Monday, 31 October 2011

Employment boost as new power stations announced for Yorkshire

Yorkshire has been promised an employment boost after the Government backed plans for new power stations in Ferrybridge and Doncaster. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has approved a 108mw multi-fuel incinerator in Ferrybridge near Pontefract and a 1,500mw gas plant at Thorpe Marsh, north of Doncaster.

Energy Minister Charles Hendry

The Government said building the plants will create more than 1,000 jobs, power almost two million homes and result in over £1.2bn of investment. “The energy industry can be a real driver of growth across the country,” said Energy Minister Charles Hendry. “These new plants in Yorkshire are a fantastic example of new power stations bringing new jobs.”

However, consent for the Ferrybridge plant was met with dismay by local campaigners, over fears about emissions “We’re not naive – we know we can’t carry on with landfill,” said John Clarkson, a member of Aire (against Air, Industrial, River and Environmental pollution). “We just want it done in a safe manner and we don’t consider this to be safe.”

The £250m Ferrybridge incinerator is planned by utility group SSE. It will burn biomass and waste. SSE director Rhys Stanwix said it will create about 400 jobs. “This multi-fuel CHP (combined heat and power) plant will be an innovative addition to our generating portfolio and will make an important contribution to ensuring secure energy supplies,” he said.

The Thorpe Marsh gas plant will cost Acorn Power Developments £984m. DECC said up to 800 jobs are expected to be created during its construction. The former Thorpe Marsh coal-fired power station was decommissioned in 1994 and the site sold to Able UK. Acorn Power could not be reached for comment.

DECC recently gave the green light to two biomass-fuelled power stations planned by Drax in the region – a 299mw power station in Selby and another 299mw biomass-fuelled plant for South Killingholme near Immingham.

Yorkshire Post

Banksy occupies St Paul's

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Senior Lib Dem and unions condemn proposal to scrap unfair dismissal

A senior Liberal Democrat has described a proposal to scrap unfair dismissal and allow managers the right to sack unproductive staff without explanation as "madness". In a report seen by the Daily Telegraph and commissioned by Downing Street, the venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft suggests British workers should be banned from claiming unfair dismissal so companies can sack them and find more capable replacements, saying this would boost economic growth.

The document has generated a furious response from trade unions. Downing Street declined to comment on the contents of the report other than to say it was not "a final document". But Norman Lamb, the chief parliamentary and political adviser and parliamentary private secretary to the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, said taking away protection from unfair dismissal would damage the economy because it would increase workers' fears that they could be arbitrarily sacked.

"I think it would be madness to throw away all employment protection in the way that's proposed, and it could be very damaging to consumer confidence," Lamb said. "What we are talking about here is every single employee in the land being in a position where their employer could arbitrarily terminate their employment – and the impact that could have on consumer confidence, fear of losing your job, would potentially be very damaging. I just think it's also not right to throw away that sort of scheme of protection."

He warned that the "law of unintended consequences" could mean staff who criticise or challenge their employers could be dismissed as a result, pointing out that existing laws already enable employers to get rid of staff where there is clear evidence of underperformance. "The existing law gives employers far more rights than many actually recognise, and it's easing the way to use those existing rights much more easily that I think is the right way forward," he added.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Cancer patients face further financial woes as welfare reforms loom

A leading cancer charity says 70% of cancer patients face financial worries as a direct result of their disease. Macmillan Cancer Support says there are increased costs and lost income to contend with - and that could get worse under government plans to reduce patient support in the Welfare Reform Bill.

In August, YouGov polled 1,495 cancer patients for Macmillan and found:
  • 66% had increases costs, including travel to hospital and/or an increase in household expenses
  • 43% of all cancer patients are anxious due directly to their financial situation
  • 17% of those financially affected cut back on everyday essentials such as food
  • 5% skip meals to save money
  • 7% are scared of losing their home
  • 29% of those financially affected have spent all or some of their savings
  • 9% have borrowed money to cover the extra costs of cancer

Macmillan says changes to benefits under the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will make 7,000 cancer patients up to £94 a week worse off. Other proposals mean cancer patients who need immediate financial help after a diagnosis will have to wait six months instead of three for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) which are replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Macmillan worked out these figures from estimates of the number of cancer patients in the Work-Related Activity Group of ESA, or those who are currently claiming Incapacity Benefit but who will be placed in the Work-Related Activity Group following the reassessment of all Incapacity Benefit claimants.

