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The 15-minute city – the radical shift that all towns and cities need

George Monbiot (right) notes that government – Supercharging the future of driving – still plans to spend £27 billion on building more roads, presumably to accommodate all the new electric cars it will be subsidising.

He continues: “An analysis by Transport for Quality of Life suggests that this roadbuilding will cancel out 80% of the carbon savings from a switch to electric over the next 12 years”.

He says the government seems to have no interest in systemic change:

“Everywhere, even in the government’s feted garden villages and garden towns, new developments are being built around the car. Rail policy is just as irrational. The construction of HS2, now projected to cost £106 billion, has accelerated in the past few months, destroying precious wild places along the way, though its weak business case has almost certainly been destroyed by the coronavirus”. His analysis:

Fundamentally, this is not a vehicle problem but an urban design problem

“It is an urban design problem created by our favoured vehicle. Cars have made everything bigger and further away”.

Paris, under its mayor Anne Hidalgo, is seeking to reverse this trend

Monbiot reports that, like several of the world’s major cities, London is being remodelled. The mayor, recognising that, due to Covid restrictions, fewer passengers can use public transport, has set aside road space for cycling and walking. Greater Manchester is asking government to support plans for 1800 miles of protected pedestrian and bicycle route.

Paris, under its mayor Anne Hidalgo, is seeking to reverse this trend, by creating a green “15-minute city” – a city, “reclaimed entirely by its citizen”, where everything a resident needs can be found within a short walk. Districts treated by transport planners as mere portals to somewhere else will become self-sufficient communities, each with their own shops, parks, schools and workplaces, within a 15-minute walk of everyone’s home.

Condé Nast Traveller magazine recalls that Anne Hidalgo was re-elected on a campaign promise of stronger climate action and improvements to quality of life, “In 20 years, Paris will still be Paris but in step with the times. We will get around predominantly by public transit, by bike, or on foot. Far from the era of car dominance, life will be calmer. Nature will take pride of place in the city, as it always should have,” she explained. “There will be lawns in place of concrete esplanades, and green spaces in every neighbourhood. We’ll be able to swim in the Seine, and we’ll continue to imagine and create the future with our skilled entrepreneurs, artisans, and artists”.

Instead of having a central business district, where most work and commercial activities are situated with housing further away from the centre according to price, the 15-minute city is an urban form where people can live, work and play within 15 minutes walking or cycling distance in each district. This would significantly reduce commuting time, over-reliance on cars and public transportation, and would lead to a less polluted city while improving social and economic vibrancy, as well as quality of life of the inhabitants.

Natalie Whittle explains that the concept of “la ville du quart d’heure”, developed by Sorbonne Professor Carlos Moreno, is one in which daily urban necessities are within a 15-minute reach on foot or by bike. Work, home, shops, entertainment, education and healthcare — in Moreno’s vision, should all be available within the same time a commuter might once have waited on a railway platform.

National lockdown was a dress-rehearsal

Monbiot ends: “This, I believe, is the radical shift that all towns and cities need. It would transform our sense of belonging, our community life, our health and our prospects of local employment, while greatly reducing pollution, noise and danger. Transport has always been about much more than transport. The way we travel helps determine the way we live. And at the moment, locked in our metal boxes, we do not live well”.

 

 

 

 

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Japan, China, South Korea, Norway and Germany have National Hydrogen Strategies – should Britain?

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In June, as part of its Covid recovery stimulus programme, Germany published its National Hydrogen Strategy to combat climate change, following in the footsteps of Japan, China, South Korea and Norway.

It plans to invest €9 billion (£7bn) in the production of “green hydrogen” from excess electricity generated by renewable energy sources.

Green hydrogen, which can store energy, is seen as an answer to the problem of fluctuating energy supply from solar and wind power. It could also replace fossil fuels in industrial processes that require high temperatures, such as steel production. Clean Energy Wire has republished a factsheet summarising this strategy.

