Tag Archives: innovation

Latest privatisation/corruption plan is halted as government reluctantly scraps Land Registry sale

Still in public ownership: According to reports, the sale of the Land Registry has been cancelled.

Still in public ownership: According to reports, the sale of the Land Registry has been cancelled.

A little-known plan to sell off one of the government’s best-performing and self-financing organisations has been scrapped – not because of fears that a new system would be prone to corruption but apparently because it was “too complicated” and would have necessitated “new legislation”.

The change of heart – for whatever reason – has been taken by the PCS Union as a victory for its campaign against the sell-off, which included a two-day strike against the privatisation proposal, which members described as “secret”.

Commentators including Vox Political pointed out that the public consultation process received hardly any publicity at all and was closed before most of us even knew it had taken place.

Among the Land Registry’s many functions are quasi-judicial decisions on ownership and transfers, granting title and, crucially, guaranteeing legal rights on behalf of the state. This is not just of fundamental importance to homeowners, but an essential feature of our economy. The backbone of the system is its freedom from outside influence and commercial interest,” the article stated.

In its article on the subject earlier this month, Vox Political warned that, clearly, privatisation would put the Land Registry entirely under threat of outside influence and dominated by commercial interest.

It quoted a report in The Guardian stating: “The agency is also currently bound by government policy on procurement, designed to assist small and medium-sized businesses to compete against the oligopoly of large suppliers. But BIS [The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills] has identified this as a problem, claiming greater flexibility in the private sector to buy goods and services. In a truly astonishing move, a government agency faces being changed into a commercial company so it can avoid the very controls the government brought in to protect small businesses.”

The article also warned of “massive job losses and office closures” and said the government had “flatly refused” to publish and fully consult on these plans.

And the plot thickened considerably when it was revealed that the Infrastructure Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech would transfer responsibility for the local land charges register to the national Land Registry – away from local councils. This means it would profit from the sale of the information – while councils fear they would still have to employ staff to do the work.

All in all, the sale was shaping up into a plan to put big business – the ‘This is Money’ article suggested private equity firms and outsourcing companies – in control of a system that had been freed of any obligation towards small and medium-sized businesses, and whose work would be done by local authorities – at a cost to the council, not the Land Registry.

For any new shareholder, it would have been a licence to print money.

The PCS has already declared its delight that the sell-off has been called off. A statement released yesterday (June 29) reads: “This would be a victory for the thousands of Land Registry staff who campaigned with industry professionals against the plans, and very welcome news for millions of people who rely on it to provide a reliable, impartial and hugely important public service.

“We want the Land Registry to work with us on our proposals to strengthen the agency in future, but serious questions must be asked of senior officials and ministers who tried to push through what would have been a very damaging and totally unnecessary sell-off.”

Indeed. First among these would be: Who paid them to do it?

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Did the Tories tell anyone at all they were privatising the Land Registry?

140610LandRegistry

Did you know about this?

According to a petition on the 38 Degrees website, the government closed – closed – a public consultation on proposals to privatise the 152-year-old Land Registry on March 20 this year.

“There has been no publicity or attempt to inform the public of this radical change to an organisation that is vital to the UK property market,” the text of the petition states.

While this is not strictly true, it would be accurate to say that the plan has not been well-publicised. Not at all.

The government put out a press release on January 23, saying a consultation was taking place on plans “to help Land Registry deliver more efficient and modern services”. That’s no way to announce a privatisation – and the plan to create a private company was only revealed several paragraphs into the text.

Why is this important?

Well, the Land Registry is one of the largest property databases in Europe, guaranteeing title to registered estates and interests in land, recording the ownership rights of freehold properties and leasehold properties where the lease has been granted for longer than seven years.

It is self-financing; its income generated by registration and search fees. You pay to access certain information.

Last month, 3,000 PCS Union members went on a two-day strike over the “secret” privatisation proposal. A report in The Guardian said the government had failed to explain what problem is was trying to fix, or what benefits would be gained by privatisation.

“Key among the organisation’s many functions are quasi-judicial decisions on ownership and transfers, granting title and, crucially, guaranteeing legal rights on behalf of the state. This is not just of fundamental importance to homeowners, but an essential feature of our economy. The backbone of the system is its freedom from outside influence and commercial interest,” the article stated.

