Thursday, 26 March 2015

Barts Trust PFI debt should be written off

NHS campaigners wrote to three East London MPs yesterday urging them to support the call for Barts Trust’s PFI debt to be written off.
Local campaign group Waltham Forest Save Our NHS is calling on Leyton and Wansted Labour MP John Cryer, Walthamstow Labour MP Stella Creasy and Chingford Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith “to work together” to remove the hospital trust’s debt burden.
Barts Trust was recently put under special measures by the government after a damning Care Quality Commission report about care at Whipps Cross hospital, one of the six London hospitals under its management.
The Trust’s PFI debt, standing at £93 million, is the largest in the country and costs £2m a week to service.
“The PFI costs are unmanageable, unreasonable and growing,” says the letter, which points out that £58m of cuts made by Barts Trust last year were due to the need to save money because of PFI.
“In a vain attempt to save money, Barts management enforced mass redundancies and a demoralising down-banding of staff, which led to the disastrous consequences detailed in the CQC report.”
The campaign group warned that instead of a much-needed increase of funding local health services have been told to make an 11 per cent cut over the next five years.
“It is clear that services are being sacrificed on the altar of PFI and that PFI costs must be annulled to safeguard the health of the local community,” the group added.
“As our elected representatives it is incumbent upon each of you to work together to restore NHS services to your constituents, the people who pay not only for the NHS, but for you to properly represent our interests.”

*see morning star - 26/3/2015

Monday, 23 March 2015

Danger that the Secured Energy Bonds debacle will cut confidence in sustainable energy bond market

Premium bonds are more secure, lottery tickets more likely to generate a return, so why did 973 investors put their money into Secured Energy Bonds?

Investing in sustainable energy bonds is a highly risky savings strategy, the market is unregulated, the Financial Conduct Authority takes no responsibility for anything that happens there and investors should be fully prepared to lose all their capital.

This is the sort of warning that should have been carried on Secured Energy Bonds when they were launched a couple of years ago.

The energy bonds were advertised in the financial press, offering 6.5% on cash invested for three years.

The investment looked good and secure. The company Secured Energy Bonds plc was a separate UK incorporated body, which would use the £7.5 million raised to buy solar panels to put on schools. The investors would receive their 6.5% return over three years in the main from the feed in tariff payments on energy generated.

All good so far, the investor’s money was safe because even if some problem arose with the company, the assets (ie the panels on the schools) would still be there raising revenue.

Investors, no doubt keen to do their bit for the environment and get some sort of return from their money, quickly provided the £7.5 million required for the bond.

All went well for the first months of the bond, interest was paid on the quarter, there was even an early bird payment for those who got in early.

This all changed in January, when the fourth interest payment was not made. The hazard warning lights came on. There was no response to emails sent to the company, the phone line was dead. A call to Capita, which dealt with the interest payments, confirmed that interest payments had been suspended.

A bit more digging round the internet revealed that the Australian parent company, CBD Energy, had gone into administration. But no worries surely the UK incorporated Secured Energy Bonds was separate – the assets must remain untouched – all £7.5 million of them.

I contacted the Financial Conduct Authority which effectively said nothing to do with us mate, try the trustee Independent Portfolio Managers.

IPM were the “security trustee” charged with overseeing investors interests. Initially, phone and email messages went unanswered before finally IPM confirmed that SEB had been put into administration. Grant Thornton have been appointed administrators. The investors remain in the dark, as to what is happening – other than be prepared to lose your money.

The loss for 973 plus investors has implications going far beyond the Secured Energy Bonds saga. The main concern for other players in the sustainable energy bond sector is that investors will be put off this unregulated market entirely. 

Trillion Fund, a crowd financing platform for renewable energy projects, sent out a press release following the initial news about SEB declaring: “Trillion Fund listed Secured Energy Bonds on our web directory in 2013, alongside other opportunities to lend to or invest in renewable energy projects, which referred interested lenders to Capita.

“Investment carries risks that you may lose your capital, and this is incredibly disappointing to those who backed the project. “Not all renewable energy investments are created equal. Some projects are more risky than others and Trillion strongly encourages investors to ensure they have a well diversified portfolio.

