Patsy n A person regarded as open to victimisation or manipulation; a person upon whom the blame for something falls.
Burstow n A patsy.
It seems a familiar story: The Tories plan legislation that is clearly no good at all – in this case, a legal clause to allow the closure of successful hospitals to prop up failing NHS trusts (Clause 119 of the Care Bill). The Liberal Democrats object and threaten to rebel. The Tories then offer concessions to make it seem less likely that this will happen and the Lib Dems withdraw their objections.
All seems well until the new rules are put to the test. Coalition MPs voiced disquiet at the powers being granted to allow a trust special administrator (TSA) to force through changes at a neighbouring hospital if they consider it necessary to save one that is failing. This power is considered likely to be used to save hospitals run under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), which are therefore saddled with huge unnecessary interest bills on the money invested by private companies.
We are told there will be some form of public consultation. Great. Here in Mid Wales, Powys County Council consulted constituents on its plans to cut £20 million from its budget for 2014-15. After the answers came back, the council’s cabinet ignored every single word of the responses and pressed on with its plan. Changes were only brought in after the rest of the council made it clear that they weren’t putting up with those shenanigans.
So much for consultation.
The minute a hospital is closed to prop up the PFI place next door, the Tories will blame Patsy – sorry, Paul – Burstow. They’ll say he had a chance to do something about it but didn’t.
What makes it worse for him is that Labour weren’t going to put up with his shenanigans and forced a vote on his amendment – which would have completely neutered the offending clause. Burstow voted against it – that’s right, against his own amendment, helping the government to a narrow 47-vote victory.
So much for him.
One politician who does seem to have the good of our hospitals at heart is Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham. What did he have to say about all this, during the debate yesterday (March 11)?
“What we have seen … from the right hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), who positioned himself as though he was going to make a stand for local involvement in the NHS, is the worst kind of collusion and sell-out of our national health service.
“Just as the Liberal Democrats voted for the Health and Social Care Act, again they have backed … the break-up of the NHS.”
It seems that Jeremy Misprint Hunt is trying to pretend that his planned law making it easier to close good hospitals to prop up bad ones (and boost private health firms in the process) is happening because “Conservatives genuinely care about the NHS”.
Writing in The Guardian, he tells us that Clause 118 of the Care Bill currently on its way through Parliament – the so-called Hospital Closure Clause, “is necessary because we need the power to turn around failing hospitals quickly and – in extremis – put them into administration before people are harmed or die unnecessarily.
“The process has to happen quickly, because when a hospital is failing lives can be put at risk. That is why it matters so much – and why, in opposing it, Labour are voting to entrench the failures they failed to tackle.”
For information, Clause 118 was included in the Bill after Mr Hunt lost a legal battle to close services at the successful and financially solvent Lewisham Hospital in order to shore up the finances of the neighbouring South London Healthcare Trust, which was losing more than £1 million every week after commissioning new buildings under the Private Finance initiative.
The private firms that funded this work were apparently charging huge amounts of interest on it, meaning that SLHT would never be able to clear its debt.
PFI was introduced by the Conservative government of 1979-97 and, sadly, continued by the Labour government that followed it.
It seems likely that it will contribute to the absorption of many NHS trusts by the private sector, as the effects of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 take hold.
Clause 118 means the Health Secretary will be able to close successful local hospitals in England on the pretext of helping neighbouring trusts that are failing – without full and proper consultation with patients and the public, or even agreement from the (in name alone) GP-led Clinical Commissioning Groups.
The resulting, merged, organisation could then be handed over to private firms who bid to run the service at a price that is acceptable to the government.
So it seems that this is a plan to speed up the process of privatisation, rather than anything to do with caring about the NHS.
It seems to me that Mr Hunt is trying to lull the public into false security by claiming the NHS is safe, in exactly the same way his forerunner as Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, provided assurances before Parliament passed his nefarious Health and Social Care Act.
