Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Failing Grayling Part Two

I wrote in a previous article that UK Transport Minister, Christopher Grayling, had granted a contract and £14 million of taxpayers’ money to set up a ferry service from Ramsgate in Kent to Europe. The flaw in the cunning plan was that the company awarded the contract had no boats and had never run a ferry service before. In its pitch for the contract it seemed to have cut and pasted from the website of a pizza delivery firm. The contract has now been cancelled and MPs of all parties are calling for Grayling’s dismissal. Grayling has a long record of foolishness and I promised my readers that I would give them more information.

Grayling was also a disaster when he was Minister for Justice. He served for a mere three years but presided over many ill-judged policies. At least nine major policy reforms were abandoned, either because of widespread outrage or because a court ruled against them.

Legal Aid

In 2013, the Ministry of Justice tried to stop legal aid for prisoners in certain situations. The Court of Appeal said this was “inherently unfair” and argued the Government did not provide enough “alternative support” after general cuts to legal aid. In March 2014, Grayling introduced a legal aid cut of 8.75%, with a second reduction of the same amount planned for July 2015. Grayling’s successor at the Ministry of Justice, Michael Gove, suspended that follow-up cut because the MoJ was facing 99 legal challenges over the process, and a judicial review had “raised additional implementation challenges”. One scheme placing restrictions on legal aid for domestic violence victims unless they met specific MoJ criteria was deemed “invalid” by the Court of Appeal.

Tough on Prisoners

Another bright idea was to apply a ban on books being sent to prisoners as part of a crackdown on “perks and privileges”. This was declared “unlawful” by the High Court. In the same initiative, the Government banned steel-stringed guitars. He rejected efforts to improve condom access behind bars, despite warnings of the public health implications. An offender tracking scheme which would allow prisons to keep tabs on dangerous and repeat offenders costing £23m was ditched after “considerable delays” because it proved “too challenging”.

On Grayling’s watch, the number of prison officers declined by 5,000. This coincided with a rise in deaths of prisoners. The chief inspector of prisons, Nick Harding, accused him of interfering with his critical reports into the prison estate and threatening the independence of his office.

Another Grayling cunning plan was a contract to advise the Saudi prison service on training staff and running the organisation. It drew criticism even from some inside Cabinet, and was ditched by Mr Gove in October 2015 – but not before it cost the Government £1.1m.

Charges

Another spiffing wheeze was to make offenders pay between £150 and £1,200 depending on what court they were in and whether or not they pleaded guilty. This policy was so unpopular that 50 magistrates resigned in protest. Gove scrapped it seven months after it was brought into force.

A similar genius plan bit the dust when Grayling introduced employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200 in 2013 in an attempt to reduce the number of malicious and weak cases. There was, indeed, a 79% reduction in cases in three years. The Supreme Court ruled that the charges were unlawful because they “prevent access to justice” and ordered the Government pay back millions of pounds.

Probation

Grayling’s reform of the probation service must surely be the jewel in the crown of his incompetence. The service was privatised in 2015, despite the fact that no-one wanted it and everyone warned that it would be a disaster. The National Offender Management Service, which oversaw 35 self-governing probation trusts, split into the public National Probation Service and private CRCs. The public National Probation Service is still doing rather well. Dame Glenys Stacey, the chief inspector of probation, has pointed to many flaws with the new system. Meg Hillier, the chairwoman of the parliamentary public-accounts committee, has said there is a danger that the Ministry of Justice has “bitten off more than it can chew”.

Staff on the front line said their bosses became more concerned with meeting targets that have little to do with helping former offenders. The number of cases soared and safety standards deteriorated. Morale plummeted and many staff left the service.

An eight-month inquiry by the Parliamentary Justice Committee concluded that the Transforming Rehabilitation scheme was failing by every measure and was a danger to public safety. Some private Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) were monitoring offenders on the telephone, with overstretched staff handling up to 150 cases each. CRCs are meant to ensure prisoners are freed with accommodation, employment and financial support, the Justice Committee found many were being kicked out of jails homeless and with just £46 to last for several weeks. They may revert to crime in order to survive.

HM Inspectorate of Probation said firms commissioned in a 2014 overhaul of the service are “stretched beyond their capacity”. failures by CRCs allowed people to drop out of contact and disappear, including a homeless heroin addict with a “long history in the criminal justice system” who was later wanted for arrest. Many people on probation are being sent back to overcrowded prisons because the private firms who are supposed to be supervising them cannot cope. In the 2016-17 financial year, almost 30,000 court orders were terminated through failure to comply, further offences being committed or other reasons. Convicts who were released but then recalled to prison for violations made up 6,554 out of 85,513 people imprisoned in England and Wales.

Conclusion

MPs on the Justice Committee hit out at the Ministry of Justice’s “reluctance to challenge over optimistic bids” from firms running CRCs and its closed-door renegotiation of contracts. The government had to pay out more money to failing private companies.

Let me conclude by quoting the political commentator, Ian Dunt: “Grayling is at the top of that system of failure. He is that little bit more intellectually, presentationally and ideologically useless than all the others and therefore deserves special mention. But he is merely the totem of a culture that has singularly failed the country.”

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Failing Grayling Part One

This article was published in Ceylon Today on February 4 2019

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/23455

What Me Worry?

In many fields of endeavour and employment, incompetence seems to be rewarded. Bankers who contributed to the 2008 crash were not thrown into gaol but carried on receiving their ill-gotten bonuses. There are many incompetents in the current (as of time of writing) UK government but one who has never ceased to astound is the Secretary of State for Transport, Christopher Grayling. Whenever he appears on TV his smiling vacuous moon-face makes one just want to hug him. He calls to mind many other characters real and mythical.

