Tag: Andrew Gwynne

Labour party plans to end privatisation of public services

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Carillion was a British multinational facilities management and construction services company which liquidated in January 2018 | Daniel Sorabji/AFP via Getty Images

The current government has consistently failed to fix the serious problems created by its’ privatisation of public services, which has directly impacted on the lives of many citizens. Those needing the support of services have found them less accessible, conditional and often, rather than alleviating hardship and socioeconomic exclusion, the private sector, contracted in tandem with government policies, has contributed to actually increasing the vulnerability of marginalised social groups, exploiting them for profit.

Poorly conceived contracts have created cost increases that surpass the costs of in-house services, and the oversight of the contracts is poor, the government is vulnerable to corruption and profiteering. The scandal of G4S and Serco charging the Ministry of Justice for tagging offenders who were dead shows just the visible surface of how bad things can get.

G4S, for example, has left a wake of human rights abuses on a global scale, and we have to question how on earth such highly controversial companies manage to secure successive government contracts involving working with vulnerable populations. The Ministry of Justice is still spending millions on tagging offenders with G4S and Capita despite the tagging scandal because, despite all of the chatter about ‘market competition’, it has not actively welcomed in or competently procured new entrants in the market.

In the wake of the collapse of Carillion, a succession of scandals involving large British companies like G4S, Serco and others, and the zig-zagging share price of outsourcing giant Capita, now is the right time to rethink the UK government’s approach to the private provision of public services. 

Any government that claims it wants to ‘take on vested interests’ wherever they may be must look first at how it itself has created – and become dependent -on a select number of vested, incumbent private suppliers. In practice, when the government claim ‘efficiency’, that generally means lower wages and substantially reduced services. When they mention ‘economies of scale’, that generally translates as constructing the contracts in such a way as to leave only the largest companies eligible to bid for them.

When the government use the word ‘incentives’, for the profiteering companies, those are perverse incentives. And when they say ‘competition’,  the government is refering to a handful of companies barely compete with one another at all but instead operate as an unelected oligarchy – a shadow state.

A Labour government would end the outsourcing of public service contracts that involve close contact with vulnerable groups, because of ongoing, grave concerns that people are being put at risk by private contractors such as Atos and Capita. The party has drawn up the plan in response to what is described as a series of outsourcing disasters. 

This would mean addressing the controversial assessments for disability and illness related social security, NHS care, the treatment of people in detention centres and prisons, and failures over recruitment and substandard housing for Armed Forces personnel, bringing those services back ‘in house’. 

Under the Labour’s party’s plans, when an outsourced contract expires or is terminated, central or local government will be required to assess whether a service involves significant contact with ‘at risk’ groups, poses a threat to people’s human rights, or entails the use of ‘coercive powers’. People ‘at risk’ are defined as those who rely on state protection, be they prisoners, hospital patients or social security recipients. 

If the answer to these criteria is “yes”, then new statutory guidance would be used,  which will lessen the grip of the private sector over our public services. After years of privatisation, it’s become clear that perverse incentives – the profit motive and ‘efficiency’in particular – have led to very poor service delivery and caused distress and harm to many citizens who have needed to access support, such as social security or healthcare. Private firms have performed notoriously badly, most often prioritising private profit over meeting human needs, while costing the British public billions of pounds.

However, there may be exemptions to the Labour party’s new rule, where:

  • The contract does not fall under a statutory definition of ‘relevant contract’.
  • The value of the contract is below a certain threshold.
  • The contract is between local authorities (or between a local authority and another public authority).
  • The public authority can demonstrate that it has ‘good reason’ to override statutory guidance.

The Labour party has repeatedly criticised the outsourcing of assessments for Personal Independent Payments and for Employment and Support Allowance, saying that this has led to a complete breakdown in trust between disabled people, the assessors and DWP decision-makers. The Ministry of Justice was forced to take control of Birmingham prison from the contractor G4S, after inspections found that prisoners were regularly using drink, drugs and violence, and corridors were littered with cockroaches, blood and vomit last year. The plan comes after a series of high-profile outsourcing controversies.

Andrew Gwynne MP, Labour’s Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, said: “For too long the British public have paid the price for outsourcing.

“The Tories’ dogmatic commitment to markets at all costs has delivered sub-standard services at inflated prices. And when they fail, as they often do, it’s the taxpayer that picks up the bill.

“Labour is proposing a radical new settlement that gives people the power to end outsourcing and decide for themselves how best to deliver the services they need.