Mr Lansley said his law would increase the range of choice available to patients (it doesn’t; in fact, it increases the ability of service providers to choose which patients they treat, on the basis of cost rather than care); he said GPs would be able to commission the services they need for their patients (in practice, they don’t; the running of the new Clinical Commissioning Groups has been handed over primarily to private healthcare consultants, many of which are arms of private healthcare providers, creating a conflict of interest that is conspicuously never mentioned); and he said that CCGs would be able to choose who provides services on the basis of quality (they can’t; if they restrict any service to a single provider, they risk legal action from private healthcare firms on the grounds that they are breaching competition rules).
Mr Lansley lied about all those matters; it seems Mr Hunt is lying about this one.
Or am I mistaken?
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The newest right-wing party: This Gary Baker cartoon appeared after Ed Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ speech last year, but let’s adopt it to illustrate the fact that successive Labour leaders, from Blair to Brown to Miliband, have steered the party ever-further away from its support base until, with Miliband’s speech this week, it has become a pale shadow of the Conservative Party it claims to oppose, leaving the majority of the UK’s population with nobody to speak for them.
Yesterday I wrote that Ed Miliband’s speech on social security reform was the beginning of the Conservative victory in 2015 – and picked up a little criticism for it in some areas. I stand by my words.
Ed’s speech proved he is not a leader but a follower. He has agreed to follow Conservative spending cuts and not reverse them. He has agreed to follow Tory spending plans for the first year after a Labour government takes office (if it does) in 2015. He has said he would cap social security spending, formally adopting as policy an idea the Tories floated during the March budget. He has agreed to give up the principle of universal benefits.
He has done this when the Conservatives have no argument whatsoever that can possibly justify what they are doing.
All the Tory claims about austerity have blown away in the wind – hot air to disguise their real aim of shrinking the state and selling off the family silver to their rich friends.
Iain Duncan Smith is to face a grilling by Parliament’s Work and Pensions committee over his – and his colleagues – persistent misrepresentation of the facts about unemployment, sickness and disability and the people claiming benefits on these grounds.
As for the benefit cap, Miliband said an independent body should advise government on how best to design it. Great! Can I sit on this body? I could do with the cash!
Or is it another example of fake jobs for the boys to get their snouts in the trough?
The system needs to change, because the Conservatives/Coalition have cocked it up. Miliband offered up more of the same, with a little bit of tinkering around the edges. Red Conservative.
For a party that’s supposed to be the official Opposition to the government, there was a hell of a lot of Tory talk in Miliband’s speech, like this: “It is only by reforming social security with the right values that we’ll be able to control costs.” Tory values?
“We have always been against the denial of opportunity that comes from not having work. And against the denial of responsibility by those who could work and don’t do so,” he accused, in one of those confusing single-sentences-split-into-two that make his speeches so utterly unreadable. But he needs to get his facts right. The number of people who could work but don’t do so is around 2.5 million – but that’s because there isn’t any work available for them. One job for every five people, although we have witnessed moments when adverts for a handful of places at a single shop have attracted thousands of applications. These people aren’t denying responsibility, Ed – they’re desperate for a chance.
He was referring to benefit fraud, though, wasn’t he? Benefit fraud is the bogeyman that haunts much of Iain Duncan Smith’s policy, even though it is, as the facts show, a ghost. In fact, 99.3 per cent of all benefit claims are genuine and are made out of real need – according to government figures – and that figure rises to 99.6 per cent in sickness and disability cases. It’s not a perfect situation but any system will have its abusers, and that’s why we have fraud detection built into it. Benefit fraud is not a huge problem, and Miliband does himself and his party enormous harm by adopting the Tory line and alienating the genuinely sick and disabled people who have been fighting the unjust removal of their benefits by a system he seems unlikely to reform, for all his weasel words.
He returns to this theme later: “Just as there is a minority who should be working and don’t want to, there is a majority who are desperate for work and can’t find it.” Evil, divisive, Tory rhetoric. Isn’t this the man who wants a ‘One Nation’ government? Why is he trying to split us up and set us against each other? That’s Tory policy.
Have some more of the same: “I want to teach my kids that it is wrong to be idle on benefits, when you can work” – implying that people – many people – are in just that position. Tory divisiveness from a Labour leader.
