Posts Tagged ‘Capita’

Ellen Clifford of DPAC Attacks DWP and the Renewed Contracts to Atos and Capita

June 17, 2018

This is another short video from RT. It’s just over five minutes long, and is an interview with Ellen Clifford of Disabled People Against Cuts on the renewal of the contracts given to Atos and Capita to continue assessing disabled people’s benefit claims.

The interviewer states that the two outsourcing companies have been criticised for failing to meet targets and disabled people themselves through incorrectly assessing them as fit for work. 100,000 people have so far had the decisions against them overturned on appeal. The Labour and Liberal parties have called on the work to be taken back in house by the state.

The government, however, has released a statement, which runs as follows

The quality of assessment has risen year on year since 2015, but one person’s poor experience is one too many. We’re committed to continuously improving assessments, and have announced we’re piloting the video recording of PIP assessments with a view to rolling out this widely.

Clifford states that Capita and Atos have had their contracts extended only for two years, but that’s two years too long. They want this profiteering by the outsourcing companies to end. She also makes the point that one of the major complaints they hear about the assessments is dishonesty – or lies – by the company, and this is at such a rate that it cannot be coincidence. The current rate for decisions being overturned on appeal is 69 per cent. The interviewer asks if there is a chance that the process could be improved in the next two years. Clifford replies that over the past few years the government has announced that they’re changing and improving the scheme, but this is just tinkering around the edges. What is needed is a fundamental overhaul of the system, which is based on a model of disability that DPAC would not advocate. She hopes that the videoing of assessments will lead to more transparency, and DPAC will be watching this very carefully.

The interviewer also states that the majority of people are satisfied with the assessment process, and looking at the number of appeals against the positive cases, wonders if the issue isn’t being politicised. Clifford states that while the percentage of bad decisions may be small, they still affect millions of people, and so are statistically high. She says that anyone who works in the welfare sector or disability is inundated with cases from people, who have been turned down when they genuinely need that money. The interviewer asks her if she sees a glimmer of hope. She states that they see a government under pressure, experiencing market failure in this area. She states that DPAC also wants the assessments to be taken back in-house. They need to keep the pressure up. The assessments need to be taken back in-house and the whole system given a radical overhaul.

Everything Ellen Clifford says in this interview is exactly true. I’ve personally experienced Atos lying about my assessment and health, when they assessed me for incapacity benefit several years. And this was overturned on appeal. And when blogging about this issue, Mike and I, and many other left-wing bloggers, have received posts from commenters telling us how they were also wrongly assessed by the outsourcing companies to prevent them claiming benefits. Whistleblowers from inside the companies and DWP have come forward, stating that the government has set targets for the number of people, whose claims are to be rejected. I’ve reblogged a number of pieces, including videos about this. The fault lies with the DWP. And Kitty S. Jones has also described extensively on her blog how the DWP’s model of disability was produced by an American researcher working for Unum, one of the private medical insurance companies. They won the ear first of Peter Lilley, and then Blair and New Labour. The model assumes that people are malingering, and has been scientifically discredited. Nevertheless, this model is still used by the DWP.

The current system is a disgrace. It is, as Clifford states, all about throwing people off benefit. And despite its promises, all the so-called improvements introduced by the Tories are nothing but tinkering at the edges. When the Tories haven’t promised something more ominous. When they talked about cutting the rate of appeals, what they intended to do was not make the assessment process more honest, so that disabled people could claim benefit more easily, but actually making the conditions for being assessed as disabled more difficult, so that fewer people would be assessed as disabled, but could not successfully appeal against the decision because it followed the new, harsher conditions.

The whole process needs to be taken back in-house, and a radical overhaul done, with a view not to throwing disabled people off benefit, so that greedy multi-millionaires can enjoy another tax cut, but to make sure they genuinely have the welfare support and money they deserve and need.

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Another Crisis in the Outsourcing Industry: Capita Now in Trouble

February 1, 2018

Yesterday, Mike reported on his blog that the outsourcing giant, Capita, was now in trouble. Its share price has apparently halved, knocking £1.1 billion of its stock market value. It has axed its scheme to issue £500 million in dividends to its shareholders. Instead, it intends to raise £700 million, partly by selling off parts of the company, which it needs to balance the books. There are also fears that it will make part of its 67,000 strong workforce redundant as well as concerns for the firm’s pension fund.

Mike in his article notes that the company was responsible for assessing the infamous fitness for work tests, for which the government has imposed hidden targets. One of these is that 80 per cent of reconsidered cases should be turned down. Mike therefore comments that if the crisis means that some of these assessors get a taste of what they inflicted on benefit claimants, this would be a case of poetic justice. He also wonders what the firm was doing when it devised the scheme to issue those massive dividends to its shareholders. Did they believe that the government’s magic money tree would continue to allow them to give heaps of money to their rich shareholders? He also asks other searching questions, such as whether it was deliberately underbidding to get government contracts, and then using the money to help finance those projects it had already won.

Mike concludes

So: First Carillion collapsed. Now both Interserve (remember them?) and Capita are in trouble.

Who’s next? And what will happen to public services while the Tories dither over this crisis?

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/01/31/in-the-crap-ita-government-contractor-responsible-for-benefit-assessments-is-in-deep-financial-doo-doo/

Capita, or as Private Eye dubbed it, ‘Crapita’, has a long history of incompetence behind it. Way back in the 1990s it seemed that hardly a fortnight went by without Capita turning up in the pages of the satirical magazine. And the story was nearly always the same. The outsourcing company won a government or local authority contract to set up an IT system or run IT services. The project would then go over time and over budget, and would be massively flawed. And then a few weeks or months later, the company would be given a contract somewhere, and do exactly the same thing there.

