IT firm behind ‘unworkable’ NHS database keeps IT deal
Ministers have agreed to give the American company responsible for the “unworkable” NHS database almost £1 billion in health contracts
Computer Sciences Corporation, an American IT firm, previously had a £1.9 billion contract for the national NHS system which was scrapped by Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, last year.
The firm is understood to have threatened legal action against the Government and is now thought to have agreed to continue with up to £900 million of NHS work in return for dropping any legal action.
It will run computer systems for the NHS across the north, midlands and eastern England under the deal which is expected to be agreed in the coming days.
Ministers are expected to herald the “compromise deal” as a success which will save the taxpayer about £1 billion. However, it underlines the difficulties faced by the Coalition in extricating itself from previous contracts agreed by the last Government.
It will also add to growing allegations that despite the high-profile announcement that the beleaguered national NHS database is being scrapped – it is simply being replaced by a series of similar regional systems which will perform the same function.
The NHS database attracted widespread criticism following a series of damning official reports. Last year, the House of Commons Public Accounts committee described the programme as “unworkable”.
Last May, the National Audit Office criticised the project for being poor value for money, patchy and long overdue.
When he announced the “acceleration” of the dismantling of the system last year, the Health Secretary said: “Labour’s IT programme let down the NHS and wasted taxpayers’ money by imposing a top-down IT system on the local NHS, which didn’t fit their needs.
“We will be moving to an innovative new system driven by local decision-making. This is the only way to make sure we get value for money from IT systems that better meet the needs of a modernised NHS.”
Computer Sciences Corporation had previously largely written off the value of the NHS contract in its accounts, leading to a reduction in the company’s share price. Last May, David Cameron said the Government would not sign any new contracts with the firm until a review of its work on the NHS IT programme was complete.
However, the firm announced yesterday that it had entered into a non-binding letter of intent with the British Government. The letter “defines a way forward for CSC to deliver healthcare solutions and services, primarily across the North, the Midlands and east of England.”
The company’s share price rose yesterday after falling by more than a third over the past year.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “The Department of Health has secured agreement to an approach which will involve a hugely improved settlement for the NHS with CSC, the company responsible for introducing Lorenzo software in the North, Midlands and East.
“A Letter of Intent has been negotiated which makes clear that a new contract, to be signed this Spring, will ensure that the local NHS has control over whether to introduce Lorenzo. The agreement we have negotiated gives choice to Trusts about taking this software, rather than imposing the decision on NHS organisations.”
Treatment of elderly amounts to torture, says equality watchdog
The treatment of elderly people in care is now so bad that it meets the legal definition of torture, the Government’s human rights watchdog said on Monday.
Some cases of neglect and abuse breach the internationally recognised prohibition on “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, according to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.
The health and social care watchdog, the Care Quality Commission, is also accused of failing to identify and prevent abuses of the basic human rights of elderly people.
And police and social services departments are criticised for failing to step in to prevent child abuse, neglect of disabled people, and domestic violence against women.
In some cases police have ignored allegations of child abuse, domestic violence or neglect of disabled even when they pass threshold for torture, the EHRC claims.
The allegations are made in a wide ranging review of how human rights law is being applied by public services in Britain which also deals with issues relating to children in custody, asylum seekers, terror suspects, gipsies and transsexuals.
The Commission also hits back at widespread criticism of the Human Rights Act and what has been widely labelled the “human rights industry”.
Accepting that there has been an “understandable uneasiness with protecting the rights of individuals who have broken the law or ignored the rights of others” the commission insists that the current law is necessary to prevent discrimination against any group.
Setting out 10 areas in which it believes public bodies have failed to meet human rights standards it singles out care of the elderly which it says is too often “undignified and humiliating”.
“At its most extreme, abusive, cruel and degrading treatment is similar to torture,” the report says.
This, it argues, is in breach of Article eight of the European Convention on Human Rights, which uphold the right to “private and family life” and Article three which prohibits “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.
It criticises the care regulator, which is says has failed to identify and prevent abuses of human rights, adding that many vulnerable people have no idea how to complain.
The report goes on to accuse councils, police and social services failing to intervene in cases of serious ill-treatment of children, disabled people or women at risk of abuse.
