Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Living Wage

Paying a Living Wage is an important part of social justice, and something that has been at the back of BFTF's mind for a while. It's time to go large on this issue....

1) Background


1) Background
Back in 1998, the freshly elected Labour Government introduced the Minimum Wage (currently £6.50/hr (£12,675 pa Gross for a 27.5hr week. However, whilst the Minimum Wage has increased faster than prices, it is still not enough to actually live on. In many cases, recipients still have to rely on welfare to meet the gap between what they are being paid, and the minimum the need to live on. Ed Milliband has commented on this effect :
"What is happening at the moment is that we are spending billions of pounds subsidising employers who are paying low wages, billions of pounds in benefits, tax credits and housing benefit...For every extra pound that the minimum wage goes up, some estimates say that we will save 50p in benefits and extra tax revenue. "
[Warning : BFTF sees a Ref Flag whenever a politician says "some estimates" so you may want to treat the specific value of 50p with a pinch of salt]

The wage people need to actually live on is knows, unsurprisingly, as the "Living Wage". It is currently £8.80 in London and £7.65 elsewhere in the country.


2) Ikano
Ikano run store cards and manage real estate. Their Corporate Responsibility profile explains "Ikano acts as a responsible company, a good employer and a good neighbour. We treat our partners, customers and co-workers in a responsible way".

However, while internally they pay everyone above the cost of living, they refuse to do anything about the 4 cleaners they contract well below the living wage, despite community organising champions NottinghamCitizens repeatedly raising the issue with them (more on NottsCitizens work here).

Ikano sponsors Nottingham's ROBIN HOOD half marathon, refuses to pay those working for it enough to live on.

So the ever wonderful people at NottinghamCitizens are going to try and help IKANO out by asking people to sponsor a team of Robins to run the Robin Hood half marathon on Saturday 28th September - with the money raised being taken to Ikano's head office and handed over personally to their head of operations, asking that it's used to finally pay these people their due, with any money left over will be used to support Living Wage Week actions in Nottingham this November.

George Gabriel, from Nottingham Citizens, has set up a donation page at :

BFTF is proud to have given a donation and hopes that you, dear reader, can either donate or send an email to IKANO to let them know what you think of their policies. Perhaps you might want to let some of IKANO's "famous friends" know how your goodwill in their brands is affected by what IKANO is doing. BFTF certainly will be....

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Woodland Trusty Stuff Sep 2014

Been reading the Autumn 2014 edition of "Broadleaf", the magazine of the Woodland Trust and a number of items caught BFTF's attention...

1) Forestry Legislation and Tree Planting
2) The Fortingall_Yew
3) The Theydon Bois Earthwork
4) The Hucking Estate


1) Forestry Legislation and Tree Planting
The Editorial by Beccy Speight, Chief Exec of the Woodland Trust, mentions that the Government is failing to meet its own tree planting targets in all four UK countries.

Also, following the widespread public anger over the proposed sell-off of the Public Forestry Estate in 2011, the Government stated in 2013 that :
"We can now confirm that we intend to establish a new, separate Public Forest Estate management body to hold the Estate in trust for the nation..." "...This will take time...but we want to be clear about our ambitions for it and the direction of travel we intend to take over the coming months."
So the Woodland Trust was disappointed to see no mention of the body in the 2014 Queens Speech.

Went to the Defra Website to find contact details of The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP (current Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). The website informs me that I lots of ways of following them, so looks promising.

DEFRA keen for people to "follow" them

Get to the page of the Secretary of State and the links below. Can you spot the one saying "contact"? No, me neither.

Nice to see a "Contact Me" link. Oh, hang on...

Notice a link at the bottom of the page asking if there is anything wrong with the page:

Questions to which the answer is "Yes"

To which BFTF responds :

Feedback Mode ON

There is a generic email address for DEFRA, but BFTF doesn't want to contact DEFRA, BFTF wants to engage with the top banana, the big enchilada, the head honcho, the big cheese - in short, BFTF wants to email the Rt Hon Liz Truss.

But with no other option available, sends this to "DEFRA" :
FAO Rt Hon Liz Truss Dear Secretary of State Rather saddened to hear that the government has missed its targets for tree planting so badly and also disturbed to hear that the Government intends to use "management through private finance" and the track record for PFI is poor, contracts are inflexible and they leave financial millstones that todays children, mine included, have to pay when they grow up. So my questions to you are : a) Why has tree planting lagged so badly behind targets during this government? b) What guarantee can you give that Forestry Commission or similar bodies will not be tied down with inflexible, poor value, long term PFI millstones?
And also this
"FAO Rt Hon Liz Truss etc etc It was great to see the Government accepting the key points of the Independent Forestry Panel and, in particular, committing in 2013 to putting in place a "Public Forest Estate management body to hold the Estate in trust for the nation" But why no word on this on the most recent Queens Speech?"