You’re left wondering how Crapita kept winning those contracts, when it was so manifestly unfit to carry them out. Who did it have on its board? Or was there a deliberate policy by Major’s government to support outsourcing, no matter how inefficient and incompetent they were, because it was private enterprise and so preferred and supported for purely ideological reasons?

In any case, what seems to have placed the company in a very precarious financial situation is the usual tactics of big companies in this stage of capitalism: award massive dividends to the shareholders. This usually goes along with starving the rest of the company of investment, which seems to have been done to. And granting massive, and massively unsustainable pay awards to senior management. There’s no mention of that in Mike’s article, but I don’t doubt that this was done too. I’ve got the impression that it’s just about standard practice across a huge swathe of industry.

This is a financial strategy that has driven far more than one company to the wall. I also wonder if the executives weren’t also trying deliberately to create a debt, so that they could dodge corporation tax for five years. This is one of the tricks Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack describe in their book on contemporary British poverty, Breadline Britain.

Over the years the outsourcing policy has been in operation, there’s been one crisis after another. The outsourcing companies have repeatedly shown themselves to be incompetent, not just in the case of capita, but also notoriously with G4S and the scandals over the violence and brutality it meted out towards asylum seekers in the detention centres it ran. And, of course, when a whole load of prisoners escaped on their way to court. Or jail.

Private industry has repeatedly shown that it is incompetent to do the work of the state sector. These firms have the disadvantage of having to make a profit for their shareholders, as well as the demands of their management for multi-million pound pay packets. The only way they can afford this is by cutting wages to their workers, and spending as little as possible on the service they are meant to be providing. The result of this has been a series of financial collapses. Carillion was the first. Now Capita and Interserve, another outsourcing company, is in similar trouble.

The only sensible recourse should be to cancel these companies’ contracts, and take everything back in-house. But this won’t be done. I think there’s a problem in that the state sector has been so decimated by the past four decades of Thatcherism, that it no longer has the capacity to run these services itself. There’s also the additional problem that too many politicians and media magnates have connections to these companies, or to firms in a similar position hoping for government contracts. Acknowledging that outsourcing was a failure would damage the interests of these politicos and press barons. There’s also the challenge of actually facing up to the fact that a central plank of Thatcherite dogma – that private enterprise is always more efficient than the state – is absolutely, undeniably wrong. Anybody who makes this point is denounced as a Communist in screaming headlines. You only have to look at the way the Tory press has vilified Jeremy Corbyn for daring to want to renationalise the NHS, the electricity net and the railways. His policies are very far from the total nationalisation demanded by Communists and Trotskyites, but you wouldn’t know it from the frothing abuse hurled in his direction by the Tories and Blairites.

There’s also another problem with calling an end to the outsourcing scam. PFI contracts and outsourcing allow some of the costs to be written off the official government accounts sheet. They’re still there, and we have to keep paying them, but they’re not included in the official figures. It’s why Mussolini used a similar scam when he was Duce of Fascist Italy. Any government that restores these projects to the way they were handled before risks putting millions back the official figures. And if that’s the Labour party, you can imagine the Tories making their usual hackneyed and untrue comments about ‘high-spending Labour’, and then re-iterating the spurious arguments for austerity.

I’ve no doubt that the government will do what it can to shore up the current mess the outsourcing companies are in. But the collapse of Carillion and now the severe financial troubles faced by Capita and Interserve show that outsourcing does not work. And given these companies’ highly checkered history, they should never have been given governments to begin with.

And it bears out exactly the description the author of Zombie Economics used for them in the very title of his book. Outsourcing, and the rest of the Thatcherite economic strategy of privatisation, wage restraint, low taxation and declining welfare are ‘zombie economics’ as they don’t work, but haven’t yet been put it into the grave.

It’s high time they were, and Thatcherite free trade capitalism was abandoned as the failure it so glaringly is.

George Osborne Lies about Responsibility for the Collapse of Carillion

January 16, 2018

No, not Marillion, who had a hit in the 1980s with the classic, ‘Kayleigh’, and whose singer was called Fish, ’cause he drank like one, but Carillion, the outsourcing giant which has gone belly-up.

Mike’s put up a post about Carillion’s collapse, pointing out that the company was in dire financial trouble, and had issued at least three profit warnings. But miraculously it was still able to win government contracts.

George Osborne, our former comedy Chancellor to Dave Cameron’s comedy Prime Minister, decided to put his oar in today. Faced with the question of who was responsible for awarding these contracts to the ailing company, Osborne did what every Tory does: he lied and spun. Oh no, whined Osborne, now the editor of the Evening Standard, it’s not the Tories’ responsibility they got government contracts. It’s all the fault of civil servants.

Er, no, George. It’s not. It’s your fault, and the fault of every Thatcherite government since the days of John Major.

If you enter the civil service, you will be told that it is your duty to provide the government with impartial advice. This marks the British civil service out from its continental cousins, where the upper levels of the civil service belong to the ruling party, and so change with each election. There have been cases when the civil service has been less than impartial, such as when the rail network was privatised. This was the brainchild of a particular civil servant, who was a keen promoter of free market private enterprise. But this particular mandarin has been and gone.

