Times says 7 more privatised companies may be under threat

“As the country wonders which big name in the construction and services industry will follow Carillion into bankruptcy, Stephen Rawlinson may have hit upon the answer — and it’s one that offers little reassurance to any of the leading players.

According to the respected independent analyst: “We are asked continually, ‘Who is the next Carillion?’ There are individual candidates, of course, but the sense we have now is that it could be the whole UK-based construction and services sector.”

That view will ring alarm bells in corporate boardrooms and public sector committee rooms nationwide, but it rings true with investors. Shares of the industry’s heavyweights, government contractors providing public services, looking after public buildings and estates and/or building them, have plummeted. The reasons why — and why recovery, if at all, has been slow — are troubling enough on their own, but added together they sum up the huge challenge facing the outsourcing industry. …”

[The article goes on to name G4S, Babcock, Mitie, Kier, Interserve, Capita and Serco]

Source: The Times, paywall

New Dorset unitary council may not be able to balance the books

“… In today’s report, the programme director for the council Keith Cheesman revealed that, whilst most of the transitional costs have been around what was expected, the cost of taking on interim staff to carry out projects related to changing to the new council have been far higher than anticipated and need extra funding.

Cheesman’s report said that the ongoing dispute between the shadow Dorset Council and Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole Council over the transfer of debts and reserves is yet to be resolved, and also warned that years of reducing employee numbers has left internal employee resources “very limited.”

The merger between Dorset County, East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, Weymouth & Portland, and West Dorset councils was given the green light back in May, followed by a lengthy legal battle with Christchurch Borough Council.

Last week, Christchurch BC, which will be part of the second new council, said it was still split over the need to contribute £420,000 towards merger costs.”


Local authority settlement fails to address major funding issues and shortfalls

AND government has said if councils need more money they should hold referendums which might, or might not, agree to further council tax rises to make up for the shortfall.

“Last week’s provisional settlement for local government was predictably disappointing, says Richard Harbord, while the big issues of funding social care and council tax reform wait unaddressed in the political long grass.

The delayed settlement was eventually published last week, leaving local authorities little time to do any detailed work on it before Christmas.

It has to be said it was never going to be earth-shattering, being the last year of an agreed multi-year settlement negotiated four years ago.

The actual settlement says that the government are planning to increase resources by £1.3bn next year, but this seems to include a number of separate issues such as Winter Pressures Funding for social care, the bulk of which comes with conditions, and the removal of the threat of negative grant.

The Local Government Association in a somewhat low-key response says that this settlement will still leave local authorities some £3.2bn short of the resources they require to maintain a reasonable standard of service.

Other announcements were expected at the same time but a number of these did not appear. The amount of time and energy spent on leaving the European Community has left a large void in moving forward to resolve the many problems local government faces.

There was a consultation paper on business rate retention, but this has been so long discussed in the joint working parties between central government and the LGA that it is hardly new. It is now set at 75%, this is somewhat less than Eric Pickles’ 100% and the various other figures talked about over the last few years, and is perhaps a disappointing increase on the 50% which has been the scheme for the last few years.

The announcement says that the government continues to work on the Fair Funding Formula which was also expected to go out to consultation. This was never intended to take effect next year, but local authorities need to know if there are to be major changes to distribution and to account and allow for them in their medium-term financial plans.

We had already been warned that perhaps the most important of all – the options for dealing with the increasing expenditure on social care – had been put back until next Summer. This was, it will be remembered the subject of a bungled announcement during the last general election campaign which had to be withdrawn with a Green Paper promised for immediately after the vote.

This has been delayed several times. It is just too difficult to find options that are acceptable to the majority. If there is to be a central funding solution rather than an insurance solution, it will have to come from additional taxation. Politicians continue to believe that increases in taxation are to be avoided at all costs but a relatively small increase in taxation could produce workable options.

The LGA urges the government to reconsider and to improve the offer by the time of the final settlement early next year. This is extremely unlikely to happen.

The fact is that this settlement does nothing to help local authorities become sustainable and to save them from having to make even more serious cuts in services going forward.

Business rates retention may have been sorted, but the government really needs to address the issue of council tax. Hopelessly outdated and not understandable to owners of properties, it is in desperate need of reform.

The government argue that it is open to local authorities to run referendums to increase council tax by over 3 % , indeed they have encouraged local authorities to do so but the limited gains and negative publicity have put authorities off.

At the very least the values used need to be current values and the banding system needs drastic revision to reflect the fact that so many properties are valued at over £1m and should be contributing more to local services.

We do now look forward to the spending review, but there cannot be widespread optimism that all will be well.”


“Dickensian’ poverty increasingly prevalent in schools”

“Increasing levels of child poverty are affecting children and young people’s education, with schools dealing with ‘Dickensian’ levels of squalor, a major teaching union has warned.

A survey of members by the National Education Union found more than half (53%) believe children in their school will go hungry over Christmas, putting the blame on welfare cuts as well as those to schools and children’s services.

The poll of 1,026 NEU teachers in England revealed that 46% believe holiday hunger – a lack of access to food in the absence of free school meals – has got worse in the last three years.

The NEU’s report, published today, highlighted the “stark” impact of poverty on children’s education. Poverty-related problems include: absence from school (83%); behavioural issues (85%); concentration (81%); health (59%); and lateness (79%).

The survey heard from teachers who were buying or washing clothes for students who could not afford them. Some teachers said their students had been sleeping in their school uniforms because they don’t have pyjamas, and other children had food delivered to their home by the school.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “This is a Dickensian picture of the poverty that far too many children and their families are having to endure.

“The government has failed to recognise the human cost of its cuts to schools and other children’s services and to the social security system, and its failure to address the in-work poverty faced by one in five workers.

“The government must stop hiding from the facts. Children can’t escape the poverty trap without an urgent change to national policies.”

The poll also found 46% of teachers believe that poor quality and overcrowded housing conditions are affecting the education of children and young people more than they were.

Many schools are now offering free breakfast clubs for children and also running foodbanks, giving hampers to families and providing meals during the holidays, the survey found.

But union members said that school funding cuts were restricting the help that can be given.

A government spokesperson said: “Teachers shouldn’t have to step in to tackle the issues highlighted by this survey, and we’re already taking action to make sure that they don’t have to.”


“Food bank opens AT SCHOOL after famished children start stealing from lunchboxes”

“A primary school has set up a food bank for hungry kids whose parents are struggling under austerity.

Head Debbie Whiting launched it after seeing pupils so famished they were stealing from other children’s packed lunches.

“You can’t learn if you’re hungry,” she said. “Children need to be fed, clothed and warm.”

The food bank at North Denes juniors in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, is thought to be the first at a British school.

Staff and some parents donate extra items from their shopping and a charity has given £1,500.

Mum Sadie Carter, who has two children at the school, said she fell to “rock bottom” after running out of money and was “crying for days”.

She said: “I didn’t know what to do. Then the school came to help.” ….