Posts Tagged ‘Private Companies’
This morning we noticed that the water in the large pond on the allotments has suddenly become crystal-clear. Throughout the summer and autumn it has been as black and forbidding as Albert’s vest, now we can actually count even the fish which lurk near the bottom. They must feel like Mrs Biggins when her curtains come down for their annual wash. But why does it happen?
Anyway, our attention today has been focussed on our primary schools. One of my fellow hen-keepers, Bill, has a niece who has just qualified to teach, and tells me that the government is proposing to reduce the number of times that a trainee can re-sit the final exams. Judy had to take the test three times and under the new rules she would have been fired off after two. Given the lass clearly has an affinity with small children and knows her subjects well that would have been a pity. But here’s the rub, Michael Gove has specifically excluded academies and free schools – run by private companies or other organisations outside of County Council control – from the new proposal. Now just why would he do that?
Character assasination is not our thing but it has to be said that Michael Gove always reminds us of those ’upper-class twits’ which used to feature in Monty Python. That’s his funny side, but there is a darker one. His behaviour toward those schools that have decided to stay within the state system is nothing short of dictatorial.
A perfect example is provided by Downhills primary school in Tottenham. The school has been told that either Gove will make an “academy order” or the governors can vote to do so themselves “by no later than 27 January 2012 ”. The school, he has ordered, must be taken over by “a business, university or private school”. Whichever emerges they will be free to use unqualified teachers.
This year Downhills has passed the acceptable rating of 60% and is making good progress, despite being in a difficult catchment area. Labour MP David Lammy is a former pupil and he is outraged by what is happening. There is, he says, no evidence that forced acadamies work in the primary sector and the Downhill children are being used in an attempt “to experiment with 100 years of proud history”.
Downhill’s head is Leslie Church. He says that the school has worked hard to improve the quality of teaching, but there is no alternative than to obey since Gove’s department is asking for a response without allowing any alternative. He worries that the move will mean that the school no longer has ” democratic accountability”. At present there is a democratically elected governing body, and a democratically elected local authority. Both have the power to change the head if they have cause for concern, neither has done so. Right now both parents and councillors see themselves as responsible and “behave in a supportive way”.
This is beginning to happen right across the country and, in the view of many educationalists, will have an adverse effect on primary schools where parent involvement is a major factor. Of course if the governors, who are elected by parents, decide to make such a move that is an entirely different matter.
But Gove is gaining a reputation as a little dictator. Before it is too late someone should remind him that we do still live in a democracy. Just!
TEST YOUR GENERAL KNOWLEDGE WITH THE WEEKEND QUIZ;
1. Which former First Lady was nicknamed “The Smiling Mamba”? 2. Who had hits with “Joanna” and “Celebration”? 3. Where would you see a facula? 4. Who played the title role in “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers”? 5. Which country has a unit of currency called the Leone? 6. The seaside town of Westward Ho is in which county? 7. Oloroso is a type of which drink? 8. Back in the charts in 2005, in what year was Bananarama’s first hit? 9. Which Wonder of the World statue was at Olympia? 10. In which century did William Caxton establish the first English printing press?
One of my fellow chicken-breeders travelled to London yesterday. Jack was determined to take part in the sit-down protest against the so-called NHS reforms bill and reports today that Westminster Bridge was closed for over an hour in both directions. Thousands took part and there was a heavy police presence. The protest drew support from right across the country.
Janet Bennet, a pensioner from Liverpool was there and said; “The NHS is important to poeple and we need to stand up and protect it from this creeping privatisation”. Susan Secher, a human resources manager from London said; “Our greatest fear is that the NHS will end up as an insurance-based, two or three-tier service”. Margaret Greenwood, a therapy radiographer from London, said; “In two or three year’s time we may not have a recognisable NHS. It represents wholesale privatisation”. Our very own Jack Pilling said; We have to stand up and be counted on this. Lansley will destroy the NHS”.
The protest organisation ’38 Degrees’ organised a simultaneous flood of emails to members of the House of Lords who receive the bill this week. Lansley is offering further amendments, in fact the bill now scarcely resembles the one that he originally launched. But its central theme remains – the introduction of the private sector.
Whilst no one is opposing the idea of GPs having a greater role in the task of commissioning, it is the place of competition in the bill that is causing the biggest furore to greet any proposal since the poll tax. Of course competition is a good thing in many fields. If we don’t like the Tesco offers we can go down the road to Asda, and so on. But when applied to essential services the concept fails utterly.
The proposed model is very similar to the one that sold off the utilities. Does anyone seriously believe that water services have been enhanced by being in the hands of private companies? Or electricity, gas etc? What competition does in social areas is to create mega, monopoly suppliers. Where it has so far been introduced in health and social care fields it has created faceless, unaccountable, remote companies such as Southern Cross. When its minions fail to deliver proper care who picks up the bill? In their case the revelations of mistreatment exposed by Panorama forced the government to take over.