Macmillan policy analyst Tom Cottam said many people with cancer are very concerned about the changes to benefits: "A significant number, over two fifths, felt really quite anxious [about] their financial situation and how the reforms are going to affect them. People with cancer are already feeling the pinch as a result of increased costs, such as travelling to hospital, paying parking charges when you get there, extra fuel that's required because they spend so much time at home; also having to leave work quite often to undergo treatment."

It isn't just cancer patients who are concerned at the changes to the benefits changes. At the weekend, thousands of disabled people joined anti-cuts rallies across the country. The Disability Benefits Consortium and the UK Disabled People’s Council say disabled people are already twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people and families with a disabled child are estimated to be £50 a week worse-off than those without. 

In an emailed statement, a DWP spokesperson says: "Recovering cancer patients who are assessed as still needing unconditional Government support will be placed in the support group of ESA and will see no change to their benefit entitlement after 12 months. Nor will there be any change for those on income-related ESA.

"The Government is committed to protecting those who need help the most and has asked Professor [Malcolm] Harrington [appointed by the government to carry out an independent review of the work capability assessment] and Macmillan to look at whether we can improve the support we give to cancer patients. We have already made changes to Employment and Support Allowance so that people in-between courses of certain types of chemotherapy, as well as those receiving it, automatically receive unconditional support."

Tom Cottam from Macmillan tells us: "For those people who might be in the last few months of life with a terminal illness, or people who are so severely affect by their condition that they require unconditional support, it's correct that their benefit won't be affected, but there's a significant number of people who might be able to do some work in the future, and might be able to do some small things to help them prepare for work. They are going to lose some of their support after 12 months. If their partner earns as little as £150 a week they won't be eligible for any further benefit after 12 months. It's those people who are making that journey back to work who might need longer than 12 months who are going to be affected by this change."

Macmillan has been campaigning on benefit reforms and how they affect cancer patients since the changes were first announced. "On some areas, we've had quite a constructive dialogue with government," Tom Cottam says, "but on this issue around the time limiting of the ESA they're being quite robust. Their defence is that savings have to be made, and while we understand our national finances are in a precarious position, we think that taking some really crucial support away from vulnerable cancer patients who've paid into the system and are doing all they can to get back to work, is just not the right area to be cutting."

Macmillan is hoping these areas can be addressed when the House of Lords looks at the Welfare Bill and peers, "will stand up for cancer patients and will amend the bill to make changes to ensure sure cancer patients and disabled people more widely are not penalised for not getting back to work quickly enough."

If cancer patients have financial concerns, Tom Cottam says Macmillan's support line (0808 808 0000) can help: "We can give access to benefits advisers who can look at an individual's finances, try and understand what they may be eligible for, and try and work with cancer patients to deal with debt and things like that."


Thursday, 20 October 2011

'Healthcare will be like a budget airline' says Gerada

The NHS shake-up risks wrecking GPs' relationship with their patients by turning them into rationers of care who deny the sick the treatment they need, warns the chair of the Royal College of GPs. Family doctors could be "compromised" by having to decide between providing sick patients with the best possible treatment or meeting financial targets, according to Dr Clare Gerada. Giving GPs control of health budgets, the cornerstone of health secretary Andrew Lansley's restructuring of the NHS in England, could diminish the trust between patients and family doctors, she will tell the college's annual conference.

Steve Bell, the Guardian

"We must not risk long-term benefits being sacrificed in favour of short-term savings," Gerada will tell the audience of 1,500 GPs in Liverpool. "How soon will it be, for example, before we stop referring for cochlear implant? An expensive intervention but one that in the long term saves enormous amounts of public money. But not a saving from our budget. How long will it be before we find ourselves injecting a patient's knee joint - at Injections-R-us PLC - instead of referring to an orthopaedic surgeon for a knee replacement?"

In a detailed critique of Lansley's health and social care bill, she will warn that: "As doctors we risk being compromised. We'll have to choose between the best interests of our patients and those of the commissioning group's purse. And, to make matters worse, we'll also be rewarded for staying in budget - and not spending the money on restoring the child's hearing. Now that's what I call a perverse incentive." 

