Tag Archives: water

The great water privatisation disaster: Tory scheme means England could run out of drinking water

There’s a line in one of the Horatio Hornblower books in which the Admiral of the Fleet tells the young hero it’s every officer’s duty to leave the navy in better condition than when he found it.

That’s a good philosophy for any organisation.

What a shame the Conservatives don’t have the same philosophy – about anything at all.

In particular, we see their actual philosophy – “sell it off and ruin it” – in action in the UK’s water industry, which was privatised by the Thatcher government in 1989.

A new report by Parliament’s public accounts committee states that privatisation has been such an catastrophe that there is a serious risk that parts of England will run out of water altogether within the next 20 years.

The report says that “ponderous” water companies – 70 per cent of which are now owned by foreign businesses – have made “no progress” in reducing leakage meaning that more than three billion litres of water leaks out of the system every single day.

That’s one-fifth of the UK’s daily supply!

The committee says the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has failed to provide enough leadership in telling the private companies how to balance investment in infrastructure and reducing customer bills, but This Writer thinks that is nonsense.

The private companies are neither investing in infrastructure nor cutting costs – they are literally draining us dry.

We pay too much for the water we get and the lack of investment in the UK system by its foreign owners means soon we won’t even get it!

This is a problem entirely created by the Conservatives with their ridiculous lie that private firms are more efficient, more economical, and cost the consumer less. They aren’t, they aren’t and they don’t.

And by letting these firms fall into the hands of foreign business people, it seems our money is being invested into the systems in their own countries, rather than in ours. It’s certainly boosting the treasuries of the countries where these firms are based in tax – rather than our own.

This is an English problem.

Scotland receives its supply from the publicly-owned company Scottish Water, which is the most trusted public utility in the UK. It constantly invests in its system, keeps customers happy – and paying less, and is even reducing its carbon footprint.

In Wales, three million people get their supply from the not-for-profit firm Glas Cymru/Welsh Water which, according to surveys, has sector-leading levels of customer satisfaction.

Customers in Northern Ireland do not pay water charges to their publicly-owned water supplier, Northern Ireland Water.

England is less lucky.

Anglian Water is owned by a consortium consisting of Canada Pension Plan Investment BoardColonial First State Global Asset ManagementIFM Investors and 3i.

Northumbrian Water is owned by Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings.

Southern Water is owned by a consortium called Greensands Holdings Limited, comprising  JP Morgan Asset Management (40%), UBS Asset Management (22%), Hermes Infrastructure Funds (21%) and Whitehelm Capital (8%).

Wessex Water is owned by a Malaysian firm, YTL Corporation.

Affinity Water is part-owned by US firm Morgan Stanley.

Bristol Water is part-owned by Japanese Itochu corporation.

South East Water is part-owned by Utilities Trust of Australia.

And Sutton and East Surrey Water is owned by the Japanese Sumitomo Corporation.

Other water firms are still UK-based – and some are only part foreign-owned.

Across the board, bills have increased by 40 per cent on average. Considering the efforts made by the publicly-owned/not-for-profit firms, it’s likely that some English customers have suffered much higher hikes.

Shareholders have received at least £56 billion since privatisation in 1989.

Six water companies have been found to be avoiding millions in tax.

Water makes big money.

But you can see that most of it has been going abroad.

It certainly hasn’t been used to plug any leaks!

The message is clear: public ownership is cheaper, more efficient, and guarantees that customers’ taps won’t run dry.

It seems the private shareholders are swimming in cash while ensuring that, in a very short time, you die of thirst.

Source: England faces “serious risk of running out of water within 20 years” – Committees – UK Parliament

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Tory wage and benefit cuts mean millions are struggling to pay essential bills

Money: Boris Johnson is rolling in it but his policies have starved the UK of the cash that is the lifeblood of the economy.

Nearly 2.2 million people in the UK are struggling to pay council tax, rent and utility bills because they aren’t paid enough, according to research by two universities.

The reason is Conservative restrictions on pay rises since 2010.

So much for the “trickle-down” economics of neoliberalism, beloved by Boris Johnson and his cronies.

The research by the University of Birmingham and the University of Lincoln shows that nearly 1.6 million people have fallen behind with council tax payments.

Nearly a million people are behind with their rent and more than a million are in arrears over their water bills.

Nearly 2.2 million people have been contacted by bailiffs over failure to pay (which suggests that many have multiple bill-related problems), and nearly one million have said bailiffs have broken the rules.

