Is it time for celebrities to have their voice heard?

PovertyThis interview on Radio 4 with Michael Caine came a couple of days after Stanley Johnson appeared on Good Morning Britain stating that if Irish people wish to shoot one another, they will do so and so he imposition of a hard border shouldn’t be used as leverage on the UK’s Brexit attempt. After months and indeed years and even decades of the concept of our departure from the EU being given enormous airtime to Politicians such as Farage, Gove, Duncan-Smith and in his lifetime Tony Benn, it appears that we are now moving into territory that is based on comments from people like Johnson and Caine. My personal view is that it is vital that broadcasters do give airtime to ordinary and in these case extra-ordinary people as well as professional politicians. As one MP pointed out on twitter a day or so ago, the reason why so many Brexiteer Politicians keep on claiming that they are constantly being told by people that our departure is so important, it is because they are referring to comments made by other Brexiteer Politicians in the Westminster bubble they all inhabit. Such people are never going to be approached by ordinary people with pro EU views except when they are part of a crowd of people waving placards. So the broadcasters need to ensure that they get ordinary people from both sides of the debate onto the airwaves.

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Theresa, what do you mean by listening to business?

BusinessOn Monday in Parliament the MP for Hove, Peter Kyle made a short statement about the extent to which businesses are concerned about struggling post Brexit followed by a couple of questions. Although he did not mention the challenges of the last 28 months, the reality is that for many businesses the impact since the referendum has already been significant. However as we all know, so far we have not yet left. However if we leave many businesses potentially will face much bigger challenges. Some of those that export to the EU will and those of us that import from the EU will and nothing that has come out from the Government suggests that any new trade arrangements will compensate for these losses. One of the areas which has featured in the claims post the referendum and indeed featured in the Vote Leave promises was that training will be enhanced across the UK to increase the prospect of UK citizens gaining new skills. Now the need for skill training available for businesses, particularly amongst the SME sector has been regularly talked about long before Brexit was ever considered. The ongoing failure of Governments to offer training provision in a manner that is a very poor fit for the business community is widely recognised by both training establishments and companies, the only blindspot is in the eyes of the Government. However this is now seen as an even more vital matter as skilled workers from overseas are departing in significant numbers and their potential replacements are choosing not to apply for jobs in the UK. Large Companies with a payroll of more than £3m have been paying out a training levy since April 2017 and many are struggling to make this work for them. The second tier promise to small businesses that they too could benefit from the levy has failed to emerge even though it was promised for May 2017. Perhaps the claim by Theresa May that she is listening to business could be challenged by the next MP who gets a chance to ask her a credible question? The business I am part of has been asking our MP who also happens to be a Minister to visit us since she was elected. We have once met her at a Chamber of Commerce event and in the Summer she agree to come to meet us and offered a couple of dates which she then postponed and we are now waiting for the fourth proposed date next month. We know that Governments listen to businesses that donate to their parties very well, indeed we were invited to do so earlier this year and although I complained to our MP she chose not to respond to the email and we know they like speaking to businesses at events, but listening to business – that requires a very different set of skills and priorities, perhaps this Government needs some training and a change in their attitude!

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Project Bank Accounts – a positive solution for SMEs

FSBWhen organisations such as charities or public sector bodies or even businesses commission major pieces of work such as the construction of new buildings or refurbishment of existing ones, in the process of limiting their involvement in the day to day elements they can make a very big mistake if they are not careful. The clear and obvious risk which most people and organisations are fully aware of is trying to manage the project themselves as demonstrated by the domestic high risk self-build projects shown on TV. In order to avoid this problem most people or organisations will arrange for someone to act as a project manager who is outside of their organisation, or occasionally they will recruit someone to do this for them on a temporary contract. However they will of course also have someone or a committee within the organisation who is responsible for the project and so some areas of the management can occasionally fall between the two people or groups of people. However understandably the budget for the work itself will be managed by the finance team in the organisation and they rarely get involved in the project management in any depth, however they need to keep a careful eye on the way the money is being spent, after all it is their money (or the money from their donors or investors).

One of the most common ways of reducing the risk of things going wrong with the financing of the project as they see it, is to ask the main building contractor to deal with this. The contractor will of course be very happy to do so as they can now add costs to their work for the money and subcontract management and they can extend the value out so that whatever their payment agreement is with the client, the contractor can add weeks and even months to the pay arrangements for their subcontractors. A classic case for this is the way in which Carillion which was paid by the Government on 30 day terms and then paid its subcontractors on 120 days or even 180 days terms.

The company I work for was commissioned to work for a very high profile church in central London back in 2014. After six months of discussions with the client and agreements over costs, they asked us to then become a subcontractor to their main building contractor rather than work for them direct. We checked the contractor out on Experian and there was nothing to be concerned about. Their name was Fairhurst Ward Abbots or FWA. The company was established in 1941 and at the time held a royal warrant for building and decorating services to the Queen. The firm had a countrywide reputation for delivering renovation and refurbishment of historic properties, plus luxury new build projects. As well as the Royal Palaces, FWA worked on some of the UK’s finest historic buildings including the National Galley, the V&A and Chatsworth House. Tragically as we were finishing our work off, we got a letter through the post alerting us to the fact that they had gone into administration and the outstanding sum of £12,000 was never going to arrive in our bank account.

More recently we had a similar experience with an electrical contractor who we were asked to sub contract to, by a local University. They went bust owing us £7,000. These sums are not large enough to end our business, but they are big enough to remove large elements of the profits of the company. What is needed is a way forward that ensures that if we are ever asked again to become subcontractors that we can ensure our business will not be put at risk. We have just found one solution when a major charity asked us to do the same and so we told them they would need to guarantee that our payments would be made if the main contractor failed to pay us. They agreed to pay us directly. A tweet in the last 24 hours shown above from the federation of small businesses suggests that in the light of the Carillion fiasco Project Bank Accounts may be the way forward!

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How can we call for a different outcome?

TheresaThe high profile leaders of the Cabinet based #ChuckChequers campaign spent last night eating pizza and coming up with a series of plans to ensure that we as are a nation are denied a soft Brexit. Meanwhile my MEP Nigel Farage is calling on all MPs to remember to vote to remove us from the EU irrespective of the costs and challenges it will create. So it seems as though the views of people like James Cleverly are in the minority supporting Theresa May with her approach towards Brexit. The need for those politicians who are willing to consider a delay to the departure or commited to the peoples vote to now to begin to outline some requirements that could help reform the EU is vital. It is now 28 months since the referendum and given that over half the voters called for us to leave means that a significant number of people in our nation do not approve of the EU in its current format and so far no one has made a strong case for reforming the EU. It is clear that the Green Party, the Lib Dems and the SNP along with many groups in Northern Ireland want us to remain in the EU so they can surely begin to outline what a reformed EU could look like so that our citizens can hear of a range of options in case we cannot find a meaningful way of leaving?

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Sussex is impacted by hard borders and Police funding cuts

Love Sussex Map 2015 NVGMost fellow residents have come to terms with our boundary signs that welcome visitors to Brighton and Hove, even though we know which part of the city we live or work in. This sense of corporate unity is of course supported by the much higher profile of our football club which moved out of Hove and into Brighton some time ago. However if there was a reversal of the city and unitary authority status then the tension between the two towns might begin to return with the help of people who would like to return to a time when there were two Councils with all of the challenges that they helped to create. If we want reminders of the tension between governmental bodies, we only have to cross the border into Lewes, Mid Sussex or Adur and then ask for an explanation why public service provision differs and the difficulty of getting some degree of consistency in the same way as was the case when Steve Bassam and Ivor Caplin led opposing Councils. The root causes of such disagreements is always hard to identify, is it the Councillors, the Civil Servants, the residents, the businesses or indeed the ‘great and the good’ who have strong influence when it suits them. I recall working with the Sussex Police Authority shortly after 9/11 in an attempt to form a Sussex wide Interfaith support network. The willingness of the two County Councils was strong, however trying to persuade a Council Officer from Brighton and Hove to come to the meeting was almost impossible. The irony being that our city contains the oldest interfaith network in the country so had much to be proud of.  There are many other local examples that can be pulled out of recent history books to demonstrate the challenge of Councils and communities in working together but these are very modest by comparison to the cases being publicised on a daily basis over the borders between Northern Ireland and Eire and the English ‘mainland’. The apparent willingness by the DUP to dismiss how little impact Brexit will have on the border that exists on their Island which carries all sorts of terrorist history seems to be at great odds with their demand that the physical and infrastructural border between their Island and our Island is diminished as though it was one short main road with no obstacles between the two locations. Of course this is only one of the problems that Brexit is potentially going to create for our nation and for the residents of Southern Ireland. Another is a matter that has arisen in the last few days over the construction work that is apparently being planned for the M26 and M20 to create lorry parks in the event of a no deal Brexit. It seems very reasonable to ask the Government which has only just disclosed its plans despite many requests that have been made in the past, to question if similar provision is being considered for Newhaven and Shoreham. It seems inevitable that if Dover becomes the long term bottleneck that the two lorry parks would suggest, that road hauliers will look for alternative routes into Europe that are less busy and Newhaven and Shoreham must be high on their list!

