Posts Tagged ‘PricewaterhouseCoopers’

Who Really Wants Driverless Cars and Further Automation

March 30, 2017

This follows on from my last article, where I commented on a piece by Secular Talk’s Kyle Kulinski about a report produced by the accountancy firm, PriceWaterhouseCoopers. This predicted that by 2030, a third of all jobs in Britain, Germany, and America would be lost to automation. Japan would also be affected, losing roughly a fifth of all jobs. Kulinski in his piece quoted a report by the BBC. This came out about a year ago, and the issue was the subject of a documentary, possibly on Panorama. I think it’s very likely to come true. One of my friends watched it, and was really frightened.

This is an issue I feel passionately about, but don’t think it’s really being taken at all seriously. And I’m very much unimpressed by some of the reports, which uncritically hail every new development in automation as a benefit, without taking cognisance of the possible drawbacks.

One example of this is the issue of driverless cars. The car industry has been trying to create one of these since the late seventies. They’re mentioned in the Usborne Book of the Future, a children’s book about the possible developments in technology and space I can remember reading as far back as 1979. More recently, the companies developing them have been testing them on the road. These have had disastrous results. Several of the driverless vehicles have crashed, and there has been at least one fatality.

I don’t know a single person, who actually wants one of these. And certainly there are no end of people, who feel that these machines would actually be less safe than those driven by a real, flesh and blood human being. But nevertheless, whenever they’re mentioned, it’s always in terms of how wonderful they’re going to be. A few months ago Points West, the local BBC news programme here in Bristol, did a little piece on research into these cars at UWE, complete with a brief interview with Tassi, one of the scientists working on the project. This annoyed me, because there was absolutely no suggestion at any point of the possible down side to the project.

There are about 40,000 truckers in Britain. These are the people, who are most likely to lose their jobs to driverless vehicles, as haulage companies introduce them to cut labour costs. Other professional drivers likely to be affected will include taxi and bus drivers, possibly ambulance men and women. Thus we’re looking at 40,000 plus losing their jobs, for the profit of their companies. And if other areas of the economy are also losing jobs to automation, it’s unlikely that they’ll find other employment. But no hint of that from the Beeb.

Also a month or so back, Points West also did a piece about James Dyson’s decision to set up a centre for technical innovation in an old army base in Wiltshire. This was hailed as good news. The programme and the presenter on this segment, Will Glennon, also reported the establishment of a place where inventors and businessmen could meet to make deals in one of the old engine sheds in Bristol’s Temple Meads Station, and similarly celebrated the technological advances being made at the city’s university. They also talked to the head of the Institute of Directors, or a similar organisation. In actual fact, this captain of industry really didn’t say anything controversial. What I found infuriating was the complete absence of any kind of awareness that this could have a massive detrimental effect on the employment of ordinary people in the city and beyond. Glennon simply took the line that this was all wonderful, and something we should look forward to and be proud of.

But clearly, if it leads to nothing but one third of the working population being thrown out of their jobs, with no means of support except Jobseekers Allowance – and what a farce that is, if there are no jobs – this isn’t. And I found it actually insulting that the team at Points West should think it was.

Now I’m not a luddite. I can see how the scientists working on these projects are interested in them as scientific problems. But they have social consequences. Kevin Warwick, the cyberneticist and quondam cyborg at Reading University, actually states in his book The March of the Machines that one of the five reasons he lists for automation is to save on labour costs. Which means employing fewer people. In the current social arrangement, this means more poor unemployed people, with the benefits going to the rich and the technicians and engineers responsible for producing these machines.

And if that’s the case, ordinary working people have absolutely no reason to welcome or celebrate these advances. They may lead to cheaper products, but if you don’t have a job that will pay you enough to purchase them, then there’s no point.

But this seems lost on the producers of the programme in question, and a media and corporate environment which sees these very much as benefiting the rich middle class to the exclusion of everyone else.

As I said in my last post, welcome to the nightmare world of Megacity 1.