“Police sometimes failed to take seriously allegations of repeated violence that were so severe the allegations reached the threshold for inhuman and degrading treatment under Article three,” it adds.
The report comes as thousands of elderly people are due to descend on Westminster for a mass lobby of MPs for an overhaul of the care system in England.
The Government is due to unveil its plans for the care system in a white paper as early as next month but campaigners claim that without a major injection of new money any reform would be meaningless.
At a speech in Westminster Simon Gillespie, chair of the Care and Support Alliance, will say: “We fear that the Government will sidestep the issue of funding which is at the heart of the care crisis.
“The current care system is teetering on rotting foundations and if the Government fails to show the vision needed on the funding of care, hundreds of thousands of people and their families across the nation will stand in judgment.”
British unionists win ‘racist’ monkey cartoon case
Four trade-unionists who were accused of racism after drawing a satirical cartoon of the three wise monkeys who “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” have won a four-and-a-half year legal battle.
It is a familiar image – the three wise monkeys who “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”. The ancient Japanese saying is nowadays applied to those who wilfully ignore an unwelcome truth. So when a group of four hard-Left trade unionists became exasperated at being brushed off by their leadership, they put out a leaflet using the image.
As campaigners used to political rough and tumble they thought it would make an effective satirical point. Not for a moment did they consider the image could be perceived as racist – but that was exactly the reaction when they took on their colleagues at Unison, Britain’s biggest public sector union.
Amongst the 15-strong committee criticised was one black man, who called the image “insulting”. The chairman of the union’s National Black Members Committee went further, saying it was “offensive and racist”.
The group tried to defuse the row, apologising for inadvertently causing offence. But the union began a full-scale investigation, resulting in them being banned from holding office.
Now, after a four-and-a-half year legal battle costing up to £200,000, the matter has been settled, after an Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled in favour of the four and criticised the union’s reaction.
Glenn Kelly, 50, one of those behind the leaflet, said: “The whole thing was a nonsense. The way we were targeted you would think that the British National Party had produced the leaflet.”
The ordeal of the so-called “Unison Four” began at the union’s annual conference, in June 2007. Mr Kelly, former secretary of the Bromley branch; Onay Kasab, former secretary of the Greenwich branch; Brian Debus, 64, former chairman of Hackney branch; and Suzanne Muna, 45, former secretary of the Tenants Services Authority branch had all submitted motions which were rejected by the union’s Standing Orders Committee (SOC).
The four, all members of the Socialist Party — formerly Labour’s Militant Tendency — wanted the conference to discuss proposals to cut funding of the Labour Party and elect full-time officials. In response to the SOC’s decision they produced the leaflet and distributed 1,500 copies.
But shortly after the conference began Bev Miller, chairman of the Black Members Committee, made a speech attacking the document and denouncing those behind it.
She said that the leaflet “belonged in the past with Bernard Manning” and that “black members and all other decent anti-racist trade unionists who understand the historic and racist denigration of black people did not find the joke funny”.
Clytus Williams, chairman of the SOC, added that his committee — of which he was the only black member — “did not expect to be insulted in the literature distributed to conference delegates”.
A number of union members complained to senior officials about the leaflet and the four wrote to both committees to refute the charge of racism but to apologise for any “unintentional offence”.
Despite this, an investigation was launched which, eight months later, resulted in the four being told that disciplinary charges would be brought against them for the “racial offence” caused by the leaflet.
The hearing took place over nine days spread between May 2008 and July 2009. In their defence, the four complained that there had been other occasions when members had inadvertently caused offence but had not been disciplined. At the 2007 conference another official was criticised after remarking about seeing a “sea of orange” in reference to a display of voting cards. He explained that the comment was not a reference to the politics of Northern Ireland.
However, the union ruled that the four should be barred from holding office for between three and five years. They brought a claim against Unison, claiming they had been unjustifiably disciplined under the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act.
At the tribunal, Unison insisted the leaflet was racist. Mr Williams, the only SOC member to give evidence, said it had “caused him racial offence”.
The tribunal ruled in favour of the four in January 2011. The union, which has more than 1.3 million members, appealed, but on February 22 the Employment Appeal Tribunal again ruled in the four’s favour.
