Posts Tagged ‘Austerity’
Don’t hold your breath – there are no breathtaking tales of mad chicken-breeders today. I presume that things took their usual course and that Albert was hauled out of the pond for the zillionth time, but I was absent. I was up at the crack of dawn to travel to an NHS cancer fundraising event. Given the age of austerity such work takes priority over everything, a sentiment with which no family afflicted by this scourge will disagree.
Whenever I find myself involved in discussions with patients and clinicians alike I find myself wondering about the obsession of the government with the private sector. It is, according to Messrs Hunt and Lansley, the answer to every health-related issue, yet I have still to see any evidence that it wishes to be involved in life-threatening conditions. As each month passes I become more and more convinced that our supposed saviours are interested only in ‘cherry-picking’ the easy and profitable treatments. And the more of those that are taken from the NHS, the worse its financial position becomes.
I have also reached another conclusion. There is growing evidence that ministers are involved in a smear campaign against the NHS as a means of selling their privatusation programme to an unsuspecting public. For example? Stafford Hospital! My suspicions were first aroused when I read the diatribe of abuse poured forth by Jeremy Hunt and others about the cruelty, filth, unnecessary deaths and uncaring atmosphere at Stafford. I have been involved in the NHS for many years and have never experienced anything remotely matching these descriptions. I found the claims impossible to believe, and then I read of the march of over 50,000 local people in support of their hospital in Stafford . Something was very strange here.
I published a blogpost asking if we were being misled. I soon found the answer for large numbers of staff, members of the public and patients have sent in testimonies that totally contradict what increasingly sounds like malicious distortion. I already knew that experts had condemned the claims about deaths, and I already knew that tales about patients drinking from vases – a claim repeated by David Cameron at the Conservative Party conference – were pure invention since no vases existed. But I hadn’t realised the extent to which other claims were pure invention.
As someone who led a transition to Foundation Trust status I have no doubt that Stafford was subjected to enormous financial pressures by the regulator Monitor, and that these combined with the imposition of ‘efficiency savings’ – cuts under another name – led to an acute shortage of nurses. Inevitably these led to day-to-day problems. But there is now clear evidence that Stafford was no different to any other NHS hospital. The scandal was, it seems, blown out of all proportion as politicians seized on instances of personal grief which often expresses itself as anger.
With the help of many people in Stafford who treasure their hospital, which is now receiving excellent ratings, I plan to return to this episode in some detail. The vast majority of nurses and doctors are caring and compassionate who do their professional best in the face of an oderwhelming workload. They deserve better than being used by politicians as pawns.
Meantime a word on behalf of another caring profession would not be out of place. Social Workers have become the fall-guys of society. Yesterday Ofsted said that standards of child protection are “unacceptably poor” in no fewer than 20 local authorities. It is, said Ofsted’s chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, a “national disgrace”. He is right, but the blame does not lie with the ever-reducing number of Social Workers.
In the wake of high-profile cases such as Baby P, Victoria Climbie and Daniel Pelka the number of children referred to social services has soared from 538,000 in 2008 to 605,100 in 2012. This has coincided with massive cuts in local authority budgets, which in turn have led to big cuts in funding for social services. The result is that each Social Worker now has an unmanageable caseload.
Sir Michael reported that poor leadership and too many changes at the top were contributing to the problem. “The combination of unstable communities and political and managerial instability in our social care services is a dangerous mix”, he said. Writing in the Independent, Joanna Nicholas, an independent social worker and child protection consultant, adds that there are too many newly qualified workers resulting from the rapid turnover of personnel.” It is amazing that people stay in the job at all”, she adds.
The Director of Children’s Services in Birmingham, Peter Hay, is a brave man. Last week he made clear that; “We cannot guarantee to save children in Birmingham”. It needed to be said. The simple truth is that there are now insufficient Social Workers and the experienced ones that are still battling on cannot possibly cope. So long as the national priority is to shield tax avoiders and to offset the income loss by imposing cuts to such as children’s services there will be serious shortcomings. The Social Workers, like the nurses, are not to blame.
This morning’s headlines reinforce the argument that the private sector is not the answer. Read the story of Orchid View!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “Neglect stemming from institutionalised abuse at a care home directly contributed to the deaths of five of its elderly residents after warning signs were ignored or missed by managers and watchdogs. There was mismanagement from the top down at the Orchid View home”….Penelope Schofield, West Sussex Coroner
We are all gullible, too trusting of what the ‘experts’ tell us. During the bitterly cold, short days of last winter our egg production soared to new heights and we codgers spent as much time distributing free supplies as we spent nurturing the producers. Now the long days are here and temperatures are up, albeit not to Fiji levels, and egg production has halved. Read any of the zillions of books on hen-keeping by experts and you will find that the exact opposite is the wisdom imparted.
Much the same applies to the almost daily assessments from economists of the performance of Gorgeous George Osborne. Some argue that the severe austerity regime imposed by the Chancellor is necessary, others contend that he should instead be going for growth. But all start their argument from the acceptance that public spending is being cut to the quick. Critics point to the closures of libraries, cuts to benefits, care services and the rest and describe Osborne as a mad and inhumane axeman.
The reality is quite different. Statistics show that he is no axeman, more a bodger blundering around with a blunt chisel. The truth is that public spending has risen under this government to unprecedented heights, and in real terms too. In 2009-10 public sector current exenditure, adjusted to 2o11-12 prices, was £634.2 billion. By 2011-12 it had risen to £645.7 billion and in 2012-13 it is projected to have climbed again to £647.1 billion
In 1975-76, in the depths of economic crisis and shortly before Denis Healey went off to the IMF to beg for a bailout, public spending peaked at 39.8% of GDP. It is now 42.2%. Back in the days of Healey the then Labour government spent, in today’s money, £260 billion -less than half what the coalition will spend this year.
Yet George Osborne has never sought to challenge his axeman image. When challenged by Labour or the IMF over ‘austerity’ he has happily accepted the charge, protesting only that he still believes he is on the right course and will not be distracted by wastrels. He wants us to believe that big cuts are taking place, that we are all in this together.
