Private companies to be rewarded for welfare failure

Ah, those welfare “reforms” that neoliberal Mr Purnell is pushing – you know, the plans to cut benefits and provide cheap labour for big business get the long term sick and unemployed back into work?

As my comrade Robert will attest, it’s not easy for people with disabilities to get back into work even when the economic climate is supposed to be good – never mind in a full-blown recession.

Will workfare make things better?

The FT reports on the preliminary results:

A flagship £1bn government programme to find jobs for people on sickness benefit is running 73 per cent short of its target, an unexpectedly bad outcome that will test political consensus about expanding private welfare provision.

The poor performance data, measured before the big increase in unemployment caused by the recession, has wide implications for direction of welfare reform, the price of existing contracts and the terms of future negotiations with private providers.

Ministers in recent years have been fighting to outdo the Conservatives in their support for welfare-to-work schemes, advocating the reforms as a relatively cost-free way to slash welfare rolls and to save the exchequer billions.

The disappointing early results from the Pathways to Work scheme provide a reality check, suggesting to cut the 2.6m incapacity benefit roll is harder and more expensive than expected.

James Purnell, welfare secretary, has proposed extending similar “payment by results” schemes to all those on sickness benefit deemed fit for work. Pathways’ performance record will make it harder for providers to raise private finance to invest in advance, especially in recession.

Almost all companies are losing money on Pathways contracts. One executive described it as “cash crunch” that could push some groups over the edge. “It is getting to the stage where they’ll be handing back the contracts,” said another industry insider.
Pathways was rolled out nationwide last year, the government’s first concerted attempt to tackle stubbornly high incapacity benefit rolls. But between April and September providers achieved only 27 per cent of the target to place people in “sustained jobs” for 13 weeks, according to figures published by website Indus Delta.

So, what’s the deal then? What now?

Why, bail-out the private companies, of course!

Give them the cash up front! Payment before results!

From Tribune:

As the Government’s welfare reform bill was debated by MPs for the first time, Liberal Democrat MP Steve Webb asked him if he intended to change the contracts “so that more of what the providers get is a lump sum and less is related to performance?”

Mr Purnell replied: “We are happy to consider whether we can ‘front-load’ the payments for taking people on,” and added that there had been “very good interest” among companies for him to do just that.

The Department for Work and Pensions has already received bids from companies seeking the contracts, and is preparing to choose the successful bidders.

Now, I know what you are thinking. The government already has job centres and employs many professional and hard-working people to assist the unemployed in finding employment.

But that’s no good for the super-rich, is it? Where’s the profit in that?

Wildcat strikes at oil refineries

Let’s be clear, this is not a racist or xenophobic protest – though, no doubt the fascists will try and jump on the bandwagon. The strikers are not motivated by hatred, but by a fear that they might be lose their jobs in the future.

The contention is not that Italian or Portugese nationals living locally should be barred from employment, but that it is crazy that bosses would bring in workers from overseas before first seeking to take on unemployed people who live near the refinery.

These workers should be praised for defying the anti-union laws which criminalise wildcat action, for breaking the law to defend their living standards.

The BBC reports on the growing protests:

Hundreds of energy industry contractors have walked out at sites in northern England and Scotland in an escalating protest over the use of foreign labour.

The dispute began at the Lindsey Oil Refinery, North Lincolnshire, on Wednesday after a construction contract was awarded to an Italian firm.

Unions said the contract should have been given to British workers.

In a second day of action, 800 people protested outside the refinery as workers from other sites joined them.

Hundreds of contract workers at the neighbouring Conoco Phillips oil refinery took part in Thursday’s action.

Employees at BP’s Dimlington gas terminal in East Yorkshire and its chemical manufacturing plant in Saltend, Hull, also walked out in support of the Lindsey refinery workers.

Unofficial strike action was also taken by workers at Scottish Power’s Longannet power station in Fife.

Total, which owns the Lindsey refinery, said its main refining operations on the 500-acre site remained unaffected by the action.