Earlier this year, Deutsche Welle reported that German gas pipeline operators, revealed the blueprint for the world’s largest hydrogen grid, which would cover around 5,900 kilometers (3,666 miles). Details about the first section (when ready in 2030, it will be some 1,200-kilometers in length) were released last month. Only 100 kilometers of the first stage would need to be built; the rest will be converted former gas pipelines, according to the grid operations’ association FNB Gas.

Cleaner transport: hydrogen-powered cars, buses, lorries and now trains

Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer said that hydrogen-powered engines in buses and lorries would significantly reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. He forecast that Germany would have about 100 hydrogen fuelling stations by the end of 2020 and would add a further 10-15 each year, giving it the biggest network in Europe.

The only two hydrail trains in the world operate near Hamburg. In 2018, the first hydrogen fuel cell train, Coradia Lint, began passenger service in Lower Saxony.

Holger Busche, an engineer and scientific government advisor in Hamburg, Germany visited Canada’s Okanagan region, which has been considering the idea of bringing light rail transit to the region to help lessen volume on city roads and to connect communities. He explained that hydrail tracks could even be placed on existing roadways.

Hydrail near Hamburg

He ended by asking whether they wanted more car traffic, more traffic jams and pollution, or clean hydrail powered by hydrogen fuel cell technology which emits only water/steam.

Stephen Harris, Commissioning Editor, Science + Technology, marshals several arguments against using hydrogen for cooking and heating, including far higher cost and insists that fossil hydrogen with carbon capture and storage will be the main route for production a decade or more, according to the EU, and perhaps longer if natural gas prices remain low.

He agrees that hydrogen could fuel long distance heavy haulage and shipping, where battery sizes currently limit electrification and that it could also play a role in industrial processes which will be difficult to electrify, such as cement and steel production, ending:

The UK All Parties Parliamentary Group on hydrogen “provides a forum for MPs and Peers to engage with leading businesses and organisations that are working to enable the UK to meet its decarbonisation targets through the implementation of hydrogen projects, and to discuss policy options to support these”.

Harris notes that a recent report (right) from this APPG put a very positive spin on hydrogen, but neglected to mention any other low-carbon alternatives.

He adds that the APPG is sponsored by businesses with a vested interest in promoting hydrogen: domestic gas boiler providers, gas network operators and fossil fuel producers who know that for the foreseeable future, hydrogen will be fossil derived, asking:

“But is the vested interest of business best for the UK consumer?”

 

 

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Jared Diamond: co-operate worldwide to address existential threats to survival  

Jared Diamond, American geographer, historian and anthropologist, writes: “The pandemic might bring hope and permanent benefits for the whole world — depending on how we react”.

He continues, in a Financial Times article, “If the world joins to solve the current visible Covid-19 crisis against heavy odds, our current pandemic might thus represent the beginning, not of a dismal era of chronic worldwide danger, but of a bright era of worldwide co-operation”.

SUMMARY

The peoples of the world had never faced a widely acknowledged common enemy until the arrival of Covid-19.

It doesn’t represent an existential threat to the survival of our species; the pandemic will be a serious blow to the world’s economy, but that will recover in time. Unlike many epidemics of the past, the virus isn’t threatening to cause population replacements or abandonments of land under cultivation.

Other existential threats are capable of wiping out our species, or permanently damaging our economy and standard of living:

  • the detonation of large numbers of nuclear weapons, whether launched as a pre-emptive strike (for example, between India and Pakistan), as the unintended consequence of escalating responses (say, between North Korea and the US), as the response to misread early-warning signals (as nearly happened repeatedly during the cold war) or as an intentional action by terrorists.
  • climate change;
  • unsustainable use of essential resources (especially forests, seafood, topsoil and fresh water)
  • and the enormous differences in standard of living between the world’s peoples, destabilising our globalised existence.

But as a motivator, Covid-19 is more potent than those existential problems

Covid’s consequence of death poses no problems of definition or measurement; and that consequence follows swiftly – unlike climate change, though that will do far more lasting damage to us.

