The TV aerial that cost the NHS £965… (or how the taxpayer could save £500million on Gordon Brown’s grotesque PFI contracts)
When the consultants at my local hospital, Hereford County, asked for a television aerial for their staff room, they inadvertently exposed the scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money at the heart of the Private Finance Initiative – the system used by the last Government to finance hundreds of public projects across the country.
Thanks to PFI, Hereford has a new hospital. But it doesn’t yet belong to the NHS, which will only take ownership in 2020. Until then the hospital trust is jointly owned by Semperian, a City of London PFI fund, and French industrial services giant Sodexo.
And until then the hospital administrators are committed not only to paying a pretty high price for the building over 30 years, but to paying often exorbitant costs for maintenance, facilities management and other important services.
Not so long ago, hospital consultants would have simply asked the handyman to rig up a TV aerial in their common room. Now, thanks to the terms of the PFI contract, they are required to send a ‘changes’ notice in writing to the in-house supplier, in this case the engineering consultant WS Atkins.
In turn, Atkins has to supply a quotation within 12 weeks and has 12 more weeks to do the work, equating to a six-month delay.
In the case of the aerial, the job was costed at the princely sum of £819 plus VAT, making a grand total of £963. The hospital had no choice but to pay this price or go without.
Indeed, the terms of many of these PFI agreements are so loaded in favour of the contractors that in some cases they can insist structural changes paid for by the NHS trust be treated as permanent additions to the building, which are then charged for over the life of the contract.
So the NHS not only pays for the job to be done, but pays rent on the item it has already paid for.
Such PFI arrangements are, in the untold millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money wasted, case studies in the foolishness and incompetence of the last Government.
This week 50 of my fellow MPs and I are launching a campaign aimed at redressing the balance by urging the big PFI companies to reduce the cost of their contracts and plough the rebate back into hard-pressed local services.
We hope to claw back £500 million on the 920 PFIs and related contracts that currently exist.
It is a startling figure, though, I believe, entirely achievable through relatively minor adjustments to PFI contracts. Which rather begs the question: How on earth did we get here in the first place?
When the consultants at Hereford County asked for a television aerial, they inadvertently exposed the scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money at the heart of the Private Finance Initiative
John Major’s Government cautiously introduced the first PFIs in the early Nineties in an attempt to import more efficiency and capital into the public sector. The move was vehemently opposed by the Labour Party on the grounds that it was a form of back-door privatisation and would burden future generations with debt. The ironies are manifest.
In 1997, when New Labour came into power it did so on the promise it would adopt the Conservatives’ spending plans for two years.
But they also wanted to increase spending at the same time. It was the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, who saw a convenient way around this dilemma – PFIs.
They could be treated as off-balance-sheet items, generating money but outside published national accounts. He instructed that PFIs be used wherever possible, putting huge pressure on schools and hospitals to contract out not just on the construction process but also on long-term provision of services.
The PFI obligations taken out on Mr Brown’s watch will cost this country for decades. Because the PFI shambles doesn’t only affect the remote-sounding world of Government finance: it hits us all in the pocket.
For example, the NHS managers at Hereford County would doubtless like nothing better than to cut car parking charges – particularly punitive to regular visitors such as cancer sufferers and the families of long-term in-patients.
But under the PFI contract, parking at the hospital is the responsibility of Sodexo, which in turn sub-contracts it out to a car park management company, CP Plus.
All these companies are in it for the profit so perhaps we shouldn’t be all that surprised that the charges are so high.
Yet there is clearly something wrong here. The sums are inflated because managers can’t tender out the services to ensure value for money. Costs in Hereford County are inflated partly because managers can’t tender out for the services periodically to ensure value for money and the trust is bound to an inflexible, high-cost contract until it expires in 2032.
At a time when budgets are likely to be tight, these restrictive long-term contracts mean that hospital administrators may be forced to cut clinical services, rather than building maintenance costs.
Of course, this doesn’t apply to all PFI contracts – among the 920 there are some that have been struck at sensible rates and with sensible conditions designed to ensure value for money. But at a time of huge austerity there is scope for a clawback even here.
But there are far too many costly failures. In the worst examples, contracts have been padded out to urge big PFI companies to bid for otherwise unattractive projects.
For example, in Coventry a proposed £30 million refurbishment of two hospitals ballooned into a £410 million PFI project.
A report commissioned by the local health authority found that the scheme had been ‘progressively tailored to fit the needs of private investors’ – not configured to the public interest.
The issue extends beyond healthcare. In March 2008 the Ministry of Defence signed a 27-year, £10.5 billion PFI contract with the transport giant AirTanker Ltd to supply new refuelling and passenger transport aircraft.
The National Audit Office found recently that the contract negotiations alone took nine years. In 2004 the MoD’s own project team recommended abandoning the PFI. Private estimates now suggest the cost is at least £1.5 billion too high.
Other PFI deals hobble the services they are supposed to benefit: the hospital in Southampton that has to import pre-cooked meals from Wales, the NHS trusts left with mortgages that could make them insolvent if interest rates rise, the schools that have to pay several times the market rate for furniture and computers.
One school in Nottinghamshire trying to improve the diet of pupils was told it would have to compensate a contractor for loss of earnings if it removed confectionery vending machines.
