Unions challenge Corbyn’s Brexit delusion

July 31, 2017 at 8:38 pm (Conseravative Party, economics, Europe, Jim D, labour party, populism, TUC, unions, Unite the union)

Steve Bell cartoon
Above: Labour shouldn’t back this Tory obsession (cartoon: Steve Bell, The Guardian)

Watching the Tories tear themselves apart over Brexit is excellent spectator sport, but some on our side seem determined to follow them into the right wing, nationalist mire. Unfortunately Jeremy Corbyn has been showing signs of revisiting his anti-EU past, apparently committing Labour to hard Brexit, and capitulating to the anti-immigration camp.  Since then, John McDonnell has softened the position, suggesting that Britain could stay in the single market under some circumstances.

It’s becoming clear that the Labour leadership and PLP are almost as split on this as the Tories, though the rank and file membership (including those who identify as Corbynites) are overwhelmingly anti-Brexit. It may not be an accident that just lately, the delusion of a “left exit” (or “Lexit”) from the EU has been canvassed in left of centre publications (here and here) and expertly demolished here.

But as well as the rank and file of the party, another powerful constituency has been horrified by Corbyn’s apparent capitulation to the ideas of a hard Brexit: the unions. The TUC remains committed to staying in the single market and customs union (even if it uses some dodgy arguments) as does the biggest pro- Corbyn’s union, Unite.

But the most outspoken (and perhaps, surprising) union attack on “Lexit” so far has come from Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA, a union that supports both Corbyn and Momentum. In an article on the New Statesman website, Cortes tears into the “Lexit delusion” and concludes by raising the possibility of Labour coming out against any kind of Brixit – soft or hard – and campaigning to stay in the EU:

“We don’t know yet what Brexit will look like. By the time the deal – or no deal – is finalised, almost three years will have passed since the vote to leave was made. That’s a lot longer than the Tory 2015 majority lasted. Let’s treat the voters as grown-ups not ideologues. If what’s on the table damages our livelihoods and/or is a simply a free trade deal in which the EU makes all the rules, why can’t we can’t change our minds?

“Voters want reality and honesty over delusion. That’s why it’s important that Labour keeps all options on the table. If as I suspect, staying within the EU is the best deal on offer in 2019, we should not deny voters the possibility of taking it. Jeremy’s past Euroscepticism, his vote against both the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties, actually makes him the best person to renegotiate a new future for Britain in the EU, not a Brexit deal which will harm the implementation of our manifesto and our vision of a People’s Europe.”

Cortes is to be congratulated for posing the issues so plainly, and for breaking an emerging  taboo within the labour movement: the idea that we might just campaign to overturn the referendum result.

(NB: and before anyone mentions it, none of this changes Shiraz‘s past criticisms of Cortes and the way he runs the TSSA)

  • Acknowledgements and thanks to Peter Ryley for an excellent piece that gave me some ideas for this post.

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Taylor’s “feeble” report on gig economy

July 11, 2017 at 2:18 pm (Conseravative Party, Jim D, law, rights, TUC, workers)

Getty Images / Oli Scarff

Former Blair advisor Matthew Taylor’s review of the gig economy has disappointed just about everyone except the Tory government that commissioned it, and the gig economy bosses. Stephen Cavalier, the chief executive of Thompsons Solicitors said the recommendations of the review are “feeble and add another layer of unnecessary complexity”.

The review recommends that gig economy workers should get sick pay and holiday leave, but doesn’t recommend legislation banning zero-hours contracts. The review doesn’t advise workers be guaranteed minimum wage, though companies will be expected to show how workers could realistically earn at least 1.2 times the living wage of £7.50 an hour, for example by modelling the rate at which they must complete tasks to earn such pay.

The idea is that would-be workers can log into a platform and see “real-time earnings potential”. If they can’t reasonably earn a living wage with the work on offer, the report  proposes it should be up to the worker to decide whether they should take up the work or not — but that also means that companies will not be required to pay minimum wage to those who knowingly agree to take on work at less busy times.

Under these proposals, if a worker chooses to “log in” to work at a time when demand is low, they might not earn the minimum wage — although the gig company would have to use its real-time data to warn them in advance.