Here’s another: “It appears that some people get something for nothing and other people get nothing for something – no reward for the years of contribution they make.” This one really got my goat because it turns the principle of the Welfare State on their head.
For goodness’ sake, it isn’t about paying in money in order to get exactly the same amount back another time. It’s about contributing to the welfare of the state as a whole, including everyone in it. A Labour leader should be making the argument that this is not about selfishness; if you’re a part of this nation, you contribute to its well-being. “From each according to [their] ability, to each according to [their] needs,” as Marx put it. His philosophy may be out of fashion with the ‘Me, me, me’ generation but that doesn’t make those words any less relevant to the funding of a national economy.
I wonder whether quoting Bob Crow from last night’s This Week programme will actually make the message any easier to hear, but I’ll give it a go. He said: “It’s the strong helping the weak – that’s what the whole welfare benefits system is based on.”
“We have to tackle this too,” bleated Miliband. Yes, we do – by correcting the wrong attitude, whenever we hear someone spouting it. So get a clue, Ed.
There are dire portents for the future “laser-focusing” of a Labour government’s spending, as well.
Look at his ideas about attempts to get people into work. He said: “This government’s work programme can leave people… unemployed year after year after year,” leading one to believe that he’ll ditch the work programme and its useless money-grubbing private, for-profit ‘provider’ firms that have been leeching millions from us for years. Official figures have proved they are worse than useless.
Alas no. He went on to voice his support for the grievously damaging Atos-run assessment regime for Employment and Support Allowance, claiming that this backdoor genocide policy “was the right thing to do. We continue to support tests” that kill 73 people per week, on average, according to official figures last year.
His problem with the Atos test was that it should be focused on helping to identify “the real skills of each disabled person and the opportunities they could take up” – completely missing the point about disability. Of course people who are off work with illness have skills, but they cannot use those skills because they are ill! It doesn’t take a genius to work out the sticking-point so he must be intentionally avoiding it.
And then, the killing blow: “So these tests should be connected to a work programme that itself is tested on its ability to get disabled people jobs that work for them.” He would re-employ the useless and wasteful ‘work programme provider’ firms, putting the final seal of hopelessness on the lives of people who thought they could rely on him for help.
Perhaps the worst betrayal in this whole sorry mess – and I’ve only scratched the surface here – is the fact that Miliband and Labour had the front to claim they were making tough decisions. There’s nothing tough about copying the hated policies of a hated and failed administration. There’s nothing tough about allowing their private-interest friends to continue bleeding the state of its cash, and there’s nothing tough about opening up more opportunities for them to strip us of whatever we have left.
Miliband and his team have proved they cannot take the tough decisions; that they are followers and not leaders. If they can’t – or won’t – step up and meet the challenge of our times – starting with a retraction and apology for yesterday’s speech – then they should make way for somebody who will.
And they should do it now, while there is still time to mount a credible opposition to David Cameron’s government of failures.
Postscript: One aspect of the speech I haven’t explored in detail relates to housing benefit, and the pledge to build more houses. Be warned: It seems this heralds another expensive and wasteful private finance initiative (PFI) adventure: “We would let [councils] keep some of the savings they make, on the condition that they invested that money in helping build new homes.” I have a feeling that those homes would fall into private hands at some point in the future – at huge cost to the taxpayer. Again.
Feeling a bit peaky, David? But the revelations about your Tory friends and Liberal Democrat partners should hardly come as a surprise!
It must have been very difficult for David Cameron, returning from his spectacularly ill-timed holiday in the sun to find that his colleagues had been having a much better time than he has – at home.
It seems that he returned to “crisis talks” at Downing Street, where aides told him of a “sensational love affair” which has potentially significant political implications for him. Apologies for the hyperbolic language involved, but this information comes from the Daily Mail.
The newspaper said it could not disclose the identities of the people involved in these shenanigans, or any details of the relationship, for legal reasons, so the speculation machine has probably gone into overdrive and by the time this reaches your screen, The Sun has probably already disclosed the names of the co-respondents.