The judgment said: “It never occurred to [the four] that anyone would take [the image] out of context and consider it to be racially offensive because one member of the SOC, the chairman, was a black man.”
The four, who have paid their own costs, estimate the union has spent around £100,000 bringing the case. They are now waiting to be reinstated to their former positions. They are also hoping they will be awarded damages and costs of up to £25,000 each — bringing Unison’s potential bill up to £200,000.
A spokesman for the union said: “Unison is considering the recent judgment and the merits of taking an appeal.
Fireman Sam and the day British freedom went up in smoke
By Peter Hitchens
Here are the most sinister and hopeless words I have ever read: ‘I was told that we now live in a different time and some things are not to be said.’ They should be carved on the tombstone of the Country Formerly Known as Great Britain.
They are as near as we will get to an exact moment at which it became clear our free, happy past is gone for ever.
We grew up in another country, and because we did not guard it, or even see the danger, we have lost it, and our children will live in a censored twilight.
Author David Jones was detained by airport security after he made a remark about wearing a scarf over his face
Author David Jones was detained by airport security after he made a remark about wearing a scarf over his face
They were spoken – apparently by a police officer – to David Jones, author of the Fireman Sam books. Mr Jones had been detained for speaking words that only a stone-faced totalitarian, wholly devoid of a sense of humour or proportion, could have objected to.
Here are the words: ‘If I was wearing this scarf over my face, I wonder what would happen.’
Here is the context. Mr Jones was passing through the officious farce known as airport security, in which surly persons pretend to watch out for terrorists, and we pretend to take them seriously. A Muslim woman wearing a face veil had gone through the screen ahead of Mr Jones, had not set off the alarm, and had not been stopped.
Mr Jones’s artificial hip (that well-known terrorist weapon) had caused the machine to bleep and so the law-abiding, respectable, 67-year-old former fireman was humiliated with a stupid search which (as always) revealed nothing.
I go through this stuff quite a lot, including an exciting new machine that allows security personnel to view my naked body, and good luck to them. Though its moronic futility fills me with rage, I have learned to suppress it (at one Texas airport, there is a recorded announcement warning that it is an offence to make jokes about security).
I also know, because I read and hear so many stories, just how the Equality and Diversity Inquisition is rapidly turning into a full-on Thought Police in workplaces, schools and public buildings. Sooner or later, they are going to get me too. At this rate, I think it will be sooner.
What Mr Jones was actually doing was to behave like a free man, instead of the cowed subject of a monitored surveillance state in which most of what we think can no longer be said, and every miserable snitch, snoop and sneak has the power to ruin his neighbour’s life.
I’ll carry on defying it for as long as I can, but how long will that be?
Self-righteous Swedish prick scolds British ministers over gypsy eviction claiming it was a ‘breach of human rights’
What about the rights of the farmer whose land the Gypsies illegally occupied?
Britain is undermining the rights of gipsies and travellers to housing which is ‘culturally acceptable’ to them, Europe’s human rights watchdog has warned.
Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, also said the eviction of travellers from the illegal Dale Farm camp last year was a violation of their rights, ‘highly regrettable’ and must never happen again.
Mr Hammarberg’s comments emerged yesterday after it was revealed he wrote to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, stating: ‘The continuing shortage of adequate permanent and transit sites for gipsies and travellers living in caravans is a priority area to address.’
European Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg, left, demanded that the Government ease the shortage of caravan sites for travellers in Britain as a ‘priority’ in a letter to Eric Pickles, right
He said providing such housing was a ‘pre-condition for the enjoyment of other human rights, including the rights to education and health’.
The Council of Europe also runs the European Court of Human Rights, which David Cameron is currently trying to reform following its repeated interference in decisions made by British courts and Parliament.
The court’s attempts to overrule democratic institutions in this country have provoked widespread demands from Tory backbenchers for Britain to pull out of the Council of Europe.
Mr Hammarberg’s comments prompted criticism from Priti Patel, Tory MP for Witham, in Essex. She said: ‘This is another disgraceful example of Europe using the facade of human rights to meddle in our domestic affairs and attack laws passed by our Parliament. The Commissioner should show respect for the work the Government is doing rather than attack it.’
