Posts Tagged ‘Suffolk’

The Labour Party, Affirmative Action and the Problem of Liberal Prejudice, Part 2: Sexism, Misogyny and Misandry

February 4, 2020

In the first part of this post, I discussed some of the problems that may arise from all-Black and Asian election shortlists, as suggested by one of the candidates at the recent Labour party deputy leadership hustings in Bristol. In this part I wish to examine some of the problems of the same candidate’s declaration that they were determined to fight misogyny. I am certainly not denying that sexism exists in society, and that women are very far from being equal. I realise that many women have struggled and continue to struggle to make themselves accepted in male-dominated professions and workplaces. I realise that there are many jobs not considered suitable for women. And I also realise that despite some women managing to break the ‘glass ceiling’ and reach the very heights of management, there are still very few female managing directors or chairs of companies. However, the situation is changing in some areas, and this is not reflected in the debate about sexism, sexual harassment or gender and violence, at least not at the level of the popular press.

One of the issues is education. Since the 1990s boys have been falling behind girls at school and I gather that the majority of university students are also women. I know very well that women have had to struggle to get to this point. When I was growing up in the 1980s I remember reading a number of articles about brain sex stating that women would never be equal with men in certain subjects, like maths and science. But this has been shown to be false too. There are a number of factors affecting boys’ performance. One is the importance of sport, sex and violence over ‘book-larnin”, so that one academic commenting on the issue in the 1990s said that boys weren’t interested in the ‘3 Rs’ as the ‘3 Fs’ – football, fighting and, well, you can guess. Another factor may be that teaching is now very much a female-dominated profession, to the point where some schools have been described as ‘man deserts’ because of the lack or total absence of male teachers.

Other factors are class and those jobs traditionally viewed as masculine. Traditional working class male jobs, like mining, emphasised strength rather than academic performance. It may well be the case that, among some working class boys, academic performance is discouraged as effeminate and ‘poofy’. But class has also been a factor. A friend of mine grew up in rural Suffolk and went to the local comprehensive school. As he tells it, it had been a grammar school and still retained a very snobbish class ethos. The school ran classes in its sixth form to prepare pupils for going to university. My friend is highly intelligent, and he told me that despite achieving very good grades, the school never put him in this class. He came from a very working class background, and the school did not consider working class children to be suitable for university. And I’m afraid that there are some teachers that are very sexist in their attitudes to the children in their charge. I’ve heard horror stories decades ago of headmasters, who set up two classes for the bright and less bright. All the boys were in the first, and all the girls in the second. At the same time, I’ve come across two teachers in my time in school, who in my experience did not like boys and treated them worse than the girls. One was female, one was male.

These are issues that need to be examined if boys’ academic performance is to be improved. But there is a problem whether a political and social culture, that has and is making great effort to improve girls’ and women’s academic performance, is also able to to devote the same kind of effort and energy to boys. If boys also need special treatment to help them achieve their potential, then some feminists may resent that as an attack on the schemes that have helped women to make such great strides in achieving theirs.

I’m sure that when the candidate spoke about misogyny, she meant instances of clear hostility and aggression to women. Like discrimination, sexual harassment, abuse or violence specifically towards women. Domestic violence, and the stuff that Harvey Weinstein has been accused of. However, what makes this problematic is the way some feminists have extended it to include even trivial gestures, which many people of both sexes wouldn’t consider aggressive or demeaning. For example, one feminist academic has claimed that women’s self-confidence is knocked through ‘micro-aggressions’ such as calling them ‘love’. This was heavily criticised in the press, with some male writers pondering whether they were being treated with aggression and contempt when women called them ‘love’. Last week an expert from the Chartered Institute of Management appeared on Sky, I believe, and declared that management should stop men talking about sport in the workplace, as this excluded women and led to other laddish behaviours, like boasting of sexual conquests. This was also attacked by anti-feminist bloggers and vloggers like Sargon. Benjamin stated that he’d worked in offices, that were overwhelmingly female and where the topics of office conversation were typically female: makeup and men. Which obviously left him isolated. I’ve also worked in offices where the staff were overwhelmingly female, some of whom were extremely crude. In my first job, one of the girls one day told the rest of the office about how she had been to see a male stripper the night before. I’ve no doubt that if the situation was reversed, feminists, if not ordinary women, would find that unacceptable. But is there now a double-standard in that talk of such excursions is acceptable, if the strippers are men?