Take the Cabinet Office’s Efficiency and Reform Group, which crows about having made £5.5 billion of savings on the civil service last year and claims to be on course to saving the taxpayer £20 billion by the next election. The National Audit Office is unimpressed, concluding recently that most of the savings made were of a temporary nature and that there is no evidence to suggest that savings will actually be made. It highlighted the fact that civil servants still enjoy two-and-a-half ‘privilege days’ a year on top of bank holidays, they still qualify for evening dress allowance, and subsidised loans.
The state has paid £500 million over the past three years to send the children of diplomats to public schools. Civil servants are still retiring at 60 and taxpayers are forking out £912 million a year to subsidise flying lessons, diving lessons and trips to Barbados.
Dwarfing all this are bloated salaries. Remember Osborne’s great public sector pay freeze, imposed in 2012? Why then, did the public sector pay bill rise from £165 billion to today’s £171 billion in real terms? Private sector pay has been in freefall, but public sector pay is up by a whopping 8.2%. The Taxpayers’ Alliance has calculated that if public sector pay and pensions were reduced to bring them in line with their private sector equivalents it would save the taxpayer £53 billion a year. The same body has identified a host of potential savings. £20 billion on procurement, £15 billion on fraud, £5 billion on benefits paid to families with income of over £100,000 a year, to the petty level where public money is frittered away with abandon.
Examples include £2.3 million subsidising the restaurants in the House of Lords, £683,000 refurbishing 10 Downing Street, £20 million spent translating documents into obscure languages for the benefit of hardly anyone. Over £17 billion is set aside for medical negligence claims , much of which will disappear into the pockets of lawyers. That could be almost eliminated by an end to ‘no win, no fee’ agreements and the spurious claims that result from them.
What about the £700,000 spent sending government staff on team-building exercises, or the £5 million spent organising a ‘Question Time’ show in Bangladash, or even the £25 million handed to training of Kenyan ‘rainmakers’?
I must stop typing, this is in danger of becoming a book rather than a blogpost. But be assured, dear reader, that the list is a very long one. It spells out very clearly that expenditure directly controlled by government is not being trimmed. There is waste galore.
Today the Chancellor will talk of concessions here and there, but will reinforce the message that every penny counts and times are hard. They certainly are for a local charity for the homeless which faces closure for the want of a small grant, but they most certainly are not in central government who clearly believe in the old maxim about doing what we say rather than what we do!
THOUGHT FOR TODAY; “The art of taxation , said Mark Twain, is like plucking a goose to obtain the maximum amount of feathers while suffering the minimum amount of hissing. In attempting to cut public spending George Osborne has achieved the exact opposite: he finds himself cornered in a shed by the hissing, spitting goose of public spending, whose feathers are growing faster that he can pick them out”….Ross Clark, Spectator 22/6/13
Another lovely morning. But several of us are somewhat frazzled. Given the sudden evidence that the sun still exists, we plan to head off to the land of our fathers for what our dear leader would doubtless call a chill-out. The problem is that before we go we have to do in one day what we would normally spread over several. Those left behind will feed our unruly hens, but can hardly be expected to disinfect, dig trenches or get in supplies. One of the countless psychologists that earn their crusts via magazine articles should add PHT to their repertoire. Pre Holiday Tension would be a perfect subject. The solution? Don’t go!
But at least we not as near tipping point as our dear leader. Yesterday he was obliged by the Speaker to retract his accusation that Ed Balls is an idiot. It did seem slightly unjust given that the coalition is about to switch from austerity to growth as its economic strategy, something Brother Balls has been advocating from the start. Even Baldrick would by now have realised that simply screwing everyone, and everything, into the ground will only lead to ruin. But the Posh Boys have taken quite a while to cotton on.
Now of course they will claim that two-year’s austerity followed by two years of growth was Plan A. Such is the world of politics in which few things are ever decided, and no one accepts that he or she may just have got it wrong. Yesterday the Leveson Inquiry lifted the curtain a little.
Lord Leveson is beginning to sound somewhat concerned at the task facing him. “Why do I see this all coming back to hit me?”, he asked yesterday of no one in particular. Jeremy Paxman was there, and probably depressed the learned Judge further by remarking that “your challenge is to stop yourself becoming a total relevance”. Andrew Marr didn’t offer cheer either. Asked what he saw as the answer to press regulation, he said his role would merely be “to criticise the inquiry for whatever it comes up with”. But one visitor did shed some light, albeit not on the press.
Stephen Dorrell rolled up. Remember him? He was national heritage minister under John Major, and in that role was asked to draft the government response to the report on press regulation by Sir David Calcutt. Dorrell recalled that he used the “traditional method for responding to politically difficult issues. He presented a do-nothing option. This apparently involves three choices.
The first is to simply ignore it, a strategy, Mr Dorrell said “which has worked surprisingly well on many occasions”. The second is to “announce that the government will do absolutely nothing”, but this has its “pitfalls”. The third is to promise “to look at legislation when parliamentary time permits”. Meaning never?, asked his Lordship. Dorrell smiled patiently. “We always had to present our conclusion that we were going to do nothing in the least bad way”, he said.
So now we know! It is rather like discovering the De Vinci code, we can now interpret the various seemingly odd assurances that pour forth from our dear leader. Yesterday he was obliged to tell the House that he has no intention of conceding the right of prisoners to the vote. He had to say this given that masses of his backbenchers demand war with the European Court, which has set a 6-month deadline for at least some action. But the dear leader has no intention of offending his Lib Dem lapdogs by actually refusing to act.
The word is that in about five months time he will announce that some concessions will be considered as and when parliamentary time permits. Some call it the long grass, the overly frank Mr Dorrell has interpreted that!
In an attempt to avoid the danger of foot-rot Albert has insisted on implementing his brainwave of laying turf paths down the centre of the largest hen-runs. But the risk of rot to his feet has clearly extended to higher regions of my old pal’s anatomy, for he swept aside any suggestion that the experiment was doomed to failure. Within an hour of his unloading, and laying, countless rolls of top-quality turf, the hens were devouring the grass in the manner of Eric Pickles faced with a tray of pies. New ideas are fine, but you need to think them through!