So what can we do? The Coalition is rightly determined to get to grips with the situation. But it needs public support.
A study last year suggested a reduction in interest charges paid to contractors by NHS hospitals of 0.03 per cent could save £200 million.
Taken across all the existing contracts, this tiny reduction could save the taxpayer £500 million, which would go not to the Treasury, but to the hospital or school or other project concerned, meaning more medicine, surgery, books and teachers.
It isn’t much to ask and it isn’t much for PFI providers to give. But in the money it could save and the goodwill it could earn, this is the sort of small, meaningful measure on which the fate of PFIs, and the well-being of millions of people, will turn.
Alarmingly high death rates at 19 NHS hospital trusts, influential report reveals
Death rates at 19 NHS hospital trusts in England were alarmingly high last year, according to an influential report. The Dr Foster hospital guide also revealed that tens of thousands of patients were harmed in hospital when they developed avoidable blood clots, suffered obstetric tears during childbirth, accidental lacerations or puncture wounds, or post-surgery intestinal bleeding and blood poisoning, the Observer newspaper reported.
The study identified four trusts where an unexpectedly high number of patients died after surgery, including Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust where there were 33 more deaths than should have been expected.
It is not possible to say how many of these deaths could have been prevented.
Dr Foster said the mortality rates should act as a warning sign of potential problems in the quality of care.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley welcomed the report, saying: ‘I have been clear that unsafe care will not be tolerated. Patients have a right to expect the very best care from the NHS and when something goes wrong, hospitals have a duty to report it and make sure that others can learn from their mistake.
‘We have already taken action to improve safety and openness in the NHS – publishing more information and statistics for all to see, extending the list of mistakes the NHS will not be paid for and strengthening rights for whistleblowers.’
The Dr Foster report revealed 30,500 patients developed a blood clot, more than 13,000 mothers suffered an obstetric tear while giving birth, almost 10,000 patients suffered an accidental puncture or laceration, more than 2,000 had post-operative intestinal bleeding and 1,300 patients contracted blood poisoning after surgery.
Nigel Edwards, acting chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: ‘The concerns Dr Foster raises over the way information is recorded and interpreted in the health service are very important.
‘If we are going to manage and measure our health service using data on the outcomes of procedures and the success of treatments then we need to ensure that the collection of usable data is a priority and embedded in the culture of the health service.’
The number of England’s 147 trusts reported to have high hospital standardised mortality rates (HSMRs), fell from 27 to 19, with the gaps between hospitals with the highest and lowest rates narrowing.
In other good news, the number of people dying in hospital fell by 7% between 2008-09 and 2009-10 and the reporting of errors seems to have improved.
Of the 19 trusts with high HSMRs, Royal Bolton Hospital and Pennine Acute Hospitals have been high for six years.
While University College London Hospitals and Royal Free Hampstead had 28% lower than expected mortality ratios, Buckinghamshire Hospitals was 18% higher than expected.
Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals, University Hospital of North Staffordshire, University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) and Hull and East Yorkshire, had significantly high ‘death after surgery’ rates, with the later two trusts suffering both high rates of both HSMRs and deaths after surgery.
Dr Dave Rosser, executive medical director of University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘The figures do not accurately reflect the quality of care given at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham.
‘We believe there is a risk that figures like these could cause unnecessary confusion and distress amongst patients and are a distraction to concentrating on providing the best in care for our patients.’
He described the methodology as ‘fundamentally flawed and misleading’ as well as ‘destructive and unhelpful’ and said the figures may have been skewed by the high number of patients with liver disease.
He continued: ‘The Care Quality Commission, which regulates clinical standards across NHS hospitals, is also satisfied that there are no causes for concern regarding our mortality rates or deaths after surgery.’
Immigration cap loophole sees massive INCREASE in immigration to Britain
The Government’s cap on immigration is being undermined by a surge in foreign workers who are exempt from new visa rules, official figures have shown. Home Office statistics reveal that the number of foreigners arriving on “intra company transfers” (ICTs), which do not count towards the cap total, rose sharply following the Coalition’s announcement of an interim cap in mid-July.
There were 30 per cent more ICTs handed out in between July and September this year than in the same period last year. Experts said the increase showed that companies were to continuing to import cheap labour despite the Government’s clampdown, and warned that numbers would continue to rise even after a permanent cap on migrant numbers comes into force next April.
Peter Skyte, of the trade union Unite, said: “It is a massive loophole. Our prediction has always been that the immigration cap would be all smoke and mirrors.”
The ICT scheme allows firms to bring non-EU nationals who are already on their payroll into the UK. It is widely used in the IT industry. One Indian company alone, Tata Consultancy Services, sponsored 4,600 employees to come to Britain in 2008; another, Infosys Technologies Limited, sponsored 3,235 in the same year.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has said she will fulfil a Tory manifesto pledge by capping the “skilled worker” routes at 21,700 a year, but she agreed to exempt ICTs from the new restrictions following pressure from business leaders and Vince Cable, the Lib Dem Business Secretary.
In the third quarter of this year, as the Home Office was restricting other immigration routes, more than 8,000 foreigners came to work in the UK under ICTs – up from 6,000 in the same period last year.
If the current ICT rate is sustained, more than 32,000 immigrants would arrive under the route each year, meaning the true number of migrant workers would be about 54,000 a year when capped routes and ICTs are added together.