Her warning reflects widespread concern among doctors that exercising their financial responsibilities will lead some patients to believe they have been refused treatment on grounds of cost. Lansley's reforms also threaten to create a two-tier health service where the well-off can beat queues by paying for fast treatment as private patients in NHS hospitals, because of the proposed easing of the amount which foundation trust hospitals can earn from that source.

"I worry we're heading towards a situation where healthcare will be like a budget airline. There will be two queues: one queue for those who can afford to pay, and another for those who can't. Seats will be limited to those who muscle in first, and the rest will be left stranded on the tarmac."

The British Medical Association, which represents hospital doctors as well as GPs, said it shared Gerada's concerns. "In general, we would agree with Clare Gerada's comments about the impact of the health and social care bill. The BMA has concerns about the conflicts of interest inherent in the bill as well as the effects of the market on healthcare, and her comments fit with the views of most doctors," said a spokeswoman for the BMA, which wants the bill withdrawn or substantially amended.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "The NHS is not for sale and this government is committed to a real terms increase in funding for it. We want to give GPs the power and control to make the right decisions on behalf of their patients. Talk of budget airlines is nonsense pure and simple. In the new NHS, everyone will fly first class. Quality will improve as both patients and frontline staff are able to make choices.

"We have already amended the health and social care bill to make sure that clinical commissioning groups are accountable and transparent to patients and the public, and so that each one will have a governing body that meets in public. As both the chief executive and medical director of the NHS at national level have made clear, there should be no blanket bans on treatment for reasons of cost."

Denis Campbell, the Guardian

Friday, 14 October 2011

Neil Kinnock: the speech of a lifetime

As a young shadow cabinet member in 1983, Neil Kinnock outlined his vision of what an electoral landslide victory for Margaret Thatcher would mean for the country. It is now rightly recognised as one of the greatest speeches since World War II. It is now as relevant as it was then. It is now that we must act.


"If Margaret Thatcher is re-elected as Prime Minister, I warn you.

I warn you that you will have pain - when healing and relief depend on payment.

I warn you that you will have ignorance - when talents are untended and wits are wasted, when learning is a privilege and not a right.

I warn you that you will have poverty - when pensions slip and benefits are whittled away by a Government that won't pay, in an economy that can't pay.

I warn you that you will be cold - when fuel charges are used as a tax system that the rich don't notice and the poor can't afford.

I warn you that you must not expect work - when many cannot spend, more will not be able to earn. When they don't earn, they don't spend. When they don't spend, work dies.

I warn you not to go into the streets alone after dark or into the streets in large crowds of protest in the light.

I warn you that you will be quiet - when the curfew of fear and the gibbet of unemployment make you obedient.

I warn you that you will have defence of a sort - with a risk and at a price that passes all understanding.

I warn you that you will be home-bound - when fares and transport bills kill leisure and lock you up.

I warn you that you will borrow less - when credit, loans, mortgages and easy payments are refused to people on your melting income.

If Margaret Thatcher wins, she will be more a Leader than a Prime Minister. That power produces arrogance and when it is toughened by Tebbitry and flattered and fawned upon by spineless sycophants, the boot-licking tabloid Knights of Fleet Street and placement in the Quangos, the arrogance corrupts absolutely.

If Margaret Thatcher wins -

I warn you not to be ordinary.
I warn you not to be young.
I warn you not to fall ill.
I warn you not to get old."

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Gay marriage? “We may as well legalise marriage with animals,” says Tory

A senior Tory councillor was facing suspension today for saying the party "may as well legalise marriage with animals" after David Cameron backed gay weddings. Party chiefs were set to discipline James Malliff after he posted the comment on Twitter. Labour condemned the "sick" remark and demanded Mr Cameron sack him immediately.
Mr Malliff, who is cabinet member for the big society and localism on Tory-controlled Wycombe district council, has deleted the tweet but not before screen grabs were taken and shown to the Evening Standard. In a post directed at former Conservative MP Paul Goodman, who had asked whether legalising gay marriage could lead to multiple sharia marriages being made lawful, Mr Malliff wrote: "There is no doubt the PM is wrong on this issue. We may as well legalise marriage with animals, crude I concede but no apology."

