Radical roundup: 10 stories that got buried last week

Left Foot Forward's roundup of the progressive news you might have missed.

In no particular order… PS: Got a story tip? Email us: [email protected]

10. Scotland’s public sector has been forced to shell out on billions of over-priced PFI projects, under projects signed under the former Labour government over a decade ago.

While the actual capital cost of the privately financed projects amounted to around £4 billion, total repayments are now estimated at an eyewatering £22.5 billion – 5.6 times higher than the initial value. Scotland switched to a ‘Non-Profit Distributing Model’ to replace PFI in 2007 but forked out on costly PFI in the years beforehand.

According to the latest figures, ongoing costs footed by the taxpayer for previous contracts have amounted totalled more than £5 billion in the last five years alone, including £1bn last year.

Commenting, SNP MSP Gordon MacDonald said: “Labour’s toxic PFI legacy is draining money from our NHS in its time of need, right into the private bank accounts of these business fat cats. £5 billion could have been spent on nurses, doctors and local hospital services. But the bills won’t stop anytime soon – the will keep rising every year.”

9. Jeremy Corbyn has thrown his weight behind Assistant General Secretary Roger McKenzie to become the new leader of Unison, the UK’s largest union.

Mr Corbyn said in a statement: “Roger and I have stood together on picket lines, on demonstrations together, and he did a huge amount of work supporting my Leadership campaigns in 2015 and 2016. I am proud now to stand with Roger in his campaign for General Secretary.

“Roger is a pleasure to work with and brings energy and verve to everything he says and does about social justice in society and the strength of our Trade unions to stand up for the rights and needs of the most vulnerable workers.”

Unison members nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 and 2016. In 2015, Roger Mckenzie was reportedly instrumental in securing Unison’s nomination for Corbyn when the current leadership were initially unsupportive.

8. Over 100 MPs have joined forces to press the chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend the job retention scheme (JRS) for the aviation sector until March 2021.
The MPs have signed a letter, coordinated by Unite the union and published on Friday, which urges the chancellor to help stop the crisis engulfing the sector and also to recognise the wider economic benefits of keeping workers active within the sector, not unemployed and collecting benefits.

Aviation workers have been among the sectors hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Unite, 60,000 jobs in the sector are hanging in the balance.  
In recent weeks easyJet has cut its UK workforce by roughly a third, including closing three of its bases and the future of many regional airports looks bleak, while this week Gatwick airport announced that it was making one in four, 600 workers, redundant.

7. Two members of Extinction Rebellion Youth (XR Youth) – Charlie Siret, 19, and Fern, 18, blocked Bristol’s iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge .

The two young women were locked together with an ‘arm lock’ and are lying in the road on the bridge on Thursday, before being arrested.

XR Youth – a direct action group of under 30s focussed on the climate and ecological crisis as well as social justice – say their occupation of the iconic bridge is out of desperation to be heard.

Poppy Silk,19, Bristol University student and member of XR Youth, said: “During the pandemic, the government has proved that they are unable to keep us safe in the face of emergency. Now is the time for adults to listen to and join the youth in demanding the government address the climate and ecological crisis in a way that also addresses deepening inequality in our society.

“We have signed petitions, striked from school for two years and still they refuse to care about our futures. As Greta Thunburg says, when it comes to action the world’s leaders are still in a state of denial. In blocking this iconic landmark, we are asking: ‘Will you listen to us now?’”

6. Young people aged 18-34 are most likely to find working from home a challenge, with just over half of this age group say they are finding their current working situation challenging (52%). Only around a third of other age groups say the same (35% of 35-54s and 31% of 55-75s).

The most common reason for those struggling to work from is the lack of suitable workspace available, with 2 in 5 (38%) of those struggling citing this as a key cause of the challenge.

Those aged 55-75 are significantly more likely to say they miss their colleagues; with 55% saying this is a reason they struggle with working from home, compared to a third of other age groups.

Over a quarter of people (27%) are finding it hard to collaborate with their co-workers while working from home, while more than a third of those currently working from home say they are having difficulty maintaining a work-life balance (36%).

Over a third of those currently employed are currently working from home.

5.  Campaigners will take global climate concerns to the door of Lloyd’s of London as it reopens its underwriting hall next Tuesday 1st September, urging the insurance marketplace to drop insurance and investments in coal and tar sands projects.

As insurance professionals enter the building for the first time since the outbreak of COVID-19, campaigners from Insure Our Future will welcome them with the message that the Lloyd’s market must ‘wash its hands of coal and tar sands’ insurance to protect the climate.

The campaigners say Lloyd’s of London maintains ‘one of the worst climate records’ amongst global insurers. Since 2017, 19 global insurers have restricted insurance for and investments in coal and tar sands. Meanwhile, Lloyd’s has stepped in to cover several controversial fossil fuel projects, including the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline in Canada and coal mine reinsurance in Poland.

4. National Union of Journalists members start their second day of collective industrial action on the picket line last Wednesday outside the Redditch Standard newspaper and Bullivant Media Limited HQ as part of an ongoing dispute over jobs, pay and quality journalism, as the company looks to make redundancies.

Bullivant Media Limited NUJ chapel said: “The public share our concerns about the damage to professional journalism. They also expressed their outrage over working journalists paid close to the minimum wage not receiving their full salaries for months, and the company’s targeted redundancy…

“We have a simple request for the company – we want fair restructuring and consultation, and we want them to allow journalists in the editorial department to have control and oversight of editorial content, as is standard throughout the industry.

Sian Jones, NUJ president, said: “These journalists are paid barely above the minimum wage and have had to take on second jobs during the coronavirus crisis to ensure they can pay their bills. Bullivant Media directors need to answer this challenge and work with the NUJ to resolve this dispute to save their own reputations and the local newspapers so many communities value.”

3. Official statistics published last week show that coronavirus has had a proportionally higher impact on the most deprived areas of England.

Looking at deaths involving Covid-19, the mortality rate in the least deprived areas in England was less than half of the mortality rate in the most deprived areas across April to July.

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said: “Over five months on from lockdown, Ministers have failed to put in place any measures to protect these communities despite it being clear that there is still a devastating social gradient in health outcomes caused by the virus.  

“Ministers must get a grip on tackling health inequalities urgently – the poorest in society cannot continue to be more severely impacted by this virus and protecting those who live in these areas must be a Government priority.”

2. Newly elected Lib Dem leader Ed Davey pledged to take on the Conservatives following his win over Layla Moran MP.

In a letter to supporters following the announcement, Sir Ed wrote: “Boris Johnson is failing you…The Conservative Government has mishandled the coronavirus crisis, abandoned health and social care workers, botched students’ exam results, refused to face up to the climate emergency, locked us into a disastrous Brexit and put the future of hundreds of thousands of ambitious young people in jeopardy.

“My top priority as leader of the Liberal Democrats is to rebuild our party so that we can send this incompetent government packing. I’m excited to begin this important journey.”

1. Campaigners have warned that the Government’s pledge of £13 a day for workers in locked-down areas to stay afloat is no way near enough.

An open letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock by workers rights group Organise says: “In March, you admitted you wouldn’t be able to survive on Statutory Sick Pay of £95 per week. But now you’re expecting workers who are sick with the coronavirus to survive on even less than that. £13 per day isn’t enough to cover rent, food, and bills. It definitely isn’t enough to look after children and dependent family members.

“Workers who self-isolate due to testing positive for COVID are protecting our community. They are doing the nation a service. So it’s only right that we ensure they are compensated properly and can continue to afford the essentials during the period of self-isolation.” The statement has been signed by over 5,000 people so far.

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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