Friday, 30 March 2012

Cherie Blair moves into private healthcare

By Anousha Sakoui, Andrea Felsted and Sarah Neville for the Financial Times

Cherie Blair will venture into the health market on Saturday with the launch of a private healthcare centre in a branch of J Sainsbury – the supermarket chain.  This is part of a debut venture by the private equity fund she co-founded, which plans to open 100 private health centres across the UK, at a time when government reforms are triggering enormous upheavals in the cash-strapped National Health Service.

But in her first interview on the topic, Mrs Blair, who is married to former prime minister Tony Blair, rebuffed any suggestion that the venture sought to take advantage of difficulties in the NHS.  “While this venture is a commercial one, it is not about replacing the NHS or profiteering, but complementing the services it already offers,” Mrs Blair told the Financial Times.

“Our aim is to simplify access to basic healthcare and improve medical outcomes through earlier detection and more timely referrals to GPs.”  The venture highlights a trend in the retail sector for putting extra customer services into superstores – from health centres to hairdressers – to put excess space to use.

Sainsbury’s will receive a percentage of the turnover from the service, which is being launched in Leeds, as well as rent and the health centres will run on a partnership model similar to that operated by John Lewis, the UK retailer.  They will provide health, optical, hearing and dental care, and are expected to employ GPs and dentists. 

However, the role of the private sector in healthcare delivery has come under scrutiny as the government’s NHS reform legislation endured a difficult passage through parliament.  Critics, including some within the ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, argued that plans to promote competition in the provision of NHS-funded services paved the way for privatisation.  The reform blueprint was watered down to secure the support of Lib Dem dissenters.

Some in the private healthcare industry fear its share of the NHS-funded market could fall below levels it reached under Mr Blair’s premiership.  Mrs Blair founded the Allele Fund in 2008 with Gail Lese, a doctor and fund manager, with the aim of investing in healthcare and technology companies internationally.  They have lined up Cavendish, an advisory firm, to help raise $100m to finance the venture, called Mee Healthcare and which is expected to become profitable within the next five years.

“The outlook for the [health] sector couldn’t be stronger; driven by an ageing demographic in the UK, greater demand from consumers towards convenience and accessibility, combined with an increasing emphasis on health and wellbeing,” said Dr Lese. There is also growing demand for pre-screening and preventative care, she added.

Financial Times 

'Yes, I am a socialist.'  Martin Kettle interviews Cherie Blair
The Guardian, May 2008 -

Monday, 26 March 2012

Channel 4 News launches ‘No Go Britain’

Channel 4 News has launched an investigation into how easy it is for disabled people, and those with reduced mobility and visual impairment, to use the UK's public transport system. With the help of a new Facebook page, No Go Britain will ask disabled viewers and users for their experiences of public transport across the UK. The project will engage with public transport users, charities, transport companies and policymakers.

No Go Britain will bring disabled travellers together with transport bosses, and show a series of reports that investigate the state of the network through the stories of its disabled users.

For the full report, watch Channel 4 News tonight, Monday, at 7pm.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Coalition of Twisted Minds

Drawing by Bob for the Telegraph

Friday, 23 March 2012

High streets plagued by more empty shops than ever

"At the height of the banking crisis we were told that it was almost our patriotic duty to shop for the recovery. Now, even if we wanted to, the opportunities are becoming fewer, with 14% of high street premises standing empty." Andrew Simms, The Guardian, 1 July 2011


The number of empty shops in the UK hit an all-time high last month amid a post-Christmas series of retail failures, according to a new survey. Town centre vacancy rates rose to an average of 14.6% in February, from 14.5% in January, the Local Data Company (LDC) said, the highest figures since the index started four years ago. This equates to nearly one in seven shops being shut across the country.

The LDC previously said some high streets are still thriving, particularly in the south of England, but many in cities and towns such as Stockport, Nottingham and Wolverhampton are struggling. Matthew Hopkinson, director at the LDC, said: "The latest increase is not unexpected as post Christmas occupancy levels drop and retailer failures continue." The trend has continued with the announcement that Game Group intends to appoint an administrator putting some 600 UK shops at risk.

