3 May 2015

Wow. In one of the latest election leaflets of Andrew George and the Libdems, it says inter alia

“Andrew George and the Liberal Democrats get results. He has:
secured an £800 income tax cut for 22 000 local workers
taken the poorest out of income tax altogether
halved the deficit…
increased the basic state pension…”

He has? He has? Andrew George has halved the deficit and cut taxes and… Wow, and wow again. Well, certainly he has – there’s that phrase again – added to the gaiety of the general election.

George’s claims

Aside from the he has, George’s financial claims are selective.

For a wider account of the impact of Tory Libdem financial changes 2010-2015 read the comprehensive work by the Institute for fiscal studies (IFS). This looks at the impact of tax changes and cuts to benefits on incomes.
The effect of the coalition’s tax and benefit changes on household incomes and work incentives James BROWNE and William ELMING, IFS, January 2015)

See also Low-income working age households and the very richest have lost the most from tax and benefit changes, with pensioners and upper-middle income groups largely protected (IFS March 2015)

The IFS finds: “Low-income working-age households have lost the most as a percentage of their income from tax and benefit changes introduced by the coalition…” (Browne and Elming 2015, Executive summary to the report). Now you can rewrite the leaflet of Andrew George. He has…

What all the wise men promised would happen has not happened and what all the damned fools said would happen has come to pass (Lord Melbourne)

The other day the Department for work and pensions (DWP) quietly published a report on the first five months (April-August 2013) of the working of the bedroom tax. There are problems with the report (as discussed excellently by Joe Halewood here) but it found a minimal number of social rent tenants had downsized in the social rent sector, extremely few had moved into the private rented sector, a fifth of tenants had paid not a penny of the shortfall in rent caused for them by the bedroom tax benefit cut, and those tenants who had paid all or some were cutting back on some essentials.

It wasn’t supposed to be like that. No wonder the DWP put out the report as the Cabinet reshuffle filled the news.

What was it supposed to be like?

First, let me remind you that Tories and Libdems (with very few Libdem exceptions) backed the introduction of the bedroom tax to the hilt and in the face of clear monitory advice that the ill-effects that have indeed come to pass would do so. The Tory Libdem government were obdurate about the tax, including the difficulties it would cause to adult disabled people, while shouting it was fair, that fuzziness so loved by Libdems.

The Huffington Post has a scarring record of Nick Clegg’s support for the tax on eight occasions.

The Tories and Libdems said the tax would persuade social rent tenants living in a house deemed too large for their needs would move into a smaller house. Opponents pointed out there were not enough smaller houses; this policy would not happen; it hasn’t, it turns out that there are not enough smaller houses.

Opponents pointed out the difficulties that would be caused to adult disabled tenants; the Tories and Libdems ploughed on; and the difficulties have indeed happened.

Opponents warned of serious financial difficulties with an impact on their everyday lives would be caused to tenants already poor; the Tory Libdems persisted while crying fairness; the adverse impacts have happened.

The numbers affected by the tax are problematic and the promised savings have not come about.

Libdems and the bedroom tax

The Libdem party has said the tax should be radically changed. This is hardly a response to surprise evidence: the DWP report covers only the first five months of the tax and the adverse impacts were well rehearsed before it came into force. No, this is more a Westminster than a Damascus conversion: Libdem policy is now influenced by 6 May 2015, the next general election. Having spent four years up to their elbows in reactionary Tory policies, Libdems now wish us to believe they are not Tories: the Land Registry will not be privatised, nor tuition fee loans, the wisdom of 6 May.

The damaging reorganisation and privatisation of the NHS, free schools, tuition fees, abolition of the farmworkers pay board, hit-the-poor welfare changes … Libdems voted for all these. The Libdems were also at the heart of the sell off of part of Royal Mail for what amounts to a £1 billion loss to the taxpayer.

Cornwall MPs and the bedroom tax

The record is brutal. Andrew George (Libdem St Ives) has consistently opposed the tax and he has a private member’s bill that will repeal it. (He has also opposed several of the other toxic Tory Libdem policies.)

For how Stephen Gilbert and Dan Rogerson (Libdem, St Austell and Newquay; North Cornwall) have voted on the bedroom tax see my post Cornwall Libdem MPs support-oppose-who-knows bedroom tax (14 February 2014). The three Tory MPs have backed it.

I just watch

Well, I think it’s going to be fun reading what the Libdem party says now the election draws close. As Will Rogers very nearly said: I don’t make jokes. I just watch the Liberal Democrats and report the facts.