Clearly, privatisation would put the Land Registry entirely under threat of outside influence and dominated by commercial interest.

Also: “The agency is also currently bound by government policy on procurement, designed to assist small and medium-sized businesses to compete against the oligopoly of large suppliers. But BIS [The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills] has identified this as a problem, claiming greater flexibility in the private sector to buy goods and services. In a truly astonishing move, a government agency faces being changed into a commercial company so it can avoid the very controls the government brought in to protect small businesses.”

The article also warned of “massive job losses and office closures” and said the government had “flatly refused” to publish and fully consult on these plans.

Prepare for a thickening of the plot: The Infrastructure Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech last week would transfer responsibility for the local land charges register to the national Land Registry – away from local councils. This means it would profit from the sale of the information – while councils fear they would still have to employ staff to do the work.

The petition states that “another consultation on giving the Land Registry wider powers in the control of data essential to the sale and purchase of property closed earlier with the majority of the public not being aware if it’s existence.”

It seems our attention is being directed away from another Tory-led plan to sell one of our best-performing and most efficient public services off to create more profit for private business – most notably big business, at the expense of small and medium-sized enterprises – while forcing the public sector to do all the work for nothing.

It isn’t too late to register your disgust at this proposal. Sign the petition right now.

And for goodness’ sake, tell everyone you know.

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More dodgy numbers on jobs for the disabled from the fake statistics machine

Making up the numbers: Thousands more disabled people are becoming self-employed, contributing to a huge boost in the number of private businesses - or are they?

Making up the numbers: Thousands more disabled people are becoming self-employed, contributing to a huge boost in the number of private businesses – or are they?

Someone in the Coalition government needs to watch what they’re saying – otherwise people all over the UK might come to unintended conclusions.

Take a look at this: “Over 2,000 more disabled people got the support they needed to get or keep their job, compared with this time last year, official figures released today (22 October 2013) show” – according to a Department for Work and Pensions press release.

It goes on to say that the number of people receiving support under the Access to Work programme between April and June this year increased by 10 per cent on the same period last year, to 22,760. Access to Work “provides financial help towards the extra costs faced by disabled people at work, such as support workers, specialist aids and equipment and travel to work support”.

Apparently the new stats show the highest level of new claims since 2007 – 10,390; and more people with mental health conditions than ever before have taken advantage of Access to Work.

The press release also states that young disabled people can now get Access to Work support while on Youth Contract work experience, a Supported Internship or Traineeship; and businesses with 49 employees or less no longer have to pay a contribution towards the extra costs faced by disabled people in work. It seems they used to have to pay up to £2,300 per employee who uses the fund.

Now look at this: According to a press release from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the number of private sector businesses in the UK increased by 102,000 between the beginning of 2012 and the same time in 2013.

There are now 4.9 million private businesses in the UK, with those employing fewer than 50 employees comprising nearly half of the total.

Some might think this is brilliant; that the DWP and BIS are achieving their aims of boosting private-sector business and finding work within those businesses for disabled people.

But dig a little deeper and a more sinister pattern emerges.

Doesn’t this scenario seem odd to anybody who read, earlier this year, that the DWP was having deep difficulty finding work for disabled people from the ESA work-related activity group?

Or, indeed, to anybody who read the BBC’s report that work advisors were pushing the jobless into self-employment?

Isn’t it more likely that the DWP and Work Programme providers, faced with an influx of disabled people into the programme from the ESA WRAG at the end of last year, encouraged them to set up as self-employed with their own businesses in order to get them off the claimant books?

Does it not, then, seem likely that a large proportion of the 22,760 getting help from Access to Work were offered it as part of a self-employment package that also, we are told, includes start-up money (that admittedly tapers away over time) and tax credits. The attraction for WP providers is that they would earn a commission for every claimant they clear off the books in this way.

So it seems likely that a large proportion of the 22,760 may now be self-employed in name alone and that these fake firms are included in the 102,000 new businesses lauded by BIS.