Looking back, a scandal like Carillion was almost inevitable. When outsourcing began in the 1990s under John Major, firms like Capita, dubbed ‘Crapita’ by Private Eye, became notorious for the way they continually got government contracts, despite coming in late and over budget on just about all those they had been awarded. Or else the systems they installed just didn’t work. But it was Tory – and Blairite – ideology that private enterprise was always better than the state, even when, to most people, it most certainly wasn’t. And there was a revolving door between these firms and the Tory party. Under John Major, the various ministers responsible for privatising particular firms magically got jobs on the board of the same, now private companies, afterwards. Amazing! But civil servants weren’t to blame for that, although certain high level civil servants did benefit from the revolving door, particularly and most notoriously in the MOD. The system got so bad that John Major’s government got a justifiable reputation for ‘sleaze’. But a French politician was much more accurate in his description of it. He said that in Britain, we called it ‘sleaze’, but in La Patrie, they simply called it ‘corruption’. Indeed. Over the other side of La Manche, a civil servant or politician has to wait two years after they’ve retired from office before they can take up a job with a private firm. Which means that their address book, which is what the firm really wants, is out of date, and they’re of no value to them. Problem solved.

Carillion was allowed to go on because of a series of legislation put in place by the Tories to protect the outsourcing companies. Like as private companies, they are not subject to FOIA, and any attempts to probe their financial affairs is automatically denied by the government on the grounds of ‘corporate confidentiality’. You see, such requests would jeopardise their position by opening them up to scrutiny by their rivals. We’ve seen this used when justifying giving contracts to private firms in the NHS. NHS performance is published and scrutinised, but not those of the private firms angling for lucrative NHS contracts.

This has been brought in by the Tories, including Dave Cameron and George Osborne.

And while we’re at it, let’s make the point that much government advice doesn’t come from the civil service. It came from private consultants, like Anderson Consulting, who were responsible for turning the Benefits Agency as was into the shambles it now is. Under Tony Blair this grew to enormous proportions, so that Blair was taking advice from SPADs -Special Advisors – from private industry, rather than the civil service.

So it’s fair to ask which set of private consultants argued that Carillion ought to be given a contract? Perhaps no-one did, but I think it’s a fair question, given just how much sponsorship the Tories received from private industry. Was Carillion one of their corporate donors?

So who’s responsible for the government awards given to Carillion? You are, George. You, Cameron, and your whole disgusting party. Now stop lying. You were rubbish as chancellor, and you’ve got no business editing a paper either.

Afshin Rattansi on UK Army Recruitment and When Trump Was Anti-War

October 26, 2017

In this short clip from RT’s Going Underground, main man Afshin Rattansi reports on and comments on the British army’s latest attempts to recruit more squaddies, as well as the time when Donald Trump appeared to be an anti-war candidate. The clip was posted on July 15, 2017, when Defence Secretary Michael Fallon was attending an air tattoo here in the UK.

In order to find 12,000 new recruits for the army, the government started looking for them in sub-Saharan Africa. Rattansi then pointedly comments that if there are viewers from that region of the continent, from poor and starving nations like Malawi, Mozambique or Sierra Leone, and they fancy dying for Britain, they can get through to army recruitment on the following number.

He also talks about the army’s attempts to recruit child soldiers using a video, This Is Belonging. It shows one squaddy walking behind his a truck carrying a load of his mates. At first they tease him by slowing down, so that he thinks he can climb in, before speeding up and pulling slightly away. They then slow down again, he manages to climb him, and is greeted with cheers and comradely backslaps from his mates.

Rattansi discusses how this video has been criticised by an anti-war group, Child Soldier International, because it is aimed at young people aged 16-25. And in particular those from the poorest and least educated sections of society. The video is also targeted at the good folk of the northern towns, which have been hardest hit by Thatcherism.

He also quotes the response from the government’s outsourcing partner, Capita, which predictably finds nothing wrong in this.

He then goes on to say that there is evidence from America that when poor kids, like those targeted by Capita’s wretched film, do come back from fighting and dying, they vote for anti-war candidates. Like Donald Trump. ‘You do remember when Trump was anti-war, right?’ he asks. He then plays footage of Trump telling the crowd that if he gets in, he will not send any more troops to the Middle East. It’s unjust to the millions of people that’ve been killed there, as well as to America. Thanks to the wars in the Middle East, America’s roads and hospitals aren’t properly maintained. If he gets in, he’ll stop the war and spend the money on that instead.

Child Soldier International isn’t the only organisation that has expressed concern about the UK’s recruitment of child soldiers. The issue got into the papers, or at least the I a few weeks ago. We are the only nation in Europe, I believe, that recruits children of 16 years old. Michelle, one of the great commenters on this blog, has also posted comments talking about the concerns of peace groups about the way the British army goes into schools to recruit there.

This used to happen at my old school here in Bristol. I don’t remember it ever happening to us in the top streams, but certainly recruiting films were shown to the less bright in the lower bands. One of our art teachers, a woman of left-wing opinions, was outraged by this. Someone told me that her father had been an air-raid warden during the War, and so had seen the bits of bodies strewn amongst the rubble after a bomb strike. If that was the case, then it’s not hard to see why she hated war, and those who seduce the young into fighting in one, so much.

As for Trump, I do remember when he was anti-war. Just like he also suggested at one point he was in favour of Medicare for All. Now he’s turned out to be no such thing. It was all lies. The result has been that many of the people, who voted for him are seriously disillusioned, and this is contributing to opposition to Trump within the GOP. A few days ago I came across a video on YouTube with the title, ‘Trump Will Destroy Capitalism’. I don’t think he will, but he’s certainly doing his damnedest. And if he does destroy it, then it won’t come too soon.

Vox Political on Chilcot’s Damning Verdict on Blair, and What His Readers Think

July 7, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has reblogged a piece from the Guardian by Owen Jones, laying out how damning the Chilcot report is of Tony Blair and his decision to lead the country into war. Owen Jones is a fine journalist, who clearly and accurately explains the issues. I’ve read and quoted from his book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, which is very good, and has rightly received great praise. He also has another book out The Establishment: Who They Are and How They Get Away with it. I’ve been thinking about that one, but have avoided buying it so far on the grounds that it might make me too furious.

