperienced, unqualified staff, and staff who need training will be unlikely to build a successful place for educating children.

Free schools mis-sold

There are now around 170 free schools up and running but only 7% of these have been set up by parents. Such a low percentage of parental involvement seems to suggest that something else is going on and that the government must be colluding in the enterprise. Free schools were sold to the public as an opportunity for communities to get involved directly in education by establishing schools that met local needs. However, it seems as if the government is acting like some kind of facilitating agent for private equity cowboys. Apparently, Mr Gove is much impressed by the Swedish free school model, there, 64% of these schools are run by private companies.

The Adam Smith Institute argued in 2011 that "unless ministers are prepared to facilitate the contribution of profit-making businesses", free schools will only have a "statistically minor" impact. This comment raises the supposed second selling point of free school idea, i.e. increasing school capacity to cater for the growing population of primary age children. There is a massive and looming shortfall in places available. (see ASI School Report, 2011) However, 50% of free schools have been allowed to set up in areas where there are no capacity problems.
Unintended consequences: shortage of school places

The government's academy and free school programme has created a chronic shortage of school places. Why, because local authorities can't force these schools to create more places. By 2014, an estimated extra 256,000 primary and secondary school places will be needed. The Coalition has announced plans to spend £7.5bn to create 500,000 new school places by 2021 in existing as well as new free schools and academies but no one knows if this will fix the problem.

More unintended consequences: free schools

A FoI request has revealed that a flood of faith free school requests have been rejected. Free schools are designed to enable aspirant middle class Tory parents to save their charges from the perils of the local comprehensive. We can't have Muslims and Hindus setting up faith schools, that would be tantamount to apartheid. Clearly, separate development is fine for the anti-social, middle class 'me first' brigade but for no one else.

The Academies Act 2010

Prior to this Act there were 203 academies in England. Education Secretary Michael Gove sent a letter to all publicly-funded schools inviting them to become a part of his Panopticon world, 70% of secondary schools expressed an interest.

A bit more history.... 1979, 2007, and now....

Governments have been experimenting with the status of schools for some time. New Labour ended the grant-maintained schools experiment in 1998. Grant-maintained status was created by the Education Reform Act 1988, as part of the programme of the Conservative government to create greater diversity in educational provision and to weaken the influence of Local Education Authorities. At their peak in early 1998, there were 1196 grant-maintained schools, most of them secondary schools. Within the state sector, they accounted for 3% of primary schools, 19% of secondary schools and 2% of special schools.

New Labour's 1998 Act also introduced Foundation Schools, only a trickle of schools opted into this format.
After the abolition of grant-maintained status, the only remaining schools directly funded by central government were the 15 City Technology Colleges, CTCs. One fifth of the capital costs were met by private business sponsors, who also owned or leased the buildings. The rest of the capital costs, and all running costs, were met by the DfE. The CTCs were established under the Tory 1988 Act, most have now converted to Academy status.

In 2000 the Labour government introduced a new kind of directly funded school, the City Academy, later renamed simply, Academy. The Learning and Skills Act 2000 that introduced the CAs also reduced the amount of money, by half, expected from sponsors?
The architect of the reform was Lord Andrew Adonis. There are currently (Feb' 2013) 2,619 academies in Britain, 501 of which are sponsored. Sponsored academies were once under-performing, failing secondary state schools which were then revamped and turned into academies to save them from closure. Their sponsors can be business people, philanthropists, religious institutions or universities.
Following the 2010 General Election the Academies Act 2010 was enacted, vastly expanding possibilities for schools to become academies. It was described by journalist Mike Baker as:
"not an extension of the Labour government's academies, but the recreation of the grant-maintained schools".

Dismissing Academy Blockers

Neither the Secretary of State nor a local authority has direct power to force a maintained school to become an academy.
It is being done, however, by replacing the school’s governing body with an Interim Executive Board comprising of people chosen who then act on behalf of the school in ‘applying’ to become an academy; or by pressuring the existing governing body into applying themselves.
The Education and Inspections Act 2006 allows the LA to remove governors where a 'warning notice' is in place, e.g. where the school is in 'special measures' and stands accused of not doing enough to meet those measures. The existing governing board may not be physically removed but in terms of the academy conversion process they will be replaced by an Interim Executive Board, probably consultants used to steer the process through.

Re-focussing: From failing schools to failing LAs

However, many LAs are not playing ball, across the country so-called under-performing schools are not receiving 'warning notices' and the consultants are not being called in. Local authorities who choose not to use the powers they have to intervene to convert under-performing schools to academies are being targetted and labelled as under-performing themselves or worse, standing in the way of progress. Chris Skidmore, Tory MP, and member of the Education Select Committee, is a key exponent of taking local authorities out the picture and believes that the principle of payment by results should be introduced to LA's performance in relation to the attainment of children on free school meals.
Beyond Academies and Free Schools

The government announced that 12 new studio schools were approved to open 2012, joining six already open but it wasn't on the front page of many newspapers. However, these schools are part of a cunning plan that enable government spokesman to claim that they are preparing children for the economic challenges ahead.

These are small schools for 14 to 19-year-olds which are intended to act as a bridge between education and the workplace. They open all year round and the day lasts from 9 till 5. They will offer a mix of academic and vocational qualifications as well as paid work placements.
Is this the return of the technical schools from the 1938 Spens Report? Yes and no; on the academic side these schools are offering the usual diet of choices but this learning will take place through projects designed by employers. However, apart from paid work placement elements, one day a week for up to 16 and then two days a week, there's not much evidence of plumbing or bricklaying going on. So, Studio Schools don't appear to be trade colleges. And yet the DfE tells us:

"For many pupils and their parents, the opportunity to combine studying for qualifications with developing skills that will give them the edge in the competitive jobs market will be very attractive. For others students, the opportunity to gain qualifications through this new approach will mean they are more engaged and perform better than in a more conventional school." DfE website
Just a moment, I'm getting it now, these schools are not about giving kids an edge in the market place, they are about encouraging participation in the education process.

University Technical Colleges

University Technical Colleges (UTCs) specialise in subjects that need modern, technical, industry-standard equipment - such as engineering and construction - and teach these disciplines alongside business skills and the use of ICT. In the 2011 budget it was announced that at least 24 UTCs are planned to be open by 2014, the first opened in 2010. The brains behind the project are the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, a registered charity. Lord Baker told the Westminster Education Forum that there could be 100 UTCs open by the next election.

What is a UTC?

A college for students aged 14 to 19 which specialises in technical studies and is sponsored by a university. It offers full time courses which combine practical and academic studies. Employers are involved from the start in shaping the curriculum. They also being promoted as a new concept in education.

UTCs specialise in subjects that require technical and modern equipment, for example, engineering, product design, health sciences, construction, and land and environmental services.
But then Call Me Dave spoils the new concept notion:
"The next great poverty-busting structural change we need – the expansion of University Technical Schools – offering first-class technical skills to those turned off by purely academic study. " (see UTC website)
So then, just another scheme to engage the disaffected youth, the square pegs that just wont fit into Dave's plans to turn every bog standard comp' into an Eton. And the downside for Dave’s plans here is that main stream schools are not selling the UTC idea to the kids and hence there appears to be an absence of students at the UTCs.

Commando Joes': Introducing the military ethos to education

If Mr Gove fails to make the English education system fit for purpose, although he doesn't have a clue what the purpose is, he does now have Commando Joes', a private company who have been gifted £600,000 to rescue children disaffected by the education system.

The boss of Commando Joes', ex Royal Marine Mike Hamilton tells us:
"We have been working with disadvantaged, vulnerable pupils and young people at risk of exclusion for several years now and our aim has always been to provide them with the best opportunities and strategies to cope and engage in everyday situations - situations that they often find difficult and challenging."

Commando Joes' motto is No Child Left Behind, this is all very encouraging, enthusing children with the military ethos by engaging them with challenging experiences, like obstacle courses and team building games. Call me old fashioned but isn't that what school PE departments are for; getting fit, joining in, taking on challenges, learning how to become team players?

Gove calling in real commandos to back up the lame efforts of schools to deal with disaffected children actually explains why schools are not able to deal with problem kids. Ever since the days that New Labour turned all teachers into praise zealots, schools have been fighting a losing battle and always on the lookout for some outside agency to take responsibility for the children that couldn't be hoodwinked by all that praise nonsense.
These are kids with nowhere to go - so when Commando Joes' pops along and says let's go play soldiers, they'll love it, they will not find it difficult or challenging, they'll view it as a treat. Commando Joes' says that they specialise working one to one with children as well and that the children are very responsive - well, what a surprise to find that they respond so well to special treatment.

Gove said:

"Every child can benefit from the values of a military ethos. Self-discipline and teamwork are at the heart of what makes our Armed Forces the best in the world – and are exactly what all young people need to succeed."
Really - why then doesn't Gove open the doors of Sandhurst Military Academy a bit wider, for all these young people who need the military ethos?

Military Academies for kids?

Perhaps not Sandhurst then, but Gove does have a blue print for his plans to set up military schools to get some discipline into those kids who have rejected the State system. In 2010 the Department for Education took on oversight for the Duke of York’s Royal Military School in Kent, a £10,000 a year military academy. Once entry was exclusively for the children of military personnel but now its doors are open to all, who have the cash.
Some have high hopes for military academies:
"The Military Academies would open up new opportunities for those lacking hope and aspiration; they would change the cultural and moral outlook of those currently engulfed by hopelessness and cynicism." That was from the Respublica website, from an article suggesting how rioting children should be dealt with.

Teachers' union leader, Chris Keates accused Respublica of "cynical misuse and misrepresentation of the causes of the riots." and branded the proposals "national service for kids".

More stridently, the Morning Star said:

"If Respublica were serious they would be calling for increased funding to areas such as Tottenham to equal that at private schools such as Eton and Harrow which produce the feral rich who loot this country."

Interesting to note that Respublica considers itself full of ground breaking ideas but the notion of cadet forces is straight from the days of the grammar schools. Naturally, there's more here than meets the eye. Once these children have been transformed into good cadets, it is then hoped that they will go on to volunteer for Britain's 21st century 'reserve army'. Now, this scheme seems abnormally joined up for government thinking; they run down the professional army and simultaneously train up the next generation of army 'specials', prepared to protect the nation for nothing.

NEETs: An Untidy Lot

Kids leave school and go into employment, education or training, if they don't do any of these things then they get described as NEETs, as in "not doing bugger all", except playing World of Warcraft in their bedrooms. NEETs are a big worry for Dave's ConDems, currently the number of online gamers is estimated at 979,000 16-24 year olds in England (DfE). This represents 16 per cent of this age group. 186,000 of these young people are aged 16-18. Now, the statisticians have a problem counting the NEETs, they can, at times be in one of the categories that they are not supposed to be in, then, their NEET label has to be disapplied but then, because they are not stickers, they'll out again and wanting their NEET label back.
These statistics are very interesting though when we consider the role of Connexions, the Blair incarnation of the Careers Advice Service, with some tea and sympathy thrown in for good measure and no doubt, a raw carrot snack. Connexions had a budget of nearly half a billion pounds to advise the 13-19 age group and beyond, up to 25 for people with learning difficulties.

Connexions remit is personal empowerment, carrots may help there but it's a safe observation that says Connexions have failed the NEETs. Dave has a plan for Connexions, and as usual it's cunning; Dave is not ditching the Connexions service, he's just leaving it up to local authorities/colleges to decide if they want to keep it in place. Dave has moved on, he's got Next Step and the very new National Careers Service, available for everyone from the age of 13.

Now, the thing about NEETs is that all that bedroom time increases the likelihood of stress and depression, which does not really enhance your employment profile and may place burdens on society if it leads into drug, alcohol addiction, long-term psychological problems and homelessness. It may also lead to a life of crime. And, in general, all that down time does nothing for your ‘employability’ skills.


"Each 16-18 year old who is NEET has been estimated by Godfrey et al to have an average total public finance cost to society of £52,000 (in 2002 prices) over the course of their lifetime. Recently this average societal unit cost of NEETs has been updated to £56,000 per 16-18 year old NEET. The current estimated aggregate public finance costs of 16-18 year old NEETs range from £12bn to £32bn." (Off the map? The geography of NEETs, The Work Foundation.)

Suffice it to say, the NEET situation is dire, both at a personal and social level and Mr Gove's 'pupil premium' will not fix it anytime soon. The main problem is that no one actually has an overview of the national picture, they can tell you more or less how many NEETs there are in a given space and time but who is evaluating the range and effectiveness of the schemes on offer for young people. Where's the department responsible for ensuring that schools and colleges are working with local authorities and the careers service to provide effective action to resolve the NEET problem - There isn't one.

You need to be some kind of statistical whizz kid to grasp the truth of what we are told about the state of the economy. Take the following from big Dave at PMQs, September 2013,

"We're also seeing the number of young not in education, employment or training - that number is at its lowest for a decade."

Really, now what group of young people was Dave talking about? Was it 16-18 years olds or was it 16-24 year olds. It does matter because by not making a distinction he can be both right and wrong at the same time, we told you he was cunning. Dave's statement is true for the younger group but wrong for the whole group. However, the signal fact is that the numbers overall are unacceptably high in terms of the blighted lives of young people. In fact, the lowest number in the past decade was 660,000 in 2003 against 930,000 today; bearing in mind that NEET numbers are a constantly moving feast due to movements in and out of the education system.

Apprenticeships to the rescue?

Matthew Hancock, the skills and enterprise minister, spends his days telling the world how the NEET problem will be solved by the government’s apprenticeship schemes. He claims that apprenticeships have contributed to a 38% fall in youth unemployment, for 2012/2013. Very interesting but if young people are taking part in some kind of an apprenticeship then ipso facto they are not unemployed. We think Mr Hancock is stating the obvious, still that’s what he gets paid for.
Critics tell us that the majority of apprenticeships are "low skilled" and "dead end”. The key problem is that the majority of apprenticeships are pitched at so-called ‘intermediate level’, i.e. GCSE standard and the majority do not lead on to permanent jobs. Also curiously, 40% of apprentices are over 25 years of age.
The Germans’ have an apprenticeship system that serves their economy nicely but currently what we have is simply ad hoc and unlikely to lead to the upskilling that our economy desperately needs.


One day, when the historians reflect on Gove's mission, they may say that his free school and academy campaign had a fatal flaw, in that freeing schools from local authority control removed a vital layer of oversight that safeguarded the education process. We witnessed some of the consequences in Birmingham, when school governors misunderstood their freedom to shape the religious education of their charges.
The problem with education reform is the damage done over a protracted period, the introduction the National Curriculum by the Thatcher government was a prime example of a long-term experiment that ill served a generation of children. The new reforms introduced by Gove may prove just as woeful, the destruction of vocational courses and ICT are a recipe for disappointment. However, Gove's plans to introduce an integrated Education, Health and Care Plan to replace how children’s special needs are assessed will be a quiet disaster from day one. Integration is political speak for a cost-cutting exercise, producing a document on how departments will be working together (and with private contractors) is supposed to make up for the removal of funds. Gove, like every education secretary in the post-war period, is unclear about the purpose of education. So all his changes may one day add up to a bag of beans but it may not be the bag of beans we were expecting. The main point to consider is that there is nothing in Gove's reforms across the whole age range that will guarantee to prepare children for the technological demands of a global economy. There is, however, much in Gove's changes that will disappoint a host of children and their teachers.

Deschooling Society

"Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue's responsibility until it engulfs his pupils' lifetime will deliver universal education." Ivan Illich 1971

It is worth noting that Illich wrote that 43 years ago and he may well have a point that Mr Gove has yet to grasp but someone has got to look after the children while their parents are earning a living. Update: Gove was replaced as education secretary, July 2014.



Getting Old in England


Someone once said that the degree to which a country might be considered civilized could be judged by the number of people it had in prison. A better measure would be the way a country treats its elderly citizens. Oh, dear!

What's required is a National Care Service for the Elderly but Dave does not have any plans for that.

 Elderly care in England is in Crisis

The number of elderly care places has been falling for several years. There are now 70,000 fewer places available than there were when New Labour came to power in 1997. 11 million of the UK population are pensioners, 1 million are over 85 years old.
About 5% of pensioners need a care home. On present numbers, by 2020, three quarters of those in need will not be able to find a place in a care home. Translating the numbers into something meaningful; half a million elderly people will be left in their own homes to rot quietly - New Labour had a new idea in response to this crisis - quality care in your own home.

New Labour's plans for the elderly into the future, notwithstanding bleating about "it's better for old people to be cared for in their own homes", are an acknowledgement that they had no intention of properly funding local authority elderly care. All very worrying when you consider that one in twenty people over 65 has dementia. Will the ConDem coalition respond differently - their big idea was that citizens cough up £8000 on retirement to secure quality care in the future. What happened to that idea?

Paying for Care

Following the Dilnot Commission's Report, the coalition finally announced that they would cap the cost of a care home place at £75,000. Dilnot recommended £35,000. This will not come into effect until 2017. Bills for services such as help with washing will not be covered by the cap. And the difference between Dilnot's figure and the coalition's will mean that around 2 million pensioners will lose out.

New health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said this would end the "scandal" of elderly home owners being forced to sell their home to meet nursing care fees. Under the new proposals, people will be deemed "self-funders" only if they have assets of more than £123,000. Currently, those with assets of £23,250 or more – and in many cases this will include the value of their home – are expected to pay care bills in full.

Given the average cost of a residential home is now (2013) £580 a week – and more than £700 a week for a nursing home – people's assets can be quickly exhausted if they spend their last few years in care.

CQC Report

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) in its published report (2009) highlighted the deep failing in elderly care in Britain in this the 21st Century. Yes, much good work is being done but up to 25% of local authorities are deemed to be failing in their duty of care for the elderly. Failing, here means, providing 'poor' or 'just adequate' care.

The biggest crimes highlighted by the CQC report are lack of respect and having no regard for personal dignity.

Good intentions

Beware talk of schemes to care for the elderly at home. Local authorities have been cooking the books for years in their assessments of individual elderly care needs in order to make the till balance. Councils have become very clever at under-estimating individual care needs, so that no intervention is called for.

Why should we believe that anything is likely to change unless there is a massive increase in funding. Indeed, Help the Aged have suggested that some people could end up in care homes earlier than needed because it will be cheaper for Local Authorities. Now, with the ConDem cuts to council grants it's clear that councils will follow one or two paths on elderly care, ignore the problem or find the cheapest provider.
You can read the full report and associated documents on the Care Quality Commission's website - it's a jolly good read, enjoy. Also see the Queen's speech, 2009, for an outline of the care in the home Bill but please be sure not read this whilst eating, you'll choke yourself.

Care Homes: Waiting Rooms for Death

Michael Parkinson, acting as New Labour's 'dignity tzar' described 'care' homes for elderly citizens "as little more than waiting rooms for death".
Parkinson's report makes you wonder why people bother with this waiting room system and don't just go straight to the undertaker. Picture the scene, up and down every high street throughout the land, old duffers, well passed their sell by date, sleeping rough outside the Co-Op Funeral Directors. No doubt Parkinson will be there, handing out free biros and touting over 50s’ insurance schemes.
Of course, becoming a death squatter requires an element of free will, unlikely when your nerves get all tangled up like rats' tails. Fact is, when you or those close to you begin to sense that some of your responses are becoming a little odd, nothing will happen. You're getting old, forgetful; the medics wont want to know. Come back when you are completely ga ga and then they will start prescribing. By then it will be too late and your fate will be out of your hands. You never did take out that 'lasting power of attorney', now those who care about you don't have much of a say about what happens to you either - your life will be the hands of the insidious Court of Protection.
And if you end up on the Liverpool Care Pathway, they probably wont know that you are being helped on your way out, being denied food and drink. Where's the honesty in that kind of killing.

