Bankers who torpedoed the economy are set to get away with it after all

Originally posted on Vox Political:

Not even this many: This Economist cartoon paints a false picture of the situation. The magazine has stated: "In Britain, which had to bail out three of its biggest banks, not one senior banker has gone on trial over the failure of a bank."

Not even this many: This Economist cartoon paints a false picture of the situation. The magazine has stated: “In Britain, which had to bail out three of its biggest banks, not one senior banker has gone on trial over the failure of a bank.”

Here’s a word that should be in all our dictionaries but probably isn’t: ‘MAXWELLISATION’.

It refers to a procedure in British governance where individuals who are due to be criticised in an official report are sent details in advance and permitted to respond before publication. The process takes its name from the late newspaper owner Robert Maxwell, who fell off a yacht after stealing the Mirror Group’s pension fund.

Maxwellisation is how the irresponsible bankers who caused the economic recession, out of which some of us have just climbed according to the latest figures, are likely to get away Scot (and the word is used most…

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Fracking push gets go-ahead across UK as ministers tighten safeguards

Reposted from the Guardian

What are they like those tories eh …if it’s not bolted down they’ll try and flog it!

Fracking protest camp
The anti-fracking protest camp in Salford, where energy company iGas built a vertical test well. Photograph: Christopher Thomond

Ministers will give the go-ahead on Monday for a big expansion of fracking across Britain that will allow drilling in national parks and other protected areas in “exceptional circumstances”.

The government will invite firms to bid for onshore oil and gas licences for the first time in six years, with about half of the country advertised for exploration. Ministers are also clarifying the rules on when drilling can take place in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) and world heritage sites, following calls by environmental campaigners for an outright ban on drilling in them.

In a tightening of the guidance, the government will ask energy firms to submit an environmental statement that is “particularly comprehensive and detailed” if they want to frack on or near protected countryside, forcing them to demonstrate their understanding of local sensitivities. It will make clear that the applications “should be refused in these areas other than in exceptional circumstances and in the public interest”.

In addition, Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, is likely to make a final decision on more appeals related to protected areas over the next 12 months, instead of leaving it to the planning watchdog.

The competition for licences is likely to attract significant interest from energy companies keen to explore Britain’s new-found shale reserves, particularly in the Bowland basin of the north-west, a central belt of Scotland and the Weald in the south-east. It is the first time the government has offered up areas of the UK for onshore exploration since experts confirmed the scale of the UK’s shale resources and protests erupted in places from Blackpool to Balcombe about the potential for environmental damage.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, a Tory communities minister, will present the licensing round in the House of Lords , as MPs have broken up for their summer break.”We recognise there are areas of outstanding landscape and scenic beauty where the environmental and heritage qualities need to be carefully balanced against the benefits of oil and gas from unconventional hydrocarbons,” Lord Ahmad will say. “Proposals for such development must recognise the importance of these sites.”

The licences are the first step towards exploration but firms will also have to obtain planning consent, permits from the Environment Agency and a sign-off from the Health and Safety Executive.

Over the weekend, Matthew Hancock, the Conservative energy minister, said he wanted to speed up the process so companies are able to start drilling within six months of putting in applications. He also said the guidance published on Monday would “protect Britain’s great national parks and outstanding landscapes”.

This promise is likely to face one of its first tests in Sussex, where a planning decision on a prospective Celtique Energie fracking site in the South Downs National Park is due within weeks. The county council has rejected a separate application from Celtique in nearby Wisborough Green, just outside the national park, because of traffic concerns, which may now be appealed against by the company and end up in the hands of Pickles.

The Conservatives in particular are facing unrest on the backbenches about the prospect of fracking in rural constituencies. The government will hope that its tightening of the rules on national parks will placate local residents, MPs and green campaigners concerned about the impact of fracking on the landscape, drinking water and environment.

But the announcement met with mixed reactions. Louise Hutchins, a Greenpeace energy campaigner, said millions of homeowners have been stripped of their right to stop companies drilling under their property and now communities will face a “fracking postcode lottery”.

“The government has fired the starting gun on a reckless race for shale that could see fracking rigs go up across the British countryside, including in sensitive areas such as those covering major aquifers. Eric Pickles’s supposed veto power over drilling in national parks will do nothing to quell the disquiet of fracking opponents across Britain,” she said.

Hutchins also criticised the timing of the announcement, saying ministers “waited until the parliamentary recess to make their move, no doubt aware of the political headache this will cause to MPs whose constituencies will be affected”.

Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP for Brighton, who was arrested for protesting against fracking in Balcombe last year, also raised concerns that there is no outright ban on fracking in protected areas.

“If this still leaves the door open to fracking in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, it completely undermines the protective status that those areas have been given and renders it meaningless,” she said. “Many campaigners have campaigned for decades to get national park status, and they are given for a reason. The idea that they could be offered up to the fracking firms is a scandal.”

But Shaun Spiers, the chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said the government’s change in rhetoric on protecting the countryside would be welcomed. “The government has previously stoked opposition by giving the impression that it is committed to fracking whatever the consequence and however sensitive the location,” he said. “If fracking is to happen, we need to proceed with great caution and with the highest possible safeguards.”

The National Trust, which has previously campaigned for an outright ban, also had a positive reaction, saying it was “right that the government have recognised the concerns about fracking in special places like national parks and AONBs”. However, it called for the new rules to be extended to other special places such as nature reserves and sites of special scientific interest.

Industry groups were pleased the government is finally licensing more areas for onshore oil and gas exploration, after ministers have repeatedly promised a fracking “revolution” that they claim could reduce energy bills and boost economic activity. While there has been a huge amount of controversy about fracking, little has actually taken place on British soil beyond exploratory drilling.

The British Geological Survey last year estimated that deposits that could supply the country with gas for up to 40 years, although it is still unclear whether the cost of extracting it from the ground will be worth it.

Simon Walker, director-general of the Institute of Directors, said the announcement marks “another step forward on the road towards a dynamic, productive and well regulated shale industry in the UK”.

“There’s still a way to go before the industry really takes off, but opening up a new licensing round while increasing safeguards for the natural environment is welcome evidence of the government’s commitment to maximising the benefits of a British shale industry,” he said.

Ken Cronin, chief executive of UK Onshore Operators Group, said it should be seen as a positive sign for investors that the industry was “one of the heaviest regulated industries in the UK and acts as an exemplar for the rest of Europe.” Friends of the Earth’s energy campaigner, Tony Bosworth, said: “Today the risk of fracking has spread. This threat to the environment and public health could now affect millions more people.

“Those who thought that fracking would only happen in other places will now worry about it happening on their doorstep.

“Fracking is increasingly politically toxic and is far from being seen as the holy grail of energy policy by those local to proposed drilling sites.”

 

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Shock, Horror! Tories accused of cronyism.

Reposted from The Independent

Organisation  given at least £2.5 million of National Lottery funding and public-sector grants despite having no record of charitable activity

 Friday 25 July 2014

The organisation, which was launched by the Prime Minister in 2010, was given at least £2.5 million of National Lottery funding and public-sector grants despite having no record of charitable activity.

The Independent has learnt that it has now been wound up, having used much of the money on projects that came nowhere near delivering on their promised objectives.

Two senior figures on government grant awarding bodies have also made allegations that they were pressured into handing over money to the Big Society Network despite severe reservations about the viability of the projects they were being asked to support.

Liam Black, a former trustee of Nesta, which was then a public body sponsored by the Department for Business, said Nesta had been “forced” to give grants that totalled £480,000 to the Big Society Network in 2010 without a competitive pitch. He described it as a “scandalous waste of money”.

Another senior figure involved in the decision to award £299,800 from the Cabinet Office to the organisation said the funding request had initially been turned down.

“When we did the analysis we turned them down because the bid did not stack up,” they said. “But we were told to go back and change the criteria to make it work.”

Labour said it was writing to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, asking him to investigateLabour said it was writing to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, asking him to investigate (Getty Images)
Tonight Labour said it was writing to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, asking him to investigate whether political pressure had been applied to give an organisation with close ties to ministers “special treatment”.

