Now comes the reckoning

September 19th, 2014

The 55%-45% divide was larger than any of the polls had predicted and may reflect the last-minute fear factor strongly projected by the inglorious and verging-on-hysterical Westminster establishment.   But it will come as an immense relief both to Cameron, who would almost certainly have been unceremoniously ejected if the Yes vote had won, and to Ed Miliband who will now hang on to those key 41 Labour Scottish seats, though the noise about the West Lothian Question will grow markedly louder.  For the LibDems it makes little odds since they’re already toast.    But the real question is just how the far-reaching commitments made at the desperate end of the campaign will be implemented, how fully and over what timescale.    What will be the effects on Scotland and equally importantly on the rest of the country? (more…)

Labour conference fringe meeting on Austerity

September 19th, 2014

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UK must not be sucked into yet another war in Iraq

September 18th, 2014

Whatever the result of the Scots’ referendum, an even bigger issue is now rapidly coming down the line.   As the US is being dragged remorselessly into what Obama likes to call a counter-insurgency campaign in Iraq-Syria – a war by any other name – it is vital that the UK doesn’t tamely follow suit as Blair did at Bush’s beckoning in 2003.   A war fought by US bombers and drones, together with a steadily increasing number of US special forces and ‘advisers’ – boots on the ground whether or not they ostensibly have a combat mission – is not going to be won for years, if at all, when the regional coalition-of-the-willing (mainly Saudi, Turkey and Qatar) are unwilling to deploy their own troops, with the exception of the Kurdish peshmerga.   There remains too the further critical difficulty that an attack on ISIS in their real power base in northern Syria has no legality if Assad has not asked for such action (he certainly won’t), there is no Security Council resolution sanctioning such a move, and Russia would almost certainly veto such action in the Security Council and threaten to retaliate in other ways. (more…)

The new G20 tax avoidance rules need to be aimed at the banks & super-rich as well as corporations

September 17th, 2014

The latest OECD draft rules to regulate massive corporate tax avoidance are a real advance so long as the 44 countries concerned (90% of the world’s economy) stick to their resolve, push these measures through and resist the enormous lobbying that they can expect from a determined corporate push-back.   But the past record on that is not good, and in particular Osborne is already threatening to break ranks in a manner totally discordant with all the other participants.   The new regulations should at last stop companies exploiting differences between tax regimes to achieve artificial tax avoidance on an industrial scale via what are called hybrid mismatch structures.   Other draft rules will require multinationals to give tax authorities a country-by-country detailed breakdown of their activities and earnings, so that they will no longer be able to carry out their operations in high-tax countries but then artificially register their profits for tax in low or virtually no tax countries. (more…)

Almost total tack of accountability of private hospitals is a glaring scandal

September 16th, 2014

Last month’s report by the Centre for Health and the Public Interest on patient safety risks in private hospitals is a real eye-opener.   Apparently more than 800 people have died ‘unexpectedly’ in private hospitals in the last 4 years, and a total of 921 serious injuries were recorded.   Even this may be a significant under-estimation since private hospitals are still not required to make data on hospital deaths and safety incidents publicly available.   The majority of private hospitals have no intensive care beds.   Some have no dedicated resuscitation teams, and surgeons and anaesthetists usually work in isolation.   There is often very little experienced cover at night, and typically there is one very junior doctor covering an entire hospital.   There are also gaps in after-care if things go wrong.

The NHS is increasingly being used as a support service for the private hospital sector.   More than a quarter of the sector’s income now comes from treating NHS-funded patients, and the NHS regularly serves as a ‘safety net’.   Thousands of people are regularly transferred to the NHS after treatment in private hospitals, with more than 2,600 emergency NHS admissions from the private sector in 2012-3.   Outrageously the NHS is not reimbursed for this, even if the emergency care follows a failure by a private hospital. (more…)

Near-universal call for industrial recovery blocked by 3 parties’ obsession with austerity

September 15th, 2014

Today’s YouGov poll says 85% want the next government to promote a stronger UK manufacturing base, with 62% believing it will give the country more economic security.   They’re absolutely right of course, and that is the centrepiece of my book ‘The State We Need: Keys to the Renaissance of Britain (published by Biteback – and I can offer copies at a half-price £10).   But it isn’t going to happen unless there is a profound sea-change in the conventional wisdom of the 3 main political parties.   As long as economic policy is driven by austerity-first, there will almost certainly continue to be desperately low levels of investment, little or no growth or rise in output per head, no increase in living standards, all accompanies by rising national and government debt, increasing unemployment and relentless relative if not actually absolute decline. (more…)