Lastly, on this item, contacted four local Imams suggesting that this was an issue that the Muslim community should be active on.

2) The Fortingall Yew
Fascinated to read about the Fortingall Yew which, according to Broadleaf "experts reckon [has] stood at Glen Lyon for up to 5,000 years", although Wikipedia puts the age at nearer 2,000 years. Pretty awesome either way! More on ancient British Trees at The Tree Council

The Fortingall Yew, looking good !

3) The Theydon Bois Earthwork
Pretty darn awesome, and rather huge, earthwork sculture next to the M11, by Richard Harris in collaboration with Greenarc and the Woodland Trust

4) The Hucking Estate

Issues regarding forest preservation are generally presented in the form of :
a)Things used be good like this [examples of how wonderful it used to be]
b)But now things are bad like this [examples of how bad it is now]
c)But we think if these actions are taken [list of THINGS TO BE DONE]
d)In a few decades we might have a better situation [Possibly rose tinted view of future]

So discussion becomes one sad story after another, and examples of how interventions 20-30years ago have now borne fruit, as it were, are somewhat harder to come by.

Chuffed, therefore, to read about how plans put into action in 1997 to regenerate the Woodland Trusts Hucking Estate have, in the intervening years, slowly but surely transformed the woodland into an area the has improved creepy crawliness (especially fungi, beetles and larvae); more and a wider range of butterflies; return of bats (!); coppiced areas possibly providing a revenue stream; and biodiverse grassland and heath (using land that was previously farmed). All good stuff!

Related Content
Tree Planting at Highfield Cemetery
Introduction and Interview with the Woodland Trust
Independant Panel on Forestry Report
Some stuff on sustainability, especially printing
Sustainably sourced notebooks
Interview with the Forest Stewardsip Council (FSC)

Image Sources
Fortingall Yew

Sunday, 31 August 2014

August 2014 - Updates and past posts

BFTF is conscious that those of you who keep up with the blog via email notifications will not be aware of the many updates that posts are given (as the email engine on blogger only sends out notifications when the post is first published, not if it is subsequently updated. And the other thing that has been preying of BFTF's mind is that there is now quite a lot of archive material on the blog, much of which is as valid today as when it was written.

So, here is a post summarising what updates have happened over the last four weeks or so, and also looking back on the most interesting posts from this month in previous years

Updates this month

Various info to aid when challenging MPs etc on Gaza
More images added to the "BFTF loves cycling" post
Additions to the "Pictures of the Sky Post".
Challenged Notts Conservatives on shockingly biased David Cameron statement on Gaza

Interesting posts from previous years

An important post detailing many ways in which a mosque can interact with society

Work-in-progress, taking best bits from some 1933 encyclopedias
All BFTF's recipes, on one delicious place
Interesting post comparing able-bodies and Paralympic team sizes of various countries
Frequently updates post with helpful homilies from Imams Disturbing post showing lack of response from Muslim orgs regarding Afghanistan Occasionally updated post on some of BBC Radio 4's best comedy

Plain Cigarette Packaging
Another disturbing post showing lack of response from Muslim orgs regarding chaos in Syria

What the Coalition Agreement says about the NHS

The Coalition Agreement set out the how the Conservative and LibDem parties were going to govern the UK. It can be found here. Below is what it says about the NHS. You may wish to read it and decide whether the Government has done what it said it would do. Some items in bold, emphasis is BFTF's.

"22. NHS
The Government believes that the NHS is an important expression of our national values. We are committed to an NHS that is free at the point of use and available to everyone based on need, not the ability to pay. We want to free NHS staff from political micromanagement, increase democratic participation in the NHS and make the NHS more accountable to the patients that it serves. That way we will drive up standards, support professional responsibility, deliver better value for money and create a healthier nation.

We will guarantee that health spending increases in real terms in each year of the Parliament, while recognising the impact this decision will have on other departments.

We will stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS that have got in the way of patient care. We are committed to reducing duplication and the resources spent on administration, and diverting these resources back to front-line care.

We will significantly cut the number of health quangos.

We will cut the cost of NHS administration by a third and transfer resources to support doctors and nurses on the front line.

We will stop the centrally dictated closure of A&E and maternity wards, so that people have better access to local services.

We will strengthen the power of GPs as patients’ expert guides through the health system by enabling them to commission care on their behalf.

We will ensure that there is a stronger voice for patients locally through directly elected individuals on the boards of their local primary care trust (PCT). The remainder of the PCT’s board will be appointed by the relevant local authority or authorities, and the Chief Executive and principal officers will be appointed by the Secretary of State on the advice of the new independent NHS board. This will ensure the right balance between locally accountable individuals and technical expertise.

