Monday, February 28, 2011

Clegg the opportunist

Some of us view the Liberal Democrats as opportunists, happy in opposition and ready to leap aboard any passing bandwagon that takes their fancy. Others are more negative, of course.

Clegg has continued his march towards being a statesman by abandoning a cause for which he expressed great support whilst in opposition, that of Gary McKinnon, who faces extradition to the USA for hacking into defence computers - a crime for which he could be prosecuted in the UK. Nick turned up on the picket lines with Mr McKinnon's mother and wrote articles in support of the hacker
The life of a vulnerable man is on the line. Gary McKinnon’s case is as serious as that. Unless someone intervenes there is the distinct possibility that he may be handed a sentence measured not in years but decades, and die behind bars in a brutal American Supermax prison. It is the basic duty of a government to protect its citizens... The only conclusion possible is that the British Government cares more about its relationship with the United States than it does about the welfare of its citizens... The truth is this Government has lost its basic sight of what’s right and what’s wrong.

Now in government, Clegg has refused to meet with Mrs McKinnon as 'it would be better all round' if they didn't - although he has no part in the extradition decision. Apparently, there's nothing he can do.

He can't have it both ways - if the last government was wrong by not intervening, then Clegg has also lost sight of right and wrong. I fear his vision is impaired by the fumes from whatever power he thinks he has. Not for the first or last time, Calamity Clegg is forced into an embarrassing reversal over a bandwagon policy he endorsed in opposition.

Clegg fumbles it again

Another victim of dreadful media management - although not helped by a universally oppositional print media - is Nick Clegg. A few weeks back, he was - somewhat unfairly - castigated as a 'part-time' deputy Prime Minister. Having seen what he has done as part-time, one dreads what he would do if he was working a full-time schedule, but I digress. As someone who had recently championed 'alarm clock Britain' (whatever that is - perhaps as opposed to those in this country who are woken by their butlers or sleep through until noon), the report that his ministerial red box closed at 3pm Monday to Thursday and at noon on Fridays was always going to look bad. The fact that this doesn't indicate the times that Clegg actually knocks off work and that it allows his aides to review the documents and provide background information if required, isn't important - the myth of a part-time DPM is already out there.

Last week, Clegg shot himself in the foot with an interview with the freesheet Metro - not normally a publication that breaks big stories, but one that excelled itself.

Asked if he was in charge of the nation, Mr Clegg told Metro: ‘Yeah, I suppose I am. I forgot about that.’ Laughing off the comment, however, he said talk of who was in charge was overblown in the modern era.... ‘I’m holding the fort but I’m hoping to take the end of the week off with my kids. Someone else will have to do it then. It sounds more haphazard than it probably is.’
Yes, Calamity Clegg forgot that he was supposed to be in charge while the head prefect was away. He showed he was in charge by promptly jetting off to the family chalet in Davos, at the same time as Cameron was out of the country. Cameron quickly stamped on any thoughts that Clegg might be in charge - probably to stop a run on the pound or the utter collapse of confidence in UK plc - and reminded the press that since the advent of global communications, he remained in charge. One may assume that the communications with the Prime Minster's delegation were rather better and more reliable than those with a chalet in Switzerland.

Meanwhile, Clegg's spinners explained that those remarks were a joke at the end of the interview, a defence that will hold no water. Liam Byrne wrote a light-hearted private note to David Laws, his successor in the post of Chief Secretary, and then had to endure those words being repeated across all the networks ad nauseam by every single government spokesman as if they were holy writ. Perhaps Clegg thinks that he can get away with jokes like that, but his popularity is so poor that he can't - anything he says will be used against him and he only has himself to blame, particularly when he makes such poor decisions as the one to take a holiday just as the Libya crisis blows up. He left the Foreign Secretary to act as the face of the government, a derogation of duty.

The truths behind the stories are almost unimportant - the image of a part-time, lightweight deputy prime minister who is so irrelevant to the course of government that his absence is unnoticed will prove immensely damaging to Clegg, the Liberal Democrats and the government as a whole.

Never mind, eh?

Living in interesting times

It has been a very interesting week in British politics.

Previously, we had Caroline Spelman executing a handbrake turn on government policy on forests. On the one hand, her humility in abandoning a policy in the face of such public venom is to be applauded, but on the other hand, she and her department demonstrated utter incompetence in preparing the ground and marketing the policy to the nation. Amazingly enough, that incompetence carried forward into last week's embarrassment over the handling of the crisis of British citizens trapped in Egypt. Events are always the downfall of any government and their handling of Libya has proved spectacularly poor. It was only at the end of last week that UK Special Forces were deployed to save a small band of British citizens (pictured), whose reputations were under severe threat from Col Gaddafi's behaviour.