The economic ‘recovery’ won’t hold till election next May

September 14th, 2014

Fortunately for Osborne, Scotland is keeping the parlous state of the economy out of the news.   UK manufacturing export orders have now turned negative for the first time in nearly 2 years, dimming any expectations that manufacturing and exports would lead the way in any upsurge.   The immediate reasons blamed are the flagging Eurozone economy, the rise in geopolitical risks, and a stronger sterling exchange rate now recovering from the earlier panic about the Scotland vote.  The longer-term and much more disturbing reason is the crass neglect of manufacturing during and since the Thatcher era and the abandonment of regional policy after the de-industrialisation of the North.   What these latest figures show is that the recovery, such as it is, is wholly reliant on growth in financial services, since this is still the only sector which has exceeded its pre-crash peak.   Manufacturing remains in the doldrums still at 7% below its peak, and construction even deeper mired in stagnation at 10% below. (more…)

Rona Fairhead to chair BBC Trust shows appointments system needs big shake-up

September 13th, 2014

Amid all the hysteria over the referendum a few other events are worth noting below the radar, though obviously on a much lesser scale.   Two appointments and one non-dismissal have been notable in this last week alone, though these are only the latest examples of a long decline in proper accountability in this country.   After a string of well-known public figures had all turned down the post of the government’s choice to chair the BBC Trust, Rona Fairhead agreed to accept it.   It is a position requiring a lot of sensitive handling after the Savile abuse saga, controversies over executive payoffs of £369m, and a failed digital media venture.   Yet Fairhead declared that whilst she would ‘prioritise’ her job as the BBC’s chief regulator (so that’s all right then), she would also cling on to her non-executive roles at HSBC and the US multinational Pepsi – quite likely the terms she exacted from the government to take up the job at all.   This is clearly unacceptable.   We urgently need a Code of Conduct for all top posts in the public sector which requires them to concentrate exclusively on their very important role in the public interest – or else they shouldn’t be eligible for such a crucial full-time post. (more…)

Whatever happens, Scots unlikely to get real independence

September 12th, 2014

If the Yes vote wins next Thursday (which I personally doubt), the immediate result – apart from the SNP euphoria – will be tough and hard bargaining between the Bank of England, Whitehall and the EU as to how the new powers are to be carved out.   The spirit of liberality about quasi-Home Rule sprinkled around in the last desperate week of campaigning by a panicky Westminster establishment will be dissipated as the cold light of a very uncertain dawn emerges.   The currency union which would be first choice for the SNP is unlikely – the Westminster government isn’t bluffing about this – or if it was granted at all, it will probably be associated with tough debt conditions and deficit restrictions which would be incompatible with the kind of welfare economics that Salmond is pledged to deliver.   Nor will an independent Scotland commend itself to an aggrieved rest of the UK if it carries through its aggressive intention to set its corporation tax 3% below the British rate to draw capital away from the remainder of the UK.   That then would lessen funding for public services and pension provision, again part of the oasis that Salmond offers. (more…)

If a referendum works in Scotland, why doesn’t Labour pledge a referendum on a fully public NHS?

September 11th, 2014

Whoever wins on 18 September, the old order of the Tory-dominated Westminster establishment is finished.   If the Yes vote wins, it will have enormous negative repercussions for the London-based power structure and will spark huge and largely irresistible demands for real devolution of power for Wales and Northern Ireland as well as the metropolitan city regions in England.   If the No vote wins, the constitutional package now being offered to the Scottish people goes a long way to promoting a federal structure.   Gordon Brown on behalf of Coming Together is already advocating in his 12-point plan something akin to Home Rule. (more…)

G4S, Serco, Rotherham all bang to rights, but still carry on business as usual

September 10th, 2014

The Commons spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee, has uncovered that G4S has been allowed to bid for further government contracts while being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office regarding £110m contracts for cheating the taxpayer over payments for tagging prisoners on probation and for its improper management of invoicing, delivery and performance reporting.   Serco is also being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office as well as by the City of London police over two contracts worth nearly £100m, especially in regard to payments claimed for prisoner escorts.   Grayling, the justice secretary, had written in September last year that “we should not award new contracts for the two companies until we have established the facts about both their performance and their corporate behaviour”.   The facts have been established: they grossly over-charged for the work done, yet despite Grayling’s denials they are still being allowed to apply for further lucrative government contracts.   In today’s culture, driven by this government’s fundamentalist market values, there’s no accountability – it’s always business usual whatever executives or officials have done.

Rotherham is another prime example.   What is really troubling is that much of the facts of child sex abuse was known for many years to Council officials, social workers and police.   Prof. Alexis Jay’s shock report that some 1,400 children were involved led to loud demands that those officials responsible should be held to account.   It is truly astonishing that no senior Council official has faced disciplinary action for what amounts to criminal negligence and Shaun Wright remains in post instead of being sacked and prosecuted.