Taylor’s suggestions include a new category of worker called a “dependent contractor”, sitting between fully employed and self-employed status.

“The creation of a new ‘dependent contractor’ status for gig economy workers would further complicate existing categories of how workers are defined in law,” Cavalier said in response.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said on Twitter that we “don’t need new employment status.” She added: “Unions’ court victories prove many so-called self-employed are workers and should get the [minimum] wage.”

She added: “Platform firms are pleading special status but really the new tech is just hiding old-fashioned casualisation and exploitation.”

Estimates suggest as many as 1.1 million British people work in the so-called gig economy, with a report from MP Frank Field suggesting some delivery drivers are making less than £2.50 a hour. Field has previously accused gig economy companies from “free riding” on the welfare state, while the Bank of England has blamed the gig economy for wage stagnation and the Oxford Internet Institute has called for a fairtrade foundation for international gig workers.

Theresa May, who is launching the review is expected to say changes to gig economy companies will avoid “overbearing regulation”. The Guardian reported May will say: “At its best, a job can be a genuine vocation, providing the means to intellectual and personal fulfilment, as well as economic security”.

Gig economy firms have argued frontline workers — such as drivers and couriers — are self-employed, but last year a tribunal ruled that Uber’s drivers aren’t self-employed and should earn minimum wage.

The weakness of Taylor’s proposals should not come as a surprise. He told a TUC event in London last month that (on the basis of undisclosed evidence) “up to three out of four workers” wanted flexible arrangements and changing that was the “last thing we should do”. He went on to say that the UK’s flexible job market was a something other countries envied.

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The DUP: the *really* nasty party

June 27, 2017 at 9:01 am (Christianity, Civil liberties, Conseravative Party, Human rights, Ireland, misogyny, posted by JD, terror, Tory scum)

By Micheál MacEoin
(This was written shortly before the desperate deal was finalised, and also appears on the Workers Liberty website):

The Conservative Party’s loss of their parliamentary majority has left Theresa May reliant on Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a hard-right organisation which has 10 MPs in the House of Commons. So who are the Tories’ new unionist bedfellows?The DUP has its roots in a politicised form of evangelical Protestantism which arose again in the 1950s and 60s, but has a long tradition in the Protestant areas of Ulster. In these years, the future DUP leader Ian Paisley was involved in a myriad of fringe loyalist organisations, which existed to protect Protestant supremacy in Northern Ireland.

In March 1963, a slightly more liberal Unionist Party leader, Terence O’Neill, became the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. His aim was to adopt a more moderate course in order to undercut support for the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) and absorb sections of the Catholic middle class into the Northern Ireland state.

Paisley came to the fore as a rabble-rousing preacher, acting as a pole of attraction for discontent within working-class Protestantism. He articulated a form of religious-based Unionism with a more plebeian character than the aristocratic or business-oriented ruling Unionist Party. As O’Neill’s reforms encouraged the growth of a Catholic civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, Paisley helped set up the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee (UCDC), to co-ordinate street protests, rallies and counter-demonstrations against any moves towards liberalisation, ecumenism or attempted rapprochement with the Republic of Ireland.The UCDC had an arms-length paramilitary section, the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV), led by Paisley’s longstanding ally, Noel Doherty.

Doherty was later jailed for his involvement in a bombing campaign in 1969 designed to undermine O’Neill, which was carried out with members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). Paisley implausibly denied knowledge of Doherty’s paramilitary activities. This is a pattern repeated by the DUP leader during the Troubles, of fraternising with violent loyalists while maintaining enough of a distance so as to deny knowledge of illegal or murderous acts. For example, in 1974, Paisley would sit on the so-called “Ulster Workers’ Council”, along with representatives of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and other armed loyalist groups. It organised a general strike against the short-lived power-sharing executive, which in reality was initially more of a lock-out enforced by paramilitary intimidation.

