Harry up, tell us! Will media cover-up plans for war with Iran?

The whole establishment media, state and corporate, collaborated with the government in hiding the whereabouts of a member of the royal family.

He was in Afghanistan, helping to occupy the country. (Well, if playing computer games, getting drunk, and occassionally posing for the cameras with a gun helps an occupation run smoothly…)

Now he’s at a greater risk – and so are those actually fighting the war. He’ll be brought home – despite claims he’s just an ordinary soldier – and the rest of the armed forces will stay to face the consequences of this self-indulgent episode.

Perhaps he was allowed to go for propaganda purposes, I can’t see it myself. Beckham would’ve been a better choice – though the whole charade would look rather theatrical.

As it stands, service personnel are in greater risk than before.

The daily threat of being killed or maimed by people resisting occupation has been increased tenfold.

If he cares at all for his comrades, Harry Windsor will be making plans to protest the wars in the Middle East and call on the government to bring the troops home – March 15th, twelve noon, Trafalgar Square in London.

As for the so-called journalists who didn’t take the opportunity to protest the hush-up for Harry before he was posted – you can redeem yourselves by covering the demo…

Welfare to work = job losses & multinational profits

Phrases of the day are: Reserve army of labour, Workfare, and McJob

Hey, let’s get sick people into work!

But first, let’s make some employed people unemployed!

Yes, thousands of people will lose their jobs at the Department of Work and Pensions…

PCS condemned today’s announcement to slash a further 12,000 jobs and the closure of an additional 200 offices in the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). The union also accused the government of a dogmatic approach to the privatisation of the welfare state as it confirmed plans to implement the Freud report in full.

With 30,000 jobs already gone and over 600 offices closed in the DWP, the union expressed its deep concern of the impact that further cuts will have on service delivery. Services to some of the most disadvantaged in society have already suffered as a result of job cuts and office closures, with access to benefits and job seeking help restricted and increasing waiting times for benefits resulting in food parcels being handed out in some parts of the UK.

Accusing the government of pursing a dogmatic policy of privatisation, the union warned that the welfare state was in danger of being run in the interests of shareholders rather than the people it was set up to help.

The union went on to warn that further job cuts combined with privatisation would amount to a huge blow to the morale of staff, who are in a long running dispute over the imposition of a below inflation pay offer, which sees 40% of staff receiving a 0% pay rise this year.

The union will be raising today’s announcement in talks with the Cabinet Office aimed at reaching a negotiated outcome to its national dispute over jobs, services and privatisation. The union is seeking agreement on the avoidance of compulsory redundancies and measures to protect the workforce in the event of privatisation.

Commenting, Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said:

“This announcement comes as yet another blow to a workforce who have battled to provide a service in the face of swingeing cuts and below inflation pay increases. These plans for job cuts and privatisation are purely about crude cost cutting and will do nothing to improve service delivery to some of the most disadvantaged in society. The government, by planning to privatise large chunks of the welfare system, are effectively turning their back on vulnerable members of the public as well as its own public sector workforce, who have consistently outperformed private companies in delivering the lowest unemployment in a generation. Today’s announcement adds renewed urgency to talks with the Cabinet Office in reaching a negotiated outcome to the union’s national dispute as we seek to reach agreements on compulsory redundancies and privatisation.”

And in the capitalist press:

American and Dutch companies are following their Australian counterparts in targeting Britain’s job placement market as the government announces a significant expansion in the private sector’s role in welfare-to-work.

James Purnell, the work and pensions secretary, will today set out a near four-fold increase in the market for private and voluntary organisations to get the long term unemployed off welfare and into work.

He will announce bigger and longer contracts – for at least five years rather than the present three – expected to be worth around £360m a year for the “flexible New Deal”. At present £100m or so is spent on the independent sector contracts.

Some 80 per cent of a contract’s payment will be dependent on actually getting people into work and keeping them there. The biggest payment is likely to depend on people staying in work for six months rather than the present 13 weeks.

In some parts of the country providers will compete within the same area in the hope that will stimulate performance and give the unemployed – and increasingly lone parents – some choice over who provides the personalised service aimed at getting them back to work.

The move is the first step towards implementing the recommendations of the Freud report that envisaged a “multi-billion pound” welfare-to-work market for private and voluntary providers that would attract “major players” from around the world.

In evidence this is beginning to happen, ResCare, one of the biggest US providers of welfare-to-work services has bought Biscom, a small UK provider of job training and placement services as well as Maatwerk, a Dutch company in the same sector that already has some small contracts in the UK.

Maximus, another big US provider, is also looking for a UK acquisition while it and America Works, which operates in New York and California, have both been present at supplier meetings with the Department for Work and Pensions.

Igneus, the Australian company, already owns Work Directions, the UK based welfare-to-work provider, while Mission Australia, the charitable provider, has bought a stake in Working Links, the public- private partnership owned by the government, Manpower and Capgemini.

The big UK services companies, Capita and Serco, are seeking to enter the business alongside domestic providers of the existing programmes such as A4e and Reed-in-Partnership.

