Posts Tagged ‘Alistair Darling’

Vox Political on the Tories Empty Pledge for Extra NHS Funding

April 13, 2015

On Saturday, the Tories declared that they were going to add an extra £8 billion to the NHS budget by 2020 if they are returned. When pressed by Andrew Marr on his show about where the money would come from, George Osborne repeatedly refused to say, and instead gave evasive non-answers about the state of the economy instead. He also gave assurances that it had all been correctly costed, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Labour have released a video of this section of the interview, which the good Mr Pride has put on his blog. He had accompanied it with a clip from the classic Newsnight interview, when Paxo repeatedly asked Michael Howard a question, which the then head of the Tories refused to answer, and hummed, ha-ed, and bluffed instead.

Mike over at Vox Political has also posted his critique of Osborne’s claims in the post ‘Tory NHS pledge is ‘fantasy funding’’. This begins

The Conservative Party must be getting very desperate indeed.

Faced with the failure of the plan to belittle Ed Miliband, the Tories are making a belated attempt to take some of Labour’s policy ground with a promise to provide £8 billion extra, every year, for the NHS.

From where?

The Conservatives have already told us they will be squeezing the economy by (at least) £30 billion over the next five years – if they remain in office. The National Health Service is ring-fenced from those cuts, we are told, but that hasn’t prevented real-terms funding from falling during most – if not all – of the Parliament that has just ended.

The Tories had no intention of adding funds to the NHS – or at least, they didn’t until today.

Despite claims that the health service in England alone needs another £8 billion in order to cope (the shortfall is £30 billion but NHS boss Simon Stevens reckons “efficiency savings” – cuts – will cover £22 billion of it), the Conservative Party had been hoping to keep it quiet and let the public service quietly starve while private, profit-making firms strip it of its most lucrative sources of funding; the services that attract the most money.

Like the plan to attack Miliband, this was a mistake; Labour has campaigned forthrightly on the needs of the NHS and the public has responded strongly.

So the Tories have wheeled out Jeremy ‘Misprint’ Hunt to announce a funding commitment that they don’t have the ability to honour.

It is exactly the kind of fiscal ineptitude of which they were accusing Labour, before the other party publicised its fully-funded plans for government.

Mike also refutes Hunt’s claim that the Tories have increased funding to the NHS. They haven’t. As the table from the National Statistics Authority shows, it’s actually been below intended funding, not above.

He also shows Hunt’s claim that the Tories have turned the economy around to be equally mendacious. Well, not exactly. Not if you believe the exact opposite of what they’ve said. They claimed that Labour had produced the depression, and that now, thanks to them, the economy is expanding. In fact, the economy was growing thanks to Alistair Darling. The Tories, on the other hand, have managed to shrink the economy.

Mike therefore concludes that What we’re seeing is fantasy funding – building castles – or rather, hospitals – in the air.

Judging the Tories on their record, they certainly won’t be improving health here on the ground.

Mike’s article can be read at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/04/11/tory-nhs-pledge-is-fantasy-funding/

In fact, as I commented on my reblog of Tom Pride’s post about this, there is a way to increased effective funding of the NHS and make massive savings: cut out the waste of money that is the Private Finance Initiative, the internal market and the outsourcing of NHS treatment to private firms. The bureaucracy involved in this waste’s billions, as well as causing massive inefficiency and waste.

On the other hand, it does provide a nice, juicy income to Tory donors, and the private healthcare firms which 92 Tories and Lib Dem MPs either own, or are employed in. Cameron, IDS and Clegg really won’t want to upset them, especially as they might need to find a few more jobs after the election.

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Privatised Railways and the Failure of Popular Capitalism

March 23, 2015

One of the Ed Miliband’s election promises has been to renationalise parts of the rail network. As recent polls found, most of the population of this country would like to see the utilities returned to public ownership, including the railways. They’ve been marred with poor service and overcharging since they were first privatised by John Major back in the early 1990s. To make matters worse, the railways are receiving far more in government subsidies than they were when they were nationalised. The British public are paying through the nose for a worse service.