His calmly reassuring aura while all turns to shit around him reminds me of Alfred E Neumann, the fictitious mascot and cover boy of the American humour magazine Mad of the 1950s and 60s. There was once available a rubber mask in Neumann’s  likeness with “idiot” written underneath along with his signature phrase “What, me worry!” Neuman has from time-to-time been presented as a candidate for President with the slogan, “You could do worse… and always have!” His face has often appeared in political cartoons as a shorthand for unquestioning stupidity.

Prospering in an Insane World

Another character Grayling brings to my mind is Aarfy in Catch 22. Captain “Aarfy” Aardvark is the plump navigator in Yossarian’s B-25, noted for being oblivious to incoming flak getting lost on missions, and getting in Yossarian’s way when he is trying to get back to the escape hatch. No matter how loud Yossarian shouts, Aarfy never can hear him He nearly gets himself and his comrades killed several times while getting lost on mission. Aarfy is so heedless of his own personal safety and the well-being of others that it always astounds him when others become angry with him. Aarfy’s character exemplifies the perversity of a society and culture governed by Catch-22s that ultimately serve to protect the powerful. No matter how hard Yossarian punches him, his fat absorbs the blows and he never personally suffers any negative consequences for his lack of awareness and, indeed, his own insanity helps him to survive and prosper in an insane world.

Cheshire Cat

Grayling is more inane than insane, and he is a member of the inane asylum that is Theresa May’s Conservative Party which rewards incompetence. Grayling’s smile hovers like the Cheshire Cat’s above all the madness.

Commuters shivering on railway platforms contemplating the latest hike in rail fares and wondering if a train is ever going to materialize were cheered up immensely by the tale of no-tendering relating to Seaborne Freight. It was quietly announced on Christmas Eve that a new ferry service would operate out of Ramsgate to relieve pressure on the port of Dover in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The government would pay Seaborne Freight to operate freight ferries from Ramsgate to Ostend, beginning with two ships in late March and increasing to four by the end of the summer. A spokesman for the company said:” “It was intended to start the service in mid-February but this has now been delayed until late March for operational reasons.” “Operational reasons” is one of those cant phrases that people often hear when their train does not turn up.

No Deal No Boats Pizzas

Ramsgate Councillor Paul Messenger brought a discomforting message about Seaborne Freight. It had never been seaborne, it had never carried freight and it had no ships: ““It has no ships and no trading history so how can due diligence be done? Why choose a company that never moved a single truck in their entire history”. Further hilarity ensued when someone got hold of Seaborne Freight’s terms and conditions. It seemed that the firm had cut and pasted from the website of a pizza delivery company: customers were advised to check goods before “agreeing to pay for any meal/order”. “Delivery charges are calculated per order and based on [delivery details here]. Any delivery charges will be displayed clearly in your order summary,”

No Need to Answer

Hilarity gave way to anger when the matter of awarding the contract came before a Commons select committee. SNP MP Joanna Berry wanted to know why the contract was awarded under emergency provisions citing “unforeseeable events” when plans were supposed to have been made long ago. As he was himself exhausted after failing to answer questions in the House, Grayling sent a minion robot along to the committee. The robot was Christopher Heaton-Harris (one of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s chums). A simple question was put to him countless times and he robotically refused to answer. “A range of operators were invited to tender and the correct due diligence was done to fulfil the plans that we require.” It seems that Seaborne was the only bidder. Its chief executive previously ran a ship chartering business that was forced into liquidation following court petitions from HM Revenue and Customs. The former company had a total of £1.78 million in unpaid debts.

Watch Heaton-Harris’s performance on YouTube and you will see the British government’s utter contempt for Parliament and the British people. We don’t care what you think and we don’t need to answer to you. Eddie Mair has a show on LBC radio. The show has a pot called the Chris Grayling Jar of Truth. Mair puts a pound in the pot every day that Grayling doesn’t answer his question about Seaborne Freight.

High Speed to Nowhere

Grayling has had too many failures to mention in relation to the high-speed train project, HS2. One that is particularly inexplicable on the same level as the NoBoatyMcNoBoaty Face farrago is that when everyone knew that the outsourcing firm Carillion had overreached and was in deep trouble, he still handed the company taxpayers’ money. Their profit warning should have given him a clue. What kind of half-wit gives £1.4 billion of taxpayers’ money to a company days AFTER it has issued a profit warning? Carillion shares slumped by 70% in a month as it was forced into the profit warning following an £845m write-down. There were calls for Grayling to resign but he continued bobbing along, smiling serenely in an Aarfy manner.

Space has not been available here to cover Grayling’s triumphs in other ministerial jobs. Particularly egregious is the way that he has, in association with private outsourcing firms, ruined the probation service and put the British public at risk of harm.

 

 

 

 

 

Musil Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on January 22 2019

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/22453

There is now a quite definite nobody-knows-what in the air. Robert Musil

Corrupted Ideas

 

In my previous article, I wondered what the author of The Man without Qualities, Robert Musil, who called himself Le Vivisecteur, would have made of the Brexit farrago (the word has no etymological connection with one of the architects of Brexit, Nigel Farage). Translating the “will of the people” for the UK to leave the EU into practical action is proving problematic. Musil wrote: “Ideas can never maintain themselves in the state in which they are most powerful; they’re like the kind of substance that, exposed to the air, instantly changes into some other, more lasting, but corrupted form.”

 

Confusion Reigns

 

People are confused and their elected representatives are compounding that confusion. I cannot help but feel that the UK electorate must feel that they are regarded in the same way as Musil’s Count Leinsdorf regarded people: “His Grace was far from thinking that other people were stupid, even if he did think himself more intelligent than they were, and he could not comprehend why all these intelligent people taken together made such a poor impression on him. Indeed, life as a whole made this impression on him”. Musil wrote: “In the old days, people felt as it were deductively, starting from certain assumptions. Those days are gone. Today, we live without a guiding principle, but also without any method of conscious, inductive thinking; we simply go on trying this and that like a band of monkeys.” He also wrote: “man’s deepest social instinct is his antisocial instinct.”