Throughout this saga Lansley has regularly cited the American example. What he hasn’t mentioned is that whilst NHS management costs run at not much more than 3%, those in the USA account for nearly 20%. Private health and health insurance generate enormous transaction costs. It’s an expensive business processing billing for healthcare, challenging what you are getting for money, litigating for wound infections etc – and paying clever underwriters to squirm out of paying patients or hospitals.
The very nature of private healthcare systems generating choice requires surplus capacity – empty beds – so that patients can exercise that choice. It requires the seperation of elective treatment from emergency. It requires more investment up front to serve the fewer patients better. It requires a two-tier service with a lower-cost administration for the second, and larger, tier. It requires higher standards for tier one, and lower standards for the rest.
All that apart the introduction of competition entails a massively expensive tendering system. The scope for legal challenges will be enormous, and who provides the services not bid for such as accident and emergency which defies any cost analysis leading to ‘prices’? And then there is the vast cost of the proposed “market testing” of every tender. This will involve specifications, extra staff to set budgets and even more to measure quality. And how does the commitment to public consultation on every change, and reviews of service access materialise?
At the heart of all this is the mistaken belief that you can take away from hospitals work that is attractive to the private sector and its shareholders. Yes, it can be done but the result will be wholesale hospital closures and an ever growing tendency for those with deep pockets or expensive insurance to go to private hospitals for all elective treatment.
This is not an argument about ideology. It is about practicalities. Partial privatisation simply will not work alongside the commitment to provide healthcare of equal quality to all. But Lansley continues to argue that it will. Since his track record for judgement is broadly similar to that of Liam Fox we believe him at our peril!
Which reminds us of the appalling record of both this and Blair’s government in regard to probity. How long will it be before the press exposes links between ministers and selected private giants?
The new bill is a bridge too far. If it proceeds it will be the biggest step-backwards in our recent history!
Easy access to the best available health care is important to we old codgers of the allotments. But our concerns at what Andrew Lansley is proposing to do to the NHS extends far beyond the needs of an ageing group, we all fear that, whatever he says, the underlying intention of his ‘reforms’ is a two tier service in which the rich fair well and everyone else suffers. For some time now most of us have been regular visitors to the ’38 Degrees’ website where the protest organisation has attracted almost one million signatures in support of its petition demanding changes to the proposals. In this ’38 Degrees’ has had backing from the British Medical Association.
A few weeks ago an appeal for funding for a legal study of the plans raised sufficient cash for ’38 Degrees’ to engage two top legal experts to examine the small print of the bill which goes befiore parliament shortly. Yesterday their findings were published and one can only conclude that it is as well we didn’t rely on the apparent safeguards provided by Nick Clegg who, under pressure from the Lib Dem conference, had promised to stop any potentially damaging aspects of Lansley’s bill. It seems that the promise was as reliable as the one Clegg gave on tuition fees!
The two barristers, Stephen Cragg QC and Rebecca Haynes QC, make clear that the bill could pave the way for a shift towards a USA-style health care system where private companies profit at the expense of patient care. They particularly stress the implications of Lansley’s plan to remove his duty to provide our healthcare. A new ‘hands-off clause’ removes the government’s power to oversee local commissioning consortia and to guarantee the same level of service wherever we live. The outcome, warn the Barristers, will be huge increases in ‘postcode lotteries’ and less ways for citizens to hold the government to account.
Even more worrying is their verdict on the clauses concerning competition. The NHS will be subject to UK and EU competition law, and the reach of procurement will extend across all NHS Commissioners. Private health care providers will be entitled to take NHS commissiong groups to court if they don’t win contracts. Scarce public money will be tied up in legal wrangles instead of hospital beds. The door will be open for the private (largely American) healthcare companies to challenge for every NHS service. They will only need to win the volume treatments to render every hospital insolvent.
The third point made by the Barristers is that every UK hospital will be free to increase the number of private beds to whatever level they wish. They will be encouraged to liaise with the private sector with a view to maximising profit. And the more private beds, the fewer public ones and the longer the waiting times to occupy them.
Like the rest of us MPs tend to skip the small print. Like us they have probably been reassured by Cameron and Clegg’s double act of deception. But it is now clear that if they pass this bill the NHS as we know it is finished. Lansley is obsessed with the American model. Yes, he is right to cliam that the private companies there provide excellent and comprehensive treatment, what he doesn’t mention is that for the majority of the population, who cannot afford private insurance or fees, the level of care is appalling.
The NHS has improved immeasurably in recent years. But that is beside the point which is that everyone is entitled to the same level of service and money allocated is not drained off to pay shareholders.
The final death sentence for the NHS now rests in the hands of MPs and hundreds of thousands of emails are winging their way thanks to the facility provided by ’38 Degrees’. If, despite the new legal warnings, they decide to back Cameron, Clegg and Lansley a new dark age will dawn in which your chance of recovery from illness rests entirely on the depth of your pocket or purse!