For those of us who aren’t that clued-up, it’s great fun to speculate. The paper said they are middle-aged figures, the affair has now concluded, and it does not involve anyone serving in the Cabinet.
Who could it be? Longtime readers of this blog will know that Vox Political has long harboured hopes of a Michael Gove legover crisis – or indeed a Michael leGOVEr crisis (see what we did there?) – but in all honesty this seems unlikely until medical evidence can prove that he is compatible with a human female.
So who, then? Nadine Dorries and Nigel Farage? Peter Bone and a human being? Doubtful. Boris and… Boris and-
It’s probably best not to pursue that line of inquiry. Far more interesting to sit back and wait for the ‘poshed-up’ version of the Jeremy Kyle show, in which all will be revealed.
With the curtains closed, of course – not as the badge of a serial skiver, but simply to avoid the shame of having to admit watching an episode of Kyle.
The worse news is, this wasn’t the only story breaking about government misdeeds. It seems that Cameron’s Liberal Democrat Coalition partners have been playing “pork barrel” politics (yes, it’s the Daily Mail again) by diverting taxpayers’ money into key Liberal Democrat-held constituencies.
We now know that a £2 billion scheme to refurbish roads, pavements and bridges in Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam constituency has been reversed, in a deal with private business that took the project off the government balance sheet. A private finance initiative? We all know that PFI projects don’t turn out well for anyone involved other than the companies, so Clegg may have given himself a shot in the foot, rather than a shot in the arm.
The Mail also reports dodgy dealings by Danny Alexander. Apparently Beaker insisted on extra funds for mountain rescue teams, a VAT cut for ski lifts and the retention of the state subsidy for the Cairngorm Mountain Railway – all in his Highlands constituency.
And Lib Dem Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael (who?) apparently forced the abandonment of plans to cut the coastguard service, affecting his Orkney and Shetland constituency, claiming it was “a Coalition matter”.
So it must have been very difficult indeed for the comedy Prime Minister to return from holiday and learn of such appalling behaviour.
Difficult, but not a surprise.
Let’s face it – it’s little different from the way they behave when he’s at work.
Many of you may be aware that I live in a large county called Powys, that has a small population. This means that the amount of money the local authority receives from central government and local taxation is always stretched very thin, in order to provide the services required across – what is it? – 6,000 square miles.
Given that context, it should come as no surprise at all that some of the information I have been receiving about the way that money is being spent has raised concern.
It seems the county council has employed a consultancy to carry out a survey of housing stock – to pinpoint where repairs are required and carry them out. This consultancy has taken £1.5 million from the council’s budget and not one repair has yet been carried out.
In addition, it seems most of the council’s own employees at its benefits section have quit, to be replaced by staff from an agency. This organisation charges £20 per hour for each worker’s services, I’m told.
Is this value for money? I don’t think so.
I think it is a local symptom of a national malaise: the disastrous affair public authorities have been having with the private sector. It is an affair that has already led to the humiliation of the government in the G4S Olympic security debacle; an affair that has its roots in the Private Finance Initiative that was launched by the Conservatives in the 1990s and continued into the current century (to my shame) by my own political party, Labour.
I have recently become quite a fan of ‘lefty’ columnist Owen Jones. This may come as a surprise to some readers as not only has he enjoyed greater success than me at the same career (journalism), but he is 16 years my junior. Talented, young and successful – I should be green with envy rather than cheering him on, right?
In fact I’m simply glad that someone is around to say what I would have said, in his position.
You may have heard this gentleman speaking on the BBC’s Any Questions (Radio 4, last Friday and Saturday), on the very subject of private involvement in public services. If you did not, allow me to enlighten you.
“What’s happened with G4S has exposed the dogma of the last 30 years, that the private sector is good and efficient, and the public sector is wasteful. What happened when G4S failed? The state had to go in and fill the vacuum – and it’s not just there we’ve seen it. We’ve seen it with A4E, this welfare to work programe, this company that basically took taxpayers’ money to line the pockets of those who were running it; we saw it with PFI – started by the Tory government, continued under New Labour, that’s like paying for public services on a credit card, getting these private companies to do what the state should have done, apparently it costs up to £25 billion more, of our money. It’s the same with the London Underground; it’s the same with rail privatisation – we’re now paying up to four times more on subsidies for private rail companies than we did in the time of British Rail. And we’ve seen it recently with water. We just recently had a drought when rain was absolutely hammering the southeast. That’s because a water company sold off 25 reservoirs in the last 20 years.