It also stressed that there would be no direct redundancies as a result of the construction contract being awarded to Italian-based contractor IREM.

Unite union regional officer Bernard McAuley said workers at the refinery had been joined by hundreds of trade unionists and other supporters from around the UK.

He said: “They’ve come from all over the country. We reckon there were almost 1,000 people here today.

“We’ve also had huge numbers of messages of support from people who are incensed by this decision. It’s a total mockery.

“There are men here whose fathers and uncles have worked at this refinery, built this refinery from scratch. It’s outrageous.”

Lame Academy

The title being a pun on the erstwhile BBC talent show… (Yes, I miss it too.)

The News Line editorial today is on the calamities facing recently-privatised schools:

THE Academy school project – to replace state owned schools, with ‘independent’, millionaire sponsored, and privately run schools, who hire the staff that they want, decide on the syllabus, and decide on rates of pay – is crashing down around the Labour government which created it.

The millionaire sponsors, now hard hit by the capitalist crisis, are no longer keen to splash their cash, and the system is proving to be grossly inferior to the local authority run state schools that they are meant to supplant.

Just where the Academy system is right now, can be seen by the crisis being undergone by the Richard Rose Academy, in Carlisle.

It was formed from a school and a college and opened just five months ago, at the gallop so to speak, with its ‘trademark’ modern buildings not even having planning permission.

It has just been put under a ‘special measures’ regime after parents complained to the schools inspectors, Ofsted.

Last Friday the academy was closed for a day as pupils staged a protest, which was supported by their parents, on the grounds that the gross understaffing of the Academy made it an unsafe place for children. Well, necessary staffing levels cost money!

Ofsted’s report, released on Wednesday evening, says that 90 per cent of parents had ‘serious concerns’ about their child’s welfare, safety and education.

The report found that the school failed to give pupils ‘an acceptable standard of education’ and that those leading it were not ‘demonstrating the capacity to secure the necessary improvement’.

It added that ‘The academy’s senior leaders’ hired by employees of the sponsor, ‘underestimated the levels of challenge presented by the amalgamation of the two schools serving different communities’.

Parents said the main problem was an acute shortage of teaching staff which completely undermined what education programme there was.

It turns out that the children were being taught in temporary classrooms with no heating and no toilets, and that the most proficient teachers had left, leaving the teaching to relatively inexperienced supply teachers.

Such a situation would never be tolerated at a state run school.

Schools Minister Jim Knight, whose department had allowed this anarchic situation to develop, said last week that he would do all he could to turn the school around.

This statement has been greeted by parents with understandable scepticism since it is Knight’s Ministry that allowed the ‘academy’ to start without the necessary permanent buildings in the first place.

The Academy was ‘fast tracked’ by the government in its stampede to eradicate the state education system.

It did not seem to matter to the Ministry that pupils were being taught in temporary accommodation, and that this would continue to be so for a considerable period ahead. Even if the permanent buildings got planning permission, they would take some time to be built – that is if they were going to be built at all.

Christine Blower, Acting General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘The Richard Rose Academy is a victim of the government’s fixation with private providers for education. The fast track to opening this Academy has left pupils, parents and the local community without a well functioning school.

‘Richard Rose Academy should return to the local authority which can provide support and back-up.’
Academies must be scrapped, and free state education restored with proper funding.

This means that all students’ fees must be scrapped and full living grants restored to every student to restore the right of free state education to every young person.

Banksters are tax-dodgers

The TUC is calling on the govt to make the banks it owns come clean on their tax dodging activities.

(Come clean! What chance the new Met Commissioner floods the City with cops to nab the corporate crooks who have plunged us into recession?)

Richard Murphy, tax expert and blogger, carried out the research…

Lloyds TSB, RBS, HSBC and Barclays have between them well over a thousand subsidiary companies (1,207) incorporated in tax havens. The most popular location is the notorious tax haven of the Cayman Islands with 262 companies, Jersey is second, with 170 companies. HBOS is not included as it has not published a list of its subsidiary companies for 2006, 2007 or 2008 in either its annual report or its Companies House return, in apparent breach of company law.

