Monday, 14 November 2016

Trump's climate change?

In my early teens, back in the 1960s I wrote a brief poem titled ‘under sunlight rays’. It was my first real statement of concern about the damage we were doing to our environment.  It was also my first attempt at poetry. 

There stood a tree in my childhood days
And there grew grass under sunlight rays
But where are these now so rare
Under the concrete lain so bare
My children Will not know
In the world in which they'll grow
They will read it in a book
And I Will say look
There grew a tree in my childhood days
And there grew grass under sunlight rays

It was my first insight into the loss of our forests of trees, but little did I know then just how important they were. 

There Is considerable anxiety about President-elect Donald Trump, and not least because he does not accept Global warming is man made. He believes it is a Chinese hoax.

The concept of global warming, he says, was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.

Trump says he wants to cancel the 2015 Paris agreement combatting  climate change.  It is an agreement signed by almost 200 nations. Is this Trump’s folly? Or do we need a new global politics?

It is difficult with Trump to know whether to take him seriously. Much of what he has said during the election campaign might have been posturing. He can pick things up only to discard them when they are no longer of use. A Trump presidency may look very different to the portrait of the campaign.  But who knows? The only thing of which we are certain is that with Trump nothing is certain.

 At a time when we need the US to engage in the world positively on climate change, the danger now is that it will withdraw into a protectionist war. 

Yet, there is a curious truth in what Trump says about the workings of the global economy.  He is also correct in saying the system is broken.  The neoliberal myth of the benefits of global free markets is exposed. It has failed. 

Putting aside his strange notion about a Chinese conspiracy, he is right to conclude that tackling climate change is made more difficult by the structure of International free trade.

Flooding the international market with cheap goods and raw materials, pushes down prices and increases consumption.  Cheap imports flood western markets.  But it also increases climate change emissions.  

Countries like the USA and the UK claim to be meeting their emissions targets.  But  this is only because the goods they consume are produced elsewhere, particularly in India and China.  Our consumption is still polluting.  

It is time for a fundamental rethink.  We need to put global politics back into economics. We need to do this because how we trade is political. It is a choice. 

The choice of whether we grow our own food, produce our own goods, and how we do this, is as much a political decision as it is economic.

If we manufacture goods in the UK, then we can invest in new environmentally friendly  technologies.  We can control the emissions produced by our production and consumption.  We cannot do this if we simply import what we need. 

Back in the early 1990s my concern for the environment and possible man-made climate change led me to read the first report of the Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change.  It gave several possible scenarios based on different assumptions used in modelling the trends of global temperature. It also cautioned about inadequate data. At that time it was difficult to be certain, but their was increased concern. 

I can understand why many scientists at that time were sceptical about the interpretation of  the data, and the assumptions made in the models.   There was indeed insufficient data to be clear what was happening to global temperatures, let alone man’s contribution.  I was also sceptical.

 I considered we might be experiencing a regular cycle  of global warming.  I even wrote some letters to  newspapers about it, published in The Times amongst others.  But that was almost 3 decades ago.  As each report came through year on year, manmade climate change became increasingly certain. 

Human-induced climate change is caused by the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that have accumulated in the atmosphere mainly over the past 100 years.

Considering the increased population and rapid industrialisation in modern times, with increased output of carbon emissions, with the loss of forests, and changes in our oceans, we have drastically reduced the carbon buffering processes that help stabilise our climate. 

Climate change is real, and it is now certain we are contributing to it.  The consequences are profound. 

 We need  'global action' against climate change.  Saving the planet requires difficult choices.  But which politician is going to be brave enough to tell us the truth, that we must change the way we live?

For the most part the West has already contributed its share of global emissions. The damage is done. Now, developing countries will have to be persuaded that there are better ways to economic growth and prosperity. 

There is an urgent need to end, and reverse deforestation - We all know it.  but in what market can we effectively express that demand?  It is a political decision, and those economies affected will need to be compensated to allow them to make such decisions.  We cannot rely on price alone to stop deforestations.  

As the human population continues to grow, so does the need for more food. Rising demand has created incentives to convert forests to farm and pasture land to grow food, and make biofuels.

Once a forest is lost to agriculture, it is usually gone forever—along with many of the plants and animals that once lived there. It is the major threat to bio-diversity. 

It is estimated that 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions are the result of deforestation. Yet, some 46-58 thousand square miles of forest are lost each year—equivalent to 36 football fields every minute. 17% of the Amazon rain forest has been lost in the last 50 years, mostly due to forest conversion for cattle ranching. Do we consider this when we buy a can of corned beef? 

The loss of our forests is happening as I speak, and it will continue while you listen. 

Here in the UK 85% of domestic demand for wood products is met from imports, amounting to a value of around £6 billion annually.

Sweden, Latvia, Finland, Russia and Estonia together account for nearly 90% of all UK sawn softwood imports.  We need to build more housing and this will require more wood unless other materials are used. We know that whatever we do there is an environmental impact both locally and globally.  In terms of environmental impact, we are not an island. Our choices have impact on others across the globe and on future generations. 

The cost of pollution is real, but it is rarely factored into ‘production costs’. The cost of polluting now is met by future generations or by the public in clearing up the mess, or adjusting to the consequences of climate change. Those who produce greenhouse gas emissions are therefore imposing potentially huge costs on other people over time, yet our tax system and the prices we pay do not reflect this.  We are using the world’s resources, but  future generations will have to bare the cost. 

Melting glaciers will initially increase flood risk and then strongly reduce water supplies, eventually threatening one-sixth of the world’s population, predominantly in the Indian sub-continent, parts of China, and the Andes in South America.

Declining crop yields, especially in Africa, could leave hundreds of millions without the ability to produce or purchase sufficient food. 

Climate change is expected to increase worldwide deaths from malnutrition and heat stress. Vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever could become more widespread if effective control measures are not in place.
Rising sea levels will result in tens to hundreds of millions more people flooded each year with warming of 3 or 4°C.

Ecosystems will be particularly vulnerable to climate change, with around 15 - 40% of species potentially facing extinction. And ocean acidification, a direct result of rising carbon dioxide levels, will have major effects on marine ecosystems, with possible adverse consequences on fish stocks.

President elect Donald Trump is correct when he says the system is broken.  He is not alone in saying so.  We need a new approach. The best way to stop migration is to address the issues driving it - war, poverty and opportunity. It is estimated that climate change will be a major factor in driving migration as ecosystems fail. 

But are we prepared to pay the price to stop and reverse this?  Would voters elect a leader who promises to increase the price of food?  Or to increase taxes to help pay for new environmentally friendly technologies? I doubt it.

You can also hear this on The Thin End:

Sunday, 23 October 2016

The foolishness of Brexit

The warning from the British Bankers Association that some banks are considering relocating to Europe in the new year because of Brexit, reminds us once again of the perilous state we are in.

The problem is not that politicians lie to us. The problem is that they have not the courage to tell us what we don't like to hear. The government knows Brexit will hurt millions of people in the UK, but they won't acknowledge it. They know it is set to seriously harm our economy and competitiveness in the world, but won't tell us. They can't tell us the reality because it would destabilise the markets. So we are stuck in fantasy land. 

We go on with the belief, I would say delusion, that somehow all will be ok, but it won't. Even if we take the most optimisitc scenario of Brexit from economists such as Patrick Minford we are in for a very hard knock. 

