A health service, if you can keep it

What a gift this would be:

A 60th birthday present for the NHS
2nd Jul 2008

— an end to Labour’s privatisation

On the 60th anniversary of the NHS, the Green Party has called for a return to its original principles of public provision of healthcare, run for patients not profit, and free at the point of need. Greens will be joining the Keep Our NHS Public protest outside the Department of Health at Richmond House on Friday 4th July at 4pm.

Green Party Principal Speaker Derek Wall said:

“Nye Bevan’s legacy is being dismantled slowly and deliberately under New Labour’s privatisation agenda. Brown has mortgaged our health with PFI, and handed cash intended for healthcare over to corporate shareholders. His latest idea of closing GP surgeries and replacing them with privatised polyclinics is shocking but not surprising.

“Our birthday present to the NHS must be to turn this around, restore its founding principles, and kick out the corporate profit makers. That means keeping our hospitals public, ending the closure of GP surgeries, and properly valuing the staff of this defining public service.

“The modernisation of the NHS should strengthen, not dismantle, its public service ethos. Local health centres should bring more services from major hospitals closer to patients, not hoover up GP surgeries and make services more remote. Co-operation, not competition, should guide the development of our health service, and patients should control their treatment through a genuine partnership with their doctor, not a bewildering and wasteful internal market.”

PFI + EU = poverty pay for migrant workers

From the Guardian, a story which demonstrates the terrible effect of the expansion of the EU and New Labour’s Private Finance Initiatives on the living standards of construction workers.

This case was uncovered because of the strength of the union and the fact it’s happening on a government project (albeit outsourced & subcontracted) – many similar cases go unreported.

Eastern European migrants working on the construction of a £600m NHS hospital have been taking home as little as £8.80 for a 39-hour week, the Guardian has learned, in what has been described by union bosses as one of the worst instances of employee abuse in the building sector since EU enlargement.

The group of around 12 men, most of whom are Lithuanian, are construction workers on the government-backed PFI project in Nottinghamshire. Though allegations of abuse of migrants’ rights on construction sites are widespread across the country the scale in this instance has shocked unions and politicians.

Michael Clapham, MP for Barnsley West and Penistone, who is due to raise the matter in parliament today, said: “This happened on a government project where there are good rules and a strong union – who knows what is happening on the hundreds of smaller sites around the UK?”

According to industry guidelines and an agreement between unions and the building firm Skanska, which is overseeing the project, workers on the site should have been earning more than £7 an hour. But after deductions for rent, tool hire and utility bills, some of the Lithuanian employees were receiving so little observers say it left them virtually destitute.

Payslips seen by the Guardian show that one man worked a 39-hour week and took home just £8.80 after his entire monthly rent was deducted in one week, in breach of the law. A second worker was paid £79.20 for a 63-hour week and a third worked 70 hours a week for just £66. As they were registered as self-employed they did not receive holiday or sick pay. One man had £228 taken from his pay in one week for tools. The men each had a further £76.80 deducted weekly as their payment to the “construction industry scheme”, which technically registers them as self-employed, meaning their employers have no requirement to pay national insurance.

Employers are allowed to make deductions from their staff’s pay for accommodation, but the amount is limited by law to a maximum of £30.10 a week, or £4.30 a day. According to Ucatt, the building union, this means that an employee working 37 hours at £6 an hour should take home a minimum of £174.14 a week unless they have agreed to any other deductions. The men refused to talk about their experiences when approached by the Guardian. However, a colleague said at least seven of them were sharing a three-bedroom flat and they cycled to work to save money. “We are worried about how they are managing to survive,” he added.

Alan Ritchie, general secretary of Ucatt, said: “This case is the worst we have seen. These workers were virtually destitute.”

The men have been working on the Kings Mill hospital site in Mansfield. They are not employed directly by Skanska, which has subcontracted another firm, which in turn subcontracted a third, responsible for supplying the men. A number of other subcontractors are operating on the site and have no complaints against them.