Ditto with sexual harassment. This is always discussed as something that men do to women, never the other way round. A few years ago there was a scandal about MPs groping parliamentary staff. This focused very much on women, who were leading the protest. But the Beeb report, as far as I can remember, also mentioned that half the victims were men. Nothing then was said about how they were affected or what steps were being taken to safeguard them. Did that mean that men’s safety in this regard was not as important as women’s? Again, the other year there was a report about the prevalence of sexual abuse and harassment at universities. One report in the I said that 75 per cent of women students had experienced it. It also said that 25 per cent of men had also. The article then described how universities were trying to tackle it by laying on courses educating students about the issue. But the rest of the article only discussed it as a problem that affected women. The men were mentioned and forgotten.

Domestic violence is also an issue that is framed almost exclusively as something that men inflict on women. I’m very much aware that throughout history, this has been very much the case. However, a friend of mine, who is a former nurse, told me that when he was being trained, they were told that both sexes were sent to the hospital in equal numbers by the partners. Men were, however, much more likely to kill their wives. I certainly do not mean here, to suggest anything to prevent vulnerable women from being given the help and protection they need against violent and dangerous men. The Tories have left such women increasingly vulnerable through cuts to women’s refuges and centres. While it is recognised that men also suffer from domestic abuse from women, you don’t hear that women hospitalise as many men as the other way around. Nor have I come across many articles talking primarily about men as victims of female violence. In fact, I can’t think of one. But I’ve also come across some extremely foul-tempered, violent women. I’ve no doubt discussion of the issue is constrained by some men feeling emasculated by talking about it. No man really wants others to think him ‘pussy-whipped’. And there is the attitude that men should just be a man about it all, and take it. At the same time, I think some women and feminists may also have qualms about discussing gendered violence towards men with the same kind of concern that’s given to women in case in detracted from the campaigns to end violence against women. But clearly such violence exists, and so needs to be tackled.

A campaign to tackle genuine misogyny is entirely praiseworthy. But it overlooks the way men can be similarly affected, and a narrow focus solely on women threatens to create new forms of sexism, rather than combat it. 

 

 

Counterpunch on the Hinkley C Power Station: Last Gasp of a Dying Nuclear Era

September 18, 2016

Counterpunch this week also put up a very pertinent piece about the proposed construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station by the French nuclear energy company, EDF, and the Chinese. The power station was the go-ahead this week by Theresa May, after she had first stated she was opposed to the deal. The piece, by Oliver Tickell, the editor of The Ecologist magazine, argues that not only is the station uncompetitive, massively expensive, and a threat to the environment, but it is also very much a last gamble by EDF and its partner, Areva, to prove the viability of the proposed reactor type, and indeed nuclear energy as a whole. Tickell states that four EPR reactors are under construction in France, Finland and China, and they are massively over budget to the tune of billions of Euros, and very late. Indeed, the reactor at Flamanville in France may never be finished. EDF and Areva are owned and controlled by the French state, and are also massively in debt.

The reasons behind May’s giving in to the French and Chinese are political and economic. She wants good relations with the French, in order to have them on the British side when it comes to negotiating the new relationship with the European Union post-Brexit. China needs the deal to go ahead, because it wants to keep the contract for the construction of the power station at Bradwell in Suffolk. This has the proposed ‘Hualong’ reactor, which has yet to be tried. The government wishes to win over the Chinese and get access without the imposition of tariffs to their market for British manufacturing and financial services industries.