TEST YOUR GENERAL KNOWLEDGE WITH TODAY’S MIDWEEK QUIZ!
1. Mica Paris and who replaced Trinny & Susannah on “What Not to Wear”? 2. Which famous survey started in 1086? 3. From which musical does the song ”One” come? 4. Ronald Reagan was in which political party? 5. Which Stephen directed the movie “Billy Elliot”? 6. In the Bible, what was the prophet Elijah carried up to heaven in? 7. What nationality was Casanova? 8. What was Al Jolson’s most famous line? 9. If a substance is oleaginous what does it mainly contain? 10. Which General led the junta in the 1982 seizure of the Falklands?
People often ask why a group of elderly geezers commit themselves to raisIng chickens, indeed there are many wet and cold mornings when we ask ourselves the same question. But the answer is simple, we need a reason to get up. Not every pastime provides this when the curtains are pulled to reveal Dantes inferno, but the involvement of animals leaves no option but to groan and rise. We were mulling this over today in the light of news that the quality of care for the elderly and vulnerable in this country is rapidly descending to third-world standards and worse. Last night a Panorama investigation provided an insight into the performance of the private sector so beloved of Andrew Lansley and his pals. Clearly they are right to claim that switching to private companies will increase choice, what they didn’t tell us is that torture is on the menu.
As the result of a whistleblower the Beeb managed to install a reporter on the staff of Winterborne View, a care home near Bristol for adults with autism and learning disabilities. The home is run by Castlebeck, a company with a £90 million turnover which runs more than 50 such units. The company charges the NHS and local authoritiues up to £3500 a week to provide care for patients.
But what we saw last night, thanks to a hidden camera, was an appalling catalogue of cruel abuse. In fact a watching expert described what they regularly did as torture and one didn’t need to be an expert to realise that. Patients were pinned under chairs for long periods, had water poured over their heads, given cold showers when fully dressed, treated as punchbags…one disgusting abuse followed another. A woman apparently attempting to commit suicide was told “Come on I’ll keep the window open for ya. I like watching you lot try to jump”. Another member of staff said “If you are on your own you have to smash her”. Another chanted “Nein, nein, nein” as someone placed his knee across a patient’s throat.
Two things emerged. The staff were using vulnerable patients for their own sadistic amusement. The staff were untrained, poorly paid and totally unsupervised. It was, to quote the watching Professor Jim Mansell, the author of the Government’s policy on disability care, the worst kind of institutional care, the kind that was prevalent in the 1960s. “The staff”, he added, “ don’t think that these are human beings like them”.
To me the most significant revelation was that a large private provider seemed to have no awareness of what was going on. Lee Reed, the chief executive of Castlebeck, said that the staff should have been suspended but were not. As in any private company the prime objective is profit. Inspections, trained staff and a supervised code of practice cost money. Having once been a member of a Health Authority inspection team covering private nursing homes I have to admit that I was not unduly surprised.
The simple truth is that private companies enter the healthcare field to make profit and unlike, say, a retailer have no opportunity to increase volumes once all beds are occupied. So they can only improve their margins by providing less costly care than that tendered for.
This government is not alone in believing that the private sector is some kind of potential saviour for the NHS. The last government paid out millions to companies for operations they never performed. And amongst those that were carried out any complication was immediately passed on to the nearest NHS hospital. Caring medicine and maximum profitability are disastrous bedfellows.
The police are now involved in the situation exposed by the Beeb. That is good news. Equally pleasing is the insight it provided into the dark world of private medical care. Lansley’s plan deserves total opposition!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEAD QUIZ; 1. What my Heart Wants To Say. 2. Monkey 3. Ailurophobia 4. Turkey 5. Rudyard Kipling 6. One 7. Senegal 8. Theme from Harry’s Game 9. John Prescott 10. Fruits .
Several of my allotment pals have enjoyed my problems with the great new communications highway. Admittedly the ones saying ‘we told you so’ are those who still use two cocoa tins with string rather than mobile phones, but as one disaster has followed another I must confess that my sense of wonder at the new age instant messaging has become somewhat dulled. But we seem to be up and running today even if the facility for exchanging comments has yet to resurface.
But everyone seems agreed an one thing. The rolling over of the government on its proposal to sell off our forests is great news for democracy. Thanks to organisations such as ’38 Degrees’ over one hundred emails were sent to MPs and over 530,000 members of the public signed a petition. Caroline Spelman was forced to apologise and admit that “we misread the public reaction”. Pity they didn’t seek it before blundering in!
Ed Miliband has predicted that an even greater storm is building on the Lansley plans to privatise the NHS, and he could be right. This time around the coaltion faces massive opposition from the British Medical Association and General Practitioners who believe that the plan to allow private companies to ‘cherry pick’ easy-to-run services will damage our hospitals and lower the standards of clinical care.