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Shirley Williams on the Growth of Bureaucracy under Thatcher

May 25, 2016

SWilliams Book Pic

The great boast of Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives is that private enterprise, unfetter by state control, somehow magically reduces bureaucracy. Apart from ignoring the fact that firms also necessarily have their own bureaucracies, the economic and social importance of many of the industries taken into state control means that even after these industries were privatised, there still had to be a state bureaucracy to make sure these industries continued to act in a fair and responsible manner. So there are a plethora of regulatory bodies supervising telecommunications, electricity, water and the environment. And one effect of privatisation was to make these regulatory authorities and the state supervisory bureaucracy bigger than they were under state ownership. Private Eye in the 1990s during John Major’s administration ran story after story noting the massive increase in such bureaucracy in the electricity, water and environment agencies. The Eye also noted how Thatcher’s successors attempted to cut down this bureaucracy by increasingly depriving them of their statutory powers and limiting their remit. Bureaucracy was reduced not be being more efficient, but by being deliberately cut down to prevent it interfering. And thus was public protection against the predation and mismanagement by the newly privatised companies removed.

Shirley Williams, the former Labour MP, who became one of the founders of the SDP also noted the growth of bureaucracy under the Conservatives before Thatcher in her book, Politics Is For People. She wrote

Another paradox can be seen in Britain, and no doubt in many other countries as well: the growth of administration. In 1970, the then Conservative government brought in the American industrial consultant, McKinsey & Co., to advise them on the reorganisation of the National Health Service. the reorganisation, in which professional interests were extensively consulted, led to a substantial increase in the number of administrative and clerical posts, and a higher proportion of administrators and clerical employees to doctors and nurses, the front line of the service. Local government reorganisation, under the same Conservative government, had similar consequences: more highly paid administrative posts, no evidence of improvement in local government services. Big government has its own impetus which is hard to stop, whatever the philosophy of the executive in charge. But opposition to it rubs off most on political parties identified with a substantial role for it. (Pp. 29-30).

Labour has suffered because, as the party most identified with big government and state expenditure, it has also been criticised by its Right-wing opponents as the party of waste. Yet the Tories have vastly inflated the bureaucracy involved in the remaining areas left under state control. Private Eye noted that the creation of the internal market in the NHS, and the PFI financing of hospitals, vastly increased bureaucracy in the Health Service. Successive governments have carried on the marketization of the NHS, with a further increase in bureaucracy. Within the BBC, the Eye also noted that John Birt’s administrative reorganisation of that once-great and respected institution resulted in the expansion of the upper management grades on vastly bloated salaries coupled with a damaging reduction in the production staff, who actually made the programmes people watch.

Britain’s public services and industries have been made increasingly inefficient through the creation of a corrupt and parasitic class of managers, who seem to serve only to perpetuate themselves at the expense of their own companies and their workers. Indeed, Ha-Joon Chang in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism in one of the very first chapters describes the cases of several companies that actually went to the wall because their managers cut investment and wages, and sold of the companies’ assets, in order to increase their share price and their own salaries.

The Conservatives are the party of parasitic, useless bureaucracy. And the management consultants they have called in to advise them on how to reform British state administration have done nothing but wreck it. Arthur Anderson, later Anderson Consulting, destroyed the Benefits Agency and the Inland Revenue in the 1980s and 1990s. Their successors in PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the rest of the accountancy firms sending their senior staff to help both Tories and Labour draft their policies on tax and so on are part of the same poisonous trend. The Tories should be thrown out of government, and the management consultants and accountancy firms firmly excluded from the business of government.

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 the Companies Sponsoring the Tories in 2008

March 5, 2016

Private Eye in their issue for 5th-18th September 2008 printed this piece listing the companies sponsoring the Tory party conference that year.

Meet the Tories’ Brum Chums

The Conservative party conference will see Team Cameron entertaining a plethora of wealthy bedfellows from industry when it kicks off in Birmingham on 28th September …

The Arms trade…
Labour have been too embarrassed to be seen mixing with the weapons makers, but if shadow defence secretary Liam Fox becomes a real minister all that will change. Fox is timetabled to speak for the Defence Industries Council, an arms trade group led by BAE Systems chief executive Mike Turner.