These findings make a nonsense of claims that average wages are rising.

Perhaps those figures have been skewed by huge increases in the amounts paid to top earners, while those of us who do the work are left to struggle?

Experience shows that higher pay for workers results in increased productivity and market dominance – as Henry Ford learned when he doubled the wages of employees at his motor company in the early 20th century.

He called it the best cost-cutting measure he ever made.

Conversely, as workers struggle to survive real-terms wage cut after wage cut, productivity in the UK has suffered its worst drop in five years.

We have nearly a million people struggling to cope with zero-hours contracts in which they don’t know whether they’ll be working (and therefore earning) from one week to the next.

Average weekly real-terms earnings are not as high as they were before the 2008 financial crash, while bills have increased.

Poverty is particularly high in accommodation and food services; agriculture, forestry and fishing; administrative and support services; and wholesale and retail.

Few households have any savings worth mentioning – the rate is lower than the EU average and far lower than many of our largest and closest European neighbours.

Oh, and Boris Johnson is determined to force us into a “no deal” Brexit, creating even harsher economic conditions.

Considering the situation now, it seems this would be a huge mistake.

He would literally run the entire country into the gutter.

Source: Millions struggling to pay council tax and other essential bills, finds study

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Theresa May announces watered-down Labour policy on unfair evictions. Hers won’t be

Congratulations to Theresa May for announcing a new Conservative policy! It’s just a shame she stole it from Labour and watered it down.

Here’s her announcement as it appeared on Twitter:

The press release states: “Private landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants from their homes at short notice and without good reason, in the biggest change to the private rental sector for a generation, Communities Secretary Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP has announced (15 April 2019).

“As part of a complete overhaul of the sector, the government has outlined plans to consult on new legislation to abolish Section 21 evictions – so called ‘no-fault’ evictions. This will bring an end to private landlords uprooting tenants from their homes with as little as 8 weeks’ notice after the fixed-term contract has come to an end.

“This will effectively create open-ended tenancies, bringing greater peace of mind to millions of families who live in rented accommodation.”

It won’t, though. Landlords will simply put up the rents on tenants they don’t want, and price them out of their homes. This is a pretence at taking action that won’t actually change anything at all.

This is a Labour policy that the Conservatives have watered down and put out in the pretence that they are “on your side” (as Mrs May herself protested in a poor performance on TV recently).

Consider this BBC news story from September 2018 – nearly seven months ago:

“Labour says it would scrap laws allowing private landlords to evict tenants without giving a reason.

“The law, in force since 1988, is thought to be the biggest cause of homelessness.

“Labour’s shadow housing minister John Healey announced the policy at the party’s conference in Liverpool.

“Mr Healey also unveiled plans for a £20m fund to set up “renters’ unions” to support tenants in disputes with landlords.

“So-called “no-fault” evictions – when landlords throw people out of their home without saying why – have been growing in recent years.

“The party’s policies include:

  • A new levy on second homes that are used as holiday homes
  • Reversing cuts to legal aid for housing related cases
  • Introducing three-year tenancies
  • Banning letting agent fees
  • New minimum legal standards to ensure homes are “fit for human habitation”
  • Giving cities the power to introduce rent controls”

I seem to recall the Conservatives having prevented moves to stop so-called “revenge” evictions in recent years, and also preventing a law to ensure homes are fit for human habitation. The Tory benches in the House of Commons are full of private landlords.

Shadow housing minister John Healey was remarkably restrained in his response to Mrs May’s announcement. He restricted himself to pointing out the faults in the watered-down policy she is offering:

“Any promise of new help for renters is good news but this latest pledge won’t work if landlords can still force tenants out by hiking the rent.

“For nine years, the Tories have failed to tackle problems facing private renters. Tenants need new rights and protections across the board to end costly rent increases and sub-standard homes as well as to stop unfair evictions.

“Labour is committed to giving renters the rights they deserve, including control on rents, indefinite tenancies and new legal minimum standards.”

Other commentators have been less kind.

I myself, for example, called it: “Another watered-down Labour policy. Time to give up and go.”

Rachael Swindon put her finger on the problem: “You’ve not thought this out (shock). The landlords will just put the rent up, forcing more homelessness, and more dependency on the state. Who actually comes up with these ideas? Honestly, you’re utterly useless.”