Again, in 1986, Paisley was present at a huge meeting in the Ulster Hall in Belfast to establish Ulster Resistance, a vigilante group set up to oppose the Anglo-Irish Agreement which promised Dublin more of a say in the running of Northern Ireland. Paisley was famously recorded calling for a paramilitary “Third Force” to oppose Irish republicanism, before placing a red beret on his head and standing to attention. In 1987, the UVF and the UDA proceeded to smuggle weapons for Ulster Resistance from Lebanon in to Northern Ireland with the aid of Apartheid-era South African state agents. Most were intercepted, but some of the Ulster Resistance arms cache has never been found. By the late 1980s, pressure mounted on Paisley to condemn the group’s activities, which he did in 1989. Presumably, after calling for a paramilitary “Third Force”, Paisley only ever intended it to attack republicans peacefully, without weapons!

As the peace process took shape in the 1990s, the DUP came to the fore in opposing any agreement between unionists and republicans. They campaigned against the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, when even the UDA was formally in favour. This placed the party on the side of dissident anti-Agreement loyalists such as Billy Wright’s Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF). Indeed, in 1996, DUP representative Rev William McCrea shared a platform with Wright, mere months after the LVF murdered Catholic taxi driver Michael McGoldrick near Lurgan.

Support for the Good Friday Agreement fatally undermined Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble in the years after 1998. Unionist support for the Agreement was already weak, and the UUP could not stand the pressure from the DUP, who attacked them for sharing power with republicans while there were continuing delays in the decommissioning of IRA weapons. By the 2003 Northern Ireland Assembly election, the DUP had overtaken the UUP as Northern Ireland’s most popular unionist party, a position they further cemented in future European, local government and Westminster elections.

2007 marked a watershed for the DUP. Having effectively destroyed their electoral competitors, the road was open for Ian Paisley to cut an agreement with Sinn Fein, and share power with republicans for the first timeThe DUP, then, has its roots in an evangelical fringe of Ulster loyalism. What does it stand for today?

For one thing, the DUP’s position as the largest unionist party, with support rooted in both the working-class and the Protestant business class, has led it to adopt a pragmatic blend of neoliberal pro-business policies such as corporation tax cuts, with an often populist approach. Its opposition to Tory plans to cut winter fuel payments, for example, will allow the Tories an excuse to reverse on some of their more unpopular proposals to attack universal benefits.The DUP combines this right-wing economic pragmatism with a ferocious blend of religiously-inspired social conservatism, including opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion in all circumstances. One-third of DUP members are drawn from the evangelical Free Presbyterian Church, founded by Ian Paisley, which accounts for only 1% of the Northern Ireland population. Half of its elected representatives are members of the Orange Order, a virulently anti-Catholic Protestant fraternal organisation, and some are connected to pressure groups such as the Caleb Foundation which exists to promote “the fundamentals of the historic evangelical Protestant faith”, including support for creationism.

The DUP voter base, however, which is now larger and more varied, does not necessarily share all of these sentiments, at least not to the same degree.Since becoming the dominant partner in government in Northern Ireland, the DUP’s time in office has also been plagued by a number of political and financial scandals, which will undoubtedly receive more UK-wide attention in light of recent events. These include connections between senior DUP figures and the sale of properties owned by the Irish National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), and an ongoing investigation into DUP leader Arlene Foster’s role in the botched Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) scheme.

Despite the DUP’s reactionary positions on social issues, it is most likely that the party will push for financial concessions for Northern Ireland as the price of any confidence and supply deal.A 2015 DUP position paper outlined its priorities as being more capital spending for Northern Ireland, more funding for hospitals and schools, and cuts to air passenger duty. The DUP realises that social issues, such as same-sex marriage which it has repeatedly blocked, are devolved to Stormont. The party will gain little or nothing from drawing attention to these issues as part of a UK-wide deal with the Tories, and wants to present unionists as acting in the British “national interest”.

This does not, of course, mean that we should ignore the DUP’s social positions, or cease to condemn the Tories for cutting a desperate deal with such a reactionary party.It is possible, too, that the DUP will come under pressure from its own base, including the Orange Order, to push for concessions on contentious issues, such as parading, flags and other areas of symbolic cultural importances to unionists.

The DUP supported Brexit in 2016, but opposes a hard Border in Ireland because of the economic damage that customs duties between Northern Ireland and the Republic would inflict. However, its demands for a soft Border will be tricky to reconcile with its insistence that there be no new checks at ports and airports in Great Britain on citizens travelling from Northern Ireland into the UK after Britain exits the EU.