Just as in war, everyone becomes an expert. In the comfort of their armchair in front of the television it is easy enough. Suddenly people who haven't a clue will pontificate on economics as though their judgement carried the same weight as expert analysis by economists. And so the economic forecasters are dismissed as 'doom sayers'.

Of course we can look to the 'new opportunities' it might create - but opportunities for who? My prediction is that it will not be the poorest who will find any benefit or opportunity. Nor will it be middle income earners whose jobs are on the line or are relocated. A 'hard' Brexit would take us out of the single market, but what is the price of a soft exit? We don't know, but there will be a price.

There is a kind of blind stupidity to the Brexit case that runs something like 'Europe needs Britain more than we need Europe'. It sounds good and was used by Farage regularly over the years. It is meaningless twaddle - a politicians sound bite. We could rephrase it "Britain needs Europe as much as Europe needs Britain'. It is still meaningless. What isn't meaningless is that almost 50% of our trade is in the single market, and that is why a hard Brexit would be devastating to our economy.

We have no plan for Brexit, and nor can the government find any coherent consensus on what it will seek from it. Mrs May has no plan and no mandate. The reason she uses the mantra 'Brexit means Brexit' is because it doesn't. She knows that, but she hasn't the courage to tell us.

But, there is a further stupidity. Imagine someone putting a hole in the bottom of a boat. You have, say, thirty minutes to man the lifeboats and get everyone to safety. Everyone runs around frantically looking for the lifeboats, but none are to be found. That is Brexit. The captain of the ship hollers 'don't worry, think of the opportunities!'.  

Stay away from a fool, for you will not find knowledge on their lips.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Opportunities for Labour, and why Labour can win

The Labour leadership election is over. Yes, it really is. Jeremy Corbyn has been re-elected, as expected with a substantial majority. His supporters like to call this his 'mandate'. Yet it is doubtful this alone will resolve the problem for the Labour Party. The problem for Labour isn't simply leadership - it is direction and change.

The party conference season has been and gone. It was more noticeable for the renewed statement of the party's multilateralist position on the nuclear detereent. Jeremy Corbyn was crowned, but the problems fester. The issue of anti-Semitism in the party rumbles on, not least because of the ham-fisted response to the criticism from the House of Commons select committee. There are many who remain disaffected about Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. To some, it is a battle for the heart and soul of Labour. As such it is a battle that may destroy the party. But it is also an opportunity - the possibility of a new consensus in the party, and a new way forward, meeting the challenges of today, not the problems of yesterday. It is time to look at the positives for Labour.

The first positive is that Jeremy Corbyn has put together a reasonably effective shadow cabinet. Labour can now take the fight to the Tories in the house of commons and hold the government to account. It has made a good start on Brexit and in demanding parliamentary scrutiny. They put the government front bench on the back foot and helped expose divisions in its ranks.

If Labour can rise to the challenge the country faces, it can still succeed. As the Tories struggle with the economic prospects of Brexit, they have been forced to abandon their old narrative of austerity. They also now talk of investing in infrastructure. The targets for balancing the books have been put on hold, and the strategy wasn't working in any event. This economic vacuum provides Labour with a chance to get its message across, if only it could decide what that message is.

It is often said Theresa May is shifting the Tories to the centre ground. But this is I think a mistaken view of what is happening. The Tory language may certainly be changing, but May's government is potentially more right-wing than Cameron's, and the more dangerous as it cloaks itself in the 'one nation' language. It is a wolf in sheep's clothing.

So how should Labour respond?

Labour must stop believing it can think for the working class. It is no good saying 'we are the party of the working class' if the party simply tells them what to think. Little can be gained by browbeating voters with 'principles' and socialism. Nor will Labour convert millions of voters to vote for socialism.

Labour needs to listen. It needs to listen to the concerns of ordinary working people. Only by doing that can it address the disconnect the party has with voters - and the disconnect with Labour is a growing chasm. This is why UKIP made inroads into Labour territory.

Labour must address the anxieties ordinary people have about their communities and their opportunities. Labour's policies must be seen to have relevance and speak to those concerns.

Electorally, Labour has a mountain to climb. But there are positives for Labour, and reasons to be optimistic, and we should not lose sight of them. Labour must now turn those positives to its advantage.
Labour has now the advantage of a leader who has the overwhelming support of its members. That is a great asset, but only so long as it doesn't simply become a personality cult. Labour must listen to criticism of its leadership and find ways to respond where that criticism is positive and relevant.

Labour is not the only party struggling. There is unrest across the political spectrum. There are problematic issues in all parties. UKIP struggles over its leadership and in finding a role post Brexit. The Tories have yet to get over the hurdles of Brexit and have a leader who is Prime Minister without a mandate.

Labour has a massively increased membership, many of whom are new to political engagement. They are enthusiastic and idealistic. It just is not my experience that these new members are all a bunch a raging leftwing lunatics. They care about our public services and social infrastructure. They believe in creating a fair society in which opportunity is not simply predicated on the accumulation of wealth and privilege. They believe in social justice. They want to make a difference. Above all, they are angry with past failure. They want Labour to stand for something.

The Labour leadership campaign was bruising, but Labour remains a broad church. There will be continued struggle over the direction of the party and its leadership. That has always been so. But there is now an opportunity to refocus and develop a coherent set of policies to address a fractured society.

We need new solutions to address a changed world, and to correct the failures of neoliberalism. We need a new approach to economic growth. We need a new narrative. We need also to address our crumbling infrastructure, a housing crisis, and failing social and health care system.

If it did anything at all, the leadership campaign further demonstrated a paucity of ideas on the left of British politics. The left is stuck, but not without hope. We are stuck with outdated solutions, and where there is a glimmer of a new narrative, it is but a sketch. New thinking is there, but it lacks clarity.

The left shivers in its nakedness. The clothes we once wore have been discarded and gleefully picked up by Mrs May's Tories, as she plays for the centre ground whilst shifting to the right. This is why Labour must not ignore the centre ground. But deciding what that means isn't easy.

Where is the centre ground? It isn't simply found by dividing ideas by half or by using focus groups. Half-baked ideas are not the centre, and nor are they radical. It does mean meeting the aspirations of hard working people - aspiration they have for themselves, their families, and for the future of their communities. Aspiration must not, for the left become a dirty word. Labour will only succeed if it can develop a strategy that can make a reality of those aspirations. The centre ground doesn't really exist as a set of policies. It is a kind of media abstraction. The centre ground can be built. The centre ground is a narrative accepted by voters. This is why Labour must reach out to voters and not simply talk inside a bubble. It must contribute to creating the centre ground - a fundamental shift of voter perception.

So, this is why Brexit and the government response to it gives Labour a chance to stake out a new centre ground.

You don't find the centre ground and shift to it. You define it.

Here lies a problem - new ideas on the left are currently half-baked. Yes, there are commitments to spend on infrastructure, vague notions about changes in ownership and control. There are commitments to spend, but little idea on how it can be funded. There is but one answer: borrowing. Without a coherent narrative, Labour will struggle for economic credibility.

In previous articles I have argued for a new economic approach and a new political narrative. Relying on growth alone, without strategies to achieve social redistribution of the benefits of that growth, is unlikely to be effective.

Growth that destroys the planet is not the growth we need. Nor is growth that increases inequalities.