Fox shares the enthusiasm of the “Vulcan” wing of the US Republicans for military reaction to perceived threats, reflected in the title of another meeting he is addressing on “Resurgent threats: Terror, Russia and Iran?” The meeting is sponsored by yet another arms firm, EADS, who hope to sell loads of kit to a future Tory government.

The Greens…
Cameron is fighting to make green a new Tory, colour, but it’s a very pale shade indeed. The Tory Green Initiative’s first meeting at the conference is paid for by the British Cement Association and has cement lobbyist Mike Gilbert on the platform. The link makes the TGI look more like an industry-friendly lobby group than an environmental campaign. Hardly surprising, as the Initiative is run by Nick Wood-Dow, the boss of lobbying firm Chelgate, which assists clients from the construction industry who have problems with “disproportionate response from the community, or from pressure or environmental groups.”

The Poor…
Shadow Treasury minister Mark Hoban is demonstrating the new Conservative interest in poverty with a meeting on the credit crunch, sponsored by Cattles plc, one of the Britain’s leading sub-prime lenders. Cattles makes millions through its “Shopacheck” loans to the low-paid that have APRS as high as 400 per cent.

The Lobbyists…
Last year Tory MP Peter Luff was outraged that the Canary Wharf Group gave £120,000 to Labour while promoting Crossrail, the line that will improve access to Canary Wharf. Boris Johnson also backs Crossrail, and Luff will presumably be horrified that the Canary Wharf Group is paying the London Assembly Conservatives. The group is funding a political “speed dating” lunch, where delegates can meet “the most influential people in London politics, from London Assembly members to deputy mayors.”

Elsewhere, shadow Treasury bod Mark Hoban is advertised as the top speaker at the “invitation-only financial services reception” of lobby firm Lansons, which makes a living from trying to influence politicians on behalf of big-money clients such as HBOS bank. It’s easy to see why Lansons has invited a shadow minister to their party, but harder to see why Hoban would accept.

The list of curious sponsors goes on: shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien is speaking on problem drinking – sponsored by brew SAB Miller. And Frances Maude, a key member of Team Cameron, is speaking on “Preparing for Power” – that to money from management consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

…and the Labour ex-ministers
Of course, the Tories aren’t the only one who know on which side their bread is buttered – three former Labour ministers will address the conference, getting in practice at sucking up to Cameron’s crew. Former trade minister Brian Wilson was once a left-wing MP and enthusiastic supporter of Castro’s Cuba; now he is chairman of the pro-airports lobby group FlyingMatters. Steven Twigg, the man once famous for defeating Portillo, and former Culture secretary Chris Smith complete the trio.

Those were the companies seeking to profit from the Tories gaining power that year. And looking at this, and the way Cameron very swiftly dropped his Green initiative when it appeared to have worked, it’s clear that this always was a sham. His Green Initiative was simply an astroturf organisation to get the Tories and their backers in the very un-Green cement industry back into No. 10. And since then, the Tories have dropped it completely. Cameron took down that windmill from his house, and has put his full support behind fracking, another industry which comprehensively wrecks the environment.

David Cameron is still firmly behind the arms industry. He was up at the BAE systems base the other week in Wharton, boasting about how he’d sold millions of their products to the war criminals and mass murderers in Saudi Arabia. He wasn’t bothered, calling their armaments ‘brilliant things’.

And the hypocrisy and deceit behind their lobbying bill, which shuts out charities and other organisations from influencing government, while leaving the real lobbyists to pursue their sordid trade, should be no surprise given their appearance sponsoring so much of the Tory conference.

And then there’s the matter of the 95 Tory and Lib Dem ministers with links to health care companies, who are hoping to get rich from the privatisation of the NHS.

