“How Home Office makes millions a week from outsourcing visas to Dubai-based firm accused of exploitation”

No UK jobs, no UK tax, no UK profits … just exploited workers in the Middle East.

“The Home Office has increased its profit on UK visas by millions of pounds a week since outsourcing visa operations to a Dubai-based firm that has been deluged with complaints and accused of exploiting vulnerable applicants for profit, The Independent can reveal.

VFS, which has its headquarters in the UAE but is owned through holding companies in Jersey, the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg, faces claims of “gross maladministration” and “aggressive” selling of optional services since taking the UK government contract in 2014.

During that time, the Home Office has made £1.6bn from applicants looking to visit, study or be reunited with their families – a nine-fold increase on the five years prior to the start of the contract.

A joint investigation by The Independent and Finance Uncovered found the amount the department makes on average per visa application has increased from £28.73 to £122.56.

VFS, which is contracted to process visas from all countries outside Europe and Africa, handles applications to work, study and live in the UK, as well as visit.

People applying through VFS – the majority of whom are from lower-income countries, with a quarter from south Asia – have said they missed flights and were wrongly denied visas due to delays and administrative errors, including apparent failure to scan vital documents.

Others said they had faced a barrage of “optional” services on the VFS website, ranging from document checking for around £5, to a “super priority” visa service costing as much as £1,000, which some said failed to deliver on the fast-tracked service promised. Lawyers said these additional services could exploit vulnerable migrants who may feel pressured to spend more to secure visas.

Meanwhile, VFS has increased its average revenue per applicant by 38 per cent between 2016 and 2018 by selling more premium services, according to an analysis of group accounts filed in Luxembourg.”


Workhouse Britain

Record number of patients admitted to hospital with malnutrition:

UK poverty of elderly worst in western Europe:

Children so poor they eat toilet paper:


“The Environment Agency is “falling alarmingly short” in its efforts to protect rivers from agricultural pollution, the Worldwide Fund for Nature has said, after freedom of information requests revealed that new laws are barely being enforced.

The FOI data shows that the agency has no specific budget to enforce legislation introduced in April last year to protect waterways from fertiliser and manure pollution, which is one of the main reasons that more than 80 per cent of England’s rivers fail to meet the European Union’s minimum ecological standards.

The legislation enshrined into law official codes of practice that had existed for nearly 30 years.

However, the agency is yet to issue any farm with an enforcement notice, the step taken before any sanction is imposed. This is despite it being aware of at least 16 breaches of the new laws, five of which were reported by members of the public. It has written seven less serious warning letters to farmers in the past 17 months.

Justin Neal, of Fish Legal, a non-profit group that fights river pollution, said: “The farming lobby is clearly influential. I don’t know any other sector where regulations are brought in but not enforced for a full year or more.”

Guy Linley-Adams, who filed the FOI request for the WWF, said that the agency’s officers had confided that they lack sufficient resources. “They are absolutely threadbare,” he said.

Only 14 per cent of rivers in England met the minimum “good status” standards set by the EU last year, down from almost 25 per cent in 2009. Phosphorus pollution from fertilisers and manure, which causes algal blooms that choke river ecosystems, is one of the main reasons.

The Times revealed two weeks ago that no river in the country is now certified as safe for swimmers.

Under the new legislation, farmers must take measures to prevent manure, fertiliser and soil getting into watercourses, known as diffuse pollution. The Environment Agency says that it planned from the outset not to enforce the law during the first year and to instead issue advice to farmers.
Arlin Rickard, chief executive of the Rivers Trust, said: “Without robust sanctions in place, it will be difficult to motivate those less engaged farmers to reduce their diffuse pollution.”

The WWF has said that the approach “falls short of providing any credible threat of enforcement”.

The FOI data also shows that the agency only has the equivalent of eight full-time staff to inspect England’s 212,000 farms. That means that each staff member would have to visit ten farms a day if all were to be visited within five years.

The Environment Agency said: “Clear, specific regulations were introduced to tackle the issue of water pollution caused by farms, strengthening already robust legislation . . . We work with farmers to make sure they are doing just this but will not hesitate to take enforcement action, including prosecution, where necessary.”


Cranbrook population to grow to 18,000 (with a town centre?)

“The new town of Cranbrook near Exeter will grow to have a population of around 18,000 people under a plan submitted to central government.

East Devon District Council has submitted the local plan for Cranbrook to the Secretary of State for examination.

Local plans are drawn up to shape the future development of towns and villages.

East Devon District Council said the plan envisaged the town growing to 7,750 homes.

When building first started in 2011 Cranbrook there were 2,900 homes planned as well as schools, shops, a library and energy plant.”


Johnson interferes with neutrality of civil servants

“Leaked Doc Reveals Civil Servants Told To Report ‘Unhelpful Narratives’ On Brexit To No.10:

Boris Johnson has been warned to “tread carefully” amid claims Number 10 aides are asking civil servants to operate an “overtly political” Brexit media strategy.

A Cabinet Office document leaked to HuffPost UK has revealed all government communications staff must report “unhelpful narratives” in the press and online to Downing Street.

While civil servants work for the government and are expected to ensure ministers can deliver on policy, they also have a duty to be impartial.

The document is further evidence suggesting Johnson’s most senior adviser Dominic Cummings – the ex-boss of Vote Leave once described by David Cameron as a “career psychopath” – is prepared to introduce sweeping change in order to deliver Brexit by October 31.

The controversial advisor is reported to have already had a huge impact on Number 10 since arriving last month, embarking on a so-called “jihad on spads [special advisers]” by cancelling annual leave and sacking aides from the Theresa May era.

According to the document, staff have been instructed to update Downing Street from 6am each morning with “all rebuttal lines to be approved by Number 10”.

The unit must also “counter emerging narratives” and ensure all departments push the Downing Street line, adding “if action not completed, escalate as needed”.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said Boris Johnson was “playing with fire”, adding: “Political neutrality is a central principle which has endured in relation to civil servants for more than 150 years.

“It is essential that the present government does not breach this basic part of the constitution. To do so would further imperil faith in politics, which is already at a low ebb.”

Alastair Campbell, who acted as former PM Tony Blair’s communications chief, called on civil servants to keep a record of “overtly political” requests.

Dave Penman of the FDA union, which represents senior civil servants, has also warned Johnson he risks “politicising” the work of his members.

Downing Street said it would not comment on leaked documents.

A source, however, stressed that the guidance was issued by the Cabinet Office and the Department for Exiting the EU, not Number 10, and was part of a standard cross-government communications plan.

But Campbell said: “There is a clear division between the legitimate work civil servants must do in support of ministers implementing government policy and this overtly political work which they are being asked to do.

“Clearly Johnson and his team wish to see that division straddled.”

He added that the cabinet secretary should issue clear guidelines on “the limits of what is permissible for a civil servant and assure civil servants they will not be punished for refusing to do political work.”