“£1.25m of taxpayers’ money spent guarding an EMPTY prison”

TAXPAYERS have footed a whopping £1.25million bill on the running of a prison which has no prisoners.

HM Prison Reading was closed in 2013 and the huge complex has stood empty ever since.

And in the six years since the site was shut, the Ministry of Justice still hasn’t managed to find a new purpose for it, racking up costs to the public purse.

The upkeep on the giant jail has cost Brits an eye-watering average of £24,000 a month since it closed its doors in November 2013.


Between April 2017 and March 2018 alone, a staggering £303,727 was spent on “security” for the empty cells.

And another £177,236 has been splurged on gas and electricity to keep the complex lit and warm since its closure, despite the lack of inmates.

The figures come after a report found the UK has the highest prison population in western Europe with some 90,000 citizens behind bars.

The vast Grade II listed building was opened in 1844 and has housed several famous inmates over the years, including Oscar Wilde and current heavyweight world champion, Anthony Joshua.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Decommissioning work and upkeep is necessary to make sure the site is suitable to be sold.

“Parts of the former prison are listed and need to be protected, so preparing for sale is complex. These costs include ongoing security and maintenance.

“Money raised from the sale of the building will be reinvested into the prison system.”

It is not clear when the prison will be sold on but Richard Carling from the Prison Estate Transformation Programme said it was hoped that an announcement would be made later this year.


A recent report from the justice select committee slammed the “enduring crisis” with the UK prison system’s failure to cope with prisoner numbers.

It said: “Whilst progress made on the Prison Estates Transformation Programme is welcome, the new-for-old strategy is not working as intended.

“Sites for new prisons have proven difficult to obtain, older and decrepit prisons have been forced to remain open owing to population pressures and receipts from the sale of existing sites do not cover the cost of building new prisons.”


“Scrap Pensioner ‘Perks’ And Spend More Cash On Young People, House Of Lords Committee Urges”

“Pensioner ‘perks’ such as free bus passes, TV licences and inflation-busting pensions should be scrapped and more money spent on young people instead, a new parliamentary report has urged.

The House of Lords Committee on Intergenerational Fairness called for stronger worker rights for those in the ‘gig’ economy and new policies to create more affordable homes for sale and for rent.

Age impacts of all government policies, including a regular assessment in the Budget, should also be introduced in a bid to end the growing gaps in income between the young and old, the peers said.

The committee – whose members have an average age of 66 – warned that “mutual support and affection” between the generations had been “undermined” by years of unfairness on basic tax and benefits and housing and other public services.

Among the key recommendations in its report are:

ending the ‘triple lock’ on pensions, phasing out free TV licences based on age and restricting winter fuel payments and free bus passes to only five years after retirement age.

wealthier pensioners who keep on working past 65 should pay national insurance, ending the tax-free perk they currently receive.
a massive increase in affordable housing, as well as a radical new system of rent regulation

a default assumption of employment status of ‘worker’ to protect young people from exploitation in the ‘gig’ economy

a substantial increase in vocational and further education spending, plus Intergenerational Impact Assessments for all draft legislation

Committee chairman Lord True said that young and older people have strong bonds because they recognise the contribution the other makes and the challenges they face.

“However, there is a risk that those connections could be undermined if the government does not get a grip on key issues such as access to housing, secure employment and fairness in tax and benefits.

“We are calling for some of the outdated benefits based purely on age to be removed. Policies such as the state pension triple lock and free TV licences for over-75s were justified when pensioner households were at the bottom of the income scale but that is no longer the case.

“Young people told us they feel short changed by the housing market, so we are recommending policies to deliver a significant increase in the supply of social and private housing and recommend protections to give renters long term security be backed a new regulatory framework.”

Frank Field, who chairs the Commons work and pensions committee, said: “The committee has hit the bull’s eye. The injustices in both the housing and labour markets have served to torpedo younger people’s living standards in recent years.

“Will the government now seize this report and use it to forge a new contract with younger people?”

The Association of Colleges said: “The cuts to the education system have had big implications over the last decade. Many young people are leaving education without the qualifications needed to get on in life. Some of the ones who are gaining degree qualifications are often finding themselves in low-skilled jobs.”

