Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

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?

 

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