“Tory government could let Virgin Trains run more rail lines despite East Coast ‘bailout’ “

“Tory ministers could let Virgin Trains take control of more rail lines despite a huge row over the firm receiving a “bailout”.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling refused to rule out further franchises, despite confessing the firm “made a major mistake” and there will be less money than forecast for the taxpayer.

He faced calls to quit last month when he let Virgin Trains East Coast, a partnership between Stagecoach and Sir Richard Branson’s empire, walk away from its franchise three years early. The firm is expected to pay the government hundreds of millions of pounds less than the £3.3bn it originally promised to 2023.

Labour branded this a bailout, a word Mr Grayling has repreatedly rejected.

Grilled by MPs today, Mr Grayling finally admitted there “won’t be as much” profit to the taxpayer “as had been forecast”. He added he was “not at all” happy with the current situation, adding: “This is a franchise that we clearly have not got right, the company hasn’t got right, it’s hugely frustrating.” But he repeatedly refused to guarantee the firm won’t be granted future rail franchises. He said the firm had not defaulted on the East Coast contract and was running a “good service”.

He told the Commons Transport Committee: “I have to do what is lawful as well as what is desirable. “I’m also constantly under attack from various politicians saying there are too many foreign companies in our rail network. This happens to be a British company in our rail network. “It may have made a major mistake here – do we want to exclude it permanently from all participation in the rail network?”

Mr Grayling insisted he does not want “companies to abuse the system and milk it for money”, and promised: “There’s no question of handing anybody a bung… They will be held to every last inch of that contract.”

But he admitted there will be less money to the public purse than forecast. He told MPs: “The taxpayer continues to make a premium out of this, will make a premium out of this in all circumstances going forward – taking a substantial slice of the operating profit.

“The money that’s been committed through the franchise period doesn’t just disappear in a puff of smoke. “But it’s certainly the case there isn’t as much of it as had been forecast.”


“Orphan” academy school still wIting for new sponsor after 2 years

“Two years ago, Rose Hill primary on the outskirts of Oxford was branded a failing school. Ranked “inadequate” by the schools watchdog Ofsted, it was placed in special measures and staff and parents were told an academy trust would be brought in to turn around the school’s fortunes.

Two years on – and two education secretaries later – the school is still waiting.

When the Guardian visited in January 2016, morale was at rock bottom. The Ofsted report had been so devastatingly negative that the headteacher, Sue Vermes, and her team said they felt “criminalised” by the experience. A compulsory academy order was made and Vermes and her colleagues waited for their new masters to move in. Then – nothing.

Rose Hill, which serves a disadvantaged community far from Oxford’s dreaming spires, has become what is known as an “orphan” school. It is yet to be adopted by a sponsor. Though a local academy trust has shown an interest, a deal is yet to be secured. As the new education secretary, Damian Hinds, gets to grips with his brief, this small school is a reminder of the challenges the government’s academies programme faces.

“You feel unwanted,” says Vermes, sitting in her drab office. “With the day-to-day running of the school, it doesn’t have much impact. But long term, where are we going? I’ve given up trying to explain it to parents.”

Rose Hill is not alone. Estimates suggest there are around 60 orphan schools in England waiting to be taken over by a sponsor.

The government claims its academies policy – which takes schools out of local authority control and puts them in the hands of an academy trust, making them directly accountable to the Department for Education (DfE) – enables it to intervene swiftly when a school is in trouble. However, Rose Hill and others like it show this is not always a straightforward process.

And it has an impact on the children, too. After Rose Hill’s inadequate rating, one pupil asked Vermes: “If this is an inadequate school, does that mean I’m an inadequate child?” The longer the uncertainty continues, the less appealing the school looks to future pupils and their families, hence numbers drop and so does income.

The school building, which was crying out for repairs when we last visited, is just as bleak two years on. There is mould on the ceiling, the toilets smell, the paintwork is chipped, the classrooms are overheated and stuffy and the shabby corridors are chilly and unwelcoming.

It was due to be demolished and rebuilt under the last Labour government – the plans were drawn up and published in the local newspaper. When the coalition government took over in 2010, the funding disappeared overnight and Rose Hill has been struggling to keep up appearances ever since.

Since the Guardian’s last visit, the local authority has spent £200,000 on patching up the roof and replacing some windows; the DfE has set aside £1.4m for a new sponsor to spend on further repairs. But Vermes thinks a total rebuild is needed, which would cost £9m. “This is not a building that says to the children and their families that their education is crucial. It’s just saying to them, you are not worth the investment,” she says.