The local PCT will act as a champion for patients and commission those residual services that are best undertaken at a wider level, rather than directly by GPs. It will also take responsibility for improving public health for people in their area, working closely with the local authority and other local organisations.

If a local authority has concerns about a significant proposed closure of local services, for example an A&E department, it will have the right to challenge health organisations, and refer the case to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel. The Panel would then provide advice to the Secretary of State for Health.

We will give every patient the right to choose to register with the GP they want, without being restricted by where they live.

We will develop a 24/7 urgent care service in every area of England, including GP out-ofhours services, and ensure every patient can access a local GP. We will make care more accessible by introducing a single number for every kind of urgent care and by using technology to help people communicate with their doctors.

We will renegotiate the GP contract and incentivise ways of improving access to primary care in disadvantaged areas.

We will make the NHS work better by extending best practice on improving discharge from hospital, maximising the number of day care operations, reducing delays prior to operations, and where possible enabling community access to care and treatments.

We will help elderly people live at home for longer through solutions such as home adaptations and community support programmes.

We will prioritise dementia research within the health research and development budget.

We will seek to stop foreign healthcare professionals working in the NHS unless they have passed robust language and competence tests.

Doctors and nurses need to be able to use their professional judgement about what is right for patients and we will support this by giving front-line staff more control of their working environment.

We will strengthen the role of the Care Quality Commission so it becomes an effective quality inspectorate. We will develop Monitor into an economic regulator that will oversee aspects of access, competition and price-setting in the NHS.

We will establish an independent NHS board to allocate resources and provide commissioning guidelines.

We will enable patients to rate hospitals and doctors according to the quality of care they received, and we will require hospitals to be open about mistakes and always tell patients if something has gone wrong.

We will measure our success on the health results that really matter – such as improving cancer and stroke survival rates or reducing hospital infections.

We will publish detailed data about the performance of healthcare providers online, so everyone will know who is providing a good service and who is falling behind.

We will put patients in charge of making decisions about their care, including control of their health records.

We will create a Cancer Drugs Fund to enable patients to access the cancer drugs their doctors think will help them, paid for using money saved by the NHS through our pledge to stop the rise in Employer National Insurance contributions from April 2011.

We will reform NICE and move to a system of value-based pricing, so that all patients can access the drugs and treatments their doctors think they need.

We will introduce a new dentistry contract that will focus on achieving good dental health and increasing access to NHS dentistry, with an additional focus on the oral health of schoolchildren.

We will provide £10 million a year beyond 2011 from within the budget of the Department of Health to support children’s hospices in their vital work. And so that proper support for the most sick children and adults can continue in the setting of their choice, we will introduce a new per-patient funding system for all hospices and providers of palliative care.

We will encourage NHS organisations to work better with their local police forces to clamp down on anyone who is aggressive and abusive to staff.

We are committed to the continuous improvement of the quality of services to patients, and to achieving this through much greater involvement of independent and voluntary providers.

We will give every patient the power to choose any healthcare provider that meets NHS standards, within NHS prices. This includes independent, voluntary and community sector providers."

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Holding Political Parties to Account

With an election on the horizon, thought it worth starting this post to hold various items related to holding Political Parties to Account.

1) Party Archives.
2) Conservative Promises on the NHS.


1) Party Archives
In 2007, David Cameron said "It's clear to me that political leaders will have to learn to let go. Let go of the information that we've guarded so jealously".

In 2010 the Conservative Party removed the publically accessible archive from its public facing website, erasing records of speeches and press releases from 2000 to 2010 - including, critically, those prior to the last election. The records were also removed from Google Search and from the Internet Archive. As of 31st Aug, points towards the UK Web Archive for "For old speeches, manifestos and news items", where around 40 records can be found, covering the period 2004 to 2014.

As of 31st Aug, the Labour Party website list of speeches also only goes as far back as 2010. BFTF notes that old speeches are not dated, which is unhelpful. Have challenged Labour party on this point.

In both cases, this makes it difficult to check BACK TO THE OFFICIAL SOURCE, what was claimed by these two parties prior to the last election, whether they have kept their promises and make a view as to whether their words can be trusted this time around.

Speeches (not sure how many) can still be found at

Related Content
Why Politicians are viewed as untrustworthy


1) Conservative Promises on the NHS
In progress

Thursday, 28 August 2014

2014 : 100yr commemoration of the start of WW1

WW1, particularly the horrific death toll and conditions of the Western Front, have been on BFTF's mind in 2014, as this represents the 100yr anniversary of the start of that conflict.

But it has not been the official events, Twitter feeds or TV dramas that have most affected BFTF. Rather it has been the testimony of the soldiers ,whether they were British or German that has really brought home why many wanted it to be the "war to end all wars"

And the complicated feelings that some Irish had about serving in the British Army (which many viewed as an army of occupation in Ireland).