Is it not logical, therefore, to conclude that these are not government schemes, but government scams – designed to hoodwink the general public into thinking that the economy is improving far more than in reality, and that the government is succeeding in its aim to bring down unemployment?

The reference to jobs for people with mental health problems would be particularly useful for a government that has just appealed against the result of a judicial review that found its practices discriminate against this sector of society.

Some might say that this conclusion is crazy. Why would the government want to release information that directly indicates underhanded behaviour on its part?

The answer is, of course, that it would not. This government wants to convince an undecided electorate that it knows what it is doing and that the country’s future is safe in its hands. But its right hand doesn’t seem to know what its left is doing – with regard to press releases, at the very least.

And let’s not forget that, since the Coalition came into office, 52,701 firms have been declared insolvent and 379,968 individuals. Around 80 per cent of new self-employed businesses go to the wall within three years.

Therefore we can say that, in trying to prove that it is competent, the Coalition government has in fact proved the exact opposite.

So someone really needs to watch what they’re saying – if they don’t want people all over the UK to come to unintended conclusions!

AFTERTHOUGHT: The BIS press release adds that the government’s ‘Plan for Growth’, published with the 2011 budget, included an aim to create “the most competitive tax system in the G20”. By “competitive” the Treasury meant the system had to be more attractive to businesses that aim to keep as much of their profits away from the tax man as possible. It is a commitment to turn Britain into a tax haven and the VP post earlier this week shows that the government has been successful in this aim. What a shame that it also means the Coalition government will totally fail to meet its main policy commitment and reason for existing in the first place: It can’t cut the national deficit if the biggest businesses that operate here aren’t paying their taxes.

Gagging and blacklisting bill overcomes first Parliamentary hurdle

Public opinion on lobbyists: Note the proximity of the words "corrupt", "cheats" and "influential".

Public opinion on lobbyists: Note the proximity of the words “corrupt”, “cheats” and “influential”. [Picture stolen from PR Week]

A Parliamentary Bill designed to prevent free speech by gagging political commentators, and to enable the ‘blacklisting’ of trade union members by having their names registered, has won the favour of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs this evening.

They voted to allow the inappropriately-titled ‘Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill’ to proceed to its committee stage after a debate today (Tuesday).

That stage will last for only a few days, during which it will be examined by a ‘committee of the whole House’ – in other words, the Bill is being guillotined; hurried through Parliament in order to get it onto the statute books after the least possible scrutiny. It seems that the government has something to hide.

Could it be the fact that the Electoral Commission, the organisation that would enforce the Bill’s provisions if it is passed into law, has made it perfectly clear that it is an attempt to stifle political commentary from organisations and individuals: “The Bill creates significant regulatory uncertainty for large and small organisations that campaign on, or even discuss, public policy issues in the year before the…general election, and imposes significant new burdens on such organisations”?

Could it be the fact that new regulations for trade unions mean members could be blacklisted – denied jobs simply because of their membership?

Could it be the fact that the measures against lobbyists – the Bill’s apparent reason for existing – are expected to do nothing to hinder Big Money’s access to politicians, and in fact is likely to accelerate the process, turning Parliamentarians into corporate poodles?

If so, then the attempt has failed, because all of these, and more, were discussed in today’s debate.

But don’t worry – we have the assurances of Andrew Lansley, Leader of the House of Commons, to keep us from losing sleep over it. The man who asked us to believe his so-called reform of the National Health Service would not lead to wholesale privatisation – and look at it now – took a telling question from Glenda Jackson, early in his opening speech.

She said the Bill “has created almost a fire-storm in my constituency. My constituents are appalled at what they regard as a gagging Bill. They wish to see a list of lobbyists that is transparent to ensure that Government cannot be bought — even though that is a debatable issue. They know that the Bill as it stands would prevent democratic voices from being heard.”

Mr Lansley’s response: “I look forward to the Honourable Lady having an opportunity after today’s debate to go back to her constituents, to tell them that the things they are alarmed about will not happen.”

Let’s hold him to that, shall we? Bear in mind that lying to Parliament is an expulsion offence, even if this particular government does not enforce it. David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith have already defied Parliamentary convention by telling appalling untruths to their fellow MPs and walking back to their jobs; now it seems likely Mr Lansley may have done the same.