Neglect for the elderly, in 'third world' Britain

A Department of Health spokesman said:

"Every older person is entitled to high quality, safe and dignified care, whether it is provided in their own home or anywhere else. Anything less is unacceptable."

"The new Care Quality Commission has tough powers to penalise or close down providers who offer substandard care. We expect CQC to use these powers to crack down on cases such as those highlighted by Panorama."
So, the new Care Quality Commission (CQC) are able to crack down on sub-standard care providers. Well, no, not exactly because Local Authorities are able to 'interpret' the required care standards in their areas. Penny pinching councils are only offering critical care, meaning that those with moderate needs are overlooked. The CQC pops in and inspects the councils good work and says, well done, you're meeting your stated care targets. The CQC says itself, "the current system of assessing eligibility for care lacks clarity, transparency and fairness."
Stating the bleeding obvious will not disguise the signal fact that the elderly are being neglected - not cared for - in third world Britain.

The Truth About Elderly Care

The truth about elderly care is that nothing happens until it's too late to help and so-called care homes are nothing of the sort. Government knows the scale of the problem but instead of treating it like a national emergency it chooses to make the problem disappear within a maze of bureaucracy.
Needless use of anti-psychotic drugs is widespread in dementia care and contributes to the death of many patients, an official Government sponsored review suggests. Anti-psychotic drugs do not benefit many dementia patients.  About 180,000 patients a year are given the drugs but estimates suggest that only 36,000 benefit from their use.

The government agreed to take steps to reduce use of the drugs. These include: improving access to other types of therapy, such as counselling, better monitoring of prescribing practices and the appointment of a new national director for dementia to oversee the measures.

There are currently 700,000 people in the UK with the condition, but this is expected to rise to one million in the next 10 years because of the ageing population. This review reveals that over the past 30 years doctors have been prescribing anti-psychotic drugs for dementia just to keep old people quiet.

The review into the use of these drugs took place under New Labour and one action was to establish a National Clinical Director for Dementia to audit progress. In fact, an army of Clinical Directors were established, known as tzars – who oversee the implementation of a National Service Framework (NSF). The Dementia tsar has a blog but he's not saying much about progress on reducing the use of these drugs.

Cuts - the new challenge of caring for the elderly and vulnerable

It's estimated that 370,000 more people will need care in the next four years. The £14.4bn allocated by government for adult social care spending by English councils is in the firing line for cuts, this is local authorities' single biggest controllable budget.
And you don't need a crystal ball to guess that the Rolls Royce of care packages, the Independent Living Allowance will be drastically cut. This type of package can cost upwards of £100,000 per person.

Ministers have said that there will not be big cuts to Adult Social Services (Adass) and have hinted at additional funding in this area. However, these sound biters overlook even the £1 billion suggested increase will not be enough to cater for the increasing numbers requiring care. The president of Adass has said he expects real cuts of the order of 40% over the next four years. The blunt reality is that people in need of social care will in future get less State help. Individuals will have to do more for themselves and take part in Cameron's "big society.

Liverpool Care Pathway

Old people have much to worry about once they become dependent on the care provided by hospitals and care homes.
The pathway, designed to ease the suffering of patients in their last hours or days of life, has come under intense scrutiny in recent times. It can involve the removal of drugs, nutrition and hydration if they are judged to be of no benefit to the patient.
But a number of families have complained that their loved ones were put on the pathway without their knowledge, while some doctors have claimed it can hasten death. A national audit recently disclosed that almost half of dying patients who were placed on the controversial pathway were not told that life-saving treatment had been withdrawn
The Health Secretary insisted the protocol was far better than alternative arrangements and allowed those close to death to be comfortable and to spend their last hours with their families. Hunt told LBC radio:

“It’s a fantastic step forward, the Liverpool care pathway, and we need to be unabashed about that."


 “It’s basically designed to bring hospice-style care to terminally-ill people in hospitals. Inevitably people do die in hospital but they weren’t getting the quality of care in those final few hours.”

Mr Hunt said many patients did not want to die “with lots of tubes going in and out of their body” but would prefer their final moments with their families to be “dignified”. How does he know these things?

The Pathway was developed with Marie Curie, with Macmillan, with Age UK and a number of other charities to try and bring dignity to people in their last moments. Last moments, now there's an interesting phrase, lingering moments, is a better one. How would you like to linger for days without food and water and medication? Well, there's nothing dignified about dying in pain and it's about time all these agencies of good intentions grew up and, instead of killing people on the sly just passed the dying person a Mickey Finn.

About 57,000 patients a year are dying in NHS hospitals without being told that efforts to keep them alive have been stopped, also thousands of dying patients were not given drugs to make them more comfortable.

And the idiot, Hunt, now in charge of the nation's health, says he hopes that one or two bad reports do not end up discrediting the concept of the Pathway.

Perhaps Mr Hunt's handlers should have informed him that his hopes were behind the curve of public opinion, it seems likely that any mention of the Liverpool Care Pathway will soon disappear. Use of the term will be phased out and some new term, without any connotations of State sanctioned murder will be introduced to replace it.

Care Homes, not badly managed, just not managed!

There are more than 500 different operators running care homes and they were told to appoint a registered manager by April 2011.
The new Health and Social Care Act 2008, which came into force on the 1st October 2009, makes it a requirement for all care homes to have a registered manager. The old legislation, brought in in 2000, also carried the same stipulation. Yet, despite this, almost 1,000 care homes have no registered manager. A cynical person might question what the point of a watchdog is for when ten years can go by without care providers heeding the rules.

The CQC said it had placed conditions on those care homes without a registered qualified manager, requiring operators to appoint one. If they fail to do so, they will be breaking the law, yes, but they were all ready breaking the law?

Another 200 care home providers have had conditions placed on their registration for other "compliance issues," the CQC said.
Chief executive, Cynthia Bower, said: "It has been recognised in the care sector for some time that there is a shortage of experienced and qualified managers. While we have been undertaking the enormous task of re-registering thousands of care services, the scale of this has become clearer." In other words, who ever did the earlier registering, did the job badly.

The Scandal of Care at home

One in eight adults, or more than 6.5m people, are carers and every week that passes their numbers grow. Every week, another 8,000 people have a stroke, a heart attack, or have a sick relative released from a crowded hospital that needs care.

There's no mention of this new form of slavery on the Anti-Slavery Society's website, perhaps there's something among Dave's cunning plans, then again, perhaps not because carers are saving the government £118bn a year in unpaid services. (figures from Carers UK)

Home carers are being paid £1.70 an hour based on a 35 hour week. Let's ignore the fact that in reality we are talking about a 24/7 occupation and that their real wage is actually 35 pence an hour - but their obvious wage is £59 a week in benefit and it's taxable. Since very many carers are trying to hold down part-time jobs as well as caring, or subsisting on meagre occupational pensions. Some 20% of home carers will give up their working life altogether to become full-time carers.

Local authorities spend £22 an hour on home care and even the corner cutting private sector in home care are spending £10 an hour on providing so-called home care.

The government is very happy with this situation. It's also very happy to allow the private sector to provide the 70% of the home care neglectfully for communities that local authorities have washed their hands of, or, put another way, that local authorities can't get the slave labour of home carers to do for nothing.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has produced a useful report on this troublesome social problem for the politicians to ignore.

The new ConDem Imperative

The shortage of so-called 'social' housing for families will be solved at a stroke, no pun intended, by moving the elderly out of their homes into one bedroom flats and bed and breakfast establishments.
The case of 83 year old Edward Meakins highlights the ConDem's solution to the shortage of 'social' housing. Mr Meakins has been resident in his three bedroom Barnet home for 74 years but not for much longer.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, warned that pensioners may be forced to move out of their “under-occupied” council houses to free them up for struggling families.

Think Tank Man's musings have become the new local authority imperative. Unfortunately for Mr Meakins he lives in the borough of Barnet, the home of zealotry, whoever's in Government. (Dog help you, if you leave the bins out on the wrong day!)
A spokesman for Barnet homes, the LA's housing contractor said:

“We have to balance our sympathy for his position against the needs of the large number of people on the housing register who are desperate for a good quality family home.”

They plan to evict (re-house) Mr Meakins. Perhaps IDS will send a couple of squadies round from his 'army of compassion' to make Mr Meakins a nice cup of tea.

Old People

Old people are major problem for Dave, his brain just will not stop asking questions. Is the maltreatment of elderly citizens in hospital and so-called care homes the product of a sophisticated modern high tech developed society, is it a natural development, with everyone excused by being too busy striving to care, too busy to do anything about it? And how sophisticated is this society, that legislates against assisted suicide and yet tortures old people to death in hospital with its Liverpool Care Pathway?

Is Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the right man for the job, telling people:

“It’s a fantastic step forward, the Liverpool care pathway, and we need to be unabashed about that."

How did Dave forget that it was Jeremy Hunt who told the Leveson enquiry, whilst he was Culture Secretary, that he didn't know what the people in his own office were doing. Then, two months into his new role, he appeared as an expert on a procedure discredited in the public mind by press stories of elderly people being denied food and water because some twit in a white coat decided they were ready to depart the world.
Then there's the Care Quality Commission, who should be better informed than Hunt, it's their job to inspect and report on what's happening inside hospitals and care homes, yet time and again the CQC has failed in its duty.

Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb said there were "serious flaws" in the current system that needed addressing:
"Confidence in the regulation regime has been shaken, but we have turned a corner. I welcome the chief inspector's new commitment to protecting people vulnerable to abuse and neglect."

More turning of corners, Mr Lamb is here referring to the government's intention to introduce a new Ofsted style inspection regime in 2014. This new scheme may involve installing cameras in care homes and hospitals to keep an eye on the carers, as well as, using mystery shoppers to get the inside track on what care homes are offering. The CQC will also introduce larger inspection teams, which will include members of the public.