 

Confidence

 

On January 16 2019, the UK government survived a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons. They won by a margin of only ten votes. There are ten MPs from the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party who support the government (when it suits them) after being bribed to do so by Theresa May. It was interesting to see that friend of Sri Lanka, Ian Paisley Jr smirking smugly among his Neanderthal colleagues. He has finished his stint on the naughty step after being caught out taking bribes from the Rajapaksa government.

The DUP, whose ten MPs supported May on January 16 as required by their confidence and supply agreement, boasted afterwards that DUP backing was the difference between victory and defeat for the Tories. The DUP’s Nigel Dodds reminded May that she had only survived because of his party’s votes and that the price of his continued support was a hard Brexit plus more from that money tree that she said does not exist.

Triumphant Failure

May and her supporters seemed to regard this as a great triumph, even though just a day earlier, her Brexit agreement was rejected by the biggest margin in parliamentary history. The DUP MPs all voted against the government on this occasion. I watched most of the debate as it happened and it was quite a surreal experience. One MP quoted Fintan O’Toole’s book on Brexit, Heroic Failure. In my column last week, I was smug about the fact that I had finished reading The Man without Qualities when Fintan had heroically failed to do so. It took me fifty years, but hey. I noticed that The London Guardian’s political sketch writer, John Crace also refenced Musil: “Those who had spent the morning working on decommissioning her (May’s) memory had done a decent job. She had already blanked out just how crap she was. She was proud to be the woman without qualities.”

Unreality

 

Musil would have been interested in the way outside reality did not impinge on the debate. “For vagueness has an elevating and magnifying power”. Labour and Scottish Nationalist MPs had a go at criticizing the parlous condition of ordinary people and I am sure their compassion was sincere. Conservatives painted a mythical picture of the huge improvements the government had wrought in everyone’s lives. They probably believed it. Every so often, all parties lapsed back into the clubbish banter of an institution alien to those watching from the outside. Musil: “The general obsession with turning every viewpoint into a standpoint and regarding every standpoint as a viewpoint”

 

Cheesy Process

 

There was lot about stale, arcane procedures. When faced with direct questions from journalists, politicians from all sides reverted to meaningless formulae and cant phrases. Musil: “This fearful activity stems from the single fact that people have nothing to do. Inwardly, I mean. But even outwardly, in the last analysis, everyone spends his whole life repeating the same thing over and over: he gets into some occupation and then goes on with it”. No one really seemed to be connecting with the awful disaster looming ever closer. Musil had words for this phenomenon: “We’re left floating around on relationships, processes, on the dirty dishwater of processes and formulas, on something we can’t even recognize as a thing, a process, a ghost of an idea, of a God-knows-what. Under such a crust the living soul itself hardens.”

 

Thriving on Humiliation

 

May has suffered a number of humiliating defeats and pyrrhic victories but she is still bright-eyed and optimistic. The EU has said there will be no more negotiation. May’s agreement with the EU was rejected by 432 votes to 202. Nearly 120 Conservative MPs voted against their leader in that vote.  In the vote of no confidence in her as leader of the Conservative Party 117 of her MPs voted against her but she saw that as a victory.

 

Musil: “When something is happening every minute, it is easy to imagine that one is actually getting real things done… even on those days when one wasn’t doing anything in particular, there were so many things one had to guard against doing that one had the sense of being kept frantically busy at all times…everything depends on only a few simple principles, but above all on a firm will and well-planned activity.”

 

Unraveling

 

I am in London and see that people are getting on with their normal lives – what else can they do? Musil: “There is always something ghostly about living constantly in a well-ordered state. You cannot step into the street or drink a glass of water or get on a streetcar without touching the balanced levers of a gigantic apparatus of laws and interrelations, setting them in motion or letting them maintain you in your peaceful existence; one knows hardly any of these levers, which reach deep into the inner workings and, coming out the other side, lose themselves in a network whose structure has never yet been unraveled by anyone.” Will there be an unraveling?

 

 

 

The Quality of Musil

This article was published in Ceylon Today on January 14 2019.

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/21911

 

During 2018, I often quoted the words of Fintan O’Toole, the Irish journalist and literary critic. He made many trenchant and perceptive comments on Britain’s folly over Brexit. He has published a book on Brexit (Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain) which swiftly became a best-seller. In an interview with the London Observer on Sunday December 30 he was asked “Which classic novel are you most ashamed not to have read?” His reply gave me some encouragement. He saidRobert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. I’ve tried about five times. The problem is with me. It’s obviously a great book, but I just get bogged down.” I bought a three-volume Panther paperback edition of an English translation of Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften in 1969 and started reading it in February 1970 in a freezing bed and breakfast in Rusholme Manchester. I have just finished it and it only took me 50 years. It was worth it.

I think that what I then held in my chilblained fingers was the first English translation by Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser published in 1953. I am now reading a Kindle version which is in more modern (sometimes anachronistic) English. The translation is by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike. The work is well over a thousand pages long in its unfinished form. Some have asserted that the intended length of the work was twice as long as the text that survives. Musil never decided how to end the novel and left a large section of drafts, notes, false-starts. In the German edition, there is even a CD-ROM that holds thousands of pages of alternative versions and drafts. Musil started writing the book in 1921, spent more than twenty years on it and died before he finished writing the book. I am happy to report that I have finished reading it before I die. Musil died in Switzerland on April 15 1942 and his remains lie in an unmarked grave in Geneva.

