The scale of public (& private) sector outsourcing is the problem

InterserveIt is very concerning that Interserve is calling for the Government to give it a second rescue deal. In the final few weeks in 2018 we see Interserve in a similar state to how Carillion appeared in the first couple of weeks at the beginning of the year. Both Companies have major debts and both operate in a manner that makes no sense to anyone apart from their own management teams and shareholders and the Government itself. They predominantly operate as a major main contractor to which a myriad of small business then serve as subcontractors carrying out many of the tasks they are contracted to deliver on. Although on face value the Government outsources to Interserve along with other companies like Capita, Serco and Mitie as it did to Carillion to carry out a myriad of activities, in reality these companies take away from the Government the concerns about which companies they should recruit to clean drains and carry out car park security etc. It is inevitable that such processes offer a poor outcome. If they are successful for the companies concerned, they will charge a management fee for each contract and earn a large sum of money, whilst putting pressure on their subcontractors to work for very little, if these arrangement are unsuccessful the risk is that the companies go bust as Carillion did and a number of the subcontractors who have come to rely on the work to remain in business, also go bust.

Although I have had no experience of working for Carillion or indeed any of these other major players, I have carried out work on behalf of main contractors and on at least two occasions we have been left with a major debt as they went bust. By the same token we have frequently been prevented from getting work by a contract that limits the work to one or more of the companies named above. We have also been faced with procurement frameworks that have been formed to ensure that only a small number of very large contractors will be able to win the contracts. Because they will not be able to carry out the work on their own, they will then be obliged to sub contract and so all of the criteria set out in the procurement framework for the small number of successful contract winners will be lost when the work is carried out by the subcontractors.

Of course this is not just something that impacts the public sector. We were recently asked to quote for a job in a shopping centre. The request came from CBRE who then went quiet. A bit later OCS asked us for a quote for the same job. Then when they came back it was to point out that because we are not on their list of suppliers that they would need to get a supplier to quote so could we offer them a quote. So now the supplier will be adding management costs on to our costs, and OCS will be adding costs on so that CBRE will pay probably around 30% more for the same job. After 8 weeks CBRE are understandably demanding a quick turnaround but we are not going to do so simply to satisfy a demand that we could have began to deal with at the beginning of October as we have other clients who are ahead of them in the queue!

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Our two main Political parties make new trade deals very hard to achieve

Tories and LabourAs we wait for the vote to be carried out on Tuesday in the House of Commons regarding whether our Parliament will back the Brexit proposal by Theresa May, it is beginning to become clear that our options as a nation have dramatically closed down. Many people are clearly opposed to the May proposals and equally there are some of the same people plus a few who support her deal who would prefer for us to remain in the EU, if the Government could find a way of admitting that the departure whilst possible and supported by in 2016 by 52% of those who voted is so deeply threatening to our nation that it will lead to a level of destruction of our economy that would make the 1970’s economic experience look like a walk in the park. The fact that our future outside of the EU is now looking very challenging is demonstrated by two separate matters. The first is that the Norway Government is not wanting a much larger and highly chaotic nation to join their arrangements with the EU. The size difference between us would mean that even if there was an agreement achieved that our dominant Brexit supporting politicians would want to be sure that we did not lose any sense of sovereignty and so rather than being forced to accept that Germany and France are at a similar level to us and therefore we need to play the game with them, these same people would want to dominate Norways arrangements due to the size of our economy compared to theirs. The second is that the prospects of our establishing a Trade agreement with the USA while Donald Trump is President is very unlikely. Add to that the prospects of us establishing trade deals with the likes of China and some of the other nations that we lack a natural connection with and the prospects for our nation begin to look very limited. Even the Commonwealth which is the one small safety net will not be a simple set of agreements and the benefits in terms of trading arrangements will be rather small, particularly if we are not willing to share our sovereignty with a group of nations that will have different priorities to ours. The big challenge our nation faces is that we have some very vociferous politicians who completely lack the willingness or competence to come up with an alternative to a May deal, even if the EU was willing to consider this, and in our journey since the 2015 General Election have made us as a nation appear to be a very poor partner for any other nation to work with!

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Lets have some consistency in our border rules!

UKVII am really delighted to read this article from the Guardian that at long last the Police are going to end some of their formal processes that for far too long have connected then to the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) which is the renamed UK Border Agency (UKBA). On the rare occasions in the past I have seen teams from a local police force and UKBA arriving in locations to take away people who are perceived to be illegal immigrants; it has made me feel very concerned as the Police are supposed to protect all of us in our communities. Clearly people who have moved into the UK from other places may well have broken the law but law breaking happens a great deal (check out the many Parliamentarians who have done so) and it is very disturbing that the Government invites in other people from outside the UK who are prepared to invest large sums of money inside our nation. There should be consistency in the way in which immigrants are treated. If UKVI can remove people working in restaurants and nail bars, then they should also remove people who live in the centre of London in Million pound properties whose backgrounds are very similar to the others who end up being sent abroad against their will!