The Independent understands that the Charity Commission is also looking into allegations that some of the “restricted funds” given by the Cabinet Office for a childhood obesity project were transferred to pay down the deficit of a linked company.

It is also investigating payments made by the charity “for consultancy services” to two directors of the charity and its chair, Martyn Rose.

Mr Rose, who helped set up the Big Society Network, also contributed more than £54,000 to the 2010 Conservative election campaign. 

Tonight he said he had no memory of the payment but added that it was possible “one of my companies did work on its behalf”.

He said he had personally put £200,000 into the Big Society Network which he had not got back. “With hindsight, of course, if we had all known that the projects were not going to work we would have been idiots to do them,” he said.

“[The truth] is that in the early stages of social investment some will work and some won’t.”

Giles Gibbons, a trustee of the charity and a former business partner of Steve Hilton, David Cameron’s “blue skies thinker”, added that he did not believe any of the payments made by the charity had been in any way inappropriate.

A marked difference was found between what Big Society Network projects claimed they would achieve and what they did (Getty Images)A marked difference was found between what Big Society Network projects claimed they would achieve and what they did (Getty Images)
An examination of the Big Society Network projects, funded by the Government and the lottery, reveal a marked discrepancy between what they claimed they would achieve and what they did.

They included:

  • A project called “Your Square Mile” whose purpose was to encourage and enable local people to improve their community. It was awarded £830,000 by the Big Lottery Fund – despite officials assessing the application as “weak” in three out of the six criteria. In February 2012 the project had attracted just 64 signed-up groups compared with the one million predicted in the funding application.
  • A project called Get In  – to tackle childhood obesity through sport. In April 2012 it was awarded a grant of £299,800 from the Cabinet Office despite officials concluding it was unlikely to meet its stated objectives. They were told to change their selection criteria and approve the grant. The project was never even launched.
  • Britain’s Personal Best,  which aimed to build on the Olympic Games by encouraging people to excel in athletic, educational or creative challenges. Given £997,960 in April 2013 by the Big Lottery Fund, it claimed it would sign up 120,000 people to take on challenges in their community – but was wound up within months after failing to meet all the milestones the Big Lottery Fund had set.

A long running investigation by Civil Society News into Big Society Network funding has also discovered that the organisation was given statutory grants totalling £480,000 in 2010 by Nesta – which was then an arms-length body of the Department of Business – without a competitive pitch being held.

Steve Hilton was instrumental in getting Government backing for the Big SocietySteve Hilton was instrumental in getting Government backing for the Big Society (PA)
About £150,000 was to part-finance the core costs of running the organisation in its early stages and £330,000 was to support four projects  – called Nexters, Spring, Your Local Budget and It’s Our Community.

Nesta is now an independent charity but said: “While the vast majority of Nesta’s grants are made following open calls for proposals, we do have the ability to provide grants to projects that fit with our vision and advance our objects outside of open calls for proposals. That is what happened with the grants to the Big Society Network.”

Labour is now demanding an inquiry into links between the Big Society Network and senior Conservatives. Several members of the network’s staff had worked with and for ministers including Michael Gove and Theresa May, and two had stood as Tory candidates.

Giles Gibbons had been a partner in the same firm as Steve Hilton and co-wrote a book with him.

He said tonight: “Am I disappointed that the network didn’t have a more positive impact? The answer is 100 per cent yes. Do I think we could have done more about that? Yes I think we could have.

“There was powerful core at the heart of what we were trying to do but was our delivery was not good enough. Is there anything untoward in the way in which we have worked? I genuinely don’t think there is.”

Several members of the network’s staff had worked with and for ministers including Michael GoveSeveral members of the network’s staff had worked with and for ministers including Michael Gove (Getty Images)
But Lisa Nandy, the shadow minister for civil society said: “It’s bad enough that millions of pounds of public money were squandered, but the connections between these organisations and the Conservative party are deeply concerning.”

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said: “Our case into the Society Network Foundation remains open and ongoing. We have received a response to questions we had relating to connected-party transactions and the use of a grant.