Backtracking on elderly care costs

Dave is wondering if anyone will notice the small print in the 'deferred payments scheme' that explains how the goalposts have been moved. Dave recalls the coalition headline on the subject of paying for care costs in old age. That fine Mr Lamb set it out for us, saying he wanted to "bring reassurance to millions of people by ending the existing unfair system so no one need face the prospect of selling their home in their lifetime."
Dave knows since the coalition have now moved the goalposts very few individuals will benefit from the 'deferred assets' scheme. Also, few will ever reach the £72,000 cap on care costs, on average most people expire after two years after entering these waiting rooms for death.
Not that they have finally made clear what their intentions are in terms of long term care funding. Suffice it to say there are votes at stake here.
Be clear, the coalition's backtracking on the 'deferred payment scheme' can only be found in the smallest of print under their boastful headline about people not having to sell their homes.

And importantly, all this nonsense does not address the slavery of home carers (including tens of thousands of children who care for sick parents) or the disgrace of the care system provided by local authorities via useless private providers. These are also issues that Dave is failing to address, at the moment he prefers to focus on the economy - he believes he has some good news there. His people may be misleading him.
Assisted Dying, not this year

All the Lords a leaping spent ten hours (18/07/14) discussing Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill and ended the day by nodding the notion through to a second debate.

Arguments were put forward in equal measure for both sides. Those against trotted out the usual stuff about those near to death's door being coerced and, those for, argued for empowering people to decide when it was time for them to die. However, Falconer's Bill is not about introducing Dignitas to the high street. Neither is it about sanctioning state euthanasia, well, not beyond the 1000 killings a year currently taking place.
Precisely, the assisted dying bill would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose to terminally ill patients judged to have less than six months to live. The dying soul would be given 14 days to reconsider their decision before any action was taken by the medics.

What needs to be highlighted here is that the medical profession, certainly at the level of all the professional bodies representing all involved are opposed to Falconer's Bill. This apparently has something to do with having taken the Hippocratic Oath not to kill their patients. The strength of opposition from this quarter may well damn any progress that the Bill might make towards a more civilized approach to killing old people. The medics have monopoly rights when it comes to dying and will not be giving them up any time soon.



The Pensions Damp Squib

Can you hear it ticking, you know the 'pensions time bomb', probably not, because its only a metaphor. However, Britain could face a £800bn pensions shock by 2050 as a result of its ageing population, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned. Dave has a plan for this problem, everyone must work longer and contribute more to their pension pots and they must be satisfied to get less at the end of the day. And yes, they must trust the financial markets, the pensions peddlers, the regulators, the trustees, the employers, the politicians and everyone else that has betrayed workers' pension prospects over the past decades. The government's position on public sector pensions runs as follows: reform is necessary, public sector pensions are unaffordable and it's only fair to take action for all tax payers, who pay for the public sector pensions.

State Pensions Changes: The 2008 Pensions Act

The Plan is to increase the state pension age to 66 by 2026, rising further to 67 by 2036 and 68 by 2046. Dave wants to accelerate the rise in the state pension age to 66 by 2020, and it also proposing to accelerate the equalisation of state pension ages to 65 by 2018. A more automatic mechanism for reviewing state pension ages has been proposed for the future. Underpinning these changes is the simple idea that says, we are all living longer therefore we should all work longer as well. So, within the next 40 years Britain will be virtually back in the same position it was in 1908, when Lloyd George introduced a means tested state pension of 50p a week for those of 'good character', at age 70.

Public Sector Pension Reforms

The Government's Position

The Coalition Government are at pains to convince the world that public sector pensions must be reformed, they are simply unaffordable and unfair.

Government spokesman, e.g. Treasury Minister Justine Greening, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, George Osborne and the Prime Minister  have all spoken on the need for pensions reform. Typically, they tell us that future workers must not be made to suffer for lack of action now, the impression is generally given that pension spending is out of control.

Conveniently, these people fail to acknowledge the reforms put in place by New Labour. This is odd, when you consider that those reforms appear in a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report, appropriately titled: The impact of the 2007–08 changes to public service pensions.
So to be precise, what those ministers, proposing big pension changes to save a future generation actually mean is, 'further reform of pensions is needed'. We shall test this assumption as we proceed.


What's the evidence on affordability, are costs rising, is the situation out of control? No government department has, as yet, supplied a benchmark or measure of affordability. We shall see that expert opinion on the future cost of pensions is in broad agreement but it's all guesswork.

The pensions cost equation includes the following variables: the ratio of workers to retired people, life expectancy, the retirement age, saving more and paying more tax, the size of the public sector workforce, earnings growth, and the discount rates used in projections. So, as I said, there's a lot of guesswork involved in working out the cost of future pensions.

"Officials appeared to define affordability on the basis of public perception rather than judgment on the cost in relation to either GDP or total public spending." PAC (1)

Over the next fifty years or so the Government Actuary Department, 2009, suggests that as a share of GDP taken by public service pensions will be flat or will fall slightly.

The Office for Budget Responsibility, the OBR, did their own sums and suggested the following: 1.77 per cent of GDP in 2010-11 to 1.76 per cent in 2015 and from then on the pensions share 'would remain broadly flat'. The National Audit Office (NAO) also supported these findings.
However, the NAO was shy about discussing affordability:

"We do not comment on whether public service pension schemes are financially affordable because that is a political judgment rather than an audit assessment."

"Government projections suggest that the 2007-08 changes are likely to reduce costs to taxpayers of the pension schemes by £67 billion over 50 years, with costs stabilising at around 1% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or 2% of public expenditure." (1)

Public Sector Pension: Changes made in 2007 and 2008

Three main changes were made. First, the age at which a scheme member could draw a full pension was increased from 60 to 65 years for new members. Second, employee contributions were increased by 0.4% of pay for teachers and by up to 2.5% of pay for NHS staff. Third, a new cost sharing and capping mechanism was introduced to transfer, from employers to employees, extra costs that arise if pensioners live longer than previously expected. The so-called 'cap and share' part of this agreement is a trifle vague and will probably require a whole new government department to work out the details.

So far we know that pension costs are not set to rise over the next 50 years, we know that the changes put in place by New Labour in 2010 would have gone some way to holding down pension costs but we don't know if pensions are affordable because that's a matter of opinion.

The inflation calculus

The Coalition Government also announced additional changes to pension calculations in 2010, which included indexing pensions to the Consumer Prices Index rather than the Retail Prices Index, which will reduce costs further.
Also Hutton has suggested a move from final salary to career average pensions - KPMG say this will lead to lower returns. It would be much better to describe career average schemes as undefined benefit schemes. That is because it is very hard indeed for anyone to calculate in advance how much pension will be generated for them on retirement.

Fairness and the “race to the bottom”

Public sector pensions have long been out of sync with the private sector or so the Government argues therefore it is only “fair” to redress the balance. All utterances about fairness are combined with some nonsense about 'gold plated' public sector pensions. The Hutton Commission is clear on one point:
“The Commission firmly rejected the claim that current public service pensions are ‘gold plated’.”
The figures bear him out. In the big four national schemes the majority of pensions paid are less than £5,600 a year. In the Local Government Scheme half get less than £3,000.

Of course a few very well-paid public servants get considerably more than this. But there are not many of them. And unlike the private sector, where top boardroom pensions are solid gold, many top public servants are in the same scheme as their staff.

The Pensions Policy Institute tells us:

"There's not much of a difference between defined benefit schemes in the private sector and defined benefit schemes in the public sector now. The difference is that in the private sector people have moved away from defined benefit to defined contribution. People in the public sector still have access to schemes that people don't get in the private sector. The private sector has changed and the public sector hasn't. "

Another thing that's changed is comparative wages between the two sectors. Historically, wages were lower in the public sector and higher pensions were seen as a reward for earning less. However, wages in both sectors are broadly the same, where it is possible to compare like for like work.
The TUC's position is that the government has fired the starting pistol on a race to the bottom and will not be happy until public sector pensions are as abysmal as those in the private sector, that is, for the workers.

Beyond the soundbites

Public sector pensions currently cost the taxpayer £32bn a year. The affordability of this number is simply a matter of opinion.
Talk of fairness is a red herring, median and mean average pensions in the public and private sector are broadly similar, according to the National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF). The NAPF, recently reported that millions of private sector workers faced a "bleak old age" because they fell through the cracks of pension provision. Hence the average does not include all those people who are not paying towards a pension.
Also, those who talk of fairness are not keen to talk about the costs of pension tax relief, currently running at £35 billion a year – more than the cost of public sector pensions and heavily skewed towards the rich.

Questions of inter-generational equity will not be solved by bringing down public sector pension payouts. Equity like affordability is about choices. The idea of workers paying more for a pension throughout a lifetime of work and working longer to receive less at retirement is not equitable.
Rather than some egalitarian notions about future generations, the government's time would be better spent on fixing the lottery of annuities, excessive charges, and the typically poor returns for lower earners in private pension funds. (This point was made before Boy George announced changes to the situation concerning the need to buy an annuity.  George’s slight of hand on this issue is discussed in full below.)


Employers today are under no obligation to contribute to an employees' pension scheme. Firms employing five or more have to offer them access to a no-frills stakeholder pension, but they don't have to pay anything in. The introduction of Nest will see all employees automatically enrolled in a pension scheme into which they, and their employer and government, pays.

Workers will be automatically enrolled if they earn more than £7,475 a year and have been with the company for three months. If they earn less than £7,475, are under 22, or are older than the state pension age will not be automatically enrolled - but you can choose to.
Every company in the country will be forced to enrol its employees in a pension. This new scheme, which begins in October 2012, is called the National Employment Savings Trust, or Nest for short.