Having experience of NHS hospitals I am quite clear that what is proposed will do enormous damage. But as at today I am even more worried about the immediate affect of the massive cuts in funding. Yes, cuts. When ministers claim to be protecting NHS funding they are lying. All hospitals face huge ‘efficiency targets’, cuts by any other name. Andrew Lansley talks about cutting administration, and in regard to Primary Care Trusts he is right. But hospitals are already down to the bone and such admin staff as now remains is largely involved in key tasks such as medical records and appointment setting. So the cuts will have to come from front line doctors and nurses.
The fatal action is already underway. Yesterday 986 redundancies were announced at two London hospitals, St Georges and Kingston, and doctors leaders warned that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Peter Carter of the Royal College of Nursing is hoerified and warned that “there is no way that the loss of almost 100 staff will not affect care for patients”. He added that the rhetoric “of protecting the frontline and what is actually happening on hospotal wards is widening by the day”. At the two hospitals in question those losing their jobs include consultants, doctors and nurses and the number of beds is being reduced.
Across the country there have already been cuts in numbers of medical staff totalling 3,400, and the number is growing by the day. The government has waived waiting time targets and the chances are that the queues will begin to lengthen over the next few weeks. The number of older folk is growing and the demand for services with it. Our hospitals are beseiged and are heading for collapse. A good example is to be found in Southend where the Foundation Trust is having to axe 400 jobs and close six wards and in Croydon, where twelve elective surgery beds are being closed. Even the most famous hospotals are tottering, Barts is shedding 630 staff includng 250 nurses.
Add to all this the potential chaos of the widely disputed Lansley plans and you have the assurance of meltdown. Trust me, I know what I’m doing, says Lansley. Exactly the words Spelman used when fighting for the Forest sales!
The government is right to look for highly paid non-jobs such as many which exist in local councils. But they don’t exist in our hard-pressed hospitals. Has Andrew Lansley ever used an Accident and Emergency department?
’38 Degrees’ is gearing up for a campaign to save the NHS. Everyone should pray that it repeats its success over the Forests. If it doesn’t, this will not be a good country in which to become ill!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY “ I’m not against half-naked girls. Not as often as I would like to be”….Woody Allen “People think I hate sex. I don’t. I just don’t like things that stop you watching television”…Victoria Wood ” A sexagenarian? At his age? That’s disgusting”….Gracie Allen “I asked this girl out and she said, ‘You got a friend?’ I said yes, she said ‘Then go out with him”….Dom Irrera “I was dating a transvestite. My mother said ‘Marry him. You’ll double your wardrobe”…..Joan Rivers “The nice thing about stalkers = they’re always there for you”…Jenny Abrams “I asked my accountant if anything could get me out of the mess I am in now. He thought for a long time….’Yes’ he said. ‘Death would help’ “……Robert Morley “What is it about people that repair shoes that makes them so good at cutting keys?”….Harry Hill “I used to sell hearing aids door to door. It wasn’t easy, because your best prospects never answered”…Bob Monkhouse “Wanted: curate for country parish, slow left arm bowler preferred”..Advert in Times “Did you ever hear of a kid, while playing, pretend to be an accountant, even if he wanted to be one? “…..Jackie Mason “Of course prostitutes have babies. Where do you think traffic wardens come from? “…Dave Dutton ”Living on earth may be expensive but it includes a free trip around the sun”….Ashleigh Brilliant “If the universe is expanding, why can’t I find a parking space? “….Woody Allen “A computer is like an Old Testament God – lots of rules and no mercy”….Joseph Campbell “We live in an age where the pizza arrives at your house before the police do”….Jeff Marder “LA; any town that has an all-night, drive-in taxidermist has got to be weird”…Billy Connolly. ” If voting changed anything, they’d abolish it!”….Ken Livingstone.
ANSWERS TO THE LAST QUIZ; 1. Presbyterians and Congregationalists 2. Princess Anne
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1 In what year was Jimmy Carter elected president of the USA? 2. Which member of the British royal family was killed in a flying accident in 1971?
We had a sharp reminder this morning that winter isn’t over yet. Everything was frozen solid and the long-discarded blow-torch was back in action. There are several supporters for the save the world from climate change lobby but Albert is not one of them. On mornings such as this he delights in reminding us of the predictions that Blackpool beach will become too hot to venture on. I have to admit that it is sometimes easier to believe in global cooling! Of course none of us was sufficiently savvy to climb aboard the biggest racket this country has ever known – and that’s saying something- which is Private Finance Initiatives (PFI). Had we done so, we would be lounging on some distant beach, and I don’t mean Blackpool.
One plus point for the coalition is that it has quickly identified the biggest waste of public money this country has ever known. PFIs were introduced by the last Conservative government and were used throughout the whole of the Blair and Brown years. With the honourable exception of Private Eye they received little publicity and were clearly seen by both Tory and Labour ministers as an easy way to build hospitals and schools without incurring a debit on the national balance sheet.
