Friday, 31 December 2010
Wednesday, 29 December 2010
So, having been raped up the arse without condoms for every penny we’ve got, the government now wants us to give 1% of our income to charity
Cash machines should automatically give customers an option of donating to charity, the coalition proposes tomorrow in a green paper designed to define the elusive "big society" in Britain. The proposal is one of a series of ideas put forward by the Cabinet Office to shift what the coalition sees as the stubborn British refusal to be philanthropic with time or money [can you believe the fucking nerve of these people?! – Ed]. Prompts to give to charitable causes might also be developed whenever someone fills in a tax return or applies for a driving licence or passport.
Other ideas aired in the innovative green paper include a thank-you letter from ministers for giving large sums, a national day to celebrate donors, and a televised weekly thank-you to national lottery winners who have donated [Jesus Christ! – Ed]. The green paper also considers whether the government should try to set as a social norm that everyone should give 1% of their income to charity, or a fixed proportion of their time.
Overall, the green paper, drafted by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, argues that the internet and apps are now "providing an unparalleled opportunity to access information on how to make a difference". Other ideas include developing an app so that retailers automatically send very small donations to charity every time a customer uses a particular search engine to look at the retailer's website.
At present 8% of the UK population contribute 47% of total donations, and with income tax now rising to 50% for those earning more than £150,000 a year, the government faces an uphill task in creating a new culture of giving. Charities also complain that their national funding is being cut by the government.
Tuesday, 28 December 2010
Scientists have found that people with conservative views have brains with larger amygdalas, almond shaped areas in the centre of the brain often associated with anxiety and emotions. On the other hand, they have a smaller anterior cingulate, an area at the front of the brain associated with courage and looking on the bright side of life.
This exciting development was discovered by scientists at University College London who scanned the brains of two members of parliament and a number of students [that’s enough for me – Ed]. They found that the size of the two areas of the brain directly related to the political views of the volunteers. However as they were all adults it was hard to say whether their brains had been born that way or had developed through experience.
Prof Geraint Rees, who led the research, said: "We were very surprised to find that there was an area of the brain that we could predict political attitude. It is very surprising because it does suggest there is something about political attitude that is encoded in our brain structure through our experience or that there is something in our brain structure that determines or results in political attitude."
Prof Rees and his team, who carried out the research for the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, looked at the brain make-up of the Labour MP Stephen Pound and Alan Duncan, the Conservative Minister of State for International Development, using a scanner. They also questioned a further 90 students, who had already been scanned for other studies, about their political views.
The results, which will be published next year, back up a study that showed that some people were born with a "Liberal Gene" that makes people more likely to seek out less conventional political views. The gene, a neurotransmitter in the brain called DRD4, could even be stimulated by the novelty value of radical opinions, claimed the researchers at the University of California.
‘Creating an onshore nation is the only way to restore financial sovereignty,’ writes William Brittain-Catlin in the Guardian. ‘We must renounce and turn away multi-national corporations that funnel their profits to offshore accounts.’
”Protests by UK Uncut against Top Shop and Vodafone demonstrate justified anger against these and other clients of tax havens whose lawful tax avoidance makes a mockery of those stranded onshore in a rapidly disintegrating and impoverished social and public sphere.
The protests bring the issue of tax justice to the frontline of domestic politics and that is to be welcomed. But exposing the practices of corporations and finance and their dealings offshore will not in itself bring about change, for we are dealing with a much larger economic system – offshore capitalism – in which national governments can do little to challenge corporate and financial power secured offshore.
On a conservative estimate, a third of the world's wealth is held offshore, with 80% of international banking transactions taking place there. More than half the capital in the world's stock exchanges is "parked" offshore at some point. The offshore aspect of the global economy is far from marginal; to a large extent it has captured any significant onshore economic activity that remains.
This is the reality that national governments face; it is not hard to see how impossible a task it is for government to function in these circumstances, and it explains why governments have little option but to bend to the demands of corporate and financial power. Unless they do, corporations and banks just move to the next square on the chequer board of their offshore game, and the national treasury suffers.
Monday, 27 December 2010
Given the pressing demands of tackling the deficit and introducing reforms in health, education and welfare, no time will be found in the parliamentary time table to hold the promised free vote on the ban, introduced by Labour in 2005. Earlier this year, Alice Barnard, the head of the Countryside Alliance, said that people living in rural areas would not understand it if the vote was not held during the current parliament, which will last until 2015. But Jim Paice, the Agriculture Minister, said: There are many greater priorities facing the Government at the moment."
Hunts meeting over the Bank Holiday will be disappointed by the minister’s words. But while most Tories in the last Government, including Mr Cameron, were pro-hunting, the new intake of Conservative MPs are thought to be less fervent about the subject, meaning the ban may not be repealed even if the vote is held. Conservatives Against Fox Hunting, a recently-formed campaign group, Claims that two-thirds of Conservative supporters, oppose the repeal.
Five new Tory MPs, including Caroline Dinenage and Mike Weatherley, backed a statement issued yesterday which said: "This Government has far more important things to do than spending time on bringing back cruelty to animals for sport."
Tony Blair, who was prime minister when the ban was introduced, has said that the Hunting Act was a mistake and, in his recent autobiography, expressed regret at the amount of parliamentary time which was spent on introducing it.
The Human Rights Act is protecting the rights of minority groups while encouraging judges and politicians to discriminate against Christians, a senior bishop said yesterday. Oh well, shit happens.
The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, warned that the death of “religious literacy” among those who made and administered the law had created an imbalance in the way in which those with faith were treated compared to sexual minorities. Highlighting the case of Gary McFarlane, a relationship counsellor who was sacked by Relate for refusing to give sex therapy to a homosexual couple, he said that the judiciary now went out of its way to protect the rights of minorities.
At the same time, for the first time in British history politicians and judges were largely ignorant of religion and so failed to appreciate the importance Christians placed on abiding by the scriptures rather than the politically correct values of the secular state. The Bishop’s concerns were underlined by Lord Woolf, a former Lord Chief Justice, who agreed that in some legal cases the balance had gone “too far” in tipping away from Christians. His words echo recent warnings from other church leaders about what they perceive as attacks on Christianity.
