Solidarity Magazine » jonathan http://solidaritymagazine.org Fri, 01 Mar 2013 19:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.8 Blacklisting of trades unionists http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/07/blacklisting-of-trades-unionists-campaigning-northampton-grandfather-wins-major-breakthrough-in-europe/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/07/blacklisting-of-trades-unionists-campaigning-northampton-grandfather-wins-major-breakthrough-in-europe/#comments Tue, 19 Jul 2011 11:21:40 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1630 Continue reading ]]> Northampton grandfather Brian Higgins this week acheived a major breakthrough in his campaign against the illegal blacklisting of trade unionists. On Thurs 30th June 2011, Brian Higgins secre tary of Northampton branch of UCATT (the building workers union), led a delegation of trade unionists from the Blacklist Support Group to Brussels to hold private talks with László Andor, European Union Commissioner with responsibility for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion to discuss potential EU wide legislation to outlaw blacklisting. (Photo attached – see Editors Notes)

During the 45 minute meeting, Commissioner Andor was presented with documentary evidence in the form secret blacklist files kept about trade unionists in the UK construction industry. The files were compiled by the Consulting Association and provide damning evidence that major multi-national building firms systematically dismissed and victimised workers who raised concerns about health & safety issues or unpaid wages (see Editors Notes). The largest blacklist file in the country relates to Brian Higgins (49 pages)


The secret files contain appalling levels of personal intrusion with sensitive information including; names, addresses, national insurance number, work history, medical history, press-cuttings, union meetings attended, speeches made, political affiliations. Many entries on the blacklist files are supplied by senior Industrial Relations managers from major construction firms relating to when an individual had spoken to their site managers about safety breaches such as asbestos or poor toilet facilities. The information in the blacklist files was circulated amongst multi-national building firms and used to deny workers employment on major construction projects. For many blacklisted workers this resulted in repeated sackings and long-term unemployment merely because they had raised concerns about safety on building sites.


Ex-bricklayer, Brian Higgins said after the meeting:
“The Blacklist is an economic , social and political prison in which I have served a life sentence and others continue to be imprsoned. My wife and family also suffered because of the terrible pressure which resulted from us only having my wife’s wages to hold things together. But my message for those who caused this is, it was difficult , extremely so at times, however we did hold it together and stayed together in spite of you and your Blacklist. We refused to let you grind us down and I’m still fighting.”

 

Brian Higgins added “When Northampton Ucatt Branch initiated a campaign for an EU Law against industrial blacklisting to try to counter dreadful performances of Ucatt and Unite General Secretaries and lawyers after the discovery of the Consulting Association Blacklist and contacted Glenis Willmott MEP. They could never imagine their secretary would end up with other blacklisted trade unionists and the Blacklist Support Group, a law professor and Stephen Hughes MEP at a meeting with Lazlo Andor the EU Commissioner in Brussels and get his sympthy in return. The genuinely positive response from Commissioner Andor exceeded all our expectations – It is truly amazing.”


The construction companies identified as participating in the blacklisting operation include household names based and operating across Europe including: Skanska (Sweden), Bam (Netherlands), Vinci (France), Laing O’Rourke (Ireland), Sir Robert McAlpine, Balfour Beatty, Kier, Costain, Carillion (UK) to name but a few. (See Editors Notes)

Also attending the meeting was Professor Keith Ewing from Kings College London (a leading academic in international law and human rights issues) who presented possible legislative options open to the European Union highlighting the fact that many of the companies involved in the blacklist were European based. He also drew attention to the fact that blacklisting violates many provisions of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and that the EU had the authority and responsibility to respond to this major violation of health and safety standards.

The meeting was arranged by Stephen Hughes MEP and Glenis Willmott MEP (Labour’s Leader in Europe Parliament) who are taking up the issue in the European Parliament.
Stephen Hughes MEP said:

“Blacklisting is a genuine issue which affects all member states and I will work with colleagues to address this serious concern and apply parliamentary pressure to trigger action.
This meeting is the beginning, not the end, of a process. Once we have planted the seed with Commissioner Andors, we will follow up with action in the European Parliament’s Employment Committee and the full Parliament. It will take time but we don’t give up easily!”

 

The right to join a trade union and not be be victimised because of it is enshrined in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights but lack of any specific EU wide legislation against blacklisting of individuals for safety reasons means that thousands of workers have suffered appalling financial and family hardship because of the covert actions of multi-national building firms.