Kakaesque Futility

The novel is set in 1913 in Vienna. Musil refers to Austro-Hungary as ‘Kakania’, a name derived from the German abbreviation K und K (pronounced “ka oond ka”) for kaiserlich und königlich or “Imperial and Royal”, but ‘kaka’ is also a child’s word for faeces.  Musil uses the adjective Kakanien to convey the lack of political, administrative and cultural coherence in Austria-Hungary. In the novel, a committee is established to prepare for the 70th anniversary of Franz Joseph becoming Emperor. The year of the anniversary, 1918, would also have marked 30 years of the rule of the German Emperor Wilhelm II. Many bright ideas are discussed, for example, The Austrian Year 1918, The World Year 1918, The Austrian Peace Year 1918 or The Austrian World Peace Year 1918. The novel provides an analysis of all the political and cultural processes that contributed to the outbreak of World War I. Musil’s cruel joke is that what was planned as a celebration of peace and imperial cohesion collapses into chauvinism, two world wars and the destruction of Austro-Hungary and Prussia.

Three Volumes

The main character, introduced in the first volume, A Sort of Introduction, is a 32-year-old mathematician named Ulrich. Although he is described as a man without qualities, he is intelligent and witty and successful with women. Musil said that Ulrich’s main principal characteristics were indifference and ambiguity towards life and society and a kind of passive analytical mind. Novelist Jane Smiley puts it nicely: “As an idle pastime, he gets to know the leading lights of the Austro-Hungarian empire, who, somewhat like their counterparts in the American south of the 1850s, have no idea they are passing into history.” Ulrich lacks hope as well as qualities. “He is always right, but never productive, never happy, and never, except momentarily, engaged. The reader may enjoy his talents and his state of mind, but Ulrich is building to something that may not be pleasant.” A man for today.

In the second book, Pseudoreality Prevails, (The earlier translation renders ““Seinesgleichen geschieht,” as “The Like of It Now Happens.”) Ulrich is persuaded to serve on a committee making preparations for a celebration in honour of 70 years of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph’s reign. Ulrich’s participation in the committee introduces him to many interesting characters. The voluptuous Ermelinda Tuzzi, called Diotima, is Ulrich’s cousin as well as the wife of a senior civil servant. Arnheim, a Prussian business magnate and prolific, if superficial, writer whose character is based on the figure of Walter Rathenau (with perhaps a soupcon of Thomas Mann). Count Leinsdorf, an elderly conservative nobleman, chairs the committee and has been described as being “incapable of deciding or even of not-deciding”. General Stumm von Bordwehr of the Imperial and Royal Army, is initially tiresome but becomes more sympathetic to this reader at least and becomes friends with Ulrich. He makes himself unpopular by attempting to introduce a methodical approach to the mystical atmosphere.

The last volume, entitled Into the Millennium (The Criminals), focuses on Ulrich’s relationship with his sister Agathe. There is a hint of a mystically incestuous stirring and the twins become soulmates when they meet after their father’s death.

Now I feel a little superior to Fintan O’Toole. Like those other forbidding mammoths (Ulysses and À la recherche du temps perdu) this book is often funny. Musil called himself Monsieur le Vivisecteur” “that’s who I am! My life: the wanderings and adventures of a vivisectionist of souls at the beginning of the twentieth century!” and I am sure that he would have had some cutting things to write about 21st politicians.

Kindle is an excellent format in which to read The Man Without Qualities. Because the book is so long it is handy to have the thousand pages in one’s pocket, to dip into it while stuck in Colombo traffic. Kindle allows one to highlight passages and cut and paste. That facility allows me to bring to you examples of Musil’s wit and wisdom. I will do that next week.

Fighting Them on the Beaches

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on April 5 2018

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/2103

It is reasonable to argue that, in order to grow and prosper and to be secure, a nation needs to have control over its infrastructure. Who could argue against the view that British railways, roads, water, electricity, telecoms, airports, ports, broadcasting, financial institutions should be British-owned or UK Government owned.

In pursuit of the voodoo economics of privatization the great and the good who steer the good ship Britannica, Labour as well as Conservative, have contrived a situation in which British citizens depend on Russia to heat their homes while that nation’s leader is poisoning people in Salisbury and Russian oligarchs are making it impossible for ordinary Londoners to afford homes.

Energy

Many years after UK State energy market was privatized, much of the industry remains in State ownership. The thing is that it is owned by foreign States not Britain. EDF Energy one of the largest distribution network operators in the UK after taking control of the UK nuclear generator, British Energy. It is owned by the French State. Power is owned by Innogy SE, a subsidiary of the German company RWE. Scottish Power is a subsidiary of Spanish utility company Iberdrola. E.on (formerly Powergen) has its HQ in Dusseldorf.

About 60 per cent of the UK energy supply comes from foreign countries including Russia, Norway, Qatar, Sweden and the Netherlands. Around 60 per cent of the UK’s natural gas imports come from Norway, and 30 per cent of it comes from Qatar. Around half of the UK’s crude oil imports come from Norway, and just over 30 per cent comes from OPEC.

Water

Few other EU States opened their vital services to foreign competition the way Britain did. Most of the water that Britons use to make their tea or flush away their excretions is controlled by foreign companies. After the UK water industry was privatized in 1989, several new companies were formed and many were sold off. There are now 12 water companies, out of the 23 in the UK, which have foreign owners. Thames Water was bought by a consortium which included the Australian investment group Macquarie and a Chinese wealth fund. Yorkshire Water was acquired by a consortium including Citigroup, HSBC, and the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC. Northumbria Water was bought by the Hong Kong-based company Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings.

Transport

It would be impossible to take a rail journey anywhere in the UK without putting money into the pockets of foreign shareholders. Chiltern, Cross Country, Wales & Borders, London Overground and Grand Central services are run by Arriva, which is owned by the German company Deutsche Bahn. MTR shares the South West Trains franchise with a British company First Group plc. MTR will also run Crossrail. Hong Kong State owns MTR.Trenitalia, an Italian company, runs Essex Thameside. The French State firm SNCF owns Keolis, which runs numerous franchises in joint ventures. SNCF, as part of Govia, operates Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern, Southeastern and London Midland and with Amey it runs the Docklands Light Railway. Scot Rail and Greater Anglia, and Merseyrail are run by Abellio, which is owned by the Dutch State.

