Government action on flooding: too little, too late
13 February 2024
Recent downpours have left local communities struggling with flooded roads, fields and watercourses. At the same time, Yorkshire Water continue to pump ‘dirty’ water (sewage) into our rivers and streams.
Today, Kevin Hollinrake reposted a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ‘tweet’ claiming that ‘Tougher action is needed to address poor performance by water companies’. This is the same MP who has repeatedly voted against making the water companies responsible for their actions.
Our water bills are set to increase by more than inflation (6% on average) in coming weeks. The government’s proposal to consider sanctioning water companies for sewage dumping after studiously ignoring years of underinvestment in infrastructure, allowing the creation of high debt levels, accepting large dividends being paid to shareholders and water bosses receiving huge bonuses.
Successive Conservative governments have allowed water companies to profit from the environmental damage they create. Remember this when the general election comes.
Labour’s U-turn on the Green Investment Plan
11 February 2024
Sir Keir Starmer has scuttled Labour’s flagship policy of investing £28bn per year on its Green Investment Plan. Since then too much media attention has been focused on Sir Keir’s flip-flopping and too little on the fact that the abandonment constitutes a huge loss.
The Labour decision appears to be a defensive one – avoiding Tory criticism of the cost and hence the need to either raise taxes or to borrow. What the media are underreporting and hence the UK general public are generally unaware of is the huge cost of NOT going ahead with this £140bn five-year programme.
Under present policies, unaugmented, the cost of NOT going further and faster rises, by 2100, to £168bn per year, of 7.4% of GDP. Shelving the Green Investment Plan is ‘penny wise, pound foolish’. The approach that should be taken is ‘does this investment give a rate of return higher than the cost of borrowing?’ Since the Green Investment Plan will almost certainly crowd in additional private investment and create good-quality jobs, the plan can be expected to give a rate of return of at least 10% whilst it will cost the government 5% to borrow. Some no-brainer! See also that estimate above of the huge cost of not investing.
The plan thus justifies itself in simple commercial terms. Alternatively it could be financed by increased taxation. Credible options exist to raise the funding necessary by imposing a one-off tax on higher levels of wealth (see work at Warwick University and the LSE). The wealth distribution in the UK has become increasingly unbalanced (in the first 18 months of the pandemic the number of billionaires in the UK rose from 147 to 171 – and has continued to rise). There is ready taxable capacity here.
Conservative chancellors love their fiscal rule that the national debt as a share of GDP should be falling over a five-year period. Respected economists are scathing about this rule – Paul Johnson, head of the Institute of Fiscal Studies describes it as “basically silly”. In an attempt to establish economic credibility Starmer and Rachel Reeves have signed up to this bad rule. In so doing they have allowed themselves to become corralled by Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt. We are fast reaching the point where it is difficult to distinguish between Labour and Conservative policy. And the country deserves better!
For 40 years now timid and unprincipled politicians have kicked the can of dealing with climate change down the road. To switch cliché, the world is now drinking in the last chance saloon on this issue. Governments have to act now, in a coordinated fashion, with huge vigour and determination. Otherwise our children and grandchildren will fry in a world humans are unable to inhabit.
My ideal outcome of the next UK election is that voters punish both the Conservative Party and Labour, with huge numbers of Liberal Democrat, Green and Nationalist MPs elected, to form a progressive coalition that had dealing effectively with climate change at the heart of its mission.
As for the sad residue of Tory and Labour MPs, they would be sent to sit on the opposition benches that would then constitute a sort of ‘dirty environment naughty stair’.
How Mr Bates v The Post Office shone a light on an obscure corner of government
1 February 2024
Paul Patterson of Fujitsu said the company had a moral obligation to contribute to victims of the Horizon scandal. In a meeting with MPs on 31 January, Takeshi Isobe, the chief financial officer, offered the company’s deepest apologies to sub-postmasters and their families. He said the company would monitor the outcome of the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry and seek to arrive at appropriate compensation.