Mr Skyte said Unite feared there were significant loopholes in limits imposed on ICTs by the Home Secretary last week. Under the terms of the permanent cap, ICT workers earning between £24,000 and £40,000 a year will only allowed to remain in Britain for 12 months.
Mr Skyte said: “We think companies will simply transfer lower-paid staff for 11 months and three weeks, for example, and then they will be sent home for a few weeks and re-apply under a new ICT. “There doesn’t seem to be anything in the rules to stop it. “In other words, the number of people coming on ICTs could actually rise.
“The Home Office has also failed to take the chance to prevent companies counting allowances for things like accommodation as part of their gross pay, and it looks like some employers have sought to make as much use of the route as possible while current rules are in place. “The Government’s announcement has squandered a golden opportunity to tackle abuse and misuse of ICTs.”
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the pressure group MigrationWatch, said: “There is clearly a build-up of ICT applications this year. “While it is essential that staff who are seriously needed can get into Britain, this route will have to be watched very closely to avoid it becoming a loophole in the whole system of economic migration.”
On the possibility of workers exploiting the 12-month ICT rule, he said: “We have yet to see the details of this scheme but if it allows people permitted to come for a year to go home for a few weeks and return then it will rapidly become absurd.”
One British worker, who declined to be named but is employed in IT by a well-known bank, said: “Employers will find plenty of ways to abuse the system. “Where I work now there are British workers being made redundant and at the same time ICTs are being brought in to replace them. The Government’s measures have had no effect whatsoever.”
Another IT worker said: “Sadly the IT business in this country is doomed, primarily because they have printed ICTs and other visas like confetti.”
Damian Green, the immigration minister, said: “The new immigration limit clearly sets out which workers we will allow into the UK job market. “It has been drawn up following extensive consultation with businesses and reflects their views. But our view is clear: we need employers to look first to those who are out of work and already live in this country.
“The limit will allow us to protect those businesses which are vital to our economy, allowing them to attract the best and the brightest, but more importantly it will bring immigration down to sustainable levels.”
In the whole of last year there were 22,030 ICTs but in just the first nine months of this year the figure had already reached 22,520. The quarterly total of ICTs has crept up incrementally since the beginning of last year, when there were 4,355 applications between January and March. In comparison, in 1992 there were just 7,000 ICTs handed out during the whole year.
Large number of working class Britons abandoned and ignored by the major political parties
They see Britain as an “unfair” society — particularly as regards immigration
Five million people have given up on mainstream political parties in the past ten years. Most of this huge number have stopped voting altogether. Some have defected to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Some, thankfully a smaller number, have even embraced the loathsome British National Party (BNP).
These millions of people look at David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg and can’t see much of a difference between them. They look at their policies and see the same attitude to punishing criminals; the same signing up to the European Union’s demands; the same support for multiculturalism and more immigration.
Ed Miliband encountered this angry class of mainstream political deserter on Thursday when he sat down with some Tesco shopworkers in Dudley in the West Midlands. They were working hard to make ends meet and they hated the way that their taxes were abused by people on welfare, people who could work but don’t.
The Labour leader looked shocked and uncomfortable at such conservative views from people he probably regarded as core Labour voters.
When I try to give these disenfranchised voters a human face, I think of a woman I saw being interviewed on television and who voted BNP in last year’s European elections. Talking to a television reporter, while packing a gift parcel for troops in Afghanistan, she said she wanted her son’s school to teach British history. She wanted her local town hall to celebrate Christmas and not have her council tax used for a politically correct ‘Winterval’ festival. She didn’t want her country governed by Brussels.
Race wasn’t mentioned, but her disillusionment with the mainstream parties had led her, in desperation, to lend her vote to a racist party.
For the first time, the concerns of this army of five million have been analysed in detail by the lobby group NothingBritish.com, which campaigns against the BNP and extremism in politics and polled thousands of what it calls ANTI voters.
The acronym ANTI comes from four defining characteristics. First they are ‘Angry’ about the political system. They are tired of broken promises and political parties ready to surrender solemn pledges as soon as they are in office. Last year’s expenses crisis wasn’t the beginning of their disdain for MPs, but it did confirm their low view of parliament and politics.
Secondly, they feel ‘Neglected’ financially, and because of this are much more pessimistic about their future than the average Briton. They are the pound-stretching class. They have to watch every penny. They worry about keeping their jobs. They resent their taxes going to undeserving causes or being used to bail out Ireland and rich bankers.
The third characteristic of the ANTI voter is ‘Traditionalism’. They hold traditional views about crime, drugs, family values and national pride. They worry their country is changing too fast and not for the better.
Finally, and most importantly, the ANTI voter is opposed to large-scale ‘Immigration’. Their worry about immigration isn’t about race, except for a small minority. It is about pressure on the housing stock. It’s about competition for scarce jobs. It’s about children trying to learn in schools where English isn’t the first language for many of the class.
When questioned, 89 per cent of these ANTIs said they would be more likely to vote for a party that promised to be tougher on immigration; 85 per cent said they would be more likely to vote for a party that promised to take back powers from Europe; 81 per cent said they would be more likely to vote for a party that promised to crack down on crime.