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Government needs a reality check from businesses

Small BusinessTrying to persuade our Government to use joined up thinking is not easy, particularly when they are trying to work across different departments. However even individual departments seem incapable of this. On Tuesday one of the DUP MPs, Gregory Campbell asked the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) a simple question that relates to a very challenging issue. “To ask the Secretary of State for BEIS, what recent discussions he has had with business representatives on potential barriers to recruiting women into the STEM workforce.” The Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Department is Richard Harrington, MP for Watford and he responded to the question on behalf of his Department and his boss Greg Clark “The demand for STEM skills is growing and industry recognises that there is a gender imbalance, particularly in sectors such as engineering, construction and manufacturing. In order to improve gender representation, we have taken focussed action to engage with businesses, representative bodies and learned societies to understand what the barriers are to participation, retention and progression. This includes a series of engagements to understand what more we can do to work collaboratively and improve representation of women in the STEM sector.”

It is reasonably common for Ministers to claim to be engaging with communities such as businesses and also wider communities on matters such as Brexit. However there is never much evidence of engagement beyond tours by Ministers who come into settings, make presentations, claim to be listening and then depart after a few minutes and never appear to retain any of the comments and suggestions that are made. However it is not always easy to demonstrate how their ‘engagement’ attempts are non existent. On this occasion the day after Richard answered the question or rather made a statement that was intended to deflect the question, the BEIS Select Committee published a report on how SMEs are under immense pressure due to the way in which most of their big business clients refuse to pay them on 30 day terms

“The Small businesses and productivity report says that for a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) to succeed it is crucial they are paid fairly and on time.  However, the report finds that bad payment practices have led to the failure of many SMEs and prevented others from growing and improving their productivity. Initiatives to address poor payment practices, including the Government’s Prompt Payment Code, have been ineffective, say MPs.

The report recommends the Government introduce a statutory requirement for companies to pay within 30 days, move as soon as possible to require all medium and large companies to sign the Prompt Payment Code, and equip the Small Business Commissioner with powers to fine those companies who pay late.”

It is clear that if the Government was fulfilling the concept outlined by Richard that the issue regarding the 30 payments would have been heard very clearly by the Government without the need for the select Committee to carry out a report which is no doubt very valuable but is yet more time, words and expense to try to resolve a level of engagement that the Government claims to be focused on. The reality is that if engagement is taking place whatever the question, businesses like people would list their various concerns, not just the issues that the Government wishes to discuss. We need some joined up working if our economy is to get strengthened!






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Could we have some more from Oliver please Today?

HumphThis morning on Radio 4 Today programme, John Humphrys interviewed Oliver Letwin and the whole thing seemed to be full of problems. The first and most obvious matter was that Oliver claimed he would support Theresa May’s proposal for our departure from the EU next Tuesday which is perhaps surprising given that he was her predecessors head of the Brexit unit. However this was a clear statement and it took several attempts to persuade Oliver to explain what ‘what would happen if Theresa’s proposal is rejected’. Oliver then burst into describing an alternative proposal (Norway+) which he articulated as something he was very excited about which would achieve good outcomes in his view and he even knew that many MPs and the EU would support it. At no stage did he then raise disappointments for what would be lost that Theresa was currently proposing. Surely at this point John should have asked Letwin if he feels so positive about Norway+ why is he bothering to support Theresa Mays proposal? After all if Theresa is successful next Tuesday the options of Norway+ will be lost. However that was buried by some odd questions about the lack of certainty of a Norway model which seemed to get John tied up when that is a minor matter. In addition how would Theresa be able to remain given how many times she promised us to leave the customs union and how many times the Tories denigrated labour over their call for us to remain in the customs union.

However the much bigger matter is given the very few differences between being a member of the EU and being a member of the EFTA along with the Customs Union such as maintaining the free movement of people, why does the idea that this will meet the demands of the many who voted to Leave make sense? Few people on a day to day basis would ever know the difference between our membership of Norway+ and our membership of the EU. We might no longer be sharing sovereignty with the EU in a strict sense, but they would continue to make rules which our shared membership of EFTA would need to accept and in the case of a few rules our membership of the Customs Union would oblige us to accept. However instead of having any of the benefits of being able to influence and even set laws and on rare occasions block laws, we would simply watch the game from the side of the pitch. We would be subject to the EU Parliaments decisions without having 73 MEPs in the 751 size Parliament. We would be subject to decisions taken by European Council but our Prime Ministers would no longer be a member and we would be impacted by the Commission but we would not be allowed to appoint a Commissioner. In effect we would go from sharing sovereignty which is something I am happy with, to being directed by 27 nations which is the lies that the Vote Leave campaign implied already happened. Although Norway+ is clearly much better than a hard Brexit, it is a long way short of remaining and a long way short of leaving, whatever Oliver Letwin claimed. It is time for someone to challenge these ideas before Tuesday!

