Saturday, 24 December 2016

Conservative Government

Policy notes from 2010 Coalition, 2015 and 2017 Conservative Governments

Dec 2018
Proportion of public spending sent to the EU and on "welfare"

Interesting chart showing::
a) How little money, proprotionally, the UK sends to the UK
b) What "welfare" means


Not strictly Conservative Government, but interesting to see how Wetherspoons, run by a pro-Brexit chairman, is pushing an Brexit agenda in their literature (via social media).


The graphs and charts here (by @dannydorling) are a fascinating and troubling insight into inequality in the UK.


This is what a Hostile Immigration Environment looks like


Nov 2018:
"Asylum seekers are being forced to undertake five-hour round trips to compulsory Home Office meetings, in what has been branded an expansion of the hostile environment policy. Some receive no support at all, which has reportedly left them with no way of paying travel costs without begging, borrowing or even putting themselves in exploitative situations to be able to earn money. While there is purportedly a reimbursement scheme, campaigners said it was “at best complicated and unpractical”, and that many people were still not receiving money."

Some 500 asylum seekers in Stoke-on-Trent were recently told they could no longer report at their local Police Station, but would instead have to travel 40miles to Salford.

According to Stoke's CAB, one disabled woman took 8hrs to make the journey, leaving her "“distressed and very unwell for the next few days”. Another asylum seeker, who had mental health problems, reportedly attempted suicide due to the distress it caused and was subsequently admitted to an acute psychiatric ward. *************************************

Nov 2018:
"A whistleblower has alleged benefit claimants moving onto Universal Credit in Stockton are only being paid if they call to complain, an MP has claimed. Dr Paul Williams addressed Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) minister Alok Sharma in Parliament after a Universal Credit caseworker wrote to him about "chaos" in the system.The letter claimed under-pressure staff at Stockton Job Centre were struggling with double or triple the 300 cases they are expected to work on...."


The Brexit Deal compared. 2nd Dec 2018


Nov 2018
Brexit supporting economist Prof Patrick Minford, giving oral evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee on "The Future of the European Union" September 2012:

"Europe is a great engine for creating entitlement[*], essentially, and strengthening vested interests, unfortunately."

"The car industry is highly integrated, so it would be in the interests of those German dominant manufacturers to negotiate an arrangement [if the UK left the EU], since they have a lot of plants here...If, for some reason, there were no willingness by the other countries’ car owners and governments to co-operate in this and there were a faster run-down of our car industry as a result of that lack of co-operation, we would have to compensate them in a way rather like the steel and coal industry. Those were not economic industries. That is a quite good parallel. If you have an industry that is not economic, it is your interests to run it down. Obviously, it would be nice if others would co-operate in parallel in the run-down so that it puts less of a cost on you but if, in the end, you have to do it yourself, you are still better off."

"It is perfectly true that if you remove protection of the sort that has been given particularly to the car industry and other manufacturing industries inside the protective wall [of the EU single market], you will have a change in the situation facing that industry, and you are going to have to run it down. It will be in your interests to do it, just as in the same way we ran down the coal and steel industries. These things happen as evolution takes place in your economy. In the long run they are in your interest, but of course you have to deal with the compensation problems along the route. It won’t be a process that can be entertained without some form of compensation. As I said, reform always requires compensation. You can’t do anything that involves changing relative prices long term that doesn’t involve some form of compensation for political reasons."

[*]: Suspect "entitlement" means "workers rights and a welfare safety net"

Full evidence here:

Oh, and by the way the questioning from the committee was a a joke, completely failed to point out to Minford how his vision was deluded and a disaster for the UK.


Nov 2018
Been asking questions of Nottingham Conservatives over the last year or two. You can find a list of them, and the responses from Nottingham Conservatives, here:

Nov 2018
: "A nine-year-old girl phoned a charity and pleaded for a job – because her mother had died and she and her father had no money. The child told Ellie Waugh, who took the call, that her dad had lost his job, and his Universal Credit benefit had been delayed. She offered to clean floors and make beds in return for money, telling Ellie that she was ‘really worried’ about their financial situation."

Examples of "stick" (DWP) and "carrot" (Non DWP?) nudge behaviour (link):

Case 1: ‘Jane’, a sanctioned benefit claimant “A missed appointment”, they said. They put me under the sanction … I was on zero income. Zero housing benefit, zero council tax benefit. Towards the end I put in a nil income form, which activated my housing benefit temporarily. But I think once I had nil income for four and a half months …I turned to prostitution. It was the most horrific time of my life. I got raped. I got raped. I got [hesitates] beaten up, raped and buggered, trying to [hesitates] earn money via prostitution. I was working with [two support organisations]. They were liaising with the benefits as well. It made no difference.

