Sunday, 26 February 2017

Is Theresa May really as economically illiterate as her immigration based stance on Brexit tends to suggest?

The pronouncements of Prime Minister Theresa May on Brexit are at face value economically incoherent.

Can the Prime Minister be seriously contemplating cutting links with the single market – Britain’s largest trading area – because she really believes that “securing the borders” is a more important priority?

The need to secure the borders, a hardly concealed code for keeping out migrants, is a total nonsense. The borders are secure or if they aren’t a lot of public money is being expended on the Borders Agency and a myriad of private supporting companies charged with attaining that goal.

The whole Brexit vote it seems was increasingly prefaced on a number of lies. Foremost among these was the migrant myth, namely that migrants were all flocking in for benefits because Britain is an easy touch. Among the migrants were criminals and wrongdoers.

Now to leave the la la land of Express and Daily Mail story telling, the reality is somewhat different.

Migrants come to the UK predominantly to work or study. It has been their contribution among other things that has led to the buoyancy of the UK economy. If the work were not here neither would the migrants be.

During the EU referendum debate the good news story on immigration rarely surfaced. If it had people would understand that migration was not the cause of growing levels of poverty across the land.

Some facts. 17% of the workforce is made up of non-British born workers (that is 5.4 million of a 31.6 million workforce). This has increased from 8% in 2000.

Some 19% of NHS workers are foreign born. The IPPR think tank has warned that the NHS would “collapse” without its EU workers.

Education is a major growing sector for the UK economy, with foreign students estimated to contribute £11.8 billion.

A study by University College London found that European migrants made a net contribution  of £20 billion to UK public finances between 2000 and 2011.

Many of the migrant workforce is made up of single people who work here for a while but then go home. They pay taxes for which they do not receive the requisite public services in return. Net winner the British tax payer.

Migrant labour is also needed to meet skills shortages, that become particularly stark when the reducing ratio between the young (under 16s) and the old (over 65s) are taken into account.

If UK citizens want to retain their present level of public services then the revenue generated by migrant workers - as well as those workers themselves - are desperately needed.

The fact there has been free movement over recent years is a major factor in the buoyancy of the British economy. Ironically, it has been the high level of migrants coming into the UK over recent years compared to other European countries that has contributed to the strength of the economy here compared to elsewhere.

Given, all of the aforesaid, how incredible to hear the Prime Minister welcoming the news that there are now fewer EU nationals coming to the UK, post Brexit. This PM seems to hang onto the ridiculous ideal of the former occupant of the office that it is a good thing to reduce net migration down to the tens of thousands. This is an economically illiterate position for any leader of a political party to adopt.

The one way to really reduce migration is to destroy the economic base. An economy in recession will not offer the jobs , so migrants will not be coming. This position in reality is the one the PM seems to be saying she wants above all else, when she puts controlling immigration above trade with our neighbours.

All of that said migration has not been handled well over the past couple of decades, Migrants have been allowed to come in and used by unscrupulous employers – including private householders wanting work done on the cheap to their properties – to undercut the pay and terms and conditions of the indigenous workforce. This effective use of migration as an unofficial incomes policy has led to some of the grievances that helped to build the anti-migrant atmosphere.

These problems could have been addressed by having a higher minimum wage, that was stringently enforced. Also, no undercutting of terms and conditions, whilst ensuring the migrant labourers joined trade unions.

The problem with the EU referendum debate was that people were fed a pack of lies to the effect that all of their problems were due to migrants and the EU. The reality was most of their problems emanated from the banking crisis of 2008 and the austerity policies that followed.

The result has been large numbers of people across the country seeing their wages flatline or reduce. The banks have got away with ripping off the tax payer for huge amounts of money and continue to do so.

The direction of anger toward the scapegoats of migrants and the EU has largely resulted from a number of unscrupulous MPs lying to the electorate and the cacophony of xenophobic ill informed racist coverage of issues like immigration in the right wing media.

The great irony of the result of the referendum is that the mass of the people who voted to leave the EU together with everyone else stand to become poorer. Wages will not rise but prices will courtesy of the falling pound.

The attacks on migrants are making this country seem like a hostile place, so fewer are coming = this will have huge implications for the economy as a whole and the education sector in particular. It is reported that the number of foreigners looking to attend further education institutions in the UK is plummeting.