The building will be an ongoing issue for any sponsor. In addition, staffing costs are high: 35 different languages are spoken at the school, a third of the children have special educational needs and around half of them live in poverty. Vermes says the pressures on vulnerable families have increased as austerity continues to bite. There are two local food banks, which are well used, but some children are not getting enough to eat.

The children’s centre at the school has closed like all Oxfordshire’s children’s centres – so problems are not being picked up at an early stage. Pupils who need to attend a special school cannot always find one because of a shortage of places, so Rose Hill keeps them on roll with additional support staff.

MPs call for overhaul in oversight of England’s academy school chains
After the academy order was made, Vermes was asked to quit – but she refused. “It’s the wrong culture. It’s like football managers,” she says. She has worked as a teacher in Oxfordshire since 1985 and has taken just three days of sick leave in that time.

Last October, Ofsted returned to Rose Hill and found it much improved. The school was taken out of special measures and rated “requires improvement”, but in three categories was ranked “good”. Yet still the school is stranded without a sponsor.

More than half of all secondary schools in England are now run as academies, along with a fifth of primaries. On 17 January, MPs on parliament’s education committee called on the government to overhaul the oversight of academy chains after a string of high-profile failures.

Vermes is optimistic there will be a positive outcome for Rose Hill, hoping that the local academy chain she favours will take the school on, but the journey to this point has been long and bruising. It is, she says, a good example of the chaos of government policy surrounding academisation.

“I also think we are a symbol of the current punitive attitude towards children and families in poverty: ‘You’re poor, so your education is less important, and you can certainly put up with a substandard building,’” she says.

The Department for Education was unable to say how many “orphan” schools there currently are in England. A DfE spokesman said: “We have been working hard to achieve a positive solution for Rose Hill Primary school and to address the most urgent needs which will make the building fit for purpose.
“We are still in negotiations with River Learning Trust, which is supporting the school, and continue to work with the local authority, which remains responsible for maintaining the buildings and site at Rose Hill.”‎


“Inequality gap widens as 42 people hold same wealth as 3.7bn poorest”

“The development charity Oxfam has called for action to tackle the growing gap between rich and poor as it launched a new report showing that 42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion who make up the poorest half of the world’s population.

In a report published on Monday to coincide with the gathering of some of the world’s richest people at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Oxfam said billionaires had been created at a record rate of one every two days over the past 12 months, at a time when the bottom 50% of the world’s population had seen no increase in wealth. It added that 82% of the global wealth generated in 2017 went to the most wealthy 1%.

The charity said it was “unacceptable and unsustainable” for a tiny minority to accumulate so much wealth while hundreds of millions of people struggled on poverty pay. It called on world leaders to turn rhetoric about inequality into policies to tackle tax evasion and boost the pay of workers. …”


“All public service contracting ‘should be paused’ “

“The Smith Institute has called on the government to end what it called a “‘love in’ with outsourcing and PFI”, after the fiasco of the Carillion collapse.

A report Out of Contract said there should be an immediate pause in all public service contracting followed by a review of existing deals, which were valued in all at around £100bn a year

Authors John Tizard, a former senior executive at Capita, and David Walker, a former director at the Audit Commission, argued that public delivery should again be the norm in government, policing, the NHS and other services and pointed to a trend for local government, the devolved administrations and some NHS trusts to take services back under direct control.

A new regulator should scrutinise public contracting, they proposed, including how much directors are paid as well as staff employment and conditions and union recognition.

The report said there was a lack of data on outsourcing and PFI deals and a ‘Domesday Book’ listing these was needed urgently.

The authors of the report directly cautioned Labour – the Smith Institute is named after the late party leader John Smith – that any review of outsourcing, following the party’s criticism of the concept, needed an evidence base.

Shadow cabinet secretary Jon Trickett said: “Outsourcing and PFI are failed dogmatic experiments.

“Marketisation of public services was sold to us as efficient, with competition ensuring a good deal for the taxpayer and service users. It is clear that this is not the case.”

Tizard and Walker wrote a blog for PF on the report last week. “


Up to 1 million elderly people starving and lonely say MPs

“As many as a million older people are starving in their homes through loneliness according to MPs who have called on ministers to redirect funds into schemes such as lunch clubs.

