The scandal of the year!

Don’t plan on attending the fifth day of an Ashes Test Match this summer. On a docile pitch in Cardiff, England yesterday proved that they are more than capable of disposing of this Australian shadow-of-their-former-selves collection in four days. In a perverse way it is disappointing – we Poms love to win but we also enjoy the feeling that we have beaten opponents above the standards of Eddie the Eagle. Seldom can an Ashes victory have attracted so little attention as we codgers cleaned out the bickering hens this morning.

For several days now our attention has been focussed on the decision of Gorgeous George Osborne to impose a four-year curb on public sector pay, limiting wage rises to just one per cent a year. As yesterday’s piece showed we are well aware of the frightening size of the ever-growing national debt, but we still cannot understand why such as nurses and teachers are singled out for such governmental hostility. It means that key members of society, whose pay has been frozen for so long, will suffer a further fall in living standards as their income fails to keep pace with inflation. Worse still they are made to fell under-valued. And this at a time when staffing cuts and spiralling bureaucracy have combined to make vital work evermore stressful.

The reactions of their usually less than militant representative bodies say it all. The Royal College of Nursing, which has already threatened strike action, said the cap will be met with “shock”. The National Union of Teachers said that the government cannot continue to hold teachers’ pay behind private-sector pay and expect teaching to remain an attractive profession. Slowly but surely the flow of new nurses and teachers is drying up, and the sense of disillusion amongst existing members is growing. Singling out the two professions that mean so much to so many families is stupid.

But times are hard, you may be tempted to remind us. Not, it seems, if you work for supposedly private sector organisations employed by the state. The word supposedly relates to Network Rail, which in reality is almost entirely subsidised by the taxpayer and, unlike nurses and teachers, fails utterly in everything it does. Yet today we learn that more than 50 members of staff there now earn more than £142,000, up from 32 when the coalition came to power. Mark Carne, Network Rail’s chief executive, earned £771,000 last year while the five most senior executives took home £2.4 million between them.

All this at a time when Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, has ordered an emergency review of Network Rail’s plans and condemned the “unacceptable” failures that have already led to delays for millions of passengers. As Peter Bone, a Conservative MP, put it yesterday: “I’m not sure that many private businesses in the real economy would get away with this. It looks like pigs in the trough”.

Indeed it does. And it doesn’t end there. After overseeing the rail chaos at Christmas, Robin Gisby stepped down. He pocketed £483,000 in salary, benefits and severance pay. He also has a £841,000 pension pot. Three Network Rail bosses, including Mr Gisby, were additionally awarded£300,000 bonuses as part of a “golden handcuffs” deal to retain their services last year. They have since left. The company’s accounts show that in the past four years board members have been paid a total of £15 million for part-time work. Wherever you look Network Rail has pocketed huge state hand-outs with one hand and poured money down the throats of incompetent, unaccountable executives with the other.

This has our vote for the scandal of the year. Nurses, teachers and other vital state employees are treated with contempt, whilst the money saved is handed to people who couldn’t run a chip-shop let alone a railway!
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” The pay cap will lead many staff to leave hospitals, schools and local councils. Britain won’t have public services fit for 21st century needs!”… Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison.
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Britain’s deficit is six times that of Greece!

The weather was somewhat mixed this morning, rather like the mood of the sport-obsessed codgers as we arrived at the allotments. In Cardiff the England cricketers are proving the Australians anything but all-conquering, but at Wimbledon Andy Murray was swept aside by Roger Federer who looked all-conquering in the extreme. You win some, you lose some. But everyone seemed a bit disconsolate, and even the sight of the Aussies crumbling drew only remarks that we must be thankful that Shane Warne now occupies himself with hair transplant techniques.

So unusually for a Saturday morning sport was soon off our agenda as we cleaned out the hens. In fact the retired accountants, who normally struggle to get a word in, dominated the chatter. Even they have given up on understanding the antics of the Greek government, which having ‘won’ a referendum on No to austerity is now proposing to accept it. We know, we know, we grunted as we dug the trenches. But what we didn’t know is that the Greeks now have their national debt down to 0.8 per cent of economic output, whilst Britain’s deficit is six times higher at a shameful 4.8 per cent of GDP.