The LDC, which visits more than 2,700 towns, cities, retail parks and shopping centres for its study, expects a further fall in consumer confidence, rising unemployment, the continued growth of supermarkets and the internet to lift the vacancy rate further.

In its bi-annual regional breakdown, LDC said the best performing centres were mainly in the south and west. These included Exeter, Kingston, Camden, Cambridge, Taunton, Salisbury and St Albans, which was the best performer with an 8.2% vacancy rate.

The Government is later this month due to respond to the Portas Review, delivered by celebrity retail expert Mary Portas, which recommends cutting regulations for high street traders and the launch of a national market day.

A gloomier-than-expected picture of the retail sector emerged on Thursday and fuelled fears over the strength of the wider recovery in the first quarter of the year. Retail sales volumes fell by a larger-than-expected 0.8% last month, the Office for National Statistics said, while January's growth was revised down to 0.3% from an earlier estimate of 0.9%. The City had been expecting a 0.4% decline in February.

Photo by Mich38

Did Osborne tip off GlaxoSmithKline about his plans?

Less than 24 hours after George Osborne confirmed in the Budget that the Government would bring in new tax measures to encourage investment in research and development in the UK, the pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline announced it would be building its first new manufacturing facility in the UK for almost 40 years and investing £500m to create 1,000 UK jobs.

Yesterday, Glaxo said its plans had been in the pipeline for some time and pointed out the tax changes had first been mooted back in 2009. But others pointed out that Glaxo's CEO, Sir Andrew Witty, is in David Cameron's Business Advisory Group – and has regular meetings with the Government. The move, they suggested, was very well choreographed with comments from Sir Andrew, Mr Cameron and Scottish Secretary Michael Moore all approved to go on Glaxo's press release yesterday morning.

The Independent

Thursday, 22 March 2012

George Osborne and the GlaxoSmithKline lie

George Osborne told the Today programme this morning that GlaxoSmithKline was creating 1,000 jobs in Britain because of decisions taken in his budget. But the statement from GSK's chief executive, Sir Andrew Witty, makes it clear that the patent box reform was the one that made all the difference.

“The introduction of the patent box has transformed the way in which we view the UK as a location for new investments, ensuring that the medicines of the future will not only be discovered, but can also continue to be made here in Britain. Consequently, we can confirm that we will build GSK's first new UK factory for almost 40 years and that we will make other substantial capital investments in our British manufacturing base.”

As Labour figures have been pointing out on Twitter this morning, the patent box was first proposed in Alistair Darling's budget in 2009.

The Guardian

Budget 2012: ‘An outrageous assault on pensioners’

The Chancellor was accused of an “outrageous assault” on the over-65s after he used his Budget to announce that he would end a century-old tax break introduced by Winston Churchill. The “age-related allowance”, which means pensioners start paying tax at a higher income level than workers, is to be phased out, Osborne said.

The move will mean prudent savers retiring in future will miss out on a tax break worth, on average, £285 a year, despite the Chancellor’s claims that the move would not leave pensioners poorer “in cash terms”. The move, instantly labelled a “granny tax”, will hit up to five million older people who will pay an extra £3.3billion in income tax over the next four years, according to Treasury figures. Those who have already retired will see their tax-free allowance frozen at £10,500, or £10,650 for the over-75s, while workers retiring in future will only benefit from the same tax-free allowance as everyone else.

Osborne described the removal of the tax break as a “simplification” that would be welcomed by pensioners who would not have to fill out tax forms. Many pensioners do not claim the extra relief. The tax-free allowance is to increase for all taxpayers next year to £9,205, and ministers were thought to have concluded that an additional allowance for pensioners was no longer justifiable. Treasury aides admitted, however, that the decision was “controversial”.

The tax changes for pensioners will be followed by a “simplification” in the state pension system. This will see every pensioner receiving a flat-rate payment of about £140 a week. Although this is higher than the current basic state pension, better-off pensioners could lose their second state pension, leaving them hundreds of pounds a year worse off.

Ros Altmann, the director-general of Saga, said: “This is an outrageous assault on decent middle-class pensioners. This Budget contains an enormous stealth tax for older people. There is nothing in this Budget for savers, there is nothing to improve the annuity market, nothing to appease the damage of quantitative easing and nothing to support ISA changes and shelter older people’s cash. This Budget is terrible news for pensioners.”

