Saturday, 30 April 2011

Government buries bad news on royal wedding bank holiday as NHS regulator predicts further 50% hospital cuts

Monitor says hospitals may have to make efficiency savings of up to 50% higher than previous predictions, writes Patrick Wintour in the Guardian

Labour has accused health bosses of burying bad news on royal wedding day when it emerged that the health regulator Monitor had predicted hospitals would have to make efficiency savings up to 50% higher than previously envisaged. Monitor, in a letter to NHS foundation trusts dated 27 April and released on Thursday, said the higher efficiency savings were partly due to inflation rising above predicted levels.

Monitor oversees NHS foundation trusts and assesses applications for foundation status. It is due to become the overall regulator for the whole of the NHS under the government shakeup. It suggested average savings of up to 7% a year may be required in the acute sector over the next five years, compared with the 4% called for by the Department of Health as part of efforts to slash £20bn from running costs.

Monitor's financial assumptions are used to assess trust applicants and to rate the risks of investments and transactions undertaken by existing NHS foundation trusts. It says it has revised its estimate owing to:

• A Treasury health settlement that "represents a substantial challenge to the NHS given expected demand growth".

• Significant inflationary pressures noted in projections by the Office for Budget Responsibility before the 2011 budget.

• The impact of specific tariff rules

The ministry conceded Monitor's assessment would be "challenging" for the NHS but said it was the "more pessimistic" of two scenarios set out by the regulator.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Calm down, dear - it’s only a deficit emergency

It is becoming clear that Cameron and Osborne have shattered business and consumer confidence with their heavy-handed approach to reining in the national debt, writes Heather Stewart in the Guardian

In the glorious April sunshine the union flags were fluttering outside Westminster Abbey and scores of Royal rubber-neckers with tents and deckchairs were already reserving their pitches for the big day. Just around the corner, in the characterless Church House conference centre, the bunting was noticeably absent as Britain's top statistician sombrely announced that the economy had been "on a plateau" for the past three quarters.

"It's not been declining, but it's not been growing either," said Joe Grice, number-cruncher in chief for the Office for National Statistics, with typical understatement. Strip away his scrupulous objectivity and news that GDP expanded by 0.5% in the first three months of 2011 revealed an economy that is flat-lining.

Put it this way: if your usual take-home pay is £2,000, and you find yourself unexpectedly short by £100 one month (because of an unpaid "snow day" or two, perhaps) you don't crack open the champagne if your wages are restored to normal a month later. With the snowdrifts cleared, output from the UK economy in the first three months of this year was exactly the same as in the third quarter of 2010, just after the coalition took the reins.

Grice admitted that, taken together, the figures were equivalent to two quarters of zero growth, or as Tony Dolphin of the Institute for Public Policy Research put it, "as close as it is possible to come to a recession without actually being in one". The GDP data prompted an almighty bust-up in the Commons, with the prime minister insisting it was "good news," and urging Labour's Treasury spokeswoman Angela Eagle to "calm down, dear".

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Fears for NHS services if providers go bust

MPs on public accounts committee hit out at free market model, saying there is 'no contingency to ensure services continue', writes Polly Curtis in the Guardian

MPs are demanding that the government urgently put in place plans to ensure vital health services continue if a hospital or other provider goes bust under its NHS reforms. In a report published on Wednesday, the public accounts committee says the proposals for the NHS do not include details of what will happen if providers fail in the new market model of healthcare provision.

Members of the committee dismissed claims by the most senior civil servant in the Department of Health, Una O'Brien, that the government was "not planning for failure", and condemned the lack of contingency planning, suggesting that the proposals now pose an intolerable risk to value for money and quality of services.

Richard Bacon, the Conservative MP for South Norfolk, said: "In any organisation as large and complex as the NHS, things can and do go wrong, and the Department of Health has yet to establish a robust framework for dealing with failure in the system. The department must not only understand the danger of either a provider or a commissioner going 'belly up', but also toughen up its contingency plans, drawing upon strong, effective and clear chains of governance and accountability throughout the new NHS model."