The critique of the Human Rights Act is likely to fuel the criticism of David Cameron for failing to abide by a pre-election pledge he made to replace the controversial European rules with a home-grown Bill of Rights. Other recent high profile legal cases involving Christians include bed and breakfast owners sued for turning away two homosexuals who wished to share a bedroom, and adoption agencies forced by the Government to close their doors after they refused to place children with same sex couples.
Bishop Scott-Joynt told the BBC’s World This Weekend: “The problem is that there is a really quite widespread perception among Christians that there is growing up something of an imbalance in the legal position with regard to the freedom of Christians and people of other faiths to pursue the calling of their faith in public life, in public service. Probably for the first time in our history there is a widespread lack of religious literacy among those who one way and another hold power and influence, whether it’s Parliament or the media or even, dare I say it, in the judiciary.
Sunday, 26 December 2010
Prices slashed by up to 75 per cent to attract cautious shoppers while dissent grows over fairness of cuts, write Matt Chorley, Emily Dugan, Mark Leftly and Laura Chesters in the Independent
Retailers are slashing prices by up to 75 per cent this weekend in a desperate attempt to claw back hundreds of millions of pounds in sales lost to the combined effects of severe weather and consumer jitters. Big-name stores launched heavy discounts online yesterday, pinning their hopes on a 10-day frenzy of shopping before George Osborne's planned rise in VAT from 17.5 to 20 per cent takes effect on 4 January.
The signs did not look good last night, as new data suggested shopper numbers for December were more than 5 per cent down on last year. A poll for The Independent on Sunday shows deepening gloom among the public, many fearing they will be worse off as a result of the coalition's cuts. Only 30 per cent believe the cuts are fair, while 55 per cent (up from 51 per cent last month) fear the scale of the cuts is too severe and too fast.
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, spoke in his Christmas Day sermon of the "lasting sense that the most prosperous have yet to shoulder their load". He warned of the "hardship that clearly lies ahead for so many in the wake of the financial crisis and public spending cuts".
The proportion of people who believe the cuts will be felt by the poor more than the wealthy has risen in the past month, to 58 per cent, according to the ComRes/IoS survey. Only a quarter now believe the coalition government ensures the most vulnerable sections of society are protected.
Pope Benedict XVI presides over a church that continues to promote the repugnant idea of original sin, writes Richard Dawkins in the Observer
Was it for this that I broke the habit of years and accepted the Guardian's invitation to listen to Thought for the Day? Was it for this that the BBC, including the director general himself, no less, spent months negotiating with the Vatican? What on earth were they negotiating about, if all that emerged was the damp, faltering squib we have just strained our ears to hear?
We've already had what little apology we are going to get (none in most cases) for the raped children, the Aids-sufferers in Africa, the centuries spent attacking Jews, science, women and "heretics", the indulgences and more modern (and tax-deductible) methods of fleecing the gullible to build the Vatican's vast fortune. So, no surprise that these weren't mentioned. But there's something else for which the pope should go to confession, and it's arguably the nastiest of all. I refer to the main doctrine of Christian theology itself, which was the centrepiece of what Ratzinger actually did say in his Thought for the Day.
"Christ destroyed death forever and restored life by means of his shameful death on the Cross."
More shameful than the death itself is the Christian theory that it was necessary. It was necessary because all humans are born in sin. Every tiny baby, too young to have a deed or a thought, is riddled with sin: original sin. Here's Thomas Aquinas:
". . . the original sin of all men was in Adam indeed, as in its principal cause, according to the words of the Apostle (Romans 5:12): "In whom all have sinned": whereas it is in the bodily semen, as in its instrumental cause, since it is by the active power of the semen that original sin together with human nature is transmitted to the child."
Friday, 24 December 2010
Pope's message for Radio 4 slot has themes of salvation and hope, with no mention of Vatican scandal or religious freedom
Pope Benedict XVI has recalled "with great fondness" his four-day visit to Britain last September during his Christmas Eve message on the BBC Radio 4 religious slot Thought for the Day.
In a warm and upbeat address, aimed primarily the English-speaking world, the unprecedented broadcast contains traditional Christian themes of salvation, freedom, human frailty and hope, rather than references to the many scandals to have engulfed the Vatican and its leadership this year. Nor does it tackle contentious issues such as religious freedom of Christian minorities.
In what is believed to be his first personally scripted broadcast, recorded in Rome and lasting less than three minutes, the pope said he was "glad to have the opportunity to greet" the British people again and for the chance to "greet listeners everywhere". Speaking of the significance of Christmas, the pontiff said:
"Our thoughts turn back to a moment in history when God's chosen people, the children of Israel, were living in intense expectation. They were waiting for the Messiah that God had promised to send, and they pictured him as a great leader who would rescue them from foreign domination and restore their freedom.
"The child that was born in Bethlehem did indeed bring liberation ... he was to be the Saviour of all people throughout the world and throughout history. And it was not a political liberation that he brought, achieved through military means: rather, Christ destroyed death for ever and restored life by means of his shameful death on the cross.”
Thursday, 23 December 2010
The Labour MP Tom Watson wrote to the Cabinet secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, today accusing the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, of being "knee deep in News Corp". Watson said Hunt should not be handed the power to rule on News Corp's bid for BSkyB in the light of recent unminuted meetings between the culture secretary and executives at Rupert Murdoch's media empire.
In the letter, he demanded to know if O'Donnell knew about those meetings when he took legal advice before authorising the transfer of power to rule on media mergers from business secretary Vince Cable to Jeremy Hunt this week. The former minister and MP for West Bromwich East accused the government of misleading parliament by failing to disclose several meetings between Hunt and News Corp executives.
"Jeremy Hunt is knee deep in News Corp" he wrote. "He had had several unminuted, private, secret, "informal" meetings with News Corp, the existence of which DCMS ministers have then denied in written answers to parliament."