The elderly have previously emerged relatively unscathed from the Government’s austerity drive. The Chancellor is understood to have decided that now was the time to remove some tax breaks from better-off pensioners, to help fund a give-away for “working families”.

The Telegraph (amended)

Budget 2012 - This morning's front pages

Friday, 16 March 2012

Give us back our NHS – Events this weekend

Saturday 17th March 2012

London - SaveOurNHS - Picket the Department of Health
Our NHS should put patients before profit.  The new Bill will undermine this core principle of our National Health Service. We must stop this bill from passing and protect our free health care.
: Saturday 17 March 2012, 2:30pm
Where: Department of Health, opposite the Cenotaph, London SW1A 2NS

Leicester  - Defend the NHS public meeting
If it goes it goes for good. It’s our Health Service, not Cameron’s and Lansley’s. Speakers Jon Ashworth, MP Leicester South; John Lister, London Health Emergency; (other speakers to be confirmed)
: Saturday 17 March 2012, 3:00pm
Where: Adult Education Centre, Wellington Street, Leicester

Brighton - Protest against the privatisation of the NHS and lobby of Brighton and Hove MPs
This is a public protest and lobby of MPs before the Health and Social Bill becomes law. We have only a few days left to protect the NHS from this devastating piece of legislation which has no mandate.
: Saturday 17 March 2012, 3:30pm
Where: Hove Town Hall, Norton Road, Hove, Brighton BN3 4AH

Sunday 18th March 2012

London - Mothers’ Day NHS Protest
Show the mother of all health services some motherly love on Mothers’ Day.
: Sunday 18 March 2012, 1:00pm
Where: Parliament Square, Westminster SW1

38 degrees petition to save the NHS – over half a million signatures!

Listings courtesy of False Economy

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Private housing needs rent regulation now

The government must introduce private sector rent controls to stop social cleansing on a grand scale, writes Jeremy Corbyn
On Monday I asked housing minister Grant Shapps what he was planning to do about the problems that many private sector tenants face in respect of energy-inefficient homes, poor conditions and insecurity; and also if he would introduce rent controls. I raised this, as nationally the level of private renting is rising fast, fuelled by buy-to-let mortgages and the encouragement of everyone to have their own property portfolio.

The never-never world of property portfolios and huge incomes has its downside. Almost a third of my constituents are living in private rented accommodation with no security of tenure, often very high energy costs and sometimes landlords who are very reluctant to repair or improve the properties.

Rent levels are astronomical, with lows of £1,000 per month for a one-bed, rising to well over £2,000 for a two- or three-bed flat. With profits like these to be made it is not surprising that the market is growing very fast, and as with all markets, the vulnerable get pushed aside.

Local authorities face huge housing issues with demands outstripping supply many times over; the only way those in housing need can be housed is in the private sector. The modest building programmes now underway go nowhere near meeting the need for council housing.

The last and present governments have been concerned at the growth of the housing benefit bill to well over £18bn and is paid to almost 5 million people. A large proportion of this pays excessive private sector rents. To deal with this Iain Duncan Smith has chosen the worst of all options by capping housing benefit payments and including housing benefit in an overall benefit, limit thus leaving a shortfall.

A constituent of mine living with her children in a private rented flat was paying rent of £650 per week from the end of 2010 and received housing benefit of £575. Last August her local housing allowance was reduced to £400 and her transitional arrangements end in April. Thus she must find £250 per week, from her other benefits, to remain in the community and for her children continue attending local schools.

The maths are impossible. She is being forced to move somewhere else, well away from the area she has made her home in. She is not alone as 133,000 similar families are being forced to move out of their homes in many London boroughs. It is social cleansing on a grand scale.

Ultimately the housing crisis can only be dealt with by new provision. Yet we are nowhere near meeting demand; each year over 200,000 households are formed, in the last year for which figures are available, 102,000 homes were provided. Homelessness is rising and local authorities discharge their responsibilities to house the vulnerable homeless by locating them in the private sector, and all the insecurities that brings.