It is the latest in a series of critiques of the scale and pace of NHS reforms, after opposition from doctors, healthcare specialists and even the Liberal Democrats. The programme is currently on a two-month "pause" to allow the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, to conduct a "listening exercise". No 10 has ruled out any significant changes, but there is mounting speculation in Westminster that they could be preparing to reverse that position to avoid a clash over the NHS.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The future of mental health care in austerity Britain

High-level supported-living housing is under threat as one London council calls a hostel 'surplus to requirements', writes Kate Belgrave in the Guardian

The soon-be-closed Tamworth high-level support hostel for people with mental health illnesses sits on the quiet Farm Lane in expensive central Fulham. "Location" is the word that leaps to mind here. Fulham Broadway station is just five minutes' walk from Tamworth hostel's front door and bustling Fulham Broadway is even nearer. Farm Lane itself is tranquil, though – it's tucked just far enough round the corner for refuge from the Broadway's crowds and noise. It's perfect.

Last month, Hammersmith and Fulham council's cabinet decided to close the 14-unit Tamworth hostel, make all staff redundant and sell the building. The council said alternative accommodation would be found for the hostel's eight residents. The council's rationale for closure was a Supporting People fund contribution towards a £300,000 austerity saving. Selling the building would be a nice little earner.

Things aren't looking as bright for those in the hostel, though. Inside, you find angry, soon-to-be-unemployed staff, concerned residents and a sort of muted, but palpable, sense of calamity. It's not just the job losses, or the uncertainty faced by residents. There's a feeling that with this sort of closure, we're getting a glimpse into austerity's darkest corners – corners where sufferers of severe mental illness rot in substandard B&Bs, or end up on the street. Time will tell.

High-level supported-living housing is a unique service. Experienced staff monitor residents' medication and keep and eye on drug and alcohol use. They arrange transfers, community activities and help residents organise appointments. The Tamworth hostel building is secure and always staffed. Many have worked here for years – a contribution that means little in our austerity age. Council reports dismiss their expertise and concerns: "Although there was some opposition to the proposal from the staff, the consultation did not present any strong arguments for keeping Tamworth open," stated authors of the council's March cabinet report on the closure. Spinning to reassure, the report's authors insisted that Tamworth residents would be catered for: "evidence demonstrates that there is sufficient provision for the client group in the borough's other mental health supported housing".

Why the Tories want us all to live in Downton Abbey

David Cameron hankers for a society in which everyone knows their place, writes Deborah Orr in the Guardian

George Bush Sr, while seeking re-election as US president in 1992, said: "We are going to keep on trying to strengthen the American family, to make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons." Over here, 20 years on, David Cameron has ambitions that seem even more absurd. He appears to want Britain to be a lot more Downton Abbey and a lot less Four Lions – the former being assumed as a sound prophylactic against the latter.

Last year, when Downton Abbey became a huge Sunday-evening hit for ITV, some argued that the popularity of the series, set on a country estate early in the 20th century, might be culturally significant, signalling a nostalgia for a time when Britain had a more settled class identity. The show certainly offers a rose-tinted picture of life under the wing of the English aristocracy, as conjured up by Downton's creator, Julian Fellowes. (He was made a Conservative peer in the last New Year's Honours List, for services to coalition cabinet fantasy.) But there are few signs of a hunger to doff the cap in real life.

The coalition's rhetoric, the insistence that "we are all in this together", building a "big society", is often dismissed as meaningless, or even sinister – a mendacious cover for an ideologically driven economic rout against the people of Britain, on behalf of the wealthy elites. My suspicion, however, is that these inchoate phrases really represent a perfectly genuine ache in the Tory soul for a vision of Britain – especially of England – in which the Women's Institute runs the fete on the village green, there is honey, still, for tea, and everyone is content because everyone knows their place. Cameron is not dangerous because he is cynical. He is dangerous because he is sentimental. Politicians often are, the idiots.