Mike also asks what his readers think of the Iraq War. He asks

Do any of you believe the war was justified, as Ann Clwyd still does (apparently)? Have any of you come to believe that? Did you support the war and turn away? Do you think Saddam Hussein had to go, no matter the cost? Do you think the war contributed to the rise of new terrorist groups like Daesh – sometimes called Islamic State – as laid out in the ‘cycle of international stupidity’ (above)? Do you think it didn’t? Do you think Blair wanted a war because they put national politicians on the international stage? Do you think he improved or diminished the UK’s international standing? Do you think the UK has gained from the war, or suffered as a result?

The Issues, Arguments and Demos against the War at its Very Beginning

Okay, at the rest of alienating the many great readers of this blog, I’ll come clean. Back when it first broke out, I did support the war. I can’t be a hypocrite and claim that I didn’t. This was despite many other people around me knowing so much better, and myself having read so much that was against the war. For example, one of the 1.5 million or so people, who marched against the war was my local parish priest. One of my friends was very firmly against the war. I was aware from reading the papers and Lobster that the dodgy dossier was fake, and a piece of propaganda. I also knew from watching Bremner, Bird and Fortune that there was absolutely no connection between Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’ath regime, which was Arab nationalist, and the militant Islamism of Osama bin Laden, and that absolutely no love was lost between the two. And as the war dragged on, I was aware from reading Private Eye how so much of it was driven by corporate greed. The Eye ran a piece reporting on how Bush had passed legislation, which gave American biotech companies the rights to the country’s biodiversity. The Fertile Crescent in the Middle East in Turkey, Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt and what is now Israel, as well as Arabia and Iran, was the location for the very first western civilisations. Iraq, Syria and Turkey, I believe, were the very first centres where humans settled down and started domesticating wheat. The ancient grains that supported these primitive communities, like emmer and so on, still exist in abundance in these countries, along with other crops and plants that aren’t grown in the west. They represent a potentially lucrative field for the biotech companies. And so the American biotech corporations took out corporate ownership, meaning that your average Iraqi peasant farmer could be prosecuted for infringing their corporate copyright, if he dared to continue growing the crops he and his forefathers and mothers had done, all the way back to Utnapishtim, Noah and the Flood and beyond. More legal chicanery meant that American corporations could seize Iraqi assets and industries for damages, even if these damages were purely speculative or had not actually occurred. It’s grossly unjust, and aptly illustrates how predatory, rapacious and wicked these multinationals are.

And then there were the hundreds of thousands killed by Islamist militants, Iraqi insurgents, and the bodies of our squaddies coming back in coffins, along with a line of the maimed and mentally scarred.

All this should have been a clear demonstration of how wrong the war was. And it is a clear demonstration of its fundamental wrongness.

Hopes for Democratic Iraq Despite Falsity of Pretext

But I initially supported the war due to a number of factors. Partly it was from the recognition that Saddam Hussein was a brutal thug. We had been amply told how brutal he was around Gulf War I, and in the ten years afterwards he had brutally suppressed further rebellions – gassing the Kurds and murdering the Shi’a. In the aftermath of the invasion, UN human rights teams found the remains of his victims in vast, mass graves. The Financial Times also ran a piece on the massive corruption and brutal suppression of internal dissent within his regime. So it seemed that even if the reason for going to war was wrong, nevertheless it was justified because of the sheer brutality of his regime, and the possibility that a better government, freer and more humane, would emerge afterwards.

That hasn’t happened. Quite the reverse. There is democracy, but the country is sharply riven by ethnic and religious conflict. The American army, rather than acting as liberators, has treated the Iraqi people with contempt, and have aided the Shi’a death squads in their murders and assassinations of Sunnis.

Unwillingness to Criticise Blair and Labour

Some of my support for the war was also based in a persistent, uncritical support for Blair and the Labour party. Many of the war’s critics, at least in the West Country, were Tories. The Spectator was a case in point. It was, at least originally, very much against the war. So much so that one of my left-wing friends began buying it. I was highly suspicious of the Tory opposition to the war, as I thought it was opportunist and driven largely by party politics. When in power, the Tories had been fervently in favour of war and military action, from the Falklands, to Gulf War I and beyond. Given their record, I was reluctant – and still am very reluctant – to believe that they really believed that the war was wrong. I thought they were motivate purely from party interests. That still strikes me as pretty much the case, although I will make an allowance for the right-wing Tory journo, Peter Hitchens. Reading Hitchens, it struck me that his opposition to the war was a matter of genuine principle. He has an abiding hatred of Blair, whom he refers to as ‘the Blair creature’ for sending so many courageous men and women to their deaths. He’s also very much a Tory maverick, who has been censured several times by his bosses at the Mail for what he has said about David Cameron. ‘Mr Slippery’ was one such epithet. Now Hitchen’s doesn’t respect him for liberal reasons. He despises him for his liberal attitudes to sexual morality, including gay marriage. But to be fair to the man, he is independent and prepared to rebel and criticise those from his side of the political spectrum, often bitterly.