Ports

Transport Minister Chris Grayling visited Felixstowe and proudly boasted of Britain’s history as a “great global trading nation”. An empty boast because, as Private Eye pointed out, Britain’s ports are owned by “a medley of foreign governments, billionaires and tax-avoiding conglomerates”.

Felixstowe is owned and run by a Chinese conglomerate listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange and incorporated in the Cayman Islands. Southampton and London Gateway are run by a UAE Government conglomerate called Dubai World controlled by Dubai’s ruler. In 2013, a Judge ruled that the company had used “an elaborate trick” to avoid paying £14 million in UK income tax.

Liverpool, Glasgow and Great Yarmouth are run by Peel Ports which is jointly owned by Deutsche Bank. In 2013 the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee accused the company of tax-dodging. Associated British Ports is established in Jersey to avoid taxes and is owned by Singapore’s foreign reserve fund and Kuwait’s sovereign wealth fund.
The rhetoric of many Brexiteers was that the UK had to get out of the EU to restore national pride. A similar mindset persuaded Americans to vote for Trump to make America great again. Unfortunately, this is an untenable viewpoint in a globalized world. It is particularly ludicrous in the UK where the very people who called for the UK to be freed of the shackles of Brussels were selling off the nation’s assets for a mess of pottage – well, a mess of something and an expensive one at that.

Poverty in the UK

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on March 292018

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/1616

 

In the UK, the DWP (Department of Work and Pensions changes its name every few years to protect the guilty. When I worked for it, it was called the SS) is more unloved than it ever was – and that is saying something.

A combination of austerity measures and a deluded faith in outsourcing has caused a great deal of extra suffering to already vulnerable people. The National Audit Office (NAO) has reported that 70,000 benefit claimants were underpaid by an average of £5,000 each since 2011. 20,000 people could be owed around £11,500 each and “a small number of people” could have been underpaid by £20,000.

There are many people who desperately need that money. Poverty is not just a problem for people who cannot find jobs. Even people in full-time work struggle to exist. Two-thirds (67 per cent) of children growing up in poverty, live in a family where at least one person works. A family might move into poverty because of a rise in living costs, a drop in earnings through job loss or benefit changes.

Data released by the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that in 2015, some 4.6 million (7.3 per cent) people were enduring “persistent” poverty. The technical meaning of ‘persistent poverty’ is living in relative income poverty in the current year and at least two of the three preceding years. The figure marks a 700,000 rise in people who are persistently poor since 2014, affecting 6.5 per cent of the population.

It is generally agreed that the effects of experiencing relative low income for long periods of time are more detrimental than experiencing low income for short periods. The proportion of women who were persistently poor in 2015 stood at 8.2 per cent, compared with 6.3 per cent of men – marking the biggest gender gap since data began in 2008. Such levels of poverty are having effects on people’s mental health.  Almost a third of the population was recorded as being at risk of poverty for at least one year between 2012 and 2015.The figures do not compare badly with other EU countries but things have got worse since 2015.

Poverty affects one in four children in the UK. There were 4 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2015-16 – look at it as 9 in a classroom of 30. That wonderful cosmopolitan city London has the highest rates of child poverty in the country. By GCSE, there is a 28 per cent gap between children receiving free school meals and their wealthier peers in terms of the number achieving at least 5 A*-C GCSE grade Men in the most deprived areas of England have a life expectancy 9.2 year shorter than men in the least deprived areas. They also spend 14% less of their life in good health.

According to a Joseph Rowntree Foundation report in 2011, in the year to 2009/10, the child poverty rate fell to 29%, the second fall in two years. Child poverty fell by around one-seventh under the previous Labour Government. More recently, Campbell Robb, the current chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, warned of “signs we could be at the beginning of a sharp rise in poverty, with forecasts suggesting child poverty could rise further by 2021.”Government figures now show that 300,000 more people are now in poverty compared to last year

This suffering is not due to irresistible natural forces or even the spurious laws of economics. This is the result of boneheaded government policy. It has been government policy to impose austerity measures and cuts in public services and to entrust the administration of benefits to those more interested in profit than welfare. Many cuts have not yet worked their way through the system. Many of the most significant reductions to working age benefits will not be reflected in the 2016/17 figures but will bite harshly later on. Robb urged the government, “to restore the Work Allowances in Universal Credit to their original level.

By doing so, lower earners could keep more of their earnings ensuring they could reach a decent standard of living, benefiting over three million low income working households and protecting 340,000 people from being pushed into poverty by 2020 – 21.”

In a press release dated only a few days before I wrote this, 22 March 2018, Robb, said: “We share a moral responsibility to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to build a better life. The government must act to right the wrong of in-work poverty.”
We will see.

 

Hate Crime in the UK

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on March 22 2018

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/1106

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, a hate crime is ‘any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice’ based on one of five categories – religion, faith or belief; race, ethnicity or nationality; sexual orientation; disability; or gender identity.

According to Nottingham police there was no information to suggest the attack which led to the death of Mariam Moustafa was motivated by hate. Was it tough love? The 18-year-old Egyptian engineering student died on 15 March, 2018 following an attack that took place on 20 February. Nottinghamshire Police said Miss Moustafa was ‘punched several times’ by a group of women while waiting for a bus outside the Victoria Centre in Parliament Street.