The trouble with the big society is not that it is a hollow excuse, dreamed up to shift responsibility for deficit-reducing cuts from the state to the people. It's that it is a genuine and heartfelt nostalgic dream. Hopes that the big society will quickly become a reality are supplying an unfounded optimism within government about the shape of things to come. They actually think it's all going to turn out OK. Of course they do. That's why they are in such a hurry to get some results before the next election.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Kate Middleton: lesbian 'icon'

Kate Middleton will soon be considered an 'icon' to lesbians, the novelist Sarah Waters says. Waters, who wrote lesbian novel Tipping The Velvet, told the Daily Telegraph that Prince William’s fiancée appeals to lesbians in the same way Princess Diana did to gay men.

She's the one on the left

Speaking at the Man Booker Best of Beryl Prize in Soho, she said: “There is something quite earthy about her which, I think, lesbians will like.” On Miss Middleton’s appeal to gay men, she said: “Of course, they will be drawn to her glamour, so I think she will do very well for all sorts of people.”

The princess-in-waiting and Prince William have been urged to support marriage equality by gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who has organised a rally outside Buckingham Palace on Easter Monday. He said: “We plan to deliver a giant wedding card to William and Kate. As well as wishing the royal couple every happiness, we will highlight the fact that William and Kate can marry, but same-sex couples can’t.”

Oh, get a grip.

Friday, 22 April 2011

London smog


Hampstead Heath


London skyline


St Paul’s Cathedral

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Birmingham City Council social care cuts ruled unlawful by High Court

Judges have ruled that Birmingham City Council's plans to limit social care for disabled people are unlawful. The families of four severely disabled people took the case to the High Court sitting in Birmingham. The test case is the first in a series of possible legal challenges to councils around the UK mounted by those facing cuts to social care.

Birmingham City Council is planning to reduce care packages to about 4,000 people over the next three years. The authority, a Conservative-Liberal coalition, says it needs to make the cuts to help slash £118m from its adult and communities directorate. In total, a spokeswoman said, it needs to save £308m from its budget.

It explained that only those whose needs had been assessed as "critical" would qualify for council-funded care. But the judges ruled that the council business plan was unlawful because it failed to comply with Section 49a of the Disability Discrimination Act. The four people, who cannot be named for legal reasons, include a 65-year-old woman with severe learning difficulties who receives 24-hour care in a home paid for by the council. They also include a 25-year-old man with a rare genetic disorder and severe learning disabilities who receives overnight respite care, also funded by the council. Both were set to lose their council-funded care.

The sister-in-law of the 65-year-old woman said: "I'm deeply concerned about what impact this will have and it's important to take a stand here. She relies on the council's support to assist her with daily living skills and to support and promote her independence, including assisting with personal care tasks, preparation of meals and safely accessing the community. The care is hugely beneficial and without it her quality of life would fall dramatically."

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

A co-ordinated strike is the next step

‘Time to move on from marching – will Britain's biggest unions abandon their masochistic 'new realism' and take action?’ asks Richard Seymour in the Guardian

"Imagine," said PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, "what a difference it would make if we didn't only march together but took strike action together." The cheer that resounded from the crowd in Hyde Park spoke for itself. This was 26 March, the day that half a million workers from across Britain turned out for the most significant manifestation of trade union strength in decades – although you may remember it as the day when some windows were broken.
However inspiring 26 March was, though, leaving it at a march from A to B – just in time for local elections – would be a terrible waste. Some union leaders may feel that the best use of this energy is to vote Labour in the May elections. But Labour councils are also pushing through cuts, and it is obvious from local strike ballots that union members aren't putting up with this. The next logical step is, exactly as Serwotka says, co-ordinated strike action. So, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), National Union of Teachers (NUT), University and College Union (UCU) and Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) unions are moving towards balloting their members for a one-day national strike over pensions, job losses and wages.

What sticks out here is the participation of the ATL, which is a professional teaching union not given to militancy. Its last strike action was in 1979. Similarly, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) overwhelmingly passed a motion at its annual conference in Liverpool calling for an indicative ballot of members for national strike action. This is far from typical for the RCN, which, until a change in its policy in 1995, always ruled out industrial action. The "proletarianisation" of professionals in the public sector, with degraded conditions even for usually respected staff, is leading some of the traditionally conservative unions to be more militant than their larger counterparts.

If the strike ballots are approved by the members, this could result in up to 800,000 people taking strike action. If other small unions join the strike, there could be over a million people taking industrial action on that day. However, the largest unions – such as Unison, which drew by far the biggest contingent on the march – have not agreed to take part.