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The most factional, divided & poisonous parliament in the last 200 years….

Parliament….which is inhabited either by foolish men and women or by people who must now lay down their differences and work together to snatch a positive outcome for our nation from the jaws of Cameron and Mays crisis.

Writing in today’s Telegraph William Hague states “So the hard line Brexiteers are voting down Mrs Mays Brexit in the hand in order to grab for one that’s in the bush, relying on that Commons majority being unable to organise and assert itself. There is a slim chance they might be justified in that hope – it is hard to think of a more factional, divided and poisonous parliament in the last 200 years, and there is no consensus on any alternative course of action.” He appears to be arguing that the reason why his hard line colleagues are voting against the May deal is so they can force the country into a no deal arrangement due to the time left to come up with an alternative. On the other hand he explains a number of ways in which the majority could work to avoid a no deal taking place. Amongst his suggestions he points out that although the current regulations and legislation mean that the only way to avoid Brexit taking place on 29th March at 11am is if a Minister of the Crown proposes a regulation to do so, that in fact Parliament could engage with a sense of coherence to either demand this or they could change the regulations and then come up with a deal of their own and one element of this deal could be a chance to go back to the nation. Now of course there would be many people who would find this unacceptable, but equally there are others and many of them who would find this a good outcome.


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MPs like Yvette and Sajid need to use social media carefully

yvetteThe way many of us refer to MPs and Parliament as a whole can vary enormously from treating them as the leaders of our nation to pointing out that they are our public servants. This must place anyone who is elected to work on behalf of any community in a very challenging place. Whilst these two concepts appear to be at opposite ends of certain spectrums, on the other hand many other communities would use the same terms for people who they look up to and who at the same time should be accountable to them. Some religious communities do so and the work of teachers and lecturers has a similar feel along with the Police and Fire Brigades and also the NHS. The same can also be true of people who work for private or charitable agencies that are funded from so called public funds. There are many areas of behaviour that get scrutinised using such contrasts.

One very clear one relates to how people communicate in public which can bring their use of social media into a very bright spotlight. Last Tuesday Yvette Cooper was chairing the Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee and she began the meeting by admitting that on the previous occasion a week earlier where the Committee had criticised a high profile Home Office civil servant that they had subsequently discovered that their criticism was unjustified. She explained that she and one of her colleagues had written to the person concerned to apologise for their incorrect comments. The next matter was to welcome the Home Secretary to the Committee which is set up to achieve a number of outcomes including holding the Minister to account for their work on behalf of the Nation. As she attempted to then introduce the first witness for that session, Sajid Javid the current Home Secretary and boss of the person criticised the week before interrupted Yvette and asked if she would be willing to delete a tweet she had made after the committee. He pointed out it had gone to her 175,000 followers including a video of the session and he then called on her to tweet an apology for her comments with a copy of the letter attached to it. He stated “it would really help to draw a line under the affair”. Yvette responded by pointing out some of the current significant failings of the Home Office and how Javid’s attempt to turn the meeting into a debate about their use of twitter “was not appropriate, not dignified and taking up the time of the committee which was intended to be used to deal with much more important matters”. 

Outside of their committee however all of us can take up opportunities to consider if Sajid Javid and Yvette Cooper and many of their colleagues who do use twitter to engage with wide audiences should take Mr Javid’s demand seriously. After all when you have so much influence and indeed power there must be some sense of responsibility taken for the words and statements you use. If such people are incorrect in what they publish and critical of people who are less powerful than they are, it is perfectly reasonable for some meaningful response to be made by the person with power. There are of course other examples of tweets and facebook statements made by Ministers, MPs and indeed Peers and even Councillors. It is clear that the demand from Sajid Javid needs to be presented to his colleagues and peers and indeed he also needs to lead by example. There was a tweet he made in 2013 which criticised Yvette for the number of immigrants that had entered the UK during the time of the Labour Government. It would now make sense for him to delete that tweet and tweet an apology to Yvette admitting that such actions have been taking place ever since 2010. There is also the much more recent tweet he made about the failure of statutory bodies to pay attention to the victims of sexual abuse crimes and stating that under his watch “There will be no no-go areas” which is clearly deeply concerning in terms of what Amber Rudd and Theresa May did on their watch which he believes is wrong, what these no go areas are and who else is responsible for their creation? There are also elected people who like Caroline Nokes MP have blocked people from following them on twitter because they have had the tenacity to ask questions, in the case of Caroline regarding immigration status issues. There are a number of Sussex MPs, Councillors and MEPs who have also blocked people for raising questions! These include Maria Caulfield, Nicholas Soames and Henry Smith, Warren Morgan and Daniel Hannan.

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