Forget all the political spin. The fact remains that after five years of Gorgeous George’s austerity, Britain still has a bigger deficit than almost any other European country. We could close every school, open every prison, disband the military, shut every embassy – and still not be able to balance the books. Luckily, a glut in global debt means the government can borrow cheaply (at just over 2 per cent interest), so the Chancellor had given himself nine years to get back into the black. In this year’s budget he stretched that to ten years.

At the heart of the problem is tax avoidance on a scale unknown in any other country, the highest in Europe financial contribution to the EU, and a welfare budget so ill-conceived that even strivers end up dependent on the state for half the family income. This week the Chancellor dismissed “the depressingly inevitable howls” of pain that accompany welfare reforms – he was thinking about his political opponents. But he ought to remember that the pain is felt by those on low wages, the people whom a supposedly ‘one-nation’ government ought to stand full square behind.

Because we are not in the Euro our national debt gets little mention. That may be a relief to the Chancellor as he poses in hard-hats, but it ill behoves him to quote – as he did in his budget speech – the old maxim about “if a country is not in control of its borrowing, the borrowing takes control of the country”. Better by far to be honest and open about the crisis to bring home the fact that we are spending money we haven’t got. And crisis is the right word for should international borrowing rates climb we will be in big trouble.

Whether we like it or not this government is here to stay for a long time. What we need is less political sleight of hand and more grown up realism, recognising above all else that Britain’s markets attract the world’s biggest companies which must pay their taxes on revenues earned. Tricks like the new “living wage” will in themselves help little. The UK’s complicated tax credit system means that workers will gain almost nothing and will become ever more alienated. The treasury needs the extra money it will gain but no one understands the game being played. With the electioneering done it would be better to open up dialogue on the national debt rather than go n pretending that all is well.

But as we learned from the MPs expenses scandal honesty is not amongst the virtues of our ruling class, and slowly but surely the national debt – increased already by 40 per cent by the coalition – is edging upwards. And few of its ultimate victims even understand what is happening.

Never mind, the horn-blowing red coated brigade will be happy! That was Albert’s contribution to the debate. He probably wasn’t paying attention, being absorbed in making an effigy of Wigan Council, the proposed target for his pins.
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” In a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy”….. Ivan Illich.
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Quotes for Friday !

” With the dust now settling on the Budget many low income families will find future pay gains will be more than offset by losses of in-work support. It could take them years to recover the loss”…. David Finch, Resolution Foundation.

” It is time for Labour to stand up for the millions of people in our vital public services who have endured year after year of wage restraint and felt they did not have a voice in Parliament”…. Liz Kendall, MP.

” I went to shake Mo Farah’s hand and he turned his back and told me to f..k off. I think it was pretty disgraceful to be honest”…. Andy Vernon, competitor in yesterdays 5,000 metres in Lausanne.

” Rory Mcllroy’s drive is explosive poetry in motion, the perfect mix of rhythm and self-belief”…. James Corrigan on news of Rory’s absence from Golf Open.

” The intelligence and theat picture has developed considerably, reinforcing our view that a further terrorist attack is highly likely. On balance we do not believe the mitigation measures in place provide adequate protection for British tourists in Tunisia at the present time”…. Foreign Office, 9/7/15.

” My Dad is confused, sad and he’s worrying, crying every day, not in peace. He doesn’t want to be in Syria. Somebody tricked him into it”…. Shalim Hussain, son of Muhammed Mannan, now with family in Isis control.

” The hard work starts now, and it won’t be easy”…. Chris Morris, BBC1.

” I knew I had to win today, otherwise she would have beaten me”…. Heather Watson, BBC2.

” What matters today is not the difference between those who believe and those who do not believe, but the difference between those who care and who don’t”…. Georges Pire, Nobel Prize, 1958.

” In every language, every culture, the most difficult words you have to say are; ‘ I’m sorry. Forgive me’ “…. Desmond Tutu, Nobel Prize, 1984.

” How can you expect a man who is warm to understand one who is cold? “….Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Prize, 1970.

” When a stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty”…. George Bernard Shaw, Nobel Prize, 1925.

” All the things one has forgotten scream for help in dreams”….Elias Canetti, Nobel Prize, 1981.

” Everyone, deep down within, carries a small cemetery of those he has loved”….Romain Rolland, Nobel Prize, 1915.

” I have had dreams and I’ve had nightmares. It is because of my dreams that I have overcome my nightmares”….Linus Pauling, Nobel Prizes, 1954 & 1962.

” I have e-mail, a pager, a cell phone, a fax. I’ve got an answering machine, three phone lines at home, one in my purse, and a phone in my car. The only excuse I have if I don’t return your call is I just don’t like you”….Alicia Brandt.

” If politicians don’t do it to their wives, they do it to the country”….Mel Brooks.
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Budget resembles the curate’s egg!

The sun shines on the righteous, but this morning it spared some warming rays for reprobates. After a series of wet starts it was good to have the heavenly light on as we set abut cleaning out the hens. But those stubborn creatures were not the main subject of our attention – Albert had discovered newts in the large pond. That made yesterday unique. Finding newts is as rare as England’s batsmen having an easy passage on the first day of an Ashes series, and both happened. Less surprising was the news that our dear leader has made his move to sneak in more relaxed laws on fox hunting, but the posers in red coats need their excitement too.

Not surprisingly the Budget was the main topic of conversation on this Thursday morning. For once we cannot delude ourselves that we are a typical cross-section of society. All of us are ancient, all of us are relatively well-off, and Gorgeous George has showered us with good news. Inheritance tax eased, free TV licences, higher tax thresholds – what’s not to like? But for younger people at the bottom end of the pecking order a very different picture emerges. We fear that our divided society is about to become even more divided!

Even we have one major concern. We may be removed from the worst effects of the Osborne treatment but in common with everyone else we remain in mortal danger as a result of the government’s treatment of the NHS. Or to be more precise, the number of nurses it can afford to employ.

The topic should have been debated at the annual Patient Safety Congress on 6 and 7 July, but pressure was on directors of nursing and others to shut up about staffing levels. The government and NHS England know that they are not providing safe hospitals, so the “safest” political option is to dampen down the evidence. And there is plenty of that. A high quality study by NHS England leaked to the Health Service Journal found a significant correlation between the number of nurses on duty in hospitals and 40 indicators of patient safety outcomes such as slips, trips, falls and picking up vital signs such as high temperature, respiratory distress and signs of sepsis. Many hospital inpatients have multiple illnesses and complex needs, and can deteriorate rapidly. They require highly skilled staff in sufficient numbers to give them safe care.

The Safe Staffing Alliance is at least prepared to keep shouting. In a separate report it provides clear evidence that a combination of cuts and ever-rising patient numbers is endangering lives. It emphasises that it is unsafe to care for hospital patients with a ratio of more than eight per registered nurse (excluding the nurse in charge) during the day on acute wards. The risk to patients is “substantially increased” when staffing levels fall below this ratio which must be regarded a “red flag” event.

The report reveals that right now 45 percent of British wards are not meeting the standard. It goes on to urge that statutory mechanisms be put in place and guidance issued on patient dependency, acuity and complexity in different settings. It goes on to warn of the dangers of burn-out in understaffed hospitals and condemns “impossible efficiency savings”.

Almost half of our hospitals are now unsafe, and one of those may be near you. The Budget was as always an exercise in political ideology and vote-seeking. In failing to address an issue that at any time could become a matter of life or death for any family it has failed utterly.

By chance we codgers have been circulating Martin Bell’s excellent book on the MP’s expenses scandal. He concludes that trust in politicians has sunk to an all-time low. The only interest most of them serve is their own. We enjoyed the read, but it hardly came as a surprise!
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” There will be disastrous consequences if the NHS continues to focus on financial savings at the expense of patient savings”…. Dr Bill Kirkup, Morecambe Bay investigator.
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