Yet, we are locked into the politics of growth rather than the politics of fairness. We talk about the engine of the economy as if simply by raving it up it will solve all our problems. Growth becomes a good, an objective rather than a means. Instead of addressing the vast and ever growing inequalities in distribution of wealth and of opportunities, we are lured into a false premise - that if we grow fast enough it won't matter because the poor will benefit even if the rich get richer. But it doesn't work. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. The beneficiaries of austerity have been the rich, with an ever widening gap between the rich and poor. Poverty is increasing along with health inequality as the rug is pulled from health and social care.

But here is the political trick. We are all locked into the system. The consequences of breaking the system are profound. Before breaking 'the system' we need to know how to put in place a new one.

Yet we must break free. Brexit presents Labour with an opportunity to do just that. It must now put aside its problems of leadership and concentrate on seizing that chance.

The old economic certainties have been ripped away. The Tories have had to abandon their balanced budget approach. Their narrative is in tatters as they struggle to develop a new one.

There is a void, and the left must now step up to fill it. The neoliberal myths are exposed.

When the system breaks down we tend to repair it using the same faulty template. We need a new template.

If our objectives are to make poverty history, or to make the world a less unequal place in which to live, then we need something different in the way we do things.

We see a yearning for this here in the UK and elsewhere, but if the left does not get its act together that desire for change will be swept up by the right. Across Europe we can see far right parties in ascendence, and the left struggling for traction. We see it also in the Trump phenomenon in the US presidential election.

We need a new political-economic settlement that puts social objectives and people at the heart of economic activity. This requires politicians, businesses and finance to work together to achieve fair growth. We need growth, not for its own sake, but for a purpose - the purpose of increasing well-being for all, whilst protecting the environment on which we depend.

The question is whether this is possible with Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. I don't know the answer. But for all his faults, he is the leader of the Labour party, and he will be the leader in the years running up to a general election. Labour needs now to put aside the question of leadership and concentrate on the narrative and developing an effective campaign. For this, Jeremy Corbyn needs to build unity, not simply call for it. Calling people into line is not sufficient. This is why how he deals with the PLP is crucial. It requires pragmatism and fairness, not intolerance.

The answer lies in politics, and the will to change the direction of economic policy. It requires an economy harnessed for social and environmetal well-being. It requires Labour to reach out to voters and develop an engaging narrative - one that reflects genuinely their concerns whilst offering radical solutions. Credibility comes not just by appealing to those concerns, but presenting solutions that engage them in the process. Labour must respond to aspirations, not negate them.

This is why it must be pro-business, pro-enterprise, and pro-people. Public ownership should be promoted where necessary, but not as a totem. Labour won't succeed with sterile debate about nationalisation or privatisation. Yes, we need socialisation. Socialisation need not be anti-business, but it needs a new social contract with private enterprise. Business can flourish with a sound infrastructure, but infrastructure is not simply transport or housing. It is also people and communities.

We can no longer simply push the growth button without asking what kind of growth it is, or what kind of growth we need. To achieve the right kind of growth we need a leap in investment. Investment that will push us out of the old environmentally challenging production and consumption - we need a fundamental change in the balance of our economy.

Imagine growth in education. Imagine growth in environmentally friendly farming. Imagine growth of environmentally friendly energy, and of environmentally friendly transport. Imagine the development of communities and their engagement in the fight against crime, building safe environments.

In his speech to the Labour party conference the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell identified one of the answers - a new technological revolution harnessed to creating wellbeing, social justice and saving the planet.

That leap requires investment in the infrastructure necessary to harness it. It requires access for all, and the development of new skills. McDonnell in his speech also quoted Nobel Prize winning economist Joe Stiglitz in saying “we have to rewrite the rules of our economy”.

Indeed we do. And if Labour succeeds in doing that, then it will win. There is a mountain to climb. Let's start climbing!

Friday, 7 October 2016

England needs a coherent national approach to waste

England has more than 300 different recycling systems. Some councils collect waste commingled - some separate food waste, and about another 260 do not. Recycling plastic differs across the country. This is why plastic packaging is often labelled 'check kerbside'.

There are different sizes and colours of bin, different types of truck, different types of recycling system and different types of anaerobic digesters consuming waste. Waste recycling is a post-code lottery.

The harmful effects of waste is a national problem. It requires a national solution. Cash-starved local authorities struggle to meet needs.

It is estimated that in London alone £19 million a year could be saved with a standard recycling system. The savings across the country could be immense.

We spend more than £3 billion a year simply collecting waste.

A single, harmonised system across the country, could drive up recycling rates.

WRAP recycling scheme data suggests that 97 per cent of English households are served by a recycling collection for plastic bottles.  However, the proportion of households served by mixed plastic collections (i.e. including non‐bottle rigid plastic packaging, such as pots, tubs and trays) is significantly lower, at just 57 per cent.

Plastic film collections do not exist on any notable scale.  

The absence of collections of non‐bottle plastics is likely to be a significant factor in the low recycling rate for this material.

But still my concern is with the amount of non-recyclable plastic being used in our supermarkets.

Yesterday when shopping I decided to count the number of items wrapped in non-recyclable plastic - apples, onions, carrots, potatoes, plums, red peppers, bananas, courgettes....on and on. Almost every item I picked up was wrapped in non-recyclable plastic. Some items had no information at all. This is from a leading supermarket claiming to have a strategy for reducing the environmental impact of packaging.

Just 15% of household plastic is recycle. Tonnes of the stuff ends up in landfill. There is no point blaming the consumer if the plastic is non-recyclable. But councils were unable to recycle 338,000 tonnes of waste in 2014-15 because of contamination - up from about 184,000 tonnes in 2011-12.

The cost to local authorities of re-sorting so-called contaminated recycle bins is said to be the primary reason the vast majority of the waste is being rejected.

Councils say they are working to stop people putting the wrong items in bins. I have seen very little sign of such work. Our waste strategy is a shambles. 

We need a more coherent nationwide strategy.

Monday, 26 September 2016

All not what it seems in packaging

I have just had a lovely slice of apple and blackberry lattice pie from Waitrose. It came in a cardboard carton, which I turned over to read recycling codes: card is 'widely recycled'; foil is 'check locally for kerbside'; but the window of plastic in the carton is 'not recyclable'. Why not? Why produce such complex packaging? It is unnecessary.

I also had a lovely bit of toast from a slice of Vogel's Soya and Linseed bread 'crammed with bursting seeds and grains'. You can imagine the explosions of the seeds and grains! It was lovely toasted with a bit of cheese, cheese on toast being one of my favourite snacks. But the really good thing thing is that the plastic 'bag' it came in is recyclable. Well done Vogel. it leads me to a question. If they can use recyclable plastic bags for their bread, then why can't others? Why is the plastic wrap on the bunch of bananas from Waitrose not recyclable? And also why are bananas in a bag at all? The answer to the latter is of course sales promotion. It is easy to sell a bargain if it is packaged.

Recycling plastic is a mess, and it is a mess we the consumer is having to deal with. The onus has been placed on us to sort it out and put the appropriate bits in our recycle bins. But while the responsibility has been placed upon us, the producers appear to be doing little to ease the problem with mixed packaging, and with packaging for promotional reasons rather than necessity. It really is unnecessary to put apples in a cardboard carton with a plastic covering. Apples can be and should be sold loose.

Let's take black plastic Trays. Black plastic trays used for microwavable ready meals are not currently recyclable simply because they are black. The problem is that recycle companies use optical technology to sort the plastic, but it can't cope with black plastic! It is unable to detect the polymers.

