Daily Archives: January 17, 2016

Leamington cafe owner’s scheme aiming to help the homeless

The kindness of people like Ms Eades and her customers is a credit to the UK.

What a shame it has to be used in efforts to balance out the cruelty of people like our Conservative Government and exploitative employers who won’t pay a living wage for a hard day’s work.

A CAFE owner in Leamington is helping to feed the homeless after being inspired by a scheme in the United States.

Sophie Eades, owner of the Mashed Swede cafe in Russell Street, has been encouraging people to buy an extra meal which will then be donated to a homeless or vulnerable person.

She heard about the scheme taking off in America and decided to bring the idea across the Atlantic.

And since it started just before Christmas, generous visitors have donated more than 50 meals at a cost of £5 each.

For each donation a voucher is stuck to a board on the wall and is then used by someone in need to collect a free meal and drink.

People who donate can also take their voucher to give to a someone needing a hot meal.

Source: Leamington cafe owner’s scheme aiming to help the homeless | Leamington Observer

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Trade Union Bill: Lib Dems to help Labour prevent bill from stifling party funding

westminsterfromwater

Liberal Democrat peers are to help Labour water down the Trade Union Bill, which will dramatically reduce the party’s funding, in an amendment on Wednesday.

The support should give Labour enough votes to pass an amendment that would mean parts of the Bill that relate to political funding will be separated out and examined by a cross-party committee of peers. This was originally drafted by Lord Tyler, the Liberal Democrat constitutional reform spokesman, who wants the committee to examine broader political funding.

Baroness (Angela) Smith, Labour’s House of Lords leader, is now sponsoring the amendment. She believes there is a case for a committee to scrutinise political funding specifically, because the Government admitted it had not evaluated how the bill will affect Labour’s finances.

Labour believes it is a partisan attempt to secure the Conservatives’ financial dominance and has estimated it could lose as much as £35m in an electoral cycle. The Bill requires members of Labour-affiliated unions, for example, to opt in to paying a levy to the party, when they currently can opt out – making a costly psychological difference.

Source: Trade Union Bill: Lib Dems to help Labour prevent bill from stifling party funding | UK Politics | News | The Independent

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Tories and Liberal Democrats come out in favour of underpaying workers


Look at the comments at the end. The Liberal Democrat leader calls fair pay an “egalitarian fantasy”. The Tories say fair pay threatens our “economic security”.

In fact, it has been proven that a fair deal for workers increases not only the quality of their product but the speed of production and, ultimately, profit.

So the Tories and Liberal Democrats represent the clear danger to the UK economy.

A Labour government could ban companies from paying dividends to shareholders unless they pay workers the living wage, Jeremy Corbyn has said.

He said in a speech to a think tank too much profit from economic growth had gone to those at the top of society.

The Labour leader was explaining his strategy to tackle pay inequality and “institutionalise fairness” in Britain.

He later told the Unite union in Scotland the Tories wanted to “tip the scales further” in favour of bosses.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said Mr Corbyn “seems committed on ripping apart our business sector in pursuit of an egalitarian fantasy”. A Conservative Party spokesman called Labour a “clear threat to our economic security”.

Source: Jeremy Corbyn warns businesses over ‘unfair’ pay – BBC News

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Labour’s defence policy review given ‘Japanese’ option for Trident stance

Andrew Marr tried very hard, but could not undermine Jeremy Corbyn in his interview [Image: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA].


It isn’t what This Writer would do, and the Japanese record with nuclear material is not looking good at the moment, but it is another option to discuss.

Your thoughts are invited.

Labour’s defence review will examine the idea of building submarines under the Trident programme without nuclear weapons, after Jeremy Corbyn raised the idea as a possible third way.

The proposal could be a compromise between his Corbyn’s outright opposition to nuclear arms and the position of the trade unions, which want to protect the jobs of workers in Scotland and Cumbria who will build replacement Trident submarines.

The Labour leader has argued there does not necessarily need to be a binary decision on the replacement of Trident, which is likely to be the subject of a vote in the House of Commons this spring. Pressed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show as to what this meant, Corbyn said: “They don’t have to have nuclear warheads on them.”

The shadow defence secretary, Emily Thornberry … told the BBC’s Sunday Politics: “The way that it works is that the Japanese have got a capability to build a nuclear bomb…[but] you can then put them on to, or you can use them, in various delivery forms. So that’s a possibility, that is an option.” She said she would not speculate on what the review would recommend but she added that Corbyn “said there’s a number of options, and I said the Japanese already have this as the way that they use theirs”.

Source: Labour’s defence policy review given third option for Trident stance | UK news | The Guardian

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Labour to hold free seminars on public finances to end Westminster orthodoxy

The events will include expert panels, including members of Labour’s economic advisory group, such as Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz [Image: Ray Tang/Rex Shutterstock].

Brilliant. Labour is willing to listen to the wisdom of the nation and build an economic policy that is based on our combined knowledge.

Meanwhile, the Tories have their heads up their own posteriors and are wondering why it is getting dark.

This Writer would like to go to one of these seminars. Wouldn’t you?

Free economics seminars for the public will be held by Labour across the UK in an attempt to break away from “Westminster-dominated views” about public finances.

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, is launching the “New Economics” events in a bid to get members of the public talking about economic ideas in the hope they will inform Labour policy.

The events will include seminars and expert panels, including members
of Labour’s economic advisory group, such as Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, and leading economists Mariana Mazzucato and Ha-Joon Chang.

Topics up for debate include inequality, technology and work, and the strategic state before a national conference on economics is held by McDonnell in May.

Source: Labour to hold free seminars on public finances to end Westminster orthodoxy | Politics | The Guardian

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Energy bills, the Big Six and the scandal of people dying of cold in their own homes

130925energyAs I stepped out into the -2.5C cold yesterday morning (January 16), on my way to a meeting, I thought, “People will die because of this”.

My next thought was that the government – which is perfectly able to prevent such fatalities – simply wouldn’t care.

How right I was.

This weekend, people will die of cold in their own homes – in this, the world’s fifth-largest economy – because they cannot afford to pay the high prices charged by energy companies.

Though the cost of fuel to the Big Six has tumbled, they have not cut prices to match. And, rather than make them do so, the Government has turned its fire on clean, renewable power.

It is a great, if underpublicised, scandal. Every seven winter minutes, it is authoritatively calculated, an older person dies from the cold. Even relatively mild January temperatures increase heart attacks and strokes and now – with winter finally taking hold – Public Health England is officially advising pensioners to turn up their heating.

But they can’t afford to. Nearly two-thirds of over-65s told a survey last week that they would be likely to cut back on their energy usage instead, with more than half apparently struggling to pay their bills. And it’s not only the elderly. More than five million British households live in fuel poverty and a higher proportion have to devote more of their incomes to energy than in any other EU country except Estonia.

This year should have brought some relief. The wholesale price of fuel – which makes up nearly 50 per cent of household energy bills – has crashed over the past two years: the cost of gas to the suppliers has halved. But bills, which previously shot up like a rocket, have only drifted down like a feather.

Until last May’s general election, the Big Six companies said they could not cut prices for fear of being caught by Ed Miliband’s planned price freeze. Immediately after the unexpected Tory victory, the new Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd, wrote to ask them to do so – the response was minimal while their costs have continued to plummet.

The Big Six point out that they buy their fuel over extended periods, evening out fluctuations. But last summer the Competition Commission concluded that they were overcharging households by a staggering £1.2bn a year. An unofficial survey suggests it is now almost £3bn.

You would expect top-level outrage, wouldn’t you? But the Prime Minister merely said last week that bills were “not falling as fast as I would like”.

Source: Energy bills, the Big Six and the scandal of people dying of cold in their own homes | Voices | The Independent

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A tragedy of errors: National Audit Office slams DWP performance


The National Audit Office has provided proof that the DWP provides a service that is well below acceptable standards, at a cost that is far too high.

Politicians on all sides of the political spectrum should be clamouring for change.

Where are they?

Well, it seems that just when things couldn’t get any worse for IDS with his disastrous mismanagement of Universal Credit and increasingly negative press over welfare policies, they have got worse. Very much worse. On January 8 the National Audit Office, the UK’s chief bean-counters reviewing Government policies and deciding whether they give taxpayers value for money, issued their report on the DWP’s delivery of value for money. Or to be exact their failure to deliver any.

The NAO report makes grim reading for anyone hoping that IDS’s brutal welfare policies would be in some way justified by the savings made. They haven’t been justified. Nor have savings seemingly been made. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the NAO’s report and see the highlights.

In 2014-2015 the projected spending on Work Capability Assessments was £275 million. For 2016-2017 projected estimates are £579 million, an increase of 65% since ATOS fled the field. An average cost of £115 per assessment is predicted to rise to £190 per assessment. The NAO also predicts that some £1.9 billion will be spent on delivering assessments. So, where’s the value for money?

The short answer is that there isn’t any unless you happen to have shares in the assessment providers. Not only does the NAO expect assessments to cost 65% more under the new contractors but, for 2014-2015, only 13% of the assessments made actually met the quality threshold expected under the terms of the contract according to the NAO. Yes, not only are they charging 65% more per assessment, they’re still only providing a small percentage of assessments conducted properly according to their contract with the DWP.

Source: A tragedy of errors: National Audit Office slams DWP performance |

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Crickhowell v LORD Crickhowell: Town that took on the taxman lays top Tory low

151111Crickhowell
As a resident of Powys and an opponent of neoliberal Conservatism, This Writer wholeheartedly supports the people of Crickhowell who are taking part in this experiment with tax.

We can all learn more about this issue by watching The Town That Took On The Taxman on BBC Two at 9pm on Wednesday (January 20).

A Conservative peer has provoked an angry reaction after advising shopkeepers in Crickhowell, the small Welsh market town that rose to national prominence when its businesses decided to set up their own offshore tax avoidance scheme, to tone down their criticism of George Osborne.

Lord Crickhowell, who served as Secretary of State for Wales in Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet, was accused by one local businessman of trying to “keep the peasants in check” by suggesting in a series of emails that the group should steer clear of criticising the Chancellor as they try to expand their protest into a national campaign.

The café is one of the businesses taking part in The Town That Took On The Taxman, a documentary due to air on BBC2 next Wednesday.

Lord Crickhowell, 81, contacted Mr Lewis and another member of the group in December after the town’s tax protest attracted national attention. In an email, he said they were making a “strategic mistake” in attacking Mr Osborne’s failure to close tax avoidance loopholes in the UK and advised them to withdraw their criticism “before it is circulated any more”.

“He is not your enemy but an ally looking for support and ammunition to win a battle with hugely hostile and powerful forces,” the peer wrote of the Chancellor.

The email drew a sharp response from Mr Lewis, who said the Chancellor was the campaign’s “ultimate target”. He added: “Cosying up to George Osborne is not where we want to be… no intelligent man could possibly defend me paying eight times the tax of Facebook, but he has this issue well on the back burner. He has no appetite for this fight and has kicked it into someone else’s field.”

Source: Crickhowell: Welsh town that took on the taxman sets its sights on the Tories | Home News | News | The Independent

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Union leader offers to be SNP’s ‘critical friend’ in Scotland – and Labour should act on his words

Len McClusky, leader of Unite [Image: Sean Smith for the Guardian].

Len McLuskey’s offer to the SNP is potentially very useful, as it will give him an opportunity to monitor that party’s behaviour against its leaders’ words.

This Blog has pointed out, several times, instances where Nicola Sturgeon has contradicted herself, simply to gain political advantage (most often against Labour, despite the fact that Scotland’s woes are entirely caused by Tories).

McLuskey is not the kind of man to let this kind of behaviour pass.

His advice to Scottish Labour is also good – and should be taken as a warning to right-wingers and Blairites who still remain in the Labour Party.

They had their chance. They blew it – along with a huge amount of support for Labour.

