Tag Archives: secrecy

Even during the Tory conference, Labour is stealing the limelight

Culture of secrecy: Theresa May.

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott has published an article on the PoliticsHome website, showing how Labour would reverse the “culture of secrecy” created in the Home Office by the Tories.

And who, exactly, has been in charge of the Home Office for most of the seven long years we’ve had a Conservative-led government?

Who is responsible for the

Leaked documents, misconceived policies, suppressed reports, judicial condemnations, false statistics and ‘accidental’ deportations

mentioned by Ms Abbott?

Why, that would be the current prime minister, Theresa May.

Grenfell survivors are still living with the threat of deportation, deaths in police custody continue, police stations are being closed and the fire service continues to be run down.

The Home Office is the government department primarily responsible for the safety and security of our citizens. Yet under the Tory government, the failure to exercise this duty is exposed across all fronts.

Each of these failings must be addressed thoroughly and urgently. But they also appear to be symptomatic of a deeper malaise, which must be rooted out to prevent a recurrence of this chaos.

This malaise would be the culture of secrecy, which Ms Abbott asserts is the product of Tory ministers – like Mrs May – attempting to “escape all scrutiny and accountability”.

She writes:

This culture of secrecy infects all other areas. So, reports into deaths in police custody, on the international funding of terrorism which may aggravate the Saudi royal family, into the effects of racism and on the impact of international students are all suppressed.

Labour in government will end this chaos. We will not set arbitrary and unworkable immigration targets. We recognise the invaluable contribution that migrants make to our society, to all areas of our public and social life, and to our economy. We will introduce a new immigration system to reflect those very different values.

We will end the targeted harassment of EU and non-EU nationals alike and begin to treat them both fairly. We will also uphold the right to a family life, in contrast to current rules and practice, which denies UK citizens the right to reunite their families if they happen to be married to a non-UK citizen.

We are committed to begin reversing cuts made by the Tories in police numbers, in the fire service and in the Border Force personnel. We will also review the priorities of the security services to ensure the greatest possible resources are devoted to combatting terrorism here.

Finally, we will establish a new Home Office-led agency to coordinate the response to tragedies like Grenfell, and impose solutions on recalcitrant bodies where necessary.

This government’s priority is the scapegoating of others for their own failings. Labour’s priority is the security and wellbeing of the entire population.

That seems better than anything so far declared at the Tory conference!

Source: Diane Abbott: A culture of secrecy infects all areas of this government | PoliticsHome.com


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Clegg’s pledges – what are they worth?

[Image: The Independent]

[Image: The Independent]

We laugh because it’s funny and we laugh because it’s true.

Vox Political reader Simon Kirk pointed out this little gem from comedian Mark Steel, writing in The Independent.

At a time when the Liberal Democrats are desperately trying to claw back some credibility, he make the excellent point that, after the betrayals of the last few years, it is unrealistic to expect anyone to believe anything Nick Clegg and his yellow friends say in the future.

Worse still, there is evidence that teams representing the Tories and Liberal Democrats negotiated what would be in a coalition agreement before the May 2010 election – the document mentioned in The Guardian‘s article is dated March 16, 2010 – and abolishing student tuition fees, a principle Liberal Democrat pledge, was not part of the agreement.

In other words, Clegg campaigned for two months ahead of the election with a promise that he knew he was going to break. Apparently you can get the full details in a book entitled Five Days To Power by Rob Wilson, Conservative MP for Reading East.

The article states: “George Osborne, who had long feared the Tories would struggle to win an overall parliamentary majority, persuaded David Cameron to allow him to form the Tories’ own secret coalition negotiating team two weeks before the election. The Tory leader demanded total secrecy and asked only to be given the barest details for fear that he would blurt it out ‘unplanned in an interview’.” (Thanks go to Vox Political commenter ‘Florence’ for these details)

With hindsight, we know that Cameron had other matters he needed to keep secret, such as the fact that he was claiming he would protect the public National Health Service, when in fact his colleague Andrew Lansley had been working on a plan to privatise it for many years. Lansley had also been sworn to secrecy.