Paul Wingrove made a pertinent point: “Would be better if you acted to deliver all the social housing you have been promising for bloody years!”

And Jamie Aspin put into words what we are all thinking: “We could do with an eviction or two on Downing Street!”

Strangely enough, it seems Mrs May could actually be thinking the same thing.

Writer/actor David Schneider responded: “Brace yourselves. General election incoming…”


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Widescale charges planned as privatisation bites into NHS funds

It seems large numbers of the population still don’t understand that their Conservative Government is scrapping the tax-funded National Health Service in England, in favour of a model in which the individual pays.

This would signal a return to the bad days before 1948, when most people were too poor to be able to afford any medical care at all and disease was widespread and went untreated. It’s what your Conservative Government wants, folks!

One reason David Cameron, Andrew Lansley, Jeremy Hunt and the rest of them wanted private companies to take NHS funding was because much of this money would then be neutralised as profit for those firms – firms in which many MPs and Lords have personal stakes. Get rid of the privateers and you free up more money for the service.

This would also end the wasteful duplication of effort created by a fake ‘health marketplace’ that the Conservative Government wants you to believe drives down prices but in fact throws money away and turns medicine into a postcode lottery.

What are you going to do about it?

Ministers will have to consider charging patients for seeing a GP, attending A&E, and using the food, power and water of hospitals, unless better long-term solutions for funding the NHS can be found, public finance experts have warned.

Contributions towards the cost of treatments and patients taking out health insurance are among other options that must be on the table if the comprehensive spending review in November fails to address the issue, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance (Cipfa) says in a briefing.

The document says that the hope of NHS leaders to save £22bn over five years to 2020-21 is optimistic and does not take account of David Cameron’s pledge to increase seven-day services nor of the introduction of the new national living wage.

Source: NHS patients may face widescale charges, warns financial thinktank | Society | The Guardian

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A simple plan to get Labour back on track

Harriet Harman: Will the acting leader of the Labour Party listen to pleas from the grassroots to get Labour back on track?

Harriet Harman: Will the acting leader of the Labour Party listen to pleas from the grassroots to get Labour back on track?

If the Labour Party is to regain the confidence it has lost, it needs to re-state its identity with a core message of purpose – one that not only encapsulates what Labour is about, but also what it opposes.

That is what was missing from Labour’s general election campaign, and is as much a reason for Ed Miliband’s defeat as the Conservative campaign, which was not based on objective facts but on political spin.

In a nutshell, it is time to remind the voters and the public that Labour is the enabling party. This creates a clear contrast with the Conservatives – the party of restriction.

So, for example, with the National Health Service, Labour should support a service available to everyonefree. That means no private involvement. With the Tory privatisation in full swing, funds are being restricted and so are services. The NHS is now a postcode lottery, with care allocated on the basis of profitability. That’s not good enough; the privateers must be told to jog on.

Education must also be available to everybody, up to the level each person can achieve (or wants to). Again, this means there should be no charge for state-provided services. A state school system has no place for privately-owned ‘academies’ or ‘free schools’. These are Tory devices; the private sector will, by its nature, restrict access in order to extract a profit. It also means no tuition fees for students in further/higher education.

Labour should be helping anyone who wants to start a business, by ensuring there are as few obstacles in the way as possible; it must be the enabling party. That means, for example, a graded taxation system, with lower business rates and taxes for start-ups, progressing to a higher rate for medium-sized enterprises, and a highest rate for multinationals – who should be taxed on all takings made in the UK; no excuses.

Another part of the enabling agenda must be ensuring that people can pay a minimum price for things we cannot live without: Accommodation, services, utilities.

There is now an appalling shortage of appropriate housing for many people – mostly because the Tories sold off so many council houses and did not replace them. This is why the Tories were able to impose the Bedroom Tax on so many innocent people – a restrictive idea, intended to push people out of some areas and into others; shifting Labour voters out of places the Tories didn’t think they should have to share with the riff-raff, you see – a gerrymandering tactic to make those constituencies easier to win in elections. The solution is simple: Build council houses again.