 

Brian Higgins added:

 

“We have been victimised by these firms just because we have stood up for safety issues; a cabin to dry wet clothes, asbestos, holiday pay. For many of us this conspiracy has meant years on the dole and family strains. But we are not just fighting for ourselves. This evil practice is almost certainly taking place in other industries and across Europe. I refuse to stop campaigning for the trade union rights on safety, working conditions and wages the blacklist is meant to prevent us doing. Now we’re taking the fight to Europe on behalf of workers here and the likes of Poland, Spain, Ireland and Greece. In fact anywhere blacklisting is going on.”


Notes to Editors:
1. For individual interviews with the delegation about the talks with EU Commissioner Andor & their personal experience of blacklisting contact blacklistsg@gmail.com

2. Attached photo shows (Left to Right): Professor Keith Ewing, Brian Higgins, Stephen Hughes MEP, EU Commissioner László Andor, Steve Acheson

3. The blacklisting of trade unionists in the construction industry was only exposed after an investigation by the Information Commissioners Office (UK data-protection watchdog) in 2009. The companies identified by the Information Commissioners Office as using The Consulting Association secret blacklisting are all household names including:
Amec, Amey, B Sunley & Sons, Balfour Beatty, Balfour Kilpatrick, Ballast Wiltshire, Bam Construction (HBC Construction), Bam Nuttall (Edmund Nutall Ltd), C B & I, Cleveland Bridge UK Ltd, Costain UK Ltd, Crown House Technologies, Carillion, Tarmac Construction, Diamond M & E Services, Dudley Bower & Co Ltd, Emcor (Drake & Scull), Emcor Rail, G Wimpey Ltd, Haden Young, Kier Ltd, John Mowlem Ltd, Laing O’Rourke, Lovell Construction (UK) Ltd, Miller Construction Limited, Morgan Ashurst, Morgan Est, Morrison Construction Group, N G Bailey, Shepherd Engineering Services, Sias Building Services, Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, Skanska (Kaverna / Trafalgar House Plc), SPIE (Matthew Hall), Taylor Woodrow Construction Ltd, Turriff Construction Ltd, Tysons Contractors, Walter Llewellyn & Sons Ltd, Whessoe Oil & Gas, Willmott Dixon, Vinci PLC (Norwest Holst Group)

4. Blacklist Support Group was set-up to act as a support network on behalf of the 3216 individuals on the Consulting Association database following a meeting held at the House of Commons in June 2009 organised by John McDonnell MP. The Blacklist Support Group has led the campiagn against blacklisting by organsing fringe meetings at union conferences, entered submissions to proposed legislation, organising direct action, produced campaign video’s and is currently involved with a variety of legal challenges.

 

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'Pay more, work longer, get less' remains government position http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/06/pay-more-work-longer-get-less-remains-government-position-2/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/06/pay-more-work-longer-get-less-remains-government-position-2/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2011 13:00:30 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1618 Continue reading ]]> 27 June 2011

Speaking after today’s meeting with ministers over the government’s plans to cut public sector pensions, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said:

“It was disappointing that the meeting proved to be no different to any of the others – it was a farce. Again the government has shown no interest in actually negotiating on any of the key principles at the heart of this dispute.

And this is a dispute that is entirely of the government’s making. We did not ask for pensions to be cut, we did not ask for public servants to be told they must work years longer and pay more for much less in retirement. Every independent analysis shows that public sector pensions are affordable now and in the future, and costs are falling in the long term.

On Thursday (30) we will see hundreds of thousands of civil and public servants on strike and, on the experience of today’s meeting and the last few months of government obstinacy, we fully expect to be joined by millions more in the autumn.”

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Unite's reaction to talks between unions and government on pensions http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/06/unites-reaction-to-talks-between-unions-and-government-on-pensions-2/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/06/unites-reaction-to-talks-between-unions-and-government-on-pensions-2/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2011 12:59:30 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1616 Continue reading ]]> 27 June 2011

Reacting to the outcome of talks held today on pensions (Monday 27 June) between unions representing public sector workers and the government, Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail, who took part in the talks, said: “In the key areas, there is still a major gap between where the unions and the government stand.

There was a serious risk that the talks could have broken down after Danny Alexander took the decision to try to negotiate through the media. However, we continue to negotiate in good faith but remain convinced that we must make progress on pension contributions, indexation and pension age for our members to find any changes acceptable.

The government still wants our members to pay more and work longer – it refuses to make any compromises.

There has been no movement from the government on pension contribution increases, the link to the rising state pensions and the unions remain at odds with the government over the inflation link change from RPI to CPI.

The government has at least acknowledged that it has not fully understood the funding basis for the local government pension scheme. We welcome that local government unions will now be holding more detailed discussions with the government.