She added: ‘Europe’s unaccountable bureaucrats know nothing about planning matters in this country and after the problems at Dale Farm, they are out of touch with the British people.’
The latest statistics show that the number of caravans on unauthorised sites increased from 728 to 2,395 between 2000 and 2010. Around 80 families illegally camped at Dale Farm in Basildon, Essex, were evicted last October after ten years of legal battles. The process cost taxpayers more than £6million as travellers exploited every last legal avenue to try to stave off the bailiffs.
Despite the intervention of a United Nations human rights expert, appeals by actress Vanessa Redgrave and attempts by protest groups to block the evictions from Europe’s largest illegal traveller site, they went ahead.
However, within weeks, some of the evicted travellers were back with their caravans, either on nearby pitches legally occupied by travellers or in nearby lanes.
Referring to the evictions, Mr Hammarberg said: ‘The rights to adequate housing of travellers in Basildon have already been violated once. The authorities should ensure that no further violations take place and should work responsibly towards a solution that is acceptable for all.’
The Swedish-born Commissioner for Human Rights singled out Mr Pickles as he published a 250-page report on gipsy human rights across Europe which was severely critical of Britain.
“Homophobia” disappearing in British schools, claims expert despite increasing use of word ‘gay’ to denounce something as rubbish
The stigma attached to being gay is finally beginning to disappear from classrooms around the UK, according to a leading sociologist.
Dr Mark McCormack, from Brunel University, spent six months in each of three different schools in the same town to study how attitudes have changed among 16 to 18-year-olds. His book, The Declining Significance of Homophobia: How Teenage Boys are Redefining Masculinity and Heterosexuality, explores how homophobia in Western cultures is decreasing in educational and sporting settings.
He believes pro-gay references are now held more highly and the phrase ‘so gay’ – a phrase used by some to criticise, is not viewed as homophobic by teenagers.
He said: ‘In this research on three high schools in the United Kingdom, I documented that gay and straight male students used pro-gay discourse as a way of bonding.
‘A growing body of research documents that homophobia is decreasing in sport settings. This corresponds with a trend of decreasing homophobia in British and American cultures.’
The sociologist also found that teenagers today are more open about their sexuality. But he said the battle is not over against homophobia but that it is getting better. He said: ‘These young people see homophobia as wrong. Guys used to prove they were straight by being homophobic. Now, when young guys want to show they’re straight, they do it in a more positive way by joking about being gay.’
However, some groups disagree with Mr Cormack’s findings.
Speaking to the Guardian, Jess Wood, of youth support charity Allsorts, said: ‘It is definitely not our experience, I’m afraid. It remains the second-highest reason children give for bullying.’
She added: ‘I do think to try and eradicate the word “gay” is a waste of time; it’s embedded in the language, but it’s a bogus argument to suggest it’s anything other than hideous for gay people to hear the negative associations of the word.’
Gone with the wind in Britain
The government has finally seen through the wind-farm scam – but why did it take them so long?
To the nearest whole number, the percentage of the world’s energy that comes from wind turbines today is: zero. Despite the regressive subsidy (pushing pensioners into fuel poverty while improving the wine cellars of grand estates), despite tearing rural communities apart, killing jobs, despoiling views, erecting pylons, felling forests, killing bats and eagles, causing industrial accidents, clogging motorways, polluting lakes in Inner Mongolia with the toxic and radioactive tailings from refining neodymium, a ton of which is in the average turbine – despite all this, the total energy generated each day by wind has yet to reach half a per cent worldwide.
If wind power was going to work, it would have done so by now. The people of Britain see this quite clearly, though politicians are often wilfully deaf. The good news though is that if you look closely, you can see David Cameron’s government coming to its senses about the whole fiasco. The biggest investors in offshore wind – Mitsubishi, Gamesa and Siemens – are starting to worry that the government’s heart is not in wind energy any more. Vestas, which has plans for a factory in Kent, wants reassurance from the Prime Minister that there is the political will to put up turbines before it builds its factory.
