Radical Roundup: 10 stories that have got buried – Week 4, September 2021

The news you didn't see this week...

Your Wednesday fix of under-reported news… Got a story tip? Email us: [email protected]

1. While news of the cabinet reshuffle made the headlines, the government snuck out a constitutional change. Ministers plan to impose the First-Past-the-Post electoral system on mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

Chloe Smith, Minister for the Constitution, said: “Britain’s long-standing national electoral system of First Past the Post ensures clearer accountability, and allows voters to kick out the politicians who don’t deliver. First Past the Post is fair and simple – the person with the most votes wins.”

This of course completely overlooks the unfair nature of FPTP which punishes smaller parties and bans people from being able to use a second preference.

2. Bosses of failed energy suppliers scooped almost £1.7million last year 

Analysis by GMB, the energy union, reveals the bosses of four failed energy suppliers trousered almost £1.7million in pay and benefits last year.

Directors of Utility Point, The People’s Energy Company, PfP and MoneyPlus Holdings scooped £1,690,672 in company payments, according to the latest available figures. 

The payments were made over the most recent year, with the exception of MoneyPlus Holdings which made the payments over 18 months.  MoneyPlus, whose energy subsidiary which collapsed leaving a reported 40,000 customers with potentially higher bills, dished out £580,000 to its top brass.

High director payments are common across smaller suppliers. Avro Energy, which has been ordered to comply with an Ofgem disclosure deadline, paid £163,655 in ‘advances to directors’ in 2018/19, according to the company’s most recent accounts.

3. New health bill is ‘a smokescreen’ for more NHS privatisation, warns Unite

The government has been accused of using the pandemic as ‘a smokescreen’ to push through the Health and Care Bill that will open the floodgates for more NHS privatisation, Unite the union has warned.

Unite, which has 100,000 members working in the health sector, said the bill that has its Third Reading in The Commons in mid- October is a recipe for more privatisation and cronyism in England with an adverse impact for patients as waiting lists for treatments continue to soar.

Unite national officer for health Jackie Williams said: “The NHS is our greatest achievement and after a decade of underfunding and coping with the Covid-19 pandemic this bill is not the prescription we need.

“Instead of helping our NHS, this bill invites private companies to make further inroads into our NHS to the detriment of patients and workers and gives the secretary of state new powers to interfere in the work of health professionals.”

4. Government in court over secret trade deal talks

The Department for International Trade (DIT) faced a Tribunal hearing on Monday, in a dispute over whether a heavily redacted copy of papers from post-Brexit trade Deal talks met the government’s Freedom of Information (FOI) obligations. The Tribunal appeal could impact future FOI requests and rules surrounding the secrecy of post-Brexit trade talks.

Global Justice Now obtained an almost entirely redacted copy of the notes from trade deal talks with the US and with other countries in 2019. The redacted US negotiation notes were held up by Jeremy Corbyn in the general election debates, sparking furore about what the government was willing to give up in trade deal negotiations. Now, an appeal tribunal will decide whether the government was right to withhold the information on the basis of exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act. The government claims that the trade talk notes were exempt from FOI law, as they could prejudice international relations or the development of government policies.

Exemptions must undergo a public interest test for each piece of information, to decide whether the sensitivities outweigh the public’s need to see the requested information.

5. Investment and devolution of powers needed to transform Welsh railways

Liz Saville Roberts MP, Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, has responded to news that the UK Government has partially accepted a recommendation to create a dedicated forum to deliver improvements for rail passengers in Wales.

She said that it is crucial that the Wales Rail Board is “not just a talking shop but is accompanied with a 10-year investment plan” and called for rail infrastructure powers to be devolved to Wales.

The Committee’s report recommended the creation of a Wales Rail Board, “consisting of itself, the Welsh Government, Network Rail, the rail operators providing services in Wales, and Transport for Wales. The Board would be tasked with identifying and developing a prioritised set of proposals for rail infrastructure improvement and investment in Wales”.

6. Refuge issues stark warning to the government and outlines fears that scrapping the £20 uplift to Universal Credit will have a damaging impact on survivors of domestic abuse.