The limitations of the defence review are also coming under severe scrutiny - not least by a small group of former military commanders, who may well be being used as the voice of those still serving. Apparently, we don't need carriers or close support aircraft for the foreseeable future, when the reality is that the ability to put a safe floating airfield capable of supporting large transport helicopters close to an unstable state is crucial to evacuating UK nationals in times of crisis. The decision to mothball the small carrier fleet and to essentially leave the new carriers ill equipped will prove to be even more short-sighted in years to come, especially as the US Navy, usually first on the scene with an all-powerful carrier group, doesn't have one currently deployed in the Mediterranean at the moment and wouldn't be guaranteed to support us in any case. The only other vessel in the surface fleet capable of providing that sort of support - but without the capacity to carry aircraft in self-defence - is HMS Ocean, the helicopter carrier and assault ship, which is working up following a period of scheduled maintenance. Albion and Bulwark are capable headquarters vessels, but lack the deck space to operate sufficient helicopters to be useful in this sort of operation. The irony that HMS Cumberland, which has been ferrying evacuees back and forth for the past few days, will shortly return to the UK for decommissioning as a part of the review, isn't lost on observers.
Cameron also dropped the ball significantly this week, opening himself up to accusations that he was more interested in flogging teargas and baton rounds to dodgy Middle Eastern regimes than dealing with the real problem of UK nationals stuck in the middle of what threatens to deteriorate into a civil war. A hastily-arranged visit to inspect what may or may not be the birth of democracy in Egypt - and I'm far from convinced that it is anything other than a change of name over the door in that country - has largely gone unnoticed. While the trade mission may have been planned in advance, it won't look good on the record.

Sweeping the poor from the streets

Even as they plan to ship their housing benefit claimants off to the outer reaches of London, Tory Westminster council is hatching a plan to eliminate homelessness as well by banning rough sleepers from the Victoria area of the borough and also outlawing the giving out of free food and drink. This prohibition was suggested in 2007, but was scrapped because of a massive outcry amongst charities and support groups across London. I wonder if it will fail this time round?

This is an ingenious assault on those elements of the Big Society - charities like the Salvation Army - who carry out great work amongst the homeless and run things like soup kitchens and soup runs into areas where people congregate. It also attacks those businesses like Pret A Manger (amongst others), who quietly and unfussily give away their out of date food to those in need.

I look forward to council officers bravely issuing fixed penalty notices to the Sally Army.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Don't rile the Tories

Cllr Richard Kemp is the leader of the Liberal Democrat in local government and has been championing the cause of local government against the onslaught of the Tories and his own party at the DCLG. In particular, he has earned the wrath of Grant Shapps, Pickles' wannabe attack dog, so unsurprisingly, Cllr Kemp has found his private life under scrutiny from the Conservative media, who have found little ammunition worth speaking of.

Is this the new politics that Dave promised us?

Monday, February 21, 2011

He wants to live like common people

One of Cameron's most sensitive issues is his own, rather privileged background. To be fair to him, he's never had to mix with 'ordinary' people and, by a number of accounts, he is uncomfortable with those who are not perceived as his social or economic equals. As the New Statesman points out, a poll in 2009 found that only 38% of people thought he was in touch and David Davis pointed out that Dave and Gideon "don't actually come from backgrounds where they had to scrape for the last penny at the end of the week." A website is dedicating itself to finding those pictures of Dave looking completely at home amongst us ordinary folk.

You'll never live like common people,
you'll never do what common people do,
you'll never fail like common people,
you'll never watch your life
slide out of view,
and dance and drink and screw,
because there's nothing else to do.

Sing along with the common people,
sing along and it might just get you through,
laugh along with the common people,
laugh along even though they're laughing at you,
and the stupid things that you do.
Because you think that poor is cool.

Common People, Pulp

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Careless lips sink thousands

Amazing how expensive a few words can be, isn't it? Vince Cable's promise to 'declare war' on Rupert Murdoch, which nearly cost Vince his job, has cost the taxpayer a whopping £300,000, with £280,000 being spent on the IT work alone, which is apparently "being handled as cost effectively as possible," although some would suggest that the costs on IT are particularly imaginative.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The John Glen story continues

A comment today from Mr Glen himself (or someone who claims to be him)

This is John Glen - how about the fact that I have a massive mortgage on the flat in London which is rented out, It has been rented out since I got married 2 years before I came an MP in 2010. I can't use it now as the expenses system says I need to rent somewhere (at higher public expense incidentally) than the mortgage interest payment. I am more than happy with that system and will take any questions on my expenses. Call me "selfish, self-serving creep" if you like Raymond - but these are the facts which I recognise you don't care too much for....
Comment via Twitter also from Oliver King, the C4 News programme editor, who adds that

the mp was left in no doubt what his piece was about.