“For too long this county has been run by and in the interests of a small few who are all in it together.

“It’s time to shift the scales and bring democracy and accountability back to government, and put power in the hands of the many”.

The plan is most likely to be backed by unions, but may cause concern for some councils  under severe financial pressure after years of cuts to their funding.

The pledge is also part of a wider Labour strategy to return public services to public ownership. It reflects that Labour is serious about implementing major democratic changes to the economy, to make it more inclusive.

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The threats to public health care in the UK.

Outsourcing in the NHS is officially said to be about cutting costs and improving efficiency, but such reforms, have really helped create healthcare markets that simply promote inequality among patients and healthcare workers and erode the public nature of healthcare provision.

There is also a very obvious limiting factor to a ‘market’ in healthcare: those in most need of healthcare are least able to pay the ‘market price’ for it – the elderly, very young, people with mental illness and those who are chronicically il , many of whom are poor. So, for private healthcare to be profitable for more than just the wealthiest minority, it still requires public funding.  The government, however, have systematically refused to accept this, despite the empirical evidence that verifies the damage being done to the poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

 


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of an illness called lupus. If you want to, you can help me by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others going through disability assessment, mandatory review and appeal.

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George Osborne has always been something of an editor: he’s very conservative with the truth

Chancellor George OsborneGeorge Osborne, the financial adviser, after-dinner speaker, author, Kissinger Fellow, chairman of the Northern Powerhouse project, newspaper editor and MP.

Here in the UK, a sitting MP, and a member of the party in office, is the editor of London’s only newspaper. It becomes an almost farcical situation when one considers that London, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, is the most Labour supporting region in the UK. It’s about to have its only local newspaper read like pages from ConservativeHome. The plot sickens.

I seriously doubt that the Standard’s political editor will be pitching a story about the Crown Prosecution Service currently reviewing the Conservatives’ electoral spending, amid the growing evidence of serious electoral fraud, any time soon.

Oh hang on, wasn’t Baronet Osborne one of the key strategic masterminds behind the general election? The same Osborne who regarded the UK social security budget – in particular, the financial safety net that supports disabled people – as disposable income for his equally privileged millionaire peers? He was only forced to climb down over his proposed 4.4 billion of spending cuts to disability benefits after the surprising resignation of the hard faced Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who also likes to abandon sinking ships.

Osborne is so hated in London and elsewhere that he was booed by crowds at the Paralympics when handing out medals

Any suggestion that Britain is still a great bastion of first world liberalism and democracy makes me laugh until I cry these days.

Osborne was widely criticised for his decision not to quit his Tatton seat in north-west England since it was announced that he would take up the position as editor of the Evening Standard. He has already rattled the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) – which is an ethics committee that aims to decide whether job roles for former ministers present a conflict of interest – by announcing the appointment before they were given any time at all to review any potential conflict with his duties as MP and his former role as chancellor. Ex-ministers are supposed to submit their requests and then wait for the committee’s guidance before accepting something and announcing it to the public.

The committee assessing Osborne’s post-ministerial roles is usually given at least a month to carry out research into what contacts a former minister had in his or her department that could constitute a conflict of interest in any new role, but it is understood that some members of the committee were informed less than an hour before Osborne’s appointment was made public. They are now expected to give advice within two weeks.

It’s understood that the committee will be actively considering a call for the former chancellor to delay or decline the role.

Osborne defended his new job on Monday, telling the House of Commons that parliament benefited from members bringing in experience of different sectors alongside their constituency work. He was responding to an urgent question from Labour’s election co-ordinator, Andrew Gwynne, over a potential conflict of interest.

Osborne facetiously remarked “I thought it was important to be here, though unfortunately we have missed the deadline of the Evening Standard

In my view, Mr Speaker, this parliament is enhanced when we have people from all walks of life and different experience in the debate and when people who have held senior ministerial office continue to contribute to the debate.

He’s not exactly a man that cares much for integrity. He seems to think we have forgotten that it was under his chancellorship that the UK lost the Moody’s Investors Service triple A grade, despite Osborne’s key pledge to keep it secure. Moody’s credit ratings represent a rank-ordering of creditworthiness, or expected loss.

The Fitch credit rating was also downgraded due to increased borrowing by the Tories. In fact they borrowed more in 4 years than Labour did in 13. Now they have borrowed more than every single Labour government ever, combined. 