The increased importance of the Irish dimension will, then, serve to further complicate the already chaotic state of the UK’s negotiations with the EU over Brexit.Finally, the prospect of a Tory government propped up by a confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP puts profound strain on the already faltering power-sharing institutions at Stormont, and challenges some of the tenets of the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement rests on the conceit that the British government is a “neutral broker” in the peace process. Republicans already deny that the Tories are in any sense neutral, and Secretary of State James Brokenshire has been widely attacked for showing a pro-unionist bias on issues such as the prosecutions of soldiers for activities during the Troubles. The fact of the Tories relying on DUP support for their parliamentary majority will complicate Brokenshire’s role in the ongoing negotiations between the parties at Stormont, especially if a condition of the DUP’s support for May is a statement ruling out any prospective vote on Irish unity.

Ironically, however, the DUP’s influence over the British government could hasten the return of Stormont’s power-sharing executive. Sinn Fein repeatedly rubbished any claim during the general election that Northern Ireland parties could wield any influence at Westminster. With the alternative to Stormont being direct rule from London by a DUP-backed Tory government, many Sinn Fein voters would understandably prefer Stormont as a lesser-evil. Republicans now too have reason to avoid a further Assembly election, as the DUP made a stunning comeback last week, increasing its support to unprecedented levels.

Any deal between the DUP and the Tories will be a limited one, restricted to votes of confidence such as the Queen’s Speech and the Budget. On individual issues, the Tories will be weak, and open to attack. The labour movement, in the UK and Ireland, should drive a wedge between May and her DUP allies, using parliamentary and extra-parliamentary means to drive the Tories out of office.

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Even after Grenfell the Tories still lust after a “bonfire of red tape” – and will use Brexit to pursue it

June 24, 2017 at 6:02 pm (Civil liberties, Conseravative Party, Europe, Human rights, Jim D, libertarianism, nationalism, populism, rights, Tory scum)

Above: Cameron’s stunt that backfired

“In our commitment to be the first Government to reduce regulation, we have introduced the one in, two out rule for regulation … Under that rule, when the Government introduce a regulation, we will identify two existing ones to be removed. The Department for Communities and Local Government has gone further and removed an even higher proportion of regulations. In that context, Members will understand why we want to exhaust all non-regulatory options before we introduce any new regulations” – Brandon Lewis, the then housing minister (now the immigration minister), in 2014, rejecting calls to force construction companies to fit sprinklers.

Apart from racism and xenophobia, the other driving force behind all wings of the Leave campaign was deregulation – the idea that EU rules and regulations restrict Britain’s freedom. This idea was central to the Leave campaign, and its implications were spelled out plainly by the influential Conservative Home website.

Boris Johnson has spent years writing and telling lies about EU “red tape”, and his old employer, the Daily Telegraph launched a campaign for a “bonfire of red tape” in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote. Post-Grenfell that expression “a bonfire” leaves a nasty taste in the mouth (as Jonanthen Freedland wrote in the Guardian, “well they’ve had their bonfire now”).

But don’t be deceived into thinking that the Tories and their Brexiteer press are having second thoughts post-Grenfell.  That would require a degree of honesty and common decency that is beyond them. The Daily Express, bizarrely, suggested that EU energy-saving regulations were to blame for the use of the cladding that spread the fire (despite the fact that it’s illegal in Germany). But what is known, as George Monbiot pointed out in the Guardian, is that in 2014 the government rejected the idea of obliging construction companies to install sprinkler systems in new buildings – as part of its commitment, it explained, to a “one in, two out rule for regulation”. It is surely just a coincidence that, according to Property Week magazine, the Tories received more than £1m in donations from property and construction companies in the year to the 2015 election.

That “one in, two out rule” was part of the tape-burning zeal of the Tories, summed up most crudely in the 2011 Red Tape Challenge dreamt up by former David Cameron adviser and Brexiteer Steve Hilton. He and the rest of the “new Tory right” had wet dreams about transforming Britain into a Singapore-style paradise of minimally regulated offshore swashbuckling. In 2013, Cameron himself stood in front of an exhortation to “Cut EU red tape”, so he could hardly complain when such arguments were deployed mercilessly against him in the referendum.