Moreover there are deeper concerns here that are very disturbing.   One is that the authorities in Rotherham feared being branded racist if they took action against the Pakistani Muslim culprits.   Both the police and senior Council officials have a duty to administer the law firmly and equally, even if it’s politically inconvenient.   They abjectly failed and it sends out a dreadful message unless they are stringently held to account.   The other worrying implication is that G4S and Serco are treated with impunity because, like the banks, they are too big to fail.   They are part of a tiny clutch of giant companies, including also Capita, A4E and Atos, which are the privatised equivalent of the old nationalised industries.   They have been granted a dominance in the running of previously public services on which the government is now over-reliant and forced to keep them on regardless because there are few, if any, large companies which are capable of taking on their functions.  We now have the worst of both worlds – the loss of accountability of publicly controlled institutions whilst at the same time amoral market institutions are parked on us whose semi-monopolistic position gives them impunity.

Does Labour really still believe it lost the 2010 election because Brown was soft on cuts?

September 8th, 2014

If there is one reason why Labour may still lose the election next year, it is because the front bench is still fixated on cuts.  It is even being suggested now that the reason why the vast majority of us are suffering from debilitating Tory spending cuts is because Brown didn’t promise to do much the same thing.   Brown actually posed the 2010 election as being a choice between Labour investment and Tory cuts.   According to the Blairite tendency which still infects too much of the Labour front bench, what he should have said was that the election was between Labour cuts and Tory cuts, where Labour would have cut less far, less fast (i.e. reaching the same destination, only more slowly).   That is nonsense, and whilst 2010 may be history now, it matters when exactly the same mistakes are being repeated today. (more…)

Leaks show US multinationals now directing doctors’ commissioning groups

September 7th, 2014

Evidence has now been leaked which proves that big healthcare corporations, including some of the biggest US healthcare multinationals, are now taking the lead in directing GPs’ clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in allocating the £80bn NHS budget at their disposal.   The previously unknown Commissioning Support Industry Group (CSIG) has been seeking to win contracts worth some £1bn for advising CCGs on purchasing patient care.   Those awarded these contracts will be involved in drug purchasing, negotiating hospital contracts, outsourcing services to the private sector, and (ominously) patient care reforms.  The leaks show that United Health, the huge US health insurer which significantly previously employed Simon Stevens, now NHS England’s chief executive and formerly of Blair’s office, actually chairs this group, provides its secretariat, and recently covered the funding for senior UK health managers to visit its care centres in the US and to “explore their applicability in the UK”. (more…)

“The Scottish referendum isn’t primarily about Scotland: it’s about London”

September 6th, 2014

This is a shrewd observation by Prof. Danny Dorling, especially in the later stages of the referendum as Salmond repeatedly pinpoints the sheer dominance and ultra-wealth of London as a prime reason why Scots should vote for independence.   It sucks the lifeblood out of the rest of the country, and so far from the rebalancing of the economy getting under way and wealth and commerce being redistributed the stranglehold of London is continually reinforced because that is where the most profitable investments can be made.   Its growth feeds on itself.   It has been estimated by IPPR that transport spending per head in London is a staggering 500 times more than in N.E. England.   London remains at the centre of ballooning British inequality: while Britain has 9 of the 10 poorest areas anywhere in northern Europe, it also boasts inner London as the single richest region anywhere in the EU.   Against that background Salmond’s simple question ‘Do you still want to be ruled from London, squeezing the energy out of the whole country and particularly Scotland?’ is such a devastating one.   As George Monbiot has said memorably in the Guardian, would you choose to stay with a government that “spies on its own citizens, uses the planet as its dustbin, governs on behalf of a transnational elite that owes loyalty to no nation, cedes public services to corporations, and forces terminally ill people to work?”

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The new EU Commission has marked up a TTIP deal with US as a key objective

September 5th, 2014

The fight over the euphemistically named Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which the US Congress successfully blocked over the last year, is about to be pushed forward in a higher gear now that the new EU Commission has made clear their eagerness to drive a deal through with the US over this next year.   The previous Commission had already met with corporations and their lobbyists 119 times, according to FOI requests, compared with just 8 times with civil society groups.   The argument is that TTIP will promote jobs and growth – the same argument that the US used to promote NAFTA, when it actually led to an export of jobs from the US and is only now supported by 15% of Americans.   The other main argument is that it will remove regulation and red tape that gets in the way of trade.   The talk is of ‘regulatory convergence’ which is likely to mean chasing the lowest common denominator in terms of labour, social and environmental standards. (more…)