There are also major doubts whether the Hinkley C reactor will ever be built, despite May’s official deal. The subsidy package given to the project as part of the deal appears to contravene EU legislation on how much state aid may be given. EDF and the Chinese company, CGN, have invested so much in the project, that it’s unlikely they’ll be prepared to invest any more until the problems and Flamanville are resolved and the reactor type has demonstrated its viability. That may also be years away. If the power station fails, or fails to work reliably, it will bankrupt EDF, and the company has yet to find the billions it is obliged to spend on the project. There is also much opposition to the power station in France. It is disliked by both the French trade unions and some of the candidates for the French presidency. The type of steel used in the reactor is also being examined for flaws in a power station in France by the French regulator. The Chinese reactor in Bradwell also hasn’t got a safety licence yet. This can take four years, so it will be built, if at all, by the next government.

By which time, the director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, Richard Black, points out, power from other sources may be far less expensive than today.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/09/16/a-nuclear-plant-for-a-dying-era-why-the-uk-approved-the-dangerous-hinkley-point-reactor/

Vox Political: May Gives Go-Ahead to Hinkley C Despite Security Fears

September 15, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political also put up a piece today reporting that May had finally folded, and given the French and Chinese the go-ahead to build the nuclear power station, Hinkley C in Somerset. The stations’ going to be built by the French state power company, EDF, and the Chinese. The project was put on hold because of concerns about security, which created tension between Britain and China. May and her business secretary, Greg Clarke, were claiming that they had put in place ‘significant new safeguards’. Mike points out that they seem far from it. The ban on EDF selling its share in the site without government permission is simple commerce, rather than security. And he considers a similar precaution, the new security test for foreign investment in critical infrastructure also to be ‘toothless’. As he points out, it won’t stop the Chinese going ahead with their plant at Bradwell in Essex, and investing further in Sizewell B in Suffolk. He quotes EDF’s chief executive, Jean-Bernard Levy, that the construction of Hinkley C marks ‘the relaunch of nuclear in Europe’.

Apart from May flatly ignoring Green concerns, this also doesn’t appear to be a good deal for the British customer either. The government has guaranteed EDF a price of £92.50 for every megawatt hour of electricity generated, despite the fact that this is higher than the market rate.

As Mike says

This is a step backwards – and a bitter blow for all those who have been working towards a greener, cleaner, forward-looking mode of energy generation.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/09/15/theresa-may-folds-again-hinkley-c-gets-the-go-ahead/

I’m not remotely surprised by this. The Conservatives have always backed nuclear power at the expense of Green energy. Way back in the early 1990s under John Major, Private Eye documented the way the government was pushing nuclear, and doing everything it could to discredit its environmentally friendly competition. For example, reviews into the viability of renewable energy were given to government panels headed by scientists or officials from the nuclear industry.

And the Tories’ choice of nuclear power over other forms of energy, such as coal, has nothing to do with its supposed benefits. Certainly not if EDF are being given a price for their wattage above market value. I’ve forgotten where I read it, but I came across a piece the other day, which claimed that the Tories deliberately chose nuclear as a way of breaking the unions. Nuclear fuel – the uranium used in the rods in the reactor core – has to be imported. I think the main source of it at the moment is Africa, where obviously labour is cheap and disposable. Unlike coal, which exists over here, but whose supply was controlled by a notoriously strong and stroppy union, until Maggie broke it in the 1980s, and the Tories then decimated the industry itself in the 1990s.

This isn’t about supplying cheap electricity. This is about breaking organised labour, to keep people poor and cowed by the threat of unemployment. And it shows how wise Tony Benn was when he turned from being an advocate of it to its opponent.

From 2011: Private Eye on NHS Privatisation

January 22, 2015

In their issue for 16th -29th September 2011, Private Eye published a block of articles on the government’s privatisation of the NHS. These discussed Circle Health’s attempts to take over the management of Hinchingbrooke Hospital Huntingdon; the proposed putting out to private contract of Suffolk’s 27 community health services, the role of Dr Stephen Dunne in the privatisation process, and negotiations between the NHS and the Helios German private health care group. The articles ran:

NHS PLC
East Extract

Three months after Circle Health, the self-proclaimed “John-Lewis-style health partnership”, was supposed to take over the management of Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon, the Treasury has still not given its stamp of approval.