High on the list of opposition MPs’ concerns was the fact that the Bill does nothing to prevent lobbyists working directly for commercial concerns from approaching government ministers and trying to influence them.

“Recent freedom of information requests reveal that Treasury officials met fracking industry representatives 19 times in the last 10 months about their generous tax breaks, yet the public are denied any further details of that lobbying on the grounds that it could prejudice commercial interests,” said Green MP Caroline Lucas. “Is the Leader of the House not ashamed that this Bill will drastically curtail the ability of charities to campaign in the public interest on issues such as fuel poverty and energy but do nothing to curb such secretive corporate influencing?”

And Labour’s Chris Bryant had a query of his own: “Every single member of the public affairs team in-house at BSkyB will be able to visit as many Ministers as they want and every single lawyer employed by BSkyB to advance its case will be able to do so without any need to register. The only person who would have to register would be an independent consultant in a company that solely lobbies. How does that possibly afford greater transparency?”

Mr Lansley’s response: “It promotes transparency because if a representative of Sky visits a Minister in order to discuss that business, it is transparent that they are doing so in order to represent the interests of Sky. However, if somebody from ‘XYZ Corporation’, a consultant lobbying firm, visits a Minister in order to discuss somebody else’s business but it is not transparent through the ministerial diary publication who they are representing, that is not transparent. We propose to remedy that by making it transparent.”

Oh, well that’s all right then.

No it isn’t! It’s the complete opposite of all right! Where the public wanted a curb on corporations corruptly influencing the government, it is instead offering to rub that influence in our faces!

“This is one of the worst Bills that I have seen any Government produce in a very long time,” said Lansley’s shadow, Angela Eagle. The last Bill this bad might even have been the Health and Social Care Act 2012, and the Leader of the House of Commons had his fingerprints all over that one, too… This Bill is hurried, badly drafted and an agglomeration of the inadequate, the sinister and the partisan. From a Government who solemnly promised that they would fix our broken politics, the Bill will do the complete opposite.

“The Bill can best be summed up as furious displacement activity by a Government who hope that the public will not notice their problems with lobbying… they are trying to ram through their gag on charities and campaigners… so that they are silenced in time for the next general election, and they are trying to avoid the scrutiny that will show the public what a disgrace the Bill is.”

She said: “Three and a half years ago the Prime Minister, when Leader of the Opposition, told us that lobbying was the next big scandal waiting to happen. He did not tell us then that he was going to do nothing about it for over three years but survive a series of lobbying scandals and then produce a Bill so flawed that it would actually make things worse.

“Under the Government’s definition, someone will count as a lobbyist only if they lobby, directly, Ministers or permanent secretaries and if their business is mainly for the purposes of lobbying. It is estimated that that will cover less than one-fifth of those people currently working in the £2 billion lobbying industry, and the Association of Professional Political Consultants estimates that only one per cent of ministerial meetings organised by lobbyists would be covered.

“It would be extremely easy to rearrange how such lobbying is conducted to evade the need to appear on the new register at all. The Bill is so narrow that it would fail to cover not only the lobbyist currently barnacle-scraping at the heart of Number 10 [Lynton Crosby], but any of the lobbying scandals that have beset the Prime Minister in this Parliament.

“There is a real risk that the proposals will make lobbying less transparent than it is now. The Government’s proposed register would cover fewer lobbyists than the existing, voluntary, register run by the UK Public Affairs Council.

Moving on to part two of the Bill, she said, “In one of the most sinister bits of legislation that I have seen in some time, this Bill twists the rules on third-party campaigning to scare charities and campaigners away from speaking out. It is an assault on the Big Society that the Prime Minister once claimed to revere… It is clear that these changes will have wide-ranging implications for many hundreds of charities and campaigners, local and national, large and small.

“Some of them have told us that they will have to pull back from almost all engagement in debates on public policy in the year before the election. These changes have created massive uncertainty for those who may fall within the regulations in a way that the Electoral Commission has deplored.