The Corrosive Effect of Endemic Political Corruption

My opposition to the war was also dulled by the sheer corruption that had been revealed over the last few decades. John Major’s long administration was notorious for its ‘sleaze’, as ministers and senior civil servants did dirty deals with business and media tycoons. Those mandarins and government officials in charge of privatising Britain’s industries, then promptly left government only to take up positions on the boards of those now private companies. Corporations with a minister or two in their back pocket won massive government contracts, no matter how incompetent they were. And Capita was so often in Private Eye, that the Eye even then was referring to it as ‘Crapita’. Eventually my moral sense was just worn down by it all. The corporate plunder of Iraq just seemed like another case of ‘business as usual’. And if the Tories are just as culpable as Blair and his allies, then there’s no reason to criticise Blair.

The Books and Film that Changed my Attitude to the War

What changed my attitude to the Iraq War was finally seeing Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 on Channel 4, and reading Greg Palast’s Armed Madhouse, and the Counterpunch book End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate, as well as Bushwhacked, a book which exposes the lies and sheer right-wing corruption of George W. Bush’s administration. Palast’s book is particularly devastating, as it shows how the war was solely motivated by corporate greed and the desire of the Neocons to toy with the Iraqi economy in the hope of creating the low tax, free trade utopia they believe in, with precious little thought for the rights and dignity of the Iraqi people themselves. End Times is a series of article cataloguing the mendacity of the American media in selling the war, US politicians for promoting it, and the US army for the possible murder of critical journalists. Other books worth reading on the immorality and stupidity of the Iraq War include Confronting the New Conservativism. This is a series of articles attacking George W. Bush and the Neocons. Much of them come from a broadly left-wing perspective, but there are one or two from traditional Conservatives, such as female colonel in the Pentagon, who notes that Shrub and his coterie knew nothing about the Middle East, and despised the army staff, who did. They had no idea what they were doing, and sacked any commander, who dared to contradict their stupid and asinine ideology.

And so my attitude to war has changed. And I think there are some vital lessons that need to be applied to the broader political culture, if we are to stop others making the same mistakes as I did when I supported the war.

Lessons Learned

Firstly, when it comes to issues like the invasion of Iraq, it’s not a matter of ‘my party, right or wrong’. The Tories might be opposing the war out of opportunism, but that doesn’t mean that supporters of the Labour party are traitors or somehow betraying the party by recognising that it was immoral, and that some of the Tories, who denounced it did have a point.

Secondly, the cynical attitude that all parties are corrupt, so it doesn’t matter if you turn a blind eye to Labour’s corruption, is also wrong and misplaced. Corruption has to be fought, no matter where it occurs. You almost expect it in the Tory party, which has always had a very cosy attitude towards business. It has much less place on the Left, which should be about defending human rights and those of the weak.

Blair: Liar and War Criminal

And so I fully support the Chilcot report, and Jeremy Corbyn’s denunciations of Blair. He was a war criminal, and surely should have known better never to have become embroiled in the Iraq invasion. I’ve heard the excuse that he joined the war only reluctantly and was a restraining force on George Dubya. It’s a lie. He was eager to join the invasion and get whatever he thought Britain could from the spoils. And the result has been 13 years of war, the destruction and occupation of an entire nation, and the spread of further chaos and bloodshed throughout the Middle East.

Dennis Skinner’s Personal Recommendations for Improving Britain

May 31, 2016

The veteran Labour MP and trade unionist, Dennis Skinner, also makes some political recommendations of his own in his autobiographical Sailing Close to the Wind: Reminiscences, published two years ago in 2014. He summarises his plans, saying

So I’m fighting for a new Labour government to axe the bedroom tax, save the NHS, cut fuel bills, created jobs for the young and raise living standards. My personal manifesto will be to the left of that of the party but I’m committed 100 per cent to the election of Labour candidates across Britain. (p.313).

As for the proposals themselves, he writes (headlines in bold are mine)

I’ve a few suggestions of my own to boost Labour’s popularity and beat the Tories.

End Privatisation

To start the ball rolling we should end expensive privatisation instead of paying a fortune to contractors such as G4S, Serco and Capita that make a mess of services in the process. It’s time we got back to publicly run, publicly owned services provided in the public interest.

Nationalise the Railways

On the railways, the £900m surplus on East Coast trains, operated publicly after the private sector crashed twice, shows us the way ahead. Instead of boosting Richard Branson’s profits, a nationalised railway could make a profit and generate the cash to improve every station in Britain.

A ‘Robin Hood’ Tax on City Speculators

If we want extra money for the National Health Service and social care, we should levy a Robin Hood tax on speculators in the city. Directing the funds raised directly to health and care, including help for the mentally handicapped, rather than to the Treasury, would be immensely popular. We could start with a low rate and increase it when the tax proves to be popular, as I’m sure it will be, by emulating the one per cent National Insurance rise for the NHS when Gordon Brown was Chancellor.

Scrap Trident

Scrapping Trident would free up billions of pounds for a massive house building programme so everybody has a roof over their head and nobody is homeless. The position on council house sales has to change or local authorities won’t build houses if they know they must sell them cheaply after a few years.

End Nuclear Weapons, Restore Local Democracy

The savings from defusing nuclear weapons can also help save local democracy. Councils are being swamped by central government. Powers are either grabbed by Whitehall or transferred to unelected quangos. Ever since the Clay Cross rent rebellion, Whitehall has dictated to communities. We need to reverse the trend.

Nationalise the Utilities

On the question of the utilities – gas, electricity, water – this is the moment to start taking them back into public ownership. We took control after 1945 and right up to Wilson’s final government, when he nationalised aerospace with a majority of only three, public ownership was advanced. To cap energy bills is a good idea but a better plan is to control utilities by restoring public ownership in Britain of firms that are currently owned in France, Germany and almost every country on the globe.

Spend More on Education; End Privatised Schooling

Spending on education more than doubled under the last Labour government, which was impressive. let’s stop the growth of faith schools and misnamed free schools – tax payers fund them so they’re not free – by enhancing the powers of local authorities to champion the education of every single child.