You would think it would be sensible to make all plastic trays a colour that can be recycled, but I think the problem is that black is used to cover the colour impurities in the plastic. Some companies have been trying to overcome this problem, but meanwhile we are putting these trays in the recycle bin when they can't be recycled. The solution is simple. The government could act to make it mandatory for such trays to be recyclable. The government could act to stop this nonsense.

And then there are Yoghurt pots. Several manufacturers now use PET, polyethylene terephthalate, yoghurt pots, which are the same polymer type as plastic bottles. PET yoghurt pots can be recycled. That is good.

However, some yogurt pots are made from polystyrene and are not generally accepted in plastic recycling schemes. Polystyrene has an entirely different make-up to the polymers used in plastic bottles and there are currently limited outlets for this material. That is bad.

So here is the question: If some yogurt pots can be recycled, then why shouldn't it be mandatory on producers that ALL yogurt pots be recyclable? Doesn't that make sense?

We can stop this nonsense! Governments can act.

But our government has left us, the consumers, to sort out the problem with plastic. Surely it is time we stopped non-recyclable plastics being used for packaging.

When you buy fish and chips and they give it to you in a styrofoam carton it is not considered recyclable because when it is broken down it doesn't produce sufficient to be reusable. This is also why styrofoam cups can't be recycled. We should stop the use of such cups.

The UK uses over 5 million tonnes of plastic each year of which an estimated 29% is currently being recovered or recycled. Around 38%, 2.4 million tons of this is plastic in packaging.

The UK has a plastic packaging recycling target of 57% by 2020. Frankly I don't think this is good enough. It doesn't address the problem of too much packaging.

According to the Waste Resource Action Programme (WRAP), 1.7 million tonnes of this plastic waste comes from households and the rest from commercial and industrial companies. Plastic bottles, pots, tubs, trays, films and plastic bags are the most common types of household plastic waste.

The government has acted to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags. But what is the point of this when we go on using non-recyclable bags for our fruit? The onus has been put on us, the consumer to recycle our plastic waste. There is much talk of fines to households for not properly recycling such waste. We have a responsibility to ensure that the waste item is placed into a collection system which maximises the opportunity for collection and recycling of the material content. This is why I find it frustrating that so much of the outer packaging is not recyclable. Many don't realise this and they simply put it in the recycle bin. Tonnes of this wretched stuff, used for outer packaging, cannot currently be recycled.

We need a firner strategy on packaging.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

A disconnected list of old and new targets isn't a climate strategy

Jeremy Corbyn is set to outline his energy strategy today.  It is expected to include

Promoting 200 new publicly owned "local energy companies" by 2025 able to supply towns and cities across the UK.
Encouraging 1,000 new "community energy co-operatives", backed by state funding to pay for connection to the National Grid.
Insulating four million homes to high energy efficiency standards
Phasing out coal-fired power stations by the early 2020s
Restoring the Climate Change Department
Supporting plans to plant 64 million trees in next 10 years

It is good that Jeremy Corbyn appears to be putting together a more coherent approach to the environment. But it is still a hotch-potch with little that is new. Indeed much is old. We need to be much bolder and more innovative.  

Coal-fired generators are due to be phased out by 2025 under this Tory government plans, so not a lot new there. There is very little on how we enhance renewable, although planting trees goes a long way. However, we need to see where, when and how these trees could be planted. 
Home Insulation is way behind targets despite government support. Estimates by the Committee on Climate Change in 2014 suggested that 4.5 million cavity walls remained un-insulated, 10 million easy-to-treat lofts could benefit from additional insulation and 7 million solid walls were still without any insulation.What we need to see is the detail on how to make progress on the targets. Setting targets just isn't working.
Restoring the Climate Change department is good, and necessary, but isn't a great leap forward. It speaks more of how important climate change is than putting forward a clear strategy on dealing with climate change.  It is more politics than substance. 
I give Jeremy marks for effort, but the real problem from a global point of view is that the UK has been 'meeting' its targets for emissions largely by exporting manufacturing abroad to China and India. If we took account of the pollution of our imports then we are doing very badly. Tackling this will need a substantial revival of UK manufacturing with an emphasis on environmentally clean production. I see nothing here on that. However, if this is tackled in the overall economic strategy, then we could really be making new ground.
What I want to see from Labour is not just the targets but how it would be done. The last manifesto was pitifully weak on this. It is time we began to put flesh on the old bones that keep being put forward. Yes, we need more home insulation, but how best can we meet the targets? Yes we need our consumption to be 'clean' but how do we do that when we export our polution to China and India. We need a new manufacturing strategy that promotes clean production in the UK. Labour has time to develop a coherent strategy for the next election, but I don't see it  presented here by Jeremy Corybn. Marks 6/10.

Monday, 5 September 2016

For Labour to abolish university tuition fees it needs to find the funding.

Funding for higher education has become an issue in Labour's leadership election.  Most Labour party members I talk to would like to abolish university tuition fees.

Up to the 2012/13 academic year, higher education institutions in England could charge a maximum annual fee of £3,375. This changed in 2012/13 when the cap was increased to £9,000. The vast majority of universities and courses charge the £9,000 maximum.

Now the cap has been increased to £9,000 there is some evidence that it is deterring potential students from poorer backgrounds, or at the least it is affecting the decisions poorer students make. This was always the concern.  

But, whilst there is evidence that fees may affect decisions, the doomsday predictions of a massive decline in students from poorer backgrounds has not materialised. There are now more young learners entering higher education from lower socio-economic groups than at any time before. This number continued to increase even when the cap was lifted to £9,000. But as UCAS point out 'it is likely that application rates remain a little below what they would have been if higher fees had not been introduced.’

The bottom line is that if we abolish fees altogether then we need to find funding for the universities, and that would need to come from tax revenue.  Labour should at least consider whether fees should still be a component of funding. We can't just have a wish list of state funding without knowing the costs and how they would be met.  We should at least consider whether there is a sweet level of fees that would help raise revenue without being a deterrent to poorer students entering higher education.

The expansion of universities and the numbers of students put a considerable strain on universities. There has been a huge expansion of student numbers. This is good, particularly if it is broadening access and opportunities. But it needs funding. 

Funding from fees now makes up a substantial amount (47%) of university funding. The government has systematically reduced the amount of direct funding for universities in England and Wales. One alternative would be a graduate tax, but it is not clear this would raise sufficient revenue to replace the funding from fees, or if it could be imposed fairly. The universities need funding up front, not at some time in the future when graduates start earning sufficient to pay a premium tax rate.

Those who advocate abolishing fees altogether must come up with alternative funding. We could make it a priority to increase direct funding, but it competes with the need to fund the NHS and social care. I have yet to see any real costed alternative. We need to find one.

My approach would be to systematically reduce fees over a period of years, with a gradual replacement with direct funding. It is sensible to consider  a graduate tax as a temporary measure to find such funding in the future, but the devil would be in the detail. It is also sensible to see some level of fees as part of the mix, but at a much lower cap.

If Jeremy Corbyn promises to abolish fees, then he needs to be honest about its cost, and where he will find the funding. The Universities have no faith in government commitment to increase funding. There is also a great deal of anxiety about the loss of revenue from EU students post Brexit. None of this is easy. Don't believe anyone who claims it is.

Friday, 2 September 2016

His way or none? Why I can't vote for Jeremy

There is an assumption that all would be well with the Labour Party if people hadn't expressed their genuine concern with what they consider the inadequacies of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. If only, it is said, the Parliamentary Labour Party and his Shadow Cabinet had supported him, instead of undermining him, all would have been fine. If they had been quiet and towed the line, then the party would not have been in the mess it is in. So, should they have stayed silent, or speak of their concerns?