Until 2016 the total annual contribution will be at least 2% of an employee's earnings above £5,715, of which the employer pays in 1%. From October 2016 to September 2017, total contributions will be 5% - with employers putting in at least 2%. And from October 2018 contributions will be 8%, with employers putting in at least 3%, employees 4% and 1% coming from government tax relief.

The Nest scheme could lead to companies reducing their contribution, i.e. offering Nest in place of existing arrangements.This scheme will be costly for businesses. There are 800,000 businesses with fewer than five employees and 192,000 with just one. It could mean some companies stop taking on staff.

Once the scheme is up and running, someone who earns £25,000 would get a pension of £7,000 a year if he or she worked for 30 years, and £2,000 for 15 years.

"Auto-enrolment will help, but it's a halfway point, not the final answer. More needs to be done. We hope this report will be a catalyst for discussion about the bigger picture. There's no point bringing people into pensions that will erode their savings through high fees.The Government should set a clear ceiling on the charges that will be allowed under auto-enrolment." (Mcfall Report, Aug 2011)
McFall also stated that annuities stand out as 'an area sorely in need of a shake-up. People are being shortchanged by the current system, and it's unfair that a miscalculation can haunt them financially for decades.'

Ah, but, contributions to the Government's National Employment Savings Trust will be capped at £4,200 a year. Anyone wanting to pay more would have to go to private funds which can set their own fees and leave workers open to mis-selling. There is also a question mark over who pays the cost of setting up the Nest scheme, will early recruits be unfairly penalised by paying higher charges than later recruits, once the scheme is firmly established?

Private pensions: The Current Picture

The number of employees in private sector workplace pension schemes has fallen by over a quarter since 2004. Most private sector workers are not currently saving in a workplace pension.
Most private sector defined benefit (DB) schemes are closed to new members and many are closing to existing members. Private sector workplace pensions are now
mainly defined contribution (DC).
Annuity rates continue to fall, as life expectancy increases, but also because interest rates remain low. Investment returns have been unusually low with consequences for the actual and perceived value of pension saving. (1. From McFall, p.13)

Overall numbers saving into a pension
In 2009/10 only 36% (14.0 million) of those aged 16‐64 were actively contributing into a private pension (whether a workplace or their own private pension scheme).

Over the previous decade, the proportion of men saving into a pension fell from 49% to 38%, whilst for women it fell from 36% to 33%. (ONS)
The active membership of public sector schemes is stable at 5.4 million but the number of employees contributing to private sector schemes fell by 300,000, to 3.3 million. Taking into account pensioners and deferred pensioners - people who have left employment but not yet drawn their pensions - 27.7 million people had a direct stake in an employer's pension scheme last year, the same as in 2008. (ONS)
The key feature of the pensions landscape in recent years is the disappearance of Defined Benefit schemes, the stage of this shift saw these schemes being closed to new members and, more recently, closing the schemes completely, offering Defined Contribution schemes in their place.

A Budget for "makers, doers and savers"

Beyond the IMF's silly talk about Britain's amazing recovery, Maria Miller was distracting the populace from Boy George's epoch making 2014 budget. The piece de resistance of George's economic package for the future was removing the necessity for those on defined contribution pensions to buy an annuity.

Silly pensions minister Steve Webb said:

"If people do buy a Lamborghini but know that they'll end up just living on the state pension, that becomes their choice"

There you have it, enabling people to be free to choose how they spend their nest egg. It apparently is not the job of government to advise people on how to spend their savings. That's a new turn of events, after decades of forcing people to buy annuities. The government would, however, be providing free advice on how people might spend their savings. Boy George said he didn't believe that people would 'blow' their pensions by buying fast cars. Just as well really since a Lamborghini would set you back £160,000. The average pension pot will be in the region of £25,000. Worryingly, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) reviewed 25 pensions firms representing 98% of the UK annuities market, the typical pension savings analysed in their review was £17,700. The FCA also noted that the annuities industry was not interested in citizens with tiny pension pots.

However, what really lays behind George's abandonment of annuities? We know that returns from annuities have been low and getting lower over the last 15 years or so. Indeed returns on annuities under the current regime have left many on severely reduced retirement incomes due to their do nothing low interest rate policy. We do know that they will be salivating over the prospect of a tax grab if citizens do decide to extract taxable lump sums from their pension pots. Although, the government will be unable to predict whether this tax grab will fund high speed rail links to the wastelands of the North.

We may wonder though, is George's ingenious scheme less to do with providing choice and more to do with covering up for the historic failure of pensions industry and the current policy failings of the government. Last year when the government introduced its auto-enrolment pensions scheme to encourage everyone to save for retirement, mainly people on low pay. Expert commentators on George's annuity policy have focussed on people buying cars and holidays, the government's short term tax grab and the effects on the housing market, as retirees' opt into the buy-to-let market as a means of funding their retirement. All very interesting but most of the pension pots under consideration will not be big enough to put down a deposit on a house, let alone buy one.

Let's be clear, the people with the calculators, who tell George what to say, have sat down with the pensions industry and worked out that future pension pots arising from the drones signed up via auto-enrolment may only be sufficient to cover a decent send off. Put otherwise, the industry cannot provide any financial guarantees via annuities for people with minuscule pension pots, so to save the government the embarrassment of acknowledging that its flag ship pension scheme is pretty pointless, better to make savers believe they are being given a choice, when in reality no choice will be provided by the pensions industry.

New Labour's real legacy: the destruction of the pensions industry.

In the late eighties the Tories introduced personal pensions, enabling members of occupational pension schemes to transfer the benefits they had already built up into these brand new sparkly schemes - all part of the wider government drive to spread the personal ownership of assets. This was the beginning of the end of defined benefit schemes.

Commission hungry salesmen promoted the idea by saying that employees' pensions would grow at a faster rate in personal pensions, conveniently forgetting to mention the enormous charges that completely eroded any growth the pension funds might achieve and the very important fact that in most cases employers would not contribute to personal pensions.
The regulator began a review of pension sales in 1994 in response to consumer complaints about mis-selling, and by 2002 insurance companies and financial advisers were forced to pay £11.8bn in compensation to more than one million customers for incorrectly advising them to leave or not join their employer's scheme.

We can put these pension peddlers in the same category as America's hot dog vendors, selling sub-prime mortgages, unconcerned about consequences and driven by commissions.

However, the death of defined benefit schemes came in an instant, in a foolhardy act of vandalism. Gordon Brown's abolition of tax relief on pension funds' investment dividends was far more criminal than the earlier mis-selling, his action managed to destroy one of Britain's few success stories. Brown's theft netted the treasury £5bn annually, everyone else involved, i.e. the victims of the crime lost out. Brown's action was inspired by the belief that companies were choosing to pay dividends in place of investing in order to gain the tax relief.

As a direct consequence of Brown's action, employers started closing defined benefit (DB) schemes, offering defined contribution schemes in their place, and then closing DB schemes to existing members - leaving millions of pensioners poorer in their last years as returns on shares and gilts felt the impact, annuity rates fell. This one act destroyed the pensions industry. Brown's crime is made worse when we learn that he ignored four investigations undertaken by the Treasury, at his request, to look into the impact on pensions industry of his proposed tax grab: all reports were negative, Brown ignored them all. (2) And to this day, Brown's gollum, Ed Balls, continues to deny the damage done and claims that civil servants backed the tax grab and it did what it was intended to do, boost business investment.

1.  'Building a strong, stable and transparent pensions system 'Workplace Retirement Income Commission, McFall Report Aug. 2011)
2. The Great Pensions Robbery, Alex Brummer, 2010



Among all government departments the Ministry of Defence must be first in the queue when it comes to a cost cutting cull. It's failure to control inventory was highlighted more than 20 years ago and despite spending £1.1bn on a new computer system for stock control, the situation is no better today. According to a PA committee in 2013, the ministry had over £6bn of stock that it doesn't need. This ministry has made an art form of out of making a mess of procurement and wasting billions of tax payers money.

Airtanker Ltd, an example of the MOD’s work

The Ministry of Defence's biggest ever private finance initiative (PFI) is "inappropriate" and not proving value for taxpayers' money, according MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). They were referring to the £10.5bn, 27-year Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) programme – which is to supply air-to-air refuelling and passenger transport planes.
The most serious charge levelled by the PAC, chaired by Labour's Margaret Hodge, was that the MoD should have grasped that a PFI may be suitable for projects with a clear specification – such as building a school or a hospital – but it does not work well with less predictable plans likely to be changed along the way. "Using PFI to procure the FTSA project was inappropriate and has not secured value for money," Ms Hodge said.
Under the deal for 14 modified Airbus A330s, AirTanker Ltd, a consortium of Babcock, Cobham, Rolls-Royce, Thales and EADS, continues to own the aircraft but is contracted to provide to the military when required. The group is also contracted to service and maintain them.
There were signs of trouble with the PFI structure from the beginning. Although the MoD started the procurement in 1999, the deal negotiations took twice as long as anticipated and the contract was not signed until March 2008. Delivery is also running behind schedule – the first of the planes were delivered in 2009, five and a half years late. Even then they were not be equipped to fly into danger zones such as Afghanistan.
Even before the final FSTA deal was agreed, the contract was proving too inflexible. It is "simply astonishing" that the MoD did not decide until 2006 that the new aircraft should be able to fly into high-threat environments such as Afghanistan, says the PAC. Four years later the decision to fit the necessary protective equipment to the aircraft had still not been taken because of the cost implication for the MoD of changing the original contract specification. If the decision to armour the 14 planes is taken, it could add hundreds of millions of pounds to the bill, and delay the scheme still further. In the meantime, the military is relying on old Tristars and VC10s, some of them dating back to the 1960s.