A week ago on the BBC Inside Out programme, one of the subjects covered was the challenge facing Sussex Police in the light of its financial cuts that began in 2010 when David Cameron, George Osborne and Theresa May came to power and planned substantial reductions in police budgets. Whilst their decisions are the main reason that the Police are facing such huge restrictions, here in Sussex that was added to by the freeze to the Police precept when the Police Authority was abolished and replaced by a Tory Police and Crime Commissioner, who was the only candidate in that election who believed that freezing the precept would not add to the problems. Although the PCC has recently reversed her decision that will act as a relatively small plaster over what has now become a huge wound across Sussex. A couple of days after Inside Out was broadcast, Richard Foster, the retiring Chair of the Criminal Cases Review Commission was interviewed on Radio 4 following a speech he had made. He pointed out that across the country there is a 20% vacancy rate for investigating officers and so along with the lack of resources in dealing with phone calls, all police forces in the UK are unable to investigate many of the crimes that take place in an effective manner. We clearly need a very urgent and significant increase in national police funding arrangements!

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StandUp4UKAccording to today’s national newspapers David Davis who was our Governments chief negotiator for our departure from the EU from July 2016 until he resigned in July 2018 is now calling on the rest of his Cabinet colleagues to reject the one proposed Brexit plan that they all agreed to back in July at Chequers. The so called Chequers plan is the only agreement that has been accepted by the Cabinet after 2 years of his failures to get his own party to agree to a way forward on virtually any elements of our departure. Following David’s call it has been revealed that certain Cabinet members are seriously considering his call, Ruth Davidson is threatening to resign as leader of the Scottish Tories and Arlene Foster of the Irish DUP is threatening to force our nation to go for a ‘no deal’ approach which will clearly end the tentative peace situation in Northern Ireland and may lead to a return to Irish terrorism across the UK. Meanwhile the latest Brexit campaign under the hashtag #StandUp4Brexit is sharing a range of videos on YouTube by Jacob Rees-Mogg, Iain Duncan-Smith, Priti Patel, Steven Baker and this one by Boris Johnson on Facebook claiming that the Chequers agreement cannot be changed later so needs to be rejected now due to its many weaknesses. It seems clear that what we need as a nation is a commitment by politicians to stand up for our nation, irrespective of whether it is inside the EU or outside of it. It is no good for these pathetic politicians to place their own ideas and agendas at a higher level than the overall needs of the United Kingdom. Perhaps it is time for a campaign called #StandUp4UK to be established that instead of agreeing with the Chuck Chequers plan, calls for the binning Brexit, at least until a realistic set of ideas are established and the UK residents have had a chance to express their views on them!

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Lessons for Government bodies from a charity survey

Charity CommissionBack in July the Charity Commission published the results of a piece of research which they commissioned Populus to do in trying to understand what behavioural factors will increase the publics confidence in charities. The information is published here and amongst other findings it explains how the elements of the organisational behaviour that will help the public to trust the charities are:

It identifies the key drivers of trust in charities as being:

  • transparent about where money goes (8.8 of 10)
  • true to their values (8.5)
  • efficient in their use of resources (8.4)
  • well-governed and well-managed (8.3)
  • able to demonstrate making a positive difference (8.3)

It may be my naivety but as part of the Government the Charity Commission needs to look at itself in the mirror. I wonder how well they would score themselves against these 5 priorities as it is clear that while these five areas will help charities to improve their profile and levels of confidence amongst people who are outside of the charitable world, that the same is true of Governments.

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