Case 2: ‘John’, ex-offender, benefit claimant [Support organisation] are pukka, everything, paperwork, like support if I’ve got problems … When I used to feel really low, I used to hit the bottle. Now rather than hit the bottle I’ll just ring [support worker] up and he’ll say, “Right do you want to come to speak to someone?” You know, which is great, that’s all I need. Whereas if I didn’t have them I don’t know where I’d be now …I’ve never felt more confident. Now I’ve got my head screwed back on. I’ve got a job interview for [company] on the 17th through these guys. They’re interested in me. So hopefully, fingers crossed, I’ll be off benefits and back on proper money. Yes, that’s all I want."


May2018 2018: Suspended Councillors

Disturbing to see so many prospective councillors being suspended for hate speech. Also disturbing to see how far back people are looking to find incriminating Tweets etc. Link


May2018 2018: UK Rental Housing

Interesting article with some background on the history of rental laws in the UK. Link


Apr 2018: New EU rules on unfair food chain trade practices
"The Commission is targeting the most damaging unfair trade practices to grant farmers and small and medium sized businesses greater certainty and less need to manage risks over which they have little or no control." - Link

Wonder if the UK will enact / keep this legislation in the post-Brexit world that awaits us.


Dec 2017: Poverty
ITV news report : "Primary schools using washing machines to wash children's uniforms, teachers charging parents' phones because they have no electricity at home, and GPs treating kids for rickets. This is the poverty we have found in the UK in 2017."

Dec 2017 : Leaseholds banned on new-build houses in England
""It's unacceptable for home buyers to be exploited through unnecessary leaseholds, unjustifiable charges and onerous ground rent terms," said Communities Secretary Sajid Javid. "It's clear from the overwhelming response from the public that real action is needed to end these feudal practices."


Dec 2017: Housing
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO), said:
“Our cases show many pre-conceived ideas about the people affected by homelessness simply no longer ring true. The increasing cost of private rents has meant we have seen a shift towards more people in professions such as nursing, and their families, becoming affected..."
At around the same time, the LGO published a report entitled "Still no place like home?" which describes some of the hundreds of cases that are referred to the LGO. Critically, the report also states how the LGO was able to put things right. For example:
"Ben and Carrie, and their two young children, were evicted from their private rented tenancy and the council placed them in bed and breakfast accommodation. The whole family lived in a single room and had to share cooking and washing facilities with other people, none of whom had children. Ben and Carrie complained about the poor condition of the bed and breakfast shortly after moving in. They told the council the shower was out of use and the kitchen and toilets were in a poor state of repair. After a month, Ben and Carrie reported they had found cockroaches in their bedroom. The council reported the issues to the owner of the bed and breakfast but did not follow this up to make sure repairs were completed and the cockroach problem addressed. Overall Ben and Carrie spent 26 weeks in bed and breakfast accommodation, which was 20 weeks longer than the legal limit. "

How the LGO put things right:

"Following our recommendations, the council:
i) apologised to Ben and Carrie
ii) paid £1,750 to reflect the time the family had spent in B&B accommodation
iii) changed its procedures to ensure complaints about repairs were properly followed up – especially around pest infestation."


An article by Aditya Chakrabortty on fat-cat salaries for senior University staff comments that :

"Our universities, the NHS and the BBC: three things that the rest of the world admires about Britain. It is no coincidence that all of them derive their values and ethics from outside the marketplace. If we want to ruin them, the quickest way is to bring in the values of finance and business – of profiteering from students, sweating academics and handing riches to the management."


Saw a Conservative Facebook post saying that the percentage of 6yr olds "passing reading checks" had increased from 58% in 2012 to 81% in 2017 - which sounds pretty impressive!. The post referenced the 2017 "Progress in International Reading Literacy Study" (PIRLS) which looks at the abilities of students after about 4 yrs of schooling.

BFTF checked the report but could not find the quotes statistics in it (perhaps BFTF missed them, it is quite a long report).

Conservative Party Claim

The data that BFTF did notice in the report suggested that the scores of English Students had increased from 552 (in 2011) to 559 (in 2017).Asked local Conservative Party if they could show where the claimed figures had come from.



Brilliantly clear and concise blog about Brexit by Very clear, concise blog about Brexit by, Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (FAcSS), Chris Grey, from which few extracts are shown below:

On borders:
"As the realities of Brexit become ever more apparent, Brexiters are retreating ever further into a fantasy world of their own. To take just a couple of the many examples this week we had, first, Christopher Chope MP who amongst other things railed against the EU for making membership of the single market and customs union a “pre-requisite to having a frictionless border between Ireland and Northern Ireland”. This, which is becoming a recurrent complaint from the Brexit Ultras, shows a quite extraordinary degree of ignorance. It seems not to have occurred to Chope that it is the UK which is choosing to leave the single market and customs union and that means, by definition, creating a border. Once you leave a common customs and regulatory regime there have to be border checks – you can’t go an acting as if, somehow, you haven’t left those regimes. To pretend that this consequence arises from EU intransigence rather than UK choice is either to lack knowledge of the most basic of facts or to be deliberately misleading voters.(link)"

On "WTO rules":
"Brexiters often sneer at those who point to the dangers of leaving the single market and the uncertainties of creating free trade agreements by saying that countries such as the USA and China trade with the EU without either single market membership or a free trade agreement. The implication is that these countries simply trade on WTO terms. They do not. In fact, such countries trade via a complex web of Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) which are principally concerned with removing the non-tariff barriers to trade which are, in most cases, far more important than tariffs. Each MRA is a highly technical and, in most cases, lengthy document and the outcome of long periods of negotiation. The USA, for example, has some 135 MRAs with the EU, and China has 65. On Brexit with no deal, not only would the UK not have any MRAs with the EU but it would also have exited the EU’s MRAs with countries like the USA and China.(link)"
On "No Deal":
" Theresa May is reduced to “pleading” with the EU for a deal “she can defend to British voters”...This pitiful spectacle is, in any case, not really about finding a deal which May can defend to ‘British voters’. That would probably not be too hard to do...What she actually wants is something with can be defended to the ultras within her own party. And that – which is also what prevents her from being honest with the electorate – is not just difficult. It’s impossible. There is no deal which can be defended to the ultras for the simple reason that there is no deal that they will accept. Having pushed the envelope from soft to hard Brexit they are now openly campaigning for no deal as a desirable outcome...(link)"


Some examples of sanctions and the effect they have:Liverpool mum-of-four went without food for a week so her kids had enough to eat


Charity says DWP has "no direct evidence for the effectiveness of sanctions"

Link here.
"..a recent report from the National Audit Office (NAO) showed that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has no direct evidence for the effectiveness of sanctions, has failed to analyse the data it holds about sanctions, and has refused to share data with other researchers or assist those researchers.

The DWP made itself deliberately blind to the failures of the sanctions regime. But we have seen the harm these sanctions cause. In 2015, our report Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions revealed that 100,000 children were affected by benefit sanctions in one year. The NAO now tells us that, on average, these sanctions reduced people’s short- and long-term job prospects, and led to reduced earnings for those who got work."
Emailed and Tweeted Conservatives asking why the DWP were acting in this way, which goes against British Values of transparency and evidenced based policy:
I've received an email from "Church Action on Poverty" which claims that the National audit Office says that sanctions, on average, reduced people’s short- and long-term job prospects, and led to reduced earnings for those who got work. And that the DWP has failed to analyse the data it holds about sanctions, and has refused to share data with other researchers or assist those researchers. Are these claims true?

I can certainly imaging that, if I were sanctioned, I would be less able to search for work as I would be spending my time ensuring that my children had food to eat and that the heating was not cut off. Also I would be less able to buy petrol / bus tickets to attend interviews. It all looks very counterproductive to me.
. *************************************

Dec 2016 : Government accused of poor response to low Housing build rates
Article here
Comments from the Chairman of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee:
"The Government have accepted the Committee's analysis of the problem, but shied away from the steps needed to address it. In particular, the Government continue to rely on the private sector to build more houses when, as the Committee heard, these builders are incentivised to maximise profit margins not increase the number of houses they build. The Government have failed to recognise the need for local authorities to build more homes and for them to be freed from unnecessary and arbitrary financial restrictions which severely curtail their ability to build...

We are also disappointed that the Government has ignored our suggestion to give a single Cabinet Minister responsibility for ensuring suitable unused public land is made available for developing homes. Without a champion for that work at the highest level in government there is a danger that an opportunity to bring those spaces into productive use will be lost."

From Nottingham Labour on schools funding :
"On Wednesday 14th December the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening announced a new funding formula for schools up and down the country. The Conservative Government’s new method of funding directly targets schools in Nottingham for big budget cuts. While our schools in Nottingham are set to lose tens of millions of pounds by 2019/20, schools in some of the wealthiest areas of England are set for big gains... This latest move quite simply takes money from children in Nottingham only to hand it to wealthy, rural and mainly Conservative voting shire areas such as Wokingham and West Sussex. Other large cities, urban areas and areas with the highest levels of child poverty such as Birmingham and Manchester have been targeted in the same way.

The National Audit Office has said that the scale of the cuts mean that schools in England will have to reduce spending by £3 billion between now and 2019/20.

98% of Nottingham schools will receive lower funding under the new Tory school funding structure (87 out of 89 schools)."

And this at the same time as corporate taxation was being reduced, corporate tax evasion remains rampant and the number of tax inspectors has been culled.


From a Guardian article
NHS Income from private patients
2011-12 : £454 million
2015-16 : £558 million (increase of 22%)

Patients waiting more than 18weeks for treatment
Oct 2011 : 234,030
Oct 2016 : >360,000 (increase of 54%)


Theresa May Election Speech
A campaign email sent out by Theresa May on her election as Prime Minister, together with BFTF's response (slightly edited)...

... But the mission to make Britain a country that works for everyone means more than fighting these injustices. If you're from an ordinary, working-class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. You have a job but you don't always have job security. You have your own home, but you worry about paying the mortgage. You can just about manage, but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school.