This forces a decision from Cameron – will he reassure the turbine magnates that he plans to keep subsidising wind energy, or will he retreat? The political wind has certainly changed direction. George Osborne is dead set against wind farms, because it has become all too clear to him how much they cost. The Chancellor’s team quietly encouraged MPs to sign a letter to No. 10 a few weeks ago saying that `in these financially straitened times, we think it is unwise to make consumers pay, through taxpayer subsidy, for inefficient and intermittent energy production that typifies onshore wind turbines’.
Putting the things offshore may avoid objections from the neighbours, but (Chancellor, beware!) it makes even less sense, because it costs you and me – the taxpayers – double. I have it on good authority from a marine engineer that keeping wind turbines upright in the gravel, tides and storms of the North Sea for 25 years is a near hopeless quest, so the repair bill is going to be horrific and the output disappointing. Already the grouting in the foundations of hundreds of turbines off Kent, Denmark and the Dogger Bank has failed, necessitating costly repairs.
In Britain the percentage of total energy that comes from wind is only 0.6 per cent. According to the Renewable Energy Foundation, `policies intended to meet the EU Renewables Directive in 2020 will impose extra consumer costs of approximately œ15 billion per annum’ or œ670 per household. It is difficult to see what value will be got for this money. The total carbon emissions saved by the great wind rush is probably below 1 per cent, because of the need to keep fossil fuels burning as back-up when the wind does not blow. It may even be a negative number.
America is having far better luck. Carbon emissions in the United States fell by 7 per cent in 2009, according to a Harvard study. But the study concluded that this owes less to the recession that year than the falling price of natural gas – caused by the shale gas revolution. (Burning gas emits less than half as much carbon dioxide as coal for the same energy output.) The gas price has fallen even further since, making coal seem increasingly pricey by comparison. All over America, from Utah to West Virginia, coal mines are being closed and coal plants idled or cancelled. (The US Energy Information Administration calculates that every $4 spent on shale purchases the same energy as $25 spent on oil: at this rate, more and more vehicles will switch to gas.)
So even if you accept the most alarming predictions of climate change, those turbines that have ruined your favourite view are doing nothing to help. The shale gas revolution has not only shamed the wind industry by showing how to decarbonise for real, but has blown away its last feeble argument – that diminishing supplies of fossil fuels will cause their prices to rise so high that wind eventually becomes competitive even without a subsidy. Even if oil stays dear, cheap gas is now likely to last many decades.
Though they may not admit it for a while, most ministers have realised that the sums for wind power just don’t add up and never will. The discovery of shale gas near Blackpool has profound implications for the future of British energy supply, which the government has seemed sheepishly reluctant to explore. It has a massive subsidy programme in place for wind farms, which now seem obsolete both as a means of energy production and decarbonisation. It is almost impossible to see what function they serve, other than making a fortune from those who profit from the subsidy scam.
Even in a boom, wind farms would have been unaffordable – with their economic and ecological rationale blown away. In an era of austerity, the policy is doomed, though so many contracts have been signed that the expansion of wind farms may continue, for a while. But the scam has ended. And as we survey the economic and environmental damage, the obvious question is how the delusion was maintained for so long. There has been no mystery about wind’s futility as a source of affordable and abundant electricity – so how did the wind-farm scam fool so many policymakers?
One answer is money. There were too many people with snouts in the trough. Not just the manufacturers, operators and landlords of the wind farms, but financiers: wind-farm venture capital trusts were all the rage a few years ago – guaranteed income streams are what capitalists like best; they even get paid to switch the monsters off on very windy days so as not to overload the grid. Even the military took the money. Wind companies are paying for a new œ20 million military radar at Brizlee Wood in Northumberland so as to enable the Ministry of Defence to lift its objection to the 48-turbine Fallago Rig wind farm in Berwickshire.
The big conservation organisations have been disgracefully silent on the subject, like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which until last year took generous contributions from the wind industry through a venture called RSPB Energy. Even journalists: at a time when advertising is in short supply, British newspapers have been crammed full of specious but lucrative `debates’ and supplements on renewable energy sponsored by advertising from a cohort of interest groups.