So both Coalition parties have a proven track record of dishonesty in the run-up to the 2010 election and there is no reason to believe the Liberal Democrats have changed now. In fact, as Mark Steel points out, Clegg has even gone on record, saying “we have to be grown-up” to excuse himself.

In response, Mr Steel asserts: “If the grown-up way is to ignore everything you said to get elected, why bother having an election campaign at all? For the televised debates at the next election, Clegg might as well bring in a guinea-pig, and when he’s asked about his plans for defence, he can ask David Dimbleby, “Would you like to stroke Oscar?”

Other possible campaigning choices listed in the article include “learning to play the piccolo or building a canoe” because “it’s like a junkie telling you how this time the £200 he wants off you really will be paid back on Thursday. The carefully costed details don’t determine your decision so much as how last week he robbed your kids’ teddies and sold them for £12”.

So much for the Liberal Democrats. If you ever feel close to being persuaded by their arguments, just have another look at Mark Steel’s article to refresh your memory.

Nowadays, a laugh is the only thing they’re good for.

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Dilemma for private bosses as Labour unveils transparency plan for public service work

An end to the corporate backhander? [Picture: This Is Money}

An end to the corporate backhander? [Picture: This Is Money}

A Labour government would make private companies who provide services at the taxpayers’ expense obey public sector transparency rules, it has been revealed.

The change means firms and charities that sell services to the state – for example, all the private companies now working in the NHS – would lose their right to commercial confidentiality.

The Freedom of Information Act would be extended to cover them and they would have to reveal their commercial secrets if a FoI request required them to do so.

If enacted, this is likely to be more effective in creating transparency of lobbying than the Parliamentary Bill of the same name that is currently working its way through Westminster.

The policy was revealed in a Sunday Times article which is paywall protected. Labour has yet to release an announcement on its website.

The article quotes shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan, who said: “More and more of our public services are being delivered by private companies and charities, out of reach of freedom of information. We must demand the same openness from them as we expect from government. It’s not on to let these organisations hide behind a veil of secrecy.”

Bravo.

The new policy comes after a 10-minute rule motion by Labour’s Grahame Morris began its journey through Parliament earlier this month. Such motions rarely get very far because the government of the day usually opposes them in the later stages and there is often too little time to complete the debate.

But these bills stimulate publicity for their cause, and it seems clear that the Labour leadership has taken this particular cause on board.

So it should – concerns are high that unfair advantages are being handed to, for example, the private healthcare companies, who are then able to hide the facts behind the veil of commercial confidentiality. Why should they be allowed to do this when they are providing a public service, funded by the citizens of the UK?

Existing NHS operators do not have the advantage of commercial confidentiality and must provide details of the way they operate if a FoI request is submitted to them. This makes them vulnerable during the bidding process for NHS contracts, as private operators can ask about the current providers’ operations and then undercut them to get the work.

Then there’s the so-called “revolving doors” practice, in which government advisors move to lucrative contracts in the private sector, often after providing advice that changes government policy in favour of their new employer. Mr Morris’s motion noted that “at least five former advisors to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are now working for lobbying firms with private healthcare clients”.

This is a corrupt practice – the firms gain an unfair advantage because they have, if you like, a spy in government manipulating affairs to their advantage. Nothing is done about this at the moment, nor will the Labour proposal change that situation – but we will all be able to see who the spies are.

It would probably be advisable for a future Labour government to put powers in place to reverse any change in the law due to corrupt advice intended to engineer a commercial advantage to a private company. Restricting the movement of government employees to other jobs would be problematic, but if it is known that any changes they effect will be reversed after such a move, then the exercise would become pointless.

Companies would not be able to pay a person to influence the government while they remained in the taxpayers’ employ, as this would be a clear case of bribery and corruption.

A previous VP article on this subject mentioned the idea of the level playing field – and Labour is to be praised for producing policies intended to restore that principle to government in the face of Conservative and Liberal Democrat efforts to skew the field in favour of their corporate chums.

And the corporates themselves? Well, their bosses are likely to be furious and it’s possible that all kinds of threats will come in Labour’s direction.