Calder, the Dutch company, recently bid unsuccessfully for a Pathways to Work contract, with Lambert Verwijst, its sales director, saying “we would definitely like to be in the UK. It is an interesting market and not so different to Holland”.

Peter Cove, founder of America Works, says his company had agreed an outline contract to work with lone parents with the outgoing Conservative government in 1997, only for Labour to cancel it on taking office. Now, he said, he believes the market for private companies in the UK “really is at a tipping point”.

Mr Purnell is expected today to underline his determination to implement the Freud report in full, with the private sector’s involvement “here to stay and set to grow” , although a big programme to tackle the 2.6m people on incapacity benefits has yet to be agreed.

Two protests, one headline

I am against a third runway for Heathrow and for a referendum on the EU consti-treaty.

I’d be happy if both of yesterday’s protests were at the top of the news agenda, but it seems that only if you do something shocking (like, get on top of the House of Commons) does your cause get mentioned.

You can understand, given the slight attention paid to the “I Want A Referendum” demo, why people think marching has no effect…

From the Star:

Pro-referendum Parliament lobby
(Wednesday 27 February 2008)

DEMOCRACY campaigners held a mass lobby of Parliament on Wednesday urging MPs to back the call for a referendum on the neoliberal EU treaty.

The I Want a Referendum group’s action took place a week before MPs vote on a Tory amendment to the Treaty Bill, which calls for a referendum.Ministers claim that their 2005 “promise” of a vote on the EU constitution does not apply now as the treaty is different. But I Want a Referendum campaigners have pointed out that it is the original constitution in all but name.

Spokesman Neil O’Brien said that he wanted a vote for the good of democracy, adding: “I want to stop the government from wriggling out of the promise to hold a referendum.”

The cross-party campaign has also gained support from Labour veteran Tony Benn, who has written to all 646 MPs urging them to defy pressure to ratify the treaty in a Commons vote.

“The treaty transfers important powers to others in Europe. This decision must be made by the British people,” Mr Benn insisted.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was cautioned by Speaker Michael Martin on Wednesday after attacking “clapped-out, 19th century procedures” in the Commons, which he said were preventing a vote on a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.

His foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey was ordered from the chamber on Tuesday after repeatedly protesting that his party’s bid for a referendum on EU membership was not selected for debate and vote.

At Prime Minister’s question time, Gordon Brown taunted: “Welcome back. I hope this time you can stay long enough to hear the answers.”

Heathrow activists reach for the skies
(Wednesday 27 February 2008)

by DANIEL COYSH

ANTI-HEATHROW expansion activists confounded Westminster security on Wednesday with a dramatic rooftop protest at the Houses of Parliament.

Five members of campaign group Plane Stupid unfurled two huge banners, one reading “No Third Runway” and the other – in a reference to the cosy relationship between airport operator BAA and new Labour – “BAA HQ.”

Plane Stupid said that they gained access to Parliament as visitors, walked through the building, got into a lift and then simply climbed onto the roof.

The daring demo took place on the final day of the Brown government’s “sham consultation” on expanding Heathrow airport.

Protesters charged that “the democratic process has been corrupted” and that the aviation industry “has taken full advantage of a weak Prime Minister to get the Heathrow consultation fixed.”

They made paper aeroplanes out of confidential Whitehall documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, which they glided into the MPs’ car park below.

Speaking from the rooftop, activist Richard George said: “We’ve come to this symbolic home of democracy to make clear that the consultation process of the third runway at Heathrow has, from the beginning, been a sham.

“These Department for Transport documents prove that the British Airports Authority wrote sections of the consultation and that there has been a BAA official within the consultation committee pushing forward their agenda at the expense of the 70 per cent of Londoners who don’t want the runaway.”

He stressed: “We’re taking direct action as a last resort because we don’t believe that the consultation has been a democratic process.

“This is the beginning of a campaign of direct action that will not cease until we feel we’re being listened to and until we’re satisfied that it’s Londoners’ views, rather than BAA, that the government is paying attention to.”

Hayes and Harlington Labour MP John McDonnell – who has led local protests against the runway plans and whose constituency contains Heathrow – warned that “direct action is an inevitable consequence of government refusing to listen to communities under threat and to the threat to our planet from climate change.”

He revealed that “no minister has visited my constituency to meet the people who will lose their homes and communities as a result of the proposed third runway – although Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly visited Heathrow to meet aviation businesses.”

Tax-dodging Tesco – a billion a year helps!

As we read that the weekly shopping trip may cost 18 quid more, The Guardian has discovered Tesco are dodging a billion in taxes each year:

Tesco has created an elaborate corporate structure involving offshore tax havens which enables it to avoid paying what could be up to £1bn of tax on profits from the sale of its UK properties.

The complex new structures uncovered by a six-month Guardian investigation include a string of Cayman Island companies, each named after a different colour, from aqua to violet. These are being used by the supermarket giant as it proceeds with its announced programme to sell and lease back £6bn worth of its UK stores.