And private companies have made billions of pounds at the taxpayer’s expense. Under the schemes private enterprises meet the upfront costs of building and then operate them, recouping the money from the taxpayer over many years. Sounds good in theory but the implementation was scandalous. For example, Treasury figures show that taxpayers will spend £229 billion on projects that cost the contractor only £56 billion. The biggest single PFI contractor was ‘Innisfree’, which employs just 14 people but now owns, or co-owns, 28 NHS hospitals and 269 schools.
Its chief executive has built a personal fortune of more than £50 million since founding the company in 1995. Yesterday Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, said that many of the deals done were “ghastly”. He added that “many of the contracts we have discovered were unacceptable and the people on the other side must have been laughing all the way to the bank”.
Many hospitals and schools now have a millstone around their necks. In some cases the buildings will be obsolete long before the debt has been paid off. And to make things even worse the contractors control all maintenance and charge astronomic fees for rectifying even the smallest fault. Many of the original contracts have been sub-contracted and it is now extremely difficult to identify the many snouts gathered around the publicly funded trough.
A campaign being led by Jesse Norman, a Tory bankbencher, is calling for PFI firms to pay a £500 million rebate to the exchequer. He is entirely justified but the chances of it happening are remote. The tuck shop has been closed and the profiteers are heading for sunlit tax havens.
There is probably reason to suspect that even the process of awarding such enormously generous deals was itself corrupt. Either way, successive governments literally gave away more billions than the current national deficit. And yet no one complained, no one questionned what was going on, except for Ian Hislop’s magazine which constantly attempted to blow the whistle on the scandal of our age.
Suddenly everyone can read of a massive contribution to the financial mess that now engulfs us. Suddenly we realise, if we didn’t already know, that politicians of all parties are not to be trusted. Yes the Banks were the prime contributors to our fate but the successive chancellors who went along with this massive racket also played a major part!
So if you are redundant, or in any way a victim of the Osborne cuts, you may be forgiven for thinking that the very people who now assure you that we are all in this together were part of the structure that allowed this daylight robbery to occur!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “Women might start a rumour, but not a war”….Marga Gomez “Smart girls know how to play tennis, piano and dumb”….Lynn Redgrave “Wild horses wouldn’t drag a secret out of most women; however, women seldom have lunch with wild horses”….Ivern Boyett “No woman ever shot her husband while he was doing the dishes”……George Coote “I am all for women’s rights – and for their lefts too”….Groucho Marx “It is noticeable that in all the discussion about the femininity of God, the masculainity of the Devil goes unchallenged”….Christopher Russell “If you think women are the weaker sex just try pulling the blankets over to your side”……Stuart Turner “When they told me that in 2100 women will rule the world my reply was ‘Still?’….Winston Churchill “I look like the girl next door, if you happen to live next to an amusement park”…..Dolly Parton “To attract men I use a perfume called ‘New Car Interior’ “…..Rita Rudner “Men aren’t attracted to me by my mind. They’re attracted by what I don’t mind”…..Gypsy Rose Lee “My wife and I have Olympic sex. Once every four years!”…..Rodney Dangerfield
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Maurice Chevalier 2. Chess
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who was the first to run a mile in under 3min 50sec? 2 In whose name was a cricket pitch dug up and daubed with graffiti?
With most colleagues having only just gone to bed the task of rousing sundry animals fell to Vernon and yours truly this morning. Our self understanding tells us that neither of us are really in to yelling Auld Lang Syne when three sheets into the wind and we volunteered to cover for those that are. Our halos were so large that we had to pass through the gate sideways. It gave us a chance to examine the CCTV film, a task that is still a novelty. It will soon wane for to date all we have caught has been shots of Albert adjusting his new front teeth. Of course the sad thing is that we have need for such security at all.
But a local Bobby told me that at national level there is great tension about terrorism and all shopping malls and other places where crowds gather have been put on to high alert. And the worst aspect of this is that the threat comes not from some foreign power but from British citizens. I guess that says it all about the immigration policies of successive governments and the shackles that have been put on the security forces in the name of political correctness.
For too long the subject has been suppressed but now the situation is heading out of control. David Cameron was very brave to tackle the issue head-on in his New Year message. He began by talking of the arrest of nine men accused of plotting a Christmas bombing campaign. Had the police not uncovered the plot and acted it is possible that thousands could now be dead.
The prime minister went on to suggest that, as a nation, we now face fundamental questions about why young Muslims continue to be drawn into violent extremism. He called for the Muslim community to help address how their minds are “poisoned’. We all know at least some of the answers, not least among which has been the pressure on the police not to be heavy handed with extremist preachers and the reluctance of the courts to act against those brought before them.
The United Kingdom now has more ‘enemies within’ than at any time in its history. And Mr Cameron has some of his own too. It seems that a prolonged row is continuing within the coalition. Lib Dems are pressing hard for some of Labour’s contentious security measures to be watered down. Meet a Lib Dem minister and expect human rights to be mentioned within minutes. What Clegg and his pals seem unable to grasp is that the rights of the many must exceed the rights of the few. Yes, in an ideal world we want a block on even the remotest possibility of police arresting innocent people. But we are not in an ideal world, we are in one where innocent shoppers can be blown to pieces by demented madmen.