“We take great care to make sure potential investors understand all of the risks involved. For example, that projects that are yet to be developed are more risky than those that are operational.”

A recent advert from renewable energy investment company Abundance Generation declared: “Abundance - invest in renewable energy projects. Capital at risk.”

So there is clearly concern in the sector about the damage that the SEB episode is doing to the confidence of investors.

For the 900 plus investors in Secured Energy Bonds, such warnings are too late. They now need to wait to hear from Grant Thornton in Australia. 

In January, finance website This is Money quoted the administrators as saying: “During 2014, CBD utilised funds of Secured Energy Bonds plc, a UK subsidiary, which were segregated and should have only been used for the purposes outlined in the bond-raising prospectus, which precluded working capital funding of CBD.

“However, due to CBD’s cashflow difficulties $8.4m [AUD] was transferred to CBD over time, via various inter-company loans to fund outstanding creditor payments and working capital requirements.”

If this is the case, there will be many questions to answer.

The IPM will in particular have some explaining to do as to what they were actually doing to protect investor’s interests. What were they doing to monitor where the funds were going and whether they were actually being used to buy solar panels on schools in the UK?

The FCA should also be asking questions, as IPM – an FCA-regulated company - was supposed to ensure that investors’ interests were protected. The simple shrug of the shoulders approach really will not suffice.

The comments made that it was always a risky investment and that capital could be lost really does not wash. On paper this was not a risky investment, if the company concerned did what it said it intended to do with the money raised. The investment was not even as risky as buying shares, the investment should not go down – let alone disappear altogether.

There are many questions that need answering. The 900 plus investors want to know when they are going to get their money back. Platforms like Trillion and Abundance Generation should be as concerned for those investors as their own given that the way in which this is resolved will
have serious implications for the whole of the privately backed sustainable energy market.

* A creditors meeting for Secured Energy Bonds has been called by Grant Thornton for 1 April 2015


- also see "April D-day for investors in Secured Energy Bonds" - independent.co.uk - 21/3/2015

Friday, 20 March 2015

Demand for foodbanks on increase as economy recovers


The recent survey conducted by Leeds Justice and Peace Commission uncovered the huge scale of food poverty, with the Catholic Church at the forefront of the fight to feed people.

The survey found that more than 50% of the 88 parishes in the Leeds diocese were actively involved in feeding people. There is also much church involvement with a number of foodbanks in the Hallam diocese, covering South Yorkshire.

The Leeds diocese though would seem to be just a microcosm of what is going on in terms of the Catholic Church confronting food poverty across Britain.

Take the Archdiocese of Birmingham, where there are foodbanks operating out of 60 churches in 223 parishes.

At the Manchester Catholic chaplaincy foodbank, they are finding that the implementation of benefit sanctions are one reason why more people are coming to the foodbank. “It seems that a dislocation from the family unit leads them with nowhere to turn to,” said Father Tim Byron SJ, chaplain and chair of trustees at the foodbank. “We also see that many, perhaps not surprisingly, are suffering from mental health issues (temporarily or more long term it is difficult to assess).  This means that they vulnerable when it comes to engaging with bureaucracy and perhaps don't have the resilience to follow some of the endless procedures they are confronted with.  They can be penalised for being for a few minutes late for an interview or for not making enough job applications in a week (this can be an unreasonable number).” 

The Manchester foodbank has also seen an increase in the numbers of students actually coming for food. The vouchers are given out by the advice centres in the student unions at the Univerisy of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University. There has been a particular problem with students on professional courses for things like nursing, which have placements and so cannot hold down a part time job to help make ends meet. “They can’t get by without supplementing their income,” said Father Byron.  

 

On the south coast, the Catholic churches support the local foodbank in Eastbourne. More than 20,000 people have visited the foodbank since it opened in June 2011.

One of the most startling findings of the Leeds research was that the Church backed network, the Trussell Trust, only represent part of the food poverty picture. “Half of those responding had provided food to the Trussell Trust foodbank but half as many again give food through the SVP,” says the report. Caritas Social Action Network confirm that the Trussell Trust only account for around half of all foodbanks. A research project conducted by the CSAN last year found that 21 CSAN members deliver food programmes, had cooked 153,465 meals in 27 separate food projects

 

The Trussell Trust reports that in 2010, there were 54 foodbanks, today the number has increased to 423. Some 41,000 people went to foodbanks n 2009/10, compared to 913,000 being given three days emergency food and support last year (330,000 were children). Some 8,318 tonnes of food was donated by the public in last 12 months. 30,000 people have volunteered at foodbanks over the past year. 27,000 frontline care professionals such as doctors or care workers have vouchers to issue for foodbanks.

 


The Trussell Trust statistics show that 45% of food bank referrals are due to benefit delays and changes, including sanctions and 22% cite low income as the main trigger for the crisis. “Substantial numbers are needing help because of problems with the social security system but what's new is that we're also seeing a marked rise in numbers of people coming to us with 'low income' as the primary cause of their crisis,"  said David McAuley, chief executive of the Trussell Trust. “Incomes for the poorest have not been increasing in line with inflation and many, whether in low paid work or on welfare, are not yet seeing the benefits of economic recovery. Instead, they are living on a financial knife edge where one small change in circumstances or a ‘life shock’ can force them into a crisis where they cannot afford to eat.”

 

Liz Firth, the development worker at the church charity Wellsprings Togethr in Bradford, says that there has been a massive increase in food poverty over the past 18 months. “We are trying to map existing provision, get a sense of why people are needing food, ensure the food projects have the means they need to provide their service. We'd love to move the debate on from food banks and to look more to seeing food banks as a necessary evil but not as a long-term solution. It's a tricky balance to appreciate and value the service provided and the efforts of those involved but there is no dignity in asking for food,” said  Ms Firth. “I worry that in Bradford we're still seeing those in need as people worthy of help because we're Christians and we want to respond in love but we're not really questioning why they are in that situation or if we are we're blaming them rather than the system.”

 

Niall Cooper, director of Church Action on Poverty, is concerned that foodbanks and food aid become institutionalised, as has happened in Canada. They were introduced in Canada in the early 1980s in what was perceived as a tough economic time. There are now 700 foodbanks, providing help to 800,000 people. The number has increased by nearly 100,000 over the past six years – as the country has come out of economic recession. There have been an abundance of low income jobs created as part of the economic recovery. “Churches have done a fantastic job recently to meet the need but we want to avoid what happened in the States and Canada, where foodbanks were introduced as a stop gap and are still going strong today,” said Mr Cooper. “The question is where we need to go to get to a position where we don’t need foodbanks.”

 

A report, Feeding Britain, compiled by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty, at the end of last year, makes recommendations concerning changes to the benefits system, to stop delays and the implementation of the living wage to counter low pay. It’s third recommendation was to create a new generation of “super” food banks. The new foodbanks would combine food aid with welfare advice and advocacy. This network of foodbanks would bring together the existing players with supermarkets and the state.

 

Chris Mould. Chief executive of Trussell Trust, is disappointed that “the government has not responded in any practical way” to the 77 recommendations made in Feeding Britain.

 

Mr Mould is happy to see the function of foodbanks expand, so that they offer things like debt, benefits and budgets advice. He does not though want to see local authorities or government taking over foodbanks as such. “When asked, the churches across the country have stepped up to help neighbours in trouble,” said Mr Mould, who stresses foodbanks are support not a substitute for public services. “I do not believe that access to basic help should be discretionary. A modern wealthy country like the UK should have public (welfare) services available – we are not a substitute for the welfare state."
Former Leeds West MP, John Battle, believes that the real issue is low pay, with the rich getting richer and the poor poorer. “This cannot be allowed to go on, with the poor effectively being left to pick up the scraps from the rich man’s table,” said Mr Battle, who insisted that the implementation of a living wage and maintaining of the welfare state is the direction in which things should be heading

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Judge slams Barts Trust for missing documents

Barts Trust came under growing pressure at the east London employment tribunal over its failure to produce documents backing up its claims against sacked trade union rep Charlotte Monro.

 
Twice during proceedings at the Anchorage House based tribunal, Judge Jonathan Ferris asked why the legal team were unable to produce key documents.

 
The first instance came in relation to a disciplinary charge against Ms Monro over what was claimed to be a breach of confidentiality regarding staff matters. “We didn’t consider the contents of the consultation evidence confidential,” said Ms Monro, under pressured questioning from the Barts Trust barrister Nadia Motraghi.

 
Judge Ferris intervened to state that the tribunal could do with seeing the consultation document which had gone missing.



The judge also pulled up Ms Motraghi over what he considered to be a “bludgeoning” of Ms Monro.
 
The second missing document concerned a listing of Ms Monro’s convictions back in the 1970s. The convictions had been one of the grounds for Ms Monro’s original dismissal.

 
Ms Monro had failed to declare the convictions when she first applied and obtained her job at Whipps Cross hospital in 1987.

 

It was when Ms Monro was asked to complete a CRB check in March 2013 to reveal any convictions that she openly went to her line manager explaining the situation.

 

She was assured that it was clear she was no risk to patients or public and as the convictions were so long ago it was unlikely to be a problem, but advice would be sought about process.
 
She heard nothing till four months later after she had spoken to the local council scrutiny committee the convictions were added later to accusations relating to her union activities.

 

Previously, Judge Jonathan Ferris picked up on the point that it had taken just five days to present the charges relating to the other accusations against Ms Monro but took 80 days (from March) relating to the convictions question

 
The judge though was less than happy about the failure on this occasion to provide the original document with the convictions listed, presenting instead “an inadequate photocopy.”

 
Judge Ferris questioned whether the Trust had lost the original document. “The Trust has got no business losing it,” said Judge Ferris. “The basis of what is on the document is central to the dismissal.”

*Judge slams Trust for missing documents" - Morning Star - 17/3/2015

 

 

Saturday, 14 March 2015

NHS worker Charlotte Monro claims she was sacked for trade union activities

NHS trade union rep Charlotte Monro has claimed she was sacked from her job as a moving and handling co-ordinator in the stroke unit at Whipps Cross hospital due to her trade union activities.


 Monro was dismissed by Barts Trust after she addressed the Waltham Forest Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee in June 2013 in her capacity as a Unison rep about bed reduction at the stroke service.


 She was also charged with prematurely disclosing information about job losses to her union members and later with failure to disclose criminal convictions that arose out of political activities in her 20s.


Addressing the resumed employment tribunal hearing at Anchorage House in the Docklands Monro declared that “my attendance to speak at the Scrutiny Committee was the trigger for my suspension and the Trust's investigation.”


It was a matter of days after she made this address that Barts Trust acted, suspending Monro and launching its investigation.


“I have been dismissed for activities I undertook in my union capacity and demand the protection I am entitled to under the law. If this (dismissal) is allowed to stand it will give a message not just to the Trust but to other NHS employers that they can at will class union activity as personal conduct of an individual employee and take action against them where they may perceive a challenge to some agenda,” said Monro, stressing that her case was really about the right of trade unions to operate in the NHS.


“It will reinforce an approach to unions that does not respect their independence and right to organise, free from interference by an employer and that union reps are equal partners to reach mutual agreement on how relations are conducted,” said Monro. “In the prevailing conditions within the NHS and public services this has to be a matter of wider concern.”


Monro highlighted how with the exceptions of the non-declaration of convictions allegation, all of the others related to her trade union activities.


On the question of the convictions, she suggested these were included in order that the Trust could justify the decision to dismiss her. “The real reason was my trade union activities,” she said.


Her suspension at the time concerned effectively took Monro out of wider discussions about reorganisation at Whipps Cross hospital. She had previously campaigned vigorously with the union to save the hospital.

14/3/2015  "NHS whistleblower slams sacking" - see:www.morningstaronline.co.uk

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Stations of the cross depicted in pictures of injustice from around the world

Chilean photo journalist Carlos Reyes Manzo has put together a remarkable set of pictures from around the world representing the stations of the cross.


The stations, on display at Harecourt United Reformed Church in north London, begin with Jesus in condemned to death depicted with the picture of a prisoner bound in South Africa at the funeral of 21 other prisoners who died in a cell fire during a protest for the right to vote in the 1994 elections.

The fourth station: Jesus meets his mother is reflected in a picture of Rosa Elvira Franco Sandoval, mother of María Isabel Velíz Franco 15, who was abducted, raped, tortured and murdered in Guatemala in December 2001. 

The scene of Simon of Sirene taking the cross is reflected in a 1996 picture that Carlos took of people migrating Nepal to India in search of work.


Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem is reflected with a picture of mothers marching for justice for their missing and murdered daughters on VDay  Ciudad Juarez, Mexico in 2004.


The crucifixion scene is captured with a picture of a man terminally ill in Uganda with HIV/Aids.


Jesus dies on the cross is represented by a picture of eight crosses in the desert in Mexico. These crosses were put up in Lomas de Poleo, Mexico, where the bodies of eight young women were found in 1996.


The Salvation Army hostel for the homeless Mumbai, India 1996 is used to represent Jesus being taken down from the cross.


The final image of Jesus being laid in the tomb is reflected in a picture of  the family mourning the death of a teenager  killed by the paramilitary police in Brazil.


The pictures are drawn from Carlos work documenting scenes of injustice across the world over the past 40 years, from Latin America, the Middle East and Africa to the streets of London.


Carlos recalled how Jesus became a refugee in Africa. “So why are we treating African refugees as criminals,” said Carlos.  


 *The station will be open for viewing at Harecourt URC, 12 St Pauls Road, N1 2LR during Holy Week Monday March 30th--Thursday April 2nd 2-6pm Good Friday from 12-6pm (service from 2-3.30pm)


13/3/2015
"Dramatic stations of the cross captured in photo exhibition" - see Universe
"Injustice stations of the cross" - see Catholic Times

 

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Climate change marchers demand action from indolent politicians

Climate campaigners came out in their thousands to march and demand action on climate change from corporate centred politicians
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace, contrasted the urgency with which politicians and business moved to address the financial crisis with the dithering and inaction displayed when it comes to dealing with climate change.
He highlighted the battle ahead against corporate interests that continue to peddle fossil fuels. Sauven highlighted Shell’s move back to oil exploration in the arctic, a move ironically only made feasible by the thawing of glaciers, caused by global warming. “No company should be able to profit from the impact they are having on the well being of the planet,” said Sauven.

The Greenpeace executive director quoted Denmark as an example of a country acting to counter climate change with its commitment to go fossil fuel free. “We can have clean energy and clean jobs if we stick together, “ said Sauven.
Bert Wander from Avaaz, which helped raise a petition to ensure that the march was able to go ahead, pointed out that renewables are getting cheaper and being rolled out across the world. The growth of the divestment movement in relation to those contributing to climate change was cited as another positive development.

Wander called for campaigners to ensure that the four words “zero emissions by 2050” remained part of the climate change agreement due to be enacted by governments in Paris at the end of the year.
The 15,000 strong march made its way along Holborn onto the Strand past Trafalgar Square to the final rally on St Stephens Green outside Parliament. Led by the cyclists, the march processed along in the spring sunshine.
Each had their own way of bearing witness, one man in a bright green outfit protesting against radioactive waste took a refreshing lager at the Coal hole pub. Another woman carried a banner calling to banprivate carsinlondon.com. Outside Downing Street, ten protesters lined up spelling out “Time to Cycle.”
Groups from across the country were represented on the march from Operation Noah, Christian Ecology Link, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to trade unions like Unite, Unison and the Fire Brigade Union (FBU). The Green Party were also well in evidence.

At the rally, Kat Hobbs from Campaign Against the Arms Trade called for government funds to be moved from weapons to addressing climate change. “The government is handing billions to arms companies,” said Hobbs, who said there is something seriously wrong when 25 times more is being spent on developing weapons than renewables.
Gary Shrubsole, a Friends of the Earth campaigner, highlighted the success of the battle to stop fracking, with moratoriums in Scotland and Wales, with life being made increasingly difficult for frackers in England.
“We’ve got the six energy companies on the run – there is a crisis of trust and profit,” said Shrubsole, who paid tribute to the 500,000 households that now have solar panels on their roofs.

Green Pary MP Caroline Lucas declared that people have the power and they are saying no to fossil fuels and climate change.

She claimed the technology to tackle climate change is already there, what is now needed is the political will to make it happen.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, called for energy to be taken back into public ownership.

Labour MP John McDonnell called for people to come and help his community in Hayes and Harlington in the latest stage of the fight to stop a third runway being built at Heathrow airport.