And just as the scam dies, I find I am now part of it. A family trust has signed a deal to receive œ8,500 a year from a wind company, which is building a turbine on land that once belonged to my grandfather. He was canny enough not to sell the mineral rights, and the foundations of the turbine disturbs those mineral rights, so the trustees are owed compensation. I will not get the money, because I am not a beneficiary of the trust. Nonetheless, the idea of any part of my family receiving `wind-gelt’ is so abhorrent that I have decided to act. The real enemy is not wind farms per se, but groupthink and hysteria which allowed such a flawed idea to progress – with a minimum of intellectual opposition. So I shall be writing a cheque for œ8,500, which The Spectator will give as a prize to the best article devoted to rational, fact-based environmental journalism.
It will be called the Matt Ridley prize for environmental heresy. Barring bankruptcy, I shall donate the money as long as the wind-gelt flows – so the quicker Dave cancels the subsidy altogether, the sooner he will have me and the prizewinners off his back.
Entrants are invited forthwith, and a panel of judges will reward the most brilliant and rational argument – that uses reason and evidence – to gore a sacred cow of the environmental movement. There are many to choose from: the idea that wind power is good for the climate, or that biofuels are good for the rain forest, or that organic farming is good for the planet, or that climate change is a bigger extinction threat than invasive species, or that the most sustainable thing we can do is de-industrialise.
My donation, though significant for me, is a drop in the ocean compared with the money that pours into the green movement every hour. Jeremy Grantham, a hedge-fund plutocrat, wrote a cheque for œ12 million to the London School of Economics to found an institute named after him, which has since become notorious for its aggressive stance and extreme green statements. Between them, Greenpeace and Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) spend nearly a billion a year. WWF spends $68 million a year on `public education’ alone. All of this is judged uncontroversial: a matter of education, not propaganda.
By contrast, a storm of protest broke recently over the news that one small conservative think-tank called Heartland was proposing to spend just $200,000 in a year on influencing education against climate alarmism. A day later, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, with assets of $7.2 billion, gave a grant of $100 million to something called the ClimateWorks Foundation, a pro-wind power organisation, on top of $481 million it gave to the same recipient in 2008. The deep green Sierra Club recently admitted that it took $26 million from the gas industry to lobby against coal.
But money is not the only reason that the entire political establishment came to believe in wind fairies. Psychologists have a term for the wishful thinking by which we accept any means if the end seems virtuous: `noble-cause corruption’. The phrase was first used by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir John Woodcock in 1992 to explain miscarriages of justice. `It is better that some innocent men remain in jail than the integrity of the English judicial system be impugned,’ said the late Lord Denning, referring to the Birmingham Six.
Politicians are especially susceptible to this condition. In a wish to be seen as modern, they will embrace all manner of fashionable causes. When this sets in – groupthink grips political parties, and the media therefore decide there is no debate – the gravest of errors can take root. The subsidising of useless wind turbines was born of a deep intellectual error, one incubated by failure to challenge conventional wisdom.
It is precisely this consensus-worshipping, heretic-hunting environment where the greatest errors can be made. There are some 3,500 wind turbines in Britain, with hundreds more under construction. It would be a shame for them all to be dismantled. The biggest one should remain, like a crane on an abandoned quay, for future generations to marvel at. They will never be an efficient way to generate power. But there can be no better monument to the folly of mankind.
Victory for Google as top British judge rules it can’t be held responsible for defamatory blog posts
“A High Court judge has likened Google to a graffiti strewn wall in a landmark judgement which says it cannot be held responsible for libellous or offensive content.
Mr Justice Eady said the internet giant was not bound by laws governing publishers, giving the company widespread immunity from English defamation laws.
In the judgement, which will have huge implications for freedom of speech in this country, he said: ‘It is no doubt often true that the owner of a wall which has been festooned, overnight, with defamatory graffiti could acquire scaffolding and have it all deleted with whitewash.’
But he added: ‘That is not necessarily to say, however, that the unfortunate owner must, unless and until this has been accomplished, be classified as a publisher’.
The ruling came at the end of a long running defamation suit taken by a former Conservative Party hopeful and law student Payam Tamiz.
His case against Google Inc over reactions to a blog labelling him, without justification, as a drug dealer and a thief, is now dead in the water.
This is a welcome victory in an age where people try to blame anyone except the guilty party for some harm that may have befallen them. The libelled guy should have gone after the ones who wrote the comments. That is difficult but it can be done.