Bravo Barclays!

Yes, paying £113 million in corporation tax on 2009 profits of £4.85 billion - just 2.4% - is a remarkable achievement for the corporate finance team, who must have been appropriately remunerated for the value they added to the company in structuring the accounts so carefully.

With the new tax rules quietly introduced by this government, it is likely that even less will be paid in future, no matter how much posturing the government does in pretence of getting tough on the bankers.

You see, profits earned outside the UK are taxed at the local rate of corporation tax and only taxed in the UK at the difference (if any) between the UK rate and the rate of the jurisdiction where the profits are made. This government has decided to abolish even that small amount of additional liability, so profits made overseas by companies tax headquartered in the UK will now incur no tax liability at all in this country.

Of course, this all pales into insignificance next to the Vodafone deal, which remains an obscene dereliction of public duty by HMRC in only recovering £1 billion of a £7 billion liability.

All in this together? Yeah, right.

Fine and not so fine

Another day, another £100k spent by UK taxpayers on a stunt for the Taxpayers' Alliance (that's the cost of servicing each of their round-robin research Freedom of Information requests that are used to dig up costs with which they batter public authorities). This time, they are scraping the bottom of the barrel - or bin - and worrying about how many waste bins each local authority collects. Apparently, the disparity is 'shocking.' Now, while I struggle to understand why Newcastle-under-Lyme needs nine of the damn things, I'm not sure that this is a big issue on the doorstep. Still, it keeps the TPA off the streets and away from sane people.

But that isn't the point of this post.

In their bullletin email, which I am lucky enough to receive, they quote Bob Neill, the Local Government Minister, as saying
"the bin bully approach of fining residents for minor breaches of increasingly complex bin rules is not only wrong, but utterly counter-productive"

Strong words and you can understand where he is coming from - asking people to put card and paper into one and cans into another is a task that would challenge many (people forget or get a bit careless). Human error is easily understood with the busy lives that we lead.

So I am intrigued as to why this government now want to fine people £50-300 pounds for forgetting to inform them of any change of circumstances - this is a punitive fine in addition to any repayment due. If you are living on benefits, a £50 fine - quite close to one week's Jobseekers Allowance - is a hefty amount and will certainly feel like an unfair punishment. I've no problem with people repaying overpayment, but the forms are fiendishly complicated at the best of times and this just strikes me as unfair and disproportionate to the actual costs. Indeed, one might say

"the benefits bully approach of fining claimants for minor breaches of increasingly complex benefit rules is not only wrong, but utterly counter-productive"
On the flipside, should we then expect similar compensation when the DWP or HMRC get it wrong? Or is this just a way of taxing the poorest in society by another £15 million a year?

Friday, February 18, 2011

John Glen - spinning or spun against?

The Salisbury MP, villified here and elsewhere after his appearance on Channel 4 News this week, where he appeared to blame families who used a charitable food bank for making wrong decisions, has spoken out to his local paper, claiming that he was 'done up like a kipper' by the manipulations of the journalist Gary Gibbon.

Mr Glen gave a 20-minute interview on the subject but by the time it was broadcast, he says, it had been edited to two 30-second soundbites giving the impression he blamed people for making poor decision about how they spend their money.... He has protested to the news bulletin’s director.
I have asked Channel 4 News for a comment - not that I'm hopeful of getting a response.

I would point out though, that 'I was misquoted/misrepresented/stitched up/taken out of context' is the first line of defence of anyone caught saying something that they would rather keep out of the public ear.

Blogger Raymond Soltysek asked the man himself for comment and received the following reply, which I reproduce in part.

Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a compassionate person, who is deeply committed to helping people. That 30-second excerpt of my 20 minute conversation with the reporter, in no way reflects my full views.

I agreed to take part in the interview, believing it to be a piece about the Trussell Trust food bank, a Christian charity founded in Salisbury, for which I have the greatest admiration and with whom I have recently undertaken a day’s volunteering.

I wanted to support the Trussell Trust by taking what I thought was a golden opportunity to go to their HQ and publicly praise their work in the most challenging and deprived area in Salisbury, where I know from personal experience that many people’s lives have disintegrated into utter chaos – for any number of reasons.

The wider context of the piece was not made clear to me and I really regret the fact that the way the piece was edited made it appear as though I was casting aspersions on the household management skills of the three people who were interviewed separately – something I would never dream of doing, nor did I know who they were or their personal circumstances.