Despite NHS East of England’s desperation to privatise the 330-bed hospital, government beancounters seem unimpressed by Circle’s bosses (£35m last year) and debts (a massive £82m, against a notional £95m share value of the company). And mandarins may not be happy to sanction a business plan that in the current climate looks increasingly potty. Unless Circle begins to run the 330-bed Cambridgeshire hospital at a surplus, it will receive no payment under the franchise agreement. Yet Circle’s plan hinges on “growing the business” and treating more patients – at a time when local health commissioners are desperate to reduce the use of hospital beds and cut the amount paid for each part of any treatment.

Also, time is running out. While Circle’s leading figure, Ali Parsa, is keen to promote the fact that doctors, nurse and clinicians have a stake in the company, most of the money and decision-making power rests in the 50.1 percent share owned by Circle Holdings. And with the company admitting to problems from angry creditors and uncertainty about the finances even of its showpiece 28-bed boutique hospital in Bath, the entire project would already have sunk without the injection of private equity capital from some of the most powerful and rapacious hedge funds on the planet. Between them they have invested around £100m in Circle but seen no return. How much longer will they stick around as Circle struggles to generate any return?

Also on NHS East of England’s “for sale” list are four “lots” comprising all 27 of Suffolk’s community health services.

Not surprisingly, five private companies have made the shortlist of nine bidders for one or all of the £43m, three-year contracts to provide services from paediatrics, nursing and therapy to adult community hospitals, nurses, physiotherapists and intervention teams.

Assura Medical, bought up last year by Richard Branson’s Virgin group, is interested in bidding for just one “lot”, while services giant Serco hopes to bag all four. Privatised social care company Essex Cares Limited and two equipment providers, Nottingham Rehab Supplies and Medequip Assistive Technology, are in the running for single lots. None of these companies has any base in Suffolk, and none has provided NHS community services before – although Essex Cares does provide social care for the county council.

Although many health authorities have put their community services out to tender since they were required to have separate “commissioning” and “providing”, hardly any private sector companies have secured contracts. Of the four NHS trusts in the running, only one, the West Suffolk Hospital Trust, is local.

But as it’s the East of England, the smart money suggests bosses will lean on the NHS providers to pull out. After all, at Hinchingbrooke the withdrawal of bids from neighbouring foundation trusts left the field clear for Circle, whose experience in running a huge general hospital was limited to a costly 28-bed showpiece.

Leading the privatisation mission in NHS East of England is director of strategy Dr Stephen Dunn, whose outstanding achievements for the private sector were recognised in this year’s Healthinvestor Awards, in a glitzy presentation at London’s Grosvenor House hotel.

Dunn, whose £125,000-plus salary is paid by the NHS, won the award for “Outstanding Contribution by an individual” for his tireless efforts to push through the privatisation of management at Hinchingbrooke Hospital. And also won the magazine’s “Deal of the Year” award for setting up the ground-breaking franchise, which the judges said “has huge implications for both the public and private sectors”.

Given that the “Deal of the Year” has not yet got Treasury approval, some of his NHS management colleagues were less complimentary. But now that the private sector values his services so highly, no doubt there will always be a place for him in the new NHS plc.

Helios to Pay

Discussions between the NHS and German health group Helios on “how international hospital provider groups may help to tackle the performance improvement of English hospitals” present and alarming prospect.

Helios is part of the Fresenius Group, which was fined £82m in the US in May for having “recklessly disregarded federal law when billing the [US taxpayer-funded] Medicare program for home dialysis supplies and equipment”. Although the over-billing itself occurred just before Fresenius bought the companies involved, Fresenius itself was accused in relation to this case.

Nor was it the German group’s first brush with American law enforcers. Ten years before, Fresenius settled the largest ever healthcare fraud case with civil and criminal penalties approaching $500m after making fraudulent claims from Medicare and paying kickbacks to get work referred its way. Then, in 2005, another arm of Fresenius admitted its role in a pharmaceuticals cartel in South Africa, designed to “manipulate prices for pharmaceutical and hospital products”.