Video footage is available showing the attack continuing on the bus. A 17-year-old girl was arrested on suspicion of assault occasioning grievous bodily harm. Mariam’s uncle, Amr El Hariry, said two of the girls had attacked Mariam and her sister Mallak, 16, four months prior to this assault. Mallak’s leg had been broken in the previous attack. He said the police had done nothing.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that Miss Moustafa’s death ‘cannot go unpunished.’ Crimes committed in one country are often condemned by other countries. At the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council on 8 March, 2018, the UK condemned just about everybody. Honduras, Thailand, Philippines, DRC, Israel and Vietnam all got a good kicking.

“Finally, we share concerns about recent inter-communal violence in Sri Lanka. We support the government’s determination to end it swiftly, using measures that are proportionate and respect human rights, and urge it to hold the perpetrators to account.”

A report by The Home office, compiled by Aoife O’Neill and published in October 2017, shows that the number of hate crimes in England and Wales has increased by 29%, the largest percentage increase seen since the series began in 2011/12. In 2016/17, there were 80,393 offences recorded by the police in which one or more hate crime strands were deemed to be a motivating factor. 62,685 (78%) were race hate crimes.

‘Race hate crime can include any group defined by race, colour, nationality or ethnic or national origin, including countries within the UK, and Gypsy or Irish Travellers. It automatically includes a person who is targeted because they are an asylum seeker or refugee as this is intrinsically linked to their ethnicity and origins. Policy and legislation takes a ‘human rights’ approach and covers majority as well as minority groups.’

I got into an intense discussion on Facebook with a woman who described the story of Mariam’s death as ‘fake news.’ She asserted that there would not even be a charge of manslaughter. Indeed, a post-mortem was ‘inconclusive.’ Mallak, told the BBC that her sister was ‘born with half a heart.’

My interlocutor seemed to be saying that the girl deserved to die because she was foolish enough to be out and about in St Ann’s after dark, because that is a notoriously rough area. She hinted that Mariam was attacked because she was a ‘snitch.’ She found it odd that Mariam and her extended family seemed to be middle class but lived in an area that was ‘stereotypical inner city full of drug dealers and drug wars.’ She described the normal inhabitants of St Ann’s as an ‘underclass’ and as ‘scum.’ It would be difficult for Mariam to live in St Ann’s without going out.

I have spent a lot of time in Nottingham and first heard about St Ann’s 51 years ago when Ken Coates and Richard Silburn published a study of the area which was then inhabited by 30,000 people living in dire conditions. In his preface to the 2007 reissue of the book, Coates wrote, ‘Poverty has certainly changed its aspect since the 1960s, but since we were primarily concerned with its moral effects, our report remains depressingly familiar, and points up a whole constellation of attitudes and experiences which are all-too-familiar in modern times.’

According to my Facebook interlocutor, St Ann’s is more of a hellhole today than it was in the 1960s. Although she was vituperative in her comments, my interlocutor seemed to me to be agreeing on some basic points. It seems she is not a native of Britain and disapproves of much that is British, “your entire society is responsible for it. As well as Brexit.”

Robber Barons: The Public Always Pays

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on March 8 2018

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/145

 

The Wolverhampton-based firm Carillion was a big player in providing services that had once been provided by the public sector. In 2016, £1.7bn, a third of Carillion’s total revenue, came from public sector contracts. In the health service it was responsible for maintaining buildings, cleaning, providing meals for patients as well as the construction of new hospitals. It maintained 50,000 homes for military personnel and 50 prisons, provided meals for 218 schools, and was in charge of the £400 million Battersea power station development.

Liquidation

Carillion went into compulsory liquidation on 15 January 2018. It had been the second largest construction company in the UK and had 43,000 employees. Temporary CEO, Keith Cochrane made some lame excuses about the company’s collapse and saw Carillion, rather than the taxpayer, as the victim. He said that they had accepted too many projects which had turned out unprofitable and for which the amount paid was insufficient for the cost of work done “we were building a Rolls Royce but only getting paid to build a Mini”. The House of Commons business and work and pensions committees found the Carillion personnel that came before them, evasive and delusional and described Cochrane as having only a ‘vague’ knowledge of finance. In January 2018, The Times commented that the company’s problems had been known for around four years, with too many poorly managed contracts, delays to works, and monies withheld by clients.

Dominos

The liquidation announcement had an immediate impact on 30,000 subcontractors and suppliers, Carillion employees and pensioners, plus shareholders, lenders, joint venture partners and customers in the UK and other countries. Five UK banks incurred heavy losses on loans to Carillion. What Private Eye refers to as the ‘bean counters’ have once again disgraced themselves. Chairman of the House of Commons pensions select committee, Frank Field, described them as “feasting on what was soon to become a carcass” after collecting fees of £72m for Carillion work during the years leading up to its collapse. Carillion’s auditor KPMG will have its role examined by the Financial Reporting Council. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling faced calls to resign, having awarded a major HS2 (high speed project) rail contract to Carillion in July 2017, when many people (Grayling should have been one of them) knew the company was in deep do-do. Their profit warning should have given him a clue. What kind of cretin gives of £1.4 billion to a company days AFTER it has issued a profit warning? Carillion shares slumped by 70% in a month as it was forced into the profit warning following an £845m write-down.

Ponzi Overreach

Cochrane may have had a point but it did not excuse the company. It would have been more accurate to describe Carillion’s modus operandi as a Ponzi scheme. All firms involved in public-private partnerships put in low tenders to get the contract. They are able to work on thin margins because they get big money up front from the state and failure is rewarded by the taxpayer. They begin work on construction without paying sub-contractors for another 120 days. They use the upfront money to pay debts within the business, which means they have to win new contracts just to keep going. Overreaching itself to take on lucrative contracts, Carillion failed to deliver and ran up debts of nearly £1.5bn and a pension fund shortfall of almost £600m.