“However this does not fully address our concerns and we are in the process of engaging further with the trustees. We are also awaiting copies of documents that explain the grounds on which a grant was given.”

The big chumocracy: Key players

Steve Hilton

A former advertising executive who became David Cameron’s ‘blue skies thinker’. He championed the idea of the Big Society, and was instrumental in getting Government backing for it when the Tories came to power.

Martyn Rose

A businessman who gave £60,000 to the Tories in the run-up to the last election and became chairman of the Big Society Network. Has worked with both Theresa May and Michael Gove

Giles Gibbons 

Co-wrote a book with Steve Hilton called Good Business. He became a trustee of the Society Network Foundation – the charitable arm of the Big Society Network. It is now being investigated by the Charity Commission.

Steve Moore

Worked for the Tories in the late 1980s and became chief executive of the Big Society Network. Was ultimately responsible for delivering the projects that failed. Had close links with Mr Hilton and the Nick Hurd, the minister responsible for the Big Society.

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Jobs for the boys – and a possible conflict of interest – in new government contract

thelovelywibblywobblyoldlady:

… and you thought Atos was bad!

Originally posted on Vox Political:

[Image: Ktemoc Konsiders - http://ktemoc.blogspot.co.uk/]

[Image: Ktemoc Konsiders - http://ktemoc.blogspot.co.uk/%5D

The Coalition government has named the company that is to carry out its new programme to discourage people from claiming incapacity benefits - and, like all Coalition decisions, it is a disaster.

The contract for the new Health and Work Service in England and Wales will be delivered by Health Management Ltd – a MAXIMUS company.

This is triply bad for the United Kingdom.

Firstly, MAXIMUS is an American company so yet again, British taxpayers’ money will be winging its way abroad to boost a foreign economy, to the detriment of our own.

Next, MAXIMUS is already a Work Programme provider company in the UK. The Work Programme attempts to shoehorn jobseekers – including people on incapacity benefits – into any employment that is available, with the companies involved paid according to the results they achieve (on the face of it. In fact, it has…

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Stuck in DWP limbo

Reposted from the Guardian

Mandatory reconsideration of fit-for-work appeals can pitch claimants into a Kafka-esque maze, leaving them penniless and hungry, an MPs report notes

Tucked away in this week’s work and pensions select committee reporton employment-related disability benefits is a section on an innocuous-sounding policy called Mandatory Reconsideration (MR).

Its blandness hides a host of Kafka-esque sins, however; this is truly a monstrously perverse and bureaucratic generator of poverty and stress.

Here’s an example of one claimant’s experience of being caught up in the strange limbo-land of MR, taken from research by Citizens Advice Bureau:

 

It has affected me badly. Financially I am struggling – when I pay gas, electricity and bedroom tax I have nothing left. I sometimes don’t have enough money to buy food. Sometimes I go hungry. Sometimes I just have toast as it’s cheaper

 

So what is MR and how do you get caught up in it? MR kicks in when claimants of ESA or Employment and Support Allowance (unemployment benefit for people who cannot work as a result of illness or disability) are tested and declared fit for work, and subsequently wish to appeal against that decision.

In the past the claimant could lodge a formal appeal directly with the tribunal service. Since October however, they are required to submit an informal appeal to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), who must “reconsider” the fit for work decision – a “second opinion” if you like – before allowing the claimant to proceed to tribunal.

The thinking behind this, according to the DWP, is that MR offers an opportunity to resolve disputes quickly, ease pressure on tribunals, and allow decisions to be revised if appropriate. In 2013-14, there were 233,000 appeals, each costing the taxpayer an estimated £248, and clogging up the courts. One in 10 decisions were reversed at tribunal. In theory, trying to address these pressures by sifting out incorrect decisions before they go to court is sensible.

Except in practice it doesn’t work sensibly at all. Entering the MR process is too often a long, complex, expensive experience that leaves many claimants – assuming they have the stamina to enter it in the first place – stuck in a slow-moving DWP machine: stressed, impoverished, and in some cases dependent on loan sharks and food banks.