Of course poverty exists in leafy Salisbury and the circumstances of the interviewees – illness, rent arrears and the expenses associated with a new baby – illustrated exactly why the kind of short-term crisis support offered by the food bank is so valuable.

So, was he misquoted or just caught out?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

No defence

"The first duty of government is the defence of the realm, and our most vital asset in that is our people.... This is why a Conservative government will repair the Military Covenant as a matter of urgency."
Conservative Armed Forces Manifesto, 22 April 2010

Cameron went further in June and promised to codify the covenant.

Yesterday, he deployed his footsoldiers through the lobbies to block exactly that. It appears that an annual report to Parliament will suffice.

Mind you, he promised the equipment that the forces need to operate in Afghanistan and so far, the 24 Chinooks that Labour were ordering - 22 new aircraft and 2 replacements - have been halved and even that order has yet to be finally approved.

And our people are so important that we'll sack them by email when they are on active service.

BMA to oppose NHS destruction?

Despite Andrew Lansley's increasingly desperate assertions that his 'reforms' have widespread support, it now looks as though the BMA are getting energised. Members are furious that their current leader, Hamish Meldrum, failed to consult them before he embarked on a policy of critical engagement with the minister and want the Association to come out in full-throated opposition to the proposals. It may cost Meldrum his job, but it looks like all out war may be about to kick off over this attempt to abolish the NHS by stealth.

The Tories promised to be the party of the NHS.

They lied.

John Glen MP is an inhuman, insensitive bastard.

Sometimes, you see something on TV that angers you beyond belief, that makes the blood thunder round your veins and fizz as it boils. Last night's Channel 4 News carried a striking report from Gary Gibbon on a food bank in leafy, upper middle-class, rural Salisbury, nestling in the Wiltshire countryside.

We saw a young family with a baby, having had their double incomes reduced to one of just £800 a month and unable to afford food on top of their other bills. A single parent, who was temporarily unable to work through illness and went to the food bank to feed herself and her child because the cupboard was bare. There was a jobbing builder, living in a sparsely-furnished flat and coping with income that varied massively from month to month depending on the weather and the market, admitting that he had gone without food to ensure that he kept a roof over his head.

These are not scroungers, ripping off the taxpayer because they know how to play the system. These are - to use the favourite phrase of politicians - hard-working families. Ordinary people who find that the money they earn simply isn't enough to keep body and soul together. They have to rely on the charity of a local church group that collects food donated by shoppers at a supermarket.

This is wrong. In this century, in this country, it is fundamentally wrong that this is allowed to happen. If you want an evil to target, this is it.

Then Gary Gibbon went to see Salisbury's new Conservative MP, John Glen - the product of Oxbridge, the Conservative Research Department and consultancy firms. He is about as in touch as you would expect for a young man with no experience of how the majority live or indeed any idea how to cope with a low income. Blessed with a safe seat, unfortunately, he will never need to understand it either.
"I believe that everyone who's working will have enough food if they don't spend the money on other things. There is a choice there that if you spend money on food to start off with.. if you earn anything or you have the minimum wage, you will have some money for food. The question is what other things the money is being spent on."
Typically, John, it is spent on mortgage or rent, heat and light, transport to work, perhaps a few clothes. People pay off what is most urgent and cut back on other things - they fall behind with the electricity or gas and end up on prepayment meters, allowing the house to get cold rather than load the meter card with money they don't have and that coldness brings illness. They make sure the kids are fed and go without themselves.

They need decent jobs that pay decent living wages, not part-time, minimum wage positions. I have some hope that Ian Duncan Smith's benefit propositions might offer some light at the end of the tunnel, but my fear is that it will be an oncoming train, with insensitive bastards like Glen quaffing champagne and celebrating the accident of birth that has brought them such good fortune. I hope that IDS will cut through the maze of benefits, but I suspect that the real driver will not be the relief of poverty, but cutting the cost of helping the poorest in our society.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Even the police are hacked off - this comes from the chairman of the Sergeant's Central Committee of the Police Federation, clearly a hotbed of far left activity and subversion.

The Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) has dominated the political and policing landscape, the consequences of which will affect the future of policing, our pensions and terms and conditions for many years to come. The Chancellor, George Osbourne, initially indicated that cuts in the police budget would be no more than 14%, but well below the 25% that was predicted. However, it soon became clear that we were looking at a real cut of at least 20% unless local authorities were to raise the local tax precept. Central government has no authority to raise the policing precept. The actual cuts in the police service from central government will be 8% in the first year, 6% in the second and then two years of 4% cuts. Unlike in other areas the government has shamefully chosen not to prioritise policing.