When the utility companies – gas, water and electricity suppliers – were privatised, we were all promised that household bills would be kept down by more efficient private-sector business models and private investment. That has not happened. Instead, consumers have been held to ransom by a small cabal of corporations who have been able to charge rip-off prices. Remember the electricity price scandal of 2013? Who told those firms to quit their restrictive practices and cut bills? Labour. The enabling party. The fear of a Labour government imposing new rules in the consumer’s favour helped hold the greedy private bosses in check for a while, but now we have a Conservative government. How long do you think it will be before prices soar? This Writer reckons they’ll take the first opportunity. Even now, after Labour managed to secure price cuts, the poorest families still have to choose between heating and eating during the winter (the phrase has been used so often it is now a modern cliché). This must not be allowed to continue and the solution is clear: Re-nationalise. There are even two bonus factors in such a plan: Firstly, as many of these utilities are owned – or part-owned – by firms or governments based abroad, it will ensure that our bills pay people in the UK rather than boosting foreign economies at the expense of our own and, secondly, takings will help the UK Treasury balance the books.

There is at least one other privatised service that could also be re-nationalised: The railway system. Prices have rocketed while government subsidies have also soared, since the system was turned over to private hands in the early 1990s. This is madness; it is a huge drain on resources and must not be allowed to continue. We should re-nationalise and follow the example of Northern Ireland, where the service was never privatised and where any profit is ploughed into improvements, not profit.

Then there is our grocery bill, which keeps escalating. This is a particularly thorny subject as, for example, farmers are being ripped off by supermarkets over the price of milk, but the same corporations will happily send apples to the other side of the world and back, just to have them polished. It’s time to straighten out that system as well – although it will take a while.

So this is how Labour should frame its arguments from now on: Labour enables; the Tories restrict.

It should be stressed that the themes raised above are just starting-points which occurred to This Writer while considering the issue last night. The above is not an exhaustive list. Undoubtedly there are many more.

Your comments are invited.

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Where did Labour go wrong? Let us count the ways…

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.

This Gary Baker cartoon illustrates the belief that successive Labour leaders, from Blair to Brown to Miliband, have steered the party ever-further away from its support base until it became 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.

Watching a drama on DVD yesterday evening (yes, there is more to life than Vox Political), Yr Obdt Srvt was impressed by the very old idea of the partners in a married couple supporting each other – that behind every great man is a great woman, and vice versa.

It occurred to This Writer that perhaps the biggest problem with the Labour Party’s campaign – not just for the May election but over the last five years – has been the leadership’s insistent refusal to support the requirements of its grassroots campaigners.

So, for example, on the economy: We all know for a fact that the big crash of 2008 or thereabouts was caused by the profligacy of bankers, and not by any overspending on the part of the Labour government of the time. Economists say it, blogs like VP say it, and we all have the evidence to support the claim. So why the blazes didn’t the Labour Party say it? Instead they let the Conservative Party walk all over us with their speeches about “The mess that Labour left us”.

On austerity: We all know that fiscal austerity will never achieve the economic boom that George Osborne claimed for it. If you take money out of the economy, there is less money – not more. What the UK needed in 2010 was a programme of investment in creating jobs with decent wages for the people who make the economy work – ordinary people, not bankers, fatcat business executives and MPs. The money would then have trickled up through the economy, creating extra value as it went. Quantitative easing could have done some good if it had been used properly, but after the Bank of England created the new money it passed the cash to other banks, rather than putting it anywhere useful. The Conservative Party said austerity was the only way forward: “There is no alternative”. Why did Labour agree? Party bigwigs might protest that Labour’s austerity was less, but the simple fact is that the UK was never in any danger of bankruptcy and there was no need to balance the books in a hurry. There’s still no need for it. Austerity was just a way of taking money from those of us who need it and giving it to those who don’t.

On the national debt: The Tories have hammered home a message that their policies are cutting the national deficit and paying down the national debt. That message is a lie. The national debt has doubled since the Conservatives took over. Labour hardly mentioned that.

On benefits: Iain Duncan Smith’s ‘welfare reforms’ have cut a murderous swathe through the sick and the poor, with more than 10,000 deaths recorded in 11 months during 2011, among ESA claimants alone. Many have chosen to attack Labour for introducing ESA in the first place, and for employing Atos to carry out the brutal and nonsensical Work Capability Assessments, based on a bastardised version of the unproven ‘biopsychosocial’ model, that ruled so many people ineligible for a benefit they had funded throughout their working lives. Labour should have promised to scrap ESA and the Work Capability Assessment in favour of an alternative – possibly even a rational – system. But Labour continued to support the Work Capability Assessment, earning the hatred of the sick and disabled. Why? According to Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith, it was because the party leadership was afraid of provoking the right-wing press. Well done, Labour! As a result, instead of tearing into Labour like rabid attack dogs, the right-wing media… tore into Labour like rabid attack dogs. This pitifully weak attitude made no difference at all and Labour would have earned more votes by promising to ditch a policy it should never have adopted.