Refuge, the country’s largest single provider of specialist domestic services, and sole provider of the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, has issued a warning over fears scrapping the £20 Universal Credit uplift will have a damaging effect on women experiencing domestic abuse. Currently the government are set to scrap the uplift on Wednesday 6th October. 

37.32% of survivors Refuge supported across all its services from 1st September 2019 – 31st August 2020 were receiving Universal Credit. This rose to 63.23% for survivors who accessed emergency Refuge accommodation, with Universal Credit being a lifeline for the majority of women who needed to flee abuse.  

Ruth Davison, Refuge Chief Executive Officer, said: “Refuge is extremely concerned about the end of the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, and we urge the government to rethink. Whilst we acknowledge the government originally introduced this as a ‘temporary measure’ during the first Covid-19 lockdown, this last year has shown us how vital this payment is. It is a lifeline for many survivors of domestic abuse. 

7. New energy minister fails to commit to carbon capture in Scotland

The new Tory Energy Minister, Greg Hands, has failed to confirm that the North East of Scotland would become home to at least one of two promised Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) clusters by the mid 2020s.

In response to Stephen Flynn MP’s question on this in the House of Commons, Mr Hands stated it would be a ‘competitive process’ – raising concerns that the Acorn Project in Aberdeenshire may be overlooked in favour of CCUS sites in the North of England.

The SNP has said the North East of Scotland is uniquely placed to capitalise on CCUS technology and the Aberdeen South MP and the SNP’s BEIS spokesperson, Stephen Flynn, has continually pressed the UK Government on this matter.

Commenting, Mr Flynn said: “If the Tories fail to guarantee a carbon-capture and storage cluster at the Acorn site, they are putting the North East in grave peril and making our journey to net zero almost impossible.”

8. Meat lobby pushes UN food summit to back factory farming

A coalition of meat industry associations has pushed for the upcoming UN food systems summit to boost global meat consumption and promote intensive livestock farming despite its environmental footprint, according to Unearthed.

The findings have prompted the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, to warn that powerful agribusiness interests could “dominate the discussion”, leading to disappointing outcomes.

In a draft position paper prepared in June for the summit, a group of industry associations including the International Meat Secretariat and International Poultry Council called for the UN to support increased meat consumption worldwide, arguing that “advances in intensive livestock systems” would “contribute to the preservation of planetary resources.”

Anna Jones, head of forests at Greenpeace UK, said: “This summit should be the moment when world leaders finally listen to the science and put humanity on a path to less meat, better health and a safer climate. Instead, it looks like the meat lobby has been allowed to hijack a key part of the process and turn it into a soapbox for industry propaganda.

9. Poorest will be hardest hit by lack of government energy plan

Unison has warned that the government’s lack of an energy plan will affect millions of low-income households harder.

Commenting on the business secretary’s statement on the energy crisis, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said on Monday: “The government’s lack of an energy plan has made a bad situation much worse. Allowing the market free rein, with multiple energy suppliers fighting for consumers, was always going to end in disaster.

“Millions of low-income households are feeling the strain of the growing cost of living crisis. Now soaring energy bills will add to their already considerable economic hardship.

“The government has failed to put in place an energy efficiency programme for every house and business in the land. This would have cut consumption, kept people warm and bills low.”

10.  Manchester Stagecoach bus drivers to vote for strike action over pay

Bus passengers in Greater Manchester could be facing severe disruption to their journeys if drivers employed by Stagecoach, vote for strike action in a dispute over pay.

Stagecoach, which operates as Greater Manchester Bus Company South, is refusing to make a pay offer which in anyway meets the aspirations of the drivers and is blaming the Covid pandemic for its actions.

The company’s refusal to make a realistic offer, despite extensive negotiations has infuriated the workforce who continued to work throughout the pandemic in order to ensure that key workers in Manchester could get to work – at times risking their health and that of their families.

Unite regional officer Dave Roberts said: “Strike action will cause huge disruption to passengers across Greater Manchester.

“Bus workers were rightly hailed as heroes during successive lockdowns. However, warm words do not pay the bills and Stagecoach needs to reward its workers’ dedication with a decent pay award.”

Basit Mahmood is co-editor of Left Foot Forward

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