The Chilcot Inquiry

The Iraq Inquiry, also referred to as the Chilcot Inquiry after its chairman, Sir John Chilcot, was a public inquiry into the Britain's role in the Iraq War. The inquiry started in November 2009 and came to an end in February 2011. We are still waiting for Chilcot's report to be published.
Big Dave wants to catch sight of the Chilcot Report by Christmas 2014, as does everyone else. Well, that is, not the Labour Party since it will not do much for their election chances and definitely not Tony Blair, who really does not want to be visited by the ghosts of Christmas past. However, it may be worth recalling that Dave and his Tories all backed the invasion of Iraq.

The snag is that someone has been withholding secret paperwork, that Chilcot wants to include in his final report. Specifically, Chilcot wants to include details of Cabinet meetings in the run up to the Iraq war and conversations between Blair and Bush. Now, the latter would upset the Americans mightily, which Dave was keen to avoid. However, now that the US has decided it no longer has a 'special' relationship with the UK, perhaps it's time to stop worrying about American sensitivities.

Now, since Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet secretary, has oversight for the Chilcot report, we can only suppose that he is holding up proceedings. But he says, he's getting upset about the delay - all very odd, then again, it was Heywood who said that he knew something was fishy about the Mitchell Plebgate thing but he ignored the smell.

And just when we thought that was it, Heywood, Tony Blair's former glove puppet, popped up again to declare that we would be allowed to see 'just the gist' of those exchanges between Blair and Bush. Apparently, just the gist means we will know what Blair said but not Bush's replies - not very helpful.

Key question: will the £9m spent on Chilcot be money well spent, that is, will it provide enough evidence to charge Blair with murder - probably not!

Computer problems at the MoD

Phillip Hammond, briefly in charge of the MoD, is currently presiding over yet another failed computer scheme. The MoD has managed to waste £15m on something called the Recruitment Partnering Project. This project is all to do with Hammond's scheme to make regular soldiers redundant and replace them with reservists. The computer project, if it ever gets completed will be run by Capita, over 10 years, at a cost of £10bn.

The consortium responsible for putting in the IT recruitment system made a mess of things, as did the civil servants who selected the cheapest bidder. Now Hammond plans to pay Capita to build the whole system, for a mere £50m. It's worth remembering that all this spending is only needed because some bright sparks decided to close down recruitment offices and sack the recruiters.

Getting your head around what's going on at the MoD is not made easier when they invent silly names for things, like the Recruitment Partnering Project. Basically this project attempts to remove human administration from the recruitment process. All very interesting when you consider that the Army is being cut from 102,000 to 82,000 by 2020, while the newly-renamed Army Reserve - formerly the Territorial Army - is being expanded from 19,000 to 30,000. Clearly, we need some kind of system in place to manage such change but who are the Partners?

It certainly can't be the USA, they have now decided that our armed forces are too small to partner them in their foreign interventions. Bang, there goes that 'special relationship', bother! Mitigation measures - that's what you take when you've cocked up. So for the moment Mr Hammond is introducing work-a-rounds, that's right, mitigation measures. Giving things a fancy name can't alter the fact you've made a mess of things.

Aircraft Carriers without planes

In early July 2014 Mr Hammond was behaving like the cock-of-walk after the naming ceremony of the nation’s first aircraft carrier for decades. He quickly glossed over the fact that the carrier does not have any planes and was not quite honest about when the vessel will be ready to go and attack our enemies. So for the record it will not be fully operational until 2020. And the planes? Well, they are on the way but the Americans are having some teething problems with their over-priced F-35s, so they may be ready to go by 2018. And some small child may notice that Mr Hammond has only bought enough planes to fill half the deck space. Now, what we wonder is, will all those surplus admirals that the MoD employs be arguing over who is  going to drive the new ship.

Update: Hammond was shuffled in for Hague at the Foreign Office.

Foreign Policy

Britain does not have a foreign policy. Until recently, as foreign secretary, William Hague wrote letters to despots and tyrants telling them that their behaviour was unacceptable, sometimes Hague did not write letters to nasty people for fear of causing upset, it just depended whether they had nuclear weapons or not. Some cynics might suggest that we just go along with every foreign adventure that the US decides is of geopolitical importance. We may also add to these strands the tactic of total silence when it involves our own misdeeds, e.g. the theft of the Chagos Islands or deals done and Royal Pardons given to IRA killers and definitely, no mention will be made of the mess we leave behind after our good work is done, i.e. Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.

Robin Cook told us, in May 1997, "Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension and must support the demands of other peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist ..." He then went on to elaborate on what he meant, he did not make any mention of extraordinary rendition and torture or where these activities fitted into the ethical side of things. On a positive note, Cook's statement provided an elaboration of foreign policy that no British government had bothered with for over 60 years.

The first goal of foreign policy is security, key here are arms control and disarmament. That is controlling the supply of weaponry to regimes that we consider unstable, whilst simultaneously sending off the prime minister on annual sales bazaars with a plane full of arms manufacturers.
The prosperity of Britain is second goal of our foreign policy, to promote British exports and boost British jobs. For many years this side of business was in the hands of a royal with an oversize ironing board but he lost his job for failure to absorb the ethical dimension.
Support for international efforts to combat climate change would also be included as an objective of foreign policy, protecting the quality of life would also fit in here. None of those involved in the campaign to save the planet seem to mind the mess that this makes of domestic energy policy. It just may be that there's an inherent contradiction between ethics and keeping the lights on.

A further aspect of Britain's policy must be to promote the nation's standing in the world, to be a nation that the rest of the world respects for its contribution to global peace keeping, humanitarian interventions, international aid and support for human rights. All very noble but hard to deliver.
Humanitarian Intervention: Afghanistan

Afghanistan is a country run by gangsters and warlords, the country is characterised by fraud and corruption at all levels; the £390bn spent on the intervention and the thousands of dead have done nothing to change these facts. Afghan government figures reveal that 60 per cent of children are malnourished and only 27 per cent of Afghans have access to safe drinking water. And the poppy industry provides 15% of the countries GDP and pays the wages of half of the population.

All the Nato forces are in the country to prop up the government, a weak and corrupt government. Those troops, among them 38,000 US troops and 5,200 British will be pulling out by the end of 2014. President Karzai was busy conciliating the enemy, by releasing Taliban prisoners.

So 12 years after the intervention began nothing, apart from property prices in the centre of Kabul, has changed in Afghanistan. The politicians and their generals can spin as much as they like - the whole mission has been a failure. When Dave visited Helmand province in December 2013 he claimed that security had been established, so mission accomplished. The truth: security resides in the compounds of the warlords and drug barons and the Karzai cronies, elsewhere, keep your head down.

Meanwhile the election that saw the end of Karzai was being challenged, with both main parties claiming victory, an audit is under way; unaccountably it’s claimed that there were far more ballot papers in the boxes than people eligible to vote and, oddly, some of the ballot boxes were full on the day before the election? Abdullah Abdullah, one of the  presidential hopefuls, said he would accept the result of the audit as long as it made him the winner.


Iraq is a basket case, made that way by foreign intervention. The British and American government's are now shame faced over the part they played in the destruction of Iraq. The government of Iraq, once established by the invaders, quickly turned its back on nation building and resorted to sectarianism.

June 2014 and ISIS Sunni jihadists are rampaging across Iraq, with little or no opposition from government forces, mainly these forces just ran away, leaving all their nice, shiny weaponry and money for the jihadists. The message from the West, don't expect any troops on the ground from us, it's your problem. Ironically we see an alliance forming between Iran and the US to save the Bagdad regime. Both Obama and Cameron spoke of exploring all the option but failed to name any options. Then, Obama decided he might do a bit bombing.
Well, two months have rolled by and the corpses are piled high in northern Iraq, captain Dave is back from his summer holidays and primed for action. Writing in the Telegraph he said:

“The creation of an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and extending into Syria is not a problem miles away from home. Nor is it a problem that should be defined by a war 10 years ago. It is our concern here and now,”

He went on to say how he was dealing with the threat of poisonous extremism in our country. Well, he’s been talking to the Total Policeman about it for one thing, the MoD have sent planes to take a look at the situation and yes, we might start arming Kurdish forces. That’s a novel idea, maintaining our freedom by fighting a proxy war, you know, like we did in Afghanistan to clear the Russians out and ended up with the Taliban.
Dave says what’s happening now cannot be defined by a war 10 years ago. Perhaps it was spontaneous combustion then. Rory Stewart MP, ex-soldier and resident expert on all matters to do with Iraq, says: “We have been complacent.” He says the ISIS threat was there up to two and half years ago but we ignored it. And why wouldn’t we Rory, you did such a marvellous job before you pulled out of Iraq, job done, Iraq had been returned to democracy, the army and police trained to look after security and oil was flowing again. Dave went back to his holiday again and Obama is playing golf.


Libya provides another example of our mistaken humanitarian intervention in the affairs of other countries. How marvellously we removed Gadaffi throughout 2011 and now Libya is riven with sectarian strife. The man who thinks he's now in charge is no better than Gaddafi, well, why would he be, General Khalifa Haftar is an ex-Gaddafi man. The so-called government in Tripoli are in a confused state, they have two prime ministers. And many of the foreign fighters from Mali and Nigeria have returned home with their newly acquired Nato weaponry to reek havoc, in the name of Islam. We are still waiting for Dave's appraisal of Nato's participation in the Arab Spring as far as Libya is concerned. Meanwhile the American’s have pulled out of their embassy, closely followed by the Brits.


Dave and his Foreign Secretary Hague were gung-ho for bombing Syria but for once parliament was not in the mood for more war mongering. Dave and his Tory-Boy were emboldened by the US, who were keen to drop a few bombs on Assad and unusually the French put their heads above the parapet. However, oddly, when the British parliament said no, the US decided to drop the idea, this left the French on their own, so they decided the idea wasn't clever after all.

Chancellor George Osborne told Radio 4's Today programme there would now be "national soul searching about our role in the world". He added: "I hope this doesn't become a moment when we turn our back on all of the world's problems." George, unusually, makes a good point there, Britain's role in the world has been uncertain for decades.