Covid-19 provides world citizens with a shared enemy – and there are precedents for finding world solutions to world problems

  • The 1973 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships led to regulation that reduced pollution of the world’s oceans by separating oil tanks from water tanks on ocean-going ships, and by mandating double-hulled tankers for all transport of oil by sea.
  • In 1980, the World Health Organization completed the worldwide eradication of smallpox, among the most devastating diseases in human history.
  • The stratosphere’s ozone layer became protected by the Montreal Protocol of 1987, restricting worldwide the production and use of chlorofluorocarbons and other gases.
  • The 1994 Law of the Sea Convention at last delineated exclusive national and shared international economic zones around the world.

All these resolved very difficult problems by means of high-level international agreements, even without a sense of world identity on the part of the public at large.

A best-case outcome of our current crisis would be for it to create, at last, a widespread sense of world identity: to make all peoples recognise that we now face a global problem that can be solved only by a united global effort.

Hopeful signs already are the development of co-operation among scientists studying the virus all around the world and the shipments of supplies from China and Russia to the US to combat the American epidemic.

The worst-case scenario would be if we continued our  attempts to solve the virus problem one country at a time, or even one American state at a time.

Diamond asks, “Which of these two opposite scenarios will the world choose? We’ll know the answer to that question by the end of this year”.

 

 

 

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The World Health Organisation’s Manifesto for a healthy and green recovery from COVID-19

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addressed the 73rd World Health Assembly.  May 18th 2020:

“The pandemic is a reminder of the intimate and delicate relationship between people and planet. Any efforts to make our world safer are doomed to fail unless they address the critical interface between people and pathogens, and the existential threat of climate change, that is making our Earth less habitable.”

A summary

COVID-19 is the greatest global shock in decades.  Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, and the world’s economy likely faces the worst recession since the 1930s.  The resulting loss of employment and income will cause further damage to livelihoods, health, and sustainable development. 

We cannot go back to the way we did things before.

Increasing numbers of infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS, SARS and Ebola, have made the jump from wildlife to humans – and all available evidence suggests that COVID-19 has followed the same route.

As infections spread, a lack of universal health coverage has left billions of people, including many in rich countries, without reliable and affordable access to medical treatment.

Massive inequalities have meant that deaths and loss of livelihoods have been strongly driven by socioeconomic status, often compounded by gender and minority status.

Attempting to save money by neglecting environmental protection, emergency preparedness, health systems, and social safety nets, has proven to be a false economy – and the bill is now being paid many times over.

The world cannot afford repeated disasters on the scale of COVID-19, whether they are triggered by the next pandemic, or from mounting environmental damage and climate change. Going back to “normal” is not good enough.

In adversity, the crisis has also brought out some of the best in our societies, from solidarity among neighbours, to the bravery of health and other key workers in facing down risks to their own health to serve their communities, to countries working together to provide emergency relief or to research treatments and vaccines.

The “lockdown” measures that have been necessary to control the spread of COVID-19 have slowed economic activity, and disrupted lives – but have also given some glimpses of a possible brighter future. In some places, pollution levels have dropped to such an extent that people have breathed clean air, or have seen blue skies and clear waters, or have been able to walk and cycle safely with their children – for the first times in their lives.

National governments are now committing trillions of dollars, in a matter of weeks, to maintain and eventually resuscitate economy activity.  These investments are essential to safeguard people’s livelihoods, and therefore their health.

But the allocation of these investments, and the policy decisions that will guide both short- and long-term recovery, have the potential to shape the way we live our lives, work and consume for years to come.

Nowhere is this more important than in their effects on environmental degradation and pollution, and particularly on the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming and the climate crisis.

Decisions made in the coming months can either “lock in” economic development patterns that will do permanent and escalating damage to the ecological systems that sustain all human health and livelihoods, or, if wisely taken, can promote a healthier, fairer, and greener world. 

To read the World Health Organisation’s prescriptions for a healthy, green recovery go to its newsroom.

There is widespread public support for policies that do not seek only to maximize GDP, but to protect and enhance wellbeing, and for governments to combat climate change and environmental destruction with the same seriousness with which they are now fighting COVID-19. It is also shown by the millions of young people who have mobilized to demand action not only on climate and biodiversity – but also for the right to breathe clean air, and for their future on a liveable planet.

 

 

 

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Jane Morrice: in a post COVID-19 future, reset the teaching of economics

In a recent article, Wendy Carlin reflected, “Covid-19 along with climate change could be the driving forces of our age to transform economic thinking, policy and the choices people make.”

She referred to a “new way to talk about the economy” and that prompted a response from Jane Morrice (right), whose wide experience includes serving as Deputy Speaker of the NI Assembly.

Her letter advocated a fundamental reset of the teaching of basic economic theory which would require a new culture regarding health as a nation’s wealth, natural resources as its riches and people as its priority.

Our outdated approach to economic principles should be replaced by one which links social, environmental and economic policy and places a sustainable, socially just society alongside job creation and growth in one all-inclusive new theory, “socenomics”.

Jane believes Covid-19 has proved that our economy is intrinsically linked with the health of society and the environment. But our education is divided into information management silos.

She sees the need for radical change in the way we measure and value success to overcome these divisions; the use of gross domestic product to measure national success should be replaced by a system that goes beyond pennies in pockets or investment in stocks and should measure:

  • medics per inhabitant,
  • disease control
  • and levels of air and water quality

Her conclusion: a approach which places a sustainable, socially just society alongside job creation and growth in one all-inclusive new theory, ‘socenomics’ would offer “a simple, yet comprehensive, solution to the most serious challenges facing 21st-century society”.

 

 

 

 

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Will the post virus economy collapse or emerge leaner and fitter?

Many people facing the corona virus pandemic are focussing on immediate needs and requirements but some correspondents – and hopefully heads of state – are looking further.

A Moseley resident writes: “Once again, the bill will have to be paid. Expect years of austerity to pay for this virus disaster. I’m guessing that, otherwise the currency will be valueless and inflation will run riot. At the moment we’re in 1918 to be followed by 1920 and then 1930 and 1940 ….

A clear, convincing and relatively optimistic account was written on March 7th by Australian-born economist, Dr Steve Keen (right).

Dr Keen’s breadth and depth of education inspires confidence: it includes Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws degrees from the University of Sydney in the ‘70s and later a Master of Commerce and a PhD in economics in the ‘90s at the University of New South Wales in 1998. He is currently professor and Head of the School of Economics, History and Politics at Kingston University in London.

His article A Modern Jubilee as a Cure to the Financial Ills of the Coronavirus – is summarised here. Some links and graphics added

He points out that this is the first disease to compare to the Spanish Flu in terms of both transmissibility and virulence. Europe was embroiled in World War I at the outbreak of the Spanish Flu. Its health and population impacts were huge: estimates of the death toll vary between 40 and 100 million in a global population of 1.8 to 1.9 billion.

But its financial effects were mild, disruptions to the war economy for much of the world were relatively small, with guaranteed employment and wages for military personnel, rationing for the general public and other wartime measures. Crucially, private debt was a mere 55% of US GDP when the flu outbreak began. The private sector was relatively robust.

The situation is vastly different today. Our great financial crisis, the “Great Recession” or “Global Financial Crisis”, lies in the recent past, and its primary cause is still with us: US private sector debt is just 20% of GDP lower than its peak during the crisis, three times higher than at the time of the Spanish Flu.

In addition, we now have “the gig economy” and precarious jobs in industries which are likely are likely to be hard hit by the Coronavirus: health itself, entertainment, restaurants, tourism, education. They could lose their jobs, and be unable to service their debts or pay their rents, or even buy food.

Many employers could also be unable to service their debts. Corporations in the USA have levered up during the period of Quantitative Easing, pushing the US corporate debt to GDP ratio to an all-time record. It is also twice the level that applied during the Spanish Flu. Many corporations will find their cash flows dry up and many will find these debt levels crushing.

The production system is also more vulnerable than at the time of the Spanish Flu.

The global economy today relies on long and complicated supply chains, with many goods being produced from components manufactured in dozens of countries and shipped between them on container vessels.

  • If manufacturing in even one place (such as China) comes to a near standstill, production elsewhere will do the same.
  • “Just in Time” manufacturing methods will run out of inputs, even if their factories are still capable of operating.
  • Shipping could be affected if crews refuse to undertake trips that can take weeks with potentially asymptomatic carriers on board, or if crews are quarantined for two weeks prior to departure.
  • Shares are likely to plunge in value. We have already seen a 14% fall in the S&P500 (though followed by a 5% rebound on Monday March 2nd) . . . We are clearly in the exponential phase of the pandemic. It will ultimately taper, but at present the number of cases outside China is doubling every 2-6 days, depending on the country.
  • Banks will also suffer badly. The asset side of their ledgers includes corporate shares: if these fall in value, banks will find their assets plunging, while their liabilities remain constant. A bank cannot: it must have assets that exceed its liabilities, or it is bankrupt.

A private non-financial company can continue to operate with negative equity, so long as it can pay its debts as and when they fall due even if its liabilities are greater than their assets. But a bank cannot: it must have assets that exceed its liabilities, or it is bankrupt.

A credit-driven, private sector monetary system is not capable of handling a systemic crisis like this. If the rules of such a system are enforced, it will make the crisis worse:

  • renters and mortgagors will be evicted, put on the streets, where they are more likely to catch and transmit the virus,
  • personal hygiene and public health will suffer, when one is needed to slow the pandemic, and the other must be functional to support its current victims,
  • stock markets will crash,
  • banks themselves will fail as their shareholdings plunge in value, bringing the payments system to an end
  • and even those unaffected by the crisis will be unable to shop.

It is, on the other hand, possible for Central Banks and financial regulators, once authorised by their governments, to take actions that prevent the medical crisis from becoming a financial one.

Other mechanisms may exist, but these are the obvious ones to prevent a financial pandemic on top of a medical one.

First: make a direct payment now, on a per-capita basis, to all residents via their primary bank accounts (most effectively, their accounts through which they pay taxes).

As Quantitative Easing has shown, this does not have to be financed by asset purchases. It is quite possible for Central Banks to put a notional asset on their balance sheets to finance. This is already done by the Bank of England to back the value of the notes issued by Scottish Banks: a bill known as a Titan with a face value of £100 million balances the value of bank notes issued by Scottish banks.

The same could be done by any Central Bank to balance a direct cash transfer to the bank accounts of all residents of its country – see People’s Quantitative Easing (Coppola 2019).

This already has been done in Hong Kong. The payment there is HK$10,000, or roughly US$2,000. It does not need to be financed by the Treasury or by taxation: neither were used by the USA to support its $1 trillion dollars per year Quantitative Easing program. There will be no “debt burden for future generations”.

Secondly: boost share prices by buying shares directly.

Quantitative Easing was intended to boost share prices. Clearly it worked—but there is no guarantee that it would work in this situation.

Instead, Central Banks should directly buy shares, as they are also quite capable of doing: Japan’s Central Bank has been doing this for several years already. This puts money in the bank accounts of shareholders, while the shares are then owned by the Central Bank. This could prevent a collapse in share prices, which in turn could prevent a collapse in the banking sector—since if shares fall substantially, many banks will find that their assets are worth less than their liabilities, and they would be forced to declare bankruptcy.

Central Banks can also cope with a share market collapse in a way that private banks and financial institutions cannot. Unlike a private bank, a Central Bank can operate with negative equity. If there was still a stock market crash, a Central Bank holding shares would still be able to operate.

Thirdly: suspend standard bankruptcy rules while the crisis exists

Banks and financial institutions in particular are vulnerable to bankruptcy in this crisis. Non-financial companies which are heavily exposed to the pandemic—health companies, airlines and other transport firms, education providers (including many public universities reliant on student fees), restaurants, sporting grounds—could see their revenues plummet, making them unable to service their debts, and therefore liable to bankruptcy.

Corporations exposed to Coronavirus-driven losses of revenues should also be able to receive direct aid from Central Banks as well. This could take the form of the sale of newly issued shares in return for cash—it should not be in the form of debt, which would simply replace one problem with another.

As Professor Keen ends his constructive and reassuring article, the words of John and Andy, from Moseley and Bournville, have been blended to give their views on a post pandemic future:

If we look coolly, perhaps rather brutally, at our situation, a complete generation may be wiped out, but in the worst scenario most humans on the planet are unlikely to die and the younger members least of all. The NHS will be saved millions by not having to treat the elderly and generally infirm. Pensions will be reduced and a younger, leaner, more focused workforce that realises how soft we had become will take up the cudgels to drive the economy onwards. Human life will go on and maybe the lessons learnt from tackling this infection will help in facing the next.

 

 

 

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A different kind of life is possible: Bruce Kent

After a US commander revealed the information to the Senate, the Ministry of Defence confirmed on Sunday that it has committed the taxpayer to fund a multi billion pound replacement of Trident, with nuclear warheads based on US technology.

Colin Archer and Dave Webb point out that, given the importance of finding large sums of public money to fund the now-urgent green transition, this is the right time to highlight the huge sums devoted to the military sector and top of the list is the UK’s commitment to nuclear weapons. The proposed slogan for Global Days of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS) is ‘Military spending costs the Earth’. 

Amongst the articles listed on the GDAMS international campaign website was one by Bruce Kent originally published in Peace News. The article opens with his tribute to the readable, international and interesting Peace News, before signing off, at least for a time. He thanked all on the team, especially the very modest editor and continued:

Hospital is always an eye-opening experience. Any London hospital is an international community on its own: a Portuguese doctor, nurses from the Philippines and all parts of Africa – all helpful and concerned even if very over-worked. My biggest shock came in a chat with a young trainee nurse. I asked if she did an eight-hour day. She just smiled. Her working day runs for 12½ hours. She lives at least an hour away in South London. So she has about eight or nine hours at home to sleep, cook, eat and have any kind of social life. Not fair. It’s not just money that the NHS needs but good working conditions as well.

In the run-up to the general election, both main parties promised many millions to be spent on increased NHS funding. Why did they not say this and do it long ago?

We can apparently afford £200 billion for a new set of very non-independent nuclear missile submarines. Missiles are on rotating loan from the US, which no one seems to notice. Not a word so far, in all the electioneering that I have heard, about nuclear bombs except for a contemptuous mention that Jeremy Corbyn would not ‘press the button’ – and so kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians far away.

Our concern about military expenditure is clearly a global one. Only recently a report came through my letterbox from the Global Campaign on Military Spending (GCOMS) started by the International Peace Bureau in 2011.

(Right: Bruce and other campaigners attended a GDAMS protest and letter hand-in at the MoD in April 2019)

GCOMS concentrates every April-May on actions all around the world, highlighting the connection between military expenditure and the lack of money for real human needs. Last time, there were 110 events in 27 countries – with UK events in York, Bradford and London. Have a look at the work in progress on www.demilitarize.org.

The need is obvious. The money spent on war and the preparations for war is a scandal and ought to be commonly recognised as such. The global military budget is now not far off two trillion dollars a year. We now have the climate change campaigners with us.

To read the small print click here and use the magnifying glass symbol to read the data from SIPRI’s Arms Transfers Database (March 2019)

Military production involves the release of CO2 in massive quantities. The two great current perils, war and climate change, are dangerous twins.

Many of the events are fun to organise, such as the ‘Move the money’ selfie project, or stalls offering passers-by the opportunity to indicate their alternative budget choices (buttons in jam jars or buckets work well, labelled ‘education’, ‘green energy’, etc). We need a group campaigning on military expenditure to be active in every part of this country, but that means hard and imaginative work and energy. We need an enthusiastic volunteer to coordinate and encourage more GCOMS events next spring. How about you?

From “The Chance for Peace,” a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 16, 1953

The best quote that I can end with comes, rather surprisingly, from a US general. Dwight Eisenhower was never a hawk. He can’t have been popular in his world for saying that the nuclear bombs on Japan in 1945 were never necessary. He had this to say in 1953 and you may well recognise the quotation: Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who are hungry and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This is not a way of life. Under the cloud of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron….’

Bruce ends: “A different kind of life is possible. Let’s together make it happen”.

 

 

 

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A new and better kind of politics: Nick Duffell

 

In 2017, Nick Duffell described how our votes could form a new and better kind of politics.

THANK goodness that voting seems to be coming back into fashion. Even if election results defy prediction, nothing could be worse than political apathy, which has lately been the norm — especially among the young — given the historic struggle for universal suffrage.

This apathy is understandable since Britain’s mainstream parties, whose hegemony our first-past-the-post system maintains, have been barely distinguishable over the past two decades.

Much as we would like it to be the fault of personalities or parties, the underlying cause is that global markets exercise such dominant control of national economies that — despite their rhetoric — every party ends up as the “business-as-usual party.”

This is not to say that those who understand the socially vulnerable (we can discount the Tories, ruled as ever by the ethos of “wounded leaders,” as described in my psycho-history of the same name) can’t make some difference. Of course they can. But only a bit, because so many of our problems are profoundly systemic.

The Grenfell tragedy highlights Britain’s failure to invest in social housing since the ’80s and our total unwillingness to regulate the rental sector and property speculation.

Getting these things right will require more than simply voting Labour, however well intentioned Jeremy Corbyn is, and however well he sidesteps the public-school bully style of politics that dominates Westminster . . .

Read on here.

 

 

 

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A Labour government will reverse forty years of privatised services: Professor Richard Hatcher

On 20 July Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell launched a new Labour Party document, Democratising Local Public Services: A Plan for Twenty-First Century Insourcing. (1).

Richard Hatcher’s September paper, which may be read in full here, discusses its implications for social care, referring to Birmingham as a case study. Edited extracts follow (several hyperlinks added):

Democratising Local Public Services commits a future Labour government to reversing four decades of outsourcing by local councils by legislating to ensure that the default option for councils is for the public sector to deliver its own services.

The section headed ‘How Outsourcing Has Gone Wrong’ identifies two key issues:

  • poor quality of provision: there is now widespread evidence of failures in service quality in services provided through outsourced contracts’ (p12)
  • and lack of public accountability in different forms: the Information Commissioner has noted that just 23% of the public polled thought that the activities of private providers of public services were accessible. Information about outsourcing companies can only be requested by the public if it is held by a public authority on behalf of that outsourcing company. (p13)

Hatcher points out that social care is the largest single area of council spending, most of which goes to external providers, and finds it very surprising that there is only one reference to social care in the 53 pages of the Labour Party report. This is a regrettable missed opportunity because social care exemplifies the two major problems with outsourced provision that the Labour party report identifies and is therefore a prime candidate for insourcing.

The Thatcher government, we are reminded, created a lucrative new market in social care by forcing local authorities to spend 85% of their social care budget in the private sector, decimating local authority provision.

Since then the transformation towards a market in adult social care has progressed steadily, with no attempt by any government to halt or reverse the trend. [ ….]  In 1979 64% of residential and nursing home beds were still provided by local authorities or the National Health Service; by 2012 the local authority share was 6%; in the case of domiciliary care, 95% was directly provided by local authorities as late as 1993; by 2012 it was just 11%. This also means the bulk of the adult social care workforce – around 72% – is now employed in the private and voluntary sectors, along with another 14% employed by individual service users making use of ‘personal budgets’, leaving just 14% employed by local authorities.’ (pp7-8)  [2]

RH2However, the prospect of exceptional profits attracted big equity investors into this new market. They bought up small providers and opened much larger homes for maximum profit, employing staff, largely women, on low pay, according to Social Care as a Local Economic Solution for the West Midlands, a report by David Powell, New Economics Foundation, with Karen Leach and Karen McCarthy, Localise West Midlands, published in 2017 [4]:

Built into every contract to a major provider will be the underlying need to deliver a significant return on investment

CRESC [the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change] found that big care providers expect to offer 11% returns to investors (including costly debt repayments which often return to the parent operating company). The business models of the largest five residential care chain companies in the UK offer returns to investors that account for as much as 29p in every £1 of their costs – the second biggest drain on expenditure after wages.

The care ‘market’ is increasingly consolidating towards such providers. As of 2015, nearly 20% of all care beds were provided by the ‘big four’ care companies – Four Seasons, Bupa Care Homes, HC-One Ltd, and Barchester Healthcare. They are gradually increasing their market share – buying up small chains and taking over provision from family-owned homes. (p12) But now the care market is in crisis because the government cuts in local authority budgets have squeezed the flow of profits to the care businesses. More than 400 care home operators have collapsed in the last five years, including over 100 in 2018 (Guardian 12 March 2019).

Insourcing will be difficult as the social care market is highly fragmented. As Bob Hudson says [3]:

rh3 (2)There is no compact adult social care service that can be easily repatriated into public sector ownership. Rather the sector is characterised by many fragmented, competing providers. The care home sector supports round 410,000 residents across 11,300 homes from 5500 different providers (Competition and Markets Authority, 2017). The situation in home care is even more diverse with almost 900,000 people receiving help from over 10,000 regulated providers. (2018, pp1-2)

After a detailed seven-page Birmingham case-study of the privatised care industry, Richard Hatcher ends, “One section of Birmingham Council’s Local Manifesto 2018-2022 is titled ‘A Rebirth of Municipal Socialism’. It promises, “We will re-state the case for the municipal provision of services in Birmingham, heralding a new age of municipal socialism. And the Labour council in Birmingham will lead by example, calling time on the misplaced notion that the private sector always trumps the public sector by adopting a policy of in-house preferred for all contracts”. That was published in March 2018, a year and a half ago.

He asks “Where are the detailed plans to put this policy into practice?” and recommends Birmingham City Council to publish detailed plans to bring its out-sourced social care services in-house, open the books and make public these and all its other out-sourcing contracts so there can be genuine public accountability – and specifically for social care, the biggest sector of the Council’s outsourcing.

References 

  1. The Labour Party (2019) Democratising Local Public Services: A Plan for Twenty-First Century Insourcing. http://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Democratising-Local-Public-Services.pdf
  2. Bob Hudson (2016) ‘The failure of privatised adult social care in England: what is to be done?’, The Centre for Health and the Public Interest. https://chpi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/CHPI-SocialCare-Oct16-Proof01a.pdf
  3. Bob Hudson (n.d.) ‘Adult Social Care: An Irretrievable Outsourcing?’ https://www.healthcampaignstogether.com/pdf/Hudson%20Social%20Care%202018.pdf
  4. David Powell, New Economics Foundation, with Karen Leach and Karen McCarthy, Localise West Midlands (2017) Social Care as a Local Economic Solution for the West Midlands. https://neweconomics.org/uploads/files/West-Midlands-Social-Care-report.pdf
  5. Birmingham City Council website  (2018) ‘Care Homes and Supported Living 2018’. https://www.birmingham.gov.uk/directory/55/care_homes_home_support_and_supported_living/category/1069
  6. CorporateWatch (2016) The Home Care Business. https://corporatewatch.org/the-home-care-business/#__RefHeading___Toc2989_782775029
  7. The Labour Party (2017) Alternative Models of Ownership. https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Alternative-Models-of-Ownership.pdf
  8. The Labour Party (2018) Democratic Public Ownership. https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Democratic-public-ownership-consulation.pdf
  9. Richard Hatcher (July 2019) ‘Co-production, social care and participatory democracy’.  https://www.healthcampaignstogether.com/pdf/1907%2019%20RH%20co-production%20article%20v3.pdf In ‘Health Campaigns Together: The Debate over Social Care – New Additional Reading’ https://www.healthcampaignstogether.com/socialcare.php

10.‘Our Social Care System is Broken’. https://www.healthcampaignstogether.com/pdf/Social%20Care%20Leaflet%20draft%204%20final.pdf

 

 

 

 

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