[worth thinking about who Theresa May regards as working class when she talks about "you have your own home" - I guess renters need not apply]
"If you're one of those families, if you're just managing, I want to address you directly. I know you're working around the clock, I know you're doing your best, and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle. The Government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives. When we take the big calls, we'll think not of the powerful but you. When we pass new laws, we'll listen not to the mighty but to you. When it comes to taxes, we'll prioritise not the wealthy but you. When it comes to opportunity, we won't entrench the advantages of the fortunate few. We will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you."

"We are living through an important moment in our country's history. Following the referendum, we face a time of great national change. And I know, because we're Great Britain, that we will rise to the challenge. As we leave the European Union, we will forge a bold, new, positive role for ourselves in the world. And we will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us."

2 Oct 16 : Question to Notts Conservatives regarding missing government data.
"I've been reading up on tax rate trends and, as is my tendency, wanted to get to the source data - but have found it inaccessible as it has been shunted off the HMRC website. I find this lack of transparency disturbing and inconsistent with the behaviour I would expect from a government that wants its citizens to be informed and able to hold power to account.As the data appears to have been hidden under the watch of a Conservative Government, I'm emailing you to ask if a link to the data can be provided. The The page I visited. The (non working) link on I clicked on and whose data I am after.
Actually, the data I really wanted to get to was on historical trends in Corporation Tax and Corporate profits and is here, or it would be if it hadn't been removed. "

[Local Conservatives not really interested and basically shrugged their shoulders - so much for tranparency]

This Article describes how the Conservatives have tried to make access to their historical claims difficult.


Aug 2016: BFTF rather liked this community organising hub called "Aye2Aye" located by the foot of Ben Nevis at Fort William in the Scottish Highlands.

Aye2Aye state that "Aye2Aye is a non partisan grassroots, voluntary organisation. Our purpose is the pursuit and promotion of the case for Scotland becoming an independent country."

Aye2Aye in Fort William, Scotland

Interesting to read a poster in the window which used the example of Catalonia to give examples of the pros and cons to independence.

Pros and Cons to Calatonian Independence

Another poster compared the number of voters in Scotland with the number of voters on Englands South East coast.

The question some Scots are asking

Also impressed by the work the volunteers there have done, such as this effort to help refugees.

See also their funding page.


Express, 20 May 2016 : Gove warns that population could swell by five million unless we leave EU

The Guardian, 20 may 2016, Give warns immigrants will make NHS unsustainable

Vote Leave, 8th June 2016

The Guardian, 16 Jul 2018 : Michael Gove admits leave campaign wrong to fuel Turkey fears


Jun 2016 : Michael Gove responding to an audience question on the rights of Brits who owned homes in the EU (question as part of a Sky Interview with Faisal Islam):

Gove says that he has friends who live or own property in France and that "many" of them voted to leave the EU because "...they also know that there are international laws and international rules that mean that if you are legally and ordinarily resident in another country then even if your home country votes to leave the European Union, all your rights, all your priviledges are carried on and are respected, so the one thing I would say to you, and indeed to everyone, who enjoys living [in the EU]and [the prospect of retiring in the EU] is that your investment [in property in the EU] is safe and your future will be safe whatever the decision on June 23rd..the French government would have to respect those rules...I agree there are one of two foreign politicians who have tried to play the "fear" card in this debate but it's perfectly clear [that] the legal basis is that if you are ordinarily resident, if you have legal right and title to a property in another EU country then that will be respected."


Mar 2016 : Recent proposals to force all schools to become academies have caused BFTF to pay attention to this issue.

Whilst it does not affect BFTF directly (Little No3 Son is well on this way through secondary education at a school that is already an academy), BFTF cares about the quality of education in England, and that the structures delivering it are accountable, well run and effective. Lets look at each of these in turn.

BFTF was disturbed to read a report recently on what happened when a local journalist tried to find out about proposals for Halewood Academy to close its Sixth Form.

The school would not comment, and directed the reporter to their website (where the consultation letter and proposal could be found)

The council would not comment, saying that academies were the responsibility of central government.

The school still wounldn't comment

The council directed the reporter to the "regional schools commissioner", The commisioner told the reporter to talk to the Department of Education.

And the Department of Education had already told parents that "the government and Parliament aren't responsible!

Well Run - Assets
BFTF hears a lot of concerns about land and buildings that were previously publically owned being gifted to private companies on academisation. DoE advice sdescribes how schools becoming academies should " transfer your school’s land to the academy trust."

PFI continues to be a be a big issue. A CoE secondary school, built via PFI, and which wished to become part of a Multi-Academy-Trust is described in a public service article thus:

"The PFI agreement includes a series of facilities management contracts lasting up to 25 years and costing more than £1m a year. At a time of budget reductions, this commitment puts the long-term financial security of the school at risk. The school’s governors are fully aware of this and are deeply concerned about the future viability of the school. They hoped that academy ‘freedoms’ would give them the opportunity to renegotiate the PFI contract, but this appears to be legally impossible.