And so it is with austerity. Cameron and Clegg, the Laurel and Hardy of politics, will this week renew their marriage vows and promise ever increasing austerity. The fact that it simply isn’t working has clearly escaped them, as has the distinct possibility that the new French president may prove them somewhat foolish. But the truth of the matter is that what is being practiced in the UK is selective austerity, the very worst kind. If anything is likely to cause widespread alienation this is it.
Let us take just a couple of examples. First the plight of Britain’s ever-growing army of carers. A YouGov survey published over the weekend reveals that nearly 60 per cent of carers are suffering from mental health problems due to the strain of caring and juggling other responsibilities. A huge number are experiencing exhaustion and physical strains, and insomnia is par for the course. The majority of the current six million carers are aged over 60 and they are often relied upon to move or lift immobile people or are obliged to bathe, clothe and medicate sick relatives. Their situation is rapidly worsening as cuts and postcode lotteries on local authority help, or lack of it, kick in. Emily Holzhausen, director of Carers UK, says that “we are seeing very worrying signs about the impact of local authority cuts and the tightening of eligibility criteria”.
Austerity for the volunteer army of carers is hitting them hard. The reduction in support, be it home-helps, respite care, or cash is turning their lives into a dangerously punishing treadmill. Yet were there no carers committed by a bond of love and sense of obligation, the state would inherit a massive bill.
For our second example let us visit the fiefdom of George Osborne, Cheshire East. There the Tory-led council has decided to spend £600,000 over budget to tart up the town hall. The chief executive trousers over £200,000 per year and has a deputy who is paid in excess of £170,000. The chief excecutive is on sick leave and, to avoid too much sorting of paper-clips falling on the deputy, the council has voted to appoint yet another top dog to be paid £80,000 for a short-term stint.
Two simple examples of the hit or miss of what our dear leader likes to call austerity by all for the sake of all. Is it any wonder that people are angry and that trades unions are beginning to flex their long-wasted muscles?
THE HONOURS SYSTEM IS DISCREDITED IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE!
The practice of successive governments of, in effect, selling honours to the highest bidders has brought our uniquely British honours system into total disrepute. And now even those who decide on gongs are in revolt.
Lords Lieutenants are a throw back to medieval times but you can still see them at local events, wearing military uniforms and carrying swords. The latter are a symbol of their willingness to defend Her Majesty, but given that most of them are both old (all fail the Cameron ‘Skinner’ judgement test) and rather tubby that seems very unlikely. And even some amongst their pompous numbers are now demanding change in the matter of nomenclature.
George Reid, sword-carrier for Clackmannanshire, told a Commons committee that he is uneasy about the use of the term Empire. David Briggs, of Cheshire, feels likewise and Sir James Cropper, Cumbria, suggests titles more meaningful for the present times. All three gave examples of possible recipients who refused honours on the basis that our once glorious empire slaughtered and enslaved their ancestors.
Of course that can be debated by those with pink-coloured specs, but one fact is undeniable. There is no longer a British Empire! It is surely time to delete reference to it.
Better still, since we are supposedly counting every penny, why not scrap the whole outdated system?
Hope you had a belting Christmas. Now all we have to bother us are dodgy digestive systems and credit-card repayments. The build-up to the great day started back in October and it was impossible for any one day to live up to so much hype, but we allotment codgers had a go. One thing that has to change in our nest next time is the placing of Christmas cards. Each year we stand them on every conceivable ledge or shelf, each year people keep opening the front door at which point every card in the place takes off for Manchester Airport. Suggestions on a postcard please, but no prizes for suggestions involving sellotape which is guaranteed to create a unwelcome demand from she-who-must-be-obeyed for redecorating.
Today’s papers return us to the real world, although how real the polls are is hard to fathom. The ones I have read suggest that David Cameron is now regarded by 99 per cent of the population as a posh version of Mother Theresa. Perhaps the polls were taken in Surbiton, I really cannot imagine that reading in Wigan where they use the Old Etonian for darts matches. But the story that really attracted attention on the allotments concerned Sarah Teather, the Lib Dem children’s minister.
As a member of the coalition’s top team Ms Teather gave vehement support to the austerity programme. She stood shoulder to shoulder with Theresa Cameron and the dashing Osborne in refusing to contemplate action against tax dodgers, bank bonuses, high-speed rail and Olympics overspend. Like her hero Nick she made clear that the people must tighten their belts and stop whingeing about such luxuries as libraries and meals-on-wheels.
And that is her right. But being a hypocrite isn’t. Having supported cuts in local public services she is now campaigning against the ghastly plan to close public libraries in Brent. Why Brent? Because that is her constituency.
And she is not alone in her incredible hypocracy. Jeremy Browne (foreign office), Steve Webb (pensions) and James Brokenshire (crime) have all followed suit. All have lobbied their fellow ministers to save their own patches!
With behaviour like this is it any wonder that ministers and MPs at large are now to be found at the foot of the table of trustworthiness. Even estate agents and journalists now leave them standing. With one exception!
David Cameron stands next to God, David Beckham and Lady Gaga in the ratings, a politician far removed from the riffraff that seek our votes. Funny old world isn’t it!
The monsoons have retreated and morale on the allotments has headed in the opposite direction. Not that such an uplift has eliminated moaning, most of us would easily win a degree in the art should Oxford University introduce such a thing. Every brew-break brings forward some victim for our character-assassination, today ministers moved into the verbal shooting-range.
Ministers are inevitably inexperienced, a product of every prime minister having to select his cabinet from around 300 MPs. Of those around 100 may be loopy, and 100 too old. So he or she has the unenviable task of appointing around 70 of the remaining 100 to run UK plc. The result always is that revenue is poured down the drain as the vast lobbying crowd hoodwinks them left right and centre. I use that phrase to illustrate that none of this is unique to the present government.