Osborne was rebuked by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) for telling outrageous lies that Labour left the country “close to bankruptcy” following the global recession. However, the economy was officially recovered and growing following the crash, by the last quarter of 2009. Baronet Osborne, the high priest of austerity, put the UK back into recession within months of the Coalition taking office.

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Baronet Osborne is not deemed a member of the nobility, but rather, entitled gentry. The rank of a Baronet is a hereditary title awarded by the British Crown. One’s position in an order of precedence is not necessarily an indication of functional importance.

It’s remarkable that despite Osborne’s solid five-year track record of failure, the Tories still mechanically repeat the “always cleaning up Labour’s mess” lie, as if Labour increasing the national debt by 11% of GDP in 13 years, mitigated by a global recession, (caused by bankers and the finance class), is somehow significantly worse than Osborne’s unmitigated record of increasing the national debt by at least £555 billion.

Osborne has ironically demonstrated that it is possible to dramatically cut spending and massively increase debt. At least Labour invested money in decent public service provision, the Conservatives have simply ransacked every public service, handed out our money to their private sector buddies and steadily dismantled the gains we made as a society from the post-war settlement.

Who could forget in September 2007, ahead of the publication of the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review, Osborne pledged that the Conservative Party would match Labour’s public spending plans for the next three years. He promised increases in public spending of 2% a year,calling Labour charges that the Conservatives would cut public spending “a pack of lies”. He also ruled out any “upfront, unfunded tax cuts.” 

Then there were the expenses scandals, he even had the cheek to claim £47 for two copies of a DVD of his own speech on “value for taxpayers’ money.

Gosh, what, with Osborne being so conservative with the truth, I can really see the Evening Standard taking a credible objective turn.

Sorry, that was a sarcasm typo, I meant authoritarian turn.

However, it has to be said that it’s not as if  Osborne will be editor of a left leaning paper. Who could forget the Evening Standard‘s headlines during the London Mayoral campaigns: Exposed: Sadiq Khan’s family links to extremist organisation – the front page story about Khan’s former brother-in-law once coincidently attending the same rally as a hate preacher – and Why Sadiq Khan cannot escape questions about extremists, a hit and sneer piece that only just stopped just short of accusing Khan of being a terrorist. But I seriously doubt Osborne will have a liberalising impact on the screaming headlined nonsense of this tabloid.

Among the Tory MPs defending Osborne in the Commons was his former cabinet colleague and Times columnist Michael Gove, a former journalist who himself has been tipped as a potential future newspaper editor. He said: “Is it not the case that we believe in a free press and that proprietors should have the right to appoint who they like to be editor, without the executive or anyone else interfering with that decision?

And isn’t it also the case that who represents a constituency should be up to its voters, not the opposition or anyone else?”

Osborne’s appointment will be subjected to wider scrutiny. On Tuesday, the economy committee of the London Assembly will be considering whether the appointment could “affect the neutrality and objectivity of news coverage in London”.

In addition, Osborne will face questioning by his constituents in Tatton, Cheshire, on Friday, when he is expected to attend his local Conservative Association’s annual general meeting. A petition signed by more than 175,000 people was delivered to his constituency office on Monday, calling on the MP to “pick one job and stick to it”.

Andrew Gwynne amongst others in the Labour party, have called for an inquiry. Gwynne wrote to John Manzoni, the permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office, urging him to examine whether there was a breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct (which was amended yet again last year by Theresa May, following the previous editing in 2015.)

In his letter, he said former ministers must refer any new jobs to the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) to “counter suspicion” and ensure ministers are not “influenced” by private firms while in government. 

Gwynne, Labour’s national elections and campaign coordinator, added: “Disregarding these rules deeply undermines public trust in the democratic processes and does a disservice to those Members that ensure they follow the rules laid out on these matters.”

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It’s time to stop the revolving door reflecting political/corporate interests that spins the news.

Politics and Insights is proud to join other independent media journalists, writers, collectives and organisations across the UK to condemn the appointment of George Osborne as the new editor of the Evening Standard.

Independent media includes any form of autonomous media project that is free from institutional dependencies, and in particular, from the influence of government and corporate interests.

We are not constrained by the interests of society’s major power-brokers.

“For an effective democratic system, we need a vibrant public sphere fuelled by varied independent broadcast and print media. We do not need the ex-Chancellor benefitting from the editorial control of a free London daily which benefits from city-wide circulation to publicise the divisive rhetoric of a right-wing government. When a crisis of representation, fed by a culture of nepotism already plagues so many establishments, Osborne’s appointment is a step in completely the wrong direction.