The company had issued a statement stating that it would not bid for government contracts while the inquiry was ongoing. What is remarkable is that the inquiry resulted from a court ruling following an in-depth investigation by Mr Justice Fraser in late 2019. This was of crucial importance. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 placed the onus on prosecutors to prove that the computer evidence was correct. In 1999, the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act reversed this, and the defendant had to prove the evidence was wrong. Fraser decided that he had heard enough to look much deeper, and in a landmark ruling found the Post Office to be at fault.
Fujitsu has a long history with government contracts, and not without controversy. A £12bn NHS IT system contract was abandoned after failure which is estimated to have cost the public purse £2.7bn. Fujitsu sued for compensation and was awarded £700mn. Not a contract I would have signed.
The history of Fujitsu’s IT supply relationship continued undiminished, with the company receiving £4.4bn worth of contracts since the 2019 High Court ruling against Horizon. It took a TV programme to stop the conveyor belt.
Normally in public procurement, tenders are awarded following a competitive tender process. With some major projects this can be impractical, and so a list of ‘preferred suppliers’ is used. There is evidence of personnel moving jobs between supplier and procurement positions, given their shared skillset, and effective scrutiny can be difficult. Cost overruns are common, particularly with defence projects.
Clearly, the potential pitfalls are obvious as the evidence would attest. Whatever the outcome of the current inquiry, scrutiny must surely be applied to the use of the public funds given to those awarded these enormous contracts. Ultimately, given the strong record of overrun, failure, and waste, searching questions must be asked about the integrity of the process.
History repeating itself
31 January 2024
In the 1960s, Dr Richard Beeching spearheaded a restructuring of the UK’s national railway network, resulting in widespread closures of branch lines and stations. Known as the Beeching Report, these cuts disproportionately impacted the industrial North, disrupting communities reliant on traditional industries. The economic and social consequences were profound, as businesses struggled without vital rail links, and communities faced isolation due to reduced travel options.
Coinciding with a broader economic shift towards a service-oriented economy in the South, the Beeching cuts deepened the North-South divide. The concentration of economic power in the South exacerbated regional inequality as the North grappled with reduced connectivity.
Fast forward to the High-Speed 2 (HS2) project emerging as a potential remedy. Touted as critical infrastructure to enhance capacity, connectivity, and journey times, HS2 promises benefits, particularly for the North. However, the historical pattern persists, with the North seemingly bearing the brunt of past decisions.
In summary, Beeching’s rail cuts and HS2 have intertwined in their impact on regional inequality. The legacy of transportation infrastructure decisions continues to deepen the North-South divide, raising questions about the equitable distribution of resources and opportunities in the UK.
When will this London Southern bias end? The regional political parties such as the Yorkshire Party, North East Party, and Mebyon Kernow have a solution if the electorate lets them in.
Just another ‘world class’ system
28 January 2024
“Under the new controls, which come into effect on 31 January, any lorries or cargo containers entering Britain with merchandise subject to restrictions such as food health requirements will have to be pre-notified online to the UK authorities with documentation identifying any controlled products”, was written in the I on 27 January. So far these checks have been delayed five times – and there is still a slight chance that they will be delayed again.
A new customs system called ‘Border Target Operating Model’ (BTOM)will be used for these checks, and according to the government this will give the UK the “most advanced border in the world”.
How often, since the Brexit propaganda started, have we heard that the UK ‘will be the world leader in …’ or ‘will have the world-leading system in …’ or ‘will have the chance to become the best in the world for …’ or similar?
But how often, since then, have we heard that the UK actually ‘is the world leader in …’ or ‘has the world-leading system in …’ or ‘is the best in the world for …’? I can’t remember many. And when it was said, it was usually a delusion.
The Horizon system for the post office, the ‘world beating’ track and trace system during the Covid period and the settled status system for EU citizens are just three examples which did not only have flaws, but which went seriously wrong. And there are many more systems in operation which struggle to meet their purposes and objectives.