On education: This Writer attended a hustings on education, here in Brecon and Radnorshire. It was attended by many local teachers and it was clear that they all wanted to hear someone say they would clear away the layers of bureaucracy and constant interference that interfere with their jobs, and allow them to get on with teaching our youngsters. Nobody said anything of the kind, including the Labour candidate. Meanwhile, Michael Gove’s pet project – the very expensive ‘Free Schools’, continues unabated, and state-owned schools continue to be turned into privately-run ‘academies’, with all their assets turned over to private companies for free. And what about the debate over what should be taught in our schools and colleges? With employers now merrily shirking any training responsibilities and taking on foreign workers because they know what to do, can our educational institutions not take up the slack and provide that training for British people, so we don’t need to import as many people from abroad?

On immigration and the European Union: Right wingers including Tories and Kippers (members and supporters of UKIP) have made many claims that immigrants are a threat to the UK and to our way of life. In fact, migrant workers are a net benefit to the country, contributing far more to the UK Treasury in taxes than they ever claim in benefits. Ah, but they’re occupying houses that could be taken by British people; they use our NHS and their children take up places in our schools – and it’s all Labour’s fault because Labour signed the treaty that let them in, according to the right-wing critics. In fact, the Conservative Party signed that treaty, in the early 1970s. Free movement between European Union countries has always been a condition of membership and was never a problem when the EU consisted of nations that were on a relatively equal economic standing. The problem arose when the poorer eastern European countries were admitted to the union and people from those countries took advantage of the rule to seek a better life in the more affluent West. The simple fact is that those nations should not have been allowed full Union membership until their economies had grown enough that people would not want to move here – that was a matter that EU officials failed to address, not the UK government. Labour’s response was to fall in line with the right-wingers and promise harsh immigration controls. People naturally asked why they should vote Labour if Labour was no different from the nasty Tories.

On the NHS: Labour promised to repeal the Health and Social Care Act, ending the creeping privatisation of the NHS – and then said that it would limit the profits of private firms working in the NHS. This is contradictory and confusing. People wanted to end NHS privatisation, not let it go on with limited profits!

On housing: Labour promised an increased home-building programme, but what people need right now are council houses – cheaply-rentable properties run on a not-for-profit basis by local authorities. They need this because there is an appalling shortage of appropriate housing for individuals and families of varying sizes, due to the Conservative ‘Right to Buy’ policies that started in the 1980s. Council houses were sold off to their tenants, who in turn sold them to private landlords, who rented them out for more money than councils ever demanded. Labour never offered to build council houses again. Instead, we were promised more expensive alternatives from the private sector that we didn’t – and don’t – want.

On privatisation: More than 70 per cent of the general public wanted energy firms re-nationalised when the controversy over bills arose in 2013. Labour should have promised at least to consider it. Labour did not. Labour is the party that should represent public ownership of utilities. The private water, electricity and gas companies have ripped off consumers with high rates that were never part of the offer when their shares were floated on the stock exchange. But Labour was happy to allow those firms to continue.

These are just a few reasons Labour let the people down. They arise from the disastrous philosophical reversal of the 1990s that changed the party from one that represents the people into one that exploits us instead. Now, right-wingers in the party like Peter Mandelson are claiming that Ed Miliband pulled Labour too far back to the Left; instead, they want Labour to push further into Tory territory, utterly abandoning its core voters.

That would be a tragedy – not only for the people of the UK, but also for Labour. We already have one Conservative Party; we don’t need another.

Labour must rid itself of the right-wingers in its ranks and return to its original values – before it is too late for all of us.

Or is it already too late, thanks to the dithering of the last five years?

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Great Coalition Failures: Privatisation

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Here’s why Cameron’s so quiet about the Chinese crackdown on demonstrations. They own him – Pride’s Purge

So much for democracy: Reports say China's rulers have blocked Instagram in a bid to stop images of Hong Kong riot police unloading canisters of pepper spray and tear gas into the faces of peaceful demonstrators - so here's a nice shot of demonstrators handing out pro-democracy leaflets instead.