There comes a point when the cost of staying silent outweighs the cost of speaking out. This is a judgment. Many call it a coup by the PLP. They paint a picture of a right-wing PLP out of touch with the membership.  This is the narrative of the Corbyn camp.

But Jeremy Corbyn, over the decades he has been in politics, showed the way.  It was Jeremy Corbyn who opposed almost all Labour leaders and rarely held back from speaking out, or voting time and again against the party line. As Secretary of the Camapaign Group, he led the attempt to oust Neil Kinnock in 1988. Sadly, he has continued this approach even when he was elected leader last year.

Opposition comes naturally to Jeremy Corbyn, the responsibilities of leadership are more tricky, and certainly more messy. Thus he continued to oppose rather than seek understanding and compromise for the greater good of party unity and electability. The Labour party 'establishment' were still the enemy. The PLP became the enemy.  The shadow cabinet became the enemy.

Rather than lead, he picked unnecessary fights with his shadow cabinet. This was ill-conceived, and it was doomed to failure - and failure is what it is.  If he wins the current contest, which appears likely, then unless he adopts a different approach it is likely to destroy his party.

This is the problem I have had with his leadership. In so many ways he has been leading Momentum rather than the Labour Party. He is more at home addressing their rallies than he is leading all of Labour. From the start he failed to seek compromise or reach out to the parliamentary party, and he failed to seek a way forward. Trident is an example. It has been Labour's position to support renewal of UK's nuclear deterrent and the party fought the last election on a manifesto pledging to keep a nuclear deterrent.

We cannot expect the Parliamentary Labour Party to abandon that position simply because Jeremy has become leader. Yet this is what he expected.

Corbyn rightly agreed to set up a review, and the then Shadow Defence Secretary, Maria Eagle, was to lead it. But without consultation, Corbyn made Ken Livingstone a joint chair of the review. It was a provocative move.

We hear so much from his supporters that the PLP would not work with him. On the contrary, many were willing to serve in his shadow cabinet. Maria Eagle was one of them. She didn't run to the press shouting about his lack of consultation. But it was symptomatic of the way he would treat his shadow team.

By all accounts, he rarely consulted with his shadow team on an individual basis, and yet he made policy statements. He repeatedly declared war on his own shadow cabinet. He opposed them. His experience in politics is only to adopt positions, not to negotiate with others.

Jeremy's supporters would have us dismiss the entire PLP as 'Blarite' or 'Tories', or worse (go on twitter to find much worse). But we would be foolish to ignore what they have been saying telling us from their experience of his leadership.

Jeremy Corbyn has succeeded in uniting his PLP, but only in as much as he has united them against his leadership. Now, when anyone expresses similar concern they are subjected to the same dismissal of their points. They are not listened to. The reply is always simply 'if you would support him' then it would be different.

Corbyn's supporters won't listen. They are on a mission. It is their way or none. That is what is so damaging about them. That is what is so damaging about Momentum. That is what is wrong with Jeremy's leadership - 'his way or none'. And then there is Momentum, a party that now straddles the Labour party.

Momentum is not just 'Labour supporters'. It embraces also The Socialist Party (former Militant Tendency) and The Socialist Workers Party. Neither of these parties wish Labour to succeed. Yet they bus people to Corbyn rallies.

I have voted for Owen Smith 2016. I believe Jeremy is leading Labour to destruction because of his 'take it or leave it' approach to policy. It is their way or none, and that ignores a substantial number of members who do not support 'his way'.

Labour's greatest achievements have come through compromise. They come though embracing the broader church of the Labour party not narrowing it. The NHS, welfare reform, equality legislation and much more was achieved by being electable, not by saying 'its my principles or none!'. To achieve little is easy enough, to achieve much is difficult. It requires more than a wish list. It requires a coherent programme on the economy and on social policy. It requires priorities and a degree of pragmatism about what can be achieved. But nothing can be achieved without power. Nothing can be achieved without reaching out and addressing voter concerns and becoming electable. We need a Labour government.

A good leader does not hold his party ransom for his principles. That is unprincipled.

Friday, 26 August 2016

The only certainty about Brexit is its uncertainty.

Brexit has become a major issue in the Labour leadership election.  It is one of the defining differences of position between the two candidates. Owen Smith has pledged to fight Brexit, and to campaign for a fresh referendum when the terms of Britain's divorce from the EU are known.  It is a valid position.

Jeremy Corbyn simply rejects the idea of another referendum. The voters have decided, he says. He says it is 'democracy at work'. It is a puzzling position for the leader of the opposition.

Democracy does not end once a vote is taken. A vote is only a part of the process. Just imagine where we would be had everyone accepted the vote to stay in the EEC in 1975.  Referendums should be advisory not definitive.  This does not mean the vote should be ignored. It means that we should decide what it means. Whatever the results of the referendum, government still needs to be held accountable. They need to be challenged on the terms of Brexit.

We do not yet know what Brexit means. Of course it would mean we would leave the EU. We would no longer be a member. But we do not know the nature of our disengagement, or more importantly we do not know the terms of our post-Brexit engagement with the EU - and there is likely to be such an engagement because it is our biggest market.  The nature of that relationship must now be decided.

According to the Institute for Government there are more than four possible scenarios for UK's negotiated exit from the EU. Jeremy Corbyn it seems is happy to leave it to the Tory government to decide which of these we get.Yet it is the duty of the leader of the opposition to hold the government to account.

He says the voters have decided. So my question is, what did the voters decide? Which scenario does Jeremy Corbyn think the British people voted for? He can't say. Nor can the government.

The government do not know what Brexit will look like - or if they do, they are keeping it close to their chests. But we should not give the Tories a blank cheque.

We might, for example, end up having to conform to EU laws but without full membership. Would those who voted out be happy with that? Most probably not, yet it is one possibility. We might end up with Norway's option of paying he EU for access to the EU market. But how much would we agree to pay for this privilege, and would it be acceptable to those who voted out. Many argued we pay too much to Brussels. It was one reason they voted to leave.

Then there is the vexed question of migration. Some kind of free movement of people may be part of the Brexit terms, to protect interests of British citizens in the EU, and to meet the needs of British businesses. Did the British people vote for this? Some might accept it, but so many voted specifically so that the UK could 'take control' of such movement.

Another possible outcome is that we adopt  Canada's position of negotiating bilaterally with the EU.  This has no guarantee of success. Did the British people vote for this? We don't know because this wan't on the ballot sheet.

The only certainty about Brexit is its uncertainty. Yet Jeremy Corbyn appears to want to leave it all to the Tories to decide! Some leader of the opposition!

    Wednesday, 22 June 2016

    My vote to remain in the EU

    The EU referendum campaign is drawing to a close. It hasn’t been a good campaign. Yet the consequences of this vote are enormous – much is at stake.

    We have heard arguments from the sublime to the downright ridiculous. The Tories have turned on each other in a bitter fight to the finish, which says more about the Tory party than it does about the real issues. This has been a fundamental problem because it has distorted the case for Britain remaining an active member of the EU.

    Tory internecine warfare threatens the stability not just of their party, but also of the United Kingdom. Whatever the outcome, wounds opened by the campaign will be difficult to heal. The future of the Tory government is in question with the potential for political chaos if Britain votes to leave.