The problem right now is that the people are suffering whilst seeing a lucky few rowing to safety in gold-plated lifeboats. To make things worse Her Majesty’s Opposition seems utterly inept, the result is that protest groups are taking its place. Yesterday ’38 Degrees’ launched a ferocious attack on the Inland Revenue who for some time have filled the pages of ‘Private Eye’, given its practice of doing cosy deals with the wealthy. On day one tens of thousands pressed th ebutton on protest letters. The latest estimate has it that £25 billion of taxes due have been waived, enough to fund a lot of libraries and all the other services axed by Osborne’s austerity campaign.
One allotmenteer was fined for submitting his tax return after the due date and now comments that he should have claimed to work for Goldman Sachs. He would then have been let off and taken to Claridges for a slap-up lunch. He could of course have claimed employment by Vodaphone who ‘shook hands’ on just £1.25 billion out of a total liability of £6 billion!
But the corruption of the taxmen has escaped the eye of ministers more versed in the running of golf clubs. As has the tax evasion practiced by many of our top companies and Times rich list geezers. Osborne is the scourge of public sector unions and condemns tax avoidance, yet he refuses to end the scandal of crown tax havens , from Jersey to the Caymans, that enjoy the benefits of British citizenship while enabling individulas and corporations to evade British tax.
In their naivety ministers swallow whole the thesis that the rich should be allowed to escape tax for their ” wealth creating potential”. Even the now state-owned banks continue to pay enormous bonuses, a practice tolerated because ministers have fallen for the argument that there is a danger of such wizards heading off to the Congo.
We can of course throw in such bizaare decisions as giving away planning permissions in the hope of saving £3 billion. Or deciding to build aircraft carriers on the basis that it would cost more to cancel them. Or presenting the renewables industry with £8 billion in the belief that it will the rescue the planet. Lobbyist after lobbyist presents a case for huge savings which actually is licence for the affluent to print money. Ministers find it impossible to be tough on their cultural allies, and they lack the knowledge to second guess them.
Last week the Olympics boss, Lord Coe, popped in to ask for an extra £41 million to tart-up the opening ceremony and, soon afterwards, security experts asked for another £271 million for security. They told ministers that such investments will bring in billions on advertising revenue!. One wonders what the response would have been had someone gone in to ask for an extra ten bob to fund meals-on-wheels!
Naivety and favouratism for the rich rules OK. Which is unfortunate given that nothing is more crucial today than a sense of equality of treatment. What is happening so overtly is recruiting fair-minded people to the protest movement. Our government derides Greece and Italy as countriers where taxpaying and austerity is voluntary. They are not alone!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S MIDWEEK QUIZ; 1. Deep sea diving 2. Stamps 3. Green 4. Circular 5. Yoga 6. Cribbage 7. Admiral’s Cup 8. Lacrosse 9. Gare Du Nord 10. RSPB
I was back amongst the mud and hens this morning. We did eventually reach Cambridge but by the time we did so it was time to turn around and head back. We were only away for a day, but the number of irritating national topics still multiplied like rabbits on heat.
First amongst them was the news that we are now being pressed to contribute more than £25 billion to a new eurozone payout. Despite Britain being outside the eurozone, European officials are demanding Britain hands over what would be the second largest donation. The matter will come to a head today when George Osborne attends a meeting of finance ministers.
The demand is over and above the £12 billion for which we are already liable in respect of loans made to Greece, Portugal and Ireland. Last night Peter Bone, the Tory MP for Wellingborough, urged the Chancellor to stand up for the “British interest”, even if he is as isolated as David Cameron was just days ago. Douglas Carswell, the Tory MP for Clacton, said; “George Osborne has spent 20 months going along with the bail-out and it has cost this country billions which dwarf the austerity measures. He needs to call a halt now”. RIght across the Tory ranks the same sentiments were echoing and, predictably, only the Lib Dem members of the coalition were urging that yet another fortune be handed over.
The view of the people became clear with the results of the latest opinion poll. Suddenly the Conservatives have a huge lead over Labour with the Lib Dems having all but vanished. Whatever Cameron’s motives may have been, his refusal to bow the knee to the bullying tactics of Merkel and Sarkosy won widepsread acclaim. It may well be that the insults subsequently poured out by the French helped more than a little.
Surely Osborne will not now agree to a payment toward a club we have spurned. Should he concede this he can wave goodbye to any hope of a co-operative approach from those now suffering the effects of cuts. Just for once he should glance back to the stance of the sainted Margaret. She gave a whole new meaning to the words No,No,No!
CLEGG AND THE HOUSE OF LORDS
Nick Clegg will today signal that Lords reform will be the key parliamentary battleground of next year by promising that the Queen’s speech will include plans for an elected upper house that will be forced past peers if necessary. Predictably, the Labour Party has said nothing.
Surely it is high time to put an end to undemocratic privilege. Many believe that the honours system itself is a relic of a bygone age of an empire that no longer exists, but tackling the Lords would be a good first step.
There is only one question. Clegg will reveal that 20% of the Lords will still be “by appointment”. So all those prepared to fund the Tory party will still be able to earn ermine!
WELL DONE MILITARY WIVES!
Gareth Malone worked a near miracle when he persuaded a large group of military wives, most of whom had never sung other than in their baths, to form a choir. Now they are on the brink of topping the Christmas charts with ‘Wherever you are’.
Wonderful! For too long our troops in Afghanistan have been locked into a war that only politicians see as worthwhile. They have been betrayed and their families left in permanent anguish. They have felt lonely and isolated. They have lacked a voice.
Now they have one. The proceeds of the single will go to charity, it is our chance to show support for the forgotten half of our troops who face mortal danger for a lost cause.
Other than destroy our saving’s income, a feat he has already achieved, the clammy touch of Chancellor George Osborne can do little harm to a bunch of old codgers given to breeding hens. So the response to yesterday’s mini-budget was somewhat muted this morning. In fact the rare treat of a wind and rain free morning had us in a reasonably positive mood. The weather men say that there is stormy weather ahead but we live for the moment. In any case we realise that the economic storms gathering will surpass anything that the elements choose to throw at us.
None of us watched the Osborne performance which, if most of the commentators are to be believed, was something of a ‘dog’s breakfast’. He clearly had a problem, namely that all he and his boss perdicted just a year ago has failed to come to pass, and the effect of the Euro fiasco has yet to kick in. We have always tended to favour the Keynes approach which has it that if you take away everyone’s spending power you inevitably end up in a recession. No spare cash, no spending, no trade, no growth.
