Monday, 29 February 2016

Funeral mass of Louise Zanre marks a light burning ever bright for social justice

The funeral of Louise Zanre brought together people from the social justice world and beyond. Louise was a social justice activist from the very root of her being.

When I first knew her she was working for Pax Christi with Pat Gaffney. She then moved on to become director at the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). We did a number of interviews, one I always remember at the Thistle hotel, Charing Cross, discussing refugees. That was not long after the time when the late Dr David Kelly had had one of his meetings at the same venue discussing the vagaries of the so called weapons of mass destruction in Iraq with a journalist.

Louise was always good for an authentic quote or briefing about what was really going on in the world of refugees. There have been many tributes to Louise since she died at the age of 47, mostly concerning her great work for refugees and justice.

Louise though was not one dimensional, she had a family. Her husband sadly died a few years ago. Her father also died quite recently. She also had a wider family as was displayed by all of those who turned up to her funeral mass at the Jesuits church in Farm Street.

The homily was delivered by Father Dermot Preston SJ, who hit exactly the right note. He told of Louise’s life, her work the need for Church and society to reach out generously to refugees. The sense of mission, some may not have found it yet, some may be looking for a new direction. Louise was fixed in her mission from an early age and stuck with that to the end.

The number of those who came from across the social justice world to the mass was amazing. There were refugees who had been helped by JRS, Chris Bain, director of CAFOD, Christine Allen, former director of Progressio and now director of policy at Christian Aid, Julian Filochowski, former director of CAFOD, Neil Jameson, chief executive of Citizens UK, Helen O'Brien , former director of Caritas Social Action Network and Ellen Teague from the Columban Peace and Justice team. The whole ambit of people from across the world that Louise had touched – some tribute.

It was the world of the Church doing justice, people out there in the real world doing something to try and help others. A world, sad as it is some way from the sterile existence of the institutional church, going through rituals that continue to keep women marginalised and a bunch of men, who like dressing up, in the ascendancy.

So although another important one of the number of those actively working for social justice in the world is now gone, the light of justice continues to burn brightly. The mass today was the celebration of the life of someone who has contributed so much to the cause of social justice in the world. The torch has now been passed onto others to ensure that that light continues to burn ever brighter.    

Friday, 26 February 2016

Secured Investment Bond investors being sold out by Financial Conduct Authority

It is very difficult not to think that wronged Secured Energy Bond (SEB) investors are being led a merry dance by the so called regulatory authorities in the UK.

Having seen over £5 million of what they invested to put solar panels on 22 schools whisked away by the Australian parent company CBD Energy (in total contravention of the stated purpose of the mini-bond), investors thought that their representative on the board of the SEB company might have done something to safeguard their interests. This afterall was what Independent Portfolio Managers (IPM) were there to do as board member and security trustee relating to SEB.

Investors believe IPM singularly failed in that aspect, to either check into the validity of the so called "secured" product that they were underwriting or safeguard investors money when it looked as though it was all heading to Australia.

Investors were directed by the FCA and treasury minister Harriet Baldwin to the Financial Ombudsman to seek restitution - if IPM turned down their initial claims.

Investors followed the path recommended, only to find it to be a total wild goose chase. First, the FOS adjudicator seemed sympathetic indicating that they could look at the case. IPM then challenged this opinion. A new adjudicator came in and took over the case, overturning the first opinion and issuing a drastically different adjudication saying that investors could not complain - the line being that IPM had not conducted a regulated activity that they could look at and there was no customer relationship  between the company and SEB investors.

Investors were invited to make representations, prior to the case going onto an Ombudsman for final adjudication to decide whether or not investors could complain. However, before this could happen, the FCA issued a statement saying: “Investors can approach the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), in relation to the approval of financial promotions by Independent Portfolio Managers Ltd (IPM). However, investors should note that it is unlikely their complaint will succeed if it is based wholly on IPM’s role as approver of a financial promotion – the firm would need to have carried on another activity in addition to approving the financial promotion (for example, advising the investor, or arranging the transaction for them).”

The implications of this declaration are serious for a far wider group of investors, than just those caught up in the SEB debacle. The policy will mean that  any FCA authorised company could approve any advertisement without worrying what was in it - there would be no come back, certainly not via the FOS.
SEB investors sense a stitch up, as though it has all been decided that they will not receive any recompense for the injustice perpetuated against them, even before the case has been considered by an ombudsman .

So where to now for the investors? They have been directed by the FCA to the FOS to seek a remedy in their case, yet this has so far proved a fruitless trail. At present investors believe they are simply being led down blind allies with a view to their eventually giving up the fight. This is not likely to happen, given the injustice at the heart of the whole SEB debacle.