The unions have taken away detailed proposals from the government that we will look at and interrogate. The talks will now continue beyond June and Unite intends to work hard to try to reach a settlement which is acceptable to our members.”

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'Stop the great pensions robbery' http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/06/stop-the-great-pensions-robbery-2/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/06/stop-the-great-pensions-robbery-2/#comments Wed, 22 Jun 2011 17:02:26 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1603 Continue reading ]]> (22/06/11)

“Lies, damned lies and the inventions of a Tory poodle.” That was how Jane Carolan described what UNISON is facing as she introduced the pensions debate with a statement from the national executive committee (NEC) in Manchester this morning.

And she had particular scorn for “Tory lackey” Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury, whose intervention last week suggested that the government is negotiating in bad faith, having already made up its mind what it will do.

She also noted that public sector pensions had “already been future-proofed by the last government – and it would be nice to hear them mention this”.

As the debate itself got under way, speaker after speaker focused on two key points:

  • the need to organise and build for any industrial action;
  • the need to combat the “lies” in much of the mainstream media by educating the public.

Lilian Macer of Scotland said that it was “vital that this government be stopped”.

She reminded delegates that the attacks on public sector pensions are “political”, as they act as “a barrier to privatisation.”

And she added: “If anyone out there thinks that privatisation is a good thing, I have only two words for you – Southern Cross”.

She urged delegates to “organise, agitate and educate to stop the great pensions robbery”.

Rae Voller for the women’s self-organised group called on conference to “end this nightmare – and dream again of a fair society”.

Delegates heard that it was essential not to allow the government and its allies to turn the issue into a them against us, private versus public question, saying that private sector pensions were poor, but would not be helped by a “race to the bottom”.

The importance of involving both young and retired members in campaigning was emphasised, while delegates also heard how Black people would be disproportionately affected by the attacks.

Ash Dhobi for the national Black members committee said that members were being made “to pay for the mistakes made by the bankers and financiers”.

Mark Clifford for the NEC noted that: “No one can do everything – but everyone can do something” to build the campaign.

Clare Williams for the NEC spoke of a “litany of broken promises” and asked: “Are we seriously expecting paramedics, nurses, domestics and porters, doing heavy manual work, to work until 68?”

Manchester local government delegate Steve Swift said that “we need to arm ourselves with the facts” and tell people those facts, as well as responding to inaccuracies in the media.

Gilly Anglin-Jarrett of Northamptonshire called on everyone to “stand together” and urged members to “work on your RMS data, support the motions and do the work”, while John Gray of Greater London stressed the need to “organise carefully”.

Among a raft of specific decisions, conference instructed the NEC to:

  • call on the Labour Link to work to gain a commitment from the Labour Party to repeal the change from RPI to CPI when re-elected;
  • develop a campaign strategy to defend public sector pensions and in support of affordable pensions for all workers;
  • encourage and support regions and branches to campaign locally;
  • raise awareness of the disproportionate impact on women and Black people;
  • campaign to address the myths around public sector pensions that are being generated by the right-wing media.

 

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Workers organized in WAC- Maan insist: "No work without an agreement" http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/06/workers-organized-in-wac-maan-insist-no-work-without-an-agreement-2/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/06/workers-organized-in-wac-maan-insist-no-work-without-an-agreement-2/#comments Sun, 19 Jun 2011 19:03:38 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1589 Continue reading ]]>

On June 16, 35 Palestinian workers at Salit Quarries in Mishor Adumim (a settlement area east of Jerusalem) began a general strike. The workers, organized with the independent Union WAC-Ma’an, are demanding an end to exploitation and humiliation, and insist on signing a first collective agreement. The strike began after the workers and the union approved a draft agreement, while the management tried to take advantage of the opposition of a small number of more privileged workers in order to break the union and avoid the agreement. WAC and the workers demand that the agreement be signed immediately. If the agreement is not signed, the strike will continue.

 

 

On April 11, 2011, at a general meeting of the quarry workers, WAC’s National Coordinator presented the draft of a first collective agreement for the quarry. The agreement was reached after more than a year of negotiations with the quarry management. It was translated into Arabic and the workers weighed the important achievements against the demands that were not fully met. Finally, a vote was taken and a decisive majority approved the agreement. A small minority of workers on a higher wage scale claimed the agreement was inadequate and voted against.


When WAC reported to the management that the workers had approved the agreement, it was expected they would go forward with the signing. A date was set for the signing, May 2, but at the last moment the quarry management began working intensively to break up the workers and drive a wedge between them and WAC . Meetings were repeatedly postponed, and finally we declared a labor dispute and strike.