Now we apparently face many years of unremitting hardship for those at the bottom of the income league, and unemployment is likely to rise to levels where social unrest will cause problems for the police whose resources have been cut. Yesterday was the day the gvernment was forced to admit that its austerity plan has backfired. It has been, er, too austere.
But one group will be raising a glass to the Chancellor today. Despite endless changes which will impoverish even more those near the bread-line, offset only by a strange reference to a new by-pass for Tunbridge Wells, not one penny more was taken from the top 10% of earners. Fat plums for the plucking stayed on the tree as the poorest bore 16% of the brunt of the new cuts whilst the richest bore only 3%.
According to the Resolution Foundation over £7 billion could be harvested with 40% tax relief on higher pensions whilst most earners will only get 20%. No additional bank levy was mentioned, there was no ‘mansion tax’, so beloved by the Lib Dems, on high-value properties even though owners don’t even pay their fair share of council tax. Worse still, two-thirds of properties worth over £1 million now change hands whilst avoiding all their 5% stamp duty, by using offshore company accounts.
An even bigger omission was mention of tax avoidance and evasion. Another 12,000 tax collectors are losing their jobs while some £25 billion is evaded and £70 billion avoided. In a time of national emergency the Chancellor had no breath of rebuke about the reponsibility of the rich not to dodge taxes, no threat to curb the culture of avoidance. Despite the High Pay Commission report on out-of-control boardroom pay – which even the Institute of Directors has called unsustainable – the Chancellor said nothing.
Instead came the great attack on public sector employees and war on the pay of women. After a three-year freeze, public pay rises are to be pegged at 1% for two years whatever the inflation rate. That might be painful but acceptable if the same criteria was to be applied to the bankers and super-rich. But the direct assault on the poor is almost beyond belief. When charities such as the Children’s Society and Save the Children launch a fierce attack you can be sure that things have simply gone too far.
I suppose the only consolation is that young George did not wheel out his original claim about our all being in this together!
TRY YOUR HAND AT THE MIDWEEK QUIZ ON LEISURE; 1. What imaginative type of game is known by the initials RPG? 2. Which French game’s name is the French word for balls? 3. In which month is Spring Bank Holiday? 4. Which London Museum is the most visited? 5. How many balls are needed to play a game of snooker? 6. What is the national sport of Japan? 7. What is lawn tennis known as when played on shale or clay? 8. In volleyball what do players hit the ball with? 9. What is the Chinese for “dark” and “light” believed to maintain equilibrium? 10. Where is the Jorvik Viking Stadium?
A crisp, cold morning had us rubbing our hands as we cleaned out the hens this morning. It proved to be a symbolic gesture, Bill commented that the leaders of our once proud corporate sector probably spend most of each day similarly occupied as their financial rewards rocket every upwards whilst the rest of the country struggles. The one per cent is having a cash bonanza beyond the wildest dreams of those who once ran our major concerns.
A report from the High Pay Commission has confirmed what we all suspected, company bosses are exploiting their positions by awarding themselves obscenely high pay and benefits. Even in the past year of a sharp squeeze on the living standards of those on middle and low incomes, the average pay rise for corporate leaders has been 49 per cent. Yet the very same people see little irony in then lobbying to repeal the 50p top rate of tax paid by those taking home more than £150,000 per annum, or in pressing for real-term cuts to the minimum wage on the basis that we are, after all, facing times of unparalleled austerity.
The report highlights the growing lack of trust in big business by the general public, a mood born of a belief that top businessmen are “in it for themselves alone”. A poll conducted by the commission revealed that no fewer than 79 per cent see pay and bonuses at the top as being “out of control”. It is the present economic crisis that has focussed public awareness on the antics of the top 0.1% of earners, but in reality the trend toward astonishing greed has been accelerating for some years.
In the last 30 years rewards have been channelled upwards. Those at the top have pulled away from the rest at a rapid rate. In 1980, for instance, the boss at Barclays was earning 14.5 times the average pay at the bank; the current boss is on 75 times the average, representing a 4.899 per cent rise over that 30 years. At the now state-owned Lloyds Bank the pay of the chief executive has increased by 3,141-6 per cent to £2,572,000 over the same period. That is 75 times the average Lloyds worker against the 15 times of the eighties.
E verywhere you look in the report you find astonishing revelations. At Lonmin Mining the top executive now pockets 113.1 times the pay of the average worker. At Reed Elsevier it nudges 40, at BP it is 63.2, at GKN it is 47.7. The list goes on and on, everywhere the disparity between the rewards of the leaders and those who serve under them has escalated. No one individual can possibly be worth so much more than anyone else. And, at the risk of affecting your blood pressure, I should add that over and above all this gluttony, there are share options, examples being Bart Becht, Reckitt Benckiser, who took home £90 million in 2009 and John Pluthero, Cable & Wireless, who landed £10.2 million. Small wonder that the report refers to loss of trust by the public and loss of motivation by employees.
If the percentages are staggering the actual amounts grabbed each year by the top 1 per cent are even more so. For example at Barclays it was £4,365,636 and at BP £4,452,624. When people like Bob Diamond of Barclays are challenged, they invariably reply that their pay is set by an independent remuneration committee. What they don’t explain is that the non-executives on that committee are from the top 1 per cent club and undoubtedly live on another planet to the rest of us. They also forget to mention that the majority of major shareholders are now overseas investment organisations that take little or no interest in such matters. Most important of all, they forget to mention that pay at this level has no clear link with performance.
The heads of British industry and commerce have been quick to admit that the present situation on pay and rewards is hard to defend. Even some of those on the receiving end seem unsure as to why their pay has reach the heights of Everest. The former chief of Shell, Jereon van der Veer said that “if I had been paid 50 per cent more I would not have done it better, if I had been paid 50 per cent less, I would not have done it worse”. But Shell remains one of the few cases where City shareholders have cried foul. Some fund managers have tried to raise the alarm elsewhere, a good example being at advertising group WPP where it is planned to award its chief executive, Sir Martin Sorrell, a 50 per cent rise. But these are rare skirmishes, at most companies the travesty continues unchallenged.