Raise Minimum Wage

We need to end the pay freezes. The people that are carrying the burden of the bankers’ ramp are mainly workers at the bottom of the scale. The Living Wage shouldn’t be optional. Everybody should get it. But let’s not stop at £7.65 an hour outside London and £8.80 in the capital. The trade union campaign for 10 an hour should be Labour policy. A decent day’s work deserves a decent day’s pay.

Ban Zero Hours Contracts

We should introduce legislation to outlaw zero hours contracts and private employment agencies. Playing off worker against worker, ferrying into Britain cheap labour to undercut employees, is poisoning community relations. Sticking 10, 12 or 15 eastern Europeans into a house then deducting large sums form their earnings is in nobody’s interests except cowboy employers. Reasserting the role of Jobcentres as local labour exchanges will improve wages and conditions.

Increase Trade Union Rights

Trade union rights must be strengthened significantly, including the abolition of sequestration. Industrial action requires two sides to be involved in a dispute, yet it is union funds that are seized. Rebalancing employment rights in favour of workers and unions is essential if we are to build a fairer economy.

Abandon Tory Obsession with Fiscal Restraint

And we must escape the dumb economic mantra about balancing the books. There would have been no Spirit of ’45 if Clement Attlee’s goal was to balance the books. There would have been no NHS, new Welfare State, new council houses and unemployment wouldn’t have dropped to 440,000 in 1950, after only five years of the finest Labour government ever. In fact the finest government ever.

We need spending to get people to work and the economy growing. You don’t need a crystal ball to see where we should be going. We can find the way ahead by reading the history books. (pp. 309-12).

He states that they’re not just his ideas, but have been discussed for the last 10 or 20 years in the Bolsover constituency.

I have some caveats. I don’t like the attack on faith schools, having been to an Anglican faith school myself, and I don’t share his euroscepticism. But other than that, I think he’s absolutely right. Thatcherism has done immense damage to this country. Now, after thirty years of it, it is long past the time it should have been discarded.

Private Eye from 2011 on the Corporate Sponsors of Cameron’s Outsourcing Policy

March 15, 2016

Private Eye ran this article in their issue for 22nd July – 4th August 2011, on the outsourcing corporations sponsoring the conference at which David Cameron released his policies, and the massive layers of corporate bureaucracy involved, as well as the way the taxpayer is expected to pick up the pieces for commercial company’s failures.

Will It Workfare?

When David Cameron launched his “Open Public Services” white paper last week, he did so at a conference arranged by a think-tank funded by the very firms who will benefit from the privatisations his document proposes.

Cameron unveiled his plan at a Canary Wharf event hosted by “Reform”, a right-wing charity funded by business “partners”. Cameron and his ministers regularly appear at Reform events; and the PM proposed “releasing the grip of state control and putting power in people’s hands”.

The list of Reform’s backers suggests who those people will be. They include leading hospital privatiser General Healthcare, prisons and schools firm G4S, cleaning and catering outfit Sodexo and all-purpose giants Serco and Capita. Telereal Trillium, which already gets £284m a year for running government properties, also funds Reform, as does PA Consulting, which makes millions as an adviser on several privatisations.

But will the outsourcing plan actually work? given how existing arrangements are panning out, it seems unlikely.

Days before the white paper, the Department for Work and Pensions quietly published some research on the previous government’s “welfare-to-work” outsourcing scheme, which pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith will soon expand with a new “work programme”. The model involves layers of bureaucracy that would be derided in the public sector; first “prime providers” creaming off the fees, then subcontractors doing the leg work. And it’s not going well.

The DWP report reveals that, so parlous is the economics, “60 per cent of subcontractors have sough financial assistance from their prime provider”. As for the notion of the private sector bearing the risk, the researchers record: “The 23 per cent of subcontractors receiving guaranteed referrals from prime contractors are much more likely to feel financially secure.” When the insecurity of any of the 77 per cent translates into failure, the taxpayer will pick up the pieces.

Perhaps more revealing than the research is the fact that it was conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers. With the inside track, PwC last month withdrew its bid to act as a prime provider and subcontractor on IDS’ new work programme.

PS: The work scheme is at least providing jobs for former Labour ministers.

Jim Knight, given a life peerage after losing his South Dorset seat in the 2010 general election, is a former employment minister who last month became a non-executive director of Alderwood Education.

This company was launched specifically to cash in on the Duncan Smith initiative; its executives saying that “welfare to work is a huge growth opportunity”. Well, it has been for Lord Knight, who until recently was an opposition employment spokesman in the upper chamber and now joins a gaggle of other ex-Labour ministers in the work programme field. They include David Blunkett (A4E), Jacqui smith (Sarina Russo and Angela Smith (Vertex).

I’ve already written pieces about the malign influence of Reform on the government and its vile policies. I can also remember reblogging pieces from Johnny Void as well as posting bits from Private Eye about how these firms were indeed failing, and having to be bailed out by the taxpayer after aIDS’ wretched welfare-to-work programme spectacularly failed to get people into jobs. Of course, the whole point of these organisations is not to combat unemployment, but to give the illusion of doing so, while giving work to the Tories corporate donors.

Private Eye on ATOS’ Incompetence Running PIP

October 17, 2015

Private Eye in their edition for the 4th to 17th September 2015 also carried this report about ATOS’ continuing abysmal performance, this time in administering the Personal Independence Payments introduced by the Tories.

ATOS
Wait for the PIPs

Outsourcing giant Atos no doubt thought that pulling out of its contract to carry out the governments “fitness for work” benefits tests would draw a line under five years of bad publicity over its pisspoor performance.

But last week the Department for Work and Pensions was finally forced to reveal figures showing that about 90 people a month were dying with 14 days of being declared fit to work under Atos’ watch. And now the claims of poor practice have shifted to the way Atos assesses some people for a different disability benefit – the new personal independence payment (PIP), which is gradually replacing disability living allowance (DLA).

In July the Disability News Service revealed that in parts of the country where Atos was running the PIP show, the proportion of disabled people stuck in the queue for an assessment was more than five times higher than in areas managed by rival Crapita. Now people who have managed to be assessed by Atos claim they have fallen prey to inaccurate and misleading reports that affect their benefit claims.

Colin Stupples-Whyley, for example, says an Atos nurse wrote that he had attended the PIP assessment alone – even though his civil partner sat with him throughout the interview. He was only able to prove he had not been alone because his partner had signed in to the Atos visitor book.

Mr Stupples-Whyley has agoraphobia, general anxiety disorder, depression, fibromyalgia and diabetes, but the impact of these impairments was he says, ignored or misrepresented by the Atos assessor. The assessor wrote that his mental health conditions had ben diagnosed by a “counsellor” when in fact he was on medication prescribed by a psychiatrist; his long list of diabetes symptoms was reduced to “urinates a lot”; and a panic attack during the assessment was not recorded. Mr Stupples-Whyley claims the entire section of the form devoted to a physical examination supposedly carried out by the nurse was fabricated, as no test took place.

This is remarkably similar to the experience of Colleen Hardy, who also has several chronic physical and mental conditions. She was able to prove that the Atos physiotherapist who assessed her (this time for the old fitness-to-work test) had inaccurately reported she had climbed a flight of stairs without help and by holding on to a bannister, because she was actually helped by her community psychiatric nurse and a friend! Different benefits, but same old Atos story.

* Mr Stupples-Whyley so distrusts Atos he has turned down the offer of a reassessment and is taking his case to a tribunal.

As the Eye itself points out, this is merely case of Atos carrying on as they always have done. Only the benefit they administer is different. Atos’ cruel attitude to claimants and their determination to declare everyone ‘fit for work’ is satirised in this cartoon on page 27 of the same issue.

Atos cartoon

If you can’t read it, the speech bubble from the doctor says ‘See? I knew you could crawl if you tried… I’ll call the mushroom farm’.

Atos aren’t quite that bad, but there’re extremely close. The mobility test does involve the patients’ ability to walk a minimal number of yards, and there have been cases where wheelchair users have been told to come to offices on the upper floors of buildings for their assessment without adequate wheelchair access. And the above article describes how they were determined to find Colleen Hardy able to walk, even though she needed to rely on the assistance of a nurse and a friend.

Atos, however, shouldn’t take all over the blame. They were hired by New Labour to find a set proportion of people fit for work according to the Neoliberal ideas coming over from Bliar’s friends in the big transatlantic corporations. And New Labour’s involvement in no way exonerates the Tories. Bliar in many ways simply carried on the Thatcherite project, which has in its turn been carried on and massively expanded by Cameron and IDS. The whole system is rotten and desperately needs to be changed. A good start would be by sacking Atos, Crapita, and the old charade of fitness to work assessments.

Vox Political: Capita and More Outsourcing Corruption

February 12, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political posted this article, Capita – another nail in the coffin of government outsourcing, a few days ago. Capita is one of the big outsourcing government contractors. According to Mike, it’s now facing investigation for overcharging government department. At the same time, it’s being sued by a number of small businesses for delaying payments to them. This made it extremely difficult for some of them to keep going, and a number were pushed, or nearly pushed into bankruptcy. Mike writes:

How much more corruption must the British taxpayer underwrite?

The latest private firm to face allegations that it took huge amounts of public money and used it corruptly is Capita.

That’s right – the outsourcing giant whose government contracts include taking over the Work Capability Assessment from discredited Atos in some parts of the UK, is facing an investigation into allegations that it used a major government contract to short-change small companies, resulting in some going out of business.

Capita took a minimum 20 per cent cut of the value of all contracts to administer a £250 million civil service training scheme, in a project hailed as a model of how to open up the public sector to small businesses and provide better value to the taxpayer.

But 12 companies involved in the scheme have now teamed up to demand that the Cabinet Office and the National Audit Office launch an investigation into Capita.

If it is found guilty, the company will join a roll-call of shame that includes PricewaterhouseCoopers (helping clients avoid tax while advising the Treasury on its policy to tackle tax avoidance), G4S (failure to provide security for London 2012, criminal tagging fraud), Serco (criminal tagging fraud) and A4e, if anybody can remember that far back.

The news of these allegations come from Lucy Powell, Labour Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office. She states

“David Cameron promised the Government would pay small business suppliers within five days, yet his failure to act continues to damage our economy,” she said.

She promised that Labour would open the big government contractors to inspection under the freedom of information act, and then freeze and enforce business rates. Among other measures, they would also encourage companies like Capita to pay their subcontractors promptly by making them pay interest on late payments.

Mike adds his own views to Labour’s proposals. He gives them his broad approval, but makes the point that the laws need to be equally applicable and enforced in all parts of the UK, so that there isn’t a postcode lottery, leaving some areas and regions disadvantaged. And he also makes the point that the FoI laws need to be toughened so that government departments can’t similarly keep ducking the publication of official figures – as IDS has done for the stats on the number of people the Work Capability Assessment has killed.