“Public services should be run by the public sector, accountable to us, democratically-run, instead of taxpayers’ money lining the pockets of private companies who do not have our interests at heart; they just want to make profit out of our services.”
In support of that, let’s have a few facts and figures. Those I have at hand come from a book entitled ‘You Are Here’ by satirical luminaries Rory Bremner, John Bird and John Fortune, with Geoff Atkinson. It was published in 2005 so the information – accurate at the time – may be out of date by now and I would be happy to read any updates on what follows.
In 2005, this was the situation:
When the railways were privatised (by the Conservatives) it was decided that one company would own and run the tracks, one group of companies would operate the trains and another group of companies would own them. There are three rolling stock leasing companies – roscos – that lease their trains to the operating companies. These trains cost just over £2 million to build and are leased out for £500,000 per year. Their lifetime is anything up to 40 years – which is a huge profit margin.
But don’t worry – they don’t receive a penny of taxpayers’ money. No – the subsidy for the South Central franchise was set to increase by £342 million between 2005-2010. Of this, 80 per cent went to the roscos for new rolling stock – around £273,600,000. But it wasn’t taxpayers’ money by then. It was taxpayers’ money when it was part of the operating company’s subsidy, but when it was passed between that company and the rosco it was a simple business transaction.
That’s how they get away with it. You and I both know that the cash came out of our pockets, but because it went through a middle-man, these companies can call it their own.
You might be interested to know that the three leasing companies are (or were, in 2005) all owned by banks.
According to ‘You Are Here’, “The Future of Transport White Paper says: ‘The privatisation of the rail industry in the early 1990s assumed that private sector discipline and innovation would drive down the railway’s subsidy requirement and drive up the quality of service. In part this has been borne out.
“Rail users might well ask: In which part? The same document shows 80 per cent of trains arriving on time in 2004, compared to 90 per cent in 1998. The latest National Rail Trends shows total government support to the rail industry in 1995-96 of £431 million. For 2002-03 it was £2,588 million.”
Private Finance Initiatives were intended to bring private sector cash in to fund public services – which may seem like a good idea on the face of it. As ‘You Are Here’ states: The deal is simple. Money for the new service is raised privately in the money markets and thus kept off the country’s balance sheet… but like any free offer, it does come with small print.
“The long-term value of PFI contracts may go down as well as up. Your public services are at risk if you do not keep up the repayments. The return for consortiums running PFI projects” – on the other hand – “may go up and up and up. Standard terms include: cost-cutting, short-term employment contracts, high management costs, huge legal costs. Every element must be a profit centre. After expiry of contract (typically 35 years) the consortium is under no obligation to renew the terms of the lease and can renegotiate at more favourable rates or move out of the public service sector and turn the property into a hotel or office block.
“PFI often means that an organisation which previously worked to a single goal is now in competition with itself, as different parts of the same system strive to outbid each other, the primary goal being to enhance profitability rather than deliver a service.” To enhance profitability rather than deliver a service.
In February last year (2011), David Cameron promised to deliver a ‘revolution’ in public services, in which he envisaged everything but the security services and the judiciary being privatised. You can read about it here. Private prisons; private police; private health services – we’ve seen these rear their ugly heads already, and I’m sure more is to come.
Considering the disastrous profit-driven performance of the private sector in public services, as detailed above, I cannot think of anything worse than letting private companies continue with what they’ve got, let alone adding anything new to their portfolio of travesties!
With this in mind, I have to ask why Powys County Council thinks employing a private firm to survey its housing stock, or workers for a private agency to administer its benefits, is an economical use of my taxpayer money.
It’s time the madness stopped, and if Westminster is too sick to do it, then perhaps local government should lead the way back to sanity.
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