Secret memos expose link between oil firms and invasion of Iraq

Paul Bignell, The Independent

Plans to exploit Iraq's oil reserves were discussed by government ministers and the world's largest oil companies the year before Britain took a leading role in invading Iraq, government documents show. The papers, revealed in The Independent for the first time, raise new questions over Britain's involvement in the war, which had divided Tony Blair's cabinet and was voted through only after his claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The minutes of a series of meetings between ministers and senior oil executives are at odds with the public denials of self-interest from oil companies and Western governments at the time.

The documents were not offered as evidence in the ongoing Chilcot Inquiry into the UK's involvement in the Iraq war. In March 2003, just before Britain went to war, Shell denounced reports that it had held talks with Downing Street about Iraqi oil as "highly inaccurate". BP denied that it had any "strategic interest" in Iraq, while Tony Blair described "the oil conspiracy theory" as "the most absurd". But documents from October and November the previous year paint a very different picture.

Iraq's burgeoning oil industry: Click HERE to upload graphic (160k)

Five months before the March 2003 invasion, Baroness Symons, then the Trade Minister, told BP that the Government believed British energy firms should be given a share of Iraq's enormous oil and gas reserves as a reward for Tony Blair's military commitment to US plans for regime change. The papers show that Lady Symons agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP's behalf because the oil giant feared it was being "locked out" of deals that Washington was quietly striking with US, French and Russian governments and their energy firms.

Minutes of a meeting with BP, Shell and BG (formerly British Gas) on 31 October 2002 read: "Baroness Symons agreed that it would be difficult to justify British companies losing out in Iraq in that way if the UK had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis." The minister then promised to "report back to the companies before Christmas" on her lobbying efforts.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Join Club Clegg for just £25,000 per year

The Liberal Democrats are offering lobbyists face-to-face meetings with ministers, including Nick Clegg, if they pay £25,000 a year. The cash-strapped party has launched a club offering privileged access to the Deputy Prime Minister and senior Liberal Democrats. The Leaders' Forum will be restricted to an elite of 50 individuals who will be invited to "exclusive dinners" and debates with frontbenchers in return for an annual £25,000 donation, payable into the party's Royal Bank of Scotland account. They are promised "unrivalled networking opportunities".

The Lib Dems were immediately accused of taking "cash for access", echoing funding controversies which embroiled the Conservatives and Labour. Such meetings are a favoured method for executives to quietly lobby prominent politicians about their corporate interests. Mr Clegg's Leaders' Forum was launched at a private meeting on 28 March, attended by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, and the veteran hand-shaker Peter Bingle, chairman of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, which sponsored the event.

In documents provided to lobbyists and obtained by the magazine PR Week, Mr Clegg writes: "We are in Government for the first time in almost 70 years and are playing a central role in creating a fairer and more prosperous Britain. I'd like to invite you to join the debate ... My colleagues and I want to listen to you and to continue this dialogue." The Deputy Prime Minister reassures them: "You don't have to be a Liberal Democrat to take part. In today's politics, all are welcome." On the facing page is a price list.

One lobbyist at the launch said that it was made clear that the forum was "the one where you get to meet Nick". The disclosure is potentially damaging for Mr Clegg, who has promised a "new politics". The timing is also sensitive, with private healthcare firms circling around the NHS ahead of planned reforms. The Liberal Democrats' financial woes have mounted. The party ran up a deficit of £1.25m last year because it lost the £1.75m of "short money" funding it received from the public purse while it was in opposition. It had to lay off twenty staff.

Tamasin Cave, a spokeswoman for the campaign group SpinWatch, said: "It looks like cash for access. It's privileged access, for cash." But Mr Bingle said the forum was simply an opportunity for business people to get to know the party leaders. The Liberal Democrats denied the allegation of cash for access. A spokeswoman said: "Far from it being about access or influence it is an opportunity for us as a party to discuss and explain what we are doing in government and to stimulate conversation on various issues within group settings." The party reaffirmed its commitment to reforming lobbying regulations.