What goes wrong? First, most ESA claimants who wish to receive benefit income over the period of MR are required to switch from ESA to Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA). Quite why claimants are forced to claim a fit for work benefit when they are arguing they are unfit for work is unclear. Nor is there a financial saving from moving claimants from assessment-rate ESA to JSA for the duration of the MR (claimants get the same amount, while it actually costs the DWP around £160 to process the switch). But apply for JSA they must do.

Unfortunately, switching to JSA triggers multiple problems. First, in coming off ESA many claimants find their other benefits (such as housing benefit) are automatically stopped, potentially plunging them into rent arrears. Second, when they move to JSA, claimants become subject to tight job-seeker conditionality; so if they fail to apply for enough jobs (even though they consider themselves unfit for work) they can be sanctioned and have their benefit docked, leaving them without unemployment benefit income.

This assumes, however, that the JSA application is successful. The Work and Pensions committee report notes that – incredibly – some claimants are advised by the DWP to come off ESA but are subsequently refused JSA by Jobcente officials because they are deemed to be “unfit for work” (even though they are appealing a decision that deemed them “fit for work”). This can leave claimants penniless: “unable to claim either ESA or JSA”, the report points out.

All this chaos might be more bearable if the MR was expedited swiftly. The optimistic informal aspiration of the DWP at the time of the introduction of MR was to process cases in two weeks. The reality is DWP does not have a target completion time. According to evidence to the committee submitted by the Z2K charity the time taken

 

Varies greatly from two months to much longer

 

CAB interviewed 20 people who had undergone MR. Not a single person received a decision in two weeks. The quickest decision was five weeks, the longest more than 12 weeks. A CAB advisor told me recently that the MR time scale could be “months… six months is not unusual”. During this period, her clients got by, she said, by going into debt with loan sharks, cutting back on living essentials, and accepting charity food parcels.

The then disability minister Mike Penning told the committee in June that the DWP was keen to “speed up the process” but was caught in a backlog of ESA reconsiderations. It would not be setting a time limit, however, on the grounds that “if we get the decision right, it will be worth the time”.

Here’s another CAB case study:

 

Eric, 57, had a brain injury as a result of an industrial accident at work and has severe mobility issues and poor coordination. He was refused ESA and told to attend Jobcentre Plus to sign on for JSA. When he got there, however, his job coach told him that, because he had a fit note [a note from his GP saying he was unfit for work], he couldn’t claim JSA. The job coach was extremely sympathetic and Eric noted that the staff were very apologetic. They encouraged him to request a reconsideration of his ESA decision.
Because he was not entitled to either JSA or ESA, Eric was living on £50 per week from his Disability living allowance (DLA) award. He couldn’t pay household bills and was struggling to put money on the electric meter. He was referred for a food parcel but because the food bank was four miles away and because he uses crutches, he didn’t think he could carry the goods back, so didn’t take it.
Eric felt angry and abandoned. He said “Sometimes I think I would be better off dead.

 

Now, why would a social security system put any of its citizens through all that?

What is curious is that before MR, the DWP already reconsidered every decision before it went to appeal. Judge Robert Martin, president of the social entitlement chamber of the first tier tribunal told the committee that introducing MR would be justified only if it led to a more rigorous appraisal of fit-for-work decisions. We don’t know if it has. Of CAB’s 20 interviewees, just two had the original fit for work decision overruled at MR stage. The rest went on to appeal. But as DWP has never published statistics for the old reconsideration process, CAB says there’s no way of telling if the new system works any better.

But perhaps MR has another function: to slow the rate of appeals by making it as difficult as possible for claimants to proceed. Indeed, Martin noted that there was “dubious advantage” in MR, not least because claimants now had to make, in effect, two appeals. According to the report:

 

Judge Martin also believed that the introduction of MR, rather than leading to a justified reduction in appeals, might discourage claimants who might have had “winnable” cases from appealing, because they found the process too onerous.