But Anna Dixon, of the Centre for Better Ageing, said: “Headline grabbing proposals like abolishing free TV licenses based on age risk distracting from the big structural changes needed across housing, work and communities.”


“50 MPs From Seven Parties Join Forces On ‘Issues Ignored Because Of Brexit’ “

“More than 50 MPs have launched a cross-party movement to work together on “issues ignored because of Brexit”.

The ‘More United’ group, dubbed ‘politics for the Netflix generation’, features politicians from seven different political parties, including Labour, Tory, SNP, Lib Dem, Green, ChangeUK and Plaid Cymru.

The new network, which includes leading MPs David Lammy, Nicky Morgan and Caroline Lucas, will help fund candidates who campaign on poverty and homelessness, responsible technology, mental health and urgent climate dangers.

Backed by 150,000 members, it has already helped MPs from different parties to work together on issues like immigration visas, restoring the ‘Enable Fund’ for deaf and disabled people and access to Legal Aid.

MPs who lead and support More United campaigns will be eligible to receive money and volunteers from the movement at general elections, with almost £500,000 raised via crowdfunding and 54 candidates supported in 2017.

The group is not and never will be a political party and as result offers a ‘safe space’ for MPs from opposing parties to join forces on areas of common interest.

Lammy said: “A rare silver-lining to come out of the disastrous Brexit process is a new willingness among MPs to cooperate beyond traditional tribal loyalties.

“MPs have found that there is a special power in cross-party working and by publicly committing to seek out strong alliances that protect shared values we can help create positive changes that benefit the entire country.”

Morgan added: “All MPs come in to politics because they want to improve the lives of the people they represent. Of course we don’t always agree on how to do that but where we can find agreement across party lines there is often a compelling case to be made to the government of the day. The More United Network will give MPs across the Commons a chance to do just that.”

In a HuffPost UK blog, Morgan and Labour’s Tulip Siddiq and Lib Dem Christine Jardine said: “Each of us is strongly committed to our own party. We have plenty of healthy disagreement on all sorts of topics. Yet when it comes to issues that outlive any one Government we think cross-party working is vital.”

More United CEO Bess Mayhew said that the public see cross-party working as a proxy for trust in politics.

“When polling shows that only three out of ten people believe they can make a difference by getting involved in politics something has to change,” she said.

HuffPost UK understands there is no whip, but MU will refuse to direct election resources to MPs who openly oppose their campaigns and vote against in tight votes.

The group aims to have 100 MPs on board by the end of 2020.”


Universal Credit: a cancer sufferer’s story

“A single mum with breast cancer was left with just 84 pence after a Universal Credit nightmare.

Teacher Gillian Sykes found out she had cancer in January and is preparing to have a double mastectomy operation in the summer, Liverpool Echo reports.

She has had to quit work as a supply teacher but says she has been left to ‘fight for survival’ with the Department of Work and Pensions.

Gillian explained how she has been turned down for support and was even made to take bank statements into the job centre just two days after her first draining bout of chemotherapy.

She said she also had money taken away because of the DWP made mistakes over dates – and was eventually left with just 84p to live on, forcing her to rely on hand-outs from family and friends.

Gillian was also told she needed to be looking for work – which the DWP later said was just an ‘automated response.’

The 45-year-old, who lives in Ashton-in-Makerfield with her two teenage children, spoke about the devastating moment she discovered she had cancer.

She said: “I found the lump myself on the 28th December when I was going to bed – and I cried myself to sleep.

“We’ve got a family history of it – its the 20th anniversary of my mum’s death this year.

“I was in an absolute panic and got an appointment shortly after – then two weeks later I was sent to see an oncologist who confirmed what I already knew, that it wasn’t a cyst, it was a solid mass.

“A week later I got given the news and things progressed quite quickly from there. I’ve now had three rounds of chemotherapy. My hair is coming out in handfuls daily.”

“This summer I will be having as double mastectomy – which is not nice.”

Gillian began a lengthy, draining battle with the Department of Work and Pensions to get the benefits she needed to help her through an incredibly difficult time.