It may well be the case that Blair’s dalliance with Bush has helped to ferment this situation but it is too late to change that. Our soldiers are dying in Afghanistan and since we are prepared to countenance that we must also countenance harsh measures at home to clamp down on the disciples of the murderous al-Qaeda. In opposing such actions Mr Clegg is conveniently forgetting that the Iraqi Muslim, Taimur Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, who carried out the recent suicide attack in Stockholm, lived in Luton and was radicalised at Bedfordshire University. To talk of closing Universities that allow such influences and to ban students from abroad may sound measures to the right of Genghis Khan but the alternative is looming very large.
One senses that David Cameron is only hesitating to introduce harsher measures because of the antics of his coalition partners and a belief that the public will not support them. I suspect that a poll would show that the vast majority are sick of the constant fear of insane attacks.
New Year resolutions are seldom kept but this is one that should be made and bedded in concrete. If 2011 is to be the better year that we all yearn for David Cameron must have the courage of his convictions. If the Lib Dems and their friends feel that human rights are being damaged they should perhaps emigrate to Iraq or Afghanistan where they might find that those whose rights they wish to protect believe that such sentiments are for the birds!
Happy New Year and, hopefully, a safe one!
FORENSIC DECISION IS A BAD MISTAKE!
The coalition has decided to close down the national Forensic Labs. A service will now, in theory, be provided by private companies. Experts have warned that this seriously jeopardises the justice system in the UK, a view based on the many time-consuming investigations that have led to convictions for serious crimes.
The Deputy Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, has appealed to the government to reconsider its decision. He has warned that the private sector will not be willing to undertake large volumes of work which involve them in losing money. He adds that by its very nature work carried out by the Forensic Service can be very time consuming and costly. It is hard to quantify in terms of hours spent, the base on which any private company will operate.
Mr Hoyle warns that the decision will make many investigations impossible and says that “it does not make sense and should be reversed immediately”.
Will Ministers listen? Not if Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Minister, has his way. He seems opposed to any form of punishment and probably sees arrests as unnecessary!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. A system for writing Chinese in the Roman alphabet 2. Ceefax
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Dennis Gabor won the Nobel prize for physics in 1977 for work in what technique? 2. The Tarbela Dam in Pakistan was completed in 1975. Which river does it dam?
Mark Borkowski, a leading public relations expert was quick to give us what sounds the perfect summary of Tony Blair’s sudden largesse. It was, declares Mr Borkowski in this morning’s papers, ” a stroke of PR genius-probably the best PR stunt I have seen all year”. The expert goes on to describe Tony Blair’s ‘brand’ as a toxic one but offers a crumb of comfort to the former Prime Mimister who will be pleased to know that the move will ‘deflect a certain amount of criticism, it is a genius move”.
The fact that the only sort-of-praise to appear amongst the early reactions to the announcement of Blair’s gift to the Royal British Legion comes from a practitioner in the dubious art of public relations says it all. It is hard to imagine that this is other than an attempt to repair a damaged reputation, it is equally hard to imagine that it will succeed, history will surely conclude that the God-fearing Mr Blair mislead a nation in pursuit of international glory and caused the death of vast numbers in a futile war.
Some grieving relatives have suggested that the Legion should refuse the gift of the outcome of Mr Blair’s forthcoming memoirs but this seems illogical. The charity should surely accept money from the Devil himself since its sole aim is to help those wounded in the war who now face a desperate future. There seems to be great confusion as to how much it will actually receive in this case, as with everything that the late Prime Minister does there are many unanswered questions. Does the donation include the advances paid? Is it free of tax? What are the tax benefits to the donor? The list goes on but the simple fact remains that the important fund needs every penny that it can get to offset the lack of adequate support for heroes from government.
Of course Mr Blair is hardly making a huge personal financial sacrifice. He is thought to have made up to £20 million from consultancy, private companies and public appearances since leaving office in 2007. As well as lucrative advisory roles for JP Morgan and Zurich Financial Services, he also set up Tony Blair Associates, which receives payments for advising both the Kuwaiti government and Mubadala, an Abu Dhabi sovereign fund. Former Prime Ministers are supposed to provide details of their income after leaving Parliament. But Mr Blair has fought a two-year battle with the independent scrutiny committee to keep secret his job with UI Energy Corporation, a South Korean oil firm.
He also commands six-figure sums on the international after-dinner circuit, where he is usually booked through the Washington Speakers Bureau whose stable includes his friend George W Bush. One speech alone in China earned him a reported £200,000. So it all adds up to a fortune made off the back of holding public office, not a crime but something that renews the stench surrounding our political classes of late. How big a fortune is unclear because, to quote Mike Warburton, a senior tax partner at the accountants Grant Thornton, “his network of companies make it impossible to establish his earnings. They are opaque and we don’t know where the money comes from or where it goes to, but at the end of the chain you have a company that does not file accounts”.
