Nicholas Paget-Brown, former leader of Kensington Council, has set up NPB Consulting [Image: Mark Kerrison/Alamy Stock Photo].
Let’s get this straight: The Tory politician who tried to hold a council meeting about the fire at Grenfell Tower in secret – and had to resign because of the ensuing row – is now advising businesses on how to work with councils?
The man who, as leader of Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council, allowed firms to get away with putting dangerous flammable material all over a housing block is now offering advice to firms on how to get what they want?
Does anybody else think it would be a bad idea to associate with him at all?
Still, it does show one thing:
Tories have no shame.
Nicholas Paget-Brown, the former leader of Kensington Council, has set up a consultancy service for organisations who wish to work with local authorities.
Paget-Brown, who was forced to resign last month in the wake of the council’s response to the Grenfell Tower disaster, has set up NPB Consulting.
According to his LinkedIn page, the company offers “policy analysis, seminars, briefings and drafting assistance”.
Own up: How many of you stayed up into the wee hours to watch TV coverage of the local council elections?
If you did, you would have witnessed a curious phenomenon. As the Conservative Party lost seat after seat (at the time of writing they have lost 113 seats altogether) and Labour won seat after seat (currently 125 seats better-off), the pundits sitting around David Dimbleby on BBC1 started telling us this put Labour in the poor position!
This, we were told, was because UKIP’s performance heralded the arrival of “four-party politics” – but does anybody believe that? UKIP won protest votes against the UK Coalition government’s policies at a time when elections to the European Parliament were also taking place. Anti-immigration feelings have been stirred up and people have been led to believe – wrongly – that a vote for UKIP will cut off the flow.
In fact, UKIP did damage Labour in areas like Swindon, where they took working-class votes and enabled the Conservatives to hold that council with a slightly increased majority.
But the ‘Purple Peril’ did far more damage to the Conservatives, with Essex Man and Woman voting very strongly for it.
What does this mean, translated to the Westminster Parliament?
The answer is, it’s difficult to judge. Turnout was only around 36 per cent – half the number who take part in a general election – because faith in democracy is so low. This means any predictions are more likely to be wrong than right.
But if the results are replicated, then the Conservative Party will lose seats to UKIP and it is possible that Labour will become the majority party in a Hung Parliament, and then…
… UKIP will do a coalition deal with the Conservatives because Nigel Farage wants a taste of power, and we’ll end up with five more years of David Cameron.
To avoid this, Labour will have to consolidate its gains and show that it can make a real difference where it wins.
A good start would be to cut the harmful social policies in Hammersmith and Fulham, which Labour took from the Tories last night. H&F was once dubbed David Cameron’s favourite council. Why? Well, a recent Guardian article showed that the council was selling off its housing stock at an increasingly accelerated rate, while forcing homeless people into temporary accommodation outside the borough. Ending this wrong-headed nonsense would be a good start.
The new Labour administration could re-examine the planned closure of Sulivan Primary School in Fulham, which won an award from London Mayor Boris Johnson at the end of last year after it “succeeded against the odds in improving pupils’ aspirations and achievements”. According to The Guardian (again), campaigners fighting to save Sulivan say it has been targeted because there are plans to turn the site into a new Free School, part of Michael Gove’s silly pet project that has been haemorrhaging money.
And Labour could halt the Earls Court Project redevelopment scheme, which will knock down elderly residents homes – buildings which are perfectly sound – in order to replace them with “impossibly expensive” flats.
The Guardian (yet again) states: “To the Tories of H&F, though, such things are of no value if there’s more money to be made from tearing them up, clearing them out, knocking them down… The council and its friends do not see what they are doing as wrecking. They see themselves as grand creators. They see those they would push aside not as citizens to be considered but non-believers, blockages, impediments; as inefficiencies that have to be squeezed out.”
Labour would score hugely if it took a stand against this merciless money-driven destruction of a neighbourhood that belongs to ordinary people.Elderly people, in fact. Not only are they vulnerable; they are also voters.
So let Hammersmith & Fulham become the example Labour holds up to the nation: “This is what we can do across the country, if you only give us the chance!”
One thing’s for sure – whatever Labour does there, The Guardian will be watching!
Results are still incoming from the council elections, so undoubtedly the ‘expert’ opinions will change before the end – and then we have the European election results to come on Sunday.
A quick anecdote about that: Yesterday evening Yr Obdt Srvt was at a meeting on a completely different subject (a local festival here in Mid Wales – I’m the organising committee’s secretary). Afterwards I was chatting with a friend about the election when a young man approached us in search of the nearest polling station.
My friend passed on the directions and the man thanked us and started on his way. “Don’t vote UKIP!” shouted my friend.
The government has been extremely relaxed about letting landlords in England charge huge rents on tiny, single-room accommodation with diabolical health and safety standards. Newham Council – the Olympic borough – has said enough is enough.
It’s 2013 – a new dawn; a new year.
Same old Tories, though.
