IN 2016 I WAS HONOURED TO BE ASKED TO SPEAK AT THE LAUNCH OF THE ARTIST'S UNION OF ENGLAND:
Figures announced by Ed Vaizey MP in May of this year tell us that the UK’s creative industries are now worth over £84 Billion per year to the UK economy. (Gov.uk). That is 8 or 9 times the value of our arms industry exports and I would say a far more valuable export to the world too. The various Arts Councils in the UK have had about £17 million worth of cuts from the government since 2010, that is a relatively small amount of money that means a lot to the Arts and it does seem rather mean and counterproductive when you consider what that £84 Billion does for our GDP doesnt it? For the brief hour that we spend in this room in the mother of parliaments the Arts will have made £9.5 million for our country.
Of course we all know that the value of the Arts goes far beyond its economic value, it is the lifeblood of our culture and also of our understanding of and our communication with the world around us. The importance of the establishment of the Artists Union of England cannot be underestimated; the painters, printers and sculptors that it represents are some of the most overlooked group of workers in this overlooked sector.
The portrayal of the fine artist as a disturbed genius freezing in an attic for her art is not always helpful to us. Quite frankly none of us want to freeze in an attic, we don’t want hand outs either but we do want our county’s government to recognise that fine art is an economic activity that requires certain conditions for it to flourish and thereby contribute to our countries wealth.
If you compare an emerging artist to a business start up; for example opening a sweet shop, one might expect that the business plan would allow 6 months for the shop to start to break even then perhaps in 12 months to become a viable business. Well art does not work that way, emerging artists can take years before they break even. We are used to earning well below the minimum wage and sometimes earning nothing at all. Fine artists are often asked to do work pro bono which they can ill afford. When they do get help it is often in the form of the offer of unsafe premises as studio space to help a landlord get a reduction in business rates for the otherwise empty property.
At last we have our own union: Our job now is to wake our politicians up to the fact that the economy has to work for us too: I am not talking just about reversing cuts to the Arts Council, I would like to see us negotiate new ways to enable fine artists round the country such as the development of community art hubs. We have a lot to do fellow AUE members and I do hope that both Conservative and Labour MPs will listen to us and work with us to develop suitable policies for the benefit of all.
My February blog in Labourlist - please click through to read it
Like many members, I am very proud of much of my Party’s back story on the NHS but we are definitely going to lose the NHS if we don’t actually stop the Tory’s current plans to give ACO contracts to the big private health companies.
In 2010 the Tories started cutting the NHS budgets, then by 2012 they had removed the Secretary of State’s responsibility for citizen’s health with widespread repercussions (eg he no longer has the responsibility to address air pollution, flood risk and similar public health issues). However it was the plan to extensively privatise the NHS by insisting that all contracts must be re let every 3 years and open to financially competitive bidding that caused such a cry of pain in the service. At the time I was a Commissioner of Health and Social Care services and had already cut the services, that I was responsible for, to the bone; the pressure to keep cutting was totally unrealistic even then as many staff in key services were under so much stress that their own health was suffering. It was at that point that I decided that I could not keep cutting and left my job.
The trickle of contracts let to private companies in 2013 has speeded up now but the big companies are still not happy with their lot and have been busily lobbying for more change. They want much bigger contracts to bid for in order to reduce their overheads and gain access to both huge ‘markets’ and to incredibly valuable personal data.
Accountable Care Organisations are the tools by which this government wish to roll up all the small contracts up in great big ones. The country has been split into 44 NHS areas and each one required to identify where they can cut expensive health services and where they can sell off property in order to subsidise health care. Even Frimley Hospital that the PM visited last week, which is one of the best run in the country, has to sell off precious land and resources to plug the gap that has opened up by this Government’s failure to fund the NHS sufficiently.
Whoever runs the new ACOs will not just be providing or commissioning ‘health’ services, their contracts will include social services, equipment and counselling services etc too. The size of the contracts will run into £Billions. We have seen from Mr Branson’s behaviour, when his company did not get the Children’s Services contract in Surrey, that he is more than willing to sue the tax payer http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/surrey-news/virgin-care-awarded-328000-nhs-13977261
The governments plans will open up many more opportunities for litigious companies to sue the hell out of us and next time it won’t be thousands, it could be millions or billions!
With the desperate pleas coming from NHS staff around the country, struggling to provide a decent service, it is difficult to see past the immediate crisis and focus on things the Tories don’t want us to think too much about. However should ACO contracts be let to private companies, their access to the personal data of huge communities will be unprecedented. NHS England currently receives restricted data from all publicly provided health services. The type of information that would be available to a private health company that provides an ACO would be more extensive, give access to entire medical notes and social care assessments and therefore many more pieces of very sensitive information such as patient’s financial position, family members, workplace and even criminal records.
The mining of personal data provides endless opportunities for both good and evil: Of course there could be real progress in medical research should extensive mining be undertaken by the NHS and our university’s medical scientists to identify causes and cures for illness but is that what will really happen? The sort of extensive health data that will be under the control of ACOs would be a gold mine for Big Pharma, their access to it could result in an increase in ways for them to extract value from sickness rather than improve our health. In 2016 DeepMind/Google mined health data for ‘free’ in exchange for what they learned https://www.newscientist.com/article/2086454-revealed-google-ai-has-access-to-huge-haul-of-nhs-patient-data/ Last but not least, spare a thought for the parent company that provides health & social care services as well as insurance, Virgin spring to mind. Do you trust Mr Branson with your data?
This blog was published by Labourlist in January 2018
This weekend Michael Gove set up a dubious smokescreen by claiming a new dawn for our fishing industry and that he would take back all historic fishing rights round our coast. Secretly he was sending a letter to Mrs May (with Boris Johnson as a co signatory) to push for crashing out of the EU with no deal!
‘No deal’ would mean that an area like Cornwall, where the biggest industry and earner is dairy farming and it’s food products, would be hammered by a World Trade Organisation tariff of 36%! The rise in cost of Cornish clotted cream, milk and cheese would be matched by the rise in the price of food and clothing as other tariffs bit home too. This would create the perfect storm for seriously damaging the economy of Cornwall as British shoppers would have to cut back in all areas and our products would be priced out of the rest of Europe. Game playing by Government Ministers on this sort of level, when farmers have so much to lose, is disgraceful. They should put their heads down and do the hard work of getting the best Brexit for farming, fishing and all our industries.
Mr Gove’s ‘fishing smokescreen’ is all the more remarkable in that in August he was in Denmark promising other EU countries access to British waters after Brexit and talking down our local industry by indicating that it did not have the capacity to fish our waters or to process fish!
The reality for the British fishing industry is that the depleted 21st century British Navy is not in a position to deter all foreign fishing vessels, should they choose to continue to come, so I fear that Mr Gove’s extravagant fishing claims have more to do with red herring and the approaching Conservative leadership contest than the well being of the Cornish economy!
from time to time I write for National online blogs: This one is aimed at my fellow Labour Party members who may have been taken in by Heathrow Airport Holdings extensive promises. Please click on this link to read it https://labourlist.org/2017/10/mcdonnell-is-right-the-case-against-heathrow-is-compelling-writes-ex-ppc/
In 2014 large areas of Somerset and the Thames Valley were flooded, in 2015/16 Cumbria, Lancashire, Dumfries and Galloway took the brunt of it. Just the 2014 floods alone are reported as having cost the Country £14.5 Billion! The misery and ill health that is caused by flooding is difficult to comprehend until it happens to you, the disruption, the people who leave their homes, never to return, and the interrupted careers and schooling. The anodyne description ‘once in a hundred years event’ bears little weight with flood victims - particularly when it happens more than once in a short space of time!
In trying to find answers to some of the strange things that happened during the Thames Valley floods in 2014 (I was flooded at Egham) I have begun to realise that we really do not have a handle on land drainage or river management at all in this country. Whether people live in urban or rural areas our public policy is just not fit for purpose. Things need to change.
In 2002 the Jubilee flood alleviation scheme was completed; it is a channel that takes water from the Thames above Maidenhead then dumps it downstream at Datchet, just above Egham and Wraysbury. A key feature of the Jubilee is that it moves water down steam at a much faster pace than the Thames which runs alongside it. The value of it in terms of flood protection is that it protects the riverside mansions at Maidenhead, Bray and Eton but areas between Datchet and Staines have to deal with the much increased flow at times of flood.
You may wonder why on Earth such a scheme was ever even considered? It was actually only part of a 3 stage larger plan that is called the River Thames Scheme RTS which was kicked into the long grass by the Tories as soon as they came to power in 2010. The designers of the Jubilee were sued for the poor design but what is most shocking is that no lessons have been learned from their mistakes or from the flood events in 2003. 2007 or 2014; each time the Environment Agency (EA) have been asked there is no acknowledgement that anything at all went wrong. The Jubilee was originally meant to carry 215 cubic meters of water per second but it did not, it carries less than 180 cubic meters per second. This was probably a blessing for me and my neighbours but surely water flow was exactly what the Jubilee was designed to control? So much for the experts!
Should the RTS go ahead at some point in the future then the mistakes of the Jubilee should provide a guide as to what not to do. So far there has been no public inquiry in to the Jubilee despite it’s many problems and it being one of the largest and most expensive water management schemes in Europe. Many residents downstream from Datchet are convinced that the Jubilee river caused the sudden midnight inundation of homes and businesses from Datchet to Staines in 2014. Its’ second claim to fame is the huge new luxury housing estate that is now being built on the floodplain along the banks of both the Jubilee and the Thames by Maidenhead Bridge. Don't let anyone say that bad design didn't do anyone any good!
The drainage of the land further away from the river was also an issue in 2014. River water did not reach friends living 2 miles from me but they were still flooded: The medieval Mead Lake Ditch in Egham, is sandwiched between 2 raised landfill sites, the biggest one is 18 meters high and covers an area of 650,000 square meters, with no apparent managed drainage and question marks over permissions to fill that high. The ditch did part of it’s job in taking the water run off, but the culverts. supposed to channel water away into Thorpe Park were blocked and forced the water to run backwards up the ditch into the large residential area of Thorpe Lee and Egham Hythe. 3 years later Surrey County Council have still not arranged for the culvert to be cleared of silt and rubbish! The maintenance of culverts and the regulation of landfill sites is being ignored by the authorities in this era of extreme cuts. However the landfill taxes total collected over the years must be enormous and surely some of it should have been allocated to dealing with the problems the site created?
The river water was just one of the flood culprits in 2014. The lack of effective land drainage over many years had a serious influence on ground water and river levels and the lack of river dredging ensured that the Thames would not cope with the quantities of water entering it.
Two reasons are given by the EA for not dredging the Thames.
Last but certainly not least is the question of what chemicals and gases can be released from landfill sites when they flood? There are hundreds of sites in the Thames floodplain and hundreds of thousands of homes right next to them; the case of www.truthaboutzane.com (the gassing of a child in the 2014 floods) is not going to go away until the parents and other residents get answers.
Public policy around land drainage and flood prevention is failing us all badly. Our rivers are our greatest natural land drainage channels and our Government has little understanding of them, the last time we had a Royal Commission on Land Drainage was in 1927! In those days there were fewer properties on the flood plain, fewer paved surfaces, less crop spraying, fewer homes built on or near landfill sites on the flood plain and global warming had not increased the instances of extreme weather. The Government promises to pursue the RTS but there is no evidence that it will do anything beneficial except provide more sites for luxury riverside housing developments. Residents of less prestigious, previously flooded housing estates are not prepared to be overlooked in this way.
We need the authorities of Surrey CC, Runnymede BC and the Environment Agency to fulfil their public duties. We need a public inquiry into the Jubilee river development to identify and correct the past mistakes and to learn for any future schemes. Perhaps more importantly we need a Royal Commission into Land drainage (free of political interference): Our water and waterways are far too important an issue to be left to politicians and political interests to direct.
Image: Luxury new housing being built on the newly hardened banks of the Jubilee river near Maidenhead bridge.
The turning off of street lights at midnight will turn the clocks back for women: The likelihood is that more women will feel forced to use taxis to get to work for the early shift or to get home from the late shift. After 8 years of real term cuts to wages for nurses, teachers, bar staff etc, there are few women who have the spare cash for extra taxi journeys to avoid having to walk in the dark.
There are no winners when public services are cut; it is simply a way to move costs from Surrey CC back to the individual, in this case to women trying to make their way in the world. Does it make the country a better place to live or a more modern and sophisticated place? No, it is simply taking us back to the dark ages when women were expected to be back in the house before dark.
Surrey CC has a responsibility to take a lead on the Governments strategy to end violence against women and girls, their "lights off" policy will make the streets less safe for those same women and girls, I wonder how they square the two policies without blushing?
Local business rates have always been an unfair and unbalanced way of collecting tax. If I am elected as Councillor for Egham on the 4th of May I will fight to create a more even playing field on business rates between local independent shops and the big supermarkets, the chain stores and the online companies, thereby encouraging character and variety on our high streets.
Currently Surrey CC apply non-domestic rates based on the rent a business pays (or the rent it would expect to pay if it owns the property outright). As rent per square foot decreases the larger the property, the largest shops (such as supermarkets) pay lower rates per square foot than a local grocer in the same area. This is unfair.
Local independent shops not only contribute more in business rates (and on their rent) they also pay taxes on their profits in the UK which is not always the case for big supermarkets and chain stores. They also contribute more to the life of local communities as they bring character and variety to our high street. To level the playing field I would seek to apply a 20% discretionary rate relief to Small & Medium sized Enterprises, whose business addresses are registered in Surrey. It would be paid for by the contributions from the new businesses that would be attracted by this scheme to start up in small properties that are currently empty. More Surrey businesses mean more money circulating in the local economy, more local jobs, thriving communities and more tax collected.
The Conservative councillors ran out of ideas years ago, Surrey County Council needs fresh blood and fresh ideas and I can do that as councillor for Egham.
Are some flood protection devices dangerous? (published in the Surrey Advertiser letters page 24-2-2017)