    So, it has been left to Labour to make the substantive case for remain. Their case is a good one. It is idealistic, pragmatic, economic and social.

    Labour with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership set out to make a distinctive case – to be inside the EU as an active member campaigning for reform. Corbyn's assessment of his position on the EU with a score of 7/10 probably represents the view of the majority in the Labour party, and the position of many voters. He says, honestly, that he 'doesn't love the EU' but thinks we can work for reform better by being in than out of the union. It would be foolish to consider the EU as perfect, but its weaknesses are not good enough reason to leave. Labour's position is sensible and reasoned. So tomorrow, polling day, I will be voting for Britain to remain a member of the EU.

    I respect the arguments of those who wish to leave the EU. There are good arguments for leaving. But there are equally valid reasons to stay. I will be voting remain because I believe we are better able to work with our partners in Europe on climate change, on rights in the workplace, on consumer protection and social justice. These issues are transnational and need transnational collaboration.

    I also believe on balance the economic argument for remain is sound. Our economy has benefited by our membership, with more sustainable growth since we joined. It has attracted massive inward investment to the UK.

    A regulated single market requires a body to ensure those regulations are applied fairly and consistently and requires a degree of pooling of sovereignty. We need to work together to develop the poorest areas and those in decline, creating jobs and opportunity. We can do this better together with fair regional funding. We all benefit by this funding because it strengthens the market in which we sell our goods.

    The mantra of the Leave campaign has been to 'take back control'. Sovereignty is a key issue, but I didn't see any lack of sovereignty when the British parliament sent our troops to Iraq. Nor was there a lack of sovereignty when our government imposed austerity measures and cut benefits to the poorest and the disabled. There is no lack of sovereignty as parliament decides to renew Trident.

    So what then do they mean by take back control. They are not talking about real sovereignty. They are talking about 'our borders' and immigration. It is an unconvincing argument. It is the economy and conflict that drives migration, and the demands of the UK economy will continue to drive migrant numbers, whether we are in or out of the EU. It is notable that the leave campaign were unable to say that numbers would fall if we leave!

    The leave campaign have an attractive slogan - take back control. On the substantive issues that affect us, we haven't lost control. Our problems don't stem from the EU. Our NHS and social care are in crises, not because of our EU membership, but because of actions taken by our government. It is disingenuous for leave to suggest otherwise.

    I am an internationalist because I believe social justice should be international. Too much of our economic well-being and freedom is predicated on the oppression and exploitation of people in other parts of the world. We don't address that by leaving the EU.

    Some on the left see the EU as a political tool of global capitalism, but I see the potential for challenging that system, creating and protecting workers rights and freedoms, working with our socialist partners in Europe. We won’t always win, and progress may be slow, but I cannot see how we can do it alone, with our economy at the mercy of a resurgent neoliberalism.

    My father’s generation saw the carnage that the toxic mix of capitalism and imperialism brought to the peoples of Europe. Instead of seeing the promised homes fit for heroes, he saw instead the consequences of capitalist failure and greed. We also saw the results of that greed and failure in the recent banking crises, and our problems owe more to that than to the machinations of Brussel's eurocrats.

    Perhaps the EU isn't essential for peace, but in my lifetime we have seen Europe at peace with itself. It has been part of the settlement that has allowed Europe to change. We have seen the Berlin wall fall, and a united Germany at peace with its neighbours. The EU is part of the process of post war economic, social and political development on which that peace is built.

    Indeed, this was heralded by Winston Churchill in 1946 when he called for a european structure for peace. 

    “There is a remedy which ... would in a few years make all Europe ... free and ... happy.
    It is to re-create the European family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe.”

    Europe is a better place that it was. We have seen the end of fascist tyranny in Spain, and democracy flourish. We have seen the end of dictatorships in Greece and Portugal. We have seen Europe working together – working together in regional development, in research and in health – and working together to create social justice and trade union rights enshrined in law.

    Human rights transcend national boundaries and we need international bodies to foster and protect them. That isn't a loss of sovereignty. It is giving power to people.

    The EU isn’t perfect. But we have seen Europe flourish as a family of democratic nations.

    The truth is we have created a better Europe - not a perfect one, but a better one. It is a Europe that protects democracy and human rights; a Europe that promotes consumer rights; a Europe that protects rights in the workplace; a Europe that promotes social justice. I do not believe we can better stand against global capitalism outside the EU.

    So is reform inside the EU possible. The answer is clear. In every nation, in every corner of the Continent, the appetite for fundamental change is growing. That desire for change should be directed toward a fundamental transformation in the governance of Europe, and we should be at the forefront of that push for change.

    So let’s remind ourselves why the right-wing brixiteers don’t like the EU. They detest the fact that the EU’s single market (the world’s largest market) is a market with rules to protect consumers, workers and the environment and to regulate multinational companies. It is this regulation they call ‘red-tape’, and they would sweep it away.

    Leaving the EU is a bit like jumping off a seaworthy boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and extolling the virtues of being 'free' to swim to shore. We may drown, but at least we are ‘free’!

    Global Capital is what it says – it is global. It requires global regulation. We don’t strengthen our fight against it by leaving the EU – we weaken it.

    There is a tendency to think that whether we remain in the EU can be the product of some form of calculation – the amount we receive from the EU vs. the amount we pay in. But such a calculation is not possible unless you can put value on that which is incalculable. 

    We cannot measure the benefit to the UK by a simple spreadsheet. How do we give monetary value the social provisions of the EU? It is argued that if we left the EU we could simply replace the social legislation with our own. But think, how long that would take, and think of the political struggle to achieve it. Would the Tories willingly replace every level of social legislation? No. Of course not! It is precisely the social legislation protecting workers rights that they want rid of.

    It took a Labour government to sign up to the social provisions opposed bitterly by the Tories. 

    So, the argument isn’t simply the consumer market of some 500 million providing jobs and inward investment in UK businesses, or the extended consequences of that for the supply chain, for jobs and the broader economy.

    For me it isn’t simply the massive €1 bn UK science receives through the EU. It isn’t the support for our small and medium sized businesses and regional development, or the support for small farmers. 

    Nor is it that the EU has accounted for 47% of the UK’s stock of inward investment worth over $1.2 trillion. Or that Access to the EU Single Market has also helped attract investment into the UK from outside the EU. 

    It isn’t what we get, or what we can get from our membership – it is what we can achieve by working with our European partners. 

    The UK’s net contribution to the EU budget is around €7.3bn, or 0.4% of GDP. As a comparison that’s around a quarter of what the UK spends on the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and less than an eighth of the UK’s defence spend. The £116 per person net contribution is less than that from Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands. Yet Vote Leave continue to peddle the misleading figure of the cost, and pledge to spend it instead to solve almost every problem from housing to the NHS! It is pie in the sky. It is disingenuous. 

    Our universities generate £73 billon a year for the British economy! That is a massive figure, and demonstrates the value of our universities. But we depend heavily on the EU to achieve this in two ways: 1) EU students studying here and 2) EU research funding in science and technology, the fruits of which will translate into innovative economic benefit. 

    125,000 EU students generate £3.7 billion a year, supporting directly 34,000 jobs.

    The universities also receive £725 million per year in grants form the EU. My own college, University College London receives £34.5 million per year in research grant income from the EU. All this contributes to the UK economy and innovation.

    If you don't think this is at risk if we left the EU, then consider these questions. Would the government, or any political party, guarantee to replace the EU grants for research? If so, where would the money come from?

    Would they be prepared to increase taxation to do that? I doubt it. Our universities lead the world and we hit way above our weight in the international league tables. Much of this is helped by our membership of the EU and our collaborations with other EU bodies.

    There may well be ‘too much’ red tape. But it is better inside determining what those regulations are, than outside simply having to conform to them but without any influence on what they are.

    The case for our membership of the EU is threefold.

    It is Idealistic: the EU has helped create and maintain an area of peace and stability in a continent that was ravaged by war for centuries. We underestimate that achievement at our peril. 

    It is pragmatic: our countries are highly interdependent, and we need to find common solutions to common problems in many fields. The EU is the structure we’ve built together for this purpose. Be it managing our common market, cooperating in fighting terrorism and criminals, or working together on the environment, we can achieve more together than apart. 

    It is also right from our own self interest: EU membership is vital for British jobs. It is the main destination for British exports. We need to have full access without tariffs and a seat at the table to defend our interests where the common rules for the common market are made.

    Our economy has benefited from the EU membership. Gross domestic product per person has grown faster than Italy, Germany and France in the 42 years since we joined the EU. By 2013, Britain became more prosperous than the average of the three other large European economies for the first time since 1965. Before we joined we were regarded as the 'sick man of Europe' with sluggish growth and sterling crises.

    Patrick Minford of Cardiff University, a leading Brexit economist, suggests a boost to GDP growth by 2020 on the basis of Britain dismantling all tariffs unilaterally post-Brexit. Under Minford’s assumptions this is great boon to some sectors of the economy which would benefit from cheaper imports. However, even supposing he is right, he acknowledges it comes with a massive cost as “It seems likely we would mostly eliminate manufacturing, leaving mainly industries such as design, marketing and hi-tech”. In other words it would devastate our manufacturing base.

    Economic success if we left the EU would depend on our ability to reach good trade deals. The Treasury Select Committee – comprised of prominent Brexiteers and Remain campaigners – has agreed a unanimous report in which it concluded that "reaching high-quality trade agreements with countries like China, India and the United States, while securing access to the agreements to which the UK is party by virtue of its EU membership, would be a considerable diplomatic challenge; it would take time, resources and the goodwill of other governments." There are very few certainties. Be wary of those who say leaving the EU will be easy.

    So there it is. These are my reasons for voting remain.

    Saturday, 13 February 2016

    Age UK call for a meeting

    As the 'media storm' subsides we move into the second week of our campaign for compensation for misled E.ON Age UK tariff customers. The message is clear from so many of the comments left by those supporting the petition. They all express outrage at both Age UK and E.ON.

    Many of you would have heard the response of Age UK in the media. It is apparently all a storm in a teacup whipped up by the media and in particular The Sun.

    Age UK and E.ON have responded to the media storm by 'suspending' their commercial association, but they continue to defend their position. They would have us believe this move has nothing to do with the campaign. Meanwhile they continue to peddle misinformation.

    The boss of Age UK says that they received 'typically' just £10 from each customer signing up to the Age UK tariff.

    A simple calculation shows this is not true. The accounts for the year 2014/15 for UK Enterprise Ltd show they received £6.3 million from E.ON for signing up 152,000 customers. It is simple arithmetic.

    The average received was £41 per customer. This means that on average each customer was giving almost £10 a month to Age UK.

    The petition will now be the focus of continued press and media interest. The people speak.

    I have been asked whether I worry about the damage this is doing to Age UK and the vital work they do. The answer is yes, of course. But it is not we who have done the damage. It is Age UK. We cannot turn a blind eye to a wrong simply because it is a charity. That would be a cover up, and there are far too many of those.

    Age UK says they have done nothing wrong. Legally I am sure that is so. I am also sure that they had all good intentions - but the ends do not always justify the means. To simply justify misleading 'customers' by the good work of the charity is not an ethical position. Age UK had a duty of care to those who turned to them for help. They did so believing they would look out for their interests.

    The Age UK tariff was not the best available deal for them. They could have been referred to other energy suppliers who would have given a better one. E.ON do acknowledge that the Age UK tariff was not the cheapest of their deals on offer at the time.

    Age UK now say that price isn't always what counts and that service and quality of after care matters. Indeed it does. But there is scant evidence to show Age UK customers got better service or aftercare than they would have otherwise been given. On the contrary, E.ON repeatedly scores low in customer satisfaction ratings by  Which? the consumer group. They are not the worst of the big six, but they are not the best deal on offer when it comes to customer care.

    The Age UK Enterprise boss, Ian Foy, has said he would like a meeting with me to discuss 'the complaint'. This is a good move and I will respond to it. Age UK needs to move forward positively from this, but it can only do so if it understands the problem. At the moment it seems they do not.  He says

    "We do not believe we have misled anyone who bought our products, and we warmly encourage Ray Noble to get in touch with us so that we can talk this over with him."

    I do welcome this move and will be in touch with him to arrange such a meeting.

    This coming week I will be posting an open letter to the boss of E.ON UK asking for a meeting to discuss their response.

    Meanwhile please support the petition.

    Sunday, 7 February 2016

    Come.ON E.ON now do the right thing

    A victory of sorts, or at least a skirmish won. With pressure mounting as a result of The Sun investigation and growing public outrage, E.ON UK has announced that it will withdraw its misleading Age UK energy tariff and replace it with a better deal for older people. We will see the replacement this week. This is good news. But it isn't sufficient.

    E.ON's move is an acknowledgement of the misleading nature of the Age UK tariff.  They are bowing to pressure, and they know it is indefensible.  Defending the indefensible is always a bad place to be. We need to maintain pressure for them to refund those pensioners who had a bad deal.

    Age UK initially denied it was a bad deal, saying that fuel prices can go up or down, and that they advise people to search around for the best deals. But this is too simple.  it is easy enough to say consumers should 'shop around', but if that was the best thing for Age UK clients to do, then why not simply give them the best advice on how to do it.  Why introduce a tariff from which Age UK would benefit financially? It compromised their integrity and misled older people they were supposed to represent.

    Many older people are not in a good position to search for the best deals. Many are not online. A survey by the Oxford Internet Institute found that the numbers of older people online has remained relatively static, with between 25% and 35% using the internet. But even if they have access to the internet,  it isn't easy to find the best deals. 

    Tariffs are complicated. This is why they would have welcomed Age UK looking after their interests. They trusted that Age UK would monitor the rates and be actively engaged on their behalf. The truth is their faith was misplaced.

    Age UK involvement had a clear objective, and that was to raise money for Age UK. At best there were conflicting objectives - the objective of protecting the interests of older people and that of raising money for the charity were in conflict. It was an ethically compromised scheme.

    Older people who signed up to the Age UK tariff trusted that there would have been a duty of care for Age UK to look after their interests. This is why many were attracted to it.  When I first signed up to the tariff I received a reassuring welcome package from Age UK with tips on how to stay warm.

    They now find that our trust was misplaced, and we have effectively been overcharged. This is why E.ON should now put this right by arranging to refund those Age UK E.On customers who are out of pocket from buying into the Age UK brand.

    Latest figures show there are 1.14 million older people in England living in fuel poverty there are some 31,000 ‘excess winter deaths’ in England and Wales last winter.

    Fuel poverty kills.  This is why it is incumbent on energy companies to ensure older people are able to heat their homes.  This is a social responsibility.  It goes beyond profit and loss.  Each older person paying over the odds for their energy is someone baring the burden of cheaper tariffs for others. That is unfair. 

