“Serco given new asylum housing contracts despite £6.8m fines”

“The outsourcing firm Serco was awarded new contracts to house vulnerable asylum seekers despite having been fined nearly £7m for previous failings, the Guardian can reveal.

Responsibility for housing people seeking asylum in the UK was taken away from local authorities in 2012 and given to the companies Serco, G4S and Clearsprings under deals with the Home Office known as Compass contracts.

Despite concerns by leading charities that outsourcing the service had resulted in “squalid, unsafe, slum housing conditions”, in January the Home Office awarded Serco, Clearsprings and the company Mears new contracts to provide housing for asylum seekers for 10 years from September.

Figures released following freedom of information requests and a parliamentary question show that £6.8m worth of “service credits” were imposed on Serco between April 2013 and December 2018. The figures do not include the month of March 2016.

Service credits are sums deducted from a company’s monthly invoice when it fails to meet key performance indicators included in its contract, such as property standards or how quickly issues are resolved.

Serco was fined a total of £2.8m for its contracts to provide asylum seeker housing in Scotland and Northern Ireland over that period, and just over £4m for its contract in north-west England.

Serco’s penalties were at their highest in 2013/14 (£3.9m) and 2016/17 (£1.16m). Between April to December 2018, after the new contracts were put out to tender, it was fined £850,000. In January the firm was awarded two contracts to provide asylum seeker housing: – one in the north-west and one in the Midlands and the east of England, from September.

The figures also show G4S was fined just over £2m for breaches of contract – £1.5m for its contract in the Midlands and east of England and £500,000 for its contract in the north-east and Yorkshire and the Humber, both of which end in August. Most of these fines (£1.7m) were incurred in 2013/14.

Clearsprings, which manages asylum accommodation in Wales and south-west England and London and the south-eaast, was not fined, despite also being criticised over standards of accommodation.

The Home Office initially refused to release data on the fines it had imposed, claiming the information was commercially sensitive, but it was forced to do so following a ruling by the Information Commissioner’s Office. …”


Swire justifies his Saudi links

From his website – there is no date but probably just before bin Salman’s visit to UK in March 2018:

“Visit to the UK by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman

The Government expects the visit to usher in a new era in bilateral relations focused on a partnership that delivers wide-ranging benefits for both the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Government intends to enhance our co-operation in tackling international challenges such as terrorism, extremism, the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen and other regional issues such as Iraq and Syria.

I am aware that Vision 2030, a programme of internal reforms, has been set in motion in Saudi Arabia by the Crown Prince. These include lifting the ban on women driving from June this year, opening up attendance at major sporting events to women and allowing cinemas to operate in the country. Vision 2030 aims to catalyse and open up the country’s economy over the next 15 years, which will provide opportunities for British businesses to help support delivery in areas such as education, entertainment and healthcare where they have world-class expertise.

It is my view that maintaining a good relationship with Saudi Arabia allows us to support their important programme of reform, and to have frank conversations on matters where we both have concerns. It is for this reason that I did not agree with the petition to prevent the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia from visiting the UK.

Additionally, as the Chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council (https://cmec.org.uk) I am committed to improve our understanding of the threats, challenges and opportunities in the Middle East which as you will be aware is a complex but important part of the world.”


“Councils ‘must restrict traffic to protect children from pollution’ ” (Sidford Business Park?)

“Local authorities are being urged to restrict traffic around schools after a study in London found “relatively high levels” of air pollution inside classrooms, posing a risk to children’s health.

The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) study, Healthy Air, Healthier Children, reported data from the monitoring of indoor and outdoor air pollutants at seven primary schools in Lambeth in March, April and May this year.

Results shows the presence of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) both inside classrooms and outside all the schools. NO2 is a pollutant that comes predominantly from traffic, the study said, and can lead to asthma as well as make health problems of asthmatic people worse.

As there were no indoor sources of NO2, worryingly, the pollutants inside classrooms could only have come from outdoor air pollution, the report highlighted.

While NO2 was also detected outdoors (it was measured at school entrances for one month) at all the schools, at two schools levels came close to the annual EU legal limit and World Health Organization guideline of 40µg/m3, with averages of 35µg/m3 and 36µg/m3. Although, the study noted, these levels are averages and are likely to have been higher during school hours.

In addition, the research found high concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) inside classrooms well above the recommended level of 1,000 parts per million (ppm).

This indicates that there is a need for more ventilation, the report said.

“Poor ventilation inside schools may cause asthma, dizziness, inability to concentrate, headaches and irritated throat – amongst other symptoms.”

It added: “Children at school should not be exposed to these levels of air pollution as they are especially vulnerable to its negative health effects since their bodies are still developing.

HEAL has called on local authorities to widen out an initiative called School Streets, already implemented in 40 schools across the UK, where streets immediately surrounding a school are closed off to cars during the school run.

The government also needs to help local authorities fund and deliver a network of walking and cycling routes to school, it added.

Anne Stauffer, director for strategy and campaigns at HEAL, said: “In cities, emissions from cars, buses and lorries are a major contributor to poor air quality, so investments should be made into not only reducing traffic around schools, for example with a ban on engine idling or restricted school streets, but also to finance those measures that will lead to a decrease in car use overall.”


Swire’s Saudi Arabian arms sales efforts undone by Appeal Court

It has been a bad week for Swire. His choice for PM (Dominic Raab, whose campaign he helped to conduct) was defeated early on and now questions are being asked (and decisions made) about the thorny subject of arms deals to Saudi Arabia during his time as a Foreign Office minister and since then during his (continuing) chairmanship of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Swire was made Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on 4 September 2012 and was in the job until 15 July 2016.

During his time as Foreign Minister, Swire made trips to Saudi Arabia in the company of BAE Systems and an attempt was made to examine arms sales to the country (and to Colombia) in 2016, as reported by East Devon Watch here:


and here:


Since then Swire has again visited the country in his capacity as Chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC) and a Labour MP tried to instigate an inquiry into the CMEC dealings in Saudi Arabia last year, mentioning Swire:


and Wikipedia states:

“Swire became Chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC) in September 2016, having previously been a member of the group. In June 2016, he accepted a donation of £10,000 from the wife of a billionaire with links to the leadership of Saudi Arabia. The journalist Peter Oborne has criticised the direction of CMEC away from its earlier focus on Palestine, to greater interest on the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia.[16]”

Now, the Appeal Court has ruled that arms sales to Saudi Arabia are (and have been since 2015) unlawful because they contributed to civilian casualties in indiscriminate bombing:


The Guardian explains:

“… The UK has licensed the sale of at least £4.7bn worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since the start of the civil war in Yemen in March 2015, with most of the recorded sales taking place before 2018.

Sales are signed off by the foreign, defence and international trade secretaries, and ministers and former ministers including the Tory leadership candidates Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have defended the UK’s arms relationship with Riyadh.

Latest figures estimate that the death toll in the complex civil war in Yemen since 2016 is fast approaching 100,000 – although there is currently a ceasefire – with nearly 11,700 civilians killed in attacks that have directly targeted them.

Estimates say that two-thirds of the civilian deaths were caused by the Saudi-led coalition; the rest were victims of actions by the Houthi rebels they are fighting.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “We welcome this verdict but it should never have taken a court case brought by campaigners to force the government to follow its own rules.

“The Saudi Arabian regime is one of the most brutal and repressive in the world, yet, for decades, it has been the largest buyer of UK-made arms. No matter what atrocities it has inflicted, the Saudi regime has been able to count on the uncritical political and military support of the UK.

“The bombing has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. UK arms companies have profited every step of the way. The arms sales must stop immediately.”

A final comment on the 2 May election in Seaton – from an East Grinstead voter

Many will remember the ongoing saga of the Tory election candidate – Mrs Jacquie Russell – who appeared to think it was possible to serve two councils at the same time as a member for both Seaton AND East Grinstead:


Now, somewhat belatedly, at least one voter in East Grinstead has woken up to the fact and today posted this comment to the blog:

“What a joke!

Jacquie, I live in the area you are meant to represent and the residents are not happy. You ignore attempts to make contact, refuse to aid locals and only ever show up if the newspaper photographer is nearby. You even left a meeting early when important residential issues were to be raised so that you could get home to Devon. You are not committed to East Grinstead, so stand down and move aside so that we can receive proper representation!”

Fortunately, the dilemma did not occur, as Mrs Russell was defeated by two EDA independents (Jack Rowlands and Dan Ledger) and a local Tory (Marcus Hartnell) – though the problem of having a Devon resident as a Tory councillor still remains for the voters in East Grinstead it seems.

“Air pollution: Houses on polluted street face demolition”

“Residents on one of the UK’s most polluted roads are set to be given 150% of the value of their homes to knock them down.

Recorded levels of nitrogen dioxide on the A472 at Hafodyrynys were higher than anywhere else apart from central London 2015 and 2016.

These far exceed World Health Organisation guidelines.

Next week, Caerphilly council’s cabinet will be asked to approve plans to purchase the 23 worst-affected homes.

The A472, between Newbridge and Pontypool, suffers pollution from an estimated 21,000 vehicle movements a day.

Life on Wales’ most polluted road – Hafodyrynys, Caerphilly

There have been many proposals for improving air quality, including buying and demolishing the houses and businesses, which would cost about £4.5m.
This was the Welsh Government’s preferred option. …”


“Britons between 18 and 29 have less left over after housing costs than older generations had at same age”

“In an inaugural national audit of intergenerational spending power, which is likely to reignite tensions between young and old, the Resolution Foundation thinktank concludes that today’s 18- to 29-year-olds are also spending less on shoes and clothes, hobbies and travel in real terms than those at the same age in 2001 as housing costs have soared. Compared with people the same age at the turn of the millennium they are 7% poorer in real terms, after paying rent, or if they can afford it, mortgage dues.