The Guardian disclosed yesterday that Hunt had a private meeting with James Murdoch, the chief executive of News Corp in Asia and Europe, in June with no civil servants present. Murdoch also chairs BSkyB. DCMS officials told the Guardian, in response to an FOI request, that no minutes were taken at the meeting. Watson asked O'Donnell to reveal what was said at that meeting, which took place on 28 June, and where it was held.
Hunt was handed the power to intervene in media mergers after business secretary Vince Cable was stripped of those responsibilities. Earlier this week, Cable told undercover Daily Telegraph reporters he had "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch. News Corp's bid to buy the 61% of BSkyB it does not already own is being scrutinised by the media regulator Ofcom at the business secretary's request on "media plurality" grounds.
Cable may have put his finger on something with his unlikely-sounding comparison. There are some interesting parallels, but do Cameron and Clegg really have the imagination to come up with it?
What is it about Vince Cable and communism? Barely a month seems to go by without Cable comparing others, or being compared himself, to something or someone related to it. In September, the Liberal Democrat minister was accused (implausibly) of being some sort of quasi-Marxist after making some mildly critical remarks about capitalism in a speech. In 2007, Cable made his memorable quip about Gordon Brown having undergone a "remarkable transformation ... from Stalin to Mr Bean". While having his own Mr Bean moment, revealed this week, Cable was at it again. This time it was Mao.
In criticising the speed at which the government was attempting change, Cable said: "There is a kind of Maoist revolution happening in a lot of areas like the health service, local government, reform, all this kind of stuff, which is in danger of getting out of control. We are trying to do too many things, actually." This follows his remarks in November, when Cable, responding to criticism that this reform was ill-thought-out and moving too quickly without adequate consultation, said the coalition's abolition of regional development agencies (RDAs) and their replacement with local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) was "a little Maoist and chaotic".
The sense of the analogy seems to rest on the idea that the practice of Maoism was shambolic and driven forward by a dogmatic sort of zeal rather than by any more measured and well-planned approach. Is this a fair assessment of Maoism – or, indeed, of coalition policy? What, in fact, was Maoism?
Private sector and voluntary providers will be paid as much as £13,720 for each former incapacity benefit claimant they keep in work for two years. The plan is the most sophisticated payment-by-results scheme introduced into the public sector by the coalition government. The announcement forms the centrepiece of the "work programme" – the welfare-to-work plan being overseen by the work minister, Chris Grayling – and heralds the spread of payment-by-results systems across the public sector.
Ministers plan to extend reward payments to children's services, former prisoners, health services and drug rehabilitation. Oliver Letwin, the Cabinet Office minister, called it "a switch from focusing on process to incentivising outcomes".
Job providers contracted by the Department for Work and Pensions will be paid a maximum of £2,410 if they can keep a jobseeker's allowance claimant in work for 43 consecutive weeks. An initial payment of £1,200 will be given for contracting to take on an unemployed 18- to 24-year- old, with a fee paid if the person is kept in work for 26 weeks and weekly payments thereafter to a maximum of 43 weeks.
Different rates have been set for different groups of unemployed people according to the difficulty of maintaining sustained work. After an initial attachment fee of £400 to £600, no payment will be made until after 26 weeks of work in the case of JSA claimants or 13 weeks with those that have had an incapacity. There are 35 named prime contractors with a potential to put three million people through welfare-to-work programmes over the next five years.
The system presents challenges for voluntary groups with little cash flow to tide them over until payments are made by the state. Letwin urged banks to provide funding, adding: "In designing these payment-by-results schemes we are trying to think through what kind of cash flow support could be given without compromising the incentives." He said small upfront payments would help social enterprises "stand a chance of financing themselves with a small cost base".
In the case of prisoners, payments will be made, initially in a small number of pilot schemes, according to the number of times an offender is reconvicted within 12 months of leaving prison. Incentives will increase as reoffending drops.
Wednesday, 22 December 2010
Two journalists misrepresent themselves as constituents of members of parliament to gain access to appointments at their advice surgeries, and proceed secretly to record their conversations with the MPs – conversations from which their editors then quote selectively in prominent front-page stories. Is this ethical? Is it even legal? David Howarth is asking the questions.
The Press Complaints Commission's code forbids the use of subterfuge, misrepresentation and clandestine recording devices, except where the publication is in the public interest and the information cannot be obtained any other way. The public interest includes "preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation".
That might sound promising for the journalists. The trouble is, however, that they would have to point to some specific prior action or statement of the MPs concerned that had created a misleading impression. Collective cabinet responsibility, for example, does not mean that everyone in the cabinet is claiming to agree with cabinet decisions. It means only that ministers agree not to contradict them in public.
Where the journalists' subterfuge, misrepresentation and use of clandestine devices themselves create public dissension from cabinet decisions that otherwise would not exist, the journalists cannot claim that they were acting to prevent a pre-existing misleading impression. The public contradiction is entirely of the journalists' own making. One cannot claim to be a hero by attempting to rescue a person one has just pushed into a lake.
What about legality? The MPs might have civil actions in breach of confidence and breach of copyright. Breach of confidence occurs whenever someone makes information public that a reasonable person would have expected to remain private. That is undoubtedly the case here, but there is a complication – the MPs would have to show that they had suffered loss and there is a defence of disclosure in the public interest. If the MP does not in the event lose his or her ministerial job as a result of the disclosure, loss might be difficult to prove.
The EU yesterday cleared News Corp's £8bn bid to buy the 61% of pay-TV company BSkyB it does not already own, thus making a good day for the company even better. The media conglomerate, run by Rupert Murdoch, seized on the ruling, claiming it would increase the pressure on the British government to do the same.
A few hours later, Vince Cable, who had the power to decide whether to block the deal on public interest grounds publicly, if unwittingly, declared his opposition to the deal. His boast to two undercover reporters that he had "declared war on Mr Murdoch" fatally undermined the business secretary's independence and made it impossible for him to rule on the Sky bid.