Last night Skanska, the main contractor on the site, said it had been made aware of the allegations two weeks ago and took “such issues very seriously”. It has since held meetings with the subcontractors and the union. “On June 24 matters were resolved with the parties involved. Skanska understands that all back pay will be paid to the relevant workers on or around July 2.” The Guardian attempted to contact the subcontractor that had directly employed the men at an address it had registered with Companies House but there was no response. Last night Ucatt’s regional secretary, Steve Murphy, said he was confident the men would receive back pay for deductions and missing overtime in the next few days. “We will be able to eventually get a fair resolution for these workers. What is truly frightening is to think what happens on the many unorganised sites in our country.”

The men were building internal walls and some were working up to 70 hours a week without receiving overtime. Clapham said: “Working that long on a building site is hard work. How can we expect to improve safety standards in this industry when employers carry on like this?”

Philip Hyland, partner at the employment law firm PJH Law, based in Stamford, Lincolnshire, said that in his experience excessive deductions from migrant workers’ payslips were widespread, and cited an experiment in which his firm invited local Poles to contact it. Of 80-100 people who got in touch over a month, he said, only one was getting the correct pay.

Ucatt is campaigning to have the Gangmasters Licensing Act extended to cover the construction industry, which would mean that employment agencies and subcontractors have to pass minimum standards before they can supply labour.

A spokesman for the department for business said that the construction industry was covered by the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate. “The reason we have not extended the GLA into construction is because there has been no consensus to do so and we have felt there are more effective ways to tackle abuses in the sector.”

Case studies
After a 39-hour week, one man took home £8.80 when his monthly rent of £155 was deducted in one week. Another man worked a 70-hour week, earning £420, but was not paid overtime and after having £228 deducted for repayment on tools was left with £66. A third man worked a 40-hour week but was left with £13 after paying £155 for a month’s rent. As self-employed workers they received no holiday pay.

New Labour’s initiativitis crisis

Some examples of the ongoing crisis in the Labour party:

* The pay-as-you-throw bin tax – which was one of the issues that has been raised by voters in the local elections -has been scrapped and then unscrapped over the course of one day. The latest position is that the rubbish charges will not be rolled out across England until the results of pilot initiatives have been assessed…

* State television has aired footage of immigration raids filmed last month as evidence of a crackdown on employers breaking the law, but the workers were the ones in chains…

* “Defence” Secretary Des Browne has paid a visit to a rehabilitation centre for injured service-personnel – and announced an extra £24m to improve its facilities…

* The 10p tax rebels have been “assured” ahead of the Crewe & Nantwitch by-election which the Tories are attempting to portray has a referendum on the issue, but as yet there’s no detail on how the 5.3 million people who have had their income tax doubled are to be compensated. The Tories intend to use the by-election…

* Charles Clarke has called on Brown to stop using “dog-whistle” slogans, end post office closures, drop plans for 42 day internment (even though he supports it!), and hold a mini-budget to solve the 10p tax issue…

* Bosses have put the government on notice over tax changes, threatening to pull out of the UK – and this, before the disastrous local elections…

With all this in mind, the Morning Star asks, Are you listening?

GORDON Brown’s claim to be a listening and learning leader will be put under daily scrutiny for as long as he occupies 10 Downing Street.

And no time like the present, as he is faced with three hard-hitting reports that savage the Prime Minister’s obsession with allowing the private sector to leech on public services.

The lesson to draw is that encouraging the private sector in the railways, the postal services and the NHS is a recipe for disaster.

Opinion poll after opinion poll has confirmed public hostility to this parasitic practice, but Mr Brown has lost no opportunity to nail his colours to privatisation’s rickety mast over the past 11 years of Labour government.

He was the architect of the public-private partnership on the London Underground, which then deputy prime minister John Prescott insisted must be in place, with contracts signed, before London mayor Ken Livingstone could assume his transport responsibilities.

That particular scheme has not only milked the public purse of billions of pounds but has also ended in failure, with the bankruptcy of the Metronet consortium.

