Tag Archives: room

£2.6 million was spent on Downing Street TV studio for nothing as media briefings scrapped

The briefest of briefing rooms: your local parish council could have done a better job, and cheaper, but Boris Johnson gave the contract to a company based in a hostile state. Now it is being withdrawn from service. How many times was it used?

Boris Johnson has scrapped plans for White House-style press briefings from a new £2.6 million TV studio in Downing Street – meaning he spent all that public money for nothing.

Apparently the room will be used for internal government briefings by Johnson and his ministers instead. They could do that in any ordinary Whitehall office.

Most of us have been doing much the same from our own homes, using Zoom, Skype, or even Facebook Messenger.

The decision confirms what This Writer believed – that this was nothing but another hugely expensive vanity project for Johnson.

His overspending on fripperies like this, described by some as “spaffing cash up the wall”, has brought a new meaning to the phrase “quantitative easing” (which is what the Bank of England has been having to do in order to allow the nation to cover the cost).

Johnson was shamed into admitting the existence of the studio in February, after it was reported on the social media that, after the huge expense, the space was going unused.

Last month he announced that he would be using the studio after all – and we all warned that he doesn’t have the personality to pull it off.

And then we discovered that the studio had been fitted out by a tech firm based in Russia. Who knows what surveillance equipment was installed there?

(I suppose we’ll find out soon enough, if Johnson really intends to have private briefings there instead of public, press affairs; any really embarrassing secrets will soon get out if the place is full of bugs.)

The whole sorry saga has been a national embarrassment.

Our man-child of a prime minister wanted to play with a new toy that he thought would make him look good – and has wound up looking like a spoilt brat squatting in his own mess.

Source: Downing Street scraps plans for White House-style press briefings – BBC News

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£2.6 million Downing Street briefing room was built by Russians. Not ‘very sensible’!

The new government media briefing room: your local parish council could have done a better job, and cheaper, but Boris Johnson gave the contract to a company based in a hostile state.

After This Site’s article yesterday showing that Boris Johnson is trying to hide the idiocy of his decisions by claiming they are “very sensible”, this:

His government paid £2.6 million to a Russian company for construction of the new media briefing room – in Downing Street, the heart of the UK government.

Despite being sued for unlawfully withholding details of contracts, the Tory government has refused to say whether the work was put out to competitive tender. It should have been, because the contract was not awarded as part of an emergency.

In fact, no details of the contract with Russian-owned Megahertz have been published.

Megahertz carried out the main work on the project, including installing computers, cameras, microphones and a control desk. Its owner Okno-TV has previously carried out similar technical work for Russian state-controlled broadcasters Russia Today, Channel One, and Public Television of Russia.

It has not been suggested that the company is influenced by the Russian government, but the question has to be asked:

Why did Boris Johnson hire a company from a country that has been designated a “hostile state” to build a communications hub for the UK government?

It’s a security nightmare.

And, after the Salisbury poisonings, a public relations disaster.

Worse still, the briefing room itself looks amateurish.

Advance photos of the space, released before it goes into daily use, show a layout that could have been put together at a village hall, with a central podium backed by two Union flags and a TV screen on one side facing rows of the kind of chairs you see stacked at the side of your local meeting-room.

It doesn’t look like a £2.6m facility. Let’s be honest, it doesn’t look like it cost £2,000.

Admittedly, the broadcasting equipment was probably expensive. But, coming from a Russian firm, who knows what might be included in it, alongside what Johnson asked for?

The work also comes after a Tory government had to end the involvement of Chinese firm Huawei in the rollout of 5G telecommunications in the UK.

So This Writer is in a rare position of agreement with Labour’s Chris Bryant, who chairs the all-party Parliamentary group on Russia, who said,

What shocks me most is that the Johnson government seems to have learnt nothing about the involvement in sensitive UK projects of companies with [links] to autocratic regimes, whether in Russia or in China.

Fundamental to the whole issue, of course, is the fact that Johnson spaffed this cash to Russia while do the dirty on nurses by giving them a pay cut.

It is clear that Johnson’s claim that he could not afford to pay any more to the people who saved so many from Covid-19 is bunkum; he’s got money to burn.