The net effect is less money for public services, like education, health, care and transport.

So is the PM really as daft as a number of her recent pronouncements on Brexit  suggest? Or is it all window dressing for a new deal with the EU that can be to the benefit of all. We all have to hope it is the latter. But given the positive reaction to the news of reduced numbers of migrants coming to the UK and begging bowl approach of British ministers seemingly trotting round the world looking for whatever trade deals the likes of the US, Australia and New Zealand will offer I would not bet on it.

Monday, 20 February 2017

City of London Corporation can't event fix the toilets in Wanstead Park, so what hope is there for the other work that needs doing?

At a recent public meeting about open spaces, the Superintendent of Epping, Forest Paul Thomson assured that problems in Wanstead Park are being dealt with but it will take time. Some of the more cynical in the audience saw this as another case of jam tomorrow, with the City of London Corporation constantly kicking problems down the road. The water emptying out of the lakes was one example raised - it was suggested that as well as restoring water supplies that the debris now clogging up the waterways could be removed. To date, nothing has happened.
On another level, there is the issue of the shut toilets at the Temple. The toilets were vandalised a few months ago and apparently this means the toilets now remain permanently shut. We now have the bizarre situation of dog walkers running around clearing up after their animals but having nowhere to go to the toilet themselves. Newsflash for the Corporation, human beings need toilets too.
This is but another example of the negligent approach to our local park. A local builder could have sorted out the toilet problem in days but no better to leave it and do nothing. How much longer are the City of London Corporation going to get away with this ongoing failure to manage our precious open space?

Published Wanstead & Woodford Guardian and Wanstead & Woodford Recorder - 16/2/2017

Friday, 17 February 2017

Neo liberalism has brought huge inequality, Trump and Brexit ..surely the time has come to roll back this damaging idealogy

The operation of the neo-liberal economic system for the past 40 years has brought the country (world) to a situation of growing inequalities. A small group get ever wealthier, whilst the huge mass of people remain relatively poorer.

This situation is a complete reversal of the way things operated under the post war economic settlement, when there was a gradual closure of the gap between the very rich and everyone else.

It is not coincidental that in the 1970s, when the inequality gap was narrowest people were at their happiest.

The continuation of the post war Keynsian inspired settlement was moving toward shorter working weeks, more leisure time and earlier retirements.

Then came the neo-liberal governments of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan et al which slammed this progress into reverse. Inequality grew,  people worked longer for less and are now retire later and later.

Only now are the real fissures of the neo-liberal way of operating beginning to become apparent.

The first tremor came with the banking crisis of 2008, however, this was dealt with by the elites, effectively ensuring that the mass of people paid for the bankers recklessness. The uber rich once again came out very well.

In Britain, the austerity narrative was sold better than soap. In a strange way the British seemed to want to believe it. The reality was that the deficit continued to grow, whilst the excuse of austerity was used to justify the privatisation of public services.

More recently the dissatisfaction of the masses has been evidenced in the Brexit vote and the election of Trump in the US. Many people are unhappy because they have become the victims of this unfair, unequal system.

The trouble is another fairy tale, courtesy of a supine media, has been sold. Brexit, no matter what the left in Britain might say was sold on the back of anti-migrant xenophobia. The electorate was lied to, resulting in many believing that their problems were due to immigration and the EU. There are valid reasons for leaving the EU but they were not the ones on the basis of which people voted in June.

A similar feeling of disenfranchisement by the elites occurred in the US, resulting in the election of Trump.

The weakening of the trade union movement has also contributed to this unequal society. Unions play a key role in ensuring a more even distribution of wealth. The legalistic restrictions continually pursued by Conservative governments and not rolled back by Labour ones have contributed to weakening the trade union movement.
The only way to start rolling back the present unequal system is to create a new economic system. Some suggestions to get us on the way would include taxing the rich and corporations more heavily. It is a scandal that while tax payers pay to educate the workforce, corporations then employ that workforce but often pay little tax by way of recompense.

The implementation of  a higher living wage and bringing in a universal basic income (not at the cost of the welfare state) would also help.

Trade unions need strengthening and basic labour standards need enforcing, so that those in work cannot be undermined by bringing in other labour from outside the country.

These suggestions are a very basic start, what is required is to build a whole new alternative model, drawing on some of the better elements of policy in the last 70 years. Failure to do so will see inequalities and discontent continue to grow, resulting in more Trump like scenarios, and when these are also seen to fail, a more violent and sporadic outburst  of frustration on the streets. It is in everybodies interests from the rich to the poorest that a new more equal justice system is developed.

*published Morning Star - we have to end this inequality - 22/2/2017

Monday, 13 February 2017

Why not celebrate the building of a new swimming pool in Wanstead?

Poor old Redbridge Council really can do no right it would seem. They attempt to bring in a parking scheme and get accused of penalising this end of the borough, then when they reveal plans to locate a swimming pool in Wanstead they get pulled up for spending money!! Truly ridiculous.

The plans to build a swimming pool in Wanstead should be applauded and widely supported. It has been an ongoing disgrace that the nearest swimming facilities for those living in this part of the borough reside in neighbouring Newham.

Now, the Labour Council has recognised that the facility needs to be provided for people living here. What is not to like - a new pool will provide facilities that can only contribute to the health and well being of all living in this area. The facility will also provide employment. Time to celebrate not denigrate.

PS on the subject of those from the self styled WeWantSay group who are demanding that Wanstead people be given the right to reject any planned parking restrictions, I do hope that by the same token there will be equal weight given to those who support parking restrictions across Wanstead – including the pedestrianisation of the high street.

* published - Wanstead & Woodford Guardian/Ilford and Wanstead & Woodford Recorder - 13/2/2017

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Is the social media age leading to a world of intolerance?

The woman was only feeding the pigeons, not a capital crime. This was an initial response to a recent dialogue on Facebook, relating to a local woman who feeds pigeons. The concerns arose because the woman’s actions are also encouraging rats in the area.

The issue of rats was raised pre-Christmas, with the council moving to address the issue. A lot of local people were rightly concerned. Some pointed the finger at a known local figure, who feeds the pigeons, consequently also providing sustenance for the rats.

Now the saga has resumed. A concerned neighbour spotted someone feeding the pigeons, near a sign saying don’t feed the pigeons. There were pigeons and a couple of rats. It seems unclear if it was this known local woman, who does feed the pigeons and will give a fair old mouthful of abuse if challenged about the activity. However, the vitriolic response to the reporting of the alleged activity on a Facebook page has been harsh.

The responses have varied from “she drives me up the wall..selfish cow” and “I can’t stand her” to “she’s a nasty cow, been told loads of times, should lock her up lol” and “everyone should video her and send it to environmental health”  

Now, the frustration is understandable – my own contribution to the dialogue was that the incidents should be reported to the council. However, the level of intolerance displayed is worrying.

This episode is but a small example of how people feel free to express their every frustration on social media. Would these individuals say such things, if they had to sit down and write a long hand letter? Would they speak in such away in a face to face context? I doubt it.

Social media is becoming a free for all for people to vent their most aggressive – and, at times, most sensitive, - feelings - with no holds barred.

It is a strange phenomena, I have never been able to understand how people will share their most intimate details, like pregnancy scans, with virtually total strangers in cyber space, whilst not discussing such subjects on a face to face basis with close confidants.

In the case of our pigeon feeder the atmosphere engendered in this short set of posts has a feeling of the witch hunt.

The wider worry must be that these type of dialogues go on right across the internet, helping in a cumulative way to build a more intolerant and judgemental society.

Social media is a great tool that can do much good but it can also be an agent of intolerance and catalyst to stir unrest and misinformation in our society. We all need to take care, think before we post or blog..and maybe take a break sometimes from the whole forum.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Financial Ombudsman looks set to rule in favour of investors in Secured Energy Bond case

There appears to be some light at the end of a long tunnel for investors in the defunct Secured Energy Bonds (SEB), after a preliminary decision in their favour from the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

After nearly 18 months the FOS has ruled that it is able to look at a test case of an investor who has complained about the role of Independent Portfolio Managers (IPM) in promoting the original bonds.

IPM were appointed the Security Trustee to look out for the interests of investors. A number of investors have claimed that they failed in this duty.

The FOS  preliminary decision is that IPM engaged in the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) ‘regulated activity’ of making arrangements for investments due to their status, from the outset, as Corporate Director of Secured Energy Bonds and Security Trustee for the bondholders.  If this decision is confirmed it may assist investors in other failed mini-bonds which benefit from a security trustee [NB this is a lay opinion and has not yet been discussed with lawyers)

The latest ruling, follows some flip flopping by the FOS, which at first indicated it could look at the investors case against IPM, then produced an opposite view. Investors then felt compelled to obtain a barrister’s opinion to assist their complaints after the negative adjudication from FOS.