So much for democracy: Reports say China’s rulers have blocked Instagram in a bid to stop images of Hong Kong riot police unloading canisters of pepper spray and tear gas into the faces of peaceful demonstrators – so here’s a nice shot of demonstrators handing out pro-democracy leaflets instead.

Hot on the heels of Vox Political‘s article stating that the Conservatives have been selling off the UK’s most important infrastructure to anyone with something that can be used as currency in their pocket comes this confirmation from Pride’s Purge:

The only official protest about the democracy demonstrations taking place in China at the moment has come from Deputy PM Nick Clegg.

Not a peep from Cameron or Osborne.

Could this be connected to the fact that Cameron and Osborne have been selling off our essential infrastructure to the Chinese, who now own large parts of our water, electricity and gas supplies?

In December last year Cameron went to China, to persuade the Chinese government to buy up invest in Britain.

Chinese organisations and businesses with close links to the Chinese Communist leadership have already large stakes and controlling interests in huge parts of UK essential infrastructure such as water, gas, electricity, telecommunications and transport.

Read the rest on Pride’s Purge. The article concludes:

“If so many people are concerned about the loss of UK sovereignty to the EU – shouldn’t we be having a referendum on the loss of our sovereignty to the Chinese too?”

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Did you hear the one about Labour and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership?

140115TTIP

Apparently somebody said Labour supported this hugely controversial scheme, and lots of people believed it.

In fact, the claim is doubly false. But first, a bit of background: You need to know that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a ‘free trade’ agreement being negotiated between the European Union and the United States of America. Unfortunately for most of us, the agreement as currently described would end democracy and put us at the mercy of international corporations.

This is because the agreement includes a device called ‘investor-state dispute settlement’ (ISDS), which allows corporate entities to sue governments, overruling domestic courts and the will of Parliaments. You would lose the ability to affect government policy – particularly on the National Health Service; after the Health and Social Care Act, the trade agreement would put every decision relating to its work on a commercial footing. The rights of transnational corporations would become the priority, health would become primarily a trade issue and your personal well-being would be of no consequence whatsoever.

Labour doesn’t want anything to do with an agreement that locks privatisation into the National Health Service, and TTIP – with the ISDS – would do exactly that. So Labour called for the NHS to be exempted from the conditions of the agreement, while remaining in broad support of the negotiations in the belief that the deal promised billions of pounds worth of jobs and economic growth.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are fully behind TTIP and have ruled out any opt-out for the NHS. The Tories in particular see TTIP as an opportunity to lock-in the privatisation changes they have made to the NHS.

That is the situation that most people believe exists today. They are mistaken.

Labour’s National Policy Forum met at Milton Keynes recently, where a new stance towards TTIP was agreed. Members raised the question of other public services, besides the NHS, that a future Labour government might wish to return to public ownership. With the ISDS in its current form, it would be more or less impossible to return the railways, energy firms and water companies to public ownership in the public interest.

So the current policy is as follows (with thanks to @LabourLewis of the LabourLeft blog): “Labour believes that [the] key to an EU-US trade deal that we would encourage the rest of Europe to support, which avoids a race to the bottom and promotes decent jobs and growth, would be safeguards and progress on labour, environmental, and health and safety standards. Labour has raised concerns over the inclusion of an ISDS mechanism in TTIP. Labour believes that the right of governments to legislate for legitimate public policy objectives should be protected effectively in any dispute resolution mechanisms.” [bolding mine]

This is unlikely to be Labour’s final position as many members believe the party should be even more strongly opposed to the agreement in its current form, as these concluding comments from @LabourLewis affirm: “I believe TTIP represents a free market model of the world economy that has failed the vast majority of us. The last 30 years have shown such a model of capitalism increases inequality and insecurity and leads to more frequent financial crashes.

“Simply tinkering on the margins will not be sufficient. A tad more regulation there, a bit more transparency here, a regulation over there, some restraint on executive pay over here.

“It simply won’t wash and a growing number of us, including our leader Ed Miliband, instinctively understand this.”

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Rachel Reeves’ weak speech has little to offer but social insecurity

Rachel Reeves: Look on the bright side - at least she isn't Liam Byrne.

Rachel Reeves: Look on the bright side – at least she isn’t Liam Byrne.

Was anyone else underwhelmed by Rachel Reeves’ speech in this years Labour conference?

Not by the promise to take the Bedroom Tax off the statute books, obviously. That has been a settled part of Labour policy since, well, since it landed on the statute books back in 2012. We should not take it for granted, though – and we must always remember that the Bedroom Tax won’t be going anywhere if the Blue Meanies manage to hang on to control after May next year.

But is anybody really convinced by her ‘Jobs Guarantee’? Is it really likely to work, or is it just another ‘make-work’ scheme? What difference will it make if private companies running the current work programme/mandatory work activity/workfare/whatever-they’re-called-today schemes are replaced by local councils and communities? Vox Political is based in Powys and the council here wouldn’t know how to help anybody get back into work off the back of any such scheme. Why should it be different elsewhere?

Do we really need a ‘Basic Skills Test’? Isn’t that an indictment of our education system – and shouldn’t that be where the skills gap ought to be tackled?

Did chills go up anybody else’s spine when Reeves mentioned a “pensions market“? Do we need a pensions market? Do you want to have to shop around for the best pension for you? Don’t you pay your National Insurance for the government to sort out that side of things and not make a mess of it?

And what did she mean by “tailored support” for disabled people who can work? By whose standards?

What did you make of her comments about the work capability assessment? “We need real reform”, she said. No! We don’t need reform! We need to scrap it altogether! It has never been fit for purpose; it never will be. The very word “assessment”, linked to a person’s sickness or disability, is tainted beyond reform. All that is necessary – all that has ever been necessary – is written confirmation of a person’s condition from – guess who? – a doctor. Work capability assessments are a waste of money and a risk to the health of sick and disabled people.

She said: “I give you this commitment: as Secretary of State I will come down hard on any contractor that gets these critical assessments wrong, or fails to treat disabled people with the decency and respect they deserve.” Do you think any such contractor was quaking in their boots at the thought of that? No.

What is she going to do about the Tories’ vindictive ‘mandatory reconsideration’ system? Will she agree to pay benefits to claimants while they await a decision, or will she forget them like the Tories forgot the ex-Remploy workers she mentioned in her speech?

She said Universal Credit was “stuck in first gear” – but made no promise to get rid of it. Its aim, under Tory control, is to ensure the government doesn’t have to spend as much money on benefit claimants. Even if Labour changes that – after it has been made to work at all, which is a hard battle in itself – there will be no way to stop the Tories changing it back into a weapon if the public ever becomes stupid enough to vote them back into office again. It would be far better to devise a scheme that the Tories could not pervert – difficult though such a task may be.

There was more good material than the Bedroom Tax, and it would be wrong to gloss over that. The plan to increase the Living Wage is good, and so is the plan to increase the minimum wage. But critics say the minimum wage provides employers with an excuse to reduce all pay to that still-paltry amount, so why isn’t she saying Labour will combat that? Labour could encourage companies to become employee-owned co-operatives; as co-owners, workers could ensure equitable rates of pay. These measures would go a long way to eliminating the “in-work benefit” element of the social security bill.

Labour should be going further, though. It should be renationalising railway firms that aren’t performing well enough, either by overcharging passengers, failing to invest in the service or simply demanding too high a subsidy from the taxpayer. These firms are supposed to be private – if we are still supporting them, we should still own them. At least, that way, we’d get the profits rather than some faceless shareholder.

Also on the nationalisation list should be power companies and water firms. The energy business seems to be a cartel, organised to screw customers out of as much money as possible – on pain of losing the power necessary to heat and light their homes, and cook their food. That must end. Whatever contract they were given when they were privatised, they have reneged on the deal and should be brought back under public control.

As for the water firms – they’re just tax avoidance schemes, aren’t they? Also, Yr Obdt Srvt seems to recall that one firm sold around 25 reservoirs to France, so they get the benefit of our water during hot summers while we have to suffer drought. That’s not why these firms were sold off. They should come back under public control, with stiff penalties for the shareholders who have abused the public trust.

Come to that, what about the construction industry? We need hundreds of thousands more homes – especially one- and two-bedroomed dwellings – to be defined as social housing, in order to stave off more Tory “captive victim” schemes like the Bedroom Tax. Why won’t the government employ the builders to carry out this work, starting on brown-field sites and avoiding green belt land, for the sake of the future?

Investment in work of this kind could revive the UK’s fortunes in a stroke – and would infinitely improve Labour’s offer to the public. The Attlee government did far more, starting from a far worse financial position so there is no reason to hesitate.

But Rachel Reeves has nothing to say about it.

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