The result will be completely destructive to policing as we know it. Indeed, HMIC warned earlier this year that cuts beyond 12% would result in service delivery being affected. Leading up to this we predicted large scale cuts in police numbers and an early Christmas for criminals, and were accused of scaremongering by government, but they will never admit that we were right.Who is going to kettle the police when they march on Westminster?

Maggie had the sense to keep the police onside, Cameron and Clegg haven't learned that lesson.

(Hat tip to @lisaansell)

Another let down from Cameron

The BBC has found out that, despite rising unemployment - partly its own fault - the government's new Work Programme will take 605,000 people in 2011/12 and 565,000 in 2012/13. In 2009/10, Labour's schemes helped 850,000 people.

Oddly, given the evidence from the Public Accounts Committee that Jobcentres worked better on the Pathways to Work:

Contractors have universally failed by considerable margins to meet their contractual targets for helping claimants who are required to go through Pathways. They have performed worse than Jobcentre Plus areas, although recent improvements have narrowed the difference.
Predictably, the government is going with the external providers, even though the contract management last time round looks to have been exceptionally poor and has erred on the side of the supplier.
Despite being paid £100 million in 2008–09, providers claim not to have made a profit from their contracts. The Department agreed to pay £24 million in service fees early in view of contractor cash flow problems, although we consider the need for this was questionable given the large size of some of the organisations involved. The Department had an objective to build a healthy market, but has failed to develop an adequate understanding of the supply chain. It has not monitored how well prime contractors are sharing rewards and risks with the more than 80 specialist sub-contractors involved, and we have concerns that effective small private and voluntary organisations working in local communities are being asked to take an unfair share of the risk by prime contractors.
It isn't clear that lessons have been learned from this programme, as

Graham Hoyle, the chief executive of the Association of Learning Providers - who represents more than 100 firms and voluntary organisations bidding for Work Programme contracts - says "there is no question" that some of them will go out of business, and community groups or voluntary groups hoping to get contracts
are particularly vulnerable.
So, within a day of another relaunch, that's another nail in the coffin of the Big Society.

Oh and the reward for the effectiveness of Jobcentre Plus? 9300 jobs will be cut from a service that we actually need. Fewer people will be helped by a less-effective service.

Unity strikes again

The Ministry of Truth has been investigating the increasingly weird and wonderful world of Nadine "70% fiction" Dorries and raises a whole pile of interesting questions about Dorries expenditure of taxpayers' money on a small, provincial PR firm.

Well worth a read.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Business Plan 2011 - Goodbye to all that

It may be Valentine's Day, but there's no love on display at the Cabinet meeting.

In headline figures, Birmingham's formula grant will take a 10.2% cut in this financial year. Once all the other grant and council tax income is taken into account, the final loss compared to last year is expected to settle out at around 9.7% - a drop of £128 million. These cuts do not take into account any inflationary changes, so the change in real terms will be worse. 2012/13 will bring a further drop, cutting 14.4% off Birmingham's 2010 spending power (inclusive of all indicative budgets). Beyond that, things are a little hazier, but the forecasts are rather bleak. It is expected that the 2013/14 settlement will be only slightly less than 2012/13, rendering that year's income just 15% lower than 2010, but the 2014/15 grant income is (following the assumptions in place from the council) going to see the formula grant drop by 23.6% on 2010 levels and an all-in cut of 18.3% from this current year.

That is going to mean swingeing cuts in local services and this looks exceptionally bleak. Leisure Services is badly hit, losing 17.5% on last year (Andy Howell writes about the whole budget scene on his blog - detailing the tribulations affecting Cllr Mullaney, who is in charge of that particular portfolio when he isn't being offensive). Adults and Communities gets a whopping cut of 15.8% on last year, Children and Young People (a service area under tremendous scrutiny) is rewarded by being slashed by 10.7% and the Housing team will lose 11.5%.

This is going to hurt. A lot.

Detailed within the Business Plan are the policy changes coming down the line and however you cut this, this will affect front line services, despite the ineffectual and misleading promises from central government.
I warn you not to fall ill. I warn you not to get old.

Adults and Communities will be battered. Essentially, 11,000 service users across Birmingham will have their care packages reassessed to find cheaper options or other support mechanisms, as the service reverts to a basic signposting service for the vast majority, with funded support only for the poorest with the most critical needs. Programmes previously funded by specific grants which have now been removed from ring-fencing and rolled into general funding face cuts - so mental health, learning disabilities, learning and development and carers will suffer. Third-party service providers - outside the local authority - will see their costs targetted and funding for that will be cut.

I warn you not to be young.