The diocese is reluctant to take on such an open-ended financial burden, which must be a disincentive to any potential sponsor. Its independent auditors concluded that the PFI contract did not meet the school’s needs, did not function effectively and did not provide value for money. For the diocese, voluntary aided status might offer the best of both worlds. It would increase its influence on the governing body and would give it more control over the land and assets of the school, without having to take on the same financial risks that it would if the school were an academy."
On the other hand, an article at the right-wing Policy Exchange site describes how government policy aims to separate the procurement and management of schools, so that there is no conflict of interest between the two roles.

Well Run - Management
Disturbing to read that the current oversight system did not spot the severe financial irregularities of the Perry Beeches Academy chain, and took six months (!) to respond to warnings raised by a whistleblower.

In 2015, the Chair of the Education Committee commented that :
"Current evidence does not prove that academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children. It is clear though that academisation has led to greater competition, challenging many maintained schools to improve and incentivising local authorities to develop speedier and more effective interventions in underperforming schools."

BFTF notes that academies do not have to follow the national curriculum or employ trained teachers. That does not sound like a recipe for success, but it does sound like a recipe for cost cutting. What is the point of a national curriculum if no school has to follow it? How can one compare schools (excpt via GCSE results) if there is no benchmark?

Apr 2014:The Medical Innovation Bill (nee "Saatchi Bill")

The "Draft Legislation of Medical Innovation Bill" (otherwise known as the "Saatchi Bill" after its sponsor) is perhaps the most bizarre example of evidence-free policy in recent times- and that is saying something. Universally panned by medical organisations and even by the doctors it claimed to be aiming to protect, it was essentially a licence for quackery. It is tragic how much time and effort was spent by citizens, doctors and politicians in campaigning against a bill that was based on untruths such as in this article which states that :
"Last year, thousands of women died of cancer...Scientific knowledge will not advance by one centimetre as a result of these thousands of deaths. Why? Because the deceased only receive the standard procedure − the endless repetition of a failed experiment. The entire process of scientific discovery is blocked − by law."

But this is simply not true. Medical science advances constantly, by the process of research (something that this Bill specifically bans), by the sharing of best practice, and by the need to ensure that patients are not put unnecessarily in harms way. Indeed this constant mortality rate from breast cancer has dropped by some 40% since 1990 !

Many of the problems with the Bill outlined in this Telegraph article.

Foodbank debate Dec 2013
Hansard Transcript here.
Watch the Debate here.

The Motion:

"That this House notes that the number of people using foodbanks provided by the Trussell Trust alone has increased from 41,000 in 2010 to more than 500,000 since April this year, of whom one third were children; further notes that over the last three years prices have risen faster than wages; further notes the assessment of the Trussell Trust that the key factors in the rising resort to foodbanks are rising living costs and stagnant wages, as well as problems including delays to social security payments and the impact of the under-occupancy penalty; calls on the Government to publish the results of research into foodbanks commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which Ministers promised would be made public in the summer of 2013; and further calls on the Government to bring forward measures to reduce dependency on foodbanks, including a freeze on energy prices, a water affordability scheme, measures to end abuses of zero hours contracts, incentives to companies to pay a living wage and abolition of the under-occupancy penalty."
A few of the comments in the debate:

Stephen Mosley (Con): ...Figures from my local food bank show that 59% of those who have used the food bank since April have visited because of changes to benefits and a growing number of people are visiting because of sanctions.

Ian Murray (Lab): The hon. Gentleman mentions his food bank. The food bank in my constituency, run in a joint venture by the Trussell Trust and Blythswood Care, has seen a six times increase in the number of people using it this year alone, mainly due to benefit changes.

Dame Anne Begg(Lab): ...The belief that much of the problem is caused by errors in benefit payments is shared by Citizens Advice Scotland, which reports that 73% of the people using food banks cite problems with their welfare payments, that 30% are experiencing delays in getting the payment to which they are entitled, and that 22% are the subject of jobseeker’s allowance sanctions. However, people who have been sanctioned make up less than a quarter of those who are using food banks. All too commonly, people are using them because they have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own. People are still falling ill and losing their jobs as a result, only to face a long delay in getting any benefit. Those delays have got worse in recent years. It also seems to be taking longer and longer to get benefits reinstated once they have been stopped, even by accident. Cuts are also being made to the benefits that people get, including the most pernicious of all—the bedroom tax—and this is all before the largest change of all, universal credit, has been introduced. So things could get worse.

Sheila Gilmore (Lab): ... When I went to my local church-run food bank, I found that the people there were not political; the one thing they wanted to tell me was how shocked they were that so many of the people coming to them were suffering from sanctions—and sanctions not as a last resort but as a first resort.

Jessica Morden (Lab): I was e-mailed last Friday by a woman in my constituency who asked me to attend this debate. She said: “... At the beginning of this year, the DWP sanctioned me for six months due to an administrative error, which I did not ever receive a written apology for. I had to live on £27 a week for six months until my support worker found out and helped to get me back on my feet. I am not a waster or a shirker but having to receive food parcels because you have nothing in your cupboards is embarrassing for anyone. I also know people who work as hard as they can but because of low wages can’t manage.”