The Silence of Dave

Dave didn't have much to say when the Commonwealth decided to anoint Sri Lanka's butchering President Mahinda Rajapaksa as their chairman for the next two years. And when Dave went off to kowtow to the butchers of Tiananmen Square, in the hope of selling some pots and pans to boost Britain's trade deficit, he fell silent on the subject of freedom for the Dalai Lama's homeland. When it comes to the encroachment of Vlad the Impaler into the Ukraine, Dave has exhausted his vocabulary, ditto the situation in Syria. However, one topic, that of the fate of the Chagos islanders, who had their homes stolen by Britain, is definitely verboten.

Chagos Islands

In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Chagos islanders or Ilois, were forced from their "paradise" homeland to make way for the US base on Diego Garcia.

The Americans wanted a launch pad in the Indian Ocean for their B-52s and elements within Harold Wilson's government offered them the Chagos Islands, in return for a large discount on Polaris submarines. A memo from then Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart to Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1969 admitted that the payment was kept secret from Parliament and the US Congress.

One key condition was that the Chagos contained no people. The British assured the US that there were only seagulls. In truth, 1800 people lived on the islands; these people were intimidated off of the islands to live in squalor on Mauritius. As a bribe for accepting the Chagossians Mauritius was given its independence from Britain and £3 million to keep quiet.

Making the people of the islands disappear took some time and cunningly the British made the Chagos Islands disappear first, by renaming the islands the British Indian Ocean Territory, or BIOT by using an order-in-council. Orders-in-council are not public knowledge, essentially a ritual takes place involving the Queen and the Privy Council, no debate takes place, the orders are read, the Queen agrees and no one need be any the wiser.The important thing was to maintain the fiction that the islands never had any permanent residents, since residents have rights.
A telegram sent to the UK mission at the United Nations in November 1965 summed up the problem:

"We recognise that we are in a difficult position as regards references to people at present on the detached islands. "We know that a few were born in Diego Garcia and perhaps some of the other islands, and so were their parents before them. We cannot therefore assert that there are no permanent inhabitants, however, much this would have been to our advantage. In these circumstances, we think it would be best to avoid all references to permanent inhabitants."

Sir Paul Gore-Booth, senior official at the Foreign Office, wrote to a diplomat in 1966: "We must surely be very tough about this. The object of the exercise is to get some rocks which will remain ours. There will be no indigenous population except seagulls."

Judge, Mr Justice Gibbs, said: "It is clear from some of the disclosed documents that, in some quarters, the official zeal in implementing those removal policies went beyond any proper limits."

It's interesting to note that although Chagossians didn't officially exist, they were banned from returning to the islands. The British High Court has twice overturned this ban, in 2005 and 2007, but the Government continues to ignore the High Court.

British Governments, from Wilson through Heath and beyond to the present have not properly compensated the Chagossians for the loss of their homeland. Now, the cost of resettlement makes getting back home even less likely.

If nothing else, the story of the Chagos Islands tells us everything we need to know about liberal democracies like Britain and the US. Parliament and Congress kept in the dark, the public kept in the dark, for the sake of geo-political ambitions 1,800 people were disappeared without a second thought.

Note: Diego Garcia is also the home of Camp Justice, a less well known relative of Guantanamo Bay. Sami al-Saadi, paid to keep quiet by the UK government, was rendered to Camp Justice before being sent back to Libya and more torture.

The Latest Twist in this sad tale

An unexpected ruling in Feb' 2013 by the permanent court of arbitration in The Hague, which arbitrates in disputes over the United Nations law of the sea, that it can hear the case challenging the UK's unilateral declaration in 2009 of a marine protected area (MPA) around the Chagos Islands. UK prime minister, Gordon Brown promised the Mauritian prime minister that the MPA would not be put in place and then promptly put the MPA in place?

The legal battle, begun more than two years ago, raises fundamental questions about who has sovereignty over the Indian Ocean territory. Mauritian government officials believe it could lead to the unravelling of Britain's disputed claim and the eventual return of the islanders.
The Foreign Office claims:

"The no-take MPA around the British Indian Ocean Territory (Biot) is the largest no-take MPA in the world. The MPA provides refuge and breeding sites for migratory and reef fish, marine mammals, birds, turtles, corals and other marine life. The MPA will help reduce regional loss of biodiversity and, it is hoped, in replenishing fish stocks in the Indian Ocean."

In 2014, the US lease on Diego Garcia runs out and Britain wants to be in a position to re-new the lease. It cannot do that if the Chagos Islanders get their islands back. So Britain pretends to care about biodiversity and ignores the rights of the islanders or 'Man Fridays' as the Foreign Office prefers to call them.

Britain's sovereignty over the Chagos Islands and America's lease for the Diego Garcia military base could be thrown into doubt by an international court hearing due to open in Istanbul. Mauritius is mounting a legal challenge to the MPA. The case will be heard in secret by the permanent court of arbitration, a UN-backed tribunal, rulings are supposed to be binding?

Why, we may wonder are the court's proceeding to be held beyond the public gaze and we may also wonder if the secret communications between the Foreign Office and their American friends will be heard by the court.


Culture, Media and Sport

This department has many tentacles reaching out across some 46 quangos, covering a host of policies. However, in a department with so many 'partners' it's hard to discover who's responsible for what. We know that when Jeremy Hunt was in charge, by his own admission at Leveson, did not have a clue what was going on. He got reshuffled, 2012, to the NHS, far less confusing for him. His replacement, Maria Miller, was not in the job long enough to discover what was going on. She was far too busy looking after her parliamentary expenses, she departed under a cloud. Her replacement was announced as Sajid Javid, April 2014 and he’s still trying to find the coffee machine.
The DCMS was set up in 1997 by New Labour and glancing across the policy areas it covers, it seems as though someone decided to dump everything that didn’t fit  elsewhere at the door of the DCMS.

Leveson: and the point was?

The Leveson Inquiry was initiated following the convictions of News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire for the illegal interception of phone messages. Evidence began to emerge that the activities of Goodman and Mulcaire was common practice within the newspaper business. The hacking of Milly Dowler's voice mail was the last straw and so the Inquiry began in July 2011.
Leveson concluded that the Press Complaints Commission was not up to the job of press regulation and suggested a new independent body, of which membership would be voluntary.

We do not know the true cost of the Leveson Inquiry, the official government figure is £5.4 million, this has been under estimated by a few millions. The first part of Leveson's report was published in November 2012. Since then the press cohorts have not been queuing to sign up to the new scheme of things. All very confusing, do we have a replacement for the PCC or not, if so, what is it?

The replacement for the PCC is supposedly the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), everyone was supposed to be signed up by the end of 2013, that has not happened. However, the new 'tough and effective' regulator was up and supposedly running by May 2014 but we will not know how tough and effective it will prove, until all of the press recognise Ipso. However, Ipso does not meet the regulatory standards recommended in the Leveson Report, chiefly it cannot guarantee trustworthiness. In truth, Ipso will prove about as woeful as the PCC and IPC that went before it in curtailing the excesses of the press.

Meanwhile, the Brooks-Coulson hacking trial found that Brooks was innocent of all charges but that Coulson was guilty of conspiring to hack phones. Following the verdict, Dave was quick to apologise for employing Coulson as his top Baldrick (his official job title was Director of Communications). He said:

"I am extremely sorry that I employed him. It was the wrong decision."
Razor sharp wit, Ed Miliband, observed that Dave had displayed a decided lack of judgment by employing Coulson, going on to suggest that Dave had turned a blind eye to Coulson's past misdeeds in order to stay cosy with Rupert Murdoch. Would that be as cosy as Ed when he posed with a copy of the Sun to promote the 2014 World Cup and then had to apologise to the people of Liverpool, i.e., for turning a blind eye to the past misdeeds of the Sun in their coverage of the Hillsborough carnage.

Sport and the Olympic Legacy

Basking in the glow of Team GB's Olympic success Dave came over all passionate about the need to encourage the young to participate in sport and become the next generation of Olympians.

Sounds good but we do know that the coalition has phased out the School Sports Partnership scheme, saying that it wasn't delivering, they have also ended free swimming for under 16s. We do know that they are cutting £1bn of funding to councils for spending on sports and recreation. And we also know that Call Me Dave has discontinued the New Labour target of two hours of PE for all children, on the grounds that the target was being met by items like 'Indian Dance', not proper competitive sport he said. The fact is, many activities within PE are not offering a spur to future Olympians. We also know that academy schools will not be subject to the same rules as State schools when it comes to selling playing fields. We also know that the School Fields Advisory Committee (which says yea or nay to the playing fields sell offs) has been overridden five times by Mr Gove. We also know that Gove loosened the restriction to the amount of outside space that schools should be using for PE.

We also know that the coalition are committed to encouraging inter-school competitive sports. The primary school curriculum is being revised to make inter-school competition mandatory. The School Sports Survey suggests that Dave may have a point. However, Dave has now abolished the School Sports Survey, making it difficult to know about school sports participation in the future?
The Government position was neatly summed up by a junior minister at the DfE:

"More young people taking part in competitive sport can't be driven by top-down Whitehall policies, as we have seen previously. It must be led by parents and communities creating a culture where competitive sports can thrive." (quoted in the Independent)

The minister did not say how the Tory sale of school playing fields fitted into the campaign to drive up sports participation by young people. The coalition said they would protect school playing fields but have continued selling them.

The success of Team GB has four sources; the inspiration of ex-teachers and coaches, the supporting club infrastructure, the millions of pounds of lottery funding and the self belief of the players themselves.

Going forward, that is, to Rio in 2016, elite athletes will be funded by UK Sport but intending young Olympians should choose their sport carefully because UK Sport is picky with its funding. The organisation was set up in 1997 to dole out money from government and the lottery to support elite sport, so winners only need apply. After the 2012, games funding was removed from a number of minority sports or under-performers. Now, the logic here may be sound when it comes to winning medals but it has a detrimental effect on some sports, sending a clear message to children not to waste any energy on things like volley ball and hand ball. Enter Sport England to save the day, it's their job to build the foundations of community sport, again using government and lottery money. To some extent, this organisation has stepped in to meet the shortfall in funding left by UK Sport turning its back on the 2012 losers.