Labour MP Clive Betts said: "This sick comment shows once again that the Tories are out of touch and out of date. It's clear that the Tories haven't changed. If James Malliff doesn't resign immediately as a cabinet member and a councillor, David Cameron must sack him." A Conservative party spokesman said action was being taken against Mr Malliff, adding: "This language is completely unacceptable."

Another tweet on his feed reads: "Great keynote address by David Cameron, not sure about legalising gay marriage though, what happened to sanctity of marriage #odd". Cllr Malliff apologised and said he had not intended to cause offence. "I respect the rights of people to hold different views to my own. It was not an anti-gay statement, more a comment about where we draw the line." He said he had apologised locally and felt that had "put it to bed".

Evening Standard

UPDATE 13/10/11 at 10.20am:
Mr Malliff has now been suspended. Gay rights group Stonewall said:  “We warmly welcome the decision of the Conservative Party to suspend Councillor Malliff. It’s extraordinary in 2011 that he is prepared to insult so many of his council taxpayers in this way.”

Threat of boycott as Atos Healthcare named Paralympics sponsor

A company accused of smearing thousands of ­disabled Britons by declaring them fit for work is sponsoring next year’s London Paralympics. On behalf of the government, French firm Atos ­Healthcare assessed 1.3million people on incapacity benefit and came to the conclusion that 150,000 of them were capable of working. However, on appeal, the decisions have been overturned one by one and a Commons select committee said Atos Healthcare's “unacceptable” ­blunders had cost the taxpayer £30million a year.

Disabled campaigners are now threatening a boycott of the Paralympic Games insisting that the company is running a flawed process to assess disabled people's rights to benefits and is therefore an inappropriate sponsor of the games. This is denied by Atos Healthcare who said it was not just proud of the work carried out by their staff to "conduct objective assessments" but also "proud of its role as the Worldwide IT Partner for the Paralympic Games".

The last straw for campaigners was the appointment last month of former Atos chief executive - Bernard Bourigeaud - to the board of the International Paralympic Committee. The IPC said M Bourigeaud "left Atos in September 2007 and is a long-time supporter of the Paralympic movement offering some expert advice and guidance. His knowledge and experience will be of great benefit to us going forward."

Campaigner John McArdle called Atos Healthcare’s involvement an “insult”. He added: “Because of them, many disabled people will have to wait months to get their benefits back. Their ­sponsorship is unacceptable.”

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

MPs often 'too drunk to stand' in Commons

Dr Sarah Wollaston, the MP for Totnes, alleged that a “shocking” number of MPs have “no idea” what they are voting for in the Commons as they just follow the orders of their leaders. Dr Wollaston, 49, who won her seat at last year’s election, said the party should recruit candidates from a wider range of backgrounds to raise standards in Parliament.

“Who would go to see a surgeon who had just drunk a bottle of wine at lunchtime?” she said at a fringe meeting hosted by the Policy Exchange think tank. “But we fully accept that MPs are perfectly capable of performing as MPs despite some of them drinking really quite heavily.”

Dr Wollaston called for such behaviour to be “challenged”. She said: “It’s really shocking that so many MPs have no idea what they are voting for when they walk through the doors of the lobbies. I think we need to change the culture in Westminster.”

Daily Telegraph

Did you know that the Conservatives are now ‘the party of the poor’?

The Conservatives are now "the party of the poor," Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has said. He told a meeting at the Tories' annual conference that his party, rather than Labour, had the best policies to tackle inequality. The previous government had spent "vast sums" but made the gap between rich and poor worse, he said.

10Even his wife laughed

However, Mr Duncan Smith conceded the coalition's changes would take a "little while" to bear results. Addressing a meeting arranged by the Centre for Social Justice think-tank, which he himself established, the minister said: "We are the party focused on the poor, so it follows that you might legitimately say that we are the party of the poor."

Even though Labour had tried to lift people out of poverty, "some of the people in the people in the deepest poverty went backwards" under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, he added. "Labour spent vast sums of money and left income inequality in the worst state since I have been born," said Mr Duncan Smith, who was Conservative leader from 2001 to 2003.