That task will now fall to the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, a man who has previously expressed admiration for BSkyB. "BSkyB revolutionised the way we watch TV," he told an audience of media executives in August.
In June, soon after News Corp's bid to take full control of BSkyB had been made public, Hunt said: "It does seem to me that News Corp do control Sky already, so it isn't clear to me that in terms of media plurality there is a substantive change, but I don't want to second-guess what regulators might decide."
News Corp said it was "shocked and dismayed" by Cable's boast, but sources close to the company privately acknowledged the chances of its bid for BSkyB proceeding had increased dramatically as a result. The stock market echoed that sentiment. Shares in BSkyB initially fell by 2% as the City absorbed the fact that Cable, the only man who had the power to block the £8bn offer, had indicated he would do so.
the president of the Lib Dems tweeted:
congratulations to the Telegraph who've uncovered the shocking truth that Lib Dem ministers have... err...got minds of their own. good work!
What Vince Cable told Daily Telegraph reporters posing as Liberal Democrat activists, as revealed by Robert Peston
Cable I am picking my fights, some of which you may have seen, some of which you may haven't seen [sic]. And I don't know if you have been following what has been happening with the Murdoch press, where I have declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we are going to win.
(Later) Well I did not politicise it, because it is a legal question. But he [Mr Murdoch] is trying to take over BSkyB – you probably know that.
Reporter I know vaguely.
Cable With considerably enhanced …
Reporter I always thought that he had BSkyB with Sky anyway?
Cable No, he has minority shares and he wants a majority – and a majority control would give them a massive stake. I have blocked it using the powers that I have got and they are legal powers that I have got.
I can't politicise it but from the people that know what is happening this is a big, big thing. His whole empire is now under attack … so there are things like that we do in government, that we can't do … all we can do in opposition is protest.
Monday, 20 December 2010
Ministers had called the partnership scheme a "complete failure", arguing it had done too little to increase physical activity among young people.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has partially backed down over his decision to scrap the £162m Schools Sports Partnership in England. He promised to salvage over £47m from his department budget to ensure the scheme, aimed at increasing competitive sport, survives until the summer. Mr Gove said exercise helped a "rounded education", but Labour said he had made a "humiliating" climb-down. Teachers and athletes mounted a strong campaign against the original decision.
The Schools Sports Partnership supports joint initiatives between primary, secondary and specialist state schools designed to increase sporting opportunities for children. After the scheme goes in summer 2011, the government is promising that £65m will be available in 2011-12 and 2012-13 to ensure one PE teacher per school is released for a day a week to ensure efforts to boost competitive sports are "embedded".
In a statement, Mr Gove said: "I want competitive sport to be at the centre of a truly rounded education that all schools offer. But this must be led by schools and parents, not by top-down policies from Whitehall. It's time to ensure what was best in school sport partnerships around the country is fully embedded and move forward to a system where schools and parents are delivering on sports with competition at the heart."
Mr Gove added that he was "looking to PE teachers to embed sport and put more emphasis on competitions for more pupils in their own schools, and to continue to help the teachers in local primary schools do the same".
For all their talk of tackling the root causes of poverty, Cameron, Clegg and Osborne threaten to leave more children and their working parents slipping further into deprivation writes Larry Elliott in today’s Guardian.
“In many other countries it would be a recipe for civil unrest, perhaps even revolution. Britain, though, is a placid place and it takes quite a lot to get this country's dander up. Sure, we've had protests from students this autumn but the latest forecasts of expected trends in poverty were greeted with a resigned shrug of the shoulders.
Make no mistake, the findings from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) make depressing reading. Child poverty? Going up over the next three years. Poverty from working-age adults with children? Going up. Poverty for working adults without children? You guessed it. Going up also.
And these – lest you get the wrong end of the stick – are not increases in relative poverty. They are increases in absolute poverty: the number of people living on less than 60% of the national income adjusted for inflation. And they are not nugatory increases either: by 2013-14 an additional 900,000 people will have slipped below the breadline.
There is a stock response to findings of this sort. The first line of defence is to say that there is something wrong with the methodology – this has indeed been the default setting for David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Funnily enough, they found little to complain about when the IFS was using the same approach to question Labour's record on poverty.
A second line of defence is to say that even if the figures are right, an income of 60% of the national median is not real poverty in the sense that it is for someone living on less than $2 a day in sub-Saharan Africa. This, it has to be said, tends to be trotted out by those with little personal experience of rubbing along on benefits or the minimum wage topped up with tax credits.
Finally, it is argued that the UK needs a complete rethink of its approach towards poverty because the approach of the Blair-Brown governments between 1997 and 2010 failed by concentrating on state handouts rather than tackling the root causes of the problem: worklessness and dysfunctional families.
Sunday, 19 December 2010
A key member of David Cameron's inner circle was at the centre of controversy tonight after he was filmed stating that the prime minister and his deputy, Nick Clegg, want their "people power" revolution to unleash "chaotic" effects across local communities. The comments, by Nicholas Boles, Tory MP for Grantham and Stamford, were made 10 days ago during a debate in Westminster hosted by the polling organisation Ipsos MORI. During a question-and-answer session on the "big society", Boles – viewed by Cameron's circle as an "outrider" for imaginative thinking on policy – was asked why he seemed to prefer "chaos" to central planning of services.
Boles replied that he, Cameron and Clegg did not believe in central planning and that it would be a good thing to have different communities offering differing types of services, even if the appearance was chaotic.
"I mean, bluntly, there comes a question in life," he told the audience. "Do you believe planning works? That clever people sitting in a room can plan how people's communities should develop, or do you believe it can't work? I believe it can't work, David Cameron believes it can't, Nick Clegg believes it can't. Chaotic therefore in our vocabulary is a good thing. Chaotic is what our cities are when we see how people live, where restaurants spring up, where they close, where people move to. Would you like to live in a world where you could predict any of that? I certainly wouldn't. So I want there to be chaotic in the sense I want lots of organisations doing different things, in different areas."