Hywel Williams (PC): ....A man came to see me on Monday who had been sanctioned and had no money. He had been called for an interview, but was not able to go because he had to take his seriously ill wife to hospital for cancer treatment. He could not be 30 miles away at the same time.

Catherine McKinnell (Lab): My constituency office took a phone call from an ex-serviceman yesterday who is now thankfully in receipt of a war pension, disability living allowance and employment and support allowance. However, while he was waiting for four weeks for Atos to deal with his appeal, he had to use a food bank. Does the Minister agree that that is an absolute disgrace?

Fiona Mactaggart (Lab): ...poor people in Slough are now fighting each other in the local Tesco when discount vegetables and fruit come out. A constituent texted me yesterday to say that he observed such fights on three separate occasions and that Tesco now has to put on security to deal with the issue. Is that not shocking in the 21st century?

The Gagging Bill Dec 2013
A lot of talk recently about "The Gagging Bill", but BFTF has had to look pretty hard to find out exactly what all the fuss is about. Fortunately, the Civil Society Commission has been set up to provide an insight into the legislation (formally known as "Part 2 of the Transparency in Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill") and its likely effects on the charitable and campaigning sector. The commission has been set up with the support of of over 50 prominent charities, campaign groups, community groups, academics, think tanks and online networks - and has produced a number of reports, under severe time pressure.

First Commission Report (Oct 13)
The first report sets the scene by saying:
" It is hard to think of another issue that could unite the Countryside Alliance to the Lancashire Badger Trust, the Christian Institute to the National Secular Society, but such is the concern about Part 2 of the Lobbying Bill a remarkable unanimity has been achieved.

It is a mark of bad governance for legislation to be bounced on Parliament and those directly affected without any consultation. When matters of democracy are at stake it is a very grave error. There is no doubt, from the evidence that this Commission has gathered, that Part 2 of the Lobbying Bill risks profoundly undermining the very fabric of our democracy by significantly limiting the right of organisations – from charities and community groups to think tanks and blog sites – to speak out on some of the most important issues facing this country and the planet. Whether we agree with these organisations or not, their role is essential in order to have an informed, engaged electorate."

The Commission recognises that appropriate legislation of non-party campaigning is needed to prevent influence being gained through excessive spending or through political parties pretending to be NGO's.

The Charity Commission guidance for charities on how they should work during lections is admirably clear and states:
“A charity’s policy position on a particular issue may coincide with, or be more or less similar to, that of one of the political parties. In this case it is entirely acceptable for the charity to continue to campaign on that issue and to advocate its policy as long as it makes clear its independence from any political party advocating the same policy and does nothing to encourage support for any political party”

Clauses in the relevant current (PPERA) legislation place additional constrains on the activities of charities, but allowed enough latitude for most groups to campaign without any fundamental problem emerging

The provisions in the proposed (Part 2 of the Transparency in Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill) legislation significantly extend these restrictions, making it difficult for civil society to have an effective voice in the lead up to an election. As the commission says :
"The consequence of these sub-clauses is that almost anything a charity or campaigning group does in relation to advocating policies in the year before an election can be considered from the point of view of its effect on the possible success or failure of particular parties or candidates. The result is a fundamental uncertainty, which can inhibit charities from campaigning for fear of breaking the law."

The first report by the commission contains a number of testimonies from charities and campaign groups, explaining how the proposed legislation would severly affect their ability to function:
“We believe that it would be perverse to reduce the spending limits and registration threshold in light of the increased number of regulated activities.” Scope,

“Given the fact that what we do is ‘encourage our members to participate in public life’, and that most of our campaigns are on issues which are likely to be of political contention in an election, the Bill could be interpreted to limit our total expenditure to £390,000 if staffing and other costs are taken into account. As Citizens UK’s anticipated expenditure in 2014-5 is £1.5m the impact would be disastrous.” Citizens UK,

“Most non-party campaigners are not of course organised on a constituency basis. Obtaining the information necessary to identify potential cases of non-compliance at constituency level, and particularly the evidence needed to be able to sanction breaches, is likely to be so difficult that these provisions may be unenforceable in practice.”Electoral Commission

“The red tape terrifies me... when you think about how we are funded and the money that goes to fund my position, it’s not right that it would just go to be wasted on red tape.” Shelter Cymru – Wales

Examples of how the work of charities could be affected
A letter from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations describe some possible scenarios showing how prefectly reasonably activities by charities could fall foul of the proposed legislation
1) A health charity could publish a leaflet highlighting the dangers of smoking. If smoking legislation became a party political issue in an election this activity could be deemed to have the effect of supporting a party’s campaign, and be subject to regulation.

2) A local community group could campaign for or against a proposed bypass road. If local candidates subsequently express a view on the issue the campaigning activity could be deemed to assist candidates’ election campaigns. The community group would become subject to regulation, even if it had acted apolitically and had no intention to support any candidate’s campaign.