Now, they have ruled that the claims can be examined. IPM have until 27 February 2017 to respond.

The ruling will come as a relief to the 973 investors in Secured Energy Bonds, who looked set to lose all their money (£7.37 million), when the company went into administration at the beginning of 2015.

The problems arose, when a large amount of the funds intended to provide solar panels on 22 school buildings was instead siphoned off by the Australian parent company CBD Energy for other purposes. CBD Energy went into administration in November 2014.

The first investors knew of the problems came at the end of January 2015 when an interest payment on the three year bonds (paying 6.5% interest) was not made.

The investors formed a campaign group, the SEB Investors Action Group, which has been raising the case with the FCA, the FOS, the Treasury, Treasury Select Committee and well over a hundred MPs.

The regulators have at times been less than helpful. The FCA first directing investors, often via their MPs to the FOS, only for that body, after initially appearing willing to take up the case, to then change tack.

Two further products, Providence Bonds and Providence Bonds 2, (Total £8m) also went into administration last September. Many of the same investors, who had been hit with the SEB default, were caught again. The Providence Bond investors have now also established a campaign group.

Altogether there are over 1,600 investors across SEB and Providence Bonds, who have lost more than £15 million as a result of these defaults.

The FCA did eventually, in September 2016, move to restrict IPM’s FCA registration. 

There are clearly significant anomalies in the way that the FCA allows financial promotions to be approved without facilitating a simple remedy, through the FOS, for ordinary members of the public (retail investors).

Why does the FCA set criteria for financial promotions that are not easily subject to challenge or redress through the FOS? 

The latest decision is to be welcomed, as it has positive implications for SEB and possibly other mini-bond investors. Whilst there is still some considerable way to go before investors receive any of their money back, the regulators do at last seem to be starting to regulate and stand up for investors, who through no fault of their own have lost thousands of pounds. 

* Investors who have not previously been in touch with either of the Investors Action Group are invited to contact: secured.energy.bonds.iag@gmail.com or providencebonds.iag@gmail.com

Thursday, 2 February 2017

West Ham humbled again by Manchester City


West Ham 0-4 Manchester City

The sense of deja vu was overwhelming for those watching the latest episode in the series of games between these two teams.

Just as in the recent FA Cup game, West Ham began in promising style, only to crumble after 20 minutes to another crushing defeat. The only plus point was that the visitors scored one less goal this time.

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic was at a loss to explain why West Ham have done so poorly this year against the top teams, when last season they defeated many of them. “Sometimes you turn the game around as we did against Arsenal last year but it is more likely to be like this,” said Bilic, who felt his side gave the ball away too much in vital areas.

He refuted the claim that games against top sides like Manchester City should be seen as bonus points if sides like West Ham got anything out of them. “This is not a bonus game, it is three points. Now we have to make it up on Saturday,” said Bilic. “We bounced back after Arsenal (1-5 defeat), after City in the Cup (0-5) and now we need to do it again.”

The home team began the game well enough, containing City in midfield but that all changed after 15 minutes, as the visitors high intensity pressing game bore fruit.

Kevin De Bruyne began the move from the middle of the field, surging forward to exchange a one two with Gabriel Jesus and drive home from just inside the area.

Four minutes later, the impressive Leroy Sane took the ball to the byline before crossing back in for the waiting David Silva to drive home.

West Ham had a chance to get back into the game, when Andy Carroll conjured a cross field pass that found Aaron Creswell in space but the defender’s attempted lob over the advancing keeper was poor and went behind.

The home side were made to pay before half time when Pedro Obiang gave away the ball to Sane outside the area. He released Raheem Stirling, who put Jesus clear to pass the ball into the net.

The final goal came in the 65th minute, when the impressive De Bruyne’s through ball, set Stirling free. He was hauled down by debutant Jose Font, resulting in a penalty that Yaya Toure duly converted.

City manager Pep Guardiola was pleased with his sides performance, particularly the way they pressed and controlled the game. “Simple balls creating chances,” said Guardiola, whose team clearly enjoy playing at the London Stadium.