We write this as independent journalists, committed to holding the powerful to account. We will continue to fight for better representation and healthier political analysis in our media channels, and we will continue to produce the journalism that is missing from the corporate-owned outlets which dominate our newspapers and televisions today.”

Politics and Insights condemns George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard in joint independent media statement


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. Successive Conservative chancellors have left me in increasing poverty. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you. 

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DWP Staff Gifted £42 Million in ‘Bonus Bonanza’.

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At a time when the Conservatives have inflicted draconian cuts on those needing financial support because of illness, disability or losing their job, justifying this by their claim of “economic necessity” and the need to “live within our means” to “pay down the debt”, which is increasing rather than decreasing, the “responsibilities” imposed by the Tory austerity measures apply only to those with the very least.

Meanwhile, Whitehall bureaucrats, many involved in the implementation of the punitive welfare cuts, pocketed more than £90million in hand-outs last year.

Figures obtained by The Huffington Post UK show that in the year to April, 12 Government departments forked out £89.4million in bonuses to staff.

The most rewarding was Department for Work and Pensions, overseen by Iain Duncan Smith, which handed out £42.1million in bonuses to its staff – £38.1million of which went to Senior Civil Servants. And these figures only relate to 12 out of the 20 Government departments, meaning the total bonus figure could soar to almost £140million if the average pay out of almost £7million per department continues.

Labour MP Andrew Gwynne, who uncovered the figures, said: “For all his talk of belt-tightening, these figures show that David Cameron is happy to splash the cash on bonuses.

“Whilst the NHS is in crisis, this bonus bonanza would pay for thousands of new nurses.”

In 2012, the then Treasury minister Danny Alexander vowed to end bonuses for “run of the mill performance” as the coalition Government slashed departmental budgets.

Since 2010-11 the Government says it has restricted awards for senior civil servants to the “top 25 per cent of performers.”

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union called for the bonus system to be scrapped.

He said: “It is unfair and favours the already well paid. The money should be put towards decent pay rises, especially considering that since 2010 rank and file civil servants have seen their real incomes fall by 20 per cent.”

Prospect, a union for professionals, defended the civil service workers and he claimed the focus on bonuses is a “distraction” from the drop in take home pay of many civil servants.

Deputy general secretary Garry Graham said: “Pay in the private sector is increasingly buoyant with average increases running at more than 3.5 per cent. Civil servants have been told that average increases will be capped at 1 per cent until 2020.

“Pay rates in the private sector outstrip those of the public sector – and that gap is only forecast to increase, creating real problems in recruiting and retaining staff, particularly the professional specialists and managers Prospect represents.

“Many, if not all of our members would happily forgo the opportunity to earn a bonus in return for a decent and fair increase to their base pay.

“Government has created the bonus culture in the civil service, not the staff. And only 1 per cent of the civil service paybill is spent on bonuses.”

In a statement alongside his department’s figures, Work and Pensions Minister Justin Tomlinson said: “In line with Civil Service pay guidance, DWP rewards employees for their performance through either end of year non-consolidated payments and/or in-year payments. In year payments are limited to 0.23 per cent of the total DWP paybill.

I can’t help wondering what indicators are used to measure “performance,” and what actually constitutes “good performance.”

This post was written for Welfare Weekly, which is a socially responsible and ethical news provider, specialising in social welfare related news and opinion.

Debunking the myths on Commons procedure and the Welfare Bill – Andrew Gwynne MP

1235473_537097386359794_65317730_n (1)Courtesy of Robert Livingstone.

Many thanks to Andrew Gwynne MP for clarifying the Welfare Bill, informing us of the complex details and for explaining the Commons procedure.

Firstly, let’s debunk a media myth: last night, the Parliamentary Labour Party, as a bloc, in its entirety, united, voted AGAINST the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.

Certainly, how we got to that point probably would not have been my way of doing it, if I am being totally honest, but the facts are facts: We voted against the Bill. 

Labour tabled a ‘Reasoned Amendment’ to the Bill. These are Parliamentary devices which allow you to set out (the clue is in the name) the reasons why you are opposing the entire Bill, even when there are things in it that you support.

It was necessary because the Tories have, perhaps craftily, lumped a load of stuff we don’t like, with a load of stuff they’d love us to vote against – that we most certainly ARE NOT opposed to.