 

Whether they are justified or not, the number of appeals has reduced rapidly since the introduction of MR. Between January and March 2014 there were 11,455 appeals lodged, compared to 109,000 in the same period the previous year. The DWP says it does not know yet if MR caused this dramatic (89%) fall. The Tribunal Service, however, suggested to the committee that the DWP’s administrative tardiness may well have been a factor:

 

If they [the DWP] make fewer decisions, we get fewer appeals

 

Unfortunately, it is the very poorest who have to take the strain as a result of these delays. It is a cause of significant emotional and financial pressure. As a consequence of this uncertainty, says CAB:

 

Most clients reported a decline in their mental health

 

The select committee makes sensible recommendations in its report: scrap the requirement for claimants to move to JSA for the duration of the appeal; oblige the DWP to assess whether MR is having the “undesired effect” of deterring potential appellants; introduce a time-limit for completion of MR.

But arguably these address only the malign symptoms of an ESA system whose failings create too many appeals in the first place. As the committee’s report concludes:

 

A fundamental redesign of the ESA end-to-end process is required

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Hypocrite David Cameron wants to stop working people fighting for their rights

Reposted from the Mirror

Digital by default, that’s what the CONDEMS keep telling us! That’s why they shut ALL 240 HMRC walk in enquiry centres because taxpayers can go on the internet to get their problem sorted. Claimants on JSA/ESA are expected to job searches on line and yet … when it comes to voting for strike action or action short of a strike (such as overtime bans) they’d prefer us to do it the old fashioned, expensive way by postal ballot… funny that isn’t it.

Mirror columnist Paul Routledge says the Prime Minister wants to virtually outlaw strikes by imposing standards he fails to meet himself – and denying a 21st centuy solution

They thought it was all over. It isn’t now.

Company bosses at Care UK must have imagined the fight had gone out of Unison strikers in Doncaster.

But the feisty women care workers are going into extra time with a two-week walkout starting next Tuesday, following a secret ballot vote for action.

The campaign now centres on a claim for £7.65 an hour after their NHS jobs were privatised to Essex-based Care UK last September, with pay cuts of up to 35%.

They’ve carried the torch of defiance ever since, but soon they will not be alone. Unions in the NHS are to ballot
on national industrial action against pay freezes.

Unite, the Royal College of Midwives, Unison and the GMB are asking 400,000 health workers to back walkouts starting in October and running through the Christmas holiday.

These polls form the backdrop to a devious Tory plot to make legal industrial action virtually impossible.

While he mouths platitudes about democracy in Donetsk, David Cameron plans to curb civil rights for working people at home.

His election manifesto will outlaw any action where fewer than half the members have voted.

Rank hypocrisy.

This government sneaked into power after winning only 23.5% of the popular vote in 2010.

Not a single MP would have been elected on this basis.

 

Unity: Striking Care UK workers in Doncaster

 

OK, Dave’s dirty little war against workers is not comparable to the horrors of the Middle East. I’m not pretending it is. But it still matters.

This so-called reform would make 21st century UK look more like the old USSR.

The Tories introduced compulsory pre-strike postal ballots “to give the unions back to their members,” never thinking that workers would vote for action.

But they do, regularly. So now they’ll turn the screw again, in a fake show of democracy.

If the Tories and their Lib Dem lapdogs really want to increase participation in strike ballots – their stated aim – then all they have to do is pick up the TUC’s idea of digital voting.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general ­secretary, asked Business Secretary Vince Cable to change the out-of-date rules so that union members could vote on work computers, laptops at home, tablets or smartphones while on the move.

Three-quarters of us are now on ­broadband, with 94% on mobile and 70% on smartphone. Unions already use these to communicate with members, getting response rates of more than 90%.

But electronic voting is banned for strike ballots because the Tories insist on imposing the old-fashioned, ruinously expensive method of voting. And now they see it as a perfect way to ban strikes by the back door.

Well, they would, wouldn’t they? They hate unions. Above all, they hate employees deciding how they want to live their lives at work.

If the Coalition is serious about ­democratisation of industrial relations, they will adopt “O’Grady’s Law.” If they don’t, we will know why.

  • You can sign a petition for digital voting at tuc.org.uk/letusvote. Show ’em!

 

 

 

 

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