In sum, the cream of British sports will be protected but the promotion of grassroots participation is not going well. The key factor here are the cuts to local authority funding, quite simply, if the facilities are not there then sport will not take place. There was much talk of encouraging sport but we may wonder who it is that is taking responsibility for that mission because at the moment Dave has not allocated the task to anyone. We think that all along he was hoping that his old friend osmosis would carry the day.
Meanwhile a Lord's Committee tells us:

"There is confusion on the timeframes and targets involved in delivery and a lack of clear ownership of legacy as a whole." (Lord's Select Committee on Olympic and Paralympic Legacy, 2013)

4G Roll Out

In October 2012, EE – the company that owns Orange and T-Mobile in the UK – launched its fourth generation (‘4G’) service in 10 cities with the promise of much faster broadband speeds on the move.

Its main rivals – Vodafone and O2 – complained that EE has been allowed to launch its services ahead of the competition. That’s because it had some spare spectrum available (spectrum being the radio waves that mobile phone companies license to deliver mobile services). So anyone who had a contract with another operator needed to wait until 2013 before they could get 4G.

It turned out that Vodafone and O2 lost nothing by being forced to wait for their go because 4G was not all the TV ads told us it  would be. Coverage was and is patchy and unreliable.

Meanwhile a uSwitch study noted: The fast and slow of it..

Cromarty Road in Stamford, Lincolnshire, has an average speed of 0.132Mbps, while Willowfield, in Telford and Wrekin, has registered speeds of 70.9Mbps over the past six months, found.

At these speeds it would take Willowfield residents 2.49 minutes to download a two hour film, and 11 seconds to download a music album, while Cromarty Road residents would need 25 hours and 15 minutes to download a two hour film, and one hour and 41 minutes to download the same album.

On the evidence provided by uSwitch, Britain’s broadband coverage is hardly breathtaking. North of Hadrian’s Wall citizens are not taking part in the cyber revolution, they say that visiting American tourists think they have been lobotomised, cut off from civilisation, unable to use their mobile devices when they visit the land of the midges.

Back in 2010, then culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt told us that the UK would have "the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015". This left people who know about such things wondering what he meant by the word best. Subsequently, Hunt revised his language and replaced best with fastest. One of Hunt’s Baldricks must have told him that the word best covers a host of variables (price, coverage, speed and market choice), meaning it might be difficult to achieve. Hence, his choice of fastest may be considered a smart down grade to his ambitions.
Currently, Britain has an average broadband speed of 24Mbps, about the same as Bulgaria and a lot less than many EU countries. For Mr Hunt’s information, superfast means 100Mbps and not just in the cities. That could take some time to achieve, perhaps ten years. The thing is, all those old copper BT wires are going to have to go and be replaced with fibre and that will cost. BT is going to need a big incentive to start running fibre into rural areas and all Virgin want to do is milk the urban environment.

Alternatives to fibre optic cable do exist but no company is doing more than playing around with small scale projects. Also, it is possible to use the standard electrical wiring in everyone’s home across the land to deliver the Internet - why this technology is not being pursued is just another one of life’s mysteries.

The bottom line is that the companies supplying anything less than 80Mbps-100Mbps are wasting their time. The government needs to invest some serious money into the broadband project to future proof it, the current £900m is inadequate.

Booking a footnote in history: Gay Marriage

In February 2013 Dave had finally did something that the historians will have to remark on. A vote in parliament, Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, for gay marriage was passed by a sizeable majority. Dave has been pushing for equal marriage rights for some time, even though a number of Tories across the land find the idea repugnant and the churches don't think much of the idea either. A group of constituency chairman turned up at No.10 to petition Dave over his plans for gay marriage but he wasn't in. He's been doing a lot of travelling recently, just like Tony Blair did, when things got a bit too chilly at home. Within the space of a few days he visited most of North Africa in the wake of the Mali unpleasantness and Algerian hostage situation; he just wanted all those nice democratic leaders over there to know that they could rely on British support with the war on terror.

Leaving aside Dave's statesmanlike charade in North Africa, his position on gay marriage has put him in a hole with the party. The back benches are beginning to murmur that by 2014 we will have seen the end of Dave. The party's good old boys believe that Conservative values will lead this nation to ever greater prosperity and gay marriage is not part of Conservative values. How could Dave have messed up so badly. Perhaps he's been listening to the younger element in the party, like equalities minister, Helen Grant, who claimed that gay marriage was “absolutely consistent” with Tory values and her Church of England beliefs. Unfortunately, the new Arch Bishop disagrees with her, which is all a bit beside the point since it will be illegal for the Church of England to carry out same sex marriages. Also, the legislation will throw in protection for civil registrars and anyone else who doesn't want to carry out same sex marriages. Are we seeing a cunning plan at work here?


The new man at the DCMS, Sajid Javid, has got some tidying up to do, 24 hour drinking for instance. This section has only focussed on a few topics that fall within his department’s remit and the evidence is clear, there’s still work to do. What we see in these cases is that the hype falls far short of reality, which may leave us worrying rather than wondering about the performance of the Department for Culture.


Reflections on Dave’s Plans

This is Dave's Britain in 2014

Dave's project to dismantle the state and farm out its functions to private contractors continues apace, the long term effects for Britain will be a disaster. The changes that Dave has introduced to date should not be underestimated. When the earlier Tory government privatised all the utilities and the rail network, the changes were immediate and appeared obvious. This time round the changes are more subtle and far from obvious and far more wide ranging, affecting the whole social fabric. How aware are the voters of 2015 of these changes, affecting the health service, the justice system, the police service, child protection, defence, border control, the benefits system and soon, work and pensions. This is the state divesting itself of all direct responsibility for the day to day management of civil society;  is this what "decentralising control" means?
We need to remind ourselves how all this is justified in the Tory mind:

"We will base our plans on the same insights that are driving reform across Government: increasing competition; decentralising control; enhancing transparency; strengthening accountability; and paying by results."

The use of the word reform adds the suggestion that the changes being made will improve the existing state of affairs. However, the idea that increasing competition will be the catalyst that drives efficiency and productivity forward is patent nonsense. Competition is a part of a zero sum game, it has no place in health and social care, unless you view human beings as commodities to be traded by 'any qualified provider’. Over a hundred firms have been given AQP status in the NHS. This we are told will increase patient choice. For that to happen the patient needs perfect knowledge, already we see some services being offered by multiple agents in a single area, in these circumstances even doctors will struggle to choose a provider. The most likely outcome of Tory health reform will be the fragmentation of the NHS and then it will not be a national health service any more.

Public Health minister, Jane Ellison,  told us in June 2014:

"I don't know how much any of you realise that with the Lansley act we pretty much gave away control of the NHS, which means that the thing that most people talk about in terms of health [the NHS] … we have some important strategic mechanisms but we don't really have day-to-day control. One thing is clear, no one voted for a Coalition government and no one voted for the wholesale reform of the NHS either.”

The Baldricks behind the Tory reforms have the audacity to use the word 'insights' to describe the underpinnings of their zealotry and that's all it is, zealots genuflecting to the money grubbers. The private companies now running much of the public sector are not transparent, not accountable and they will take their penny whether they achieve the results set for them or not because they operate beyond oversight - but this is Dave's world and you're in it.

Note: for some facts on the far reaching extent of outsourcing, see The Shadow State by Zoe Williams, 2013., available on the web.
Dave’s reign is like an absurdist play, akin to Waiting For Godot, waiting for Dave to fix broken Britain, whilst dealing with ‘moral collapse’, using nothing more than black swan thinking, horizon scanners, patronising behavioural psychologists, nudgers, snoopers, endless panics and celebrities wandering into the austere wasteland with their messages of hope - Dave’s like Wilkins Micawber, waiting for something to turn up. What nearly turned up was the end of the United Kingdom, due to Scotland’s independence referendum in September 2014, which was only narrowly won by the No vote. The Scots' may have said No to independence by a small margin, perversely, they said a much bigger No to Westminster politics. The disinterested and arrogant behaviour of the three main party leaders may have played a part here. The historians will tell us for certain but it looks likely that Dave has made a mess of things Scottish.

Now all he has to look forward to is the 2015 General Election, well that and his very own referendum 2017, when British citizens will vote to leave the disastrous European Union – assuming that Dave keeps his Referendum promise? It is more likely that he will claim to have renegotiated away all our problems, far too complicated to explain to the citizenry, so no referendum required. All of which assumes that Dave wins a second term and that the SNP let him have a referendum?
The End

For now, form a queue and hope that when you get to the front, to acquire the latest transformational App, it might just change your life but don't hold your breath - well, not for more than four minutes. The political process under Dave continues to be a pointless charade, devoid of vision, big ideas and utopias and, definitely no new Camelots. Dave’s Big Society has now gone to landfill.

All you can expect the next time you vote is more of the same; further shrinkage of the state, further outsourcing of responsibility to private corporations, and further erosion of social value as profits are siphoned off to foreign shores. Be in no doubt, all of the blunders of the past; Thatcher’s disastrous  Poll Tax, the franchising of the rail network, Blair’s PFI hire purchase schemes, Brown’s destruction of the pensions industry are as nothing to Dave’s cunning plans.

If you are young, why should you worry, there's no hope for you anyway, you're being cast adrift by the ship of state, you're just unaffordable. New Labour turned your local bus shelter into a university and some fool of a Tory said they could charge you up to £9000 to take shelter and you did, then they sold your loan to a bunch of private equity cowboys. Now your options abound, spend the next 30 years in a low paid job, they’ll write off your debt, move around a lot, that will confuse them, or take out a direct debit and wonder every time they take piece of your wages why you thought that attending a bus shelter was a good idea.