Oliver Duff and David Singleton, the Independent

George Osborne backs 61 PFI projects despite previous doubts about costing

The use of PFI peaked when Tony Blair was in power, with 67 projects being signed off, or reaching "financial completion", in 2000. Those projects were worth £4.6bn. While in opposition, Osborne described the PFI as a "discredited" model, while Cable said it was "a dishonest system of accounting, designed to hide taxpayers' liabilities".

George Osborne, the chancellor, is pressing ahead with private finance initiative (PFI) projects on a multibillion-pound scale despite having dismissed the infrastructure funding mechanism as "discredited" when he was in opposition, research has revealed. A report on Channel 4 News shows 61 PFI projects, worth a total of £6.9bn, have been taken forward since the general election. This is despite claims that private sector borrowing costs currently make PFI particularly poor value for money.

Of the 61 projects being negotiated, 39 are due to be signed off this year, against 32 in 2008 and 38 in 2009, when Gordon Brown was prime minister. Although the Treasury claims that the new PFI contracts will be better value for money than some of the old ones, the figures will reignite the long-standing controversy about the merits of paying the private sector to take charge of building and maintenance projects that used to be managed by government.

The Labour government, which massively expanded the use of PFI after it was developed by the last Tory government, defended it on the grounds that public sector procurement schemes often came in late and over budget and that, under PFI, the costs associated with these risks were transferred to the private sector. But, in opposition, Osborne and his Lib Dem counterpart, Vince Cable, complained that PFI was poor value for the taxpayer.

Mark Hellowell, a PFI specialist at the University of Edinburgh, told Channel 4 News that the large gap between the cost of private sector borrowing and the cost of public sector borrowing meant that PFI now represented particularly poor value for money. "The truth is the coalition government have made a decision that they want to expand PFI at a time when the value for money credentials of the system have never been weaker," he said. "The government is very concerned to keep the headline rates of deficit and debt down, so it's looking to use an increasingly expensive form of borrowing through an intermediary knowing the investment costs won't immediately show up on their budgets."

In response to the Channel 4 News findings, to be broadcast at 7pm tonight, the Treasury said that PFI was only one method used to finance infrastructure projects and that schemes had to be "good value for money" to get approval. "There is clear evidence of excesses in some of the older PFI contracts," a Treasury spokesman said. "We are determined to save money where we can, which is why we are running a savings pilot at Queen's hospital, Romford. The PFI contract is being examined to identify ways of reducing ongoing costs in this contract. Lessons learned will be used to drive savings across the full portfolio of PFI contracts."

Andrew Sparrow, the Guardian

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

BBC World Service 'should not be cut'

The BBC's World Service is too valuable to the corporation's reputation for its funding to be cut, a government watchdog has said. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee said the proposed 16% budget cuts for the service should be reversed. In January the BBC said it would close five of its language services because of the Foreign Office funding cuts. It said it welcomed the "support" of the report, and was committed to the long-term future of the World Service.

Committee chairman Richard Ottaway said going ahead with the budget cuts would be a "false economy". "The value of the World Service in promoting the UK across the globe, by providing a widely-respected and trusted news service, far outweighs its relatively small cost," he added. "The recent dramatic events in North Africa and the Middle East have shown the 'soft power' wielded through the World Service could bring even more benefits to the UK in the future than it has in the past."

Foreign Secretary William Hague said the World Service performed an "invaluable" role. "However, in line with all other publicly-funded bodies, it must play its part in reducing the deficit," he said. "The BBC has been clear that the transfer of funds from the licence fee in 2014/15 will not make the World Service's funding less secure."

Last October the government reduced the World Service's £237 million annual budget by 16% and announced the BBC would take over the cost of running it from the Foreign Office from 2014. The committee's report said "the decision was essentially financial" and "taken at very short notice, albeit with the full agreement of BBC top management".

Monday, 11 April 2011

The great debt lie & the myth of the structural deficit

The case for austerity measures rests on these two stories. Firstly, some facts which blow apart the fallacy that the present economic crisis is the result of excessive spending leading to unsustainable debt:

• Average annual spending and taxation were both lower as a proportion of GDP under the last 3 Labour Governments (38% and 35.4%) than under the 4 Conservative governments which preceded them (40% and 35.5%).