One seemingly sensible suggestion from the Commission is that remuneration committees should include an employee who would be able to point to the pay and awards to employees and demand a sensible relativity. But it will be difficult for Business Secretary Vince Cable to force action. People like Cameron and Osborne are themselves amongst the richest men in the country and they find it difficult to consider legislating against ,what they see as, their own.
But our top companies will ignore the growing public reaction at their peril. Some recognise this. The boss of one of the UK’s most valuable public companies has admitted that the country is losing trust in British business. Andrew Witty, head of GlaxoSmithKline, reacted to the report by saying that; “Trust in business has clearly eroded and needs to be reconstructed. Its very dangerous if a country doesn’t trust the private sector”.
Dangerous indeed. But the new generation of get-rich-quick merchants have their noses deep in the trough, and only a hard kick will draw their attention!
TEST YOURSELF! ONLY 5% OF CONTESTANTS MANAGED MAXIMUM SCORES IN THIS NATIONAL CONTEST QUIZ!
1. Was Craig David aged 18, 22 or 25 when he first had a UK No 1 single? 2. The city of Philadelphia was founded by which religious group? 3. Where would you normally play shovel-board? 4. Which is further North, Blackburn or Blackpool? 5. Which husband of Demi Moore starred in “The Guardian”? 6. Which motor racing team is named after the sacred flower in India? 7. Donald McGill was particularly associated with what seaside art form? 8. Who wrote “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”? 9. Who narrates “Treasure Island” other than Jim Hawkins? 10. What is the New Zealand National Day called?
Viewed from a distance our society seems a very strange one. Yesterday, activists occupied the area outside of St Paul’s Cathedral as part of a growing global protest against corporate greed. It is, we are told, the launch of a new, practical politics for those disillusioned with representative democracy, which is a “private club run for the rich by the rich”.
Most of us are already nodding at that. We see a society in turmoil with austerity biting hard but, to quote the protestors, only for the “99 per cent”. Here in the UK we have been regaled with evidence of corruption writ large in the corridors of power. No sooner had the story of Murdoch and his cabinet friends subsided temporarily, we had the tale of Fox and Werrity. Now we learn that the same tycoon that funded that dubious pair has also entertained the new defence secretary, Philip Hammond. As each day passes we become more and more aware of the fact that far from all being in it together, society is deeply divided by the haves and have nots.
As someone who, a zillion years ago, read history at university, I know only too well the danger of attempting to pinpoint moments at which cultures changed. However, it seems reasonable to assume that the Thatcher era had at least something to do with out transition from an open, caring society into one obsessed with, and focussed on, financial reward and status. It was from around that time that we came to regard mothers who stayed at home as ‘unproductive’, and old people likewise. It is as if we forgot that every life has a beginning and an end, and for many years at each end we are cared for.
Yesterday I wrote of the recent revelations from the Care Quality Commission of neglect of the elderly in some hospitals, a product of decisions to reduce the funding for nursing. Today the same organisation publishes its report on nursing homes. Surprise, surprise, the situation there is even worse. One in seven is breaching the law by failing to prevent its residents becoming malnourished and dehydrated. And the majority now employ care assistants rather than nurses to save money.
The market-shaped way of life that now dominates our society has no time for the ’unproductive’. Care for our children fits into a marketised understanding of realationship; we talk of “investing” in our children, we regard their upbringing as something that must be “fitted into” busy and “productive” lives. At the other end of the age spectrum the elderly are perceived as a burden, a group with no “economic value”. Occasionally we laud examples of “grey power” as exemplified by people like David Attenborough but they are the exception rather than the rule. High-speed rail is infinitely more important than “unproductive care”.
Over the past two decades there has been a gradual and grudging reluctance to make the adjustments necessary to care for children (increased leave and part-time working), but the care of the elderly in an increasingly ageing society has been doggedly postponed – we simply don’t want to think about it. What we have lost, as a form of human marketisation has taken over, is the perception of the value of human experience beyond the busyness of the peak years of life. Milton summed it up well in the final line of ‘On His Blindness’ when he wrote “they also serve who only stand and wait”.
Of course in much of this we are not different to many of the other countries now experiencing the protests of the young and disillusioned. But in one major respect we are unique. Death has become the taboo word. Our health systems are fixated on cure and prevention. Across society we have lost the concept of honouring our elders, of having respect for their fraility and of recognising that their final years before death are important for all of us.
You will find this depressing but that is merely a product of our new marketised age. Death is a part of what makes our lives meaningful. In taking the subject off our life-maps we are creating the illusion that the young never grow old, never die except via tragedy.
The late Steve Jobs was a star inventor of our new age, yet in his remarkable speech to Stanford graduates in 2005 he bravely put death at centre stage. Death is, he contended, “very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent” . Perhaps already aware of his own mortality, he was telling us that developments and productivity are important but are only so as part of the total journey, they are not an end in themselves.
Joan Bakewell, interviewed on Radio 4′s Today programme pondered the impact on our modern age attitudes of the decline of religion. She asked who now teaches kindness as she learned it in Sunday School. She may have a point but religious organisations have a patchy record on kindness. It is surely the creeping obsession with marketisation that has led so many to ask “what do I get put of this relationship”, it is surely marketisation that has chnged all our patterns of thought.
History suggests that once cultural changes have taken root only massive disasters bring about change. We saw an exmaple in the second world war. A nation at war with itself, and on the verge of the self-destruction of a prolonged general strike, came togther and found unity of thought and purpose. Hopefully no such disaster awaits us now, but a total collapse of the world’s economic structure cannot be ruled out.
Who knows? The millions of young people around the world who are now protesting that there is more to life than greed and acquisition may just kick-start a new train of thought, a new way of life. Sadly I have to admit that we chicken-keepers are not optimistic given the leadership that we have. Whether you focus on Blair or Cameron, and their friends, you find an obsession with riches and little regard for how it is acquired.
The omens are not good but we should wish well all those still idealistic enough to protest .