Meanwhile, in a story that will be familiar to the rising millions of twentysomethings who can’t afford to move out from their parents home, baby boomers have cranked up their spending on fun, laying out more on recreation, restaurants, hotels and culture, as people aged 65 and over have enjoyed a steep 37% rise in spending power compared with the same generation in 2001.

The audit is published by the Resolution Foundation’s new Intergenerational Centre, which is led by the former science minister David Willetts, and it said the findings debunked “the idea that young people are devoting growing pots [of money] to eating in restaurants and cafés (be that those that serve avocado on toast or others) or flying abroad”.

The proportion the young spent on fuel and groceries was up two percentage points while their spending on recreation and culture was down two points, the share spend on restaurants and hotels was down one point and clothing and shoes down two points. The 65s and over spent three percentage points less on groceries, two percentage points more on restaurants and hotels and three percentage points more on recreation and culture.

“The clear picture in terms of day-to-day living standards as measured through household consumption is of generational progress for older generations, and generational decline for younger ones,” the report said.

A spokesman for Generation Rent, which represents young people who have been priced out of homeownership, said in response to the report that “resentment is growing” and the founder of the Intergenerational Foundation, which promotes the interests of younger generations, accused older people of “breaking the social contract”.

Far from wasting potential housing deposits on fripperies, as suggested in 2017 by one millionaire property developer, millennials have been obliged to allocate a greater proportion of any money left over after housing costs to groceries, utilities and education. In 2018 they spent £380 a week on non-housing items on average – 7% less in real terms than they would have done at the turn of the century, analysis of official figures showed. At the same time the spending of people aged 50-64 rose 11% to £460, and pensioner spending rose to £390 a week.

The audit also assesses sharp increases in housing costs, cuts to in-work benefits, stagnant pay since the financial 2008 financial crisis and widening gaps in absolute wealth between young and old as key factors in one of the biggest social changes of this era.

Half a million more twentysomethings are living at home than would have been the case if the pre-crisis trend had not been disrupted, the report found. In 2007, half of 21- to 24-year-olds lived with their parents but by 2018 this had risen to 60%. The increase for those in their late twenties was even greater, up a third from 24% to 32%. …”


“NHS ‘must solve unfinished business’ to improve patient care”

“The ambition of improved patient care set out in the NHS long-term plan will be jeopardised without a commitment to invest in the health workforce, capital infrastructure and social care, a charity has warned.

Analysis from the Health Foundation, together with a survey of health leaders carried out by the NHS Confederation, found that overstretched services and badly maintained facilities would see the health service continue to struggle in the face of rising demand.

The budget of NHS England is to increase by over £20bn in real terms between 2018-19 and 2023-24 under the new funding settlement.

However, if NHS earnings are to keep pace with that of other sectors, the extra money will allow hospital activity to increase by 2.3% over the period – well short of the 2.7% needed to meet demand, the analysis said.

The survey of health leaders found that only one in four believed their local health system would be able to reduce growth in demand, while nine in 10 were not confident that the NHS would be able to deliver the reforms set out in the plan without a long-term financial settlement for social care.

On staffing, two-thirds doubted that health systems would be able to meet the increased demand for staff required under the plan, with the shortage of mental health staff, GPs and community nurses the most pressing concern.

The Health Foundation also warned that the decision to withhold the bulk of the new investment until 2023-24, with only modest increases planned for the next two years, ran counter to the front-loaded settlement announced last summer. This would make it hard to support a period of initial investment in care outside hospitals.

Dr Jennifer Dixon, chief executive at the Health Foundation, said there was “urgent unfinished business” if the NHS was to deliver its vision to improve patient care.

“There are mounting workforce shortages, the social care system is starved of funding, capital investment is going backwards, and public health funds cut,” she said.

“This all piles demand on the NHS and risks swallowing up the extra money and leaving far less to modernise care, reduce waiting times and prevent illness in the first place.”

She called on government to set out long-term funding for public health, capital investment, workforce training and social care and to ensure they received adequate resources to support the ambitions of the long-term plan.

Chief executive of the NHS Confederation Niall Dickson said that while NHS leaders were optimistic about the future, they also had serious concerns.

“They face crippling staff vacancies, rising demand for care, lack of investment in buildings and equipment, and the drastic cuts to social care and public health that are fuelling extra demand on A&E and other frontline NHS services,” he said.

“Failure to address this in the next spending review will put the ambitions of the NHS plan in jeopardy, and patients will not feel the full benefits of the extra £20bn of funding.”