Over at Children, Young People and Families, cuts will be made to the costs of looked after children and we can expect the social service team to be 'remodelled' - or cut. The Education Welfare Service will be reduced and savings will be ripped from Special Educational Needs, Disabilities, Day Nurseries and Children's Centres will all face spending cutbacks. A common pattern is that schools - funded by the direct schools grant and not through this funding stream - will be expected to 'contribute' more to these centralised operations and part of the Early Intervention Grant has been snaffled to support this new Future Operating Model. This has already been started with things like school swimming and museum visit costs now being charged to schools. Youth services will also have the begging bowl out to school governors, but given that school funding is legally restricted to being spent on educational needs, this may prove difficult to support. Buildings are expected to be transferred across as part of new community, charitable or private sector offerings to cover some 40 existing operations.

School transport will be shredded - including transport for children with special needs - and all those benefitting from assistance will be reassessed against new and tougher criteria to deliver hefty savings.

Schools cleaning, catering, music services, outdoor services and health education are being forcibly outsourced to a new co-operative and support cut for health education. School improvement partners have been scrapped and most of the professional advisors previously employed by BCC have already left to join a private company which currently has a monopoly in the city. Schools will no longer even get free briefings on policy from the city council - these have been removed and will be available through the private sector at a price.

I don't know where all this money to support services provided from outside the school is going to come from. School budgets are under huge pressure and I can't see them being able to offer much help.

I will return to this, but there's a sample of the headline cuts. There is much more, but the detail will be worked out over months, not days, as the Conservative teeth dig into our City and the Liberal Democrats watch and cheer on the destruction of services we once valued.

Fair and progressive cuts? Or not.

The graph above is lifted from the Birmingham City Council Business Plan 2011 (of which more to come).

The further up the chart, the more deprived the council area. The further to the right, the bigger the cut imposed by this government. Birmingham, being an area particularly affected by deprivation, predictably faces one of the biggest cuts of any local authority.

Truly, we are all in this together. Just that some are more in it than others.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Gove's 'abuse of power'

As Pencilandpapertest points out, Gove came out fighting after a judge had accused him of an abuse of power by scrapping the Building Schools for the Future programme without any reference to an equalities assessment or with any consultation with the local authorities involved.

Rather than admit he had made a mistake, he couldn't wait to point out that nobody should get their hopes up that he would reach a different decision. He didn't accept that he had been manifestly unfair or needlessly rushed a decision - as if the fiasco over the innumerable lists of scrapped projects wasn't evidence enough. He can't find the cash to replace crumbling schools -Sandwell's scheme was an ambitious plan to completely restructure and reorder the council's school system, making the whole thing fit for the future - but turn up with a half-baked plan to open an ironically-titled 'free' school and Gove will chuck wads of cash in your general direction.

"I am delighted that the Judge has ruled in my favour”. To go with his peculiar interpretation of making a decision that was deemed to be both unlawful and an abuse of power, Gove chooses to add an unpleasant whiff of eau-de-gloat, picking out the following for our delectation: “…no-one should gain false hope from this decision.

In other words, he has already decided the outcome.


Local authorities, pupils, parents, courts - is there anyone that Gove doesn't hold in contempt?

Letter to the Times

Today, 131 of the most senior Labour councillors sign a letter to the Times

David Cameron acknowledged in a speech in 2009 that “local government is officially the most efficient part of the public sector”. As councillors and elected mayors we will work to continue to drive down the costs of delivering quality public services. However, we feel that the Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles, has been disingenuous about the impact his cuts will
have on our ability to provide services. The design and depth of the cuts to local authority budgets will undoubtedly hurt local economies and damage frontline services. Because of the costly long-term impacts these cuts will have to our communities and our local economies we believe it is important that we keep the discussion with the Government open. We therefore invite Liberal Democrat councillors to join us in writing to their fellow Liberal Democrat, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, to ask him to ask Eric Pickles to look again at the unfairness of the Tory-Lib Dem Government’s cuts.

According to Next Left, the relationship between local authorities and the ministerial team at DCLG is now at rock bottom and digging down, so future conversations will be had through the Lib Dems at the Cabinet Office. How long this situation can be allowed to continue is a very difficult question, as Pickles has proven himself to be a spectacularly unpopular Secretary of State, aided in this quest by his sidekicks Shapps and Stunnell. While the depth and breadth of the cuts is certainly an issue, it is the repetitive attempts to shift the blame for actual service reductions onto the local authorities and the level of the spin being used to attack councils that has really angered councillors. Will Cameron let the departmental dysfunctional relationship with their local authority colleagues continue and risk the whole thing grinding to a halt? Can he tempt Pickles away with some pies and another post?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Letter from the Lib Dem Cllrs to DCLG

Hat tip to Lisa Ansell,

Sir, local government is playing its part in tackling the country's deficit and advancing the coalition's aims of localism and the Big Society. But local and central government are being let down by the Communities and Local Government Secretary who appears unwilling to lead the change that's so desperately needed.