“The changes will mean that third-party campaigning will be restricted even if it was not intended to affect the outcome of an election — for example, engaging in public policy debate. Staff costs and overheads will also have to be included in what has to be declared — something that does not apply in this way to political parties. The Electoral Commission has said that these changes could have a ‘dampening effect’ on public debate. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has said that the changes will ‘have the result of muting charities and groups of all sorts and sizes on the issues that matter most to them and the people that they support’.”

And on part three, which centres on trade union membership records, she said, “There appears to be no policy motive for the introduction of this new law other than as a vehicle for cheap, partisan attacks on the trade unions, of which only a minority are actually affiliated to the Labour party.

“Officials from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have been totally unable to explain the problem that this part of the Bill is designed to solve. During a belated consultation meeting with the TUC — it took place after the Bill had been published — BIS officials could cast no light on why part three exists at all. Nor were they able to explain the origin of these proposals beyond their oft-repeated mantra that the provisions contained in part three ‘came out of a high level meeting between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister’. I think that revelation tells us all we need to know about the grubby, partisan nature of the measures.

“These proposals seem deliberately designed to burden trade unions with additional cost and bureaucracy from a Government who claim they are against red tape. This is despite the fact that unions already have a statutory duty to maintain registers of members. I understand from the TUC that neither the certification officer nor ACAS has made any representations to suggest that that was not already sufficient. The Government have to date failed to provide any evidence or rationale for these changes, so I can only conclude that this is a deliberate attempt to hamper unions with red tape because a minority of them have the temerity to support the Labour party.”

And she said: “I have serious concerns about the implications of these changes for the security of membership data. We all know that the blacklisting of trade union members may well still exist in our country. Blacklisting has ruined many lives and these changes could have some very dangerous implications, especially in the construction industry, where many are afraid to declare their membership of a trade union openly for fear of the repercussions.”

And Graham Allen, Chair of the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform, lambasted the Bill. He said: “If someone wanted to do O-level politics on how to produce or not to produce a Bill, I am sorry, but this Bill would be an F — a fail, big time.

“Read the evidence from the Electoral Commission when I publish it in 48 hours’ time. It is damning evidence from people who should really all be on the same side to ensure this provision will happen.

“We should listen to people. Let us have some consultation; let Parliament do its job, smoke out some of the issues and attempt to resolve them. I have a fantastic all-party committee and we could do that job for Parliament, yet those things have been resolutely held at arm’s length.

“Perversely, we are trying to make a Bill that divides rather than keeps people together.”

It isn’t perverse at all. That is precisely the point of it.

Employee ownership: Has the government actually done something right?

Long live co-operatives: At long last, it seems the government (or at least the Liberal Democrat side of it) is offering support to the most successful and supportive business model available - and we can hope that Labour will do the same. But where are the Conservatives in all this?

Long live co-operatives: At long last, it seems the government (or at least the Liberal Democrat side of it) is offering support to the most successful and supportive business model available – and we can hope that Labour will do the same. But where are the Conservatives in all this?

Today, July 4, is officially Employee Ownership Day – did you know that?

Employee ownership means all employees of a business have a significant and meaningful stake in it. This could include financial participation but must include provision of access to organisational structures. Where financial participation does take place, there is currently no set rule on what percentage of issued shares is a significant and meaningful stake, and this is something that I believe should be changed to ensure it is worthwhile.

Employee ownership can generally take one of three forms:

  • Direct employee ownership – employees become individual owners of shares in their company;
  • Indirect employee ownership – shares are held collectively on behalf of employees, normally through an employee benefit trust; and
  • Combined direct and indirect ownership – a combination of individual and collective share ownership.

The Employee Ownership Association estimates that UK-based employee-owned companies had a turnover of more than £30 billion and employed more than 130,000 people in 2011. Employee-owned businesses enjoy greater staff retention, innovation and motivation than non-employee owned businesses and, in turn, these deliver wider economic benefits including increased productivity, profitability and more resilience to economic shocks.

The sector has grown by more than 20 per cent since the start of the recession in 2008; while 65 per cent of conventional businesses survive their first three years, 90 per cent of co-operatives remain in business; and 37 per cent of directorships in co-operatives are held by women, compared with 13 per cent in leading UK companies (this last point should not be relevant in this day and age, but the gender gap is quite clearly still there, so it is).