But whether he can easily afford it or not will the gesture mark a turning point in the realationship with a nation that once loved him and now regards him with at best great suspicion? Unlikely. Lindsey German, of the Stop The War Coalition, says that it shows that Mr Blair is worried about adverse publicity. She storms that “he lied about the Iraq war, refused to express any regret at the Chilcot inquiry and his attempt to salve his conscience will be of little comfort to those injured or who have lost loved ones”. The popular Falklands veteran Simon Weston, who these days campaigns for ex-service personnel, added that “if he donated £460 million it would not be enough to wash his hands clean of all the blood”.
In a strange way I almost feel sorry for Tony Blair. He is now hounded much as Dr Kelly was by the circle that surrounded the then Prime Minister. When, together with a group of Doctors I met him soon after his landslide victory I came away impressed. He seemed different to other politicians, he appeared open and caring, fearless almost. I can only conclude that he was a good actor with no self understanding or that at some later time he became infatuated with power and the prospect of being twinned with the most powerful man on earth. Undoubtedly Bush would have invaded Iraq anyway but perhaps Blair had fallen in love with the idea of being a world leader.
Perhaps we will never know what really motivated this flawed man. But we should remember one thing, he did not do it alone. At any time during those frantic weeks leading up to what Nick Clegg calls an illegal war either his Ministers or the Conservative opposition could have stopped him. They chose not to and their claims that he misled them do not ring entirely true. They must have known that no weapons of mass destruction had been found even before Dr Kelly revealed it.
Maybe our reactions will change over the passage of time but right now it is impossible to see this donation doing other than to bring even more condemnation for Tony Blair whose only virtue is that he stands by his decsion to go to war unlike many who shared it. But every black cloud has at least a small silver lining and some much needed money is on the way to help the setting up of the Battle Back Challenge Centre, a place made essential by a tissue of lies and the betrayal of a nation.
NEW PRIVACY LAW?
Britain could be on the way to getting its first privacy law to stop judges creating one by stealth through the courts. Lord McNally has suggested that the right to privacy could be enshrined in law after a number of celebrities were awarded so-called ‘super-injunctions’ to gag the press.
We will doubtless hear howls of rage from the campaigners for freedom of speech but the media have brought this situation upon themselves with the endless stream of ‘revelations’ about the private lives of familiar people. In the vast majority of cases there is no question of serving the public interest, the sole motive is to boost circulation by pandering to voyeurism.
But there need to be safeguards to avoid genuine public-interest stories being suppressed. Had such a law been in force at the time, would we ever have learned of the scandal of MP’s expenses?
DID YOU KNOW? The expession ‘sleep tight’ derives from the days when occupants of feather beds found themselves sinking into a hard, airless fissure between billowly hills. Support was on a lattice of ropes which could be tightened with a key when they began to sag. The practice ended in 1865 when spring mattresses were invented but the term sleep tight lives on.
YESTERDAYS QUIZ ANSWERS; 1 Benny Hill 2. Kermit
TIODAYS QUESTIONS; 1 Which President of Cyprus was forced into exile in 1974? 2. What voyage did Kenichi Horie complete in 1974?
Even scheming politicians surely realise that the early collapse of the coalition would be a national disaster, certainly the rest of us do. But on that possibility there is little to fear since the only thing that could cause it is the withdrawal of support by the Lib Dems and that isn’t going to happen any time soon since an election would see their annihilation. Their only hope is to hang in there, obey their Tory masters, and hope that the economy is stabilised. Then they can seperate and attempt to claim the credit, however implausible that appears. As my Gran used to say, they have made their bed and must lie on it!
The problem for those of us who trust no Party is that, whilst we see the importance of stability for the time being, we find it hard to fathom out what the coalition is really up to. Spokesmen will say that the only item on the agenda is to tighten the collective belt. But thta isn’t what informed observers believe is their real priority. And they don’t come btter informed than John Redwood who yesterday described the talk of 25 per centage cuts as pure fiction. It is neither possible nor desirable, he added.
If saving costs is not the principle aim then what is? Angus Maude gave us the answer yesterday. The coalition is , he said, more radical than either Thatcher or Blair. Whilst he sees the need for economies he sees also the need to ‘unleash a new wave of entrepeneurs willing to take over public services as co-ops or mutuals’. One suspects he almost added ‘or simply as private companies’. Iain Duncan Smith weighed in with the claim that there is only limited time to make reform happen, ‘if you are going to make change you must do it early’. He could have added ‘whilst the great British public is still in love with the coalition’.
In other words what is essentially a Conservative government sees the chance to use the smoke-screen of massive cuts to rush in the traditional Tory policy of privatisation. Apart from the fact that it did not receive an electoral mandate, no one can criticise a Party for pursuing its mainstream policies. The problem lies in implementation. Like many, I still remember the previous Conservative administration’s decision to privatise British Leyland. It was clearly the right policy but the implementation was inept, muddled and incompetent. The result was the gifting of vast amounts of public money to Euorpean companies such as DAF and entrepeneurs, all of whom failed to the extent of destroying. the once strong British Truck and Bus manufacturing.