Moreover, 94 per cent of BNP voters and 91 per cent of UKIP voters agreed with the statement that ‘Britain is no longer a fair country that rewards its people based on merit’.
Before the General Election, these voters were hardly on David Cameron’s radar. From the first moment he became Tory leader, he aimed to win back the votes of ‘Liberal England’ — the people who had defected from the Conservatives to either the Liberal Democrats or to Tony Blair. He wanted to win back people who cared about the environment, the National Health Service and civil liberties. He wanted to soften conservatism, not toughen it.
He built up a campaign machine at Conservative HQ that focused not on the whole country, but on the two million swing voters in the 100 marginal seats who tend to decide who becomes Prime Minister.
As an electoral strategy it failed to secure him an outright majority, although it won enough seats to end Labour rule. Now, however, as Prime Minister, David Cameron has a bigger responsibility. In No 10 Downing Street, Cameron has a responsibility to govern for the whole nation and we should judge him, in part, on whether he can reduce the ANTI voter army.
As a Conservative, Cameron has an opportunity — many would say an obligation — to show that a politician can keep promises and can make a practical improvement to the lives of the pound-stretching class. So, what would an ANTI voter make of his performance so far? On immigration, the most important issue, there are at least hopeful signs.
When David Cameron began negotiations with Nick Clegg about forming a coalition government, he made it clear he wasn’t prepared to compromise on the promise he made to reduce net immigration of people outside the EU from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands.
That promise is essentially a 70 per cent cut from the Labour years when weak border controls allowed two million people to come to live and work in Britain. It was the equivalent of two extra cities the size of Birmingham added to the nation’s population, in little more than ten years.
The Prime Minister and Home Secretary Theresa May have fought a tough battle within the Coalition Government to defend the pledge. The Liberal Democrats do not believe in the Tories’ hard-line approach and Nick Clegg wants illegal immigrants to have the right to settle in Britain.
Business Secretary Vince Cable attempted to dilute the immigration cap, but Mrs May dug in her stiletto heels and wouldn’t be moved. She also defeated big business interests who’d rather import cheap labour from overseas than patiently train British workers, many of whom prefer to live on benefits.
So far, so good. But economic migration is only one route into Britain. Many more immigrants come into the UK as students, but they register at bogus colleges and work in the black economy.
Others still enter our country using bogus marriages and family visas, but they arrive neither able to speak English nor with any understanding of British culture.
If Theresa May succeeds in blocking these immigrants, too, in a step-by-step attack on Britain’s lax border controls, she’ll do more than any other politician to restore the ANTI voters’ trust in politics.
In addition to Theresa May, the two other members of Cameron’s team who best understand the ANTI voter are Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne. In particular, they understand the ANTIs’ concerns about tax payers’ money going to undeserving causes and are trying to rebuild the welfare system so that work pays and people who refuse reasonable job offers lose their benefits.
When these reforms were first announced, Labour instinctively accused the Tories of being harsh. But as Ed Miliband found out, on his visit to Dudley and that Tesco supermarket, low-income workers who do the decent thing are tired of being taken for a ride.
Ed Miliband is certainly going to find it hard to win over the pound-stretchers. He is associated with the government that created the conditions that gave rise to the ANTI voter: out-of-control immigration; a welfare system that was unfair to those in work; and massive growth in anti-social behaviour. Unlike Cameron, he can only make promises. He can’t easily do anything that will overcome the ANTIs’ deep suspicion of politicians’ words.
These hurdles won’t mean that the Labour leader won’t or shouldn’t try. Nothing will stop Cameron being re-elected if the economy is strong by the time of the next election and he fixes the deficit, fixes immigration and fixes welfare.
But Miliband has half a chance if things turn messy for Cameron. By messy, I mean rising fuel bills. I mean higher VAT and higher holiday taxes. I mean a crime wave on streets where there are fewer police officers, a crime wave committed by people who the Coalition didn’t put in prison because Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke does not believe in locking up criminals. I mean Europe continuing to order Britain to do things like give votes to prisoners.
What Cameron has to realise is that, more than anything else, the ANTI voters describe Britain as ‘unfair’.
Unfair to them and unfair to people who do the right thing.
Cameron has a great opportunity to bring these disaffected voters back into the mainstream of politics, but only if he becomes their champion.
On immigration and welfare the signs are good. But on Europe, tax and crime, he’s going in the wrong direction.
Call for reform of British “human rights” law
David Cameron is under pressure to deliver on a promise to reform the Human Rights Act following the disclosure that the foreign-born murderer of Philip Lawrence has been arrested on suspicion of another violent attack.
Frances Lawrence, the headmaster’s widow, said the legislation needed to be “revised”. Conservative MPs urged the Prime Minister to act on his previous pledges to scrap the current legislation.
The Daily Telegraph disclosed on Wednesday that Learco Chindamo had been arrested four months after his release for the 1995 murder of Mr Lawrence outside a west London school.
The Government had been prevented from deporting Chindamo to Italy, where he lived as a child, because of the Human Rights Act. He was freed in July and allowed to live in Britain.
Yesterday Mrs Lawrence told The Daily Telegraph: “I think the Human Rights Act needs revision. It omits the notion of responsibility, without which we are less than human. I don’t think this is a mere philosophical point.”
The legislation was introduced by the Labour government in 1998, but has been criticised for providing more protection for criminals and terrorists than law-abiding citizens. Over the past few years, Mr Cameron repeatedly called for the legislation to be reformed, describing it as “a glaring example of what is going wrong in our country”. The Conservatives drew up plans for a Bill of Rights to replace it. The change would have been introduced before the end of the year had the Tories won a majority. Under the Coalition, the reform has been delayed. Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister and a previous supporter of the Act, has been charged with helping to lead a commission reviewing the legislation.
The commission will not start work until 2012 at the earliest, raising fears that the Act will not be overhauled.
The decision to hand control of the issue to Mr Clegg has irritated some ministers, who are braced for the issue not to be resolved before the next election.
One Conservative Cabinet minister said: “This is another totemic issue like inheritance tax which has been thrown overboard.
“It is an issue which needs to be resolved but Cameron has virtually given up on it. It now looks like reforming the Act properly will be for the next manifesto.
“This was all ready to go; it would have been law next year if we had won the election. But that’s life.”
Last night, Conservative MPs urged Mr Cameron to push ahead with his previous pledge to reform the Act.
Priti Patel, MP for Witham, said: “The public will be appalled to see that human rights laws continue to prevent us from sending dangerous foreign criminals back to their own countries. Instead of the public being protected they are being left to commit more crimes in Britain. There are serious issues with the way human rights legislation operates which has left people feeling that the rights of criminals are being put above those of the law-abiding majority.”
Dominic Raab, MP for Esher & Walton, who helped to draw up the plans for a Bill of Rights, said: “Britain’s inability to deport criminals because it disrupts their family ties is a direct result of the Human Rights Act, not the European Convention [on Human Rights]. This case highlights the difference a Bill of Rights can make, and why it should be a priority. It must not be kicked into the long grass.”
Rehman Chishti, a barrister and Conservative MP for Gilliam and Rainham, said: “Learco Chindamo should have been extradited a long time ago when he was first sentenced. People talk about his human right to a family life but what about the human rights of the public who have a right to be protected from him?”
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “There is a Coalition agreement on this and it sets out very clearly what we are going to do on the European Convention on Human Rights. There is an awful lot of work going on between now and then.
“There are many other things going through the House of Commons and many other bits of policy, and significant reforms under way in lots of areas and we are getting on with those.”
Why the British government has to make it easier to fire workers
Tomorrow, George Osborne will go to the House of Commons to make a statement about the defining task for this Government: getting the economy growing again at a decent speed. The Coalition is acutely aware that if it can’t do this, then it’ll be gone in five years.
Many in the business community worry that the Government isn’t doing enough on growth. They argue that the cuts, while vitally important, are not enough on their own to get the economy moving.
Osborne’s statement tomorrow will attempt to allay these fears. He will announce the creation of a new growth committee headed by himself and Business Secretary Vince Cable. This will bring Ministers before it and require them to set out what their departments are doing to help growth.
The Chancellor will also detail planned changes to the corporate tax regime, which have been designed to entice back British companies that have moved overseas.
For the next two months, Osborne, who is the real motor of this Government, will devote most of his time to trying to eliminate as many barriers to growth as possible. He’ll use his position to drive a rolling-back of regulation, sector by sector. The individual changes may be small but the cumulative effect could be considerable.
If its growth strategy is to be successful, though, the Government must avoid the trap of seeing everything from the perspective of big business. This is an easy mistake for any government to make. The businessmen that the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Business Secretary tend to see are those who run big multinational companies. These are the people who sit on the PM’s business council, act as trade ambassadors and accompany him on overseas trips.
These big businesses are global enterprises. When they grow, they often do so outside the UK. But around half of British jobs are with small businesses. When these businesses grow, it leads to more jobs here. If the Government could make it worthwhile for these 4.6 million businesses to hire one more person, the country’s employment problems would be solved at a stroke. Millions would be moved from the debit side of the ledger, welfare, to the credit side, taxpayers.
Lord Young was advising the Government on how to do this until his implosion last week. With him gone, this agenda is in danger. But if it dies, then so could the Government’s chances of getting the economy growing again at a decent lick.
One way to make small businesses hire more people is to make it easier for them to sack workers. At the moment, as soon as someone has worked for a company for 12 months they are entitled to a slew of employment protections that make them legally difficult to lay off.
This means that small companies, who don’t have in-house lawyers, are reluctant to take on more staff. Exempt them from this legislation and they’d be far more likely to expand their workforce. There is nervousness in Tory circles about doing this. Some worry that it would look too much like the work of the old ‘nasty party’.
They point to the fact that among the protections that would be hit are those designed to stop companies from sacking women for taking maternity leave. Others think that the Liberal Democrats wouldn’t wear it.
As so many of these regulations come from Brussels, the Coalition would have to be prepared to negotiate exemptions at the European level. The Foreign Office is reluctant to expend diplomatic capital on this.
But the Coalition needs to be prepared to make the case that these rules are making it far harder for the unemployed to move from welfare into work. It is just not fair to offer more and more protections to those with jobs at the expense of those without.
Whether the Government is prepared to take the political risk of exempting small firms from these regulations will be a crucial test of whether it is really serious about growth.
British Met office still asserting that hot weather proves man-made global warming
It’s an assertion offered without any proof — because there is no proof. And with breathtaking intellectual dishonesty they always say that cold weather does not prove global cooling. If weather is evidence in one case why is it not evidence in both cases? Don’t expect science from the British Met office. The Pope at the Met office (Dr Vicky Pope) is clearly a religious leader too.
And the amusing thing is that with the recent savage onset of a very cold winter in England and elsewhere, 2010 is clearly NOT going to be unusually warm overall anyway
The latest temperature statistics are a sign of man-made global warming, the Met Office says. This year is heading to be the hottest or second hottest on record, according to the Met Office. It says the past 12 months are the warmest recorded by Nasa, and are second in the UK data set, HadCRUT3.
The Met Office says it is very confident that man-made global warming is forcing up temperatures.
Until now, the hottest year on record has been 1998, when temperatures were pushed up by a strong El Nino – a warming event in the Pacific. This year saw a weaker El Nino, and that fizzled out to be replaced by a La Nina cooling event.
So scientists might have expected this year’s temperatures to be substantially lower than 1998 – but they are not. Within the bounds of statistical error, the two years are likely to be the same. “It’s a sign that we’ve got man-made global warming,” said Dr Vicky Pope, head of climate science advice at the Met Office.
Climate sceptics say that until now, warming has plateaued over the last decade. The Met Office agrees that the rate of warming has slowed – but it maintains that is due to natural variability, not because man-made warming has stopped.
They think factors in the slower warming may have been – a natural downturn in solar radiation; a small reduction in water vapour in the stratosphere; a possible increase in aerosol emissions from Asia; and the fact that strong warming in the Arctic is poorly represented in the way data is collected.
There is a question over how many times the Met Office has forecast a record previously. Dr Pope said they had not done so from her recollection. But a Met Office press release shows a forecast that 2007 would probably beat 1998. And a BBC report implies that they made the same prediction for the other El Nino year of 2003. Sceptics say this could prove the third time they have been wrong.
Professor John Christy, a climate sceptic from the University of Alabama in Hunstville, said global temperature had plunged in the past two weeks, so 2010 was likely to remain in second place.
He challenged the Met Office conviction that greenhouse gases were to blame for the warmth. “The cause of the warmth is speculation. There are numerous feedbacks at work (many of which are poorly modelled if at all), and it seems to me unimaginative to conclude that greenhouse gases are the dominant cause,” he said.
“There is no proof of such a cause in classical scientific sense – so we end up with a lot of opinions on the matter. Evidence is strong that centuries in the past 10,000 years were warmer than today without influences from human-related greenhouse gases.”
An amusing false prophecy from Warmists in the year 2000
Britain’s winter ends tomorrow with further indications of a striking environmental change: snow is starting to disappear from our lives.
Sledges, snowmen, snowballs and the excitement of waking to find that the stuff has settled outside are all a rapidly diminishing part of Britain’s culture, as warmer winters – which scientists are attributing to global climate change – produce not only fewer white Christmases, but fewer white Januaries and Februaries.
The first two months of 2000 were virtually free of significant snowfall in much of lowland Britain, and December brought only moderate snowfall in the South-east. It is the continuation of a trend that has been increasingly visible in the past 15 years: in the south of England, for instance, from 1970 to 1995 snow and sleet fell for an average of 3.7 days, while from 1988 to 1995 the average was 0.7 days. London’s last substantial snowfall was in February 1991.
Global warming, the heating of the atmosphere by increased amounts of industrial gases, is now accepted as a reality by the international community. Average temperatures in Britain were nearly 0.6Â°C higher in the Nineties than in 1960-90, and it is estimated that they will increase by 0.2C every decade over the coming century. Eight of the 10 hottest years on record occurred in the Nineties.
However, the warming is so far manifesting itself more in winters which are less cold than in much hotter summers. According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia,within a few years winter snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”. “Children just aren’t going to know what snow is,” he said.
More stupidity HERE
Misguided British government attack on school sport
Gove has been declaring ‘war’ on education this week. You can argue elsewhere about the merits of his plans in the academic arena. But some of the collateral damage he has inflicted was idiotically destructive in the extreme, most notably the decision to wipe £162million of protected School Sports Partnership (SSP) funding from the books.
This is money that guaranteed five hours of children’s physical education classes and sports activity per week, allowing schools and colleges to combine facilities and resources.
Gove doesn’t like it. He says money should not be ring-fenced and head teachers must be able to spend their cash as they wish. Either he is stupid — and let us assume here that he is not — or he is being deliberately disingenuous. Gove knows full well why this money had to be ring-fenced.
Schools will not be assessed by any Government methodology or league table for their PE programmes or after-school sports clubs. And so pressurised head teachers will raid the sport pot for every eventuality. Competitions and events will disappear; schools with no PE teachers will find it difficult to link up with centres in their region that have trained staff and useful partnerships will collapse.
On the plus side, however, the bored kid that always sets fire to the wheelie bin outside your house might be easier to identify, because he’ll be too fat to run.
We all know money is tight right now, but this is a false economy on a staggeringly grand scale. The only time the majority of children take part in any worthwhile exercise is at school.
Health should be an absolutely essential part of their education plan, particularly in a country where so many youngsters are indolent and heart disease and diabetes are on the rise.
