Posts Tagged ‘Reform’

The Beeb’s Biased Reporting of NHS Privatisation

January 2, 2020

The Corporation’s General Right-wing Bias

The BBC is infamous for its flagrant right-wing bias. Writers and experts like Barry and Savile Kushner in their Who Needs the Cuts, academics at the media research centres of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Cardiff Universities, and ordinary left-wing bloggers like Mike and Zelo Street have pointed out time and again that the corporation massively prefers to have as commenters and guests on its show Conservative MPs and spokespeople for the financial sector on its news and political comment programmes, rather than Labour MPs and activists and trade unionists. The Corporation relentless pushed the anti-Semitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. But it has also promoted the privatisation of the NHS too through its biased reporting.

Biased Towards NHS Privatisation

Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis’ book on the privatisation of the NHS, NHS – SOS, has a chapter by Oliver Huitson, ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’, discussing the biased reporting of the NHS’s privatisation by the media in general. Here, however, I will just confine myself to describing the Corporation’s role. The Beeb was frequently silent and did not report vital pieces of information about successive privatisations, such as the involvement of private healthcare companies in demanding them and conflicts of interest. On occasion, this bias was actually worse than right-wing rags like the Daily Mail. Although these ardently supported the NHS’ privatisation, they frequently reported these cases while the Beeb did not. When the moves towards privatisation were reported, they were often given a positive spin. For example, the establishment of the Community Care Groups, groups of doctors who are supposed to commission medical services from the private sector as well as from within the NHS, and which are legally allowed to raise money from the private sector, were positively described by the Corporation as ‘giving doctors more control’.

Lack of Coverage of Private Healthcare Companies Role in Privatisation

David Cameron and Andrew Lansley did not include Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill in the Tories’ 2010 manifesto, because they didn’t believe they’d win the election if they did. But in all the two years of debate about the bill, the Beeb only twice reported doubts about the bill’s democratic mandate. (p.152). In October 2010, Mark Britnell was invited to join Cameron’s ‘kitchen cabinet’. Britnell had worked with the Labour government and was a former head of commissioning for the NHS. But he was also former head of health for the accountancy firm, KPMG, which profits greatly from government privatisation and outsourcing. He declared that the NHS would be shown ‘no mercy’ and would become a ‘state insurance provider, not a state deliverer’. But the BBC decided not to report all this until four days after others had broken the story. And when they did, it was only to explain a comment by Nick Clegg about how people are confused when they hear politicians stating how much they love the NHS while at the same time demanding its privatisation. (pp.153-4).

On 21 November 2011 Channel 4 News reported that they had obtained a document which showed clearly that GP commissioning was intended to create a market for private corporations to come in and take over NHS services. But This was only reported by the Groaniad and the Torygraph. The rest of the media, including the Beeb, ignored it. (pp. 156-7).

Lansley was also revealed to have received donations from Andrew Nash, chairman of Care UK, another private healthcare firm hoping to profit from NHS privatisation. But this also was not reported by the Corporation. (pp. 157-8).

In January 2011 the Mirror reported that the Tories had been given over £750,000 from donors with major connections to private healthcare  interests since David Cameron had become their chief in 2005. But this was also not mentioned by the Beeb. (pp. 158).

The Mirror also found that 40 members of the House of Lords had interests in NHS privatisation, while the Social Investigations blog suggested that it might be as high as 142. The BBC, along with several papers, did not mention this. (pp. 158-9).

Sonia Poulton, a writer for the Heil, stated on her blog that 31 Lords and 18 MPs have very lucrative interests in the health industry. But this was also ignored by the Beeb, along with the rest of the media with the exception of the Guardian. (p. 159).

The Tory MP, Nick de Bois, was a fervent support of the Tories’ NHS privatisation. He is a majority shareholder in Rapier Design Group, which purchased Hampton Medical Conferences, a number of whose clients were ‘partners’ in the National Association of Primary Care, another group lobbying the Tories for NHS privatisation. This was also not reported by the Beeb. (pp. 159-60).

The Beeb also chose not to report how Lord Carter of Coles, the chair of the Co-operation and Competition Panel charged with ensuring fair access to the NHS for private healthcare companies, was also receiving £799,000 per year as chairman of McKesson Information Solutions, part of the massive American McKesson healthcare company. (p. 160).

There were other links between politicos, think tanks, lobby groups and private healthcare companies. The health regulator, Monitor, is dominated by staff from McKinsey and KPMG. But this also isn’t mentioned by the press. (pp. 160-1).