All of the above is from a government press release issued today, but eerily resembles comments made on this blog in the past – like this one or this.

According to the government, not only will this successful model of business be easier to understand and quicker to set up after Vince Cable publishes new guidance today, but the government is also consulting the public on the possibility of providing two new tax reliefs to help indirect employee-owned businesses get themselves set up.

To my way of thinking, this seems spectacularly useful, but this is the Coalition government so there must be a catch. Right?

It seems the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will be publishing:

  • Guidance for employees who want to request a move to employee ownership;
  • Model documentation on a move to employee ownership with accompanying BIS and HMRC guidance;
  • Guidance from the Employee Ownership Association explaining the different models of employee ownership; and
  • Guidance from Co-operatives UK on how co-operative principles and ways of working can be implemented into employee-owned businesses.

“The government is committed to supporting this business model and will today launch a consultation on providing two new tax reliefs to encourage employee ownership,” according to the press release.

“This sector has the potential to benefit the wider economy, therefore the government is seeking views from people both inside and outside the employee-ownership sector to ensure the reliefs are supportive and effective.

“The Employee Ownership Association, in conjunction with the government, has helped to organise a number of events in the UK where employee-owned businesses are opening their doors to showcase the benefits of their business model.”

Nick Clegg actually said something I can support: “The benefits of employee ownership are clear. Staff who have a stake are more motivated and are rewarded for thinking in the long-term. That’s good for business and good for families, as it means lower absenteeism and lower levels of staff turnover.” This is something I have been saying for many months; it’s as though he has been reading this blog.

He said the government has set aside £50 million per year, starting next April, to give businesses and employees an incentive to adopt employee-owned models, and will be providing Capital Gains Tax relief for those who sell a controlling stake in a company to their staff.

It will be interesting to see how many firms take up the offer; from that information we can work out whether the greed that increased bosses’ pay by 700 per cent over the last 10 years – while employees got a miserly 27 per cent rise – is still rampant.

There is also a question over whether this is the right time – the middle of the longest economic slump in recent history.

It could be!

Cable reckons “there has never been a more important time to support different ways of running a business”.

He said: “The evidence is clear that employee-owned businesses not only help us build a stronger economy, but boost the retention, innovation and motivation of their employees.”

Co-operatives UK Secretary General Ed Mayo said his organisation would be supporting today’s events by launching its own publication, Simply Buyout – an essential guide to employee buyouts and becoming a co-operative employee owned business.

The consultation on the two new tax reliefs can be found online here. This stage of it will run until September 26 this year. The government will publish a summary of the responses in the autumn, and they will help to inform draft legislation.

The first is a Capital Gains Tax relief which would apply when the controlling share of a business is sold into an indirect employee ownership structure, and the government hopes it will encourage individuals wishing to sell their business to consider it.

The second tax relief is an Income Tax and National Insurance Contributions (NICs) exemption, that would allow indirectly employee-owned companies to pay employees a certain amount every year that is free of Income Tax and NICs. There would also be an employer NICs exemption for the company.

The government announced in the March Budget that it would provide £50 million annually, from 2014-15, to support employee-ownership models and to incentivise growth of the sector.

The press release features a quote from yet another Liberal Democrat – Danny Alexander – who said: “We want to encourage greater use of employee ownership in UK businesses and want to ensure that we provide reliefs that are supportive and effective. Views are invited from both people inside and outside the employee ownership sector.”

So that’s three high-ranking Liberal Democrats speaking up for it, and no Conservatives. Interesting. Do the Blue Meanies have nothing to say in favour of the proles part-owning the firms where they work?

And what about Labour? Does the Party of the Workers support this activity? This Party member hopes it does.

It will be hard to tell from the press coverage, however.

At the time of writing, there hasn’t been any.

Our upstart politicians have an important lesson to learn: Respect.

vote

Sometimes events coincide to create a coherent pattern, apparently by accident.

So it seemed today, with publicity surrounding the legalised corporate theft of all our images on the Internet, the part-privatisation of the government unit that has been carrying out illegal psychometric experiments on jobseekers… and the publication of my letter to the local newspapers, deploring a previous missive from a Conservative politician who was determined to parrot disproved assertions from his superiors in London, rather than treat us like intelligent creatures and try to connect on an equal footing.