The amount involved here is also relatively tiny. It’s just over two per cent of the £7billion the UK rustled up to put a bankrupt Republic of Ireland back on the treadmill.
What’s more, for all the lousy education policies dreamt up by the last Government, here was a scheme that was delivering.
Youth Sports Trust (YST) statistics point out that seven years ago less than a quarter of school-children took part in the two hours of physical activity required in the curriculum. Now, thanks to the partnerships Gove aims to wreck, the figure is more than 90 per cent. But to fill the void he is needlessly creating, Gove proposes an ‘Olympic-style school event’.
That’s right. A few sporty kids will still get the chance to run about as they have always done while the rest will be sent back to their PlayStations and turkey twizzlers.
Gove and his Minister for Sport Hugh Something-or-other hoped their steaming dereliction of duty might pass unnoticed if they stuck the Olympics label on their glorified school sports day idea. Pretty much everyone saw through the cynicism.
This isn’t about pretending you can create Olympians through a school jamboree. It’s about the fact that everyday participation in sport gives children self-esteem, raises confidence levels and reduces anti-social behaviour. It provides them with a grounding in leadership, teamwork, or the simple benefits of working up a sweat. Not that Gove looks like he knows anything about that.
A former journalist, Lord help us, the only evidence I can find of Gove in active competition was during his time as ‘chief adjudicator at the World Universities Debating Championship’. I hear he ticked boxes on pieces of paper with great vigour.
He could be a secret jiu-jitsu black belt. But I suspect he was always the last kid picked for any team in the playground and this is his horrible revenge.
Needless to say Gove found some statistics to support his position, as any serial debater would. He toured television studios parroting the line that the scheme had failed because ‘only one child in five plays regular competitive sport against another school’.
Others, who actually know something about this topic, pointed out he had cherry-picked statistics and was talking complete Northampton Town (club nickname: ‘Cobblers’). David Cameron even stood at the Dispatch Box during Prime Minister’s Questions and, from a crib sheet provided by Gove’s department, declared: ‘The number of schools offering rugby (he meant union, not league, but didn’t feel the need to say this, being an Old Etonian), hockey, netball and gymnastics actually fell under the previous Government.’
As Channel 4 astutely pointed out in their analysis, that drop was negligible – between one and five per cent over seven years. But there was a reason for this.
Cameron had blithely ignored the fact that the number of state schools offering rugby league, football, athletics, cricket, tennis, basketball, cycling, golf, badminton, table tennis, volleyball, canoeing, archery, fitness classes, mountaineering, rowing, sailing, judo, karate, boxing, lacrosse, squash, equestrian sports, triathlon and even skateboarding, dance and orienteering had gone up.
In total, the average number of sports offered by any school had risen from 14 to 19, which more than accounted for the slight dip in the four sports Cameron had so cynically selected as failures. Did Gove leave that off his bluffer’s guide? I guess so.
Like all sport, it isn’t over until the final whistle. If you hate what the Government is about to do, if you are a parent, or someone who understands what SSPs contribute, then protest and complain.
Moreover, remember this disastrous plan when you see Cameron supporting the 2018 World Cup bid this week. Remember it when you see Gove’s goggle eyes swivelling in the free seats at the 2012 Olympics. Remember it when ministers elbow into photo opportunities alongside British medal winners at Downing Street in the hope of bathing in some reflected glory. Remember it when they say how important it is to create a sporting legacy for this country. If Cameron doesn’t reverse this decision, he’ll be the dummy, not Gove.
Some very encouraging news about pancreatic cancer
Last December, Kevin Jones, a 43-year-old businessman from Dorset was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was advanced and inoperable. Today, as he prepares to celebrate Christmas with his son, Mr Jones is free from any detectable trace of the disease; the human face of a medical breakthrough so exciting that the scientists involved struggle to contain their excitement.
Cancer of the pancreas is one of the most deadly cancers of all. Symptoms are hard to detect, meaning the disease is usually advanced, and tumours cannot be safely removed by the time it is diagnosed. Of almost 8,000 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK each year, just 4 per cent survive five years or more. Among the small number of cases caught early enough for patients to undergo surgery, just one quarter will survive more than five years.
By the time Mr Jones was diagnosed, he already knew those grim statistics. When he first started suffering from sharp pains in the summer of 2009 – usually when he was having a pint with friends after work, or after a round of golf – he assumed it was heartburn. Antacids made no difference. His GP thought it might be an ulcer; tablets did not help. Blood tests found diabetes, for which he was treated, yet still the pains continued. Mr Jones began to worry.
“I started to do some research on the internet, and I wondered if it might be pancreatitis, an inflammation that could explain the diabetes, because the pancreas produces insulin. I went back to my GP and asked to be referred to a specialist in pancreatic disease.”
Scans detected some kind of mass in the organ. It could be scar tissue, or a benign lump, the businessman was told. Two weeks before Christmas he received the results of a biopsy. It was cancer, it was advanced, and it was inoperable. The expected prognosis was 12 to 14 months.
“I was only 43, my son was then not yet 15, and he has special needs,” says Mr Jones. “The idea that I could be gone in a year, that I would leave him was just not something I could accept. Everyone in my family was crying, but I felt totally numb.”
In fact, he says, he never accepted the prognosis. “I never thought this might be my last Christmas. I couldn’t let myself think that. I thought, well that’s the average, I might get more. I decided whatever they said, I would settle for three years. That would mean my boy had finished school; it was enough time to sort out my business and my will. Three years would do.”
Searching online, he read about experimental trials for patients with pancreatic cancer. “When you’ve got nothing to get hold of, when you have nowhere to go, you grab at anything,” says Mr Jones. He asked his specialist at Poole Hospital if there were any such trials in which he could take part. Within weeks, he had signed up for one of the most ground-breaking pieces of medical research of recent decades.
Five years ago, a group of scientists embarked on a radical trial. In recent years, most of the advances in treatment of pancreatic cancer had involved improved targeting of radiation, to deliver the burning rays most precisely to the cancer, and to limit damage to the tissue around it. But at the same time, scientists were increasingly aware of the role of genes in making some cancers more resistant to radiation than others.
The question was, could anything be done to switch off some of the molecular reactions that occur with cancer, and to make tumours more sensitive to radiation, so that they shrunk sufficiently that they could be removed. The group of scientists, now based at the Gray Institute for Radiation Oncology and Biology, in Oxford, decided to see whether a drug called Nelfinavir, used for the treatment of HIV, could change the way tumours responded to radiation.
Twelve patients with inoperable tumours were enrolled on a phase I trial, used to establish the safety and toxicity of a drug. They were given daily doses of the drug before radiation therapy. At the end of the trial, led by Dr Thomas Brunner, the patients were scanned again.
The research team was stunned by the results. Of 10 patients who completed the course, six were able to have previously inoperable tumours removed. Across the group, overall average survival time more than doubled. More remarkably still, in one case the combination of drug treatment and radiotherapy had eradicated every living cancer cell, with no trace of disease found by surgeons. “There was a complete pathological response. No sign of the cancer at all. It had completely disappeared.”
The excitement from Professor Gillies McKenna, the head of the Gray Institute, is palpable. He quickly checks himself. Forty years pioneering advances in cancer treatment make him all too aware of the desperation of those diagnosed with advanced disease, and the rush to pin “miracle” labels on significant, but faltering, steps.
Yet four years since the trial started, the man remains free of cancer. A female patient, who had 90 per cent of cancer cells destroyed, also remains healthy, more than three years on.
“We are really excited about this,” says Prof McKenna. “We are still several years away from proving that this is a major breakthrough, because this was a small trial. But to get these kinds of results for pancreatic cancer – well, we just couldn’t help but prick up our ears.”
Early this year, the team embarked on a larger phase II trial. Kevin Jones is among 80 patients being recruited to try the experimental technique. He began treatment in March.
“They never gave any false promises,” says Mr Jones. “It had taken years of research to get to this point, and the results they had were on a small group. Why would there be a major breakthrough now? Well, the way I saw it, why not?”
For two weeks, he took a daily dose of the HIV drug. For six more weeks, he underwent daily radiation treatment at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital. Regular measurements of tumour markers, which reflect the extent of disease, showed dramatic improvements. But by the end of the treatment, he felt terrible.
“I felt really sick, I couldn’t eat and I didn’t have much strength. I decided to take a holiday with my son in case it was the last one we had,” says Mr Jones. He took his son Brett, who has Asperger’s syndrome, to Canada, where they had been building a holiday home. “It was a special time, bonding, building this home together. Whatever else happened, I was grateful for that time.”
He returned to England to undergo further scans. In June, the research team asked him to come for a consultation with one of the hospital’s surgeons. “They showed me the scan. Where there had previously been a solid mass of two-and-a-half inches, there was now a faint outline, with a hole in the middle.”
The research team and surgeons were cautious, warning him it was impossible to say from seeing the scans whether any of the tissues were cancerous. Nevertheless, says Mr Jones: “I walked out of that room feeling 10ft tall.”
In July, he underwent surgery to remove the mass. It was then that surgeons told him that not a single cancer cell had been found; every deadly tissue had been destroyed. He was now the second such case to emerge from the Oxford trials. “They couldn’t believe it. The surgeon who operated said he had never seen anything like it,” says Mr Jones.
In such unchartered territory, no one can predict whether his cancer will return. He says: “The surgeons said to me, ‘Don’t think in terms of three years, or five years, you might have two decades – you might have more.’ This time last year I’d have settled for three years. Now I might be cured.”
The centre is still recruiting patients for the current trial, which will run for two years. Scientists like Prof McKenna, who returned to Britain to set up the institute, after 40 years leading radiation therapy programmes across the US, believe the evidence emerging may be “the tip of an iceberg” – giving scientists valuable lessons about ways to both block the progress of many aggressive cancers, and to enable different types of tumours to respond better to treatment.
But medical breakthroughs are expensive. The institute, set up just two years ago, receives most of its funding from Cancer Research UK, which is funded by donations from the public. Prof McKenna has had to fight hard to ensure funding for research into treatments, such as radiation therapy, which can be neglected.
“People dismiss radiotherapy as somehow being old-fashioned, as something that would die out when new treatments were being invented,” he says. “Actually, that prediction was almost 100 per cent wrong; some of the most dramatic improvements in cancer over the past decade have come from this field.
“Our teams are here and we are ready to go to work, but we are totally dependent on the generosity of the public to make the breakthroughs we need.”