In his ‘A Time for Greatness’, the American poet and writer Herbert Agar wrote in 1942 of the “truth that makes man free”. But he went on to add that the truth is something that “men prefer not to hear”. I sometimes wonder if our politicians are his latter-day disciples for they give every apearance of fearing the outcome of setting us free and, to a man, continue to feed us speeches comprising platitudes laced with a fair mixture of downright lies.
Yesterday it was the turn of Uncle Vince Cable. We are, intoned our hero, in the economic equivalent of a war. He proceeded to tell us that only grey skies lie ahead and drew a comparison with that previous coalition. It was somewhat misleading given that the nation was united then, and Churchill told us the grim truth but always ended with a rallying cry. In other words the then leader seperated the truth from the pure rhetoric. Now the two are mixed and few can distinguish between the two.
A good example was the usual Cable onslaught on the fat-cats and bankers. On the former the Business Secretary declared that pay and bonuses will in future be restrained by employees serving on remuneration committees. He forgot to mention that there is no earthly chance of this actually becoming law and that, even if it did, the pension and investment bodies hold at least 80% of the controls of all large public companies.
He went on to announce his plans to implement the Vickers recommendation that a ‘firewall’ be built between the banking and ‘casino’ arms of our big banks. He forgot to mention that the government has made clear that implementation will not take place before 2018, by which time any new crisis will have arrived. He also beat the drum on the need to be resolute and not change the Osborne austerity package.
On this one he was subsequently contradicted by his wife! Interviewed on air, together with other delegates to the Lib Dem conference, she remarked that many government departments had wrongly front-loaded all cuts into the first year. They should, she insisted, have been spread over the five years of the coalition’s life thus avoiding the present crash in consumer purchasing. Clearly that is the real truth, and had he said that his credibility would have been enhanced. Meantime, the Cable family breakfast may have been a little fraught.
But it would be unfair to lable Cable as the one peddlar in falsehoods for they all do it. Only last week Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Minister, made great play of the fact that most of those charged in connection with the recent riots were already known to the police. Proof positive, he claimed, that prison does not work for they have already been there. Pure nonsense. The fact that those arrested as a result of CCTV pictures were mainly known to the police was clearly due to the fact that they are the people most likely to be recognised by the team of officers matching faces to records of convicted criminals. Who is the police most likely to recognise on a video? Yes, someone who is a previous offender. The truth is that only a tiny percentage of those involved have been caught and no one has the faintest idea as to the identity of the unapprehended majority.
Since coalition ministers are so keen on drawing a comparison between themselves and the World War 11 version they should perhaps resolve to begin to emulate its practices. When revealing all was not in the national interest Churchill, Attlee and the rest told us so. Otherwise they told the truth.
The big difference to today is illustrated by the fact that Osborne, Uncle Vince and all insist that we are all in this new ‘war’ together. However by their reluctance to penalise the rich to the same extent as the poor they constantly demonstrate that even they don’t believe it to be true.
Of course the biggest overriding problem today is that even were all the parties to sack their armies of spin-doctors and to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth we still wouldn’t believe them. Habits die hard and no one expects the truth. The challenge facing this government, and its successors ,is that the deeds of Blair over Iraq, Cameron over the Murdochs, and MPs over expenses, has bred cynicism thoughout the land.
Short of the return of a mass of independents wearing white suits and answering to the name of Martin Bell it is hard to imagine how this state of the nation will ever change. The truth is indeed as rare as hens teeth and we chicken-men can assure you that they simply do not exist!
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR THE MIDWEEK QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The thaw didn’t last long! I arrived back at the allotments to find us almost back to square one and, if the forecast is to be believed, we are about to return to last week’s version of Eskimo Nell. For ignoramuses such as me it is difficult to relate all this to global warming! I did notice that the 2011 calender is up in the shed so some optimistic soul believes that we will still be here. Even so I’m not sure that pictures of the Women’s Institute members doing a ‘calender girl’ is good for the mental wellbeing of grumpy old men. Perhaps I should ask David Cameron who bangs on incessantly about wellbeing. But maybe it is the threat to his own that troubles him.
I have mentioned before my friends down south who are involved in essential social services. Their latest stories are enough to make the blood run cold. Social services are under the control of local authorities and one wonders if the Old Etonians even realise what is going on. They have made great play of the austerity measures being enforced but have left the decision making to local councillors. Since they find even the task of keeping pavements free during icy weather that seems a tad dangerous.
Already in some regions huge budget cuts have been passed down to essential services such as care of the elderly and mental health. Already redundancies have been announced and services already at breaking point are collapsing. Without doubt vulnerable people are going to die as care is diminished or totally withdrawn. Equally certain, those social workers left to stem the tide will leave in despair. In trusting councils to handle this Cameron is sowing the seeds of his own destruction. More importantly he is leaving people who cannot fend for themselves at the mercy of bodies renowned for poor management.
Throughout the coming week we are going to hear a series of announcements about cuts. Some, like the selling off to foreign powers of our search-and-rescue service, are plain bizaare. Others such as the halving of coastguard stations sound strange, as do those confirming that road maintenance and the repair and maintenance of schools will be suspended indefinitely. And we already know about the police reductions.
But the one set of cuts that we won’t hear much about are those affecting social services. Is the silence down to fears of reactions or, as I suspect, are the councils not telling the government? It is one thing to laugh off repairs and suchlike, rather more difficult to do so over deaths resulting from callous indifference.
Several years ago the then Labour government announced an integration of the NHS and social services, indeed I travelled to Leeds to hear from the new joint boss. Sadly the government backed down in the face of intense lobbying by local authorities whose empire building was threatened. The result is that the government has direct involvement with hospitals ( although they don’t always see Lansley as a plus) and none with the victims of local authorities whose idea of priorities is, to say the least, skewed against those who are out of sight and mind.
And to compound the horror of all this one has only to remember that the amount we have donated to the Irish Euro rescue exceeds the total of all the savings being made!