All IT systems have more or less serious flaws. And all systems will need more or less time to become stable and reliable. The simple reason for this is that not everything can be predicted. Therefore, it is very unlikely that a complex new system will go live without any problems. And when systems go live without any backup solution it is simply a recipe for disaster.
Politicians should be very careful with expressions like ‘world best’ or ‘world leader’. In most cases it is simply not true and, in most cases, it is only wishful thinking. It only shows the ignorance and incompetence of the speaker.
Let’s see how good the BTOM system really is before attributing any superlatives to it.
Our healthcare workers need recognition now more than ever
11 January 2024
As of April 2023, there were approximately 1.27 million full-time healthcare workers in the UK, a demonstration of the number of people who have devoted their time to addressing our healthcare needs. The number of healthcare workers taking care of the UK’s ageing population is also high considering that there are approximately 11 million people that are 65 years and above, translating to 19% of the UK’s total population.
The high number of the UK’s ageing population compared to the total number of healthcare workers demonstrates that more healthcare workers may be required. Despite the imbalance in numbers, our healthcare workers still go the extra mile to ensure that our health needs are met; specifically, our ageing population’s needs. These healthcare workers are often driven by passion, commitment, friendliness and dedication. These qualities were demonstrated during the first years of the Covid-19 outbreak, when they had to go the extra mile to ensure that they treated millions of people across the UK.
I feel that the dedication of our healthcare workers needs to be recognised, considering that they are currently focusing on meeting the needs of the UK’s increasing ageing population, right after a challenging Covid-19 outbreak. I have worked as a health worker at Hales Group and based on my experience, I can state that it is a challenging task and one has to create a genuine connection with their clients. A sense of humour goes a long way in this profession.
Healthcare workers deal with various challenges, including stressful schedules and safety and security risks, among others. They are expected to carry out their duties while ensuring there is no margin of error, something which can always be stressful. We need to be their sources of joy and recognition goes a long way for these healthcare workers. Truly, our healthcare workers are our unsung heroes as they have devoted their lives to saving and caring for us, especially our ageing population.
So, please recognise our healthcare workers at any slight chance you get as this will go a long way in motivating them!
New £3.3bn pledge to DUP: money for nothing?
08 January 2024
The government of Rwanda will be laughing all the way to the bank. The injection of millions of pounds from the UK into Rwanda’s economy must be of immense benefit to the country even if, finally, they must play host to a handful of asylum seekers.
Closer to home, in Northern Ireland, the DUP is enjoying similar jocularity. In 2017, Theresa May’s government paid the DUP more than £1bn to buy their support. Just before Christmas, the DUP was offered a £3.3bn package in an attempt to persuade them to reconvene Stormont. How often can the DUP hold democracy in Northern Ireland to ransom?
There is a long history here. In 1979, James Callaghan, trying to shore up his minority government, was urged to do a deal with the DUP by financing a gas pipeline between Northern Ireland and Britain in an attempt to guarantee their votes. He refused, saying his government was not up for auction.
Now, that was an honourable decision sorely lacking in today’s politics.
Become an RNID volunteer for 2024
04 January 2024
Have you made your new year resolutions yet? Need one more? Why don’t you sign up as an RNID volunteer?
RNID, the charity supporting people who are deaf, have hearing loss or tinnitus are looking for volunteers to support our vital work across the UK.
Last year, our volunteers gave more than 9,000 hours of their time to support people in their communities with practical information and essential hearing aid care. But with one in five adults in the UK being deaf or having hearing loss or tinnitus, there is much more to do to make sure everyone in the UK gets support.
Volunteering for RNID could involve providing information to local organisations and community groups, helping people get the most out of their hearing aids, or giving a friendly welcome to everyone who passes through the door at one of our support sessions.
Many of our volunteers have hearing loss themselves or in their family, and volunteering with us is a great way to meet new people, gain new skills and experience, and help people in your community.
What are you waiting for? For more information, visit rnid.org.uk/join or contact us on 0808 808 0123.
Director at RNID