That’s fine. A Labour government can take any such complaint in stride by launching a programme to revise government tax strategy with regard to corporates, and bring any complaining company to the top of the list.

Why do we tolerate ‘slavery’ schemes that rely on secrecy?

Cait Reilly took the government to court after she was forced to stop volunteering at a local museum – with a view to getting a job as a curator – and go to work in Poundland for nothing. The government said the scheme was voluntary but – and the clue’s in the title, ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ – this is not accurate. Those on the scheme now could be stripped of their benefit for three years if they refuse to take part, so one wonders what would happen if Ms Reilly or someone like her tried a similar court action today.

It’s like the NHS privatisation all over again.This time, the Department for Work and Pensions is refusing to publish the names of charities and businesses where unemployed people – in their tens of thousands – are being forced to work for no pay, for periods of four weeks at a time.

Readers with long memories will recall that, earlier in the year, the Department of Health refused to honour a ruling by the Information Commissioner that it should publish a risk assessment on the effects of the then-Health and Social Care Bill.

The argument was that publication would discourage the civil servants who write these reports from including the more controversial likely effects from future risk assessments on other subjects. The reason that the public accepts as true is that the scale of the changes, the waste of public money in achieving them, and the amount of profit to be made by private ‘healthcare’ companies from UK citizens’ misery would be unacceptable to the British people if they knew about it.

Some details leaked out anyway and, now we are experiencing those effects, we are able to see just how accurate those predictions were (and in many cases, how far short of the mark they fell).

Both the requirement that the DoH publish its risk assessment and the demand that the DWP publish its list of businesses and charities involved in ‘Workfare’ follow Freedom of Information requests made to the government.

So much for open government. It seems that such requests are a waste of time when the government in power is determined to operate in secrecy.

Note that the government’s line on organisations taking part in Workfare is now that they “tend to be charitable organisations”. Previously we were led to believe they were all organisations that provide “social benefit”. It seems, once again, this government has lied to us (and not very well). How many profit-making businesses are involved, then, and what are their names?

The real problem with this one is that the ConDem Coalition seems to be childishly ignoring the facts of the matter, which are (i) Workfare doesn’t work, and (ii) Workfare is unpopular in the extreme.

The government’s own research shows that the scheme does not help unemployed people to get a job. Once they have finished their four weeks of work – for whichever unnameable company or, God forgive them, charity – they get thrown back onto Jobseekers’ Allowance and somebody else is picked up to work for nothing. Workfare has no effect on getting people off benefits in the long term.

In fact, the effect of Workfare on the economy is harmful. I commented yesterday on figures showing that, after Job Centre Plus staff started putting people into jobs instead of any of the government’s several work placement programmes, unemployment has dropped and productivity has gone up. I think this may be a temporary blip, with more jobs available because of special events over the summer like the Olympics, but the statistics are revealing.

The government has ploughed on, with changes in the rules a fortnight ago which mean that unemployed people who refuse to take the unpaid placements can have their JSA benefit stripped from them for up to three years.

Note (again) that one of the reasons Cait Reilly lost her court case against the government over Workfare was that the DWP claimed incessantly that the scheme was voluntary and she had the opportunity not to take it up. I wonder what would happen if someone like her took the scheme to court now?

Whatever happens next, it seems the names of the organisations taking part in Workfare (or Mandatory Work Activity, to give it its current official title) will continue to be secret. The reason? The DWP has said the programme would “collapse” if the names were made public, due to the likelihood of protests against the organisations involved.

Doesn’t that give anyone in the DWP a clue?

These schemes are totally unsuccessful and utterly unpopular with the British public.

So why persist?

I think it’s an ideological programme. The government is complaining that the benefits bill is too high and needs to be shrunk, but no employer in his or her right mind would think of paying the full amount for an employee when they can get them on Workfare instead, and have the taxpayer foot the bill.

Workfare is therefore a way of ensuring that the current lack of full-time jobs continues into the future – thereby allowing the government to use it – and the consequent, high benefits bill – as justification for its welfare benefit cuts.

Insidious.