The process thus far also raises wider questions about the integrity of the regulatory framework in this country and whether it is in anyway fit for purpose. There are questions that should concern everyone:

* What is the point of the FCA having rules on advertisements being "fair, clear and not misleading," if they can be contravened by an FCA authorised firm which approves a promotion but leaves investors unable to effectively bring a complaint to the FOS.

* Are the UK authorities going to turn a blind eye and let a foreign company, which has issued so called secured mini-bonds to get away with the mass extraction of investors funds to bail out its failing  company back home, in total contravention of the stated purpose of the bond. 

If the aforesaid is true it provides a model for any fraudster to prey on investors. So will the regulators and get on with what they are paid to do which is regulate? 

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Paul Canoville talks about overcoming racism as the first black footballer to play for Chelsea

Former Chelsea footballer Paul Canoville recalled the horrendous racist abuse he had received from his own fans whilst warming up to make his debut against Crystal Palace in 1982.

“I was warming up and there were the heckles and racist chants from our own fans, I didn’t expect it,” said Paul, who was the first black player to play for Chelsea. He recalled on returning to the dressing room, after the Palace game, how his team mates did not know what to say.

Three years later, things had got better. Paul recalled coming on as a substitute in a cup match with Sheffield Wednesday, scoring two goals and setting up two. “I was applauded by the fans,” said Paul, whose problems with racism extended into the dressing room, where he got into a fight with another player who had called him an ape. “Chelsea didn’t back me,” said Paul, who then went to Reading FC.
Paul Canoville retired early through injury but had more heartache, getting addicted to drugs and having cancer. He overcame both conditions. Paul also suffered heartbreak in 1995, when his son Tye, who had a heart defect, died in his arms. Paul had 11 children.

Paul though rebuilt his life, being asked by Chelsea in 2004 to talk to some children. He later became a classroom assistant. He also does workshops in prisons. His autobiography “Black and Blue” (2008) won a number of awards. Last year, there was a Sky documentary titled Black and Blue: the Paul Canoville story chronicling his remarkable life.

Paul is a strong advocate for black players in the game and their advancement onto the managerial ladder. He is particularly angry at the denial of the possibility to black players of becoming managers in the Premiership. “We played and thought we’d be given a chance but we’re not getting that chance. It is upsetting us a lot – there is the question of how we overcome barriers,” said Paul, who spoke of a scheme in the US NFL whereby a BAME person has to be interviewed for major coaching positions. This ofcourse could become a cosmetic exercise but it would be a start.

The former footballer was also critical of the authorities for showing a lack of support for womens football. “The FA are not supporting women’s football,” said Paul.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Semi-conscious reality created by internet world

Sitting on a bus the other day I witnessed the increasingly semi-conscious world in which we now live. A guy jumped on, as the doors were closing. He was on his mobile phone to someone. The driver and passengers waited patiently for the man to touch in with his Oyster card, but no his conversation was far more important. Eventually he sensed the growing discontent and touched in. The bus moved on.

This instance is not untypical. In the supermarket, an individual arrives at the check-out with mobile phone seemingly surgically attached to her ear. At the same time she is gesticulating rudely at the check-out staff as to what she wants to happen regarding her shopping. Heaven forfend that she rings off and deal direct with the matter in hand.

These incidents are all too typical of the increasingly double existence that many people live. There is the physical daily life and the growing virtual reality world of the internet and mobile phone. Enter a train carriage to find the two worlds colliding.

Some on the phone or laptop, others still maybe talking and inter-relating to those around them.

A road accident occurs, some people move to help before the arrival of the emergency services. Another group films it on their phones.

Internet and mobile technology have produced the single biggest change in the way in which we live of the past century. So much is now done on line, with ever more migration in that direction. The knowledge on offer with just a couple of clicks on the computer is breathtaking, the new horizons incredible. However, there are many other implications of the internet revolution, both physiological and psychological.

Take Facebook. The whole phenomenon of Facebook has transformed the concept of friends. People sign up Facebook friends across the spectrum, from people they know well to others who are maybe friends of friends or share certain interests.
Another phenomenon of the virtual reality world is the willingness of people to share the most intimate details of their life on line. So people will share pregnancy scans and other details with virtual strangers. If the sharer of this information was to meet some of the people they share such information with, in say a tube train, they would probably be horrified if they even spoke to them. It is a very strange world

The oddity of the medium was underlined to me recently when attending a party. There was another person at the party who was a Facebook and twitter link. We had exchanged views on various political issues. It would have been nice to talk. Yet it was only later when, via Facebook, she was thanking the person, who had invited her to the party, that I realised she was there. Indeed on recollection I think I was probably standing right next to her at one point. We later exchanged greetings (on Facebook) and vowed to do better next time when the physical reality world recurred.

There is also a growing belief that rather than open up people’s minds, devices like Facebook and twitter are actually putting people into ever more closed silos, where prejudices are reinforced by an exchange of  views with those of a like mind. This can strengthen prejudices or indeed bring solidarity.

Some studies have found that many of those flocking to say Donald Trump in the US operate in these sorts of environments. Views are reinforced in the virtual world, dismissing anything outside. The same happens on other issues. In the case of my own Facebook friends, many are Jeremy Corbyn supporters and there tends to be reinforcement process going on there amid the generally hostile attacks of the right wing media against the labour leader. A "they all hate us but we don't care" bunker type attitude can develop from such exchanges.

Moving forward where does this all lead? On the physical level, with ever more work centering on computer terminals there are the growing levels of sedentary existence. This will have medical implications, with increasing levels of things like obesity.

Then there is the growing gap between what might be called the physical and the virtual world. The latter seems to increasingly be taking over from the former. There is likely to be a loss of inter-social skills. In physical and mental terms the internet revolution could be atomising and making individuals more isolated.

There is much to consider in terms of where the internet revolution is leading us – will it be the nirvana of freedom and knowledge or a short cut to the ultimate 1984 controlled world of Citizen Smith?

Sunday, 14 February 2016

What's happening to Eastbourne pier?

What is happening to Eastbourne pier? I remember being on the beach that tragic day in 2014 when the fire took hold. The blaze did horrendous damage  but the response of the community was magnificent - a real rallying round to support the rebuilding of this great structure.

The work to repair the pier pushed ahead, at one time well ahead of schedule. However, I together with many others have wondered what happened to the iconic blue room. It has not been replaced, instead an open space exists where the once great building resided.

Now, not only has the restoration not been fully completed but the pier has been flogged off to Sheikh Abid Gulzar. He has wasted no time taking possession, naming the pier as “Sheikh’s pier.”

The fishermen and women and the whole community based world that existed at the end of the pier are to be swept away. No notice it would seem has been taken of the 2,300 petition of protest.

The worry must be that what was once a community orientated space premised on the common good of all will simply become a rich man’s play thing.

The council would also do well to take note, given its ongoing concern for the tourist appeal of the town. The pier plays an important part in the overall image of Eastbourne – destroying this community based icon could have repercussions that stretch well beyond the quarter mile that the pier stretches out into the sea.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Slaven Bilic ecstatic after West Ham beat Liverpool 2-1 in the FA Cup

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic could hardly contain his excitement after this thrilling FA cup tie victory over Liverpool.

The manager declared it “ a special night for our club” after Angelo Ogbonna had secured the victory with a magnificent header in the final minute of extra time.

“This will go down as one of the great nights here,” declared Bilic, who complimented Ogbonna on his “magnificent” display.

The West Ham manager also revealed a steely determination to keep star player Dimitri Payet. “Dimitri Payet is our best player and we will do all we can to keep our best players,” said Bilic, after reports indicated that the Frenchman is to be offered a new improved deal.

Deflated Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp was disappointed at his side’s failure in front of goal. “We created chances but didn’t score goals,” said Klopp, who recently discharged himself from hospital after an appendics operation.

The game was end to end from the start, with full back Joey O’Brien the first to hit the post for West Ham after being put through by Payet.

Liverpool though were quick to respond with Christian Benteke also hitting the woodwork in the 33rd minute.

Always in the action, Payet then hit the post after bending a free kick from 20 yards around the wall.

But just as it looked like things were going to remain all square at the interval, Enner Valencia weaved his way across the penalty area to send over a cross which Michail Antonio crashed in on the volley at the far post.

The lead did not last for long, when just two minutes after the interval Liverpool won a free kick just outside the penalty area. Philippe Countinho stepped up to slide the ball under the wall and into the net.

The home team were then denied a clear penatly when Tiago Llori pushed over Valencia in the area but referee Roger East waved the claims away.

The game did not slow as it moved into extra time.

First, Mark Noble had his shot turned around the corner by Simon Mignolet, then came two gilt edged chances for Benteke. The first falling perfectly for him in the centre of the penalty area with the whole goal at his mercy but the striker somehow pulled his shot wide. Then clear through on goal, keeper Randolph came out to deny Benteke with his feet.

All seemed to be heading toward penalties, when Payet hoisted over the last minute free kick to see Ogbonna rise high above the Liverpool defence and plant his header into the net. West Ham now play Blackburn in the fifth round.      

Friday, 5 February 2016

Focus on migrant benefits is attempt to lance boil of immigration

The news that Cameron’s proposed benefit changes relating to migrant workers will have little impact on the number of migrants coming to the UK is hardly surprising. The reality is that migrants come to the UK to work, not seek benefits.

Figures from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) show that EU migrants make up just 2.2% of the out of work benefits bill and 5% of tax credit recipients. 

The reality is that Cameron probably knows that the benefits for migrants issue is one big red herring that he hopes will enable him to lance the migration boil in terms of EU membership.

He must also know that the idea of cutting migration to the UK is clearly absurd. The much trumpeted economic recovery, prefaced on the creation of hundreds of thousands of low paid jobs depend almost entirely on migrant labour. It has been the tax receipts from EU migrants over recent years that have helped improve the overall outlook of the British economy. Let’s remember EU migrants pay 64% more in taxes than they take out in benefits (JCWI).

Britain’s ageing population cannot sustain itself without migration, what is needed is higher minimum standards of work and pay to ensure that migrants are not used as a force to undercut other workers. Unionisation of migrant labour is another vital prerequisite to continuing to build a  diverse, prosperous society.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Do the regulators offer any real protection to investors - the latest episode involving the Financial Ombudsman and Secured Energy Bond holders suggests not?

The 973 investors who invested £7.5 million in the now defunct Secured Energy Bonds (SEB) have been delivered yet another body blow, this time by the Financial Ombudsman.

Initially, the investors and MPS who represent them were directed by business minister Harriet Baldwin and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) toward the Financial Ombudsman (FO), with the clear message that they would be able to look into their complaints and provide some resolution.

In October, it appeared that the FO would be willing to take up the investors complaints on an individual basis. The complaints were against the Independent Portfolio Managers (IPM), which were authorized by the FCA as representative to sit on the SEB board.

One investor complaint was that IPM had sat by whilst the Australian parent body – CBD Energy – siphoned off most of the money for purposes other than those originally stipulated, namely putting solar panels on 22 schools.

IPM objected to the complainants, quoting various reasons why they did not think the FO could investigate – one of which was that there was no client relationship with investors, This despite IPM clearly using the SEB database to send out subsequent offerings for future similar products.

There was then a change of adjudicator. The new adjudicator made noises about needing to take more expert advice, prior to coming back on 28 January to tell investors that they could not take up the case.

The reality is that the FCA has drafted inadequate and deficient rules that allow authorized firms to get away with endorsing investments without any responsibility or liability.

The question now for the investors is what next? The SEB Investor Action Group has the support of more than 100 MPs, who have been pressing the Treasury and FCA as to how the situation can be resolved. The Treasury, FCA and FO have for their part been pushing the issue around between themselves, whilst the investors fall down the cracks in the regulations, perhaps hoping that investors will finally give up and go away.

This is not going to happen, as investors feel effectively robbed of their money by SEB. What is more there was a previous energy bond produced by the same company, also for £7 million, where investors also remain out of pocket.

This is a matter of total injustice. IPM took up the responsibility for overseeing investors interests as the security trustee on the board of SEB. How can they just be allowed to wash their hands of the whole debacle and carry on with business as usual as if nothing has happened? The one action they took to “safeguard” investors interests was to appoint Grant Thornton as administrators – little has emerged from this source of investigation.
The failure of the FCA to do its job as a regulator, shows a blatant disregard for investors. These people let’s remembers are the regulators that everyone is going to be relying on should future institutions crash. The record thus far in this sorry tale does anything but inspire confidence.

History of Secured Energy Bonds

*Some £7.5 million of Secured Energy Bonds were advertised in the financial press in 2013, offering 6.5% on cash invested over 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 22 schools. The investors would receive their return in the main from the feed in tariff payments on energy generated.

*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.
All went well for the first months of the bond, interest was paid on the quarter. The alarm bells though really started ringing in January 2015, when interest payments were suspended.

*It then emerged that the Australian parent company, CBD Energy, had gone into administration in November. But no worries surely the UK incorporated Secured Energy Bonds was separate – the assets must remain untouched – all £7.5 million of them.

*The Financial Conduct Authority then said it was nothing to do with them, try the security trustee IPM.

*IPM were the “security trustee” and company director 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 were appointed administrators.

*If things were not bad enough, with the funds having effectively been siphoned off to Australia to the parent company CBD Energy, instead of being used on solar panels in the UK, there was more baffling news to come.
In January 2015, CBD Energy came out of administration in Australia, having exercised a Deed of Company Arrangement – this effectively put all the debts into a creditors trust, with some small payments in the form of dividends possibly coming off of it. The company meanwhile continues to trade.

*The single act made by IPM to protect investors was bringing in Grant Thornton as administrators – their efforts thus far have proved unproductive.

* Investors were directed by business minister Harriet Baldwin and the FCA to take their complaints to the Financial Ombudsman. She subsequently changed her tune.

* 28 January FO issue an adjudicator's opinion saying they cannot deal with complaints.