Now they can either swallow their pride and do what they can to restore the trust they shattered, or they can shuffle of somewhere their views are more readily accepted.

The Unite leader, Len McLusky, has stated his willingness to be a “critical friend” to Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP government, while urging the Labour partyto apologise for the party’s “betrayal” of Scottish voters.

McClusky told delegates at Unite Scotland’s first policy conference in Clydebank, West Dumbartonshire, on Sunday: “Nicola Sturgeon and her team have reached out to trade unions – including on vital issues like blacklisting – and we would be letting our members down if we responded anything other than enthusiastically.”

While insisting that “Unite remains a Labour union, here in Scotland as across all of Britain”, he cautioned: “Preferring a Labour administration cannot mean being blind to reality, or ignoring the opportunities that we have to advance Unite members’ interests.”

Acknowledging that more than two-thirds of Unite Scotland members voted for the SNP in last May’s general election, McClusky added: “Being a friend does not mean being an uncritical friend. We can and should demand more from the SNP. Nicola’s government should not be hiding behind procedural niceties in relation to the trade union bill.” (The Scottish government recently failed in its attempt to secure a legislative consent motion in Holyrood, which would have allowed MSPs to vote against the bill’s application north of the border.)

McClusky, who will meet the first minister and SNP leader for the first time later on Sunday, added: “I’ll be saying to Nicola when I meet her later – don’t just oppose this wretched bill, but block it in Scotland. And while you’re at it – end the council tax freeze and really go the extra mile to lift the cloud of austerity from the lives of the people of Scotland.”

McClusky suggested that Kezia Dugdale must also apologise to Scottish voters who were alienated by “the ideology of New Labour”.

Speaking to journalists before his conference speech, he explained: “The ideology of New Labour effectively alienated large swaths of the Scottish working class, which manifested itself quite dramatically last May. Kezia [Dugdale] has to effectively say: ‘Labour is under new management, we apologise for betraying you, and we will start from scratch to try and build that trust up.’’

Revealing that internal polling had found 65% of Unite Scotland members supported the SNP at the last general election, compared with 80% voting Labour historically, he said: “The SNP stole most of the radical clothes that historically should have belonged to Labour. The truth of the matter is that in Scotland the SNP seemed to lots of people as a more social democratic party than Labour.”

Source: Union leader offers to be SNP’s ‘critical friend’ in Scotland | UK news | The Guardian

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Britannia no longer ‘rules the waves’, according to top diplomat. How will Tory voters react?

Sir Jeremy Greenstock was Britain’s ambassador to the UN from 1998 to 2003 [Image: Kathy Willens/AP].


Greenstock’s words have serious implications, not just for the UK’s position in the United Nations, but for David Cameron’s plan to negotiate us into the backwaters of the EU (where nobody will listen to us) and his pointless demand for air strikes in Syria (that will have as much effect as our military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan).

The way Cameron’s Conservatives – and his Coalition before them – have diminished the UK’s standing in the world should be expected to upset Tory supporters more than their opponents; Tories like to enjoy the fantasy that Britannia still “rules the waves” and remains a major player in world affairs.

That bubble is being pricked. How will they react?

One of Britain’s most eminent former diplomats has described the country as a fading power, saying that cuts to the Foreign Office have undermined its standing on the world stage.

As the UN security council celebrates its 70th birthday on Sunday, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, a former British ambassador to the United Nations, said this and the previous government had shown a worrying lack of concern for foreign affairs, which had hurt Britain’s standing abroad.

“It has always been in the traditions of the UK to be part of the search for global solutions. I don’t get the same feeling from the last government or this government. Immediate domestic concerns are coming first and foremost.

“We are not so much a power any more, our relative power has faded, put us into the shade. The Foreign Office is constantly being cut, our military being cut,” he said. “The number of armed forces has gone down, our contribution to peacekeeping is negligible, we haven’t succeeded in our interventions in Iraq, in Afghanistan.”

Source: Cuts have left Britain a fading power, says former top diplomat | Politics | The Guardian

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