The impression one has is that, unlike Grumpy Gordon, Mr Cameron loves the trappings of power. That being so he would be well advised to check out some of the things being done in his name right now for, as they become common knowledge, a whirlwind of outraged public opinion is going to occur. Add to that the fact that he only clings to power thanks to the Lib Dems who are now in total disarray.
There is a real irony here. Through all the years of boom the Labour government seemed irrelevant. Its traditional battles for those at the bottom end of society were superfluous. Suddenly we are heading into deep waters where only those who really know what life is like there know what do to and how to do it. They may be back in action sooner than they expected or maybe hoped!
STUDENTS FOR IRAN?
Iran took a step towards nuclear self-sufficiency yesterday, using locally mined uranium for the first time in an act of defiance to the west on the eve of the resumption of talks over its atomic programme.
This could be a precursor to a very dangerous situation and something has to be done before it is too late. It occurred to me that we might consider sending an ambassadorial team so scary and revolting that even the Iranians might take notice. A team led by Mr Gilmore, the moron cenotaph despoiler, the yob that struck Camilla plus the thirty or so students that PC Knacker managed to grab could do the trick.
On the other hand the latest nuclear power might lock them up. Either way we end up quids in!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Alvechurch and Oxford City 2. Mrs Golda Meir
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who wrote Sophie’s Choice, published in 1979? 2. Of which country was Dr Hastings Banda president?
Back in March we bought four wheel-barrows for communal use on the allotment. We studied the catalogues, met a rep and handed over the cash. For a while even we old ‘uns took pride in the bright blue beauties as they were propelled smoothly around the site. Then we noticed a wheel wobble and within weeks a wheel came off and the others showed every sign of following suit. Needless to say the salesman merely referred us to the service department which revealed that the barrows were fitted with faulty spindles. They were not what they seemed. We got our money back and went elsewhere.
The annoying saga came to mind yesterday when in just 24 hours the wheels came off the coalition. The first blow was a huge one. Britain’s most highly respected leading tax and spending experts flatly contradicted the claims made by Osborne that his £81 billion austerity programme is fair. The Institute of Fiscal Studies said that poor people would be hit hardest and the four-year plan will see spending for most secondary school pupils cut severely. It tore to ribbons the one supposedly good piece of news of the £2.5 bn premium by calculating that rising school numbers, and other cuts in the education budget, would lead to massive cuts of 60% for primary school pupils and 87% for secondary.
Even worse, the Institute ruled that the £7 billion of fresh welfare cuts, together with public spending reductions’ confirmed that the changes introduced by the coalition since it came to power reinforce the regressive nature of what has been introduced. Families with children would be hardest hit and those on low incomes would be the prime victims.
Clearly 24 hours can be a long time in politics for hardly had the Institute completed its assault than the Chair of the Local Government Association, Lady Eaton, weighed in with an ominous warning about the likely outcome of the 28 % cut to local government budgets. She spoke of charging more for meals-on-wheels, library closures, unfilled potholes, closing youth clubs and massive redundancies for ” real people dedicated in their profession”. The coalition had underestimated soaring demands for social care for older people and for child protection. The Councils no longer believe that these life-or-death frontline services can be maintained.
Within hours a Chief Constable broke ranks to admit that the number of Bobbies on the beat will be slashed, and this at a time when crime is actually falling as a result of the community policing scheme. Public safety will be at risk was his summary. And then came the first indications that Clegg is losing control of his Lib Dem voting fodder. Perhaps aware of today’s poll which shows Lib Dem support at its lowest level for 20 years, the Deputy prime minister condemned the mass of Tory MPs who waved order papers in a show of delight at Osborne’s attack in the House on benefit claimants. It was, he said, not a cause for celebration. He also spoke publicly for the first time of his decision to break the pledge on tuition fees. “I feel very bad” he told an audience in Nottingham.
It was a one-thing-after-another-day. The Daily Telegraph, hardly a critic of Cameron and his colleagues, ran a story about the relationship between Cameron and Osborne. It seems that the wheels are coming off that too. It is claimed that there are huge differences between the two men over the future of the coalition and the nature of the Conservative Party. Two weeks ago Osborne told the BBC that he was planning to strip child benefit from higher rate taxpayers. Cameron knew nothing of this and took Osborne aside. The latter then disloyally briefed jornalists that Cameron was “starting to wobble”. Cameron’s idea of a big society also took a body blow when Osborne announced his cuts in a “smirking and partisan way”. Unlike his Chancellor one suspects that Cameron has a high level of self understanding and that he actually cares, it is easy to imagine that he is uneasy at the priority being given to ideology. The two men are poles apart.
The last thing that the coalition needed on such a day was a glowing endorsement from Cameron’s buddy, Rupert Murdoch. But it got one. Drawing a direct comparison between the government and Margaret Thatcher the media tycoon said that he was encouraged by the Cameron actions. It seems that Murdoch, who once described the Prime Minister as ‘lightweight’, is now enamoured with him and all his works. No doubt he is pleased with the action taken against the BBC too.
Almost as damaging was the announcement of the major UK Banks in regard to bonus payments. Although down on last year they will still start at £240,000. It seems that the Banks share everyone else’s view that they have been let off very lightly and therefore have cash to pocket. Champagne was apparently flowing in the city but not, one suspects, anywhere else.
After such a day it is hard to imagine the coalition either holding together for the longer term or holding the affection of the public. Hard and unfair is a far less attractive slogan than the one dreamed up by the spin-doctors just a few weeks ago!
STOCKPORT GOES RAVING MAD OVER BACON!
A cafe owner in Stockport has been ordered to remove an extraction fan because the smell of frying bacon offends passing Muslims. No, I haven’t made this up. Planning officials have acted against Beverley Akciecek after being told that her Muslim neighbour’s friend had been left “physically sick” by the “foul odour”.
Ironically Mrs Akciecek’s husband is himself a Turkish Muslim and the couple make their living preparing hot and cold sandwiches and hotpots for customers who include local Muslims.
Presumably Stockport Council has had the latest course on politically correct behaviour. Or maybe it has finally gone barking mad?
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. A Boeing 747 2. Mick Jagger
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which famous British philosopher died in February 1970? 2. Who acted as ‘A Question of Sport’s ‘ first quizmaster?