Worn down: The Health Secretary has faced a barrage of criticism over the performance of the NHS during the winter [Image: PA].
Will Professor Hawking take the opportunity to make a few of the points that Ralf Little has, in his Twitter dialogues with Mr Hunt, I wonder?
It would be a hard blow for the Health Secretary, who has sidestepped attempts to get him to account for his failures – which are legion – online, only to have to provide evidence about them in a court of law.
Whatever happens, this will be humiliation for Hunt – and it can’t come soon enough.
Professor Stephen Hawking has won permission to take Jeremy Hunt and NHS England to court over controversial proposals to restructure the health service.
Mr Hunt has tabled a plan which could allow commercial companies to run health and social services across a whole region in what critics have described as allowing back-door privatisation.
Leading healthcare professionals and Professor Hawking have argued an act of parliament is required, allowing MPs and Lords to scrutinise the proposals, before the policy is implemented and any changes to regulations are made.
Lawyers from the Department of Health and NHS England have rejected these claims but a court has now ruled that a full judicial review will be granted to determine the lawfulness of Mr Hunt’s proposals.
“Well, that was a blundering start to the Election campaign, even by the standards of the modern Conservative Party,” he writes.
“According to [Iain] Duncan Smith, the Conservatives have not yet made decisions on exactly how they are going to make the pledged cuts of twelve billion pounds to public spending, even though they announced them well over a year ago. They just have a nice, juicy-sounding target-figure to aim at, without even calculating whether it is a suitable target, and they are going to work out a budget to reach it ‘after-the-fact’? However, they have managed to calculate a budget for the Labour Party’s plans – and in such impressive detail that they can even tell us how much extra tax the average household will pay?
“After four hundred and fifty days of not figuring out their own budget, that may go down as a disproportionately-rigorous examination of Labour’s plans.”
Having gone on to show that the Institute for Fiscal Studies had comprehensively debunked the Tory claims, the article gets downright festive in its description of how “Britain’s Most Perennially-Caught-Out Serial Liar” – that’s Grant Shapps – responded. You’ll have to go and visit the article to read it.
The point is that the Tories were more concerned with lying about Labour’s plans than they were with telling the public about their own.
In an election period, those details become very important, don’t you think? And the Tories can’t be bothered… after around 15 months.
There are more festive descriptions of the possible outcome of any further Tory spending cuts, then we get to the meat and the (blue) blood: “It says a great deal about the arrogance and inflated self-importance of Cameron and his closest circle of colleagues that they see no need to explain to the country what they hope to do next. Make no mistake, these are people who see themselves as ‘above’ most of the rest of Britain, and as such, feel no compunction over lying to them, and sneer at the very thought of being ‘accountable’ to them. No, it is their innate ‘right’ to lead.
“It is the nature of democracy, if it is ever to work, that the public are trusted with the truth, so that they can make informed decisions on whom to trust in turn with their vote. The Conservatives will not co-operate with that ideal though. Their priority is power alone, and they rightly fear that an informed public, aware of precisely what a Tory Government would do to them, would never trust them with that power.”
That’s worth bearing in mind when you’re watching the televised leader debate on ITV tomorrow!
Conservative Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has rejected calls for an independent body to make decisions about the school curriculum, saying parents should be able to hold politicians to account for their decisions.
What a generous statement! This is possibly the modern-day equivalent of stretching one’s neck out over the executioner’s block.
It is heartening that she is prepared to let the Conservative Party take the blame for its ‘Free Schools’ pet project, which has been rocked by successive failures including that of its flagship, the Discovery School – declared inadequate by Ofsted and shut down. The Observer revealed that former Education Secretary Michael Gove wanted to hush up further damaging revelations by ensuring that problems were tackled before Ofsted could publicise them.
Free Schools have taken billions of pounds of public money and given nothing back – certainly not an education. Academy schools – publicly-funded companies set up by central government and answering to central government and not to the local education authority or even parents – have also overspent by more than a billion pounds.
In 2013, the “ring-fenced” education budget was cut by 5.7 per cent in real terms. The remaining funds were divided up, with non-academy schools receiving a cut of 4.31 per cent, infrastructure spending was cut by 81 per cent, and academy schools received a funding increase of no less than 191 per cent.
As Kerry-Anne Mendoza put it in Austerity – The Demolition of the Welfare State and the Rise of the Zombie Economy: “The state sector is being starved of funds, while the academy sector enjoys a glut of funding, which it spends inefficiently and opaquely.”
It is also heartening that Nicky Morgan is prepared to take the flak for Tory attempts to curtail the teaching of science in our classrooms – notable in Mr Gove’s attempts to halt the study of climate change; he wanted to deny it exists.
This writer is glad that the Tories are willing to take the rap for trying to reduce World War One into a display of “patriotism, honour and courage” while deriding examples of popular culture like Oh, What a Lovely War! and Blackadder Goes Forth. Gove claimed that the war was a “noble cause” and a “just” conflict against the “social Darwinism” of the Germans, while Blackadder portrayed it as “a misbegotten shambles – a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite. Even to this day there are Left-wing academics all too happy to feed those myths.”
It is, frankly, terrifying that a man with such ludicrous and – in context – dangerous views has held the position of Secretary of State for Education.
Do you remember Kate Nash on the BBC’s This Week, ripping into Gove’s attitude that learning-by-rote is better than understanding and creativity? She said: “There are certain things we need to be addressing, that are being completely missed – and that’s to do with education being inspiring and interesting for young people, rather than just about purely passing tests and pressure.”
Television historian Simon Schama has described Gove’s curriculum as “insulting and offensive”. He told an audience at the Hay Festival, “This is a document written by people who have never sat and taught 12-year-olds in a classroom.”