There’s nothing to suggest Fresenius’ record is much worse than those of other private health companies with hungry investors to satisfy, but what hope does it offer for its role in “performance improvement”?

Together, these articles present a dire picture of the privatisation of the NHS. Circle Health only last week walked away from its contract to manage hospitals. Those in its care had appallingly low standards of care, and the company itself complained that it could not make a profit. This article shows that Treasury officials were aware from the start that the company would have problems managing a large, proper hospital, rather than its 28-bed showpiece.

The article about the privatisation of NHS services in Suffolk also shows that private firms simply aren’t as competitive as the NHS. The privatisation is ideologically led, and pushed through by ministers. The privatisation is also being pushed by managers like Stephen Dunn, who no doubt fancy themselves as highly paid companies executives.

As for Helios, they join Unum insurance as a private company convicted of massive fraud in America.

Overall, these articles present a picture that NHS privatisation is being forced through by greedy, incompetent companies, offering extremely poor service and ripping off the taxpayer in the process. Precisely the kind of companies Cameron and Osborne want running the NHS as they privatise it.

From 2012: Investigation into Fraud and Poor Performance at A4E

April 9, 2014

This comes from Private Eye for the 23rd March – 5th April 2012.

Welfare To Work

Targets Practice

Dismal results from Welfare-to-work firm A4e have not stopped it earning hundreds of millions from the taxpayer. But now an investigation into fraud at the company may achieve what mere incompetence could not.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has launched an immediate audit and says it will terminate its commercial relationship with the firm if it finds “evidence of systemic fraud in DWP’s contracts with A4e”.

There is no shortage of material. The DWP investigation itself was prompted by an allegation of attempted fraud in an A4e contract to deliver “Mandatory Work Activity” – compulsory work placements arranged by A4e. Meanswhile, a member of staff running a government scheme in Hull was found guilty of fraud last year, and four former members of staff in its Slough office are currently being investigated for fraud on “benefit-busting” contracts. The DWP’s internal auditors have already investigate the firm four times, though without finding wrongdoing that amounted to fraud.

A common theme is that A4e staff are alleged to have made false claims about finding jobs or work placements for the unemployed. A4e blamed its staff, claiming that it too was a victim of the frauds or alleged frauds. But in 2010, when MPs on the work and pensions select committee investigated fraud and misbehaviour by A4e and other contractors, the firm admitted that its bonus system was at fault. Staff were paid to meet targets on getting people into work, a system that A4e said in its submission to MPs “may have been a driver for individual malpractice”. In short, A4e admits that its own bonus system encouraged some staff to fiddle the figures.

A4e executive Bob Murdoch told MPs the problem was solved by moving to group bonuses “as a safeguard against individuals making fraudulent job outcome claims”. No such luck: some of the false claims appear to have involved groups of A4e staff.

* Despite its travails, a4e always comes out fighting – even when that means taking credit for work it didn’t do.

When MPs on the public accounts committee criticised its performance of Pathways to Work, a jobs scheme for disabled people, the firm put a statement on its website deriding the “completely false premise” of the MPs’ attacks. it even quoted a DWP report that “indicates a return to the Treasury – and therefore the taxpayer – of over £3 for every £1 invested in the Pathways to Work programme referred to by the PAC”.

Alas, the report was not describing A4e’s own work, but that done by JobCentre staff who used to run the scheme in 2003-4 before being replaced by A4e and other contractors. In fact, a 2010 National Audit Office report into Pathways to Work as run by A4e and others found the scheme had delivered “poor value for money”. Still worse, JobCentres had “performed better”!

* Ever ready with an aggressive defence, nor does A4e like it when benefit-claiming clients try to stick up for themselves.

In Scotland, A4e refused to see a claimant, “Peter”, who wanted to attend meetings with a volunteer from ECAP, the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty. Since “Peter’s” benefit had been stopped several times, with police being called to throw him out of A4e’s offices on one occasion, a judge at the Social Security Tribunal Hearing ruled in his favour saying he had “good cause” to be accompanied.