The coalition was "dealing with causes of social breakdown", whereas predecessors had pursued a "containment policy". This meant they had spent "a lot of money to keep people inactive and depressed about their lives".

Putting this right would be "like turning a super tanker around" and it was going to be a "little while" before the results of his policies became obvious. But he said the welfare-to-work programme and a plan for a Universal Benefit payments, due to start coming into effect in 2013, would succeed in getting more people into employment. "Things the last government talked about we have managed to do," he claimed.

Mr Duncan Smith also spoke of the difficulties of working within a coalition government, arguing: "We won't compromise on much by the end of it. The reality is it is all about timing." He took a swipe at "sneery" newspaper columnists who criticised the government's plan to favour marriage in the tax system and who claimed that people would not walk up the aisle for a few extra pounds a month.

"People who have money make stupid arguments like that," he said, adding that the focus of his department's efforts was on "couple formation" rather than marriage. If they were to stay together for an extended period of time that would be a great leap forward," he said of couples on the breadline.

BBC News

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Tories face union anger over unfair dismissal

Workers with less than two years' service will be prevented from taking their employers to a tribunal for unfair dismissal under government plans to boost the economy. The proposals, to be unveiled by Chancellor George Osborne at the Conservative Party conference, will see the qualification period increased from one year to two from next April.

It is likely to open a new faultline between the coalition and trade unions. But Mr Osborne told the Sun: "We talk a lot about trade union rights - but what about the right of the unemployed person to be given a shot at a job and a career? What about the rights of people currently sitting at home with nothing to do, desperate to get work, but the business can't afford to employ them because they fear they are going to be taken to the tribunal?"

A total of 236,000 employment tribunal claims were made last year, with an average award of £8,900 for successful claimants, and the average cost of defending a claim at £4,000, according to Treasury officials. It is claimed the change in law will benefit business by around £6 million a year in reduced legal fees and payouts, while employees are expected to lose around £1 million in unfair dismissal awards. Under the proposals, employees will still retain "day one" rights, such as the right not to be discriminated against.

Writing in the Daily Mail, Prime Minister David Cameron said: "Deficit reduction is an essential step for economic growth - but it must be accompanied by a plan for jobs too." Claiming that it is businesses, not governments, which create jobs, he added: "And the role for government is not to single out good and bad industries, it's to make it easy as possible for all industries, all business, to grow, invest, take people on. And whether it's cutting corporation tax, investing in superfast broadband or getting to grips with employment regulations, that's exactly what we're doing."

Meanwhile, the possibility of tax cuts before the next general election depends on "how things develop" between now and 2015, Mr Osborne said. Ahead of this weekend's conference, the Chancellor offered a highly cautious verdict on the prospect of tax bills coming down. He indicated that his primary focus was for now on promoting private sector growth and that he would only want to introduce tax cuts that would be permanent - "not just for Christmas".

It has been thought that, having reduced the deficit by the end of the Parliament, Mr Osborne would want to offer some kind of pre-election sweeteners. But, in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he was non-committal about the likelihood of tax cuts amid continued economic turmoil around the world. "We'll see how things develop in the rest of this parliament," he said. "I'm a conservative who believes in lower taxes. They lead to a more enterprising economy. But I'm not somebody who believes you can fund lower taxes by borrowing more money because that is a deceit and the public are smart enough to see straight through it."

Insisting his first priority was on dealing with the deficit, he said he did not want to offer tax cuts that had to be reversed very quickly. "I don't want to be a Chancellor who cuts taxes one year and has to put them up the next," he said. "A country with an almost double-digit deficit cannot add to its deficit in the middle of a sovereign debt storm to cut tax, presumably on a temporary basis, because you would have to then put it back up again to deal with the deficit. Tax cuts should be for life not just for Christmas." [wanker - Ed]

He also indicated that scrapping the 50p top rate of tax, which would intensify Liberal Democrat calls for the introduction of a "mansion tax" was not an immediate priority. "This is not an issue for this autumn," Mr Osborne said. "We have plenty of economic issues to discuss - we've got the situation in the eurozone, the situation in the world economy. We are doing everything we can to get the British economy moving. That is where my energy is spent."

Independent/Press Association