The Tories’ plan to use Brexit as the opportunity for a “bonfire of red tape” has not gone away, even if, post Grenfell, they’re a little less brazen and gung-ho.

The proposed Great Repeal Bill, transferring EU law into British law so as to avoid a legal vacuum on day one of Brexit, is the means by which the Tories intend to continue their deregulation programme.

Under so-called “Henry VIII powers”, the government will assume unfettered powers to bypass parliamentary scrutiny and rewrite laws originating in European legislation.

It’s a pretty good bet that they have the Agency Workers Regulations, the Working Time Regulations and uncapped compensation in discrimination claims, in their sights.

A briefing from Another Europe is Possible and Global Justice Now warns of the possible consequences of the Great Repeal Bill, arguing that it “has the potential to grant the government an almost unprecedented level of unaccountable power, using a political process that will chill democratic scrutiny”.

The briefing makes the following recommendations:

1. The government must reveal specific details of the content of its Great Repeal Bill, and it must be a clear and detailed bill (not a ‘skeleton bill’)
2. This must happen very soon, with a clear proposed timetable to ensure proper time necessary for the task with a minimum 6 months for consultation and 6 months for debate
3.  The transfer of EU law into UK law must be transparent, clear and accountable:

  • it must include provisions to ensure that delegated power to the government  is clearly and precisely defined in scope and purpose.
  • Henry VIII powers should be avoided, and when used, subject to the super-affirmative procedure.
  • Sunset clauses should be used to ensure that the delegated legislative powers do not last indefinitely.
  • There must be enhanced processes and resources for screening and scrutinising delegated legislation, including through new or existing parliamentary committees.

4. The government must guarantee, on the face of the bill, clear explicit provisions to prevent the bill affecting human rights, equalities, or environmental laws and standards, and to prohibit the use of delegated legislation to change or undermine such laws and standards.

A simpler approach, however, would be to use May’s election humiliation and the present volatility of British and international politics to campaign to stop Brexit altogether. The received wisdom is that it can’t be done and, indeed, that to attempt to do so would be undemocratic. But the definition of democracy is that people are allowed to change their minds. Why should the narrow verdict of 12 months ago be sacrosanct for all time? If we want to stop the Tories’ plans to deregulate society, the obvious way to do so is to stop Brexit. Of course, that will require that Labour comes off the fence and drops its present stance of studied ambiguity on the subject.

  • JD would like to acknowledge this excellent Guardian article by Steven Poole, which he used extensively in the preparation of this post.

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Grenfell Tower: ruling class criminal negligence

June 15, 2017 at 9:55 pm (campaigning, capitalism, class, Conseravative Party, crime, hell, Human rights, Jim D, Tory scum, tragedy)

“People were waving scarves, flashing phones, torches, flapping their windows back and forth, crying for help … At first people [on the ground below] were trying to help them, pushing at cordons. I could see the smoke billowing behind them and in some cases I could see the flames, until they disappeared … [by 4am] there was no sign of life. Everyone was in a resigned state of shock. We couldn’t do anything and we were coming to accept the fire brigade couldn’t do anything either … I’ll never forget the sound of those screams: the screams of children and grown men” (would-be rescuer Robin Garton, quoted in The Times).

The faces look out from the newspaper, smiling in happier times. Many of them black or Middle Eastern with names like Khadija Kaye, Jessica Urbano  and Ali Yawa Jafari. But also Sheila Smith and Tony Disson. Then you read about people throwing their children out of high windows in the hope that someone would catch them, people jumping (some on fire) to almost certain death (shades of 9/11) and mother of two Rania Ibrham sending a Snapchat video to a friend who described it: “She’s praying and she’s saying ‘Forgive me everyone, goodbye’.”

This all happened in 2017 in one of the wealthiest boroughs in London, under a Tory council and a Tory government. But these people weren’t wealthy: they were amongst the poorest in the city, living cheek by jowl with people of enormous wealth.