• National debt was lower as a proportion of GDP at the start of the financial crisis in 2008 (36%) than in 1997, the last year of John Major’s Conservative government (42%).

• In 2010, the UK’s national debt as a proportion of GDP (52%) was the second lowest of the G7 countries.

Secondly, the budget deficit is no more “structural” than an overdraft in your bank account when you spend more than you earn. There is either a real deficit or not, and if there is, then it is due to either excessive spending or an inadequate tax take.

Since it can easily be demonstrated that the problem is not the former, then it must be the latter – caused by the financial crisis and consequent recession and likely to be aggravated when taxes are cut later during this parliament to the benefit of high earners, corporations and banks.

As The Investors Chronicle put it (15th February 2010): “The idea of a structural deficit serves a political rather than analytical function. It's a pseudo-scientific concept which serves to legitimate what is in fact a pure judgment call - that borrowing needs cutting.”

Osborne began to revive the myth of the structural deficit in June 2010, when it was becoming clear that the deficit would be under £155 billion, well below the Treasury's £178 billion estimate made six months earlier. In other words, the deficit was narrowing after Labour increased spending in 2009.

The fact that the US, which has made no serious deficit reductions, has suffered almost the smallest recession of any major developed economy whereas Ireland and Greece have suffered the worst because of drastic spending cuts further undermines the government's claim that radical austerity measures are needed – and shows that Osborne’s main aim is not to reduce the deficit but to accelerate the transfer of wealth to the already rich.

And if anyone still wants to talk about a “structural” deficit, then they should remember that the last 3 Labour governments managed to earn enough to cover their spending for 4 of their 13 years in office, whereas Thatcher and Major only managed balance the books for 2 out of 17 years.

Nobody Likes a Tory (Facebook page)

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Cameron's well-oiled winning machine is now a car crash

From NHS to schools, a catalogue of errors and incompetence is undermining confidence in a once pitch-perfect Tory party, writes Polly Toynbee in the Guardian

A year ago running up to the election, everything they did looked clever, well oiled and pitch perfect. David Cameron's electoral Rolls-Royce purred up to the winning post, his party's reputation for wrecking the public realm left far behind. Likeable, reasonable and focus group-tuned to what the British wanted, he understood Labour's legacy was a basic instinct for fairness. He knew the no-go zones – or so it seemed.

64 Martin Rowson, the Guardian

So why has he broken all his own rules in such a short time? Where did this appetite for random acts of revolutionary chaos come from? But above all, friend or foe, no one foresaw incompetence on such a scale. The saga of the NHS car crash is incomprehensible: his party seems at a loss, as ideology trumps political common sense. Cameron's campaign – "I'll cut the deficit not the NHS" – understood what was electorally totemic and radioactive for Tories.

No cuts? Former Tory health secretary Stephen Dorrell, powerful head of the commons health committee, warns yet again that no country ever attempted a 4% health cut in one year, let alone four years running. So what possessed Cameron to risk such cuts and lie about it, let alone to encourage Lansley's simultaneous "revolution"? To advertise the NHS for sale to "any willing provider", making Monitor open it to EU competition law, confirms every worst suspicion voters already held against his party.

Facing the immovable object of the House of Lords and the Dorrell committee's broadside, this week, he pulled the handbrake and Westminster reeks of burning rubber. But this "natural break" is just for advertising, to explain it better, he says, amid rumours of a cull of special advisers and junior ministers to bring in better salesmen. His own "enemies of enterprise" attack on the civil service misfired badly, as Whitehall fails to rescue ministers from their blunders.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The porters of Billingsgate

The same authority that hosted the banking crisis is taking away Billingsgate fish porters' livelihoods, write Jon Cruddas and Maurice Glasman in the Guardian

This week the City of London Corporation is likely to withdraw all trading licences from the porters of Billingsgate fish market. The role of the porter has been recognised by the corporation since 1632: it was to uphold the ethics of the fish market, work honestly and "act in fellowship" with other porters. Take away the porters' licences, and they become cheap casual labour – and if employed at all it will be by individual merchants rather as porters, licensed by corporation as a whole. The corporation, as the inheritor of property titles going back 1,000 years, fears that the market – and specifically the porters – stand in the way of its expansion plans around Canary Wharf.

Without the porters, the bankers, property developers and financiers will be the sole inheritors of the ancient privileges, customs, rights and assets that go back to the establishment of the City of London almost a millennium ago. It is the final act in a story where the power of money has been asserted over the status of the people. It is a disgrace that shines a light on our failure to control finance capital even after the crisis of autumn 2008, yet nobody says a word about it.

The City of London Corporation, the political authority in the Square Mile, is an ancient institution. Yet so too are the Billingsgate porters, with a status going back four centuries; as much part of the City of London as the lord mayor, the aldermen, the livery companies and the common council. The porters have always moved with the times, yet now will be robbed of their jobs and status. It is an act of dispossession and humiliation. How can this happen in the heart of our capital in 2011?

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Real Madrid 4 - 0 Tottenham Hotspur


Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Fragile economic recovery amid worrying overall picture for UK

The UK faces a fragile economic recovery, with a worrying overall picture, a survey has suggested. The latest quarterly survey from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said firms faced cashflow constraints. The survey suggested that in the first quarter the economy returned to growth. But the BCC said "the upturn in Q1 is likely to have been only slightly larger than the decline of 0.5% seen in Q4 2010", when the severe weather caused disruptions. That would mean output levels were only "marginally higher" than they were before the weather took its toll, the BCC said. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) will release its first estimate of GDP for the first quarter on 27 April.

The survey, which questioned 6,000 businesses across the UK, said firms were being constrained by cashflow and price pressures. Some 80% of manufacturing firms said the cost of raw materials was putting pressure on them to raise prices. "Exporting activity remains strong, but there have been sharp declines in confidence, and cashflow is still a real concern for businesses," director general of the BCC, David Frost said.

The BCC's chief economist, David Kern, added that manufacturing still had the potential to drive the UK recovery, "but the international background has become riskier for Britain's exporters, while the domestic austerity plan will intensify pressures on businesses and consumers". "In addition, the mediocre performance of the service sector will hinder the number of new jobs created this year," he said.

BBC News

Friday, 1 April 2011

Government proposals for public health and workforce planning deliver double-blow to NHS

Proposals to radically restructure medical education and training, and public health services in England are flawed and could damage the NHS beyond repair, says the BMA today.

The proposals for public health are outlined in the government’s White Paper, Healthy Lives, Healthy People, and those for education and training are put forward in the White Paper, Liberating the NHS: Developing the Health Care Workforce.

In the BMA’s responses* to both White Papers, there are recurring themes throughout, says BMA Chairman of Council, Dr Hamish Meldrum. He says:

“In these two final consultations related to the Health and Social Care Bill, we find, yet again, that the government is racing towards further fragmentation of the NHS.

“The proposals for public health are causing great anxiety among doctors who believe the plans are flawed and could lead to the NHS losing the skills and expertise of hundreds of highly trained public health doctors. These doctors are responsible for emergency planning such as developing systems during a pandemic flu crisis, developing projects to counteract unhealthy living such as obesity and alcohol misuse, and essential contributions to the commissioning plans for local health services.

“The plans for medical education and training could be very damaging to the NHS because of their lack of detail, the overly ambitious pace of change and the failure to consider effectively their impact on medical training and patient care. The future of the NHS is highly dependent on a properly trained workforce and we are very concerned that the plans outlined in the White Paper put the quality of training at risk.

“Moving away from a national – or, even better, a UK-wide - approach to the management of workforce planning is particularly worrying as it risks introducing a postcode lottery for medical training and ultimately patient care. At a time when so much change is planned for the NHS in England it would make more sense to build on the current system rather than embark on a revolution with hugely uncertain outcomes. We are also disappointed that the consultation paper has nothing to say about medical research despite the Government declaring it to be a priority. This is a missed opportunity to build on the UK’s success in medical research and education.”

Doctors’ concerns about the public health White Paper are mainly related to fears over the future structure of public health services and the impending transition period, says the BMA response.