One wonders how the 1.5 million volunteers from India (of whom 140,000 troops saw active service on the Western Front and another 700,000 served in Mesopotamia) thought about serving for an occupying force.
2nd Indian Cavalry Division during the Battle of the Somme.

The Mesopotamian Campaign, against the Ottoman Empire - the nominal centre of Islamic rule - also raises complex questions for Muslims of who, if anyone, was the "right" side in that theatre of conflict. Many of the issues are concisely overviewed in this article by Patrick Bishop, which shows how the conflict shaped much of the Middle East.

BFTF has been surprised to read about a British War Cemetery in Gaza, immaculately tended by the Gazans, although occasionally shelled by the Israelis.

The Indian Army, incidentally, was highly integrated, with Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims fighting - and dying - together. Indeed, the Brighton Pavilion was used as a hospital for Indian troops wounded in the trenches of the Western Front. See also this collection of photographs of the Indian Army.

See also this article which focusses on the Muslim troops in the British Army, and this on the Muslim burial ground in Woking. Kudos also to for this related article. And also worth reading about the Brookwood military cemetery.

Aside from the huge contribution from the Indian Army, hundreds of thousands of troops from Australia, New Zealand and Canada also served the British Army - and their contributions formed a much larger proportion of their respective populations than was the case for India. And there were also 55,000 troops from Africa.

The French also drew troops from their colonies, as described in this article by Khaled Diab.

SSAFA's "Official Guide to WW1"
Whilst ambling along the books section at ASDA, BFTF recently noticed a publication by SSAFA (a charity who help current and ex service personnel). The book was entitled "The Great War 1914-18 : SSAFA's Official Guide to World War 1"
SSAFA's Official Guide to World War 1.

BFTF had a quick look through the book and found it to be rich in detail and pictures. BFTF considered buying it, but two important things seemed to be missing, so BFTF put it back on the shelf and sent this email to SSAFA :

I noticed your Guide to World War 1 on sale recently and was about to buy it when I became disturbed at how the contribution of the 1.5million Indian troops (as well as those from Africa and other colonies) seemed to have received little or no mention.

Given that the 140,000 Indian Army troops saw active service on the Western Front and another 700,000 served in Mesopotamia, one would have thought they would receive at least as high a profile as the well known contribution from ANZAC forces, but I could see no significant mention of it in the book.

It might be that I missed it, as I only skimmed through the pages. So I'm hoping you can advise whether you feel that the book does indeed give the Indian Army the recognition that they deserve.

Secondly, and on a very different note, I was disappointed that there was no mention of the book being printed on sustainably sourced paper (e.g. recycled or FSC certified). Given that even supermarket till receipts are now printed on paper that is from a sustainable source, I can't see why a publication such as the "Guide to World War 1" is not similarly published. Again, perhaps I have got this wrong, so I hope you can advise on this point"

Image Sources
2nd Indian Cavalry

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Who picks up the bill when private health companies hurt people?

Disturbed by an article in The Guardian which reports on how the Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton had to cancel a contract for eye surgery operations that it had with Vanguard Healthcare after some 30 patients reported complications including blurred vision, pain and swelling.

According to the report:
"The [hospital] trust refused to talk in detail about what happened pending the conclusion of its own investigation. It also refused to discuss who would pick up any bill for compensation or details of its contract with Vanguard."

And therein lie the worries.

One concern with the prvatisation of services such as healthcare is that private companies take the profits but socialise the costs back to the taxpayer.

Another concern is the private companies can hide behind "confidentiality agreements" so the ordinary citizens, or even the NHS, cannot hold them to account.

Both of these issues may at play here.

So BFTF asked a few questions of NHS Nottingham, who are "Responsible for the healthcare of Nottingham City (340,500 people). In partnership with other organisations we're 'Working together for a healthier Nottingham' "

"Dear NHS Nottingham

I've recently read a disturbing account of how, in Cornwall, a contract by Musgrove Park Hospital with Vanguard Healthcare has been terminated because of poor quality eye operations and am concerned that the NHS will have to pick up the cost of rectifying Vanguards mistakes.

What reassurance can you give me that, in Nottingham :

a) Private companies working with the NHS will not be allowed to privatise profits while socialising the costs of mistakes.

b) Private companies will not be able to hide behind "confidentiality agreements" when they are working with the NHS.

Also, how can you ensure that these concerns actually reach the CCG?

Hoping you can advise on these points "

Related Posts

Campaigns to protect the NHS Interview with Prof Ian Shaw on the NHS Bill
Report on a Broxtow Save the NHS meeting
Falsification of data at SERCO
Report on a talk on Financial Incentives for Healthcare
Challenging the BBC on their coverage of the NHS Bill
This is what is wrong with the NHS Bill