3) A children’s charity calls for a statutory inquiry via the media in response to a major abuse scandal at the same time as one of the major political parties. This could leave them open to claims that they have inadvertently benefited that party’s election campaign

The Bill eventually became law, which was a sad day for British Civil Society. BFTF's local (Labour) MP commented that :

"This badly drafted legislation could end up having a chilling effect on charities and community groups that are conducting legitimate campaigning work. This Act was supposed to clamp down on paid-for lobbyists arm-twisting govenments into making decisions in their clients' interets without proper transparency and openness. Instead, charities are being targeted for wanting to raise health, education and other public interest concerns with Members of Parliament. Thre Government has put in place legislation which is an affront to our democracy and I will continue to support calls for the Act to be repealed"

May 2013 : BFTF was concerned to read about a campaign on explaining that :

"...night shelters throughout England and Wales may now be threatened with closure by a legal ruling that supported Isle of Anglesey Council's decision to deny housing benefit to a man who was staying in a night shelter. This was done on the grounds that it could not be considered his ‘home’, as the man did not have the right to leave his possessions there or a guaranteed place every night.

Many night shelters rely on Housing Benefit payments to keep their services running. This income is needed more now than ever before, as many homelessness services are already seeing other sources of funding fall due to local authority spending cuts. Without access to Housing Benefit, many shelters may be forced to close their doors."
After signing the petition, BFTF emailed Nottingham Council to ask them to confirm that they would not be stopping housing benefit payments to night shelters and similar accomodation.

Update 18 Jun 2012 : Received the following response from Nottingham Council:
1. Winter Shelters
Emmanuelle House which refers in to winter shelter scheme has confirmed that it does not claim Housing Benefit for citizens it support. This scheme would be similar in services offered to that of the upper tribunal decision in Anglesey and as such we would not pay HB for these services and I have been advised by Housing Aid (Gary Harvey) that 80% of the winter shelter users do not have recourse to public funds.

2. Hostel accommodation
This includes the likes of London Road, The New Albion, YMCA, Salvation Army.
The users of these hostels are classed as tenants and have either licenses or tenancy agreements to reside at the hostels. As long as the tenant abides by the rules of the hostel and the tenancy agreement they have the right to stay at the hostel. This suggests a greater degree of permanence than that of the night shelter in Holyhead (Anglesey) and allows the residents to leave their belongings during the day.

Based on the above, it is likely that HB can and is paid as and when claimed. We will of course keep this under review, should any new schemes emerge or if there is a change to the hostel accommodation that would mean we needed to apply the Upper Tribunal decision.

Update 18 Jun 2012 : Received this from the petition sponsor Emmaus
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was initially reluctant to take action in what it viewed as a local issue. However, following pressure from the homelessness sector [and the petition], the DWP has issued a joint clarification note with the Department for Communities and Local Government reassuring local authorities that ‘there has been no sudden change in the law’, so there is no reason to change housing benefit payments to night shelters. A number of local authorities are still reviewing their position as regards housing benefit payments to night shelters, so the Government’s action should help to protect services in these areas.

There was a real danger that a Tribunal decision on an individual case could have devastating and unforeseen consequences for emergency homelessness provision throughout England and Wales. Although the Government has stopped short of issuing definitive guidance for local authorities, this is an important step. Thank you to everyone who gave their support to our campaign.

A quote from JK Rowling on Tax:
"I chose to remain a domiciled taxpayer for a couple of reasons. The main one was that I wanted my children to grow up where I grew up, to have proper roots in a culture as old and magnificent as Britain’s; to be citizens, with everything that implies, of a real country, not free-floating ex-pats, living in the limbo of some tax haven and associating only with the children of similarly greedy tax exiles."

A second reason, however, was that I am indebted to the British welfare state; the very one that Mr Cameron would like to replace with charity handouts. When my life hit rock bottom, that safety net, threadbare though it had become under John Major’s Government, was there to break the fall. I cannot help feeling, therefore, that it would have been contemptible to scarper for the West Indies at the first sniff of a seven-figure royalty cheque. This, if you like, is my notion of patriotism. On the available evidence, I suspect that it is Lord Ashcroft’s idea of being a mug"
Oct 2012 : A number of media reports are stating that there have recently been changes that water down the provision in law for schools to have adequate facilities for the preparation of school dinners.

Previous legislation, in the form of the The Education (School Premises) Regulations 1999 states, in section 7 :

"The buildings provided for a school shall be adequate to permit the provision of appropriate ancillary facilities, in particular... for the preparation or serving of food and drinks and the washing of crockery and other utensils"

However, The School Premises (England) Regulations 2012, contain no such requirement, saying merely, in Section 6 that :

"School premises and the accommodation and facilities provided therein must be maintained to a standard such that, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of pupils are ensured."

Aug 2012 : Hiding behind commmercial confidentiality
BFTF recently heard some very sensible comments about how private companies should behave when undertaking taxpayer funded contracts and thought the infoworth sharing. . .