The stores are being sold to external investors providing Tesco with a big one-off gain which, ordinarily, would be liable to tax, while allowing it to remain in the stores and pay rent to the new owners.

The first two deals, worth £445m and £650m, have already used the companies set up in the Cayman Islands – where the rate of corporation tax is zero – allowing Tesco to avoid tax on about £500m profit. Large corporations are increasingly developing strategies to cut tax bills and Tesco is not alone in its tax planning.

Nearly a third of the UK’s 700 largest businesses paid no corporation tax in the year 2005-6. A further third paid less than £10m each, according to figures from the National Audit Office released last year.

Alistair Darling, the chancellor, recently provoked an outcry from wealthy individuals by launching a crackdown on non-domiciled residents in Britain who pay no tax on earnings outside the country.

Revenue & Customs said this week it was on the trail of up to 30,000 people owing more than £100m in back taxes who have hidden their assets in secret accounts in Leichtenstein. But companies such as HSBC have argued against the UK tax system by threatening to move their headquarters overseas where rates are lower.

The Guardian’s analysis of Tesco’s accounts over the past five years also shows that the company has paid an effective tax rate of just over 20% on the rest of its profits, at a time when the UK corporation tax rate is 30%.

Tesco defended its position, saying it had a duty to organise its affairs in a tax-efficient manner. It said profits from its interests are included in full in the company’s UK tax returns. It also said it was one of the largest taxpayers in the UK.

The investigation has found:

· New company structures set up by Tesco to own stores that are being sold and leased back mean that 99.9% of the company that owns the stores could end up being held offshore. Tesco would be liable to pay UK tax on only the 0.1% of its profit on the sale of the stores held in the UK. Tesco’s first two property deals, worth about £1bn, have used this structure and will avoid tax on £500m of profits.

· Although its accounts for the past five years report an average rate of corporation tax of 29%, the actual rate of tax Tesco paid, according to its cash flow statement, is closer to 20%. This is on profits separate from the property deals. UK corporation tax is 30%.

· Tesco has sold its 37 stores in the first two sale and leaseback deals at twice the book value that is included in its accounts, making a profit of about £500m on the £1bn of stores sold. If it achieves the same rate of return on all its disposals as expected, its share of profits from property sales would come to about £3bn. The UK corporation tax due on this would be as high as £1bn, but the retailer could avoid paying this because of its offshore structure.

· A string of other company structures leading to the Cayman Islands have been set up and more of Tesco’s properties have already been transferred to them so that they could be quickly activated for the next tranche of store sales.

Tesco’s executive director, corporate and legal affairs, Lucy Neville-Rolfe, defended the offshore structures in a statement.

“While every company seeks to operate as tax-efficiently as possible, to do so is our duty to shareholders and customers alike – Tesco pays a great deal of tax.

“Tesco is one of the UK’s largest taxpayers. For the year to February 2007 we paid over £1bn in the UK in corporation tax, business rates, employer’s national insurance contributions and other taxes. Combined with the approximately £750m of PAYE tax, employee’s NIC and net VAT that we collected in that financial year, this means we are in the top 10 taxpayers in the UK.” She added that this was “a marked contrast to the significant number of FTSE-100 listed companies that pay little or no corporation tax at all”.

The statement added that it was normal for cash tax payments to differ from accounting charges. “These differences, which account for the disparity between the 29% accounting charge and the 20% cash tax payments are mainly down to timing and arise because tax laws and financial accounting standards differ in their recognition criteria.”

Tesco would not comment on how the ownership of its new partnership companies was structured. “We are not prepared to supply you with commercially confidential documents such as the partnership agreements and other information,” Neville-Rolfe said.

She continued: “Transactions such as these are by their very nature complex as they have to be structured to meet the commercial needs of Tesco, the new partner and the banks providing finance.

“We have an open relationship with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and meet with them regularly to discuss our tax affairs, including our property and international transactions. Full details have been provided to HMRC in the normal way.”

Will we get to choose which water supplier rips us off?

Don’t you wish Hilary Benn was his father?

Get this:

Households would be able to choose from a range of different water suppliers under proposals to be studied in a government review of the industry due to be unveiled on Thursday.

Although British consumers can choose electricity and gas companies, water supplies are dominated by regional monopolies such as Severn Trent and Northumbrian Water, which supply all households in their areas.

But the new review, commissioned by the Treasury and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, will examine whether it would be practical to open up household water supplies to competition.

The review, to be announced by Hilary Benn, environment secretary, will be headed by Martin Cave, a professor at Warwick Business School, and is expected to take a year to complete.

I think we can guess what his recommendation will be…

Wouldn’t it be better to have water suppliers working to reduce the cost to consumers and to the planet instead of competing to lower costs and boost profits?

But wait! This is all about what works, right?

Partial liberalisation of the water industry was introduced in 2005, when the government gave rival companies the right to deliver water to business customers.

However, the move has been a damp squib. Seven licences have been won by groups including new entrants and subsidiaries of the regional companies.

But so far not one customer has switched, according to Ofwat, the water regulator.

Gee, don’t they like choosing who rips ‘em off?

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