The problem is that his priorities are wrong.

Source: Exclusive: Russian-Owned Firm Played Key Role In Downing Street Media Refit | HuffPost UK

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Why have UK university students had to waste £1 BILLION on digs they couldn’t use?

Rent strike: students are permanently penniless. When you see how much this year’s alumni have had to pay – for NOTHING – you’ll understand why they’re raging.

Those Tories really are selective about who they help with the costs of Covid-19, aren’t they?

I remember being a student. Most of the time, I hardly had two pennies to rub together. The rented accommodation available to us was – mostly – diabolical. And expensive.

One place was damp. It gave me bronchitis.

But at least I got to live in it!

Since the Covid crisis started, according to a survey, the

average student has so far paid £1,621 in rent for unrefunded empty rooms.

In total, according to advice website Save the Student,

university students have wasted nearly £1bn on empty rooms in flat shares and halls of residence that they have been unable to use because of coronavirus restrictions this academic year.

The website estimates rents are so high that they take up three-quarters of their maintenance loans at an average of £146 per week, so it’s no wonder that

Students’ anger with high rents… boiled over on UK campuses this term as students launched the largest rent strike in 40 years.

There has been a patchy response from universities, private halls of residence and landlords, with some refusing discounts while others have offered full rebates.

I have a lot of sympathy for the universities, and for the landlords – as well as for the students themselves.

It is unfair for the accommodation providers to foot the bill for thousands of empty rooms when the situation was thrust on them by the government – albeit admittedly in response to a nationwide pandemic.

It just happens to be even more unfair for them to demand that students pay the bill, rather than the government. This is loaned money, remember – they have to pay it back, plus interest, over a period of decades to come.

Businesses – especially the bigger ones – have received huge subsidies, and employees have had 80 per cent of their wages paid by a government “furlough” scheme. Why weren’t students added to that, at the very least?

The Guardian story tells us the government has provided students with £70 million in hardship funding, which seems to fall quite a long way short of what they’ve had to shell out.

Considering the billions given to Tory cronies and their – let’s be honest – fake firms for nonexistent or inadequate Covid-related services, this is an insult to the next generation of the UK’s movers and shakers.

Let’s hope they remember it.

Source: UK university students wasted £1bn in a year on empty accommodation | Student housing | The Guardian

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My Bedroom Tax protest speech

Standing in the shadow of a giant: Vox Political's Mike Sivier (front) at 'Cooper Corner', with Caerphilly Castle in the background.

Standing in the shadow of a giant: Vox Political’s Mike Sivier (front) at ‘Cooper Corner’, with Caerphilly Castle in the background.

Vox Political was relatively quiet yesterday; although I reblogged plenty of articles from other sources, there was no new piece from the site itself because I was in Caerphilly, delivering a speech at a Bedroom Tax protest there.

Caerphilly is the birthplace of the late, great comic Tommy Cooper, and it was in the shadow of his statue that the demonstration took place. I instantly (and privately) named the location ‘Cooper Corner’.

I took the opportunity to lighten proceedings at the start by suggesting that Mr Cooper (albeit in petrified effigy) would be providing the jokes. I held the microphone up towards the statue. “Anything? No? No. I didn’t think so.” Turning back to the crowd I added: “The Bedroom Tax is no laughing matter.” Then I got into the body of the speech:

“I write a small blog called Vox Political. I started it a couple of years ago as an attempt to put in writing what a reasonable, thinking person might have to say about government policies in these years of forced austerity, and politics in general.

“As you can probably imagine, this means I knew about the Bedroom Tax, several months before it was actually imposed on us all. I was writing articles warning people against it from October 2012. The trouble was, Vox Political is a small blog that even now has only a few thousand readers a day – and the mainstream media has been almost entirely bought by a political machine with far more funding than I have.

“It is a tax, by the way. You may have heard a lot of nonsense that it isn’t, but consider it this way: a tax is defined as a compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government against a citizen’s person, property or activity, to support government policies.