After her cancer diagnosis, Gillian said she was never told she qualified for Limited Capability for Work Related Activity – which is supposed to provide extra cash for those who are unable to work.

She was left battling with the department for weeks in a bid to get the extra support.

Gillian said: “To be going through that is enough, only to then to deal with this – after paying into a system as a teacher system that I desperately need help from.

“I’m having battles left, right and centre with Universal Credit – and issues with not being told what I can and can’t claim.

“I’ve had more support from Macmillan nurses than the government.”

“Two days after my first chemotherapy session, I was told I had to take my bank statements in to the job centre to prove that they had taken money from me that they shouldn’t have.

“I’ve had statutory sickpay penalised – I complained and complained. I spoke to a different person on the phone every time.

“I just feel like I’m fighting for survival with benefits, that I shouldn’t be fighting with right now. I’ve got enough stress.”

After spending weeks waiting to find out if she could get the vital extra LCWRA payments, Gillian decided to apply for what is known as a Universal Credit budgeting loan – used to help those who are struggling.

She said: “This particular month was really hard, I rang them to be told by someone that nothing was available to me because ‘all the buttons were greyed out – and we don’t know why.”

“Someone else told me nothing was available because I had earned at least £2,600 in the last six months – well of course I did, I’m a teacher, I was working full time with my agency up until Christmas – so I’ve been punished for actually going to work.

“What I do get from Universal Credit, I’m paying a mortgage, I’ve got two kids. I didn’t expect this to happen to me.

“I have suffered with depression for several years, which has been greatly under control and I have been able to work – and this is now what’s happening on a daily basis when I find out the next step, the next fight.”

After she spoke to the Liverpool Echo, the Department of Work and Pensions told her she did in fact qualify for the extra cash.

The following day she was told she would be backpaid hundreds of pounds that were owed to her, and an apology from the DWP followed.

A spokesman told the ECHO: “We have apologised to Gillian Sykes for the distress caused by this delay and are paying her full arrears.

“She has been placed in the long-term health condition group, meaning she receives a higher level of support and will not be required to seek work.

“We want to ensure that anyone with a health condition gets the support they need, which is why the Government is rolling out a recovery package to support people diagnosed with cancer and over 300,000 people will benefit every year by 2020.”


“Revealed: Collapsed private provider to the NHS owes £11m”

“A patient transport company which collapsed after it withdrew from a key NHS contract owes more than £11m, including to the NHS, statements filed with Companies House have revealed.

Liquidators winding up Coperforma have found just a few thousand pounds in the company’s bank accounts. But the papers also showed the company owes £11.3m to unsecured creditors, including NHS organisations and suppliers of ambulances and staff.

Clinical commissioning groups in Sussex – where Coperforma won a patient transport service contract in 2016 – have claimed the company owes them £7.6m. In a statement, the county’s CCGs said: “The Sussex CCGs are actively pursuing all options to maximise recovery for the NHS of costs incurred as a result of the failure of the patient transport service contract.

“In particular, the CCGs are pursuing legal recovery against an associated party of Coperforma which provided a parent company guarantee. The CCG is currently unable to publicly give more details for legal reasons.”

Companies House lists Guernsey-based Seabourn Ltd as a “person with significant control” in Coperforma.

Coperforma claims instead that the CCGs owe it nearly £2.5m, although the documents lodged at Companies House showed the liquidators and their solicitors felt “there was not sufficient evidence to progress recovery”. The CCGs’ claim could be offset against this, it was suggested. This could still leave the CCGs owed more than £5m.

The liquidators are also investigating “potential antecedent transactions” involving the firm, although they will not say who was involved in this. These transactions normally involve the transfer of money out of a firm before it becomes insolvent.

Earlier documents, from just after the company went into administration in early 2018, suggested it had assets of around £400,000, excluding the money it said it was owed by the CCGs. It also owed £377,449 to “trade and expense creditors”.