    Age UK warn that there has been little progress on tackling fuel poverty.  That is the reality. This is more reason why Age UK should not compromise its own position by selling a given tariff and receiving commission from it.  It must work with the energy companies to produce economic justice for older people.  

    The energy companies should also have a social obligation to ensure older people are on the best deals.  Keeping sufficiently and safely warm is not a luxury. It is a necessity.  It shouldn't be decided by a tariff lottery. We can do better than that. We must stop this retail energy casino. It is gambling with the lives of vulnerable people. 

    E.ON should now do the decent thing and make a refund. Please sign the petition and share it with others. 

    Friday, 5 February 2016

    The truth about Age UK?

    The truth about Age UK is that it has become a social enterprise company rather than a charity. You might say it is a charity with a commercial arm.  But there is a point when the aggressive nature of the commercial arrangements can compromise the charity's role and independence.

    Age UK is proud of its commercial approach.  It has won awards for it.  It boasts about it.  It has been a trailblazer in the new approach for charity fundraising through engagement with the financial market in insurance, equity release plans,  energy tariffs,  and funeral plans.  But does this activity compromise its ability to challenge the financial market and campaign for better service for older people?  If you depend on your income from part of that financial sector, can you really be free from biased judgement? It compromises your position.

    Perhaps that is the truth about Age UK and its commercial arm,  Age UK Enterprises Ltd.  Age UK Enterprise has an annual turnover of some £47.6 million.  In 21014/15, they provided 482,000 home, travel and insurance policies tied to Ageas Insurance Ltd.  Were these really the best deals for older people? And how can they be giving independent advice about this when they are earning from each Ageas policy? Age UK relies of the trust of those it represents.

    Age UK Enterprises Ltd provided  'energy services' to 250,000 'customers' in 'collaboration' with E.ON from which they received some £6.3 million.  These were not the best deals for many of those who bought into the Age UK tariff.

    Age UK Enterprises Ltd provided 18,000 funeral plans in 2014/15 through one company Dignity PLC, generating income of £9.3 million. Were these the best available?

    The list goes on.

    There is a point when the independence of financial advice becomes compromised by the financial arrangement - when that advice becomes commercially beneficial to those giving the advice, and when the choices provided are limited by the way that advice is given.

    It might be argued that the overall benefits by increased income to the charity outweighs the pitfalls of such enterprise.  That is the utilitarian argument provided.  But the argument from the duty of a charity to consider all those it represents should outweigh such utilitarian considerations.  The threshold is set high by such duty of care.

    Duty of care matters.  Age UK failed in their duty of care when brokering the E,ON Age UK tariff. They become commercial beneficiaries.

    Regarding their clients as 'customers' changed Age UK into sales representatives for an energy company.  When I receive advice from a charity I want to believe they are acting in my best interest and not just their 'collective interest' as a social enterprise. Age UK cannot do that freely if they are tied in with commercial providers. That is the problem.

    Working with commercial companies, giving advice to them on how best to make provision for older people is a different matter. That is what Age UK should do it if is representing all older people. It should campaign for change to provide better provision for older people. It cannot do that if it is tied commercially to one such private sector company.

    Age UK need to stand back and reconsider its position and how it operates.

    Please sign the petition calling on E.ON to refund customers misled over the Age UK tariff.

    Little transparency from E.ON on deal with Age UK

    Thank you to all who have supported the petition to get the energy company E.ON to compensate customers for any losses resulting from their Age-UK tariff. We are making progress but we need to maintain pressure.

    Citing the "sensitive" nature of its payment to Age UK, E.ON confirmed the "commercial relationship" with Age UK. The involvement of a charity representing millions of older people should have transparent relationships with the commercial sector. Yesterday the scandal of Age UK commercial involvement with E.ON was front page news. The Energy Minister has asked Ofgem to investigate.

    But Ofgem is a toothless 'regulator' with little power of enforcement. This is why it is important to keep the pressure on E.ON.

    Age UK is the biggest charitable body representing and supporting older people. Its supporters do sterling work. But in promoting E.ON energy tariffs the board of Age UK has stepped over the line and compromised the charity's integrity.

    Age UK rightly say that fuel prices go up and down. I believe their intentions were good, but the execution bad. They should not have compromised themselves in a commercial relationship but continued to campaign for lower energy prices and better deals for older people. Now they have locked themselves into the ludicrous position of having to defend a tariff that was not the best for many of those they intended to help.

    It is ludicrous that energy prices appear to be a lottery for so many customers on fixed incomes. Energy costs are a large part of households expenditure. Heating is a necessity not a luxury. It shouldn't be necessary for older people to 'shop around' for the best deals. The need to stay warm and safe is not like a mobile phone. Vulnerable older people die through not being able to afford to heat their homes.

    Age UK's poor judgement in its commercial deal with E.ON at least highlights once again the pitfalls of energy pricing and poor regulation. Ofgem is a toothless body. But we need fundamental reform of the energy market with provision to protect the most vulnerable. With political will it could be done.

    The petition isn't aimed at the thousands of Age UK supporters who work tirelessly to help older people. It is aimed at E.ON and the Age UK board.

    Let's push on to get justice for E.ON customers. We now have over 600 signatures, please help put pressure on E.ON.

    Let's now reach the next milestone of 1000.

    Thursday, 4 February 2016

    Age UK compromised by deal with E.ON

    Three years ago I posted on twitter my concern about the Age UK energy tariff offered by E.ON to their customers.  I was then concerned that a charity representing the interests of older people was being used in a commercial deal by the energy provider.  I had myself signed up to the tariff. What exactly was the relationship? Was it misleading?  Little did I know then that this issue would become headline news today on the front page of The Sun.

    Age UK have themselves berated the energy companies for overcharging customers. It seemed odd then that they would entangle themselves with a commercial deal from which they received commission from E.On for each customer signed up to the tariff with the Age UK branding. 

    According to The Sun investigation the charity has received £6 million from E.On as a result of this commercial deal.  At best this financial deal compromises the charity's objective to represent the best interests of older people. Worse is that  The Sun investigation discovered that the Age UK tariff was not the best deal for many customers signed up to it, and they lost out as a result.  It is a sorry state of affairs for a charity. 

    Many like me would have signed up to the tariff trusting it was the best for them because it carried the approval of Age UK.   This is the breach of trust.  

    Finding the best deal is a tricky task at the best of times. It is full of pitfalls. The consumer needs to take account of their energy usage and 'shop around'.  Many pensioners do not do this. We tend to stick with the same provider. Understanding the plethora of tariffs isn't easy. I have never understood how there could be so many different prices for the same electricity delivered through the same cables. The truth is, as with telephone tariffs, it doesn't pay to stay with the same provider. Loyalty carries no weight in pricing. 

    Age UK have issued a robust response to The Sun investigation. “We strongly reject the allegations and interpretation of figures in this article. Energy prices change all the time and we have always advised older people to look out for new good deals and we will continue to do so.”

    It is an odd response.  They are right to point out that 'energy prices change all the time'.  They are right to advise us to 'look out for new good deals'.  But this is all the more reason why they should not themselves tie their charity brand to one of those deals. It implies it is better than others for most older people. It suggests they have approved it when they haven't. It is deceptive.  It compromises their charitable status.  They should stick to representing the interests of older people and not burn their fingers in dodgy commercial  deals with energy companies. 

    Please sign the petition on calling of E.On to reimburse customers out of pocket.