“It is not a ‘spare-room subsidy’. If anyone in authority tries to tell you you’re having your ‘spare-room subsidy’ removed (or more likely, imposed, they’re so confused about this), just tell them to go and find the Act of Parliament that introduced the ‘spare room subsidy’, using those words. Tell them if they can find it, you’ll pay it – but if they can’t, they must not take any money away from you. They won’t be able to find it because it doesn’t exist.

“It is more accurately described as the ‘State Underoccupation Charge’ – SUC! And it really does suck.

“It sucks money that social housing tenants need for food, heat, water and other necessities out of their pockets and forces them to send it to their landlord instead – either the local council or a social landlord like a housing association. The reasoning behind it has always been that this would encourage people to move, but in fact we know that there is no social accommodation for them to move into. When the Bedroom Tax became law, there was only enough smaller housing to accommodate around 15 per cent of the affected households. It is clearly a trap, designed to make poor people poorer.

“This is why the first advice I put on my blog was for anyone affected by the Bedroom Tax to appeal against it – and I was criticised quite harshly for it, because some people decided such action would mark tenants out as troublemakers and create more problems for them. At the time, I thought it was right to give some of the aggravation back to the people who were foisting this additional burden onto lower-income families; make them work for it, if they want it so badly. As it turns out, I was right to do so, because there are so many loopholes in the legislation that it seems almost anybody could avoid paying!

“Do you think Stephanie Bottrill would have died if she had known that she could successfully appeal against her Bedroom Tax, on the grounds that she had been a social housing tenant since before January 1996 and was therefore exempt? The government spitefully closed that particular loophole earlier this month, but that lady is already dead, due to a lie. Had she been properly informed, she could have successfully fought it off and then taken advice on how to cope with it after the government amendment was brought in.

“There is a case for corporate manslaughter against the Department for Work and Pensions, right there. If tested in court, it seems likely that the way its activities have been managed and organised by senior management – the fact that it foisted the Bedroom Tax, wrongly, on this lady – will be found to have led to her death, in gross breach of its duty of care to those who claim state benefits (in this case, Housing Benefit).

“David Cameron has wasted a great deal of oxygen telling us all that disabled people are not affected by the tax. Perhaps he could explain why a disabled gentleman in my home town was forced to move out of his specially-adapted home, incurring not only the cost of moving but an extra £5,000 for removing the adaptations and installing them into new accommodation? He appealed against Bedroom Tax decision but the result came back after the date when he had to be out of his home. Can you guess what it was? That’s right – he won. I have been trying to get him to take legal action against the council and the government about this as it would be an important test case.

“There are other grounds for appealing against the Bedroom Tax. Just because your council wants to claim every room that could be a bedroom is a bedroom, that doesn’t make it so. A fellow blogger, Joe Halewood, has published a list of other room designations that you are allowed to have.

“It includes a study, a utility room, a play room, even an Iain Duncan Smith voodoo doll-making room, if that takes your fancy!

“I was particularly happy to hear that you can have a study as I’ve been writing my blog from the broom cupboard – oh! That’s another room you can have!

“Check the DWP’s online forms. They ask about bedrooms, and then they ask about other rooms. The distinction is clear.”

Then I closed the speech. In retrospect, I should have finished with a few words about the fact that this was the first bit of public speaking I had ever done. I could have given them something along these lines: “I am aware that speech-making is a lucrative sideline for many people, including comedians (although I’m not aware that Mr Cooper ever made any) and also politicians. Perhaps I should use this platform to suggest that, if you know anybody who is considering booking a speaker for a special occasion – society dinner, rugby club social, wedding or party, why not ask them to get in touch with me – instead of Iain Duncan Smith!”

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Yet another Bedroom Tax tale to make your blood boil

compassionbypass

Vox Political just had this Bedroom Tax story from a commenter on Facebook who has asked not to be named. I don’t think it needs any commentary from me:

“A neighbour of mine couldnt bear to give up the family home so she struggled and paid £24 a week for two spare rooms.

“She was missing all her other payments and not eating for days.