Anthony Sampson discusses the massive failure of the privatised railways in his book, Who Runs This Place: The Anatomy of Britain in the 21st Century. The book examines and describes how Britain has become less democratic, with politicians, government officials and industrialists more remote and unaccountable. He devotes nearly two pages to the privatisation of the railways, pp. 289-90, in which he states

The most disastrous of the privatisations was the last, British Rail, which was also the most visible to the public. Margaret Thatcher had shrewdly resisted selling it off, but John Major weakly gave in to pressure from bankers, and went ahead in 1996. The selling off of the vast railway network was devised by the Treasury to maximise the short-term gains, and was masterminded by Sir Steven Robson. The stations and the 23,000 miles of track would be run by a national company, Railtrack, while separate operating companies would buy and run the trains in different regions. The old railway managers were soon demoted: the chairman of Railtrack was Sir Robert Horton, who had just ben fired as chief executive of the oil company BP; and he chose as chief executive a finance director, Gerald Corbett, who had risen through Dixons shops, Redland cement, and Grand Metropolitan drinks. the track maintenance was delegated to private contractors.

By 2001 the whole railway system was in serious danger. Corbett was out of his field and Horton was in ill-health; he was succeeded by Sir Philip Beck, chairman (like his father) of the Mowlem construction company, whose experience came from the controversial Docklands Light Railway. The lack of effective accountability became tragically clear after a succession of train crashes, which revealed scandalous lack of supervision. The crash at Potters Bar was blamed on careless maintenance by the subcontractors Jarvis, whose chief operating officer blamed sabotage, of which no evidence emerged; he was then promoted to chief executive. The trail of accountability ended up in the sidings of a secretive private company.

The government at last intervened, withdrew support from Railtrack, thereby bankrupting it, and created a new non-profit company, Network Rail, chaired by Ian McAllister, the former chairman of Ford in Britain, with an engineer John Armitt as chief executive. The environment secretary Stephen Byers, who had responsibility for transport, resigned, and was succeeded by the Scot Alistair Darling, and Darling extended the government’s role in July 2004 when he abolished the independent Strategic Rail Authority – which had been created only four years earlier – and took over most of its functions.

The operating companies, which had been only granted short franchises, were more interested in quick profits than long-term planning, and most boards had little experience of railways. South West Trains was acquired by the bus company Stagecoach, built up by the combative Scots entrepreneur Brian Souter and his sister Ann Gloag, which the Monopolies Commission had earlier accused of behaviour that was ‘predatory, deplorable and against the public interest’. They made a new fortune by selling rolling-stock, and bought the magnificent Beaufort Castle in Scotland; but they soon made rash investments in America which brought down their shares and limited their investment in British trains. West Coast Trains was bought by Virgin, run by Sir Richard Branson whose background was in airlines and pop music. South Eastern and South Central trains were run by Vivendi, the French conglomerate which soon hopelessly overextended its empire, from water to Hollywood. The Great North-Eastern (GNER) was owned by the Bermuda-based company Sea Containers, controlled by its American founder-president Jim Sherwood.

The privatising of the network had undermined much of the traditional British pride in railways. The separate regional traditions and hierarchies of engine-drivers, signalmen and stationmasters were swept aside by the cuts and constraints imposed by accountants and financial directors at headquarters. Many of the cutbacks were necessary if the companies were to be made viable; but the upheavals in the operating companies and the collapse of Railtrack had left few people who understood how railways really worked.

The privatisation of the railways failed because the franchises were short-term, and the firms that bought them thus only interested in making a quick buck. They had no knowledge or experience of running railways, and refused to accept responsibility for the disasters and horrendous crashes that occurred. Margaret Thatcher herself recognised that privatising them would be a bad idea, but it clearly wasn’t bad enough to dissuade Britain’s bankers.

As a result, Blair’s government had to extend government power over the privatised railways, even though New Labour was enthusiastically pro-privatisation. Ed Miliband’s planned re-nationalisation of parts of the rail network will thus undoubtedly be an improvement.