It turns out that the local residents’ group, the Grenfell Action Group, had repeatedly warned the council and the so-called Tenant Management Organisation (ie the landlord) that a disaster was coming. In November of last year Edward Daffarn published a post on the Grenfell Action Group blog, entitled Playing with Fire, in which he warned that “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the Kensington and Chelsea Management Organisation (KCTMO) and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.”

Local (Labour) councillor Judith Blakeman attempted to raise concerns with council officials and the management body “ad nauseam” since refurbishment of the block began in 2014: “They kept reassuring us that everything was fine” she said.

The refurbishment involved encasing the building with cladding that fire safety experts have long warned compromises the safety of tower blocks whose original “compartmentalised” design had incorporated rigorous fire safety standards (it also meant that advice to residents to “stay put” in the event of a fire was fatally inappropriate). An “external cladding fire” had caused the death of six people in Lakanal House tower block in South London in 2009. At the inquest into that disaster, the coroner had recommended that the government should review fire safety guidance to landlords and, in particular, the danger of the “spread of fire over the external envelope” of buildings (ie the use of external cladding). She also recommended that sprinkler systems be fitted to all high-rise buildings. None of this happened.

So why were the warnings ignored? Why did Gavin Barwell, who was housing minister until he lost his seat last week (and is now Theresa May’s chief of staff) fail to act on the warnings prompted by the Lakanal House fire? Why did his predecessor Brandon Lewis, tell MPs that it was “for the fire industry”, not government, to “encourage” the installation of sprinklers rather than “imposing” it? Why did then-communities secretary Eric Pickles treat the Lakanal House coroner’s recommendations as “advice” to local authorities rather than as instructions?  And why didn’t Grenfell Tower even have a building-wide fire alarm?

The answer is as simple as it’s shocking: these residents are poor working class people, many of whom are also ethnic minorities and migrants (in an especially tragic twist, the first body to be identified is that of a Syrian refugee, Mohammad al-Haj Ali). Such negligence and cost-cutting would never be tolerated in the luxury high-rise flats and offices peopled by the rich: these are built to the highest standards, using the safest materials.

This is ruling class contempt for the poor – also exemplified by May’s refusal to meet with local people during her brief and tightly-policed visit to the scene earlier today.

Let no-one tell you this was simply a “tragedy” as though it was some sort of natural disaster. This was criminal negligence by the ruling class and their political party, the Tories. Our response – and the only response that will truly honour the victims – must be to pursue the class struggle with renewed vigour. Starting by kicking out the Tories as soon as possible.

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May fails!

June 9, 2017 at 2:28 am (Conseravative Party, democracy, elections, gloating, Guardian, posted by JD, Tory scum)

Steve Bell (with whom we sometimes have our differences) in the Gruan the day before the election:

Steve Bell cartoon 08.06.17

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A bloody evasive woman

May 30, 2017 at 1:16 pm (campaigning, Conseravative Party, elections, Jim D, television)

Anyone who missed May’s wretched performance on the TV debate last night, should watch this. The audience openly heckled and mocked her evasions and hypocritical attempt to accuse Labour of failing to provide costings. One audience member even mouthed “bollocks” as she avoided giving a serious answer on NHS funding.

Corbyn, by contrast, gave an impressive performance and dealt with Paxman’s barely-concealed hostility with ease.

What a pity he made such a pig’s ear of Women’s Hour the next morning …

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That NICS capitulation: why not just ask The Mail what’s acceptable?

March 16, 2017 at 7:14 pm (Conseravative Party, Daily Mail, economics, Europe, Jim D, populism, Tory scum)

Image result for daily mail newspaper front page budget

I hate to admit this, but Hammond’s proposed increase in national insurance contributions (NICS) for the self employed wasn’t such a bad idea.

It would have been a modest, progressive increase in the national insurance contributions paid by the better-off self-employed while abolishing the £2.85 per week flat-rate contribution paid by those earning less than £16,250.

It would have raised  a much-needed £2 billion in a relatively fair way, recognising that  structure of NICs is a major driver in the growth of self-employment. An employer who can persuade a worker to become a self-employed contractor immediately saves paying 13.8% national insurance, while the newly self-employed contractors’ payments fall from 12% to 9%.

