Posts Tagged ‘David Blunkett’

Evening Standard Set to Sell Editorial Independence to Big Business

June 4, 2018

This is a very sobering video from Novara Media, which shows precisely how degraded the mainstream media is becoming, and implicitly, why independent news outlets like Novara and the other news sites and shows I repost here are so necessary.

Aaron Bastani reports and comments on an article put up by Open Democracy last Wednesday that the Evening Standard is due to sell its editorial independence to big business tomorrow, 5th July 2018. This move, led by editor George Osborne, who not at all coincidentally used to be Dave Cameron’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, will see the paper sell positive coverage to firms like Google and Uber for £3 million. Bastani states that this is important, as it breaks down the divide between journalism and paid-for advertising content. But, he continues, it’s nothing new.

He then talks about how the Evening Standard is owned by a collection of shady Russian oligarchs, and reflects their business interests. He goes on to describe how the media is increasingly dominated by Tory politicians. The first person to interview Donald Trump when he became president was Michael Gove in the Times. Danny Finkelstein is a Tory lord, and the Standard’s Associate Editor. Robbie Gibb, who is the brother of a Tory MP, and was Theresa May’s head of communications, edited the Beeb’s Daily and Sunday Politics. Boris Johnson has a column at the Torygraph, even though he’s Foreign Secretary.

Bastani concludes that the revolving door between politics, industry and the media has vanished, and those hitherto separate areas have become fused. He makes the point that while quality journalism is a public good, if it’s left to Osborne, Johnson, Gove and Lebedev we will have ‘a profoundly broken society’.

Bastani’s right, but this is just the latest development in a process that has been going on for a very long time. Editorial independence in many papers declined in the 1980s, when newspapers like the Observer were bought up by magnates with interests in multiple industries. Tiny Rowland, who owned the Observer, owned mining concerns in Zimbabwe, and so spiked stories that paper wanted to run exposing human rights abuses there. I also remember how, in the 1990s, Private Eye also ran articles every so often revealing how the Observer had published yet another glowing article about a country or corporation, without revealing that it was a puff piece paid for by the nation or company featured.

It’s also been the case that politicians very often have had their own columns in the papers, or written the odd article about a particular issue. Sometimes this happened after they left office. For example, David Blunkett was given a column in the Sun by Rupert Murdoch. As for Robbie Gibb at the Beeb, Mike’s put up a number of articles about the way the news department at the Beeb is dominated by members of the Tory party, including Nick Robinson and Laura Kuenssberg. And it seems every couple of months someone else leaves the Beeb to work for the Tories. But the Corporation still keeps on pompously denying that it’s biased, despite its vicious attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party.

But Bastani’s piece does show how far this process has gone, and is set to go, with the Evening Standard providing puff pieces for global corporations as news, while being packed, like the rest of the right-wing media, with Tory MPs. It’s almost a case of life imitating art. Or rather satire. Remember a few years ago, when people started satirising the corporate media with comments like ‘And now for our corporate approved content’, and slogans like ‘Remember: Corporate loves you.’ It now looks almost like Osborne saw the satire, but thought it was a good idea.

Until the mainstream media reforms itself, it has shown that it absolutely cannot be trusted. And people are far better off taking their news from the alternative media instead.

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Book Review: The Great City Academy Fraud – Part 1

July 13, 2016

Academy Fraud Pic

By Francis Beckett (London: Continuum 2007)

This is another book I managed to pick up from a cheap bookshop, in this case the £3 bookshop in Bristol’s Park Street. Although published nine years ago in 2007, it’s still very acutely relevant, with the plan of the current education minister, Thicky Nicky Morgan, to try to turn most schools into privately run academies. According to the back flap, Beckett was the education correspondent of the New Statesman from 1997 to 2005, and also wrote on education for the Guardian. The book’s strongly informed by the findings of the NUT and other teaching unions, whose booklets against academies are cited in the text. And its a grim read. It’s an important subject, so important in fact, that I’ve written a long review of this book, divided into four section.

Academies: Another Secondhand Tory Policy

Much of New Labour’s threadbare ideology was just revamped, discarded Tory ideas. This was clearly shown before Blair took power in the early 1990s, when John Major’s government dumped a report compiled by the consultants Arthur Anderson. This was immediately picked up, dusted off, and became official New Labour policy. Similarly, PFI was invented by the Tories man with a little list, Peter Lilley, who was upset ’cause private industry couldn’t get its claws into the NHS. This again was taken over by New Labour, and became the cornerstone of Blair’s and Brown’s ideas of funding the public sector. Academies, initially called ‘city academies’, were the same.

