public services

Error message

Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in _menu_load_objects() (line 579 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/menu.inc).

‘Another Shocking Example of Waste’: UK Spends At Least £23.4 Million to Dispose of Unused PPE

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/04/2022 - 9:37pm in

The Government has spent billions on PPE from the private sector – and is now spending tens of millions recycling the equipment it doesn’t need

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

Two contracts have been published by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) worth at least £11.7 million each for services to dispose of unused personal protective equipment (PPE) bought during the Coronavirus pandemic, the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.

The contracts, awarded to Veolia and Suez Recycling and Recovery, were published on 1 April and run for two years. Both companies are large French multinationals headquartered in Paris.

The National Audit Office (NAO) recently reported that 14 billion items of PPE bought by the UK Government remained in storage – nearly half of the total procured during the pandemic. These items had a purchase price of £8.6 billion, out of a total PPE spend of some £13 billion. For context, the Treasury’s recent National Insurance hike is set to produce £12 billion a year in revenues for the Government.

In a Public Accounts Committee hearing in Parliament on 7 March, Labour MP Nick Smith questioned Sir Chris Wormald, Permanent Secretary to the DHSC, about the amount of waste in PPE procurement, saying: “Your PPE spending for the period was £12 billion. The figures show that £4 billion of the PPE you purchased cannot be used by the NHS. That is a third of the budget.”

Wormald replied that “we bought some masks that were not up to the usual standard of the NHS in case we ran out of the ones that were”. These were meant to be "back ups" and the strategy was felt to be “perfectly sensible risk management”, he added.

Jonathan Marron, director-general of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities at the DHSC clarified that, out of the Government’s total PPE spending, £673 million could not be used at all. These items included “masks… that we think are counterfeit. There are some gowns that failed various tests – they are not water-repellent”.

£360 million worth of these unusable items were provided by companies channelled through the Government’s controversial ‘VIP’ lane for firms with links to ministers, advisors and officials, Byline Times has revealed.

Marron said that another £2.5 billion worth of items had passed technical specifications, but DHSC had chosen not to use them in the NHS, because better quality masks were available, for example.

Marron said that DHSC had “managed to donate or sell a billion items” of PPE. However, a report in The Times today suggests that PPE bought for hundreds of thousands of pounds is being auctioned off online for a fraction of its cost.

It appears that the contracts published on 1 April are aimed at either turning the PPE into new products or burning the equipment to make electricity. Byline Times obtained an email from Suez in December 2021, in which it approached firms about assisting with the recycling of PPE.

“We could either deliver the containers full of boxes for you to separate, or break them down into the recyclable parts,” the email said. “This is a massive contract that will continue for a couple of years.”

A DHSC spokesperson told Byline Times: “Having too much PPE was preferable to having too little in the face of an unpredictable and dangerous virus, given this was essential to keep our NHS open and protect as many people as possible. Now we are confident we have sufficient PPE to cover any future COVID demands, we are taking decisive action to save up to £93 million of taxpayers’ money per year by reducing storage costs for excess stock.”

The NAO report revealed that it had cost the DHSC £737 million to store PPE before November 2021, which included £436 million of penalty charges due to the department being unable to remove items from shipping containers on time. The DHSC is currently spending an estimated £7 million a month storing the items it does not need.

FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES. CLICK HERE TO FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

Help to expose the big scandals of our era.

Climate Hypocrisy?

In the Public Accounts Committee hearing, Marron said that some unused visors could be turned into food trays, aprons could be turned into bin bags, while the Government would also be “using some of the product to drive power generation”.

“We are also exploring… using the waste to provide power,” he said. “We are looking at those items and we think we can move up to about 15,000 pallets a month when we get these contracts in place.”

The contracts for Veolia and Suez therefore seem to be aimed, at least in part, at burning unused pallets of PPE to make electricity.

One NHS Procurement veteran who spoke to Byline Times anonymously said: “We were shocked to hear at the Public Accounts Committee how they were planning to burn 15,000 pallets a month – transported by the equivalent of 576 trucks. And now we know it’s going to cost £23.4 million just to burn it. It’s just another shocking example of waste.” 

The procurement expert added that “the hypocrisy is also killing me – [the Government has] just mandated net zero in the procurement of all supply contracts.”

Veolia operates a number of energy recovery facilities (ERFs) in the UK. The website for the firm’s Hampshire facility states: “Energy recovery makes an important contribution to reducing the UK’s long-term energy gap and helps to increase landfill diversion as part of an integrated waste management strategy.”

According to Utility Week, “these facilities are said to generate around 1.4TWh of electricity through non-recyclables per year and have helped tackle pandemic medical waste”.

Veolia’s Donald Macphail told the website: “As more baseload generators such as nuclear, coal and CCGTs retire, ERFs are set to play an increasingly important role in keeping the lights on during winter evenings and during days where wind generation is low.”

Clearly, the Government and companies like Veolia want to promote their ETFs as an environmentally friendly source of energy. However, burning unused PPE is clearly not environmentally friendly and should never have been required in the first place.

There is also an ongoing question about why the Government procured so much surplus PPE – and how long the public will continue to pay for its misjudgements.

Veolia and Suez did not respond to requests for comment.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE BYLINE INTELLIGENCE TEAM

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

LIMITED TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

What can municipalities do about homelessness?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/04/2022 - 10:31pm in

I recently contributed an essay to a paper series published by the University of Toronto’s Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance. The focus of my own essay is the role Canadian municipalities can play in addressing homelessness.

A ‘top 10’ overview of the essay can be found here (in English): https://nickfalvo.ca/what-can-municipalities-do-about-homelessness/

A ‘top 10’ overview of the essay can be found here (in French): https://nickfalvo.ca/que-peuvent-faire-les-municipalites-canadiennes-pour-contrer-litinerance/

The full essay can be downloaded here (English only): https://munkschool.utoronto.ca/imfg/report/the-municipal-role-in-housing/

What can municipalities do about homelessness?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/04/2022 - 10:31pm in

I recently contributed an essay to a paper series published by the University of Toronto’s Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance. The focus of my own essay is the role Canadian municipalities can play in addressing homelessness.

A ‘top 10’ overview of the essay can be found here (in English): https://nickfalvo.ca/what-can-municipalities-do-about-homelessness/

A ‘top 10’ overview of the essay can be found here (in French): https://nickfalvo.ca/que-peuvent-faire-les-municipalites-canadiennes-pour-contrer-litinerance/

The full essay can be downloaded here (English only): https://munkschool.utoronto.ca/imfg/report/the-municipal-role-in-housing/

Very Inefficient Process: Watchdog Exposes Government’s PPE Failures

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/03/2022 - 10:03am in

The National Audit Office has produced more shocking statistics on the £13 billion of contracts awarded to personal protective equipment suppliers, reports Sam Bright

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

The story is well known by now – especially to readers of Byline Times. At the outset of the Coronavirus pandemic, with the UK’s stockpiles depleted due to years of austerity, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) engaged in an emergency effort to procure personal protective equipment (PPE).

The situation was dire. Nurses and doctors were dying on the frontline, suffering the worst mortality rates in Europe, forced to wear makeshift masks as they treated highly infectious patients. In mid-April 2020, more than half of doctors surveyed by the British Medical Association reported a shortage or no supply at all of FFP (filtering face piece) masks.

So, eschewing normal competition rules, the DHSC awarded contracts worth billions of pounds to prospective suppliers – many of which seemingly had little or no experience in supplying medical equipment.

For example, multi-million-pound PPE deals were awarded to a hotel carpeting company, a naval design firm, a Florida fashion designer, a four-month-old DNA analysis firm, a one-year-old ‘micro’ firm, a small “luxury packaging” company, a one-month-old firm owned by offshore finance specialists, a dormant firm, a company owned by an individual listed in the Panama Papers, a fast-fashion supplier, and a lifestyle company with no employees or trading history.

The DHSC set up a ‘VIP’ lane for companies with links to officials, ministers and MPs, designed as a way – in theory – for Government contracts to be funnelled towards trusted firms. Your business was 10 times more likely to win a contract if it was processed through the VIP lane, than through normal channels.

FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES. CLICK HERE TO FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

Help to expose the big scandals of our era.

The High Court has ruled that it was unlawful for the Government to award contracts to two firms through the VIP lane. Contracts were awarded through this channel to firms with close links to senior ministers, including one firm owned by a close ally of Michael Gove, that won PPE deals worth some £170 million.

This was a sellers’ market in which governments across the globe were bidding frantically for a finite amount of equipment. As has been reported previously, the UK Government’s lack of preparedness cost the nation £10 billion, due to inflated PPE prices.

Today, the National Audit Office – the Government’s independent spending watchdog – has released a new report, adding more shocking statistics to this sordid tale.

In total, the DHSC has awarded almost 10,000 PPE contracts with a planned expenditure of £13.1 billion. These contracts are expected to deliver 37.9 billion items of PPE.

Out of this figure, contracts awarded through the VIP lane totalled £3.8 billion and are expected to deliver 7.8 billion items of PPE.

The NAO report covers the wasted spending of the Government on PPE – particularly on storage, and goods that were ultimately unusable. It also expands the ways in which the VIP lane failed to deliver on its promise. Rather than providing a route for reliable suppliers to supply goods to the Government, the VIP lane appears to have been plagued by problems.

Indeed, in additional evidence uncovered by Byline Times but not mentioned in the NAO report, of the £670 million of PPE procured by the Government that cannot be used, half (£360 million) was purchased through the VIP lane.

“It turns out that the Government’s VIP lane for PPE contracts was not just unlawful but was also a colossal waste of taxpayer’s money. More than half of the companies that won contracts through the VIP Lane supplied PPE that is not currently fit for use on the frontline,” Jo Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, told Byline Times.

“It doesn’t take a genius to work out that, although prioritising companies based on their political connections is great for them, it is also likely to be terrible for taxpayers. An honourable Government would apologise to the public and promise that this will never happen again.”

The NAO report says that...

  • 46 of the 115 contracts awarded to VIP lane suppliers did not go through the eight-stage due diligence process that was later implemented by the Government, as these contracts were awarded before May 2020.
  • Of the 31.5 billion items of PPE received in the UK, 14.1 billion items remain in UK storage, including: 6.3 billion items stored across its 50 warehouses, and 5.6 billion in containers. The department estimates that purchase price of items yet to be distributed is £8.6 billion – out of a total planned expenditure of £13.1 billion.
  • By November 2021, it had cost the DHSC £737 million to store PPE, which included £436 million of penalty charges due to the department being unable to remove items from shipping containers on time.
  • The DHSC is currently spending an estimated £7 million a month storing 3.9 billion items it does not need, while storage costs peaked at £103.1 million in November 2020, including £89.3 million on penalty charges.
  • The department has identified some 3.6 billion PPE items that it has concluded are not currently suitable for front-line services, equivalent to 11% of all the PPE it has received. These items were purchased at a cost of £2.9 billion.
  • 53% of VIP lane suppliers provided some PPE items that are classified as not currently suitable for front-line services.
  • The department estimates that it has 3.9 billion more PPE items than it needs – around 10% of the total PPE purchased – and is trying to dispose of these items through sales (305 million items), donations to other parts of the public sector (253 million items) and recycling (232 million items).
  • The expiry date is estimated to have passed on 1.5 billion items of PPE. The estimated cost of these expired items is £619 million. Of the 3.9 billion items of excess stock, the DHSC estimates that 51% have an expiry date that is less than six months away.
  • The department is yet to assess 1,000 of the 30,000 containers of PPE it has received.
  • There are 176 contracts where the Government believes it may not achieve full value for money, with an estimated £2.7 billion at risk. Some 57 of these 176 contracts were awarded through the VIP lane, with an estimated £1.4 billion at risk (37% of the total value of all VIP lane contracts).
  • The department has identified five contracts with pre-payments – deposits paid before the equipment was delivered – worth a total of £19 million, where it believes there is still a risk of non-delivery of the equipment.
  • The DHSC did not consider profit margin when awarding contracts, “meaning it did not know if intermediaries were making significant profits on these contracts”. It took this approach because potential contracts were “on the table for hours or a day”, meaning “there was no time to secure a detailed breakdown of costs” at the time, officials told the NAO.
  • On 38 contracts, the department has reduced volumes or initiated cancellations and expects to secure £572 million in reduced costs as a result. “The department is still working to secure some of these savings so it is not certain that all of them will be realised,” the NAO says.

A National Emergency

These are staggering sums of money. As calculated previously by the Byline Intelligence Team, the Government had spent some £54 billion by July 2021 on private contracts related to the COVID-19 pandemic, worth more than the GDP of 140 countries and territories. This figure includes spending on other areas of the pandemic response – including testing and contract tracing – not merely PPE.

The UK’s spending on PPE – topping £13 billion – will comfortably exceed the UK’s international aid budget in 2021, £11.1 billion. Rishi Sunak’s controversial National Insurance hike is only expected to earn the Treasury £12 billion every year.

The Government has repeatedly insisted that it did everything it could to supply essential equipment to health workers on the frontline of the pandemic. But this involved a high degree of risk, overspending, and cronyism. Meanwhile, it was only necessary because the Government had eroded its PPE stockpile over a number of years, and because it failed to act rapidly when the virus struck our shores.

As PPE supplier Sarah Stoute told the Public Accounts Committee last year: she warned officials in December 2019 that they could expect a shortage of equipment in the coming months, yet she wasn’t given the go-ahead to supply the Government until April 2020. “Weeks went by when nothing was happening”, she said.

When history writes up the Government’s record during the pandemic, these facts must be at the centre of the report card.

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

LIMITED TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

NHS Staff Face £50 a Month COVID Tests Simply to go to Work

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/03/2022 - 7:00pm in

The end of free lateral flow tests will cost NHS staff extra cash each month – while councils warn that they need more funding to manage COVID-19 outbreaks and the poorest risk not being able to test at all

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

NHS staff face monthly testing bills of up to £50 from 1 April, when the Government stops providing free lateral flow tests (LFTs) to the public, the NHS Confederation has warned.

While care home residents and staff, hospital patients and other vulnerable groups will be entitled to free tests, NHS frontline workers are not included on the list of those eligible.

As a result, nurses, doctors and other key healthcare workers may have to purchase their own LFTs to ensure they are safe to work – or risk infecting vulnerable patients. 

NHS England has said that its staff will be expected to report their test and trace results twice a week. 

This could mean staff having to pay £50 per month simply to go to work safely, at a time when the cost of living crisis and a below-inflation pay rise for nurses is squeezing staff incomes. On average, a nurse earns £33,000 per annum, although the starting salary is closer to £18,000.

Back in February, the NHS was promised specific details on testing protocol for staff. But, with days to go before the end of free testing, this still hasn’t materialised. 

Outside of the NHS, parents have also raised concerns about the affordability of testing school-age children once free testing ends.

One mother on Twitter shared how her child's school was asking families to test twice a week. For a family of four with two school-age children, this would mean having to replace a box of LFTs once a week, at the cost of £6. 

When some of the poorest families are struggling to make ends meet, this puts pressure on households on low incomes to do, what the Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called, “the right thing”. 

FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES. CLICK HERE TO FUND MORE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

Help to expose the big scandals of our era.

Poorest at Risk

The end of free testing comes days after Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Spring Statement, which has highlighted the impact of the ongoing cost of living crisis.

The failure to increase benefits in line with rising inflation has been much criticised by poverty charities, which have warned the poorest families will be hit hardest by Sunak’s policy announcements. 

Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that a further 600,000 households would be pulled into poverty by the announced changes. 

While Sunak raised the threshold for paying National Insurance, he had little to say to those who don’t or can’t work.

Tax giveaways disproportionately benefited the better off – with households in poverty set to lose £446 on average, compared to £288 for middle-income households.

According to the Resolution Foundation, seven in eight workers will be paying more income tax and National Insurance by 2024/25, with only earners on £49,100-£50,300 set to pay less income tax.

With so many families struggling to cover the most basic costs, and parents saying that they are going hungry in order to keep their children fed, the decision to charge for testing risks creating a tiered health system – those who can afford to test and isolate will, while those who can’t spare the £6 or more a week will be forced to risk their health and others. 

Public Health Forgotten

Beyond testing, local councils and public health leaders have raised the alarm that there was no mention in the Spring Statement about extending local outbreak management funding, as Coronavirus cases continue to rise. 

The Local Government Association – which represents councils in England and Wales –has warned that without a funding extension, councils will not have the capacity to tackle rising rates of community transmission, as well as combat the threat of future COVID-19 variants, due to a loss of relevant expertise.

Throughout the pandemic, the Government has provided £400 million in funding to local authorities to help them reduce the spread of Coronavirus and support public health in the community. The funding is set to end in the next week – along with free testing for the public – and the Government has not committed to a replacement. 

Thanks to the success of the vaccination programme, which has reduced the number of hospitalisations and deaths from the virus, any replacement funding would not need to be at the same levels as during the early phases of the pandemic. 

However, case rates of Coronavirus have soared over recent weeks, with 102,670 new cases recorded on 23 March, the second anniversary of the first lockdown. 

Councils are therefore hoping for support so that they can continue to tackle outbreaks in at-risk settings such as care homes, in an attempt to reduce hospitalisation rates.

Councillor David Fothergill, chair of the Local Government Association's wellbeing board, said: “There will need to be a continuing role for councils and their public health teams as we move to a new phase of this pandemic. Although this won’t require the same level of funding as the Government has provided so far, they will need ongoing funding support.

"With time running out, it is vitally important that the Government extends part of the Contain Outbreak Management Fund. This will allow councils to respond to new variants, tackle outbreaks in at-risk settings and recruit and retain vital public health staff."

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

LIMITED TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

​​

Out-of-touch Chancellor’s Spring Statement fails to help those most in need

“Once we allow ourselves to be disobedient to the test of an accountant’s profit, we have begun to change our civilisation.”
John Maynard Keynes  

This week, amidst continuing global economic uncertainty caused by the ongoing pandemic and the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, delivered his Spring Budget. Unsurprisingly, it did little to help the very poorest of households, as the Resolution Foundation reported in its analysis that followed:

“Taking into account the measures announced by the Chancellor, the typical working-age household faces an income fall of 4 per cent, or £1,100, in 2022-23. But the greatest falls will be felt by the poorest quarter of households who are set to see their incomes fall by 6 per cent. This will see a further 1.3 million people fall into absolute poverty next year, including 500,000 children – the first time Britain has seen such a rise in poverty outside of recessions.

 

Incomes are on course to be lower at the next election (2024-25) than they were at the last (2019-20), with typical non-pensioner income projected to be 2 per cent lower. Such an outcome would make this the worst parliament on record for living standards growth.

 

The Chancellor pre-announced a 1p cut in the basic rate of Income Tax for April 2024, saving an average earner £243 a year. But the gains of this and the lasting impact of a higher National Insurance threshold are wiped out by previously announced tax rises.  In 2024-25, when the income tax cut comes into effect, 27 million out of the 31 million people in work will pay more Income Tax and NI as a result of personal tax changes announced by Rishi Sunak.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak filling a red car with petrol at a petrol stationImage by HM Treasury on Flickr. Creative Commons 2.0 license.

While the Chancellor continues to count the tax beans and make his calculations, those who have already suffered the consequences of the last 12 years of Conservative policies will now be expected to take further pain in the form of a resurrection of harmful austerity dressed up in the concept of possible ‘jam tomorrow’. Cynically speaking, just before the next election.

In the light of a sustained round of higher government spending and the myth that we have borrowed heavily to sustain an economy hit by a global pandemic (even if much of that went into corporate pockets), some economically uneducated politicians are now appealing to the nation yet again to sacrifice their well-being on the altar of balanced budgets. We should be willing victims, according to this false logic. Despite the huge spending over the past two years, the household budget myths were never far away from the public gaze as the media pounded their messages about how there would be a price to pay, eventually.

At the same time as the Resolution Foundation lays it on the line as to the significance of the Chancellor’s budget, which yet again divides rich and poor, it then goes on to reinforce the myths about how the UK government spends. Tax receipts, it said, had come in much stronger in 2021/22 than expected, which would give the Chancellor ‘headroom against his fiscal rules’. The Independent claimed however that Sunak was keeping some of that tax bonanza back for a rainy day or to cover his planned tax cut in 2024. Whilst the Foundation’s analysis is stark on the consequences of this week’s budget, it is clearly still in the dark ages when it comes to describing how currency-issuing governments spend, as are so many think tanks and organisations on both the left and the right, not to mention a myopic media.

Charles Dicken’s character Micawber has been resurrected (if he ever went away) by a Chancellor who, after an astonishing fiscal response to the pandemic, is now re-donning Thatcher’s mantle, reinforcing the lie that taxes fund spending, or that government needs to borrow to fund itself over and above its revenue.

The suggestion by Torsten Bell at the Resolution Foundation, that these unexpected tax receipts would allow the Chancellor to consolidate the Treasury’s fiscal position and deliver his promises is just more shoring up of a myth that governments spend like our own households. And a bit of a joke because by any standards what the Chancellor, with his great wealth and extensive property portfolio, has done, is punish those who can least afford it and who do have to live within their financial means or face the prospect of debt because they are currency users, not currency issuers. The rising use of food banks and increasing homelessness can only get worse as his budget decisions begin to bite in April and our public services will continue to deteriorate without adequate funding.

Holding forth from his ivory tower, Sunak has not an ounce of understanding about the impact of government spending policies on the lives of working people, not to mention the economy. His decisions are directed by a desire to show himself fiscally prudent, not by public health and economic security.

When Rishi Sunak says, as he did earlier this week, that ‘we can’t help everyone because it’s too expensive’ or proposes an efficiency drive to cut £5.5bn of claimed government waste with a view to those savings being used to fund vital public services, it is quite simply a distortion of the facts to serve a political agenda.

Whether it is the Chancellor reciting the usual mantra about it being ‘vital that every single penny of taxpayers’ hard-earned cash is […] spent well,’ or the Shadow Chancellor and other uninformed left-wing politicians suggesting that they would fund public services via a windfall tax on energy companies, the public is being led by the nose in its ignorance of how government spends. An ignorance perpetuated by the daily narratives in both left- and right-wing quarters and by a compliant media singing from the same hymnbook. The economic orthodoxy rules the roost. And yet increasingly we are seeing the true cost of such narratives. They are not financial, they are the threats to human life, biodiversity, and a functioning planet.

Given the challenges we face from an increasingly forgotten climate crisis (and incidentally scarcely mentioned in the Spring budget), the ongoing exploitation of the global south, which has bled countries dry to sustain the lifestyle of the west and which is coupled with rising poverty and inequality affecting citizens across the world, it is time to challenge these myths which have served a political agenda and a toxic ideology. Keeping the myths alive for the purposes of social control and the profits rolling into private pockets with government serving its corporate masters.

Nothing is too expensive in monetary terms; government doesn’t have a finite pot of money with which to provide public and social infrastructure and neither does it have to doff its cap to the wealthy or large corporations to provide it. Contrary to the usual household budget narrative, when the government spends, it does so based on a political agenda, not the state of the public coffers. It just doesn’t want the public to know that, because it is a lie that can be used to justify its spending policies and who gets the money, or indeed yet another round of austerity when it suits. A harmful ideology that feeds government policies and spending decisions.

The proof of the pudding lies in the fact that when it serves that agenda there is always money to fund a government’s own political priorities such as war or defence spending, or public contracts divvied out to its mates with no accountability. Only this week, Sunak revealed that the UK had given Ukraine £100 million worth of weaponry. And yet at the same time, he tells us that savings in government departments must be found by rooting out waste which can in turn, according to the household budget narrative, be used to fund public services, as if a government that issues its own currency has no money of its own and has to tax or borrow or make ‘savings’ by robbing Peter to pay Paul to fund its agenda.

While the Telegraph talks this week about the parlous state of the public finances and running out of road, suggesting that excessive government spending was crowding out investment in the private sector by discouraging ‘innovation and competition in crucial sectors such as health and education’ (which tells us a lot about the priorities of those on the conservative right), it claimed also that government spending levels were ‘indefensible.’  These statements are predicated on the lie that money is a finite and scarce resource and that the State and its public infrastructure is wasteful of hard-earned taxpayers’ money!

While the Telegraph talks tough by suggesting that spending needs to be cut even further, the Spring Budget is already a kick in the teeth for those who are currently struggling to make ends meet and will mean even more hardship and poverty as energy, food and other costs continue to rise. The Chancellor has made a political choice to create further difficulties for already beleaguered citizens on the promise of ‘jam tomorrow.’ Fiscal discipline over national economic well-being. What a cruel way to view the lives of millions of people, who it seems have become expendable in some people’s eyes where government finances are concerned. Better a balanced budget than a happier, healthier more productive nation.

Let us ask what is the role of government? To balance the budget, keep the wealthy happy and the profits rolling? Or something else? What we should be discussing is not the state of the government finances, whether it has balanced its budget or gilded its reputation as being fiscally prudent, but how it has managed the real but finite resources it can, if it chooses, access through its tax and other policies to create a sustainable and functioning economy which benefits everyone, not just a small section of it.

Thus, a healthy economy depends primarily, not on a private sector paying its taxes to provide vital public infrastructure, for too long the public has been misled on this issue. It depends instead on the spending and legislative decisions taken by a currency-issuing government to create the publicly paid for and preferably managed national and local infrastructure upon which we all depend as individuals and businesses, from health to education, welfare, public transport networks, and employment. Government in service to its electorate, not the corporate body. That should be the starting point for a discussion about where we go from here and involves creating a better public understanding of how government really spends.

In short, the current economic problems and inflationary pressures are not caused by too much government spending as some would have it, but by supply chain disruptions resulting from the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the growing effects of climate change on the world economy including food production. This is a moment not for fiscal retrenchment but thinking best how to support working people in these difficult days and planning for a sustainable and fairer future for all.

 

 

 

Join our mailing list

If you would like GIMMS to let you know about news and events, please click to sign up here

Support us

The Gower Initiative for Money Studies is run by volunteers and relies on donations to continue its work. If you would like to donate, please see our donations page here

 

Share

Tweet

Whatsapp

Messenger

Share

Email

reddit

Pinterest

tumblr

Viber icon
Viber

The post Out-of-touch Chancellor’s Spring Statement fails to help those most in need appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

OBR Forecast Reveals Pressures on NHS Waiting Lists – and Casts Doubt on Chancellor’s Cash Promises

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/03/2022 - 11:34pm in

Published in the minutes following the Chancellor's Spring Statement, the Office for Budget Responsibility's fiscal forecast raises alarm over post-pandemic health pressures

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

The £13 billion a year for the NHS announced in the Chancellor's Autumn Budget last year comes at a time of “extraordinary pressure” for the health service, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has said.

In its Economic and Fiscal Outlook, published following Rishi Sunak’s Spring Statement this week, the OBR states that, while pandemic pressures have “eased somewhat”, the increase in funding promised by the Government “arrives at a time where several indicators point to intense pressures across the health service”.

The outlook was published on 23 March 2022, two years after the start of the first lockdown when people across England were told to stay at home and protect the NHS. 

The pressures on the NHS are most visible with increased waiting times, including an 100-fold increase on patients having to wait for more than a year for non-urgent care.

In 2019, of the 4.2 million people waiting for non-urgent care, only 0.1% had to wait longer than 52 weeks. As of December 2021, the waiting list had grown to 6.1 million with 5.1% waiting longer than a year.

At the same time, 31% patients in need of non-urgent care are waiting for 18-52 weeks, an increase from 13.2% in 2019. 

This has been exacerbated by staffing pressures, with vacancies in the NHS rising since the start of the pandemic to 22,900 in July 2021. Vacancies were at 15,900 in January 2019.

Even more concerning is that the numbers of people waiting for non-urgent, ‘elective’ care could be higher than estimated.

New referrals for non-urgent care dropped off at the start of the pandemic – in early 2020 there were just under 1.8 million referrals for non-urgent care, a number that reached a low of 500,000 in the first lockdown. The pre-pandemic average was around 1.5 million. 

As a result, there are fears that around 10 million people who might have otherwise come forward for treatment have yet to do so, risking a health crisis down the line. 

The Missing Millions

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has modelled various scenarios on the impact of waiting lists should those patients come forward for treatment in the coming months. It found that, if as few as 30% approached the NHS for treatment, waiting lists would continue to increase until June 2023, when they peak at 7.4 million before returning to current levels in September 2024. 

Should 50% of patients come forward, waiting lists would reach 8.7 million in October 2023, and if 80% of those ‘missing’ patients refer themselves for non-urgent care, lists would hit 10.8 million in December and never return to pre-December 2021 levels. 

From an economic perspective, the OBR said in its outlook that “to the extent that such pressures – or indeed broader pressures from pay and inflation – were accommodated in higher budget allocations, that would represent a risk to our forecasts”. 

However, policy risks from NHS spending "could well still remain to the upside”.

Analysis by the IFS found that, between the 1982 Autumn Statement and the 2015 Spending Review, there have only been two occasions when health spending has risen by less than was originally planned.

The resource spending plans for the NHS set out in the Autumn Budget were, according to the OBR, consistent with average real annual growth of 3.8% in the NHS between 2021-22 and 2024-25, broadly in line with this historical average. 

The OBR explained that revisions to its GDP deflator forecast since October mean that the real growth rate consistent with its latest forecast is 3.3%.

"Despite the £13 billion increase to NHS funding at the 2021 Spending Review, policy risks from NHS spending could well still remain to the upside," the forecast concluded.

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

LIMITED TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Government Only Took Minutes in Two Out of Eight Randox Meetings, New Watchdog Report Reveals

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/03/2022 - 11:01am in

The National Audit Office points out significant transparency holes in the Government’s approach to the healthcare giant Randox, which won COVID contracts worth hundreds of millions

GET THE CURRENT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES NOW

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) sidestepped normal transparency rules in relation to the contracts awarded to the testing company Randox, that won COVID-19 deals worth more than £400 million without competition, the National Audit Office (NAO) reveals today.

The contracts were the subject of a major parliamentary row earlier this year when private messages revealed that former Conservative minister Owen Paterson, who was at the time employed by Randox, had personally lobbied the then Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock to consider the firm for Government work.

Paterson last year faced a 30-day suspension from Parliament for breaching lobbying rules, in relation to his previous efforts to advocate on behalf of Randox, but resigned before Parliament voted on his suspension.

Boris Johnson had intervened on Paterson’s behalf in an effort to relax parliamentary standards rules, but backed down amid the public and political uproar. The Conservatives subsequently lost Paterson’s North Shropshire seat to the Liberal Democrats in a by-election, losing a 23,000-vote majority.

The NAO report reveals that, in total, Randox and its strategic partner Qnostics Ltd won £776.9 million in business during the pandemic through 22 different contracts.

Almost all of the contracts were for the provision of testing services, and 60% (£463.5 million) of the total value of the contracts was awarded directly without any competition under emergency procurement rules. By 18 October 2021, the DHSC had paid Randox £407.4 million for its testing contracts.

The DHSC told the NAO that a competitive tender process was ruled out due to the need to move quickly, and that it could not award the contract from an existing framework – essentially a contract already agreed by the department between multiple potential suppliers – as the value of the contract exceeded the framework limit.

The NAO’s enquiries revealed that Randox attended eight meetings with ministers – mainly with former junior Health minister, Lord Bethell – but only four were declared on the public record under transparency rules. Minutes were taken at only two of the eight meetings. Meetings that were not made public, during which no minutes were kept, included ministerial decisions of the need to recall some of Randox’s tests, and the growing backlog of cases being tested by the firm.

The NAO pressed the DHSC to reveal all the documentation it held on Randox contract negotiations and whether any conflict of interest issues had arisen.

The watchdog sought access to Whitehall records of discussions and ministerial meetings with Randox, and private email accounts held by former ministers and special advisors. Altogether, 11,000 items were checked but little or no documentation emerged. The NAO also revealed that no work had been done on price comparisons for the services that Randox was set to provide – or the level of profit margins the company would make from the contracts.

The watchdog then insisted that the department also check the email accounts of senior ministry officials who were in charge of the deals, including Dido Harding, who formerly ran the UK’s ‘Test and Trace’ operation. The DHSC provided all the emails except those held by Dido Harding.

The NAO concludes that the gaps in the audit trail mean that it is not able to provide its normal conclusions, but that it has not seen any evidence that the Government's contracts with Randox were awarded improperly.

“The overriding need to create a high volume testing capacity rapidly at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that standard public procurement approaches were not appropriate. Even taking these exceptional circumstances into account, the documentation of the decision-making process for such large contracts was inadequate,” Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said.

Dame Meg Hillier, Labour chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: “Government didn’t document decisions properly and the public is right to raise questions about whether it was playing with a straight bat.

“Over 75% of testing contracts were awarded to ‘high priority’ companies, including those referred by ministers, MPs or Number 10. The public needs to trust that their taxes are spent on the basis that it’s what you know, not who you know.”

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

LIMITED TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

A Climate of Secrecy: How the Government is Shutting Down Scrutiny

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 23/03/2022 - 9:02pm in

Attempts to stifle the media by the party in power are becoming more and more pervasive, report Sam Bright and Iain Overton

“It is our ambition to be one of the most transparent governments in the world,” former Prime Minister David Cameron said in 2010.

More than a decade after these comments, with successive Conservative-led administrations having pledged to conduct government in this same populist spirit, we are now faced with the opposite – one of the least transparent administrations, if not in the entire history of British politics, then certainly in its modern era.

The situation is so serious that it is currently being litigated in the High Court. The law firms Foxglove and the Good Law Project, alongside the campaigning journalism outfit The Citizens, are challenging the Government over its “rampant” use of WhatsApp messages for official business – a practice that circumvents the standard ways in which decisions are recorded.

If officials conduct Government business on WhatsApp, and these messages are not retained, there exists a gap in the institutional memory of our highest authorities – that in turn cannot be accessed by journalists, researchers or the public at large.

In the trial’s first day, the court heard that senior ministers and officials – including the Prime Minister – have repeatedly used personal phones, email and WhatsApp to do Government business. Boris Johnson even received summaries of his ‘Red Box’ – confidential information about high-level Government business – via WhatsApp.

The retention of information communicated on personal messaging services is also patchy at best. Evidence presented in court shows that, when Boris Johnson changed his phone in April 2021, none of his past WhatsApp messages were retained.

“Given the current ‘Partygate’ investigation, as well as the future inquiry into the Government’s response to the pandemic, this has serious implications for transparency and holding the Prime Minister and his Government to account,” the Good Law Project said, in response. Foxglove added that we are witnessing the “modern day equivalent of shredding evidence”.

This challenge has taken years – and dozens of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests – to come to fruition, which unfortunately is a common feature of the Government’s approach to many journalistic enquiries.

In August 2021, for example, the Byline Intelligence Team submitted a FOI request to the Home Office, in relation to the appointment of Jonathan Isaby as the Home Secretary’s Communications Private Secretary. Isaby is a familiar figure in Conservative and pro-Brexit circles, having previously worked as the co-editor of ConservativeHome and the CEO of the TaxPayers’ Alliance. We have sought to uncover more details about the process that took place to appoint Isaby – and whether civil service protocols were followed.

FOI requests are supposed to receive an answer in 20 working days. Seven months later, we are still awaiting a reply. The Home Office did not respond to our request for comment.

A Chilling Effect

The Freedom of Information Act, introduced by a Labour Government in 2005, is a primary tool through which wrongdoing is exposed to the light. It is an inconvenience to local and national government, but governments of the past have seen it as a necessary evil – a facet of our politics that protects democracy rather than the interests of those in power.

However, there has been a retrenchment of FOI in recent years, fuelled by Johnson’s administration. Indeed, access to Government information has plunged to record lows under Boris Johnson's premiership, according to official records.

Notably, the Cabinet Office has operated a secretive and controversial ‘clearing house’ that vets ‘sensitive’ requests from journalists and other individuals – effectively blacklisting certain members of the media in the process.

These are obstacles that we have been trying to navigate for the last year, running the Byline Intelligence Team. Filing legitimate FOI requests with some Government departments is almost a futile endeavour in the era of Johnson – with officials using even the smallest of loopholes to avoid handing over the information that we seek.

In 2019/20, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) received 6,367 FOI complaints, generally based on FOIs not being answered either fully or in a timely fashion. In 2015/16, the ICO received 5,100 – meaning that in five years there was a 25% increase in FOI related complaints. 

Take the case of Randox, a healthcare firm that has been awarded COVID testing contracts by the Government worth more than £600 million. In February, the Government finally released extensive documents showing the communications that had taken place between ministers, officials and Owen Paterson – a former Conservative MP who was employed by Randox. Pressure from the Labour Party, and the resignation of Paterson from Parliament after revelations surfaced about his past lobbying, forced these disclosures.

However, prior to the release of these documents to the public, the Government admitted that it had failed to answer eight FOI requests pertaining to the Randox COVID contracts – one of which had remained unanswered for 14 months. The Government evidently had the information on file, but was refusing to release it.

Part of the Government’s defence in this case, rolled out regularly during the pandemic, has been ‘commercial confidentiality’. In other words, if the Government handed over the information that we seek, it would reveal agreements between public and private enterprises that may give an advantage to commercial competitors, skewing the market.

Yet, when the Government has agreed contracts worth at least £54 billion with private firms during the pandemic – more than the GDP of some 140 countries and territories – the ‘commercial confidentiality’ loophole masks a vast amount of Government spending from public scrutiny.

It also appears as though this allergy to transparency has reached its logical conclusion in some quarters.

In recent weeks, the Byline Intelligence Team has received legal threats from two former Cabinet ministers, warning that they would consider launching proceedings, if we published information about them. Our stories were in the public interest, thoroughly researched, and indeed much of the information had been published before by other media outlets.

Ultimately, it is highly unlikely that an MP or a Cabinet minister – present or former – would launch legal proceedings against a media outlet, especially on the basis of the information that we intended to publish. However, the threat alone – which raises the spectre, however distant, of millions of pounds in legal fees – has a chilling effect on free speech and the freedom of the press.

Unfortunately, we only seem to be travelling in one direction: towards the roll-back of our right as journalists and citizens to know what the Government is doing in our name, and with our money.

Sam Bright and Iain Overton run the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project between Byline Times and The Citizens

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

LIMITED TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Failings in Key Army Contract Hits UK’s Ability to Fight a Modern War

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 11/03/2022 - 9:28pm in

Failings in Key Army Contract Hits UK’s Ability to Fight a Modern War

David Hencke reports on a major impasse in the delivery of new armoured vehicles to the British Army

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

Britain’s ability to fight a modern war has been compromised by massive failings and delays in a key £5.5 billion contract to deliver a new generation of armoured vehicles, a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) reveals today.

The report comes as the UK is having to increase its contribution to NATO forces following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Nearly 600 digitised Ajax armoured vehicles were ordered to work together with Challenger and Boxer vehicles at the centre of a new co-ordinated digital war network allowing far better reconnaissance and surveillance across land, sea and air.

The vehicles were ordered in 2010 and were supposed to be in service five years ago in 2017. So far, just 26 vehicles have been delivered and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has admitted to the NAO that it has no idea when the order will be completed.

What’s more, faults in the 26 vehicles have injured 310 soldiers – 11 of them seriously enough to no longer be available for full military duties. The vehicles suffer from excessive noise and vibration, which appear to have caused the injuries.

The level of vibration on the new vehicles led to soldiers reporting motion sickness, while those using the headphones reported having headaches and suffering from tinnitus during firing operations. A number have now reported loss of hearing.

The NAO report said: “By December 2021, Ajax vehicles were restricted by 27 ‘limitations of use’, of which 22 related to safety… Limitations included no ‘enclosed’ operation of the vehicle, no night driving, no heavy items to be stored on the roof, no discharging of weapon systems other than the cannon and no stowage or carriage of munitions.”

It said that the MoD expects “to gradually remove these limitations of use for subsequent capability drops, but the delays to trials have prevented planned progress in addressing these limitations.”

Many of these failures were not reported to the top brass at the MoD, which only recently realised there was a problem.


Ukraine is Just the BeginningSecret Document RevealsPutin’s Long War on Europe
Nafeez Ahmed

These failures have led to a big dispute between the MoD and the company that supplied the vehicles, General Dynamics Land Systems UK (GDLS), which has further delayed their delivery. GDLS disputes whether their design has caused the injuries to soldiers and the order has been bedevilled by changes in the design – with both sides blaming each other.

“The MoD and GDLS-UK did not understand the scale of work or technical challenge, which meant that sufficient contingency was not built into the programme schedule,” the NAO says. “Milestones were missed because it took longer than GDLS expected to undertake design work, complete testing, resolve defects and manage supply chain disputes. GDLS told the NAO that this was because the MoD’s standards were not fully defined and subject to change. However, the department repeatedly found GDLS’s safety documentation insufficient.”

So far, taxpayers have paid more than £3 billion for the vehicles while only 26 have been delivered. Others have been completed but are undergoing factory checks.

“The Ministry of Defence and GDLS’s approach was flawed from the start. They did not fully understand the scale or complexity of the Ajax programme and a series of failures have led to delays and unresolved safety issues that will have a significant impact on the Army’s ability to use the vehicles,” said Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO.

Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, linked the dispute to the UK’s ability to take military action should the Ukraine crisis spread.

“Despite over £3 billion spent so far, the in-service date is over four years late and there is still no end in sight. The Army is forced to continue using increasingly old and obsolete equipment which, aside from adding cost, reduces our capability at a time when dangers are only increasing.

“The MoD has not paid the contractor for over a year and with both sides at loggerheads, there is real pressure building in the programme. Both parties must find a way out of the deadlock, work together to rescue the programme, and ensure the Army gets the equipment it needs.”

ShareEmailTwitterFacebook

SIGN-UP TO EMAIL UPDATES

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION OF BYLINE TIMES FROM AS LITTLE AS £3.50 A MONTH

BECOME A PATRON OF BYLINE TV

SUBSCRIBE TO BYLINE TIMES & GET THIS MONTH’S DIGITAL EDITION IMMEDIATELY

Pages