A Christmas Carol: an update from Mike Temple

This post “A modern day Christmas Carol” has inspired Mike Temple to pen this poem

(may be sung to the tune of “Once in Royal David’s city…”)

Once in Little-Britain City
Lived a Tory known as Scrooge,
Stranger he to Truth and Pity
But his assets were quite huge.
His cash was tax-free, stashed offshore.
He didn’t care about the Poor.

He cut their benefits and “credit”,
Ignored the homeless at his door;
“Want” was “humbug” (yes, he said it).
His friends grew richer than before.
Bob Cratchit was this Tory’s stooge,
Kept on low pay by the said Scrooge.

Bob Cratchit on his low wage went
To nearby Food Banks every week.
He spent so much on heat and rent.
His prospects did look very bleak,
While for his son called Tiny Tim The future really did look grim.
At Xmas-time Scrooge went to bed
But didn’t sleep a wink at all;
He’d drunk a lot and was well fed
But saw a Ghost upon the wall
Who oped his cloak, and what Scrooge saw
Were kids called “Ignorant” and “Poor”.

This Ghost was from the Tory Past,
From just about three years ago;
The kids were mean, also low-classed
And marked with misery and woe.
They looked at Scrooge as if to say:
“Your policies turned out this way.”

Next night our Scrooge was sleeping when
The Ghost of the Time-Present came
Who showed the children once again –
It was indeed a crying shame:
The kids were hollow-eyed and thin
With little flesh, just bone and skin.

The third night’s Ghost from Future Time
Brought on the double-act once more,
Both skeletons – it was a crime
And done by those who’d made them poor.
The “Poor” kid was now Tiny Tim
And millions more were just like him.

Mike Temple

Not a way to run a railway: the lunacy of trains in the UK

“The government and unions are engaged in a long, ideological brawl for which the traveller and taxpayer are mere bystanders.”

Simon Calder www.independent.co.uk

Imagine a business that, in the course of three years, has lost one in five of its customers. Revenue has shrunk even further, to just 71 per cent of where it was in 2019. That translates to taking £10m less per day than in 2019.

It gets worse. Three different bosses in seven weeks. A pricing policy so irrational and riddled with anomalies that an increasing number of customers make two or more purchases to obtain a single product, typically saving 40 per cent in the process. And bewildering working arrangements for staff.

In one unit of this business, the terms of employment depends on which side of a range of hills your job happens to be based. It is a seven-day-a-week operation, and the staff in the east could be rostered on any day. Yet those on the western side can work Sundays only when they feel like earning some overtime.

This is an organisation that clearly needs to be reconstructed from the ground up, with far lower costs, greater flexibility, sane pricing and fresh ideas. Yet to the contrary, the service is sliding downhill with toxic industrial relations and an apparent death wish: the company is recommending prospective customers to avoid it for much of the time in the next three weeks.

As you realise, I am describing the railways of Britain in the dying days of a chaotic year.

Those passenger and revenue figures (released this week for July to September 2022) spell out the scale of the slump since the coronavirus pandemic.

Mark Harper took over as transport secretary from Anne-Marie Trevelyan who replaced Grant Shapps, himself sacked by Liz Truss for supporting Rishi Sunak’s campaign for leadership. And all this during a long and bitter rail strike that has dragged on for six months and blights travel planning in the UK.

While you can point to a fragmented industry involving dozens of individual enterprises, many privately owned, the reality is that His Majesty’s secretary of state for transport calls the shots.

Some train operators are in the private sector and effectively pick up fees for running services as stipulated by the Department for Transport (DfT). Others are publicly run, such as Northern Trains – whose employment agreements are decided according to the worker’s position relative to the Pennines.

There are good arguments for a fully state-owned railway, and conversely for the present largely outsourced arrangements. But the notion that billions of pounds are exiting the industry to “foreign shareholders” and could simply be redirected to provide inflation-matching pay rises is preposterous. As things stand, the railway is haemorrhaging cash and the taxpayer is picking up the bill.

“Split ticketing,” whereby you legally exploit anomalies in the fare structure to cut the cost of rail travel, has moved into the mainstream. With ticket apps presenting you will ways to save, revenue is further depleted. Surely nobody ever buys a full-fare ticket from Bristol to London with the “Didcot Dodge” (buying one ticket to the Oxfordshire junction and another from there) cutting the cost by 40 per cent.

Everyone in the business realises the unappealing truth that much needs to change. Yet from most of those involved there is no sign of meaningful advances to improve services, cut costs and boost business. On the contrary, the government and unions are engaged in a long, ideological brawl for which the traveller and taxpayer are mere bystanders.

The RMT union, which is ending the year and starting 2023 with 12 days of strikes, believes that the government has a bottomless pit of cash and will eventually hand more of it over. Ministers, in contrast, believe that they can face down the strikers and set an example to other public-sector workers. A plague on both your platforms, say passengers as we book flights, hire cars or simply stay at home as the train firms urge. Every day that the disputes drag on and the fundamental problems of the railway remain unaddressed will dull the appetite for train travel and hasten the spiral of decline that both sides have chosen to back.

High Court declares that the Home Secretary is acting unlawfully…

… by failing to meet asylum seekers’ essential living needs and protect them from destitution in the cost of living crisis

www.doughtystreet.co.uk (Extract)

The High Court has today ruled that the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, has acted and is continuing to act unlawfully by failing in her legal duty to provide for the essential living needs of asylum seekers.  This follows evidence that she ignored advice from her officials, first issued on 31 August 2022 and repeated in September and November 2022, that she must increase the rate of weekly financial support paid to asylum seekers in order to avoid breaking the law. 

Under Act of Parliament, the Home Secretary is under a legal duty to review the rate of support for asylum seekers in order to ensure that it is sufficient to meet their basic subsistence needs such as food, drink, clothing, toiletries, travel and non-prescription medication.

Internal Home Office advice to the Minster, disclosed during the proceedings, revealed that the current rate of £40.85 per week is no longer sufficient to meet basic living neamieeds. Officials recommended repeatedly that in light of rising inflation the rate must be increased in order to protect asylum seekers from destitution. On 15 November 2022 stated categorically that the rate had to be increased immediately to £45 per week.  The Home Secretary again did not act on this advice. She provided no reasons or explanation to the Court for this failure, despite the court hearing having been listed for many months.

The legal ruling confirms that the Home Secretary is in breach of the law and is legally required to immediately increase the rate of weekly support.  A further judgment on whether the Secretary of State acted unlawfully by using a less accurate methodology for calculating the cost of meeting the essential living needs of asylum seekers is likely to be handed down in the next few weeks. In the event that the Home Secretary refuses to act in light of today’s ruling the Court is likely to have no choice but to order her to do so.

The case was brought by an asylum seeker, CB, whose name has been anonymized to protect her identity.