With the Christmas recess upon us, ministers are shattered but optimistic. The cabinet is proud of what it has achieved in just seven months. Difficult decisions have been made and painful cuts have started. Last week, councils, courts, schools and the local NHS were told their budgets for next year.
The spreadsheets make grim reading. Row after row of minuses. Each one represents thousands of workers starting a change process where their jobs could be lost. In January, the same thousands will compete for the remaining posts. The successful ones will be left to cope with increasing demand and fewer people to do the work. The unsuccessful will swell the ranks of the unemployed.
The NHS was supposed to be the bright hope amid the misery, a golden opportunity for the Conservatives to show they could be trusted to run the health service. Senior officials fear that the opportunity has already been squandered and the government must work fast on damage-limitation.
When Andrew Lansley took over as health secretary, the NHS was performing well, with satisfaction ratings that most companies would be proud of. The experts advised them to keep the NHS stable, maintain high standards and keep staff motivated to work harder with less money.
So Lansley published a plan to do the opposite.
Friday, 17 December 2010
A council has admitted it plans to move 80 per cent of homeless housing benefit claimants needing temporary accommodation out of the borough, writes Isabel Hardman for Inside Housing. Westminster Council’s finance and resources overview and scrutiny committee is considering a report which says nearly 400 families will be moved into homes outside of the borough once housing benefit cuts mean their accommodation is no longer affordable.
The report predicts a shift in the proportion of accommodation that the council books within the borough. It currently houses 70 per cent of those presenting as homeless within the borough, but by 2016 this will shift to 80 per cent of claimants housed outside Westminster.
The report says Westminster is the worst affected borough in London, with 5,000 local housing allowance claimants expected to lose out from the cuts. The council is still waiting for its allocation of an additional £10 million which was added to the discretionary housing payment, a fund making up the shortfall between rent and housing benefit payments while a tenant finds alternative accommodation.
Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of the Labour group on the council, said: ‘These truly shocking figures show that hundreds of low-income families will be forced to uproot themselves over the coming years to parts of London with which they have no connection, no other family members and no friends. Many of them working locally in low-paid jobs will now be forced to make expensive journeys back to Westminster to get to work.’
Cabinet member for housing Philippa Roe said: ‘The number of people housed outside of the borough is really very small compared to the overall caseload of housing benefit claims that we do have. We want to use the DHP as much as possible for those who can prove that they need to stay in the borough, and for pensioners, whose circumstances obviously will not change, we are trying to work out a way of keeping them in the borough, although I don’t know where we’ll get the money for this from.’
This follows a stinging national assessment of the effect of the cuts to local housing allowance, which will start in April 2011 for new claimants. The impact assessment, published by the Department for Work and Pensions, admits that homelessness is likely to rise as a result of the cuts, and predicts an influx of claimants from expensive areas into cheaper suburbs.
The report, which was published at the same time as the government laid secondary legislation for a number of the cuts, says families requiring additional support from social services, teenage mothers and extended families will be particularly badly hit: losing contact with support networks and official services. It warns that schools in outer London boroughs may need to build temporary classrooms to cope with a rise in children whose families can no longer afford to live in the centre.
Government plans to abolish a raft of quangos by ministerial decree will have to be completely redrawn after Lord Judge, the lord chief justice, attacked the plans as astonishing and a threat to the entire way in which the judiciary works. Lord Norton, a leading constitutional expert and Tory peer, acknowledged yesterday that Judge's criticisms make the government's plans unsustainable.
Judge mounted his considered attack in front of the Lords constitution committee on Wednesday. Labour sources in the Lords said they could not think of such an open criticism of government legislation by a serving lord chief justice, pointing out that it puts an onus on the lord chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, to act as he has a statutory responsibility to protect the independence of the judiciary.
Judge mounted his attack on the central clause of the public bodies bill, schedule 7 – empowering ministers to abolish a raft of named quangos without the need for primary legislation. The use of so-called Henry VIII clauses – from a 1539 statute that gave the king power to legislate by proclamation, without further parliamentary scrutiny – allows independent bodies to be shut through secondary legislation.
Judge said: "Schedule 7 of the public bodies bill includes a large number of institutions which are important in themselves, whose importance is important to the public, and whose independence is part and parcel of the independence which we attach to the entire way in which the judiciary works.
"The judicial appointments commission is set up on the basis that it will be an independent body, and so it should be. The criminal cases review commission is set up by legislation as an independent body, and so is the parole board and the sentencing council. There are a whole series of these bodies set up and the object is that they should remain independent of the government of the day that we happen to have."
BBC News - most popular stories
- 1:Arctic weather returns to the UK
- 2:Assange tells of 'smear campaign'
- 3:Ronnie Corbett back as One Ronnie
- 4:US man executed using animal drug
- 5:Apprentice star not invited back
- 6:Troops welcome 'combat codpiece'
- 7:Bad weather hits airport flights
- 8:Japanese knife attack injures 13
- 9:UK banks 'at risk from eurozone'
- 10:PM sent gifts for baby Florence
Hmmm, according to the BBC News website, just a little bit less than the weather and a tad more than the return of Ronnie Corbett and the prime minister’s baby.
Thursday, 16 December 2010
“It's great to smell the fresh air of London again [oh, please].
First, some thank yous. To all the people around the world who have had faith in me, who have supported my team while I have been away. To my lawyers, who have put up a brave and ultimately successful fight, to our sureties and people who have provided money in the face of great difficulty and aversion. And to members of the press who are not all taken in and considered to look deeper in their work. And I guess finally, to the British justice system itself, where if justice is not always the outcome at least it is not dead yet.
During my time in solitary confinement in the bottom of a Victorian prison [that’s the bit … ahahahaha!] I had time to reflect on the conditions of those people around the world also in solitary confinement, also on remand, in conditions that are more difficult than those faced by me [ya reckon?]. Those people also need your attention and support.
And with that I hope to continue my work and continue to protest my innocence in this matter and to reveal, as we get it, which we have not yet, the evidence from these allegations. Thank you.”
Aaah, freedom of speech, eh?
Dame Judi Dench is not an actor who takes bad reviews lying down – "you're an absolute shit," she wrote to one critic of her stage performance last year – but she found herself dumbstruck yesterday after being awarded the ultimate accolade: readers of the Stage newspaper have named her the greatest stage actor ever. Dench beat off dauntingly impressive competition, including Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Paul Scofield and Ralph Richardson, to be named best of the best after a reader vote carried out over 10 weeks.
To be fair, live actors clearly had a distinct advantage over dead ones as the voters will have seen them on stage and this was reflected in Maggie Smith coming second, Mark Rylance third and Ian McKellen fourth. After that came Olivier, Scofield and Gielgud with Michael Gambon eighth and Vanessa Redgrave ninth. Richardson, who died in 1983, came tenth. Dench, who was last on stage playing Titania – as Elizabeth I – in Peter Hall's Rose Theatre production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, said: "I'm completely at a loss for words, but it's one hell of a thing to live up to."
The actor, 76 last Thursday, has long held "national treasure" status but she admitted in a Guardian interview last year that she was getting angrier as she got older. When the Daily Telegraph critic Charles Spencer wrote a stinging review of her performance in Madame de Sade in 2009, Dench wrote to him: "I've always rather admired you but now realise you're an absolute shit." Then, referring to a stage accident which made her miss some performances, she added: "I'm only sorry I didn't get a chance to kick you when I fell over – maybe next time …"
Alistair Smith, deputy editor of the Stage, said it was the first time it had run such a search in its 130-year history. He said it "celebrated the huge range of talent with which our stages have long been blessed". The ten actors were initially chosen by a panel of experts and Smith said: "The order of our readers' top ten quite closely reflected our experts' choices."
Dench, now firmly established in film as James Bond's boss, M, made her professional debut in 1957 with the Old Vic company in Liverpool playing Ophelia. She has won more Olivier awards – seven – than any other performer and her memorable roles have included a Juliet for Zeffirelli in 1960; the first London Sally Bowles in Cabaret in 1968; Lady Macbeth in Trevor Nunn's 1976 production; Cleopatra opposite Anthony Hopkins in 1987 and Desiree Armfeldt in Sondheim's A Little Night Music in 1995.
Wednesday, 15 December 2010
Britain's top civil servant has urged the Treasury to prepare contingency economic stimulus plans, including fresh capital spending on infrastructure, in case economic growth falters in the new year. The paper drawn up by Sir Gus O'Donnell, head of the home civil service, was prepared in the last few weeks and is circulating inside Downing Street.
It came as it was confirmed that the business secretary, Vince Cable, is concerned by the direction of Treasury policy, describing officials as "thirties fiscal fundamentalists". The Liberal Democrat's remarks suggest there may be an economic policy dispute developing inside the coalition.
The existence of O'Donnell's paper is embarrassing to a government that has repeatedly said the economy is "out of the danger zone" and on course to pull out of recession. A No 10 spokesman insisted no paper had been commissioned by ministers, suggesting the Treasury and the prime minister want to distance themselves from any hint that the coalition's public spending cuts might push the economy back towards recession.
Labour last night revealed details of a government document suggesting Britain will experience a doubling in youth unemployment among those out of work for almost a year as the public spending cuts bite next April. The expected spike is highlighted in a prospectus, issued by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), for companies and voluntary groups bidding to take part in the Work Programme to find jobs for the long-term unemployed.
An annex to the prospectus estimates that between 140,000 and 200,000 young people aged from 18 to 24 will be registered as having been unemployed for at least nine months or more between 2011-12. This is at least a doubling of the number of young long-term unemployed.
Tuesday, 14 December 2010
Peers have backed government plans to raise student tuition fees in England to as much as £9,000 a year. Labour tried to throw out the proposals, which were passed by MPs last week, but the opposition amendment was defeated by 283 votes to 215. The House of Lords' decision means that the higher fees are expected to come into force from 2012. Ministers called the plans the "fairest deal" possible, but Labour accused them of "privatising" universities.
Moves to increase the maximum annual fees for students from £3,290 to £9,000 have prompted outrage among students, culminating in violent protests at Westminster last week. More than twenty Lib Dems and six Conservative MPs voted against the government's plans last Thursday, but they still passed through the Commons. Had the Labour amendment succeeded, it would have overturned the earlier MPs' vote, forcing the coalition to reintroduce the measure in the Commons if it had decided to continue with the policy.
During the Lords debate, government spokesman Lord Henley told a packed house such an outcome would be "fatal", adding: "There is absolutely no mechanism for the Commons to address or put right a defeat in these circumstances and accepting one or both of the noble Lord's amendments would therefore be, in practice, a veto." Labour spokesman Lord Triesman accused the government of attempting to drive through the "privatisation" of higher education.
He said: "This afternoon's decision will switch the concept of universities from being a public good, as they have always been through modern history, to essentially a private sector, market-driven by personal private investment." Lord Browne - the former BP chief executive who carried out a review of higher education funding in England which recommended unlimited fees - backed the government.
Despite government concessions offered in the run-up to the Commons vote, Lib Dem education spokeswoman Lady Sharp said she was uncomfortable about what the changes would mean for the cost of a degree and the deterrent it would be to students from a variety of backgrounds. "I face a dilemma," she said. "I have a lot of reservations and I am in the same position as many Liberal Democrat MPs.
Ministers insisted that, with no upfront fees and graduates only having to contribute to the cost of their degree when their salary reaches £21,000, the proposal was the "fairest deal" in the financial climate. National Union of Students president Aaron Porter said: "I am both saddened and disappointed by the outcome in the House of Lords this evening. I fear that this evening our aspiration - to create a fairer and more equitable higher education system - has been set back for a generation."
The government has published a draft "Cabinet Manual" describing the workings of the UK's unwritten constitution for the first time. The eleven-chapter document, produced by civil service head Sir Gus O'Donnell, deals with the roles of the monarch, the government and Parliament. It also looks at relations with the European Union and devolved regimes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. MPs and peers are to decide on the document's final draft.
"The UK is a parliamentary democracy which has a constitutional sovereign as head of state; a sovereign Parliament, which is supreme to all other government institutions, consisting of the sovereign, the House of Commons and the House of Lords, an executive drawn from and accountable to Parliament, and an independent judiciary."
Unlike some countries, such as the United States, the UK has no written constitution, instead relying on accumulated statutes, conventions and rulings. The Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for this to change, with previous Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown - who commissioned the manual earlier this year - also hinting that this might be possible. But the coalition agreement between the Lib Dems and Conservatives does not commit the government to setting down the constitution on paper.
Sir Gus emphasised that the manual was not a constitution and had no legal force, but would serve instead as a guide. In his introduction to the first draft, Sir Gus wrote: "The Cabinet Manual is intended to be a source of information on the UK's laws, conventions and rules, including those of a constitutional nature, that affect the operation and procedures of government. It is written from the perspective of the executive branch of government. It is not intended to have any legal effect or set issues in stone. It is intended to guide, not to direct."
He added: "Some areas of the manual continue to be subject to public debate. The manual, however, does not seek to resolve or move forward those debates, but is instead a factual description of the situation today. In other words, it will be a record of incremental changes rather than a driver of change."
The coalition government was today urged to think again about securing financial support for Sheffield Forgemasters after a committee of backbench MPs said the decision to scrap an £80m loan meant an opportunity to take a lead in the civil nuclear power industry could be lost.
In a report critical of the way Vince Cable, the business secretary, decided to axe the financial support agreed by his predecessor Lord Mandelson in the dying days of Gordon Brown's administration, the business innovation and skills committee said Sheffield Forgemasters had been identified as an ‘easy’ target.
The MPs said they recognised the need for Cable to save money as part of the £6bn cut in public spending demanded by the chancellor, George Osborne, for the current financial year and that the spotlight inevitably fell on those projects to which the government was not contractually committed. These included the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters to develop a 15,000-tonne press to make large components for the civil nuclear industry.
"A choice could therefore have been made by ministers on where the axe would fall," today's report said. "We do not believe that any substantial cost-benefit analysis was undertaken on those non-contractually committed projects under review.
"Rather it appears to be the case that the Sheffield Forgemasters loan was identified as an easy cost saving. While this is a legitimate way to proceed, the department should have been more transparent in articulating this process and not hidden behind the simple defence of affordability. Furthermore, we did not receive any detailed explanation of how the Sheffield Forgemasters project was chosen ahead of the other non-contractually committed projects sponsored by the department."
The report added: "The establishment of such a large press would have enabled the UK to take a significant lead in this important industry. For that reason we urge the government to continue in its efforts to secure funding for this project – whether by public or private funds – so that an opportunity take a lead in this important industry is not lost.
"Therefore, we welcome the undertaking given to us by the secretary of state [Cable] that he would 'entertain' a fresh loan application from Sheffield Forgemasters. Should the company make a further application, we would expect the secretary of state to honour that undertaking."
The government has no "credible plan" to make NHS savings of £20bn by 2014, a committee of MPs warns today. The figure would represent "unprecedented" efficiency gains if the quality of care is to be maintained.
In a report on public expenditure, the health select committee said it was concerned that health and social care budgets would be squeezed while bearing the cost of the government's radical reforms. The report claims ministers had "unfortunately neglected to provide even a broad estimate of the likely reorganisation costs".
The MPs also chided the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, for peddling a price tag for his white paper proposals that was produced for the last government: "It is unhelpful for the government to continue to cite the £1.7bn figure, as it does not relate to specific proposals."
Stephen Dorrell, the former Conservative health secretary who chairs the select committee, said the NHS chief executive, Sir David Nicholson, had warned that the 4% productivity improvements required by the £20bn cut had "never been achieved in the history of the NHS or any healthcare system in the world".
Dorrell said staff would probably face "bruising changes" as the NHS was redesigned to save money: "[It is] likely that staff will be bruised as the current structures and resources are redeveloped."
Monday, 13 December 2010
The annual British Social Attitudes survey of more than 3,500 people, conducted by the National Centre for Social Research every year since 1983, offers a verdict on the thirteen years of Labour rule
Britain is now more Thatcherite than when Margaret Thatcher was in power, with people much less supportive of the welfare state and the redistribution of wealth than in the 1980s, according to an authoritative study of the country's mood. New Labour oversaw the biggest recorded shift to the right in public attitudes on those measures, despite a surge in concern about the scale of the wealth gap between rich and poor. Sympathy towards benefit claimants has evaporated, along with support for redistributive tax and spend policies, over the past 20 years, with Labour governing during a period of significant hardening of attitudes towards the poor, the annual results of the British Social Attitudes survey reveal.
Public satisfaction with health and education improved dramatically over the same period, the study shows, leaving the researchers asking why Labour did not fight the election on its social policy record – and warning that the coalition is now risking a significant backlash against its reforms and cuts to public services that people are happy with. Making profound reforms to the NHS or schools, when trust in politicians has reached an all-time low, risks considerable public resistance, the report concludes.
Penny Young, chief executive of the National Centre for Social Research, said: "The survey points to a nation at political crossroads between left and right: it is perhaps little surprise that the election resulted in a coalition. On the one hand we are seeing a hardening of attitudes towards welfare reform, whilst on the other there is strong support for investment in health and education." It finds that the public is now less sympathetic towards benefit claimants than at the end of the Thatcher era. In 1991, 58% thought the government should spend more on benefits. By 2009 that had more than halved to 27%.
Just over half (51%) backed policies to redistribute income from rich to poor in 1989, compared with 36% now. The researchers blamed the "significant change in political rhetoric" throughout the New Labour years, with the abandonment of Clause 4, the party's promise to redistribute wealth, and the emphasis in welfare policies on people going back to work. "This could be due to the reluctance of parties on the left to talk positively about redistribution, which has become synonymous with an 'Old Labour' 'tax and spend' approach," the report says.