For example, G4S have recently failed to deliver the number of Olympic security personnel they were contracted to. Regarding this issue, Margaret Hodge MP, from the Public Accounts Committee, made the following comments in a conversation with reporter John Manel on the Radio 4 "PM" programme of Friday 13th Jul:

MH:"What none of us know is how that contract was designed, whether there was a penalty clause in it. Clearly we will have to pursue that point and this brings us to a wider point. More and more, the government chooses to use private companies to deliver public services, and this was a service funded by the taxpayer. It is absolutely imperative that we have total transparency so that you can really make sure that you are not getting ripped off and you are getting value."

JM:“. . neither LOGOC not G4S would talk to me about any penalty clauses, saying that the contract is “commercially confidential” but a Home Office spokesman told me that there are financial penalties if “performance targets” aren’t met"

MH:"Let me just say this first thing : Where public money is being used, hiding behind commercial confidentialty is simply not good enough. If you are a private company that chooses to take a contract that is funded by the taxpayer, you have to be open about this. You cannot hide behind commercial confidentiality and we the taxpayers must know whether we are getting value or whether we are getting ripped off."

JM:"You say this is public money, but whenever I talk to the Home Office it insists this is a contract signed by LOCOG which is a private company."

MH:"LOCOG is a private company that receives public money. This is presicely my point. You cannot have privat ecompanies bidding and securing public contracts and then refusing to be accountable for the way they spend tax-payers money. It is simply not on and not acceptable."

Separately in the programme, Prime Minister David Cameron also commented on the issue, saying “I am absolutely sure that if companies don’t deliver on their contracts they should be pursued for that money”

Jun 2012 : BFTF was utterly gobsmacked to read today that the government wanted to return to a two-tier education system by re-introducing CSE-type exams for the less able.

BFTF feels very strongly that the introduction of the GCSE - as a single examination- was a big step forward, that eliminated the discrimination faced by those who took CSE qualifications. The continued use of multiple exam boards, on the other hand, was ridiculous and inevitable resulted in a moral hazard of schools wanting to use the "easiest" board. So the proposal to switch to a single board sounds like a good idea.

Jun 2012 : BFTF found his blood boiling as he read an article in the Telegraph that described how soliders were being made redundant very close to their retirement dates - resulting in their pensions being put back by decades. Two quotes from the story will suffice to explain the nature of what is being done :

"...One 40-year-old sergeant serving in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers was only three days away from serving 22 years and qualifying for an immediate pension pot worth £108,000. He will now have to wait until he is 65 to receive the pension..."

"...Diana and Barry Payne said their son, Richard, a major, had been sacked just 86 days short of 16 years’ service that included “life-threatening” operational tours of Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo and Northern Ireland....To deny him a pension so close to qualifying is not only underhand, but undermines the ethos on which the Army supposedly prides itself."

BFTF sent an email to the local conservative party, who said they would be writing to Patrick Mercer MP about the issue, but BFTF never heard anything back.

Feb 2012 : "Non-Dom" Tax and Residency Rules
A Tweet that popped up in BFTF's Twitter feed (is BFTF down with the kids or what?) pointed towards a rather disturbing article in the Guardian about "non-doms" and their residency and tax status, suggesting that the way they are treated is so generous that the UK is viewed as a "tax-haven" by the super-rich around the world. Duncan Bannatyne, not known for having particularly left wing views, comments that, to reduce their tax on UK earnings, a non dom needs only "say that his or her UK company is managed by a board of directors outside the UK and then make a charge to the company for “management services”. This reduces the pre-tax profit of the company and so reduces its corporation tax bill. The money transferred offshore for “management services” is tax free and can be used to fund the non-dom lifestyle abroad – the yachts, planes and mansions.". His solution is that "UK residents should have a duty to pay UK tax unless they can prove that they are paying equivalent taxes elsewhere in the world. This would level the business playing field and encourage, rather than stifle, the growth of enterprise and small business in this country."

The TUC has written a comprehensive report on the issue and recommends a number of changes that would result in a system that was clear and free from abuse. They estimate that these changes (in which they emphasise they "not making suggestions that make the UK a less attractive place to come to live or work for a period of a few years").According to the TUC, their proposed domicile and tax residency changes should add an additional £4 billion to tax revenues.

Received a response from Nottingham Conservatives recently which said :

. . . You are right that in this area and others work needs to be done to ensure that everyone is paying their fair share of tax. It is wrong, although not necessarily illegal, that many high earners can arrange their affairs in such a way that they pay almost no tax at all. The government has pledged to change this. . .

. . .In terms of what has already been done, in the 2011 Budget the Chancellor announced reforms to the taxation of non-domiciled individuals. From April this year the existing £30,000 annual charge for non-domiciled individuals increases to £50,000 for those who have been UK resident for twelve or more years and who wish to retain access to the remittance basis of taxation. Furthermore the Chancellor has pledged to close other major loopholes that the very wealthy exploit and I look forward to hearing more about these proposals in the near future. . .

And there, dear reader, is your definition of the work "tokenism".

Perhaps a little embarrrasingly, the HMRC is housed in Nottingham

Image Source : Wikipedia


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