Firstly, what is in the Bill that we do like?

Well there’s a commitment to three million apprenticeships, including more at a higher and advanced-level (I’m in favour of that.  Indeed I had a Private Members’ Bill in the last Parliament to do just that!); then there are measures to cut council and social housing rents (one in four people living in my Denton and Reddish constituency live in social housing and should see their rents fall because of measures in this Bill. I’m not against that); and then there’s extra support for ‘troubled’ families – a scheme that has been proven to work and has saved the public purse millions (as well as transformed the lives of many people who’ve been engaged in this work).

But then there are the measures like the abolition of child poverty targets and cuts to support for the sick and disabled who are not fit for work – this includes people who have cancer or Parkinson’s disease – which we most certainly DO OPPOSE.  Indeed I spoke out on this issue in the debate yesterday.

And then there’s a few myths about what some people think is in the Bill that aren’t: tax credits.

Let’s be clear, we will vote against the tax credit cuts which will make 3 million low and middle income working families worse off. These measures are not in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill – they will be in Statutory Instruments in the autumn, and Labour will oppose them.

So last night all Labour MPs voted against the Welfare Reform and Work Bill on a Reasoned Amendment.  Some colleagues also voted against the entirety of the Bill.  I could not do that because this Bill is so finely balanced with things I do want to see happen.

So what happens next?  This is where we get to vote on all the things we don’t like in the Bill…

Labour has tabled detailed amendments on the substance of the Bill at Committee and Report Stage.

These include:

  • An amendment to prevent the Government abolishing the targets for reducing child poverty.
  • The Government are also trying to delete child poverty from the remit of the ‘Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’ so that it becomes just the ‘Social Mobility Commission’. An amendment will prevent that taking place.
  • An amendment which will mean that the household benefit cap would not apply to persons who are responsible for a child under 2 years old, are a carer, or are in temporary accommodation because of domestic violence.
  • A new clause which will require the Secretary of State to report each year on the impact of the household benefit cap, particularly on child poverty.
  • An amendment which will require the level of the household benefit cap to be reviewed every year, rather than only once in a Parliament. The review would be based on the new clause above requiring the impact of the benefit cap on child poverty to be assessed each year.
  • An amendment which will require the Social Security Advisory Committee to review the Discretionary Housing Payments fund each year to ensure that sufficient resources are available. Discretionary Housing Payments are used to support those who are unfairly affected by the benefit cap.
  • An amendment which will set the target of full employment as 80 per cent of the working age population – in line with the Labour Government’s definition and recent research which shows that this would be an ambitious target. The Bill includes a process for reviewing progress towards ‘full employment’, but does not define what is meant by that.
  • An amendment to require the UK Commission on Employment and Skills to assess whether the Government’s target for apprenticeships is being met, so that the Government can be held to account. There is significant concern among businesses and others that the quality of apprenticeships is being watered down in order to increase the numbers.
  • An amendment which will require the resources which are being dedicated to helping troubled families to be clearly set out.
  • An amendment which will ensure that interventions to support troubled families are focused on helping people into work.
  • An amendment to prevent the Bill restricting Universal Credit for three or subsequent children even when the third child is born before 5 April 2017.
  • A new clause preventing the restrictions to tax credits applying to three or more children where a third child is born as a result of a multiple birth, where a third of subsequent child is fostered or adopted, where a third child or subsequent child is disabled, or where a family with three or more children moves onto tax credits or universal credit in exceptional circumstances – including but not restricted to the death of one member of the family, the departure of one parent or loss of income through unemployment – which would be set out by the Social Security Advisory Committee. It also sets up an appeals process for all cases covered by this clause.
  • An amendment preventing cuts in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for the WRAG group of around £30 a week. People who are in the WRAG group have been through a rigorous test which has deemed them not fit for work, for example because they have Parkinson’s or are being treated for cancer.
  • An amendment requiring the Government to produce a plan to offset the impact of lower social rents on housing associations. Labour supports the reduction in social housing rents, which will help low-income families and bring down the housing benefits bill. However, we must protect against impacts on the ability of housing associations to build new affordable homes and maintain their existing properties.
  • An amendment which subjects the four-year benefit freeze to an annual review subject to changes in inflation.

We will force individual votes on our amendments, so it’s clear what we do and don’t support, without the Tory Party or their media friends trying to paint us as being one thing or another. 

And if none of our amendments succeed? Then we still have an opportunity to vote against the Bill at Third Reading.