Isolation from relatives and friends is a bigger cause of malnutrition in the elderly than poverty, they say, and the winter fuel allowance should be means-tested to free money for meals on wheels and lunch clubs.

Supermarkets should have “slow checkout lanes” so that older people can get enough to eat by shopping without rushing, the all-party parliamentary group on hunger recommends.

It reports cases where people have gone without meals for weeks after losing a partner or wasted away over many months because they had no one to help them cook. Others have gone hungry because they could not get to the shops. Some have been banned from supermarkets for falling over.

Social care services have said that while they will help frail elderly people eat, it is outside their scope to ensure there is food in the house, according to evidence gathered by the MPs.

Frank Field, chairman of the group, said: “Beneath the radar there are malnourished older people in this country spending two or three months withering away in their own homes, with some entering hospital weighing five and a half stone with an infection, or following a fall, which keeps them there for several torturous days, if not weeks.”

Theresa May said that loneliness was the “sad reality of modern life” as she appointed Britain’s first minister for loneliness last week. Tracey Crouch promised a strategy to deal with isolation and Mr Field said that his findings should be the “first report on her desk”.

About 1.3 million over-65s are thought to be malnourished but the MPs called for a more up-to-date estimate. Today’s report argues that pensioner poverty had fallen and few used food banks so the main reason was social. Mr Field said he was surprised to find that “for some of those who become malnourished it may be economic but there is also growing isolation, losing their friends because they’ve died and losing their partner.” Such people often end up in hospital and the House of Commons library estimates that malnutrition costs the NHS £12 billion a year.

A crumbling elderly care system has been cited as one of the main reasons for hospital pressures and Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England, has previously suggested scrapping perks such as free bus passes to pay for social care.

The MPs say that £100 million could be raised to feed the elderly by stopping the winter fuel allowance for higher-rate taxpayers.

Dianne Jeffrey, chairwoman of Age UK and of the Malnutrition Task Force, an independent group of experts, said it was a “shocking reality” of modern Britain that malnourished older people were “hidden in plain sight”.

Only 29,000 people receive meals on wheels, down from 155,000 a decade ago. A handful of Sainsbury’s and Tesco shops have “slow shopping” times when checkouts are devoted to those who want to shop without feeling hurried.

A government spokeswoman said: “We know better diagnosis and detection is key, which is why we continue to train all health staff to spot the early warning signs of malnutrition so effective treatment can be put into place.”

Source: The Times, today (pay wall)

Is Jeremy Hunt an NHS troll?

“Jeremy Hunt’s latest tweet will have the majority of Britain asking whether the widely-hated Health Secretary is just uncompromisingly incompetent, or whether he’s actively trolling the entire country.

The tweet is so inexplicably inept that it will have the entirety of Britain asking if Hunt is sticking two fingers up at every single doctor and nurse across the country, whilst simultaneously mocking the Prime Minister, who was too weak to sack him during her botched reshuffle, and who ended up giving the provably disastrous Health Secretary even more responsibility instead despite his many, many catastrophic failures.

The Tory Health Secretary just tweeted an NHS rota, in his words, as an example of a ‘really clever use of technology’ that NHS staff in Ipswich are using to ‘ensure safe staffing levels are maintained throughout the day.’

It seems Jeremy Hunt and his team either failed to actually look at what the rota was saying, or they just think dangerously low staffing levels are absolutely fine and definitely not a massive risk to patient safety. Let’s take a closer look at that rota:

Yes, like probably everybody else with even the faintest idea of what different colours mean on a rota, you’ve probably already guessed the problem: RED MEANS BAD!

Every red box on the rota Hunt tweeted means that staffing levels during that particular time of day, and on the corresponding ward, are considered at high risk due to understaffing.

For instance, on the early shift, the rota appears to show there are only two wards in the entire hospital that have adequate staff numbers and therefore a low risk level, whilst a staggering 11 wards have an inadequate number of nurses leading to these wards being labelled ‘high risk’.

It would appear that Hunt either wants to normalise this type of chronic and dangerously risky understaffing, or he simply hasn’t got a clue what the hell he’s doing.

[The article continues with some response tweets pointing this out]

And just remember, the person running the country just gave this man – a man whose professional history is littered with a catalogue of disastrous failures, missed targets and literal deaths as a result of his incredibly obvious incompetence – the task of ‘improving’ social care in Britain as well.

How people can actually justify voting for these people really is beyond me.”