Conclusion

A National Audit Office (NAO) report into wider PFIs shows that the taxpayer will be handing over £199bn to private firms well into the 2040s.The NAO concluded that that there was little published evidence of the benefits of private finance deals. The NAO found that a group of schools could cost the taxpayer 40% more when funded through PFI rather than government borrowing, with further research suggesting hospitals could cost as much as 70% more.

The PFI deals struck with companies like Carillion mean that private companies whose main obligation is to shareholders actually own the assets which were once public and rent them back to the taxpayer. Carillion’ mismanagement means that huge areas of the public sector are threatened with cuts or complete closure.

How ‘Capita’ Became ‘Crapita’

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on March 15 2018

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/580

Rod Aldridge, or Sir Rodney Malcolm Aldridge OBE, FRSA, to give him his full title, worked in local government for ten years, employed by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountants. For CIPFA, Aldridge ran a company specialising in helping local councils run their computers.

Aldridge bought the company and called it Capita. Since it was founded, as a two-man consultancy firm in 1984, Capita has grown to become the UK Government’s favoured company for outsourcing of public services. In 1987, it became an independent company with 33 staff and now has 36,000 workers based at more than 300 sites, predominantly in the UK and Ireland, and has also extended its operations to India. If the Sri Lankan Government has any plans to use Capita, read this article carefully and heed Mahinda Rajapaksa’s advice about privatisation and public private finance initiatives.

In March 2006, Aldridge resigned as Executive Chairman following allegations that contracts awarded to Capita were influenced by his loan of £1 million to the Labour Party. Aldridge is now reputedly worth £110m. He was replaced by his long-time associate Paul Pindar, who has complained about being called a ‘fat cat’. Pindar received a paltry £770,000 per annum salary and was reduced driving around in an Aston Martin DB9. The average Capita employee salary at the time was £28,000 per year.

Jack of All Trades

Capita’s influence spread malevolently throughout what used to be the public sector – health, education, prisons, health assessments for benefits, administration of benefit and pension payments. The House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee received nearly 4,000 submissions – the most ever by a select committee inquiry – after calling for evidence on the assessments for personal independence payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

People with Down’s syndrome were asked by Capita representatives when they ‘caught’ it. A woman reporting frequent suicidal thoughts was asked why she had not yet killed herself. Relevant information was often omitted from, and fundamental errors included in, the medical assessment reports. One report said the subject was fit enough to walk her dog every day even though she did not have a dog. Civil servants had to be drafted in to help Capita out because waiting times were so long that in some cases people with terminal conditions died before receiving a penny. Atos and Capita were paid over £500m from tax payers’ money for assessing fitness to work but 61 per cent who appealed against failed claims won their appeals.

Insensitivity

Capita has demonstrated similar incompetence and insensitivity in other areas in which it operates. Capita’s education arm sent a truancy notice to a pupil who had died two months before. While administering housing benefit for Lambeth Council, Capita wrote to a man telling him he no longer qualified for benefits because he was dead. Tens of thousands of unprocessed claims left many Lambeth families in danger of eviction.

In August 2016, a survey of General Practitioners found 85 per cent were missing records of recently registered patients, 65 per cent had experienced shortages of clinical supplies or delays in deliveries, and 32 per cent had suffered from missed or delayed payments.

In June 2014, it was reported that at least five of eight Liverpool National Health Service Trusts which had contracted their payroll and recruitment to Capita in 2012 were withdrawing because of concerns about the quality of the service provided.

The Great Training Robbery

Capita was guilty of maladministration in the Government’s £290m flagship training support scheme, the Individual Learning Accounts (ILA) which was implemented in 2000 and abruptly ended in 2001.Computer disks containing account holder names and PINs circulated on the black market. People were still being prosecuted for fraud as late as seven years after the ILA debacle.

On 31 January 2018, Capita announced a profit warning and dividend suspension as net debts were predicted to hit £1.15bn and a pension deficit to  reach £381m. The announcement knocked 47 per cent off Capita’s shares, reducing its market value by over £1.1bn.  In handing public service provision over to the robber barons, the Government sacked hundreds of thousands of civil servants. Brexit will close the door on foreign labour. Who will provide public services in the UK in the future?

 

The Dark Side of the DUP

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Friday November 30 2018

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/18690

Backstabbers

The DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) has started to withdraw its support from Theresa May’s beleaguered government and plans to vote against Theresa May’s Brexit deal. They abstained on the first two votes on the Finance Bill, and eight DUP MPs voted against the government in a third vote, on an amendment to the bill proposed by the Labour party.

Dubious Friends

When Theresa May called a snap general election in 2017 (despite there being a fixed-term parliament as claimed for Sri Lanka) it turned out to be serious error of judgement. The Conservatives won the most seats but failed to get an overall majority, worse than the majority of 17 she had before the election. The incumbent Conservative prime minister, announced her intention on 9 June 2017 to form a minority government with support from the DUP, whom she described as “friends and allies”. Those friends and allies were even stranger bedfellows than MS and RW. The DUP is the party founded by the Reverend Iain Paisley. It has fundamentalist views on homosexuality and abortion as well as climate change. More worryingly it has had ties with terrorist organisations. Peter Robinson, who was DUP leader and Northern Ireland’s first minister was an active member of Ulster Resistance. One of the things that group did was collaborate with terrorist organisations such as the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association to smuggle arms into the UK. Chris Patten described the deal as toxic.

The DUP are a rum bunch of individuals. Arlene Foster, the current leader, wasted £500 million of public money by her poor oversight of renewable energy incentive scheme; Jonathan Bell conveyed a public image of Christian rectitude but got horribly drunk in New York while promoting Northern Ireland; Ian Paisley Jr was suspended from parliament for taking bribes from the Rajapaksas; David Simpson opposed same-sex marriage and lobbied to have creationism included in the science curriculum in Northern Ireland schools; Gregory Campbell has called for the reintroduction of the death penalty and described homosexuality as an “evil, wicked, abhorrent practice”; Jim Shannon was voted the least sexy MP in 2011; Sammy Wilson has been accused of condoning calls that Catholics should be “expelled, nullified, or interned”; Nigel Dodds attended the wake of paramilitary leader John Bingham; Emma Little-Pengelly is the daughter of Noel Little, leader of the Ulster Resistance movement in the 1980s, who was convicted for being involved in a gun-running plot.

With friends like this…!

Money Tree

Protracted and difficult talks between these “friends” led to an agreement which secured DUP confidence-and-supply support for a Conservative minority government led by Theresa May. A confidence and supply agreement is one whereby a party will support the government in motions of confidence and appropriation or budget (supply) votes, by either voting in favour or abstaining. The DUP’s Brexit spokesman, Sammy Wilson, told the BBC it did not consider the recent votes a breach of their confidence and supply agreement.

May’s government, which had long been practising austerity and bleating about the lack of a “money tree”, agreed to put an extra £1bn into Northern Ireland for infrastructure, education, health, to maintain the guarantee to increase state pensions by at least 2.5% a year, to maintain defence spending, and agriculture spending in Northern Ireland at the same level for the rest of the current parliament (which theoretically takes us to June 2022). There was concern that the money could only be spent when Stormont was restored. In March, the government announced that £410m of the £1bn deal would be included in a new Stormont budget with money dished out to various areas. Downing Street has said that so far £430m has been released. In 2017/18, £20m was given to health and education while the £410m allocated for the Stormont budget is currently going through parliamentary approval procedures.

Are the DUP grateful? Are they ‘eck as like!

DUP Buys Ads where its Voters Won’t See

Two days before the Brexit referendum in June 2016, the Metro freesheet carried a four-page glossy propaganda supplement urging readers to vote Leave. It cost £282,000 and was paid for by the DUP, even though Metro does not circulate in Northern Ireland. The law is different in Northern Ireland and political parties do not have to declare the source of their funding. The DUP initially refused to give any information and then grudgingly said that the money came from “an organisation in England that wants to see the Union kept”. Later they disclosed that the money came from a much larger donation of £425,622 from “pro-Union business people” via the CRC (Constitutional Research Council).

The BBC Spotlight programme revealed that the Metro ad had been placed by one Richard Cook. Spotlight’s investigation of Cook revealed a long trail of illegal activities. Retired FBI Special Agent Gregory Coleman told the programme: “I think there is a good chance that law enforcement in New York City would be interested in taking a further look at this and possibly opening something up”.

Five Star

In April 2013, Prince Nawwaf bin Abdul Aziz al Saud, with Richard Cook, jointly founded a company called Five Star Investments. Prince Nawwaf is listed on the company’s initial registration as the holder of 75% of the shares. He was 80, had suffered a stroke and used a wheelchair. He was a very powerful and influential man in Saudi Arabia and well-known internationally. Why was he teaming up with a dodgy non-entity like Richard Cook? The nature of the company’s business is obscure. Five Star never filed accounts. In August 2014, the Companies Office in Edinburgh threatened to strike it off and in December it was indeed dissolved.

As well as being vice chairman of the Scottish Conservatives, Cook’s illustrious CV includes being accused of presenting fake documents to the authorities in 2009 to illegally ship used tires to India and he left a shipping company with a bill of more than £1m. He was a founding director and shareholder of a company called DDR Recycling in Glasgow which went out of business owing £150,000 in unpaid tax. In Ukraine, Cook’s company signed an $80m contract in 2013 supposedly for the purchase of used railway tracks. The person behind the company in Ukraine was a convicted criminal from Germany who had been sentenced to eight years in jail for his role in a large-scale food fraud.

Saudi Connection

Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz died in September 2015. He was the twenty-second son of Ibn Saud, born in 1932. He became a senior member of the House of Saud and was a close ally of King Abdullah. He was thoroughly familiar with international policy and law, and was also an expert on Middle East affairs. In September 2001, he was appointed director general of the Saudi intelligence agency, Al Mukhabarat Al A’amah. His eldest son has been Saudi ambassador to the UK and Ireland since 2005. The son ran up debts of more than £3m in an orgy of acquisition of luxury goods. Bell-Pottinger, who made shedloads of money doing a grand job with Sri Lanka’s image, handled PR for the profligate prince.

Constitutional Research Council

Richard Cook is the frontman for a shadowy organisation called the CRC, which helped to fund the DUP’s Leave campaign in Northern Ireland during the Brexit referendum in 2016. The CRC has also funded the European Research Group (which includes Jacob Rees-Mogg) and its chairman, the current (i.e. for this week) Brexit Secretary of State, Steve Baker. The CRC has no formal or legal status and refuses to name its members. There is no evidence that it generates income. It seems to exist merely to funnel money from dodgy sources into political campaigns. The un-Presbyterian life-style of the ambassador shows there is a lot of money slopping around the Saudi royal family.

Where Does the Money Come from?

Open Democracy is an independent global media platform partly funded by George Soros. OD did a lot of thorough research to eliminate wealthy donors from the list of possible benefactors of CRC. OD were fairly confident in saying who did not give the money to the DUP but are still appealing to readers for information who did give it.

As Fintan O’Toole put it: “The UK electoral commission is clear: ‘a donation of more than £500 cannot be accepted… if the donation is from a source that cannot be identified’. The legal onus is on the DUP to establish that the real donor was entitled to put money into a UK political campaign. If it can’t do that, it has to repay the £425,622. Since it has not done so, we have to assume it knows the true source is not, for example, a foreign government – which would be illegal.”

The DUP seems to be keeping company out of keeping with its Spartan and dour Presbyterian ethos. It gets worse. They recently embarrassed themselves by inviting Boris Johnson as their keynote speaker.

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