“Ministers ‘fail to take action on Carillion’ ” while taxpayers suffer

Ministers were accused of pretending that Carillion is “no longer their problem” almost 600 days after the collapse of the outsourcing business.

Unite, the trade union, claimed that Whitehall has adopted a “business as normal approach” after the government contractor’s failure, which led to thousands of job losses and delays to key public projects.

It complained that no action has been taken against the company’s former directors as several regulatory investigations continue.

Carillion was a construction and public services giant with an annual turnover of £3.5 billion. It went bust in January 2018, leaving £1 billion of debts and pension liabilities of £2.6 billion. About 3,000 staff lost their jobs and thousands more were transferred to new suppliers and contractors.

Two of its big contracts, the Royal Liverpool and Midland Metropolitan hospitals, remain “years away” from completion, Unite said.

The Official Receiver is trying to determine whether any criminal wrongdoing by those in charge of Carillion led to its collapse. The Financial Reporting Council is examining the accuracy of its auditing processes.

Gail Cartmail, Unite’s assistant general secretary, said it was “totally apparent” that ministers had “failed to learn any lessons from this debacle”.

“Hospital projects are years away from being completed. Meanwhile patients and staff have been left to struggle on in facilities that are no longer fit for purpose.” She added that ministers had “washed their hands of the whole mess”.

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said:

“We continue to support and fund the NHS Trusts in Liverpool and Birmingham to bring forward their hospital projects as quickly as possible, while making every penny of taxpayers money count.”

NHS Doctor Paul Hobday reads the end of his novel “The Deceit Syndrome”

“This entertaining novel’s message about the deceitful clandestine plot to dismantle the National Health Service should be shouted from the rooftops.

It exposes the self-serving politicians, medics and compliant media behind an evil venture with hard unpalatable truths. The author draws upon his own career’s experience as a family doctor and his bold approach to writing intertwines real world politics with a compelling story line that is intriguing and scary, but often very funny and touching.

THE DECEIT SYNDROME joins forces with plays, songs and films such as The Great NHS Heist that have all been produced to convince the public of what is happening to healthcare without their knowledge or consent. Paul’s non-profit ethos, sending all royalties to support campaigns to save the NHS, should alone encourage everyone who cares about the best thing this country ever did to buy this powerful and persuasive novel. ~ Dr Bob Gill (GP and film maker)

“Highlights the horrors of NHS privatisation in an imaginative and eye-opening way” ~ Francesca Martinez (comedienne and NHS supporter)” “I cannot wait to promote this wonderful book on our Keep Our St Helier Hospital (KOSHH) campaign stand in southwest London” ~ Sandra Ash (NHS campaigner)”

Vultures swoop on foster care system

“Private equity firms buying up small agencies have “set off alarm bells” within England’s foster care system, the Local Government Association says.
Three groups account for 45% of funds spent on independent fostering by English councils, according to new analysis.

The LGA said councils worry about what could happen if one group failed.

The Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers said its members provided a vital and high quality service.

More than 75,000 children are in care in England, compared with about 60,000 a decade ago. Most of these children are in foster care.

Councils manage foster placements themselves as well as commissioning care from independent fostering agencies.

Many of these providers started as local, small-scale operations but private equity firms – essentially, investment companies – have moved into the sector in recent years.

The National Fostering Agency, Compass Fostering and Foster Care Associates are now the dominant independent groups in the industry.

All three run for profit and are backed by private equity. …”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-49450405

“England school places shortage ‘made worse by academies’ “

“Councils are warning that a looming shortage in the number of school places across England is being made worse by academies, as last decade’s baby boom enters secondary schools over the next five years.

The Local Government Association (LGA) is calling for the government to restore powers to councils enabling them to open new maintained schools if residents support them, and for new powers for councils to require academies to expand to meet local demand.

Anntoinette Bramble, the chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said that without such changes children were at risk of not having a secondary school place.

“Our secondary school places crisis is now just one year away and this will be the reality for thousands of families without action,” Bramble said.

Last year, about 20% of families in England failed to gain a place at their first preference school, with the rate rising above 40% in several London boroughs including Lambeth and Lewisham. One in eight families in London failed to gain a place at any of their choices.

Councils say their position is made impossible by conflicting rules, which place a legal duty on them to ensure adequate school places for local children but allow only autonomous academies and free schools to be opened to provide more places, other than in rare circumstances.

With most state secondary schools in England now academies, the problem is made worse because local authorities cannot direct them to expand their intake or offer more places to meet forecast high demand, as they can with maintained schools.

“Councils need to be allowed to open new maintained schools and direct academies to expand. It makes no sense for councils to be given the responsibility to plan for school places but then not be allowed to open schools themselves,” Bramble said.

“The government needs to work closely with councils to meet the challenges currently facing the education system.” …”

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/aug/26/england-school-places-shortage-made-worse-by-academies?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

“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