Local government has made efficiency savings of 3% in each of the past eight years - in stark contrast to the runaway spending of central government under the previous administration. We've also been planning for further saving since the true state of the economy became apparent six months ago.

What has been delivered is a difficult cuts package across all government
departments, but clearly the most severe is to local government. These cuts will have an undoubted impact on all frontline council services, including care services to the vulnerable.

Rather than assist the country's recovery by making public sector savings in a way that can protect local economies and the frontline, the cuts are so structured that they will do the opposite. The local government settlement will take a major hit in this coming financial year and further, smaller, cuts in subsequent years.

This front-loading means councils do not have the lead-in time necessary to re-engineer services on a lower-cost base and ease staff cuts without forced, expensive redundancies.

Inexplicably, local government is also being denied the opportunity to spread the cost of reorganisation and downsizing over several years - at no cost to central government - which just makes even bigger in-year cuts inevitable the Secretary of State's role should be to facilitate necessary savings, while promoting the advance of localism and the Big Society. Unfortunately, Eric Pickles has felt it better to shake a stick at councillors than work with us.

Local and central government should be united in a shared purpose. Instead of chastising and denigrating local authorities through the media, the Government should deploy all its efforts to help councils minimise the impact on vulnerable communities and frontline services.

We would be delighted to discuss with the Secretary of State how we could take on the difficult challenges shared by all levels of government and would prefer to do this than continue with the gunboat diplomacy which is the current order of the day.

The unvarnished truth about Ronald Reagan

A fascinating hatchet job on the memory of a vastly overrated US President.

The story about launching Challenger to meet the demands of a photo-opportunity was a new one to me. Even if the disaster couldn't have been foreseen and perhaps had more than one root cause, it is still shocking, given the risks of any space launch.

Clegg at bay

I almost felt sorry for Nick Clegg while watching his Q&A session with a group of university students last night. This time last year, he would have been lionised by the group, praised as the future of progressive politics and chiming with the mood of youth. Now, he looked very drawn, despite his attempts to spin his personal broken promise as a win for students everywhere - a line that they just wouldn't swallow. Clegg's embarrassment also revealed that the plans to offer two free years to students in receipt of free school meals in sixth form are in tatters and look to be dead in the water.

Resorting to the condescending and insulting approach of suggesting that they simply failed to understand the policy didn't help him either and ensured that I couldn't find any pity for him.
He has chosen his path, taken his party with him towards electoral destruction and all but guaranteed them a return to political irrelevance for a generation. The tribal part of me enjoys it, but there is an element that feels sorrow that a party with many members of a truly progressive mind has been suckered into supporting Cameron's cronies. Nick Clegg has become a liability, an albatross around the neck of the Liberal Democrats and it would take a miracle for him to be fit to lead the party into the 2015 election.

As one student put it
You are either stupid, or you are mad, or you are malicious
Nick Robinson chided him for insulting the deputy prime minister, but he missed the point. Clegg might even be all three.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Shott at dusk

With their own unique skill, the Liberal Democrats have danced all over the banking announcement today, as Lord Oakeshott was sacked from a post he didn't have in the first place. Apparently, even though he has been all across the press and broadcast media in recent months, described as a Liberal Democrat spokesman in the Lords, the Liberal Democrats have oddly denied that he held any formal post at all since the election, although a comment on Next Left points out that he was listed as a Treasury spokesperson in the Lib Dems own conference handbook last year.

He was sacked/stood down (or not) over these comments made to the BBC
The Treasury's negotiating tactics haven't been very good - they've got an awful combination of arrogance and incompetence. Most of them couldn't negotiate their way out of a paper bag and this is not as tough a deal as it should have been.
Can't argue with that assessment, to be honest. Like so much of the crowd-pleasing policy that is being pumped out of the dream factory at the moment, this is far more spin than substance. The banks have promised to lend more, but the amount at risk isn't the issue - the problem is the hoops that potential business borrowers are facing to be considered for a loan. Horrendously high interest rates for even small business overdrafts are the norm and otherwise solid business operations aren't being offered loans. The banks need to repay the nation for the damage caused by their profligacy pre-crash, when they were more than happy to gamble on dodgy packaged loans, by taking a few more risks now. This isn't a call for an excess of credit, but for the banks to fuel the growth and support the entrepreneurs who are our only hope of a way up and out.