Lord Melbourne (William Lamb): 1779-1848, Whig/Liberal prime minister

Will Rogers: 1879-1935, USA political comedian etc


9 October 2013

Back from a break I came across two small items about Cornwall that warmed me.

Deprivation in Cornwall
On the blog I have argued repeatedly against the simplistic Victim Cornwall agenda. I have said that Cornwall is not one place and the circumstances of life vary across the county. It is inaccurate and unhelpful to talk as though all Cornwall was seriously deprived; the indexes of deprivation show vast variation in Cornwall.

Consider this comment:

“Cornwall as a whole is not deprived but there are areas where there are very high levels of deprivation”.

Exactly what I have been saying, sounds like me, but it is not me. This comes from Cornwall Council, page 5 of the introduction to the equality impact assessment guidance version 7 here.

In response to nationalist/Libdem simplism about the unfair funding of the NHS (and other public services) in Cornwall, I have argued that the allocation of health funds among health authorities is “extremely complex”. It is important to keep moving towards giving every NHS its target funding by carefully reducing the overfunding in some areas and increasing it in underfunded others but “no government can withdraw overfunding from an area all in one go because it would cause chaos in the NHS in that area”.

Yes, that sounds like me and is exactly what I have been saying. But these cited words are not mine; they come from Andrew George, Libdem MP for St Ives, making a somewhat quiet argument for more NHS funding for Cornwall (Cornishman 26 September 2013).

Here are some posts on Cornwall and NHS funding and deprivation
Cornwall, one of eighty eight 17 December 2012
Poverty by parish in Cornwall 21 May 2012
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, where’s the poorest of us all 21 March 2013

One of the themes of the blog is that it isn’t just Cornwall. I am not talking about an understandable, legitimate, and practical focus on one’s locality; we all wish for the very best for where we live. However, the funding ills of Cornwall, which nationalism says are down to unfairness from the UK central government, affect many counties and cities in England. Cornwall isn’t singled out. I explored this in the post The dismal party where I deplored the grievance agenda of Cornwall hard done by, Cornwall singled out for disfavour, the Victim Cornwall burden of a narrow nationalism.

A stark example is the funding of the NHS. To recap briefly, a funding formula, along with the market forces factor, decides what each area should receive to deliver a service which, allowing for the different circumstance of the areas, is equal across England. This is the target allocation of funds. For historic reasons some areas get more and some less than target; the unjustified funding differences cannot responsibly be put right overnight and somewhat slowly they are ending. Cornwall is one of those that gets less; it is funded under target. The Advisory Council on Resource Allocation has developed a new allocations formula which should be published later this month (Hansard 11 December column 52WH) though that might throw up new problems (see the 2012 posts linked at the foot).

Rightly, this underfunding of the NHS Cornwall is remarked; but too often it is in a way that might be read as suggesting that Cornwall is unique in this. I put in the Earlier posts section posts in which I have discussed NHS funding in England, pointing out that we are not singled out and that underfunding happens to other places in England too.

The other day in a useful debate on the health service in Cornwall that he initiated Andrew George, the Libdem MP for St Ives, reasonably pointed to the underfunding of Cornwall over several years. However, he said: “This year sixty one primary care trusts will receive a total of £1.3 billion over target while eighty eight PCTs, one of which is Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, will receive £1.3 billion below target” (Hansard 11 December 2012 column 50WH).

Quite. It isn’t just Cornwall and the argument for more funding for Cornwall has to be made in the context of all the eighty eight and the responsible righting of the unjustified funding gaps between all the NHS areas. The case is for every area to receive its target funding, Cornwall, yes, most certainly, and all the rest. Andrew George has got it right.

Earlier posts
What’s fair funding for the NHS in Cornwall? 20 June 2007
“Is this Victim Cornwall syndrome again? Education, water and sewerage, housing, health: do we really believe that someone is sitting in London gleefully doing down the people of Cornwall, deliberately singling Cornwall out for unfair funding?”

The dismal party 12 February 2008
“This goes beyond the usual stuff from any group anywhere demanding their area gets the very best from central government and complaining if another does better. They appear shackled to a grievance agenda. I realise that party politics is about keeping things simple and partisan but it is dismaying that there are few attempts in Cornwall to explain the conflicting claims faced by any government trying to achieve fairness in the redistribution of national funds to very different parts of the country and to explain the full background to hard government funding…We should engage people in a debate about what is fair funding across Britain rather than presenting national decisions simplistically as only sources for local grievance, the usual nonsense of Cornwall hard done by, Cornwall singled out for disfavour.”

Higher NHS funding for Cornwall 15 December 2008

Funding health in Cornwall 8 June 2010

Health funding: Cornwall would gain from new inequalities 18 May 2012

Health funding: new inequalities and Cornwall 27 April 2012

This post looks at the intersection of the financial issues of the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Tust (RCHT) and the Tory Libdem government’s localisation of pay which I have explored here several times.

The RCHT is one of the England NHS organisations which are working “in concert” in the Southwest Consortium on Pay and Terms and Conditions of staff. A key aim is to look at how to reduce their pay costs. The government has imposed NHS cuts/savings of £20 billion; the RCHT also has a debt to pay off.

The RCHT has to be financially up to moving to foundation status by 2014 or face merger into another trust. In a debate in the Commons on 16 July 2012 Andrew George, Libdem MP for St Ives, read from a letter to him from the chief executive of the RCHT (Hansard column 740). She appears to have clearly set out the genuine financial issues that the RCHT faces and the savings it needs to make to be financially sound according to Monitor which regulates foundation trusts; and the Consortium/RCHT “is looking at how pay costs may be reduced” while simultaneously keeping staff morale up and patients safe. That balancing strikes me as possible but a very difficult task.

The Tory Libdem government is (or possibly is not) exploring localising pay in the public service; that is, reducing it. This circumstance, along with the demand for hefty spending cuts in the NHS, feeds concerns that the Consortium will lead to pay cuts and worsened work conditions at, inter alia, the RCHT.

Challenged about the possibility of all this leading to cuts in NHS pay and worse work terms and conditions, Andrew Lansley, the health secretary for England, seemed to me to be muddled. He first said the government supported “local flexibilities” in the England NHS national pay framework. Frank Dobson, a former Labour health secretary, observed, “Meaning: pay staff less in the south west”  (Hansard column 748). Lansley then said “we are not proposing any reductions in pay…I do not believe they are necessary or desirable in achieving the efficiency challenge…no proposal for the reduction in pay or the dismissal and re-engagement of staff is, in my view, necessary” (column 748).

The next day Lansley returned to this in answer to an oral question from George:

“…trusts and NHS employers are responsible for the terms and conditions of their staff, and for ensuring, as Agenda for Change intends to, that staff who effectively have the same knowledge and competences have the same pay banding, wherever they happen to be across the country. That is the objective of Agenda for Change. As I said yesterday, and will continue to say, Agenda for Change can be improved — we made that clear to the pay review body — but we think it is possible, if the staff side works with us, to enhance Agenda for Change and increase its flexibilities, so that NHS employers can recruit, retain and motivate their staff, with local flexibility, in a national pay framework” (Hansard 17 July 2012 column 841).

There you have it. The message is: Reducing pay in the NHS is unnecessary and undesirable; the same pay band throughout England for people with the same skills and knowledge; local flexibilities in pay; looking how pay costs may be reduced.

This muddle has perhaps been cleared up a little. A leaked copy of the current thinking of the Consortium is apparently here.

This suggests, for example, exploring an increase in work hours and reviewing annual holiday entitlements which I am sure means reducing holidays not increasing them. I think that both of these are equivalent to reducing pay rates.

It looks as though Dobson is basically right, doesn’t it: “Meaning: pay staff less in the south west”. In any case I reckon that reducing pay costs (about two thirds of RCHT costs) without reducing pay or worsening work terms and conditions or reducing staff numbers or damaging recruitment and pursuing flexible sameness and maintaining patient safety demands first-class dexterity and cooperation from everyone.

It is unrealistic to expect the NHS to be wholly insulated from the financial and economic problems of Britain and the world. The argument is not about bringing down the UK deficit but about the rate at which that is done so as not to damage the economy further; and how far everyone is being required to pay their share of tax and take their share of austerity – and whether the present difficulties are being used to mask the unmandated, scarcely discussed reactionary reshaping of Britain by the Tory Libdem government.

Oh, you might like to turn to the views from the Care Quality Commission about the  Serco out-of-hours GP service in Cornwall and about staffing levels at Wheal Agar ward at the RCHT hospital at Treliske.


26 September 2011

Andrew George, Libdem MP for St Ives, recently said that altogether “two thirds” of what he called “unfettered” Liberal Democrat MPs rebelled against the Health and social care bill (the health bill) in various votes on it.

Let me suggest another way of looking at this.

The official record of the make-your-mind-up final vote, the third reading vote, in the Commons reveals the shame of the Libdem party (Hansard 7 September 2011 column 497).

There are 57 Libdem MPs and 41 of them supported the health bill on third reading (40 votes for and a teller).

How many of the 57 voted against? Get your heavy duty calculator out. Are you ready for this? Okay? Four. Yes, that’s right, just four. Let me repeat that. How many Libdem MPs voted against the health bill at third reading? Four and only one of them from a Cornwall seat, namely Andrew George to his credit. There were also abstentions.

George has also now described what happened as “my almost sole rebellion against the health bill” which suggests the cold and cruel reality of four has trumped two thirds.

It’s been a joint Conservative Liberal Democrat bill from the start; indeed, the bill passed in the Commons only because Liberal Democrats voted for it; it would have failed had that forty one voted against. They’re up to their armpits in it.

None of this is a surprise. The coalition Liberal Democrats have supported every reactionary measure the Tories have introduced and only a progressive handful have dissented in vain. Truly the orange poodle party.

The extant and details of the rebellion by Libdem MPs on third reading is set out on the Public Whip and the Social Liberal Forum.

Nick Clegg and the Libdems are asking us to believe that they have taken the Tories by the scruff of the neck, shaken the nasty party hard, and rewritten the NHS bill (that is, the Health and social care bill) which they were against all along. This is brazenly rewriting history.

The original NHS bill was introduced with the total support of Nick Clegg who signed it off in the Tory Libdem cabinet. Not a single Libdem MP voted against the original bill at second reading (Hansard 31 January 2011 column 605 ff).

The Spectator of 6 April 2011 ran the wry item ‘Nick Clegg was claiming that the NHS reforms were the Lib Dems’ idea just three months ago,’ a reference to Clegg on the Andrew Marr program on 23 January 2011.

What changed?

The opposition and concern of many health professionals, the local elections, disastrous for the Libdems, and public opposition reflected in the vast NHS petition through the website 38 degrees, along with a fortuitously timed conference of Libdems from outside parliament which hammered the bill. The lemmings stopped at the cliff edge.

It makes sense to listen and change when there is such a confluence of events and people but trying to rewrite history is undignified and unpersuasive. However, the Libdems are desperate to find areas where they may safely and popularly disagree totemically with their Tory allies while remaining in government with them.

Is the Libdem party trying to save the NHS or trying to save its skin? But it is a famous victory … of Clegg over Clegg, of Libdems today over Libdems of 31 January.

Cornwall notes
Andrew George, Libdem MP for St Ives, said in the Commons debate on 31 January 2011 that he would not vote for the second reading of the bill; nor did he. However, he did not vote against it then either but he has been consistent and outspoken in his robust criticism of the bill from the start. Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) voted for second reading. No vote is recorded for Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay).

It was a famous victory: a satirical refrain in the poem Battle of Blenheim by Robert Southey.


15 September 2010

Andrew George, Libdem MP for St Ives, has put down several amendments to the votes bill. I don’t know whether all or any will be debated and voted on.

One amendment, which would apply to all principal local authority areas such as counties, would make all our constituencies wholly within the Cornwall county boundary, none crossing it into Devon, if there is near-universal agreement. Another would reduce the Commons to five hundred members from its present 650 and from the 600 proposed by the Tory Libdem government; and another would introduce weighted whipped votes in the Commons.

Read the amendments here. And read the bill here.

Related posts
Will Cornwall spill over? 7 July 2010
Boundaries 9 September 2010
Boundaries 3 17 September 2010
Boundaries 4 11 October 2010
Boundaries 5 24 November 2010


10 August 2010

Last year there was a story with a startling contrast. Andrew George, Libdem MP for St Ives, lived in his £300 000 Rotherhithe flat while working in Parliament in London and a constituent from west Cornwall lived in a £30 tent in Epping Forest while working in London. You can read that story here but it appeared in similar form in many newspapers. And here are instructive and contrasting comments on the newspaper reports from Philip Hanman, the man who lived in the tent; scroll to the sixth item, Intent to protest?

Now there is an update to the story. And here too.

ADDENDUM 16 August 2010: Here’s a by-story.

Four Cornwall MPs represent their parties as members of the House of Commons select committees:

EUSTICE George (Conservative Camborne and Redruth) Environment, food, and rural affairs select committee
GEORGE Andrew (LD St Ives) Health
GILBERT Stephen (LD St Austell and Newquay) Communities and local government
ROGERSON Dan (LD North Cornwall) Environment, food, and rural affairs