Hammond’s enforced (by May) U-turn now leaves a £2 billion hole in public finances, with no obvious means of plugging it.

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Tories’ favourite Academy Trust in near-collapse, after “Superhead” trousered second salary

May 17, 2016 at 3:08 pm (Brum, Champagne Charlie, Conseravative Party, corruption, Education, Tory scum)

Liam Nolan, Headmaster of Perry Beeches school in Birmingham, addresses the Conservative Party conference at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham

Above: Nolan at the 2012 Tory Conference

The Birmingham academy chain praised by David Cameron, Michael Gove and the present Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, is in serious financial crisis, leaving five schools in a state of uncertainty and 2,400 pupils and their parents, not knowing what the future holds.

Liam Nolan, the “Superhead” of Perry beaches Academy Trust, who has been on sick leave since Easter, when the Education Funding Agency (EFA) reported on serious financial mismanagement, has now resigned.

Mr Nolan was one of three executive headteachers at the Trust, and was also the trust’s Accounting Officer and Chief Executive. He received a salary of £120,000 directly from the Trust.

But the EFA, which oversees education spending for the Government, launched an investigation after it received claims from a whistleblower that “an additional second salary” was paid to Mr Nolan.

It has published a report saying that it discovered the trust had made payments of £1.297 million over two years to a business called Nexus Schools Ltd, which in return provides a range of services to the trust – including the services of its chief executive (CEO), Mr Nolan.

The report said £160,000 had been paid specifically for the work of the chief executive over two years (ie in addition to his £120,000 salary as Executive Head).

It said: “The trust pays Nexus for providing the services of a CEO for Perry Beeches multi-academy trust. Nexus then sub contracts this role to Liam Nolan Ltd, whose sole director is the Accounting Officer (ie Liam Nolan).“The Accounting Officer is also paid for his concurrent role as Executive Headteacher separately through payroll at £120,000 per annum in 2014/15.

“The academy paid Nexus £72,000, including VAT in 2013/14 and £88,800 plus VAT in 2014/15 for the CEO role.”

The payments were not transparent, the report said.

It said: “The payments made to the Accounting Officer, through Nexus and then Liam Nolan Ltd, for CEO services were not disclosed in the 2013/14 financial statements.”

And it also warned that there was no written contract with Nexus.

It said: “The trust spent £1.297m with Nexus over 2 years, without a written contract or a formal procurement exercise to demonstrate value for money.”

Mr Nolan’s niece and nephew were both employed by the Trust in the 12 months up to August 31 2015.

Debts at the trust are estimated to be in excess of £1.8 million, and rising each month, making it difficult to attract new private sponsors.

The Trust was also accused of claiming up to £2.8 million for children on free school meals, “where no evidence of eligibility exists” and has been ordered to repay £118,291.

Prime minister David Cameron meets pupils at the opening of Perry Beeches III Free School in Birmingham in 2013

David Cameron meets pupils at the opening of Perry Beeches III Free School in Birmingham in 2013

David Cameron praised the Trust when he visited Perry Beeches III in 2013.

He said at the time: “Here in Birmingham it is particularly exciting because we have Perry Beaches. The original school was the most improved school ever, which went from 20 per cent to 80 per cent A-star to C grades in six or seven years, so we have got a brilliant team here which is embracing this.”

A statement from the trust obtained by the Guardian newspaper reads:

Liam Nolan has presented his resignation from the post of CEO/executive headteacher at the Perry Beeches academy trust. He has made this decision to allow the necessary changes required to move the trust forward.

The decision by Mr Nolan and the governors to stand down leaves the management of the trust’s five schools in the hands of the Department for Education, while a search begins for new sponsors.

In 2013, Cameron described Mr Nolan and Perry Beeches as “a brilliant team” running “one of the most successful comprehensive schools ever in Britain”.

As well as being a prominent supporter of the Tories’ academies and Free Schools programme, Nolan was also careful to keep on good terms with local Labour MPs:

Last month Birmingham website The Chamberlain Files reported that three Birmingham Labour MPs each received £5,000 from the trust towards the cost of running their offices. The MPs – Gisela Stuart (Edgbaston), Jack Dromey (Erdington) and Shabanah Mahmood (Ladywood) agreed to repay the money.