The issue that has to be faced is the insecurity of many people's lives and the need for wholesale reform of the private rented sector, including rent registration and control. Other counties and cities (notably New York) do control private rents and provide security of tenure.

Obsession with the market seem to prevent ministers looking at the huge problem and all its ramifications in health, education and employment that come from the housing insecurity that too many face.

Jeremy Corbyn is MP for Islington North

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Time is short to save our NHS

The NHS as we know it faces full-scale privatisation unless MPs and peers see sense and respect the wishes of the British public by throwing out the pro-privatisation Health and Social Care Bill, writes Len McCluskey in today’s Morning Star

The NHS was created in 1948 by Aneurin Bevan and since then has provided unbelievable advances in public health and medical treatment for working people and their families, free at the point of delivery to all those in need, regardless of income - or lack of it. Millions of people have seen their quality of life and longevity dramatically improve because of this state-funded health service.

Today the NHS, the envy of many developed countries, faces comprehensive dismemberment at the hands of the Tories and their Liberal Democrat ministerial allies, in favour of private health-care companies. It is very possible that within the next decade you will have to pay to visit to your GP. That's why this Bill should be scrapped immediately and a period of stability reintroduced into the health service.

Many commentators and pundits expect this shameful exercise to become law some time in the next six weeks. So time is very short for a final surge of public opinion to force MPs to examine their consciences and - more practicably - examine what may happen to their seats at the next election.

If this Bill passes it would be crystal clear by election time that the NHS had been sacrificed on the altar of the interests of the private health-care companies. And MPs would have to face the anger of the grandmother unable to obtain a hip operation when she needs it and the former miner unable to access adequate social care.

Waiting lists are already rising in the run-up to these "reforms" and the so-called £20 billion of "efficiency savings" demanded by Andrew Lansley to soften the NHS up for privatisation. That's why today’s Unite Save Our NHS lobby of MPs is so important, as is the TUC-sponsored NHS rally in the evening.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Unions plan NHS demo outside Parliament on Wednesday

Unions representing hundreds of thousands of NHS workers will step up their opposition to the Government's controversial health reforms this week by holding a protest outside Parliament. Nurses, midwives, doctors, physiotherapists, cleaners, porters and other employees will join the demonstration in Westminster on Wednesday as the Health and Social Care Bill enters its final parliamentary stages.Save_Our_NHS_logo_Gif
Campaigners said that while the Bill was still in the House of Lords, it was the best chance they have of changing the proposals before it returned to the Commons. Unions and other campaign groups involved in the protest said the Bill was "hugely unpopular" with workers and patients alike, warning of increased involvement of private firms in the health service. The All Together for the NHS campaign is organising the protest, including a rally at Westminster Central Hall, close to the Houses of Parliament.

TUC deputy general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Some changes have been made to the Bill, but not nearly enough. Peers must listen to the concerns of the people that know the NHS best - the staff who work in it. Health workers fear the increased competition and the extension of markets will have a devastating impact on patient care, especially poorer people who will find themselves pushed to the back of ever-growing waiting lists."

Several thousand are expected to attend the rally and will listen to speeches from speakers including comedian Jo Brand - who once worked as a psychiatric nurse - as well as politicians, fellow health workers, union leaders and health service users. Dr Clive Peedell, an oncologist from Middlesbrough who ran 160 miles in six days from Aneurin Bevan's Statue in Cardiff to the Department of Health in Whitehall in January to protest against the Bill, will also be speaking and Artists for the NHS will be displaying some of their work in the hall.

Twenty-thousand members of 38 Degrees, the online campaigning community, have donated £280,000 in three days to pay for more than 180 billboards across London calling on the Prime Minister to reconsider the reforms, the group said.

David Babbs, 38 Degrees' executive director, said: "It's not too late for David Cameron to change his mind on the NHS. But worryingly at the moment he seems more concerned about the political consequences than admitting he's made a mistake. 38 Degrees members believe the NHS is too important to be risked for the sake of party political calculations. So we're trying to remind David Cameron that most voters and health experts want him to change course."

journal live north-east

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Clegg lives in a different part of the country to the rest of us

Nick Clegg yesterday told the Welsh Lib Dem conference in Cardiff that Welsh communities had been let down twice: first by Margaret Thatcher, then by Labour which "kept communities afloat by replacing industrial jobs with public sector jobs".