“She then had to start selling things from her house…

“Then started asking us if we had any old clothes because she had found a place where they weigh old clothes and give you money for them…

“Then because we had given her all we had, another so-called friend told her how she does without food… She then started taking speed as you don’t feel hungry and what money was left she could at least use to feed her daughter.

“She came to mine and broke down because she was ill with it.

“She’s okay now but guess how?

“After all she had been through…

“For nearly 10 months…

“We then found out…

“Because of the 1996 loophole…

“She was exempt.”

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How the hated bedroom tax could help us tackle the hated offshore tax-avoiders

Hugely unpopular: Thousands of people have demonstrated against the bedroom tax on the poor since it was first announced by our government of millionaires - this one was in Glasgow.

Hugely unpopular: Thousands of people have demonstrated against the bedroom tax on the poor since it was first announced by our government of millionaires – this one was in Glasgow.

Has your council or housing association re-designated any so-called “spare bedrooms” into box rooms, studies or non-specific rooms yet, to help you avoid paying the bedroom tax?

If not, you have to ask yourself, why not?

It’s only around two months since the so-called ‘state under-occupation charge’ became the law of the land, forcing social housing tenants to lose 14 per cent of their housing benefit if they have one ‘spare’ room, and a quarter of their benefit if they have two or more rooms going ‘spare’ – according to the Coalition government’s definitions, which are, of course, unjust.

Already, thousands of people are sinking into debt, according to a Daily Mirror report today (June 4).

The report states that 1,120 of New Charter Housing’s 1,600 households affected by the bedroom tax – 70 per cent – are in arrears, with tenants losing up to £88 in benefits every month.

Brighton councillors have chosen not to evict tenants who fall into arrears because of the bedroom tax, although some other councils have said this is unrealistic.

And some district judges have stated they would refuse to grant possession orders, if bedroom tax cases came to their courts, citing the Human Rights Act

The Department for Work and Pensions claims that the tax is far (it would, wouldn’t it?) and will either “encourage” or “persuade” families it claims are “over-occupying” to move out, freeing space for others on the housing waiting list, which the Tory-led Coalition has allowed to become hugely over-subscribed due to its failure to invest in building new social housing stock.

The reality is that these families have nowhere to go – for precisely the same reason (lack of social housing stock). They could move into private rented accommodation, but that is more expensive, even for smaller properties, so they would, again, face going into arrears and eventually losing their homes.

A homeless family is, of course, far more expensive for a local authority, as it must then pay to put them up in temporary accommodation – usually a bed and breakfast establishment – at much greater cost then letting them live in council or housing association homes. This is just one reason why the bedroom tax is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

But it doesn’t have to get that far.

Councils in Leeds, Nottingham and North Lanarkshire have been re-classifying spaces in their housing stock as box rooms, studies or non-specific rooms, to help tenants avoid paying the tax. Edinburgh, Birmingham and York councils have been considering the same action.

An e-petition has been launched to get Sheffield Council to re-classify bedrooms as non-specific rooms, and may be signed here.

And what’s to stop councils and housing associations from simply cutting their rents by the 14 or 25 per cent necessary to let people continuing paying the same amount? It’ll be cheaper in the long term!

Some might say that this behaviour is cheating – that it is, in essence, tax avoidance.

Tax avoidance is perfectly legal, of course – and the government has been dragging its heels about changing the law ever since it came into office back in 2010. Could this because they and their rich friends are among the worst tax avoiders, and their money is a major part of the £21 TRILLION currently sitting in offshore bank accounts, helping to ensure the economy stays stagnant and justify the government’s pointless austerity scheme?

Let’s have some uniformity: Rather than have a patchwork of re-classifications across the UK, turning the bedroom tax into a postcode lottery, let’s call on EVERY council to take this step.

When the government complains, the response should be that councils will reverse the step, after the government puts an end to all the income tax avoidance it has been allowing and collects all the money that we, as a nation, are owed.

After that, there won’t be a need for the bedroom tax and so that law can be repealed.

Postscript: There will be naysayers who’ll respond to this by saying it’ll never happen and it can never work. Their principle purpose in doing so is to discourage people from trying.

There is a response to this, as follows: Why not? IF YOU DON’T ASK, YOU DON’T GET!