“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.”

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/home-office-vfs-visas-profit-subcontracted-contract-outsourcing-premium-services-exploited-a9056446.html

70% of UK rail companies and 50% of fishing quotas foreign-owned

In some cases owned by the NATIONAL rail companies of the foreign company! Madness!

https://www.rmt.org.uk/news/70-of-uk-rail-routes-now-owned-by-foreign-states/

“Richard Branson has said he is ‘devastated’ that Virgin Trains’ reign over the West Coast Main Line train route is coming to an end after 22 years.

The Department for Transport has awarded Aberdeen-based First Group and Trenitalia UK, an arm of Italy’s main train operator, the contract to run the London-to-Glasgow rail line from 8 December.

After the contract starts, more than 60 per cent of train journeys made on British railway lines will be made using services partly owned by foreign companies, analysis by the Press Association has revealed. …”

https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-7355993/Branson-devastated-Government-hands-Virgin-Trains-West-Coast-rail-contract-Trenitalia.html?ito=rss-flipboard

AND

50% of UK fishing quotas are owned by foreign companies:

Revealed: the millionaires hoarding UK fishing rights

Now even The Times is questioning (rail) privatisation …

… but blaming underinvestment – not the privatisation process which was supposed to lead to MORE investment:

“When Grant Shapps was appointed secretary of state for transport last month, he used social media to express his view of the railway network that had become his responsibility. “As a very frustrated 6 trains per day commuter for the past few years, I’m delighted to be appointed transport secretary,” he wrote. He used a screaming-face emoji to convey his horror of travelling by train from his constituency of Welwyn, which was hit by the Thameslink timetable chaos last year.

Mr Shapps’ dread of British trains will be shared by many who rely on the network. Trains in Britain are often extortionately priced, delayed and overcrowded. Compensation forms are too complex. By proportion of salary, British commuters pay five times as much for tickets as the rest of Europe. Little wonder then that passengers (including those who are old enough to remember a pitiful state-run railway industry) are coming out in favour of renationalisation. A poll last year showed that 64 per cent of the public favoured taking the network back into public hands.

Yesterday, the future of Britain’s rail system was cast into further doubt when the government scrapped a competition to run Southeastern, one of the country’s busiest commuter lines. Mr Shapps cancelled the process amid concerns over escalating costs and uncertainty that the operator would achieve benefits for passengers. His decision calls into question other contracts, including the forthcoming competition to run trains on HS2 and the west coast mainline.

Passengers frustrated with Britain’s second-rate railways crave a dramatic solution. In contrast to its constructive ambiguity over Brexit, Labour’s position on the railway network appears clear. If elected the party would bring rail franchises back into public ownership when they expired, if not before.

Yet nationalisation would not release the railways from the morass they find themselves in. The network was beset with problems when it was privatised under John Major’s government after years of underinvestment. To nationalise now would cost a fortune. Taxpayers already bear a large burden of the costs, given that Network Rail, which runs the country’s tracks and biggest stations, is publicly owned. To expect taxpayers to foot the whole bill would be unfair.

Instead, improvements must be made urgently to the system we already have. A review of the railways led by Keith Williams, the former chief executive of British Airways, is expected to be published this year. Mr Williams has previously proposed that a “Fat Controller-type” figure should oversee the day-to-day running of services. That is worth exploring, but he must offer ways to tackle two significant problems facing the rail industry right now.

First, the unsatisfactory relationship between tracks and trains. At present trains run on tracks that operators have no responsibility for. It is the passenger, ultimately, who pays for the lack of joined-up thinking. Second, the problem of dwindling competition. When companies were first allowed to bid for rail franchises they did so in their droves. Now, as few as two companies typically bid to run a franchise, leading to slipping standards. The Department for Transport issues detailed demands for operators, setting out the number of trains they must run per hour. Operators are being micromanaged. Yet overcrowding, disruption and high prices mean that growth in passenger numbers has slowed. The time has come to give them more freedom to innovate.

Mr Shapps should focus now not on cancelling other contests to run rail services, but on making the current system fit for purpose. The public’s faith in the country’s privatised rail network is waning. It is up to the government to remind passengers of why nationalisation is not the solution.”

Source:Times (pay wall)

“One in 10 [South West Water] pollution incidents in 2018 happened in East Devon, figures reveal”

“An Environment Agency (EA) report on the performance of water companies at managing pollution levels said South West Water (SWW) had a total of 98 incidents in 2018 per 10,000km of sewer.

An FOI request made by the Journal has revealed that 14 of those happened in East Devon.

Four of these incidents happened in Honiton – three of them over a 20 day spell in January 2018.

Axminster had four relating to the River Axe and the River Yarty.

Exmouth and Ottery St Mary had two each while Sidmouth and Woodbury had one.

SWW, which had the most pollution incidents in 2018 of nine companies across the UK, said it achieved the best wastewater performance last year but recognised there is still more work to do. …”

https://www.exmouthjournal.co.uk/news/locations-of-2018-pollution-incidents-revealed-1-6191933

“The [privatised] market” in higher education crumbles, 3,500 students and 247 staff lose out

“GSM London, one of the biggest private higher education providers in England, has gone into administration – and will stop teaching students in September.

The college says it has not been able to “recruit and retain sufficient numbers of students to generate enough revenue to be sustainable”.

It teaches about 3,500 students – with degree courses validated by the University of Plymouth.

The college, based in Greenwich and Greenford, says 247 jobs are at risk. …

It was not a university – and not regulated by the higher education watchdog, the Office for Students (OFS).

But a spokesman for the OFS said its “overarching priority is to ensure that students are able to complete their studies”.

“We understand that some students who are nearing the end of their studies will be able to stay at GSM but it is likely that most will need to transfer to another higher education provider.”

The OFS says in 2017-18 the college had 5,440 students, with the latest figures showing 3,500.

A statement from GSM London says that “discussions are under way with other higher education providers to identify alternative courses for our students and we will be supporting them in the application process”.

The college, owned by a private equity firm, says it could not remain financially viable and had been unable to find a buyer to ensure its “longer-term future”.

It says it will teach until September – which for some courses will be the end of term – ahead of an “orderly wind-down and closure of the college”.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We want a broad, sustainable market in higher education, which offers students flexibility and a wide range of high-quality choices for where and what they study.

“Whilst the vast majority of institutions are in good financial health, the Department for Education and the Office for Students have been clear that neither will bail out failing providers.”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-49181654

NHS privatisation : follow the money – £9.2 billion to be precise

On the back of this article saying £9.2 billion has already gone from the NHS to private companies:

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jul/21/private-firms-nhs-budget-matt-hancock-promise?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

It’s good to be reminded of this oldie: