Radical roundup: 10 stories that got buried (18th Nov 2020)

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

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

10. Campaigners have called for an end to the ‘disaster of outsourcing’ after a report from the UK’s public auditors found major flaws in government procurement during the pandemic.

The National Audit Office report revealed that PPE suppliers with ties to the Tories were given ‘high-priority’ status.

Pascale Robinson, campaigns officer at We Own It said: “The revelations in the NAO report are absolutely shocking. While our NHS was facing the biggest public health crisis in a generation, the government was giving higher priority for contracts to companies with connections to politicians. It’s crooked and it’s corrupt.

“It’s because of dodgy approaches like this that we’ve seen companies with no background in producing PPE being handed contracts willy-nilly, and companies with appalling track records handling the test and trace system.

“To stop this ever happening again, we need to end the disaster of outsourcing throughout our health service, bring the NHS Supply Chain into public hands, and return to an approach to public health which puts people before the profit of private companies.”

9. A windfall tax on businesses that are making enormous profits from lockdown has been raised at the Scottish Parliament by Scottish Green MSP Mark Ruskell.

Supermarkets and online retailers are recording rises in pre-tax profits at a time when many small businesses are facing extinction because of COVID-related restrictions.

At the Scottish Parliament’s COVID committee, Mark Ruskell proposed a windfall tax to support a fair recovery and protect the high street.

Speaking afterwards, he said: “This crisis is exposing how our economy favours big businesses over local firms and the supply chain. Tesco alone made half a billion pounds in the first half of this year, and Amazon is clearly booming…A windfall tax could be a useful tool to ensure that there is more support for the businesses that are being crippled by this pandemic.”

8. Labour has set out the questions Robert Jenrick must answer about his role in the Towns Fund scandal that saw £3.6 billion of taxpayer money funnelled to marginal constituencies and his own area just months before the 2019 General Election.

Labour has secured an urgent question today (Wednesday) on the Towns Fund, after a damning report by the Public Accounts Committee  into the secret selection process for the Towns Fund in which money was awarded to 101 towns across England in need of regeneration. Analysis by The Times has found that 60 of 61 towns selected by ministers were in seats won by the Conservatives last December.

The party has asked the minister whether he discussed which towns would receive funding ‘with No 10 or any Conservative party employee before making allocations’ and have called for all relevant correspondence to be published.

Steve Reed MP, Shadow Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary, said: “Scandal-prone Robert Jenrick has, yet again, been dragged to the House of Commons to explain why he misused taxpayers’ money to benefit the Conservative Party.

“There are real concerns that the Secretary of State misused taxpayers’ money to help his own bid for re-election, then tried to cover what he’d been up to just days before a damning report was released.

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant: Mr Jenrick must answer these questions and reassure the public that taxpayers’ cash isn’t being misused by the Conservatives for their own gain.”

7. Workers at Heathrow Airport are set to take targeted strike action in the dispute over plans to ‘fire and rehire’ its 4,000 workers on reduced pay.

The strike action by members of Unite, the UK’s principal aviation union, will involve firefighters, engineers, campus security, baggage operations, operational and airside workers and will effectively close the airport, the union says. The workforce at HAL recorded an 85 per cent vote in favour of industrial action.

The first 24 hour strike will take place on Tuesday 1 December, with a further one day stoppage on Monday 14 December. A 48 hour stoppage will take place on Thursday 17 and Friday 18 December.

Unite says Heathrow is trying to force workers to accept permanent pay cuts of up to £8,000 per annum – a quarter of some staff’s total pay.

Unite regional coordinating officer Wayne King said: “Workers are taking strike action as a direct result of Heathrow Airport’s brutal proposals to fire and rehire them on greatly reduced wages. 

6. The Government has been forced to confirm that workers taking lawful industrial action have a right to picket their workplace during the Covid-19 lockdown.

A judicial review was due to be heard at the high court last Friday, against the chief constable of North Yorkshire and the secretary of state for health and social care, but at the last minute the Government conceded that the right to picket should be upheld.

The case emerged as a result of Unite members who were on strike at Optare bus factory in Sherburn in Elmet last week, who were undertaking socially distanced picketing. They were moved on by the police and warned that if they returned they would be issued with penalty notices for breaking lockdown rules.

Unite’s legal case was based on the right to picket being a fundamental right protected by the Human Rights Act.

5. The High Court has ruled in favour of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) that the UK Government has failed to protect the health and safety of so-called gig economy workers in law.

In a detailed judgment, Mr Justice Chamberlain found that the UK has failed to grant workers in the gig economy – such as Uber drivers and Deliveroo ‘riders’ – the rights they are entitled to under EU Health and Safety law.

The judgment means that workers in the gig economy are entitled to the same EU-derived health and safety rights as employees. Key rights are for all workers to be provided with Personal Protective Equipment by the business they are working for, and the right to stop work in response to serious and imminent danger. The UK Government must now take steps to ensure that workers have the same protection as employees.

4. Left Foot Forward has been shortlisted for Best Current Affairs Influencer at Vuelio’s Online Influence Awards 2020, being held online this Friday.

LFF is one of just 16 shortlisted out of 3,000 entrants. Vuelio is one of the UK’s largest media monitoring firms.

3. Left-wing Labour activists and pro-Palestine campaigners have reacted with anger after Labour confirmed it was investigating a newly-elected National Executive Committee member who had described Israel as an ‘apartheid state’.

Gemma Bolton, who was backed by Momentum, wrote in 2018: ‘If I run the risk of getting suspended for calling Israel an apartheid state then so be it. Suspend me,’ in comments reported by the Jewish Chronicle.

Labour sources subsequently confirmed that the party was looking into a complaint made against Ms Bolton.

A United Nations report in 2017 stated that Israel is “an apartheid regime that oppresses and dominates the Palestinian people as a whole”, a fact raised by supporters of the NEC member, LabourList reported.

Adam Wagner, who acted for the Campaign Against Antisemitism in Labour’s referral to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said on Twitter: “It’s not antisemitic. Certainly doesn’t fall within the IHRA definition. On what is quoted in the JC [Jewish Chronicle] article, there is nothing there – nothing.”

2. Green Party London Assembly Member,Caroline Russell has released new data showing that Mayor Sadiq Khan’s flagship walking and cycling programmes are facing a £100 million black hole.

Ms Russell has compared last year’s TfL borough funding data with this year’s Streetspace allocations and found that nearly every borough is a million pounds down.

The Greens say the figures reveal a ‘widening chasm’ between the funding that was supposed to go to walking and cycling schemes in London, and what has actually been handed out to boroughs this year.

Caroline Russell AM said: “The Mayor tried to paint a positive picture over the summer, with hundreds of new schemes announced and programmes happening all over London, but the truth is funding is collapsing and the pipeline of new schemes is broken.

“At a time when the Bank of England is printing new money and urging action on climate change, investment in walking and cycling must be front of the queue and the Mayor should be pushing Government to do more.”

1. The SNP has led a new cross-party call for a permanent U-turn on planned Tory cuts to Universal Credit payments, ahead of the UK government Spending Review this month.

In a letter to Boris Johnson, the Westminster leaders of the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, Social Democratic Labour Party, Green Party, and Alliance Party called for the Prime Minister to make the £20 uplift to Universal Credit permanent to boost people’s incomes amid the growing Tory unemployment crisis.

Ian Blackford MP said millions of families had been pushed into poverty after a decade of Tory austerity cuts, and said it was “incumbent” on the UK government to use its reserved powers over the economy, welfare and employment law to boost household incomes. 

It comes as Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures this week revealed UK unemployment has risen to 4.8%, with 782,000 fewer people in employment since March, and the number of redundancies at a record high of 314,000 – a record increase of 181,000 on the quarter.

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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