Beeb Falsely Presents Pro-Privatisation Think Tanks as ‘Independent

The BBC, along with much of the rest of the media, have also been responsible for misrepresenting spokespeople for pro-privatisation lobby groups as disinterested experts, and the organisations for which they speak as just independent think tanks. This was how the Beeb described 2020health.org, whose chief executive, Julia Manning, was twice invited onto the air to discuss the NHS, and an entire article was given over to one of her wretched organisation’s reports. However, SpinWatch reported that its chairman, former Tory minister Tom Sackville, was also CEO of the International Federation of Health Plans, representing of 100 private health insurance companies. Its advisory council includes representatives of AstraZeneca, NM Rothschild, the National Pharmaceutical Association, Nuffield private hospital group, and the Independent Healthcare Advisory Services. (p. 162).

Another lobby group whose deputy director, Nick Seddon, and other employees were invited onto the Beeb to discuss the proposals was Reform. Seddon was head of communications at Circle, the first private healthcare company to take over an NHS hospital. Seddon’s replacement at Circle was Christina Lineen, a former aide to Andrew Lansley. None of this was reported by the Beeb. Their corporate partners included companies like Citigroup, KPMG, GlaxoSmithKline and Serco. Huitson states ‘Through Seddon’s and other Reform Staffs’ appearances, the BBC may have facilitated private sector lobbying on a publicly funded platform without making relevant interests known’. (163).

Beeb Did Not Cover Protests and Opposition to Bill

Pages 164-5 also discusses the Beeb’s refusal, with few exceptions, to interview critics of Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill, the rightwing bias of panels discussing it and how the Beeb did not cover protests against it or its discussion in parliament. Huitson writes

At the BBC opportunities were frequently missed to provide expert opposition to the bill on a consistent basis. the RCGP’s Clare Gerada was largely the exception to this rule. Many of the most well-known and authoritative critics of the bill – the likes of professors Allyson Pollock or Colin Leys, doctors Jacky Davis and Wendy Savage from Keep Our NHS Public – never appeared on the BBC to discuss the plans. Davis recalls being invited to appear on the BBC a number of times but the item was cancelled on every occasion. ‘Balance’ is supposedly one of the BBC’s primary objectives yet appearing on the Today programme of 1 February 2012 to discuss the bill, for instance, were Shirley Williams (who voted in favour of the bill, however reluctantly), Nick Seddon of ‘independent’ Reform (pro-Bill), Steve Field (pro-Bill) and Chris Ham (pro-Bill). It’s difficult to see how that is not a breach of BBC guidelines and a disservice to the public. One of the fundamental duties of an open media is to ensure that coverage is not skewed towards those with the deepest pockets. And on that issue the media often performed poorly.

Further criticism of the BBC stems from its curious lack of NHS coverage during the climactic final month before the bill was passed in the House of Lords on 19 March. One such complaint came from blogger and Oxford Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology Dorothy Bishop, who wrote to the BBC to ask why it had failed to cover a number of NHS stories in March, including an anti-bill petition that had been brought to the House by Lord Owen, carrying 486,000 signatures of support. In reply, the BBC confirmed that the bill had been mentioned on the Today programme in March prior to the bill’s passing, though just once. Bishop replied:’So, if I have understood this right, during March, the Today programme covered the story once, in an early two-minute slot, before the bill was passed. Other items that morning included four minutes on a French theme park based on Napoleon, six minutes on international bagpipe day and eight minutes on Jubilee celebrations.’

Other BBC omissions include Andrew Lansley being heckled by angry medical staff at a hospital in Hampstead, as reported by both the Mail and Sky News. On 17 March a peaceful anti-bill march took place in central London. Those out protesting for their national health service found themselves kettled by riot police despite being one of the most harmless-looking crowds you’re ever likely to see. The protest and the shameful police response were completely ignored by the media, except for a brief mention on a Guardian blog. On social media numerous examples have been reported of protests and actions opposing the bill that were entirely absent from national coverage.

Then, on 19 March, the day of the final vote on the bill, the BBC ran not a single article on the event, despite this being one of the most bitterly opposed pieces of legislation in recent history – it was as if the vote was not taking place. The next day, with the bill passed, they ran a full seven articles on the story. Three days after the bill passed, Radio 4 broadcast The Report: ‘Simon Cox asks: why is NHS reform mired in controversy?’ Why this was not broadcast before the Lords’ vote is a mystery. 