"And now it falls to us, acting in the national interest, to start to rebuild," Mr Clegg said.

He added: "That's why we have taken the difficult decisions that we have. And it's why we must show the courage to see them through." The UK government was "laying the foundations of a fairer, greener more liberal Wales in a fairer, greener more liberal United Kingdom".

Even if it were, Nick, it would have been no thanks to you.

Friday, 2 March 2012

The privatisation of the police force

by Alan Travis and Zoe Williams, the Guardian

Private companies could take responsibility for investigating crimes, patrolling neighbourhoods and even detaining suspects under a radical privatisation plan being put forward by two of the largest police forces in the country. West Midlands and Surrey have invited bids from G4S and other major security companies on behalf of all forces across England and Wales to take over the delivery of a wide range of services previously carried out by the police.

Copy of 43
The contract is the largest on police privatisation so far, with a potential value of £1.5bn over seven years, rising to a possible £3.5bn depending on how many other forces get involved. This scale dwarfs the recent £200m contract between Lincolnshire police and G4S, under which half the force's civilian staff are to join the private security company, which will also build and run a police station for the first time.

The home secretary, Theresa May, who has imposed a 20% cut in Whitehall grants on forces, has said frontline policing can be protected by using the private sector to transform services provided to the public, but this is the first clear indication of what that will mean in practice. May said on Thursday that she hoped the "business partnership" programme would be in place next spring. A 26-page "commercial in confidence" contract note seen by the Guardian has been sent to potential bidders to run all services that "can be legally delegated to the private sector". They do not include those that involve the power of arrest and the other duties of a sworn constable.

Companies who have applied through the Bluelight emergency services e-tendering website have been invited to a "bidders' conference" on 14 March, with an anticipated contract start date of next February. The timetable for the programme means it will be subject to final sign-off by the first police and crime commissioner for the West Midlands after their election in November. The existing police authority only gave the go-ahead for the tendering stage last month after a "robust and forthright discussion" which ended with a rare 11-5 split vote.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Welfare Reform

“Your mummy spoils you. So I’m going to take away all of her benefits.”

Cameron hails 'historic step' as Parliament clears the way for controversial welfare reforms

Cameron has hailed "an historic step in the biggest welfare revolution in over 60 years" after the Government's controversial reforms cleared Parliament. Peers ended their stand-off with the House of Commons, paving the way for the Welfare Reform Bill to reach the statute book. The legislation brings in a £26,000-a-year household benefits cap and sets up the universal credit.

Cameron said: "These reforms will change lives for the better, giving people the help they need, while backing individual responsibility so that they can escape poverty, not be trapped in it. Past governments have talked about reform, while watching the benefits bill sky-rocket and generations languish on the dole and dependency.

“This Government is delivering it. Our new law will mark the end of the culture that said a life on benefits was an acceptable alternative to work. Today marks an historic step in the biggest welfare revolution in over 60 years. My Government has taken bold action to make work pay, while protecting the vulnerable."

The Bill had a stormy passage through the Lords, with peers inflicting seven defeats on the Government when the legislation was first considered and a further one after MPs had overturned all the setbacks. However, independent crossbencher Lord Best withdrew, without a vote, an amendment on the final point of dispute between the Houses, the so-called bedroom tax which penalises council tenants for under-occupancy, and the Bill will now be sent for Royal Assent.

Cameron said: "While we've been putting in place a sensible, modern welfare system that protects the vulnerable, our opponents have shown they are on the side of Britain's something-for-nothing culture. We've stood up against the abuse that left taxpayers footing the bills for people on £30,000 or even £50,000 a year in benefits. It's a fair principle: a family out of work on benefits shouldn't be paid more than the average family in work."

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne, responding to Mr Cameron's comments, said: "Everyone in Britain believes in sensible welfare reform - and there are ideas in this Bill, like Universal Credit, that build on Labour's tax credits which, for the first time, helped make sure work paid. But, sadly, this new law will hurt millions of families trying to do the right thing and work and save and it crosses a line of basic British decency."

Press Association