The problem today is the quality of the Ministers suddenly given free rein. Unlike either Blair or Brown, David Cameron is a delegator. That has much to commend it but only if those to whom projects are delegated know what they are doing. And the problem there is that a Prime Minister has to select the heads of vast govermental bodies from around 300 plus MPs. Cross off 100 who are either too inexperienced or worn out, wipe off another 100 who are clearly all mouth and no trousers, and he has to select some 30 or so key players from a squad of little over a hundred. And Mr Cameron doesn’t seem to have chosen well.
Two areas right at the forefront of the privatisation push are Education and the NHS. It may be true that some degree of private sector involvement would help but both areas could easily topple over into chaos if the planning is not carefully considered and ordered. But here we have two Ministers, Messr Gove and Lansley, who give the clear impression of making plans up as they go along and seem to lack any self understanding. Some of my old civil service contacts tell me that there are no carefully worked out plans and add that the routine emerging is to announce an aim and then attempt to trnslate it into a plan that will not break either bank or public acceptance.
It is not hard to believe this. Michael Gove has already had to apologise on two occasions for providing false information. He completely miscalculated the number of school building projects being cancelled and he overstated by 1000 the number of schools applying for so-called academy status. He wasn’t trying to mislead, he was simply making things up as he went along. His aim is undoubtedly to move back to some form of selective education and many of the chattering middle-classes will support him. But there are two buts!
How can such a massive change be effected over such a short time scale without bringing several years of chaos to so many schools that are perfroming to excellent standards under the comprehensive banner? And how do we as a society live with the idea of effectively destroying the dream of many children from less priviledged backgrounds? Of course we all understand the difference between teaching chikldren whose parents strain every sinew to help them and those whose home life is damaging and unsupporting. But if we then seperate one group from the other the stimulus that the talented child receives from others is lost for ever.
Andrew Lansley gives every indication of being as inept as Mr Gove. He rightly decided to abolish the hugely bureaucratic and wasteful structure which Labour imposed on the NHS. But he announced it immediately without having any sensibly worked out plan to replace bodies such as Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities. He blurted out a confused idea involving GPs and predictably is now at loggerheads with the leading clinical bodies. Presumably what he is trying to do is to sub-contract much NHS work to American Health Care companies and has reasoned that GPs will be grateful to hand the administration over. Even this has further flaws since any transfer out of hospitals of the ‘profitable’ routine work will see many unable to fund the complex case work.
During the election Mr Lansley promised absolutely to stop top-down reorganisations of the NHS and the closures of hospitals and Accident & Emergency units. Now he is singing a different tune and the worrying part is not that he misled – they all do that – but that he is racing along without any clear plan as to where he is going. Morale in the NHS was low under Labour’s meddling, it is now at rock bottom under a regime that is seen as totally lacking in understanding of what happens on the front line.
There is of course a secondary worry surrounding all of the drastic reforms being announced one after the other. In the first couple of years they will not produce cost savings and they will almost certainly lead to confusion and poorer service. Grumpy Gordon may not have been the most popular guy in Whitehall but both as Chancellor and Prime Minister he had every change minutely examined and tested before approving its announcement. Mr Cameron would be well advised to leave diplomacy to the Foreign Office and to follow suit.
As we have all learned over many years, transferring essential services to the private sector do not necessarily lead to either lower costs or better service provision. It you doubt that try examining your bills for water, power and the like. Yes, it was right to privatise them but too much control was ceded, too few tight contracts drawn up. And now we are facing similar cavalier treatment for subjects such as health and education.
All men and women of goodwil,l and even ferreters, hope that the coalition will steer us thorugh to calmer financial times and recognise that its collapse and an early return to another dose of repressive state control and interference would achieve nothing. But many fear the worst if the early performance of Ministers, who have never run any large enterprise, is any guide.
I would be pleasantly surprised if this pseudo-Conservative reforming government survives long enough to show that the chaos it wrought was or wasn’t justified.!
AND ANOTHER THING; What a delight it has been to watch the performance of team GB in the European championships. Some of yesterday’s gold-medal successes were the perfect antidote for the sickenly poor show put on by our megastar footballers in the World Cup. And it was good to see the focus centered on the athletes rather than a Manager and even better to witness the genuine pleasure that all the competitors took from the performance of their team-mates. I admit to a preference for football and cricket but must admit that we come well short of athletics in terms of sportsmanship and sheer commitment.
AND A QUESTION? How in touch with public interests are the newspapers? Most carried exhaustive reports of the marriage of Chelsea Clinton and pages were covered with fine detail of the security, the guest lists, the air-conditioned tents,the vineyards that produced the wine and Lord knows what else. Am I really alone in not giving a twopenny piece about the whole extravaganza?