Not every subsidiary located in a tax haven or financial secrecy jurisdiction will necessarily be used for tax avoidance, says the TUC analysis. Some may be simply providing banking services to the local population and business community of countries such as Ireland – or have particular commercial links to countries such as HSBC’s ties to Hong Kong.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘The taxpayer is now propping up Britain’s banks, either directly or indirectly. Even those who have not had direct bail-outs now trade with an implicit guarantee from the Government. The irresponsible behaviour of banks here and abroad is the biggest cause of the recession.

‘Yet even those who come cap in hand to the taxpayer and Bank of England, continue to do business in tax havens. This raises questions about whether part of the objective is avoiding paying a fair rate of tax to the UK – a tax gap that has to be made up by the rest of us.

‘We cannot know the extent of these activities. Indeed one of the main attractions of tax havens is their secrecy. There is no suggestion that anyone has broken any tax laws, but now banks have public stakes or trade with the knowledge that the taxpayer stands ready to bail them out, the taxpayer has a right to know the full extent of bank activities and liabilities across the world.

‘We should know where banks undertake their activities, where they record their profits and where they pay their taxes. Country-by-country reporting of their activities is essential if we, the UK taxpayers, are to know the risk we are under-writing.

‘Voters are increasingly angry at the banks, who they rightly think must take a large share of the blame for the jobs and homes that will be lost in this recession. The Government should set up a tough public inquiry into why our financial system came so close to collapse – and it should investigate the full extent of their tax avoidance.’

Israel occupies BBC?

As everyone knows, the Disasters Emergency Committee is made up of the following extremist organisations:

Action Aid, British Red Cross, CAFOD, CARE International UK, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Help the Aged, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tearfund, and World Vision

Give these people a few minutes air-time to talk about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and they’ll be ranting and raving about Zionist imperialism, waving rocket-launchers in the air, and calling on us to send money to Hamas. So, it’s understandable that the BBC would want to avoid giving air time to such lunacy?

No, obviously this is ridiculous.

The DEC hasn’t been turned down in the past, even when aid was difficult to administer, even when the politics were iffy – the BBC aired their appeal for the public to donate towards providing aid to people in need of assistance. So it’s good to hear that there’s uproar about the BBC’s failure to give a few minutes to inform people of how they can help people in need.

ITV, Channel 4, and Five have all agreed to broadcast the appeal, after initially following the BBC’s lead. (As yet, Sky is unconfirmed – presumably waiting to see if the BBC holds the line.)

Tim Llewellyn, former Middle East correspondent for the BBC, sees the corporation’s decision as a betrayal of public service values:

Caroline Thomson, […] said that one reason was that “the BBC’s impartiality was in danger of being damaged”. Could the BBC be sure, she added, that money raised for this cause would find its way to the right people?

How is the BBC’s impartiality to be prejudiced by asking others to raise money for the victims of an act of war by a recognised state, an ally of Britain, using the most lethal armaments it can against a defenceless population? What sly little trigger went off in her head when Thomson questioned whether the aid would reach the right people? What right people? Hamas, the elected representatives of the Palestinian people? The hospitals and clinics run by private charities and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency? The mosques? The citizens of Gaza, persecuted beyond measure not only by their Israeli enemies but by the western powers who arm and sustain Israel and defy the democratic vote of the Palestinian people?

Is Thomson more fussed about some imaginary “war on terror” that even the new White House is shying away from than she is about upholding the free speech and freedom of action of the corporation?


The big question that remains is this: what are the suits scared of? Why do BBC managers try to second-guess our government and even outreach it in grovelling to the United States and Israel?

BBC journalists, extant and retired, not the “usual suspects”, not disaffected radicals and high-octane lefties, are incandescent with rage over this extraordinary piece of institutional cowardice.

Should we be all that surprised? The Director General bravely met with Ariel Sharon for “peace talks” (no, really) in 2005.

Here’s Tony Benn, making an appeal at the Beeb: