Archive for February, 2013

WEST COAST FIASCO ‘TO COST £50M’

February 26, 2013

thCAI5HETCCivil servant failures over the West Coast rail contract will cost taxpayers “at least £50 million”, a report by MPs said today.
There was a lack of leadership at the Department for Transport (DfT) and a failure to “get basic processes right” over the West Coast fiasco, the report from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said.
MPs said they were concerned that these basic mistakes could be repeated in future projects such as the London to Birmingham high-speed HS2 scheme and the London Thameslink project.
The report said the department failed to learn from mistakes made in previous projects and senior managers failed to apply common sense during the West Coast bidding process.
They also said senior managers had “missed clear warning signs, including from the (rail) industry, that there were serious problems with the (bidding) competition”.
The committee said: “We are astonished that there was no senior civil servant in the team despite the critical importance of this multibillion-pound franchise”.
The MPs added that they were also “astonished that the (DfT) Permanent Secretary (Philip Rutnam) did not have a detailed understanding and oversight of the (franchise) competition”.
After DfT errors in the process had been identified, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin scrapped the bidding which had seen Virgin Trains lose out to rival transport company FirstGroup in the battle for a new, 13-year West Coast franchise.
Instead, Virgin is carrying on running the West Coast service until November 2014, with a new bidding process starting after that.
In today’s report, the committee said it was concerned that the department “could yet again fail to apply basic processes, which could affect its future projects, including HS2 and Thameslink”.
The MPs said the DfT made a number of mistakes when identifying the amount of risk capital it required from bidders to balance the riskiness of their bid.
The report said the department’s “blinkered and rushed approach meant the competition was not run properly” and that it had been a mistake “not to have a single person responsible for the project from beginning to end”.
Launching the report today, the committee’s chairman Margaret Hodge (Lab: Barking) said: “The DfT’s complete lack of common sense in the way it ran the West Coast franchise competition has landed the taxpayer with a bill of £50 million at the very least.
“If you factor in the cost of delays to investment on the line, and the potential knock-on effect on other franchise competitions, then the final cost to the taxpayer will be very much larger.”
She went on: “The franchising process was littered with basic errors. Senior management did not have proper oversight of the project. Cuts in staffing and in consultancy budgets contributed to a lack of key skills.
“We are astonished that the Permanent Secretary did not oversee the project because he was told he could not see all the information which might have enabled him to challenge the processes, although it was one of the most important tasks for which the department is responsible.
“Given that the department got it so wrong over this competition, we must feel concern over how properly it will handle future projects, including HS2 and Thameslink.”
Bob Crow, leader of the RMT transport union, said: “The stench from the fall-out of the West Coast franchise continues to hang over Britain’s transport industry as it becomes clearer with every examination that the ministers responsible for this shambles could not be trusted to run a whelk stall let alone multi-billion Government contracts.
“No wonder the Thameslink/Siemens fleet contract remains unsigned nearly two years on with these jokers at the helm, and the case for that work to go to Derby and not Germany remains rock solid.
“Underpinning all this is the fact that privatisation is a corrosive and expensive political project doomed to repeated and costly failure, twice on the East Coast and now on the West.
“Fiddling with processes won’t work. It’s the whole, rotten policy that needs dumping with a return to public ownership.”
Today’s report follows a Whitehall-commissioned independent inquiry into the West Coast bidding led by Centrica boss Sam Laidlaw. The inquiry report was extremely critical of the DfT.
Responding to the Public Accounts Committee report today, a DfT spokesman said: “The independent Laidlaw inquiry published in December identified the unique and exceptional circumstances which led to failures in the West Coast franchising programme and crucially what steps the department should take to prevent this from happening again.
“The department has accepted all the recommendations and has taken immediate steps by bringing together all rail activity under a single director general and recruiting a senior director to lead the franchising programme, as well as improving internal governance and strengthening oversight and accountability.
“Not only will these reinforce the franchising process but will also protect rail infrastructure projects such as HS2 and the biggest programme of rail electrification.”
The decision to award the franchise, initially, to FirstGroup, was made when Justine Greening was Transport Secretary and Theresa Villiers was Rail Minister.
Ms Greening became International Development Secretary in last autumn’s Government reshuffle, while Mrs Villiers was appointed Northern Ireland Secretary.
Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said today: “It’s time that David Cameron took responsibility for the rail franchising fiasco, instead of allowing ministers to hide behind their civil servants.
“The Government must accept the committee’s finding that it was the short-sighted decision by ministers to axe external audits of multi-billion pound contracts that ended up with at least £50 million of taxpayers’ money going down the drain.
“It is a disgrace that every politician responsible for the bungled franchise deal has either remained in the Cabinet or been promoted to it.”
Richard Hebditch, campaigns director of Campaign for Better Transport, said: “The mistakes with the West Coast are clear for everyone to see. But the biggest problem is a franchise system where the only deciding factor is who promises the biggest payment back to government. What the Public Accounts Committee report shows is that we can’t even rely on the figures for that decision.
“Franchising needs to be completely reformed so that what counts are improvements to the service on offer, rather than complex calculations of profit and loss that don’t stack up.”

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Why all progressives should support a land value tax

February 19, 2013

get_involved_festivalCaroline Lucas, Brighton’s Green MP, has submitted a private member’s bill promoting a land value tax. After some delay, it should have its second reading on 1 March. Every progressive politician in Westminster should support this bill.

David Cameron considers it part of his job as Prime Minister to provide moral leadership. It’s worth recalling a few of his words: “we need to reconnect the principles of risk, hard work, and success with reward.” According to him, markets are moral: “open markets and free enterprise can actually promote morality” because “they create a direct link between contribution and reward; between effort and outcome”.

Connect effort with outcome, and markets will flourish, entrepreneurs will create jobs, work will get done and society will prosper. Woe betide those who cleave them apart. Karl Marx tried to separate effort and outcome with the words: “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”. When this was tried in the Soviet Union the powerful made sure their own needs were well catered for while the economy collapsed and the powerless starved in their millions.

Back home, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is assiduous in disconnecting effort and reward. Every year, the people of Britain are rewarded with £600bn for their efforts at work. HMRC takes one quarter of this reward away as income tax: £150bn.

There is an alternative. Taxes on windfall gains arising through no effort are popular and just. The tax system should target windfalls, not work, whenever possible. This is the aim of the land value tax proposed by Lucas. It targets a £100bn annual windfall that at present is hardly taxed at all. The lion’s share of this goes to powerful and privileged freeloaders who fight tooth and nail to keep every penny. In doing so they harm the economy and, as we shall see, damage the environment.

Who are these freeloaders? Nobody has explained this better than Winston Churchill in a speech in 1909: “Roads are made, streets are made, railway services are improved, electric light turns night into day, electric trams glide swiftly to and fro, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains – and all the while the landlord sits still… To not one of these improvements does the land monopolist as a land monopolist contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is sensibly enhanced.”

Churchill knew that landowners cannot change the value of a plot of land. Its value depends only on location and size. Is it near a station? A park? Good schooling? All of these factors are determined by the community, not the landowner. The landowner can increase the value of the property, by building on it, or extending existing structures. But any increase in the value per square foot of the plot on which the buildings stand is a free ride, and any profit made from this is pure freeloading on the efforts of the community.

Landowners, including homeowners, are freeloaders on a gigantic scale. The total value of the housing stock in the UK was £1.3trn in 1990. With only inflation it would now be worth £2trn, but instead its current value is over £4trn. This £2trn increase above inflation has come through a rise in the value of land itself, not through new buildings; comparatively few houses have been built in the last two decades. Landowners have gained £100bn yearly on average from a rise in land values. As Churchill might have said, never in the field of human endeavour has so great a reward been given for so little effort.

Lucas wants to reclaim this windfall via a land value tax; a tax which is levied on the value of the plot of land, without taking into account any building on it. A vacant plot in a row of houses would be taxed the same as a similar built-on plot. Buildings are the result of effort and enterprise by the landowner who should be rewarded with their use or profit. The value of the plot is not the result of any effort on the part of the landowner and any increase is a windfall.

The Green MP realizes our current tax regime harms the environment. Throughout our towns and cities, vacant sites are left derelict. Developers sit on vast land banks, create an artificial housing shortage, and blame the planning system for resulting problems. The tax system encourages land hoarding. Keeping a property empty and unused makes excellent sense to speculators, since minimal tax is payable on an empty plot. They cover our green fields with concrete and create urban sprawl, whilebrownfield siteslie abandoned.

This is the strange politics of today’s Britain. The Conservatives profess to be the party of enterprise, but are actually beholden to entitled freeloaders; Cameron’s fine words are so much empty rhetoric. Vince Cable champions a mansion tax but is slapped down by his coalition partners. Labour half-heartedly copies Cable’s best policies. It is Caroline Lucas, our only Green MP, who shows the way towards a moral capitalism and an enterprising economy. All progressives should wish her bill well and rally around her bold initiative on 1 March.

Green Party Spring Conference 2013 to be held in Nottingham

February 18, 2013

EastMIdlandsConferenceCentreThe Green Party is delighted to delighted to announce that their Spring conference 2013 will be held in Nottingham in the East Midland Conference Centre from Friday 22nd to Monday 25th February 2013

ITEMS OF INTEREST

Friday 22nd February

1400 – 1430 MAIN HALL Leader’s Opening Speech – Natalie Bennett

1845 – 2000 MAIN HALL PANEL – Meeting the Zero Hunger Challenge, Keith Taylor MEP

Saturday 23rd February

1030 – 1145 MAIN HALL PLENARY –Speech, Deputy Leader, Cllr Will Duckworth
1045-1055 Update from Cllr Jason Kitcat, Leader, Brighton and Hove Council

1330 – 1445 Room 2 F – Campaigning on Air Pollution – Jean Lambert, MEP, Keith Taylor MEP

Room 4 F – Building the movement against austerity – Romayne Phoenix

Room 3A T – The Eton mess: the attack on the most vulnerable – Shan Oakes

1830 Onwards 40TH BIRTHDAY GALA DINNER

Sunday 24th February 5

1200 – 1315 Room 1B F – LGBTIQ Greens – Stuart Neyton

1200-1315 Room 2 F – The Green story in Brighton and Hove – Simon Williams

1330 – 1445 Room 3A F – The Yasuni Project: protecting the rainforest and fighting climate change Derek Wall and the Embassy of Ecuador

1700 – 1815 MAIN HALL PANEL Austerity in Europe, the Eurozone and beyond – Jean Lambert MEP

Monday 25th February

0930 – 1045 MAIN HALL PLENARY – Q and A with Green Party Leader, Natalie Bennett, and Deputy
Leader, Will Duckworth

1100 – 1215 MAIN HALL PANEL – Votes at 16 – To be or not to be

For more information please call Zoe Hall on 0207 549 0315

Horse Meat Scandal: Regulate & Re-localise Our Food Supply Chain

February 12, 2013

burger-king-horse-meat-300x173THE GREEN Party has criticised the inadequate regulation of our food industry, and called for the re-localisation of the supply chain to support farmers and improve traceability.

The call comes amid growing concerns over the potential health risks associated with the horse meat scandal, after Anne McIntosh MP, Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, advised the public to buy their produce locally, and supported a temporary ban on meat imports.

Caroline Allen, Green Party spokesperson, said: “With the news that Burger King is now admitting that horse meat made its way into their burgers, it’s time to reflect on the real problem here. This is a wake up call about our whole food supply chain.”

“Poor traceability, the search for cheaper and cheaper ingredients, large suppliers and distant producers mean that increasingly, we just can’t be sure what we are actually eating.

“Given the multiple crises affecting our food supply chain it is not surprising that cheap filler ingredients make their way onto supermarket shelves.

“The relentless rise of food prices – including feed price for animals – means that processors will have to be increasingly inventive to continue to provide the cheap food the supermarkets require. Meanwhile, increasingly unpredictable weather patterns mean that recent price rises are probably the beginning of a long-term trend.

“At the same time massive cuts at the Food Standards Agency have left it hardly able to provide its most basic duties regarding food safety and traceability. The work they carried out on issues such as food labelling and nutrition has all but ceased, at a time when it is most desperately needed.”

The Green Party believes that globalisation of the food supply has exacerbated many environmental and social problems and that answers lie in sustainable agriculture, re-localisation, shortening of food supply chains and self-reliance on a regional and local basis.

Ms. Allen said: “With inadequate policing of this massive industry these scandals will continue. It is surely time for a regulator of the supermarkets and food processors with real powers, a well funded body properly monitoring what is being placed in processed food.”

“But more importantly, we need to re-localise the food chain; reducing waste, improving traceability, supporting our farmers, and creating a system of food production with resilience in face of the challenges of a changing climate.”

February 11, 2013

East Midlands Green Party Blog

In 2005 Jamie Oliver shocked the nation when he highlighted the poor nutritional quality of food served to children in many schools. Basically they were eating junk food, loaded with fat and salt and he reasoned that this was not good for them.  In an online petition over 270,000 people agreed and after much hard work by Jamie and his team of originally sceptical dinner ladies, the Government of the day set up the School Food Trust.  The purpose of the Trust was to replicate Jamie’s work in schools across the country. 

 

The importance of this work can not be understated.  The most up to date figures published by the Department of Health for obesity in children are for 2010, when 30% of children [2-15 years] were either over weight or obese, and 16% of all children were obese. These figures have doubled over a decade, so we can…

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CAROLINE LUCAS CALLS ON THE GOVERNMENT TO HALT THE NUCLEAR CONTRACTING PROCESS IN A BACKBENCH BUSINESS DEBATE ON NUCLEAR SUBSIDY.

February 8, 2013

NuclearPowerDespite the pledge in the 2010 Coalition Agreement and in numerous ministerial statements since that there would be “no public subsidy” for new nuclear, it has become increasingly clear that the government’s introduction of a carbon price floor and other measures in its forthcoming Electricity Market Reform (EMR) will result in huge windfall handouts for nuclear generators. It’s time to ditch the doublespeak and state the obvious: this is a subsidy by another name.

In the Backbench Business debate today, MPs will raise concerns about negotiations currently taking place between the Department of Energy and Climate Change and new nuclear suppliers to fix a ‘strike price’ in advance of the EMR legislation. Not only do these talks pre-empt the legislative process in a way which suggests that commercial interests are taking priority, there is also a worrying secrecy around exactly how much money taxpayers will need to cough up to pay for this increasingly expensive technology.

The truth is that the primary beneficiary of these policies will be the French state-owned nuclear company Edf, which will be gifted billions of pounds to cover the cost of the new power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset – particularly if secretive proposals to underwrite construction costs are successful.

The scale of the proposed investment at Hinkley is vast and the duration of the contract is long. At a strike price of £100/MW and a 30 year contract under EMR, this would require a subsidy of £1 billion a year above today’s wholesale electricity price – meaning £30 billion going straight from British households and businesses to Edf. If the 16GW of new nuclear anticipated by the Energy Minister Ed Davey were to be financed on similar terms, it would cost householders and businesses

£150 billion by 2050.

As well as being required to show how this can possibly represent good value for money, DECC also needs to explain how its parallel objective of bringing down the wholesale price of electricity is supposed to be compatible with the proposed Edf contract – since it would seem that the amount of subsidy would have to increase as a result of those lower prices. By signing up to a fixed price, this contract would surely then eliminate any benefit to consumers that might result from lowering the price of electricity.

The positive PR campaign orchestrated by nuclear companies in the weeks following the Fukushima disaster gave us a glimpse of the power that the nuclear lobby wields in Whitehall. With the benefits of investing in renewables, energy efficiency and demand reduction becoming ever clearer, we need to see far more transparency around the decisions about where our electricity will come from in the decades ahead.

The government should therefore halt the nuclear contracting process and allow the Public Accounts Committee to examine whether the public subsidy being offered for new nuclear power through EMR is really the right solution to deliver an affordable, sustainable and secure energy future.

TORY CHANCES ‘NOT BOOSTED OVER EU’

February 2, 2013

David-Cameron-at-the-EU-s-007David Cameron’s high-profile speech on Europe has cheered Conservative supporters, but done little to improve the party’s chances of success at the next general election, according to polling by major Tory donor Lord Ashcroft.

The peer, who until 2010 was Conservative deputy chairman, said that Mr Cameron’s promise of an in/out referendum following renegotiation of the UK’s EU membership after the 2015 election “has not unleashed a desire for an overall Conservative majority”.

And the upsurge in debate about the EU in advance of the high-profile speech appears to have bolstered pro-European sentiments, with numbers saying they feel positive about British membership increasing from 18% to 22% and those thinking the UK would be better off out falling from 34% to 26%.

Lord Ashcroft’s poll – in common with most of those taken since last week’s speech – showed a small increase in support for Tories, but left Labour in the lead on 38%, against the Conservatives’ 33% and Liberal Democrats’ 11%. The avowedly pro-withdrawal UK Independence Party was on 9%.

However, Lord Ashcroft said that the change largely resulted from people who voted Tory in 2010 saying they would be more likely to do so again, as well as existing Conservative supporters becoming more likely to turn out and vote.

Writing on the ConservativeHome website, the Tory peer said: “If anyone expected an immediate leap in the Conservative Party’s popularity, the evidence should by now have disabused them of the notion.

“The speech, and more importantly the policy it articulated, has made Tories feel better about being Tories. This is not to be sneezed at – but let’s not confuse it with having changed anybody’s mind.”

Mr Cameron enjoyed a small increase in his leadership ratings in the poll, but the Conservatives were no more likely to be seen as united or having clear plans to deal with Britain’s problems.

While the coalition remained more trusted to run the economy than Labour, Tory leads on traditionally strong policy areas like welfare reform and immigration had narrowed.

“Not surprisingly, given all this, the promise of an EU referendum has not unleashed a desire for an overall Conservative majority,” said Lord Ashcroft.

“Just under a third (32%) of voters told us last weekend that this would be their preferred outcome of the next election – a proportion unchanged since last November.

“A Labour government remains the most popular choice, with 38%; 17% would rather have a Labour-Lib Dem coalition. Another round of what we have now is the least popular choice, with 13%.”

He warned the party that it must not give voters the impression that it is obsessed with Europe.

“In debating the question in the coming years we must remember that there is only so much oxygen in the room,” said Lord Ashcroft.

“Most people do not pay much attention to politics at all; when they do, let’s make sure they hear something that changes their view of the Conservative Party, not just of Europe.”

:: Some 1,008 adults were interviewed by phone for Lord Ashcroft’s poll between January 25 and 27