When the Bill was passed, the bill scrolling across the BBC News’ screen ran ‘Bill which gives power to GPs passes’. (166). Huitson remarks that when the Beeb and the other news networks reported that the Bill gave power to GPs and allowed a greater role for the private sector, it was little more than regurgitating government press releases. (p. 168).

Beeb Bias Problem Due to Corporation’s Importance and Domination of Broadcast News

Huitson also comments on the specific failure of the Beeb to provide adequate coverage of NHS privatisation in its role as one of the great British public institutions, the dominant role it has in British news reporting. On pages 169-70 he writes

Campaigners may not expect more from the Sun but they certainly do from the BBC, given its status as an impartial public service broadcaster whose news gathering is supported directly by licence fee payers. The BBC accounts for 70 per cent of news consumption on television. Further, the BBC accounts for 40 per cent of online news read by the public, three times that of its closes competitor, the Mail. Quite simply, the BBC dominates UK news. The weight given to the BBC here is not purely down to its dominance, however, but also because, along with the NHS, the BBC remains one of our great public institutions, an entity that is supposedly above commercial pressures. Many of the stories ignored by the BBC were covered by the for-profit, right-wing press, as well as the Guardian and Channel 4, so the concern is not that the organisation failed to ‘campaign’ for the NHS, but that it failed to report facts that other outlets found newsworthy.

The BBC’#s archive of TV and radio coverage is neither available for the public to research nor technically practical to research, but there are a number of reasons for confidence that their online content is highly indicative of their broader output. First, BBC online is a fully integrated part of the main newsroom rather than a separate operation. Consequently, TV and radio coverage that can be examined is largely indistinguishable from the related online content, as demonstrated in the examples given above. During the debate of Lansley’s bill, the BBC TV and radio were both subject to multiple complaints, the figures for which the BBC has declined to release.

Beeb’s Reporting of NHS Privatisation as Biased as Coverage of Miners’ Strike

He also compares the Beeb’s coverage of the bill, along with that of the rest of the media, to its similarly biased reporting of the miners’ strike.

The overall media coverage of the health bill brings to mind a quote from BBC radio correspondent Nicholas Jones, on the BBC’s coverage of the miners’ strike: ‘stories that gave prominence to the position of the National Union of Miners could simply be omitted, shortened or submerged into another report.’ (pp. 172-3).

Conclusion

The Beeb does produce some excellent programmes. I really enjoyed last night’s Dr. Who, for example. But the right-wing bias of its news reporting is now so extreme that in many cases it is fair to say that it is now a propaganda outlet for the Tory party and big business. It’s utterly indefensible, and in my view it will only be reformed if and when the newsroom and its managers are sacked in its entirety. In the meantime, Boris and the rest of the Tories are clamouring for its privatisation. Godfrey Bloom, one of the more prominent Kippers, has also put up a post or two in the past couple of days demanding precisely that.

If the Beeb was genuinely impartial, it would have defenders on the Left. But it is rapidly losing them thanks to its bias. And to the Tories, that’s also going to be a plus.

Thanks to the Beeb’s own Tory bias, it’s going to find it very hard to combat their privatisation.

And in the meantime they will have helped destroy the most valued of British institutions, the NHS, and free, universal healthcare to Britain’s citizens.

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 Think Tanks Funding Political Conferences

February 16, 2015

One of the key causes in the corruption of British politics has been the way the different political parties are being lobbied and funded by the same, almost exclusively right-wing think tanks. These organisations provide the parties with advisors and sponsor debates and events at the various political conferences. As a result, while the parties themselves have changed, the Thatcherite policies they have pursued have remained unchallenged. Not only is this influence corrupt in itself, but it’s also led to the British voting public becoming alienated and disenfranchised. They feel with some justification, that there is little difference between the parties, and that they are being sidelined and ignored in favour of big business.

Private Eye published a piece on this issue in their edition of 21st September – 4th October 2012, listing the various think tanks and describing their links to various politicians and ministers.

Conference Callers

Party members may see conference season as their chance to be heard, but judging by the brochures put out by think tanks, the grassroots will have a job making it past better-funded rivals from the business lobby.

Over the summer, the Eye acquired prospectuses from several think tanks looking to recruit sponsors for debates at the forthcoming Tory, Lib Dem and Labour conferences.

Reform, a think tank with Tory links, tells potential sponsors it can set up “successful events attended by ministers and shadow ministers, special advisors, MPs, MEPs and council leaders”, among them minister for welfare reform Lord Freud, housing minister Mark Prisk, employment minister Mark Hoban and the Foreign Office’s Henry Bellingham.