Basically, they’re just a revival of the City Technology Colleges set up in the mid 1980s by Thatcher’s education secretary, Kenneth Baker. Baker decided that the best way to solve the problem of failing schools was to take them out of the control of the local education authority, and hand them over to a private sponsor. These would contribute £2 million of their own money to financing the new school, and the state would do the rest. Despite lauding the scheme as innovative and successful, Baker found it impossible to recruit the high profile sponsors in big business he wanted. BP, which is very active supporting community projects, flatly told him they weren’t interested, as the project was ‘too divisive’. Another organisation, which campaigns to raise private money for public projects, also turned it down, stating that the money would best be spent coming from the government. It was an area for state funding, not private. The result was that Baker was only able to get interest for second-order ‘entrepreneurs’, who were very unwilling to put their money into it. From being a minimum, that £2 million funding recommendation became a maximum. And so the scheme was wound up three years later in 1990.

After initially denouncing such schemes, New Labour showed its complete hypocrisy by trying out a second version of them, the Education Action Zones. Which also collapsed due to lack of interest. Then, in 2000, David Blunkett announced his intention to launch the academy system, then dubbed ‘city academies’, in 2000 in a speech to the Social Market Foundation. Again, private entrepreneurs were expected to contribute £2 million of their money, for which they would gain absolute control of how the new school was to be run. The taxpayer would provide the rest. Again, there were problems finding appropriate sponsors. Big business again wouldn’t touch it, so the government turned instead to the lesser businessmen, like Peter Vardy, a car salesman and evangelical Christian. Other interested parties included the Christian churches, like the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, and evangelical educational bodies like the United Learning Trust. There were also a number of universities involved, such as the University of the West of England here in Bristol, and some sports organisations, like Bristol City Football club. Some private, fee-paying schools have also turned themselves into academies as away of competing with other private schools in their area.

Taxpayers Foot the Bill

While the sponsors are supposed to stump up £2 million, or in certain circumstances, more like £1.5 million, in practice this isn’t always the case. The legislation states that they can also pay ‘in kind’. Several have provided some money, and then provided the rest of their contribution with services such as consultation, estimated according to a very generous scale. For Beckett, this consists of the sponsors sending an aging executive to give his advice on the running of the new school. This particular individual may actually be past it, but the company can’t sack him. So they fob the new school off with him instead. Sometimes, no money changes hands. The Royal Haberdashers’ Society, one of the London livery companies, decided it was going to sponsor an academy. But it already owned a school on the existing site, and so did nothing more than give the site, generously estimate at several millions, to the new academy. Other companies get their money back in different ways, through tax rebates, deductions and the like.

But if the private sponsors are very wary about spending their money, they have absolutely no reservations about spending the taxpayer’s hard-earned moolah. An ordinary school costs something like £20 million to build. Academies cost more, often much more: £25 million, sometimes soaring to £37 million or beyond. Several of the businessmen sponsoring these academies have built massive monuments to their own vanity, using the services of Sir Norman Foster. Foster was, like Richard Rogers, one of the celebrity architects in favour with New Labour, whose ‘monstrous carbuncles’ (@ Charles Windsor) were considered the acme of cool. One of these was called ‘The Learning Curve’, and consisted of a long, curving corridor stretching across a quarter of mile, off which were the individual class rooms. Foster also built the Bexley Business Academy, a school, whose sponsor wanted to turn the pupils into little entrepreneurs. So every Friday was devoted exclusively to business studies, and the centrepiece of the entire joint was a mock stock exchange floor. The school also had an ‘innovative’ attitude to class room design: they only had three walls, in order to improve supervise and prevent bullying. In fact, the reverse happened, and the school had to spend more money putting them up.

Unsuitable Buildings

And some of the buildings designed by the academies’ pet architects are most unsuitable for the children they are supposed to serve. One academy decided it was going to get the local school for special needs children on its site. These were kids with various types of handicap. Their school was not certainly not failing, and parents and teachers most definitely did not want their school closed. But closed it was, and shifted to the academy. The old school for handicapped youngsters was all on the same level, which meant that access was easy, or easier, for those kids with mobility problems. The new school was on two floors. There was a lift, but it could only be used by pupils with a teacher. The parents told the sponsor and the new academy that they had destroyed their children’s independence. They were greeted with complete incomprehension.

HM School ‘Belmarshe’

In other academies, conditions for the sprogs are more like those in a prison. One of the schools, which preceded an academy on its site, had a problem with bullying. The new academy decided to combat that problem, by not having a playground. They also staggered lunch into two ‘brunch breaks’, which were taken at different times by different classes. These are taken in a windowless cafeteria. The result is a joyless learning environment, and the school has acquired the nickname ‘Belmarshe’, after the famous nick.

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: Esther McVey Joins Bank for Super-Rich

December 17, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political a week or so ago carried the news about Esther McVey being given a new, parliamentary job by Cameron despite losing her seat at the last election. McVey was, as you will recall, Ian Duncan Smith’s minister in charge of inhumanely and inhumanly culling the disabled. She also appears in this week’s Private Eye, for 11th – 18th December 2015. The Eye reports that the Wicked Witch of the Wirral has got a job with a London bank providing financial services for the mega rich.

Here’s the report.

Former Tory employment minister Esther McVey, turfed out of parliament in May by the voters of Wirral West, has now found gainful employment herself servicing the needs of the richest people in the world.

According to the advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba), Mc Vey is now a special adviser to the Floreat Group, a London-based “multi-family private office” – that is, a company that acts as financial adviser, bank, and general wet-nurse to super-rich families, or ultra high net worth individuals (UHNWIs) as they are known.

Floreat, mostly owned by Hussam and Mutaz Obaibi, originally had a strong base in Switzerland, where its aim was to “manage discreetly all financial and personal matters” of a group of rich families, predominantly from the Middle East and Europe. For the past seven years it has been more UK-based, and has hired McVey for one week a month for “information gathering, performing due diligence and research”. This is a far cry from her days as employment minister when she increased the power of government to impose sanctions on unemployed people’s benefits, and argued that the jobless could start “working at Costa” to climb the career ladder.

McVey isn’t the only former MP now to be serving the super-rich. Tory Tony Baldry and Labour’s David Blunkett have also taken jobs with multi-family private offices, at Werner Capital and Oracle Capital, respectively.

According to Acoba, McVey will also be working four days a month as a senior consultant for the lobbyist Hume Brophy, which promises it can help corporate clients “shape legislation, promote specific policy, sell to or secure funding from government institutions.”

The firm is clearly delighted: McVey is “a very significant hire for us and our clients” because “she brings insight from her time as a minister in the government’s biggest spending department”. So much for David Cameron’s much-quoted warning about lobbyists using “ex-ministers for hire” as being the next big scandal …

This tells you precisely all you need to know about Esther McVey and the Tories. She never gave a dam’ about the poor or the disabled, but simply wanted to mix and serve the immensely, and uselessly rich. She, Baldry and Blunkett are examples of how, under New Labour and Cameron, government worked for the rich and the corporations against the people.

From 2000: SEMA – the Atos of its Day

January 31, 2015

Private Eye in its issue for Friday, 19th May 2000, carried the story below on the establishment of the Work Capability Tests. These were originally a Tory idea, but where put into practice by Blair’s Labour after their election victory in 1997. The contract to administer the tests were awarded to Sema. Their conduct of them was so appalling that it was the subject of a report by the House of Commons social services committee.

Cringe Benefits

It was a Tory idea to begin with: how to make more money out of the disabled for a big private company.

After a “study of options” about what to do with the rather expensive government system for examining disabled people to see if they were entitled to benefit, the Tory government concluded that contracting out to the private sector was “most likely to deliver the improvements sought”.

Tory ministers agreed and the publicly-owned Benefits Agency Medical Services was divided into three areas “to encourage competition in terms of bids”. the Tory government fell in the spring of 1997, to be replaced by Labour with a huge majority and a secretary of state for social services, Harriet Harman, who had been eloquent in her condemnation of privatisation.

Ms Harman, however, was at once convinced of the case for privatising the testing of the disabled, and in February 1998 (in the interests of competition) she awarded the contracts for all three areas to one company, SEMA.

It was a juicy contract too. A government memorandum at the time announced that the three contracts would cost the government £305m, a figure, which the memo announced, “represented savings of £62m” compared with what the service used to cost the taxpayer.

One problem which soon became clear was that SEMA had no medical experience whatever. The British Medical Association, disgusted by the company’s treatment of doctors and patients, complained officially that SEMA executives “did not understand the complexities, having had no experience of employing doctors”. This obviously worried the company so much that when the five original bidders were invited to discuss the complexities of their new contract with the BMA, which represents most British doctors, two declined, including SEMA.