But, far from learning its lesson, the Brown government is insisting on a similar structure to oversee the public investment of £600 million in the necessary upgrade of the successfully run, publicly owned Tyne & Wear Metro system.

Mr Brown should listen to the complaints that his original scheme threw up and to the helpful advice of rail unions RMT and ASLEF and then acknowledge the necessity of keeping all Tyne & Wear Metro maintenance in-house.

While he is allowing that information to sink in, the PM should pay attention to the independent review of the postal services that was commissioned by the government itself.

To the shock of Mr Brown himself and free-market zealot Business Secretary John Hutton, the review confirms the assessment that most people in Britain had already made, advocated and seen ignored by the government.

This assessment is that postal services liberalisation, which was decreed in EU directive 97/67/EC in 1997, followed up by directive 2002/39/EC in 2002, has been a godsend for big business but has threatened the services that ordinary people have relied upon for generations.

The government must listen to the statements that there has been “no significant benefit” for consumers and small businesses, that there is a “substantial threat” to the universal postal service and that “the status quo is not tenable.”

There will be no prizes for guessing what advice Mr Hutton will proffer. His outlook is based on the uncanny logic that, if private-sector penetration has messed things up, the only way to fix them is further private-sector penetration.

If Mr Brown listens to postal workers and consumers, he will draw the opposite conclusion.

And he should do the same with the NHS, the jewel in the crown of the post-war Labour government, which still has a special place in the heart of Labour voters or erstwhile voters.

Health Emergency’s advice to replace NHS private finance initiatives with direct public procurement, to scrap plans to hand over GP services to US transnationals, to suspend A&E closures and to end the target culture should be heeded.

Well, Mr Brown, are you listening?

Northern Rock – officially nationalised?

Saith the FT:

Northern Rock was officially classed a public sector company on Thursday, bringing its debts on to the government’s books and blowing apart one of the Treasury’s cherished budgetary rules.

The Office for National Statistics announced that the government has had so much control over the stricken mortgage lender since October that it should be classified in just the same way as nationalised entities such as Royal Mail.

While the ONS said the issue of control over the company was different from “nationalisation”, many will conclude that since the ONS views the bank as so similar to other nationalised companies, the term should apply to Northern Rock.

The ONS will not yet say exactly by how much public sector net debt will rise as a result of the reclassification, but said that on the basis of Northern Rock’s published accounts for the end of 2006, £90bn will be classed as public debt.

Since the bank lent heavily in early 2007, this figure might rise a little or might fall a little, reflecting mortgage redemptions since the crisis hit Northern Rock in September, but the Financial Times understands that the £90bn figure is a reasonable guide to the final amount.

The ONS said the likely increase in public sector net debt represented 6.7 per cent of gross domestic product. If added to the current level of debt, the total public sector net debt would rise to 44.4 per cent of GDP, far above the government’s self-imposed ceiling of 40 per cent.

Treasury documentation from the pre-Budget report last October insists that to be sure of meeting the sustainable investment rule, “net debt will be maintained below 40 per cent of GDP in each and every year of the current economic cycle”.

This reclassification therefore blows a huge hole though the letter of the fiscal rule, which will add to the pressure on Alistair Darling, the chancellor, who critics accuse of running too lax budgetary policy as the UK economy heads for a slowdown.

The Treasury has previously let it be known that it will ignore any reclassification of Northern Rock as a temporary aberration and will invoke little-read passages of the legally-binding Code for Fiscal Stability to give it some leeway.

Officials also argue that Northern Rock has lots of assets, most of which are not netted off in the rather arcane public sector net debt classification. They insist they will not raise taxes or cut public expenditure decisions because of this breach.

But officials recognise that breaking one if its cherished rules is likely to cause a political storm.

Many accountants and economists suggest that the Treasury should modify its budgetary rules in light of reclassification decisions such as these and likely decisions soon to bring the private finance initiative on to the public books.

The Budget on 12 March would be the time Mr Darling could announce a review of the rules, although it would be politically difficult to change the rules just at a time when they are under pressure.

Shares in Northern Rock were 6.4 per cent higher at 104¼p.