Look at this: Newham Council in London has started a compulsory system of landlord registration. Owners of privately-rented homes must now declare criminal convictions and will be monitored to ensure they meet health and safety standards on their properties. If they don’t, they could be fined up to £20,000.
This is terrific – it is, after all, landlords’ responsibility to make sure their properties are clean and in good working order. Scotland already has a compulsory licensing system and Wales is working on one.
But in England, ministers oppose a national scheme.
Scotland is run by the SNP; Wales by Labour. England is ruled by the Coalition government – the Tories, in essence.
From this, we can deduce that Tories want landlords to continue charging substantial rents for people to live in unacceptable accommodation.
We can also deduce that they have no problem with landlords getting rich while tenants live in slums, paying hundreds of pounds every month to live in a single, basic room.
Perhaps the threats posed by faulty wiring or dangerous gas appliances, pest infestations and overcrowding do not mean anything to the Tories. But then, they’ve never experienced those things, have they?
Let’s also bear in mind that, when considering how to remedy what they say is an ever-increasing housing benefit bill, the Tories chose to find ways to cut the benefit: the bedroom tax, the benefits cap (housing benefit is the first to be affected if households are earning more than £500 per week).
Responsibility for making up the lost benefit will fall on tenants, who must find it in what little of their income is not tied up with other bills.
My brother once told me they’d have us back to Rackmanism and rack-renting if they thought they could get away with it. Isn’t that what’s happening?
The Tories chose not to cap rents instead, with supporters of the move saying this would distort the market and would therefore be unnecessary interference.
What are we to make, then, of the fact that other English councils are free to devise their own landlord registration systems, which may differ from that in Newham or those in Scotland and Wales, leading to a piecemeal system with excessive bureaucracy and – yes – distorting the market?
As ever, when we are ruled by those who have known only luxury and cannot understand what it is to survive in poverty and squalor, we get what we’ve always had:
Slave auction: One of the posters created to protest against the work programme when A4e was still involved.
The number of people being referred to the government’s flagship work programme has dropped dramatically, according to official figures – but I wouldn’t start celebrating yet, if I were you.
Figures for the year to the end of July 2012 show 878,000 referrals, but total monthly referrals in July were fewer than 49,000 – less than half of the 100,000 who were put on the controversial scheme in July 2011.
The number of long-term Jobseekers’ Allowance claimants has risen by 188,000 during the same period.
Since January, 15 charities or voluntary groups have quit the work programme, possibly due to the bad publicity the surrounds it. But 20 more signed up.
According to The Guardian, “The programme is supposed to link job centres to the companies that help unemployed people find work. The firms are paid for every jobless person who is found work.
“Under the contract, companies, and the charities that work for them, can collect £13,550 for finding such claimants long-term work; double the money paid for getting an unemployed person a job.”
This certainly agrees with the information sent in by Vox Political commenters, like this one: “The WTW [Welfare-to-Work] provider gets a £600 attachment fee. They also get paid fees for ‘providing support’ i.e. bullying her into doing what they want. Later they get an ‘outcome fee’ for making her stay in the minimum wage job of their choice. If she finds something with no help from them, they still pocket the dosh. If she finds training other than their useless ‘courses’ she gets rewarded with a sanction (benefits withheld indefinitely) to ensure compliance.”
That comment was made by a person who was placed with A4e [Action for Employment], a training company whose government contracts have been terminated after allegations of fraud were made against it. A Channel 4 investigation revealed in September that A4e had only found 4,020 jobs that lasted more than three months, in the 10 months up to May 2012, for its 115,000 compulsory attendees, at a cost to the taxpayer of £45 million.
Only a few days ago I wrote about one such “training” company – it might have been A4e – that took £400 per claimant, then passed each person on to Job Centre Plus, to go on a £300 work scheme. The cash taken by the company – for doing nothing – was excused as an “administration” cost.
These are all incidental to the main criticism of the work programme, which is that it keeps unemployment high by offering private companies people who must work for no pay – in other words, state-sponsored slavery. When the work placement ends, the private company throws away that person and brings in another. My belief is that it is not the taxpayers’ responsibility to pay the wages of people employed by a private company; if a firm wants people to stack its shelves, it should hire them at a living wage, rather than ask the government to provide workers and pay them only in state benefits.
I do not think it is a coincidence that the work programme has slumped, apparently because Job Centre Plus staff are moving claimants straight into jobs. And look at some of the other figures! Unemployment – down. GDP growth – up.
I have always believed that the work programme was an attempt to funnel taxpayers’ money into the hands of ministers’ friends, and these figures suggest I am right. The nation is better off without the work programme.
But that means these friends of the ministers would go without, and we can’t have that, can we? So what will the government do?
Let’s all remember that one of Chris Grayling’s last decisions at the Department for Work and Pensions was to roll out the work programme in 16 London boroughs – all notable sites of the summer riots in 2011 – starting in September. So youngsters who probably weren’t involved in those riots will end up doing 390 hours’ community service, while Grayling’s fat-cat business buddies continue to get their government backhander.
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