If it didn’t have any doctors or medically qualified staff, SEMA made sure it was well-stocked with “new” Labour lobbyists. It hired Westminster Strategy, which had a batch of such lobbyists on tap: Jo Moore, former Labour press officer; Mike Lee, who used to work for David Blunkett; and former chair of the Fabian Society and wanabee Labour candidate Mike Dauber. To clinch the business, SEMA acquired the then employment minister Andrew Smith as a speaker at its glittering conferences (see Eye 955).

Partly to make up for this lack of experience, SEMA engaged two companies as sub-contractors to do the new work, Nestor Healthcare Group and Nestor Disability Analysts. The board of the former was graced by a former Tory MP, Charles Goodison-Wickes, who quickly made way for the more acceptable Anne Parker, who chairs the Carers Association and is an examiner for the Child Support Agency. Nestor Healthcare has just branched into prisons, explaining in true “new” Labour tradition that “prisoner numbers are steadily growing”.

The performance of these SEMA subsidiaries and of privatisation in general, has recently been examined in detail by the House of Commons social services committee, whose shocking report has just been published. “To often”, says the report, “the organisation fails to deliver an adequate service … at its worst it puts claimants through examinations which are painful and distressing and gives poor advice.”

Bizarre examples of the doctors’ hostility to the people they are examining are provided by the report. In one case a patient was described as healthy because she could sit up watching television for up to two hours. In fact this patient could only watch television lying down. In another case a patient’s dirty fingernails were submitted as evidence of his ability to work in the garden – whereas in fact he could not even wash himself.

The conclusion makes sad reading for the “new” Labour lobbyists and privatisers of past years. There has been no improvement whatever. “Our inquiry has led us to conclude that, so far, the primary focus of SEMA has been on operational efficiency to achieve value for money rather than the delivery of a quality service.”

How has Labour responded so far to these devastating allegations? It has handed over a confidential contract for running the Labour party’s own membership records to … SEMA. And SEMA’s subsidiary Nestor has won a contract for the provision of an immigration centre for Group 4.

Since then, SEMA has been replaced by ATOS, who have now been replaced by Maximus, but still have the contract for administering the test for the Personal Independence Payments. ATOS made sure it avoided one of the criticisms of SEMA – that it didn’t have enough doctors or medically qualified staff. For patients and claimants, however, this has made absolutely no difference. The administrators of the Work Capability Test are still hostile towards those whom they are examining. Subsequent Tory policies, like those of Iain Duncan ‘Tosser’ Smith, have made this even worse. Maximus are going to be no different. Given the previous performance of the companies administering the test, they are likely to be worse.

There is even a lesson here for the recent recruitment of Sue Marsh, a disability campaigner, by Maximus. SEMA’s subsidiary, Nestor Healthcare, had on its board Anne Parker. As well as being an examiner for the Child Support Agency, she was also the chair of the Carers Association. This was doubtless to give the impression that the tests were to be fair, with the object of helping the disabled and their carers. It wasn’t, and isn’t.

This is the policy the Tories produced and are developing. It becomes nastier, more vindictive and humiliating every day. It’s high time the Tories were kicked out of office.

From 2011: Tories Launch Workfare Policies at Conference Sponsored by Workfare Contractors

April 9, 2014

Private Eye in the issue for the 22nd July -4th August 2011 also reported on the way David Cameron launched his policies further placing government services in the hands of private companies, including those running the various workfare schemes, at a conference organised by one of the organisation working for the same companies.

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 sought financial assistance from their prime provider”. As for the notion of the private sector bearing the risk, the researchers record: “The 23 percent of subcontractors receiving guaranteed referrals from prime contractors are much more likely to feel financially secure.” When the insecurity of any of the 77 percent translate 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. The include David Blunkett (A4E), Jacqui Smith (Sarina Russo) and Angela Smith (Vertex).

This provides further proof of the fact that the public-private partnerships favoured by the Right since Thatcher don’t work, are massively inefficient and need to be regularly bailed out by the taxpayer. This is also demonstrated by the way the PFI contracts awarded to the private firms building and running hospitals regularly go way over time and budget. But such contracts aren’t really about providing services efficiently. They’re about giving public money to private firms, which fund the political parties and provide lucrative directorships for politicians.