The Oakeshott affair is interesting, though, as he is a close colleague of Vince Cable, who has been as positive as he can be about the proposals, but who can't be happy with the outcome.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Truth hurts - Hague winces at protest song on Andrew Marr Show

An excellent protest song from Show of Hands. Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed - as seen on the Andrew Marr show last Sunday. In particular, watch out for William Hague, forced to sit through this attack and see him wince at the lyrics.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Judgement Day

And so the fateful February 6 dawns and Mrs Christine Hemming must present herself for trial at Birmingham Crown Court and subject herself to the verdict of a jury of her peers.

I wonder if the CPS will decline to present any evidence?

UPDATE: Today was a plea and case management meeting before the Recorder of Birmingham. Mrs Hemming has entered a plea of not guilty to the charges and will face trial on the 21 June. A date for your diaries.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Diss Respect

I can only assume that if one of the failed 21/7 London suicide bombers had been in the council chamber, Coun Yaqoob would have been demanding the council applaud the failed suicide bomber for their past heroic actions.
So said Cllr Martin Mullaney of Cllr Yaqoob, who along with Cllr Ishtiaq, declined to join in the ovation for Lance Corporal Croucher - awarded the George Cross for throwing himself onto a grenade to protect his comrades and surviving through luck, as his backpack took the force of the blast.

I disagree with Cllr Yaqoob on many issues - I regard the Respect Party as opportunists and oppositionalists who would be entirely incapable of government (you can see why Liberal Democrat Martin is so incensed by Salma - she's treading on traditional Liberal Democrat turf). I think she and Cllr Ishtiaq were wrong not to applaud the courage of one man, but I also defend her right to hold the views she does. We're not America, where disagreement with foreign policy means that you can be classified as disloyal. Disagreeing with your government is part of the democratic process and if those are her views, she had every right not to applaud L/Cpl Croucher.

For Cllr Mullaney to turn round and accuse her of supporting Islamic extremism is offensive and he should withdraw those remarks - or back them up with something more than a fictional essay written some while back. If he can't, he's just playing up to the wilder fantasies of the Islamophobes.

UPDATE: A tweet from someone I respect said that the 'surviving through luck' phrase seems a bit mean spirited. It was not intended to be. L/Cpl Croucher threw himself on a grenade without thought for his own safety - that is an act of such humbling courage that it deserves accolade. He is a very lucky man to have survived the explosion, but that does not in any way belittle his courage.

Stunner Sally Shares Sexy Secrets...

And so on.

Yes, Sally Bercow was naive to believe that a photoshoot of her clad only in a hotel sheet with a backdrop of the Mother of Parliaments wouldn't make waves, but that has little to do with the anger directed her way. The attacks on her are fuelled by the desire of the right wing of the Tory party to destroy the man who was once seen as their standard-bearer, but who has traitorously been on a progressive, leftward journey, one that has taken him to the left of Portillo - another who was once marked as a leader of the right. The wingnuts of the party will not rest until Mr Speaker Bercow is evicted from his apartments and his position and replaced with virtually anyone else.

The only thing more entertaining has been the comments from the rentaquote mob, who have also shown a striking lack of self-awareness or, indeed, irony.

Christine Hamilton described Sally's performance as 'demeaning' - this from a woman married to a money-grabbing little halfwit, who threw away a job for life as MP for Tatton for the sake of a few brown envelopes stuffed with cash from the then owner of Harrods. Following the court cases, they were reduced to doing anything for cash. I saw them both in the Rocky Horror Show and the sight of Neil Hamilton in suspenders is one that no amount of therapy has been able to wipe from my mind's eye. I shall share my pain with you.

Anne Widdecombe used the term 'undignified', even though she was last seen being used as a floor-polisher on Strictly Come Dancing.

And the unreformed Tories crawled out of the woodwork to snipe anonymously

A senior Conservative backbencher accused Mrs Bercow of seeing herself as the "first lady" of British politics and, in a reference to the former president and first lady of the Philippines, said the couple were the Marcoses of British politics. Of Mr Bercow, the MP told the BBC: "If he can't have some influence over his wife's behaviour, then how does he expect to have influence over the behaviour of 600-odd MPs?"

Oh for the good old days where women knew their place, eh?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Facing cuts? Here's a tip...

Just wonder if every local authority has done these equality impact assessments?

The Judge held that London Councils’ consultation process was flawed and that they had failed to meet their statutory equality duties. Mr Justice Calvert Smith has allowed a judicial review challenge of London Councils' decision to cut £10 million of funding from voluntary sector organisations in London. He quashed all the funding cut decisions for the 200 plus projects and he said that London Councils must re-run the process, this time with full equality impact assessments

Birmingham CAB, for example?