Another claimant, “Ram”, was refused entry when he tried to attend an A4e Work Programme appointment with an ECAP member. A4e started a “sanction” that stopped his benefits, but Ram appealed and won. The DWP reinstated his benefits, apologised and gave him a £50 “payment for gross inconvenience resulting from persistent error”.

And this is the firm entrusted by taxpayers with £400m in contracts…

* Why the Skills Funding Agency saw fit to award A4e contracts to provide prison education in London and the South East, as confirmed last week, is a mystery given its pisspoor record at Darmoor prison.

The latest Ofsted report, released last month after an inspection in December, scored overall education and training, provided jointly by A4e and Strode College, as inadequate with inadequate capacity to improve. Leadership was also rated inadequate, and under the heading “strengths”, there were, er, “no key strengths identified”.

The next most recent Ofsted report into prison education run by A4e, covering a 2011 visit to Suffolk’s Blundeston prison, also found inadequate provision and criticised both the lack of organisation and lack of staff trained ot help those with specific learning difficulties or needs. The supposedly business-friendly firm also had “too few links with local employers”.

As Eye 1212 said when A4e quite providing prison education in Kent in 2008, because it wasn’t making money on the deal, and was immediately hired to run a New Deal for Disabled People scheme in Glasgow: “Nothing succeeds like failure, eh?”

In short, A4e are either institutionally corrupt, or are massively incompetent with a bonus system that encourages fraud and corruption. They are inefficient compared to the public sector workers in the Civil Service, who the government wishes to phase out of the system leaving it entirely in the hands of the private contractors. They steal the credit for other people’s good work, bully claimants and provide a lamentably poor service for educating crims in prison.

And even if they weren’t any of that, they would still deserve contempt and disapproval simply for administering the government’s workfare schemes, which are a highly exploitative form of unfree labour. And the Void has pointed out with regard to these schemes, they don’t work either. You’re far better off trying to find a job on your own.

So of course, with this magnificent record of compassion and quality of service, the government has to continue giving them contracts.

A4e is proof that IDS’ benefit reforms are purely ideological, and not supported by performance or results. Both A4e and their ultimate boss, IDS himself, should go.

From 2012: Serco Sacks 140 Medical Staff in Suffolk

April 8, 2014

This is another article from Private Eye. In their issue for 16th-29th November 2012 the Eye covered the way SERCO were going to shed 140 jobs after taking over the management of the NHS community services in Suffolk, similar to what the company had previously done when it took over the out-of-hours GP service in Cornwall.

SERCO

Suffolk Punch

No sooner does outsourcing giant Serco take over NHS community services in Suffolk, including nursing and community hospitals, than nearly 140 jobs are to be axed.

It’s little consolation for front-line clinical staff, such as health visitors, that they won’t have to face compulsory redundancy. They can volunteer, be redeployed or wait to be “phased out” – unlike their colleagues in HR, finance and admin who will be swiftly shown the door as the “Serco Global Business Division”, backed by a “dedicated qualified accountant in India”, takes over.

When Serco won the £140m three-year contract NHS Suffolk – which includes specialist services such as cardiac rehabilitation, neurological services and speech and language therapy – the company pledged that patients would not notice any changes and would be able to access NHS services in the same way as before.

So how will it fulfil that role with fewer front-line health workers, who are already stretched caring for the growing numbers of people who are being cared for and treated in the community, rather than hospitals?

The company says clinical staff will be freed up by extra administrative backup, reduced bureaucracy, changes to the way people work and increased use of mobile and other technology.

This all sounds very similar to the Serco service model for the out-of-hours GP service that it runs in Cornwall – which in the summer was criticised by the Care Quality Commission for, among other things, not employing enough “qualified, skilled and experienced staff to meet people’s needs”.

In short, it’s another example of how local NHS services have been cut under the piecemeal privatisation of the NHS in order to maximise the profits of yet another multinational.