Private Eye on the Political Influence of Big Accountancy

February 16, 2015

In my last post, I criticised the pernicious cross-party influence of the think tanks and lobbying firms. I posted up an article on them from a 2012 issue of Private Eye. That same issue also carried another relevant article, describing the way the big accountancy firms, in this case, PricewaterhouseCoopers were also working for all of the major political parties. They were similarly active promoting their polices of tax avoidance, while avoiding the repercussions for their role in the collapse of banks such as Northern Rock and the development of tax avoidance schemes. The article ran

Anybody wondering why the fallout from recent financial scandals never gets too near the big accountancy firms that are at the heart of so many – the failure to audit collapsing banks properly, the sale of billions’ of pounds’ worth of tax avoidance schemes – will be interested n a few lines from the annual report of PricewaterhouseCoopers (Northern Rock auditor and adviser on Barclays’ tax avoidance schemes, among other lucrative lines).

PwC, it emerges, “provided a total of some 3,454 hours of free technical support to political parties during the year”, valued at £400,000, and made up of “2,622 hours ot the Labour Party and 832 to the Liberal Democrat Party”. In recent years, it reveals, “the trend has been that we have provided more hours to the opposition parties as they have less support infrastructure”.

Small wonder coalition and opposition alike are expanding the opportunities for PwC’s offshore tax schemes (<Eyes passim) and overlooking the obvious need to rein in Britain’s big beancounting operations.

This is exactly correct. Mike over at Vox Political has sharply criticised Rachel Reeves, for example, for accepting the help and advice of the big accountancy firms. This help isn’t free. The cost is the continuing corruption of British politics and the erosion of public confidence in the willingness and ability of their leaders to represent them, not corporate big business.

Bravo! Margaret Hodge Tackles the Political Accountancy Companies

February 9, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has this story about Labour’s Margaret Hodge criticising the increasing involvement of PricewaterhouseCoopers and the other major accountancy firms in working for political parties: The perils of pandering to PricewaterhouseCoopers. He writes

This is something that broke while Yr Obdt Srvt was still recovering from a recent illness, but is still worth covering because Labour really needs to understand the danger of association.

Margaret Hodge, Labour’s chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, broke ranks to warn the Shadow Cabinet against accepting – shall we call it – “help” from accounting firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers on Friday. She said it was “inappropriate” and she was right to do so.

It’s the political equivalent of accepting “help” from the Mafia – you end up in their pocket, owing them favours.

According to the BBC, Labour MPs including Ed Balls (Shadow Chancellor) and Chukka Umunna (Shadow Business Secretary), along with Rachel Reeves (Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary) have received more than £540,000 in research assistance from the firm in the past 18 months alone.

PwC is one of the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms – the others are Ernst & Young, KPMG and Deloitte – who also advise the Conservative-run Treasury on tax policy. It should not be beyond anybody’s wit to see there’s a clear conflict of interest if the firm is advising both Labour and the Tories on tax policy.

Mike also points out that PricewaterhouseCoopers were also advising businesses on how they could avoid tax, which is another conflict of interest. He makes the point that where they are advising all parties, and making their own observations and suggestions, the danger is that political parties will be promoting the accountancy firms’ own policies, against the interest of their constituents and electorate.

PricewaterhouseCoopers have also said that they welcome Margaret Hodge’s report, but say that they did not mislead parliament when they appeared before it two years ago in 2013.

Mike askes the obvious question of whether this can be believed. He fully agrees with Hodge, and recommends that all of the big accountancy firms be removed from assisting political parties.

This is exactly right. Private Eye for years has been covering the way the big four accountancy firms have been ‘assisting’ the political parties. The question of how far they are responsible for the mass of legislation allowing massive corporate tax avoidance, while the tax burden is passed on to the poorest sections of society. They aren’t alone in peddling assistance and influence to the major parties. The Eye has also reported on how big business, including the banks, insurance companies, arms dealers, private healthcare companies and the gambling industry, have lobbied parliament, and sponsored party conferences and meetings. Under Blair, the companies striving for corporate influence even included Wackenhut, a private prison company.

This is just a small part of a particularly noisome Augean stable that desperately needs to be cleaned out.

We can begin by showing the door to the accountancy firms.