Capita: A Long History of Failure

The news that Capita have been overcharging the government, while underpaying the businesses they employ, will not surprise many people, and certainly not the readers of Private Eye. Capita, like the other great government outsourcing giants SERCO and G4S, has a long, long history of what can only be described as shoddy workmanship and abysmal failure to provide any kind of quality service. It’s been that way ever since the company emerged in the 1990s. The company has featured so regularly in Private Eye’s pages that they’ve even given it a nickname: ‘Crapita’.

As for the big corporations driving the small businesses into bankruptcy by not paying them on time, that’s was also a huge scandal back in the 1990s when John Major was Prime Minister. It was another part of Tory sleaze. And nothing appears to have been done about that, either. Indeed, I’ve got a feeling that one Tory businessman tried to defend or excuse it, saying that it was how he’d managed to build up his business.

So, it’s basically the Tories being Tories: ignore the plight of the ‘little people’, and let big business get away with fraud and short changing the rest.

Mike’s article can be read at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/02/11/capita-another-nail-in-the-coffin-of-government-outsourcing/.

MPs and NHS Privatisers: Lord Darzi

February 1, 2015

n4s_nhs1

I’ve blogged recently about right-wing entryism into the Labour party through Demos and other thinktanks set up by Tony Blair’s New Labour. New Labour also carried on and expanded the Tories’ policy of the gradual privatisation of the NHS. Readers and commenters at Mike’s blog over at Vox Political have repeated questioned the failure of many Labour MPs to attack the Tories properly on their manifestly cruel and unjust policies towards the poor. Well, they’re manifestly cruel and unjust, unless you’re a reader of the Sun, Telegraph and Daily Mail. Then they’re exactly what this country needs, and anyone who doesn’t have an income of £50,000 a year is a scrounger, who deserves all they get. Part of the problem is that under Blair, the Labour party became ‘Labour Plc’, as the title of one book on the subject declared. MPs developed very close links with the companies hoping to profit from the privatisation programme, and provided cosy directorships and other lucrative posts for MPs when they left government.

Lord Darzi

Lord Darzi: Health Minister under Gordon Brown, subsequently joined GE Healthcare.

Lord Darzi, Gordon Brown’s health minister, is a case in point. Private Eye ran two stories about him in 2009 and 2010. The first marked his departure from government by describing his meetings and links with a number of commercial firms, including banks and private healthcare companies. The second story the following year was on how he had joined one of these private healthcare companies, GE Healthcare. Together these stories illustrate how privatisation can provide a lucrative career for MPs seeking to profit from the privatisation of the NHS, whether they are Labour or Tory.

The first story comes from Private Eye’s edition for 24th July – 6th August 2009.

NHS PLC
Buy-Buy from Him

Lord Darzi’s departure as health minister in Gordon Brown’s “government of all the talents” is a blow for the prime minister, but it’s also a pain for the bankers, private health firms and consultancies who have spent so many hours talking to him.

No doubt they hoped his Next Stage Review of the NHS would lead to the creation of lots more privately funded and run clinics, all set up with loads of management consultancy help. But their gains have been modest so far.

Following freedom of information requests, it emerged that in 2008 and 2009 so far, Darzi had meetings with bankers NM Rothschild & Sons, Apax Capital, UBS Investment Bank and Cinven; with private medical companies Humana Care UK, Humana Europe, United Medical Enterprises, GE Healthcare and the MCCI Medical Group; and with computing and management consultants from IMS Health, IBM, Capita, Dr Foster Intelligence and Serco Solutions.

The minister also had a couple of meetings with Boots the Chemist (which employs former health minister Patricia Hewitt). But now all these executives and lobbyists are going to have to go through the whole process again with another minister (who will probably only be in the job until the election in the first half of next year).

The second story about Darzi was published in the Eye’s edition for 25th June – 8th July 2010.

Revolving Doors
Healthy Appetite

Lord Darzi, the former Labour health minister who has taken a job with GE Healthcare, the medical corporation, was just the first through the revolving door as ex-Labour ministers snap up jobs in the private sector.

The US firm has multiple contracts with the NHS for scanning and IT work – and Darzi had official meetings with GE Healthcare shortly before he stood down last year. He has joined GE’s “healthymagination” board, an initiative that the records show he discussed with the firm when he was a minister.

Darzi says he will only take expenses for joining the US board and will put the rest of the cash into his research fund at Imperial College, London. GE, however, hopes to profit from “healthymagination”, which is a branding and marketing exercise. The company recently ran into controversy when it tried to sue Danish academic Henrik Thomsen for libel in the London courts after he raised safety concern over one of its drugs. The firm dropped the case after a public outcry earlier this year.

The Labour party did not invent the ‘revolving doors’ between government, the civil service and private industry, by which the officials and ministers involved in privatisation took up lucrative posts afterwards with the very private companies either created from or purchasing the former nationalised industries. It began in the 1990s under John Major, where it was a large part of the ‘sleaze’ marking his administration. The French, however, have legislation against it. According to the Financial Times, when a French official was asked about Major’s privatisations and the sleaze, they replied, ‘You call it ‘sleaze’. In France we simply call it ‘corruption’.’ Which is something to think about the next time the Mail goes berserk at the cheek of Johnny Foreigner, and particular the French, to criticise fine upstanding British institutions.

Unfortunately this corruption didn’t end with Gordon Brown and New Labour. It has continued with the Cameron’s and Osborne’s renewed campaign to privatise the NHS. There are at least 92 coalition MPs, who stand to profit from this. One of them is Iain Duncan Smith, the Minister for Incompetence and Killing the Disabled.

This cannot be allowed to continue.

Ed Miliband has promised to reverse the Tories’ plans to privatise the NHS. He deserves our full support.