There are many more examples of Tory education ineptitude, but let’s finish this with a poem – ‘Dear Mr Gove’ by Jess Green, from only a little less than a year ago. At the time Vox Political first publicised this video, I wrote: “If enough parents saw, and listened, and thought about what this poem says – about their own lives and the lives their children can expect thanks to the worst-ever British government, perhaps it might persuade them to think again before putting their cross next to the Conservative candidate at the next few elections.
“It isn’t rocket science.”
Oh, and if you’re wondering why this article hasn’t mentioned any of Nicky Morgan’s achievements as Education Secretary, the reason is that she simply hasn’t had any.
Open and transparent: Grahame Morris, who called for a ‘level playing field’ for both private companies and public organisations when bidding for government contracts.
Did you know that £1 in every £3 spent by the government goes to an independent or private-sector service provider?
If you also recall government ministers bemoaning the fact that £1 in every £4 spent by the government was borrowed, as they said very often during the first year or so of the Coalition, and you bear in mind the fact that all private companies must make a profit, you’ll come to a fairly damning conclusion.
Did you know, also, that private companies – while free to hide behind commercial confidentiality regarding the conditions under which billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are awarded to them in government contracts – may use Freedom of Information requests to gain detailed information about public sector organisations and then use that knowledge to undercut or outbid those bodies when government contracts are tendered or put up for renewal?
FoI regulations give private providers an unfair competitive advantage when bidding for contracts, due to unequal disclosure requirements.
Both of these were made clear in Grahame Morris’s short speech in support of his 10-minute rule motion to bring in a Bill amending the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to apply to private healthcare companies, and for connected purposes.
He even pointed out that we are living in a society where freedom of information is routinely censored – stating that he attended a demonstration against NHS privatisation in Manchester at the start of the Conservative Party conference there, “but which was barely reported by our public sector broadcaster”.
He said the government should be chastened by recent events. “For example, the tagging scandal — involving Serco and G4S and uncovered by the Serious Fraud Office — showed that these companies had defrauded the taxpayer of more than £50 million.
“Perhaps we need a hard-hitting advertising campaign, with advertising hoardings on vans driven around the City of London, warning off corporate fraudsters from bidding for public contracts?
“The danger for our NHS is that we are inviting convicted fraudsters into our health system.”
He said HCA, the world’s biggest private healthcare company, recently won the contract to provide cancer treatment for NHS brain tumour patients, “stopping patients receiving world-class treatment at London’s University College Hospital”.
Mr Morris continued: “The Competition Commission has already caught HCA overcharging private patients in the United Kingdom. In the United States, HCA has had to pay fines and costs in excess of $2 billion for systematically defrauding federal healthcare programmes.
“The public are right to be concerned about these providers coming into the NHS. If that is to happen, it is essential that their operations and their contracts with the NHS should be open, transparent and subject to public scrutiny.”
Introducing his Freedom of Information (Private Healthcare Companies) Bill, he said its purpose was to strengthen FoI legislation and introduce vital safeguards, so members of the public can see how their money is being spent.
It seems he may even have read Vox Political‘s earlier article on his motion, as he said: “I hope that Members on both sides of the House will support fair competition, a level playing field and the duty of equal disclosure throughout the bidding process for NHS services.
“The public have a right to know the record of public and private providers before contracts are awarded. Those safeguards can work only if the Information Commissioner has the same rights to seek information and carry out investigations, and to make all providers of public services comply with freedom of information legislation.
“I understand that the Information Commissioner expressed concern to the Justice Select Committee that accountability would be undermined if FOI did not apply to private providers of public services.”
He said: “Freedom of information is one of the Labour Government’s greatest achievements, ensuring transparency and accountability in modern government and allowing the public access to information on what is being done in their name and how their money is being spent.
“In recent years, we have witnessed an acceleration in the number of public services being outsourced, and today roughly £1 in every £3 that the Government spend goes to independent or private sector providers.
“Owing to the Government’s policy of opening up public services to the private and voluntary sectors, billions of pounds of NHS contracts are now being made available to the private sector, following the implementation of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.
“Unfortunately, while more and more taxpayer money is being handed to the private sector, especially in the NHS, FOI responsibilities are not following the public pound.
“There is a big issue here about transparency, because the public should know what is happening in their name, as was brought home to me recently in a demonstration against NHS privatisation in Manchester that I attended, along with more than 50,000 other people, but which was barely reported on by our public sector broadcaster.
“Private health care companies should not be permitted to hide behind a cloak of commercial confidentiality. Billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being awarded to private sector companies under barely transparent contracts.
“Meanwhile, private companies are free to benefit by gaining detailed knowledge of public sector bodies through their use and submission of FOI requests. The same information is then used by the private sector to undercut or outbid the very same public sector bodies when contracts are tendered or put up for renewal.”
Although no objection was raised to the Bill going forward, it seems the Coalition has performed an about-face on the issue. Mr Morris said: “I understand that in opposition the Prime Minister was convinced about this matter, having previously promised to increase the range of publicly funded bodies subject to scrutiny using section 5 of the Freedom of Information Act.
“The coalition agreement also promised to extend the scope of the Act to provide greater transparency, but unfortunately it would appear that nothing is being done to address the democratic deficit caused by the outsourcing of public services.”
Sadly, it seems likely that this Bill won’t get very far, for reasons this blog has already mentioned – the Government usually opposes Private Member’s Bills in the later stages and, given their low priority in the schedule, there is often insufficient time for the debate to be completed.
But this may not matter, as the information already provided by Mr Morris makes fascinating reading that is damning for the government.
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