Perry Beeches Academy Trust runs Perry Beeches Academy and four other schools, named Perry Beeches II, III, IV and V. Plans for two new free schools had been given approval by the DfE but will not now go ahead.

Perry Beeches Academy Trust joins Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust, Durand Academy Trust and Barnfield Federation as trusts highly praised by the Tories, but which have been criticised for their financial arrangements.

Mr Nolan has said “I’m not a businessman, I’m a Headmaster”. 

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Good riddance IDS: long may this Tory warfare continue

March 20, 2016 at 10:25 pm (Conseravative Party, David Cameron, reblogged, Tory scum, welfare)

By  Phil Burton-Cartledge (at All That Is Solid)

When you’re the head of a department that has meted out cruel and inhumane treatment to disabled people, when you’ve sat in the Commons and nodded through cut after sanction regime after tightened eligibility criteria, at what point do you say enough and call time over your complicity in these proceedings? Does one draw a veil over the old ministerial career by claiming principle and love for the charges you’ve spent six years abusing, or stick the boot in to cause maximum political damage?

Iain Duncan Smith, the so-called quiet man who’s done catastrophic harm to the position of disabled people in this country, has elected to do both. Uncharacteristically, an attempt to fund tax cuts for the well off by taking monies from payments to disabled people has gone down like a cup of cold sick. Which is interesting, considering their previous attacks have gone by with nary a murmur from outside the ranks of disability campaigners, the left, and the labour movement.

Okay, so let’s look at IDS’s “good reason” for resigning – the statement he’s put out himself.

I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self-imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest.

Blimey, IDS is lining up with John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn! Almost.

He goes on …

Too often my team and I have been pressured in the immediate run up to a budget or fiscal event to deliver yet more reductions to the working-age benefit bill. There has been too much emphasis on money-saving exercises and not enough awareness from the Treasury, in particular, that the government’s vision of a new welfare-to-work system could not be repeatedly salami-sliced.

To understand where IDS is coming from, one has to step inside his head. It’s scary, so come walk with me. Having previously corresponded with his ministerial office on dozens of occasions, I got the sense that IDS was acting out of ideological zeal. All of his letters would come back extolling the virtues of work, and ironic considering that IDS’s prescription for others is something he’s never really availed himself of. No matter. Work was the route out of poverty. Work was the route to self-respect. Work was the route to good health and mental well being – views typical of someone for whom low-paid drudgery is but a rumour. And IDS knew this better than the medical establishment and disabled people themselves. If only they could be liberated from their can’t-do mindset, hundreds of thousands drawing down disability support could become fully productive citizens. It is a sick joke when you think about the fates of some unfortunate ESA recipients, but IDS absolutely, genuinely believed he was designing a social security system that would “save lives”.

IDS has sat uneasily (to a degree) in Dave’s cabinet. He is an ideologue who takes his twisted principles seriously. Dave and Osborne are a touch more mercurial. They are wedded to broken Tory economics, but are quite willing to ditch principle for expediency. In Wednesday’s budget, Osborne was interested in shoring up a Middle England constituency ahead of the EU referendum as well as making a play for succeeding Dave. As he was prepared to give nice middle class people like me another tax cut and have disabled people pay for it, this clearly was too much for IDS. Just so Osborne was prepared – again – to throw IDS’s life work under a bus, so the Quiet Man has finally returned the favour.

What about the real reason? A little bit has to do with Europe, innit? Exit is another of IDS’s cracked priorities, and again must be frustrated that a number of ambitious Tories – not least the Mekon-like Sajid Javid and other heir-presumptive Theresa May – have dumped principles for position. By strengthening Osborne’s association with attacks on disabled people, he’s calculated that the chancellor will not pass the work capability assessment for Tory leader and the way be open to someone who’s either a bit more ideological, or will allow him space for his continued misadventures in social security. If only there was an unprincipled, opportunist celebrity chancer in the running for the leadership who fits the bill.

To be sure, IDS’s resignation is the biggest blow yet to Dave’s leadership and the his hopes of keeping the Number 10 sofa warm for Osborne. Long may this internal warfare continue.

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