Sunday, 12 December 2010
Pupil-premium labelled a ‘con’, council budgets cut, coastguard stations reduced, Olympic security budget under threat and House of Lords to discuss tuition fees - they don’t make it easy for themselves
The government's promise to give schools extra money for every child they take from the poorest homes will result in some in the most deprived areas losing cash, Labour will claim as the coalition sets out the fine detail of its austerity measures for schools, councils, the police and transport.
Nick Clegg confirms for the first time in a letter to the shadow schools secretary Andy Burnham, seen by the Guardian, that the government is protecting per-pupil funding only in cash terms, not real terms, a de facto cut of millions of pounds. It also reveals that the future funding mechanism for the new £430 "pupil premium", which will be announced tomorrow, could concentrate the money on disadvantaged pupils in shire schools instead of urban ones.
Burnham labelled the plan "a con". Senior Liberal Democrats were forced to defend the scheme, which is central to the rehabilitation of the party's progressive credentials as the tuition fee row rumbles on. One poll at the weekend suggested their support for £9,000 fees had cost them half their votes, as the opposition leader, Ed Miliband, made a "clear offer" to the rebel MPs to work with Labour.
The government will tomorrow publish a localism bill, devolving power to local areas, but separately it will detail its latest austerity measures dictating where the £81bn deficit reduction plan will fall locally in the next year. For the first time people will learn where the cuts will fall in their neighbourhoods. The announcements include:
Saturday, 11 December 2010
Community groups will be given the right to take over local services and vote on new housing developments under powers to be unveiled on Monday as part of the government's "big society" project. The localism bill will give parents, council employees and residents a greater chance to compete against councils and private-sector firms to run services.
[A bunch of local neighbourhood Conservative groups who will decide that you will like it their way or else – Ed]
• A community right to buy local buildings. If the council decides to sell, groups will be given extra time to develop their bid to compete with property companies.
• A community right to challenge, handing the public powers to question and take over a local service. This could include children's centres, social care services or transport. If a group made a challenge the council would have to give full consideration and a response in writing.
• A community right to build, allowing homeowners to add extensions or loft conversions, or new homes to be built, as long as a simple majority in the area votes in favour.
Friday, 10 December 2010
David Cameron's director of communications will not be prosecuted over claims he knew of hacking while editor of News of the World, it has been announced
Andy Coulson, the prime minister's director of communications, will not face prosecution over allegations he knew of phone hacking while he was editor of the News of the World, it was announced today. The Crown Prosecution Service announced the decision after spending the last four weeks studying material from a renewed Scotland Yard investigation into the claims.
The Metropolitan police reopened its investigation following revelations by the Guardian about the extent of the practice at the News of the World. Police decided witnesses who claimed Coulson knew more than he admitted about the phone hacking should be interviewed as potential suspects and thus under criminal caution. They in turn refused to comment or gave short statements when detectives questioned them, Keir Starmer QC, the director of public prosecutions, said today.
Starmer said a panel of prosecutors and police would now be convened to consider any new allegations. One of the most significant new witnesses to come forward was Sean Hoare, a former News of the World reporter. He was quoted in a New York Times investigation as saying Coulson was aware that phone hacking went on. It is believed that Hoare's answers to police were limited because he was interviewed under criminal caution, meaning that he was potentially suspected of committing criminal offences.
In a statement, the DPP said: "Sean Hoare, who made significant allegations in the New York Times and elsewhere, was interviewed by the police but refused to comment. A number of other witnesses were interviewed and either refused to co-operate with the police investigation, provided short statements which did not advance matters or denied any knowledge of wrongdoing.
Liberal Democrat MPs who voted against the plans ~
Annette Brooke (Dorset Mid & Poole North), Sir Menzies Campbell (Fife North East), Michael Crockart (Edinburgh West), Tim Farron (Westmorland & Lonsdale), Andrew George (St Ives), Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South), Julian Huppert (Cambridge), Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye & Lochaber), John Leech (Manchester Withington), Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne), Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West), John Pugh (Southport), Alan Reid (Argyll & Bute), Dan Rogerson (Cornwall North), Bob Russell (Colchester), Adrian Sanders (Torbay), Ian Swales (Redcar), Mark Williams (Ceredigion), Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire), Jenny Willott (Cardiff Central), and Simon Wright (Norwich South).
Liberal Democrat MPs who voted for the plans ~
Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey), Norman Baker (Lewes), Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed), Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley), Tom Brake (Carshalton & Wallington), Jeremy Browne (Taunton Deane), Malcolm Bruce (Gordon), Paul Burstow (Sutton & Cheam), Vincent Cable (Twickenham), Alistair Carmichael (Orkney & Shetland), Nick Clegg (Sheffield Hallam), Edward Davey (Kingston & Surbiton), Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey & Wood Green), Don Foster (Bath), Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay), Duncan Hames (Chippenham), Nick Harvey (Devon North), David Heath (Somerton & Frome), John Hemming (Birmingham Yardley), Norman Lamb (Norfolk North), David Laws (Yeovil), Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk), Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove), Jo Swinson (Dunbartonshire East), Sarah Teather (Brent Central), David Ward (Bradford East), and Steve Webb (Thornbury and Yate).
Liberal Democrat MPs who did not vote ~
The energy secretary Chris Huhne and backbencher Martin Horwood, who were in Cancún for climate change talks, were among those who did not vote. Sir Robert Smith (Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine) was also out of the country.
Liberal Democrat MPs who abstained ~
Lorely Burt (Solihull), Martin Horwood (Cheltenham), Simon Hughes (Bermondsey & Old Southwark), Chris Huhne (Eastleigh), Tessa Munt (Wells), Sir Robert Smith (Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine), John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross), and Stephen Williams (Bristol West). Government whip Mark Hunter (Cheadle) acted as a teller.
Conservative MPs who voted against ~
David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden), Philip Davies (Shipley), Julian Lewis (New Forest East), Jason McCartney (Colne Valley), Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole), Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood).
Conservative MPs who abstained ~
Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford), Lee Scott (Ilford North).