Coperforma took over the Sussex PTS contract in April 2016, having been the only bidder for a contract which split the transport side of the service from the scheduling of ambulances. It struggled to deliver the service, with many patients arriving late for appointments or being left in hospital. Two of its subcontractors went into administration and the CCG had to pay some staff wages to make sure the service kept going.

Following growing complaints from commissioners and patients and a critical Care Quality Commission report, the company abandoned the £16m a year contract in November 2016. It was handed to South Central Ambulance Service Foundation Trust.

The Sussex CCGs involved were Eastbourne, Hailsham and Seaford; Hastings and Rother; Brighton and Hove; Coastal West Sussex; Horsham and Mid Sussex; Crawley; and High Weald Lewes Havens, which led on the PTS procurement.”


Secretively towards a new kind of emergency service in Devon?

Currently many firefighters are trained as medical first responders too. Now they are being trained as police first responders.

Is this a plan to have just one type of first responder – police, fire AND ambulance?

“A police force has trained firefighters as special constables in an attempt to boost officer numbers in rural areas.

Seven Devon and Somerset firefighters have taken on the community responder roles after two months training with Devon and Cornwall Police.

They can now arrest suspects, but must prioritise fighting fires when needed.

Police and fire unions have criticised the scheme as a ploy to “paper over the cracks” saying “firefighters exist to save lives, not to enforce the law”.

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, Alison Hernandez, said the new roles would help make “communities in Devon and Cornwall safer”.

“They are a great addition to rural communities and importantly represent extra resource for blue-light services,” she said.

“They are not a replacement to full-time sworn police officers, whose ranks we are also adding to with a further 85 being recruited this year, taking our numbers to the highest level since 2012.”

But Dave Green, from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), said: “Firefighters provide a humanitarian service, which often allows access to areas of the community that the police sometimes struggle to engage with.

“Independence from the police is vital to ensure that communities know firefighters exist to save lives, not to enforce the law.

“We remain opposed to any attempt to turn firefighters into law enforcement, either in Devon and Somerset, or elsewhere in the country.”

Simon Kempton, of the Police Federation, told The Telegraph that the project was an attempt to “paper over the cracks” caused by cuts in funding.

“It just exposes how scant resources are in some rural areas,” he said.
Cullompton, Crediton, Dartmouth, Honiton, Okehampton, Newton Abbot and Totnes will all receive a community responder later this year.”


Deprivation no longer a criterion for extra local authority funding

“Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn this week chose local government funding as the central focus of Prime Ministers Questions, describing the Fair Funding Review as an Orwellian phrase.

Local government organisations have voiced concerns that poor areas of the country will lose out under government proposals to remove deprivation as a factor in calculating the foundation formula for grants to councils.

Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, Corbyn said that the Fair Funding Review proposals are likely to make things worse for struggling local authorities.

He said: “Tory proposals on the new funding formula for councils will make poorer areas even poorer. “They are removing the word ‘deprivation’ from the funding criteria. “In a phrase that George Orwell would have been very proud of, they have called this the fairer funding formula.”

However, May hit back, saying: “No, that is not what we are doing. “What we are doing is ensuring that we have a fairer funding formula across local authorities. “We are also ensuring that we are making more money available for local authorities to spend.”

However, Corbyn pointed to concerns raised by local authority representatives over the removal of the deprivation factor. He said: “The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives has called the fairer funding formula decision ‘perverse’. “Even before this new formula kicks in, councils are losing out now.

“A Conservative council leader said earlier this year: ‘We are really, really short of money…I mean there is no money.’”

Publication of the review proposals sparked an angry response from urban councils, which said they would be hit by the removal of the current deprivation measure.

And in February, even the County Councils Network (CCN), whose members are set to benefit from the move, said: “Considering recent debate within the sector on deprivation we recognise that the government may wish to consider whether deprivation should be included…”

However, the CCN it said that this should only be done at a small weighting, if its inclusion was supported by evidence, and did not compromise the review’s principles of simplifying the system.

Paul Carter, chairman of the CCN, said: “…if we are to see this review through – and if we are to grasp this opportunity – compromise and pragmatism on all sides of the local government sector, will be necessary.” …”

Corbyn attacks ‘Orwellian’ Fair Funding Review