Lest anyone mistake the purpose, any “partner organisation” – ie company willing to pay for access – can use roundtable events or dinners with “around 20 high-level participants” to put their own “insights into the relevant policy debate at the beginning of the meeting”.

Not to be outdone, ResPublica, run by David Cameron’s “Red Tory” guru Phillip Blond, offers potential “partners” a chance for “intimate discussion over diner with select stakeholders and policymakers”, plus the opportunity to “contribute” to the choice of subject and speaker for meetings with ministers.

Meanwhile the Social Market Foundation (SMF) is touting “an excellent standard of service to our sponsors”, including the chance to “shape the key questions for debate” and “input into the speaker line-up”, with top totty on offer to include Lord Freud (again), Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin, prisons and probation minister Crispin Blunt, universities minister David Willetts and chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander.

Trendy think tank Demos urges companies to cough up for events and roundtables potentially hosted by the prime minister or chancellor, with sponsors getting the chance for “conversations that link their policy agenda to contemporary political issues”. And Policy Exchange, the Cameroonian think tank, trumpets its “competitive sponsorship package”: as well as potential access to ministers, a few broad themes scheduled for debate will be honed after … conversations with sponsors.

Think tanks have tax-free charitable status based on their lofty aims to improve public policy. How does offering commercial interests the chance to pitch ideas to ministers over dinner fit that mission?

Clearly, it doesn’t. If politics in Britain is to be improved, and its people to be given a genuine choice between the parties, and have a real voice in how their country is governed, the corporatists think tanks need to be thrown out. Removing their charitable status, except for those rare occasions where they might, actually, represent charities, would be a start.

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.

Private Eye on Corporate Interests Favoured over Members 2013 Tory Party Conference

February 7, 2014

Jeremy-Hunt

Jeremy Hunt, the man in charge of the NHS. He would rather talk to the private health care companies than grass roots Tories, it would seem.

One of the pieces I put up this week was on the group, Bite the Ballot, which tries to get young people interested in politics and voting. I remarked that if the government and other political partiers were serious about encouraging more people to vote, then they should actually try to expand their party’s membership amongst ordinary people, rather than simply give all their attention to wealthy donors from private industry.

I’ve also blogged on the similarity between the Tory’s policy of taking over experts from the private sector and putting them in charge of government departments and other concerns, in order to have them run according to the wishes of private industry, and the Nazis’ policy of ‘commission management’. This was the industrial policy in which the heads of private companies were co-opted into the bureaucracy of the Third Reich. Carl Krauch, the head of I.G. Farben, for example, was appointed general plenipotentiary for chemicals in 1938 and Director of the Reich Office for Economic Consolidation.

In their issue for the 23 August to 5 September of last year, Private Eye covered the way card carrying members of the Tory party were in a minority at their conference, and were even excluded from some events altogether. The article runs:

‘That only 38 percent of those attending the Tory party conference next month will be card-carrying Conservatives has attracted a lot of attention. But even they won’t be allowed entry to some key events.

The schedule for Reform, a think-tank with links to the party top brass, reveals a number of invitation-only talks paid for by those who really matter: the commercial and other lobbying interest who make up 36 percent of the attendees.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt, for example, will have a “private roundtable discussion” on NHS reform, paid for by BMI Healthcare, one of the UK’s largest private hospital groups. Reform has also arranged a private chat with health minister Dan Poulter, paid for by Baxter Healthcare, a US firm that sells blood and kidney services to the NHS.

Elsewhere Damian Green MP will speak on “policing and technology” at a meeting “in partnership with” Airwaves, which sells radios to the police; Sir Peter Fahy, chief constable of Greater Manchester, will speak courtesy of private security firm G4S; and Hastings Tory MP Amber Rudd will discuss “infrastructure investment” thanks to train leasing firm Angel Trains. How cosy!’

Apart from showing us who some of the firms lobbying the Tory party for the privatisation of the NHS are – Reform, BMI Healthcare and Baxter Healthcare, it also shows how low the party’s view of their own grassroots membership is, when they are excluded from so much of their conference.

If the Tories really are serious about encouraging people to vote, as they claimed to be when backing Bite the Bullet, then they will have to start by listening to their own members and opening up their conferences to them fully.

But given the elitism and preference for the company of respectable members of private industry over the masses, that probably won’t be happening any time soon