We’ll start with the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, which received Royal Assent last week. Under this act, any image that does not contain information identifying the owner (or has had that information stripped away) will become available for exploitation by commercial organisations.

These so-called “orphan works” are placed into “extended collective licensing” schemes. Any user wishing to, say, put that silly photograph you uploaded to Facebook onto a T-shirt, only has to perform a “diligent search” for the owner which, when it comes up with a blank, will allow them to proceed with impunity. And they won’t have to pay you a single penny for the use of your work.

What can you do about it? Nothing, unless you can afford costly and cumbersome legal action – despite the fact that, previously, ownership of your creation has been automatic, enshrined in the Berne Convention and other international treaties where it is still considered to be a basic human right.

Would you like to know how the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills describes the changes? Like this: “For the first time orphan works will be licensed for use; these are copyrighted works for which the owner of the copyright is unknown or can’t be found.”

That makes it seem like a good thing; in fact, it’s quite the opposite – as you’ll soon find out.

Meanwhile, we see that the government’s Behavioural Insights Team – otherwise known as the Cabinet Office’s ‘Nudge Unit’ – is being part-privatised after causing immense embarrassment to the government when it was revealed that a psychometric test it had devised for the Department for Work and Pensions to use on jobseekers was not only fake but, in fact, illegal.

The team was established after the 2010 election to – according to the government – find ways of getting people to make better choices themselves, rather than through state intervention.

But the psych test foisted on jobseekers by Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions was the exact opposite of this. Firstly, workless people have been forced to take the test or lose their benefits. Next, the results have been proven to be a sham – it seems you get the same set of personality results, no matter what answers you enter – so there is no possibility of personal choice. Finally, it turns out that the whole exercise is illegal according to both UK and EU law, as “informed consent” is required before anyone takes part in a test of this kind. This is because the test has been presented as research – a “randomised control trial” (see that use of the word ‘control’? Dodgy!) according to a Cabinet Office blog.

As fellow blogger Steve Walker stated in his Skwawkbox blog on the subject earlier today (which I have reblogged), “the test itself is not the point – what is being trialled here is the supposed effect of going through it on the subjects of the trials – the unemployed people being made to participate”.

Informed consent must be given before people take part in such trials, according to the law. A person cannot be pressganged into it; they must freely make a decision to take part – written, dated and signed – after being informed of its nature, significance, implications and risks.

There is also a data protection issue.

Apparently a competition is to be held to find a business partner for the Nudge Unit. It might be hard to envisage many reputable firms seeking to collaborate with an organisation that is known to have been acting illegally, but even worse is the possibility that this will be the first of many instances where parts of the publicly-owned, operating for the benefit of everybody in the country, civil service will be hived off into private, profit-making ownership by a government of privateers who can’t wait to get their hands on all that lovely moolah – that should belong to the people, not them.

Finally, the letter I wrote last week, in answer to one from the local Conservative Parliamentary candidate, was published today in the local newspaper. It responded, with evidence-based information, to a series of groundless assertions about the bedroom tax, the benefit cap and Employment and Support Allowance, that had clearly been handed down to him from Conservative Central Office. Particularly incendiary was the parroted claim that 900,000 people dropped their claim for ESA rather than take the work capability assessment. This had been disproved and ridiculed on the same day Grant Shapps originally came out with it!

It takes a special kind of contempt for your intelligence to repeat, as fact, a claim that we all know is false. The Coalition government seems to be trying to make a living out of it.

The attitude that we see, time and time again, is “oh, they’ll take what they’re given. As long as we put a nice spin on it, they won’t even notice what’s happening to them”.

What’s happening is, of course, that our freedoms are being stolen from us, and all we’re getting in return is meaningless soundbites.

There is an election tomorrow (as I write this). You can see that certain politicians, currently in office, have no respect whatsoever for you, your opinions or your freedoms. You can’t shift them out yet.

But you can – those of you who are voting tomorrow – send a message to them and, if you have any self-respect, you will.

I hope you get the representatives – and the respect – you deserve.