The management’s behavior during the last couple of months and its attempts to take advantage of the opposition of the minority of workers to act against the workers’ committee and the union left us with no choice but to declare a strike until the agreement is signed. Salit management betrayed the confidence of the union and the workers. Only an official collective agreement can rebuild this confidence.


WAC and Salit Quarry workers are determined not to work without an agreement. The organization calls on the management to come to its senses and sign the agreement immediately.

 

For a full presentation of the details of the situation at the quarry, the process through which the union was built in the Quarry and the issues at the heart of the negotiations see article.

 

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Crunch week for NHS as ‘privatisation’ controversy rages over PM's 'pledges' http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/06/crunch-week-for-nhs-as-privatisation-controversy-rages-over-pms-pledges/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/06/crunch-week-for-nhs-as-privatisation-controversy-rages-over-pms-pledges/#comments Sun, 12 Jun 2011 19:03:10 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1573 Continue reading ]]> 10 June 2011

As the future of the NHS faces a crunch week, Unite, the largest union in the country, has issued a new briefing saying the prime minister’s pledges on the health service were ‘a personal guarantee of chaos’.

Unite, which has a 100,000 members in the health service, said that David Cameron’s recent speech outlining his five ‘personal guarantees’ would actually make matters worse rather than better.

The briefing can be viewed on the Unite website: http://www.unitetheunion.org/pdf/110608%20Unite%20Briefing%20on%20DC%20speech.pdf

The briefing comes as the Future Forum, which has been carrying out consultations during ‘the pause’ in the progress of  the controversial Health and Social Care bill, is due to unveil its report on Monday (13 June). The government’s response is expected later in the week.

Unite national officer for health, Rachael Maskell said:

This is, indeed, a crunch week for the NHS.  Health professionals have made it very clear that these proposals won’t work – and this was overwhelmingly restated by doctors this week at the British Medical Association’s annual GP conference in London.

Now is the time for the MPs to listen very carefully to what the professionals and their constituents are saying. People really rely on the NHS which they don’t want privatised for profit. MPs, especially the Liberal Democrats, should put the founding principles of the NHS before narrow party advantage.

It is time to scrap the bill and conduct a proper review of what is needed for the long- term needs of the NHS and our nation’s health, rather than rush through a biased, lop-sided listening exercise. It is time for a commission of genuinely independent experts to be set up.”

Unite believes that the prime minister’s ‘compromises’ will neither meet the concerns of his Liberal Democratic allies, outlined at their spring conference in March, nor protect the NHS from rapacious private healthcare companies wishing to gobble up profitable and ‘cherry picked’ health service contracts to the detriment of a joined-up and universal health service.

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RMT seeks urgent meeting with Transport Secretary http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/06/rmt-seeks-urgent-meeting-with-transport-secretary-as-detailed-analysis-shows-that-mcnulty-review-will-turn-railways-into-a-muggers-paradise/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/06/rmt-seeks-urgent-meeting-with-transport-secretary-as-detailed-analysis-shows-that-mcnulty-review-will-turn-railways-into-a-muggers-paradise/#comments Sun, 12 Jun 2011 19:01:38 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1571 Continue reading ]]> RAIL UNION RMT today demanded an urgent meeting with Transport Secretary Phillip Hammond as a detailed study of the fine print of the McNulty Rail Review revealed that it will pave the way for:

· the closure of all Category E station ticket offices;

· reducing the opening hours at Category D station ticket offices;

· increasing the use of Ticket Vending Machines at Category A to C stations, enabling a reduction in the number of ticket office windows

RMT have calculated that the proposals will have the effect of halving the number of ticket offices on the Network and meaning that three quarters of stations will not have ticket offices. Those remaining will have substantially reduced hours.

With the McNulty Review also recommending that Driver Only Operation should be the default position on all services, that gives the train operators the green light to dump all guards from their services by the beginning of 2013 on top of the Ticket Office cuts and closures – axing safety-critical staff from stations and trains in one blow.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said:

On the day that Network Rail have issued their annual results this detailed scrutiny shows us just what the real consequences of McNulty will be – wholesale de-staffing of trains and stations to fatten up profits at the expense of passenger service and passenger safety.

We warned that the McNulty carve up would turn the rail system into a muggers and a criminals paradise, where profits are the only show in town, and this latest research shows the full extent of the dangerous track we are being dragged down.

For passengers it means paying higher fares to travel on unsafe, de-staffed services while the train operators are laughing all the way to the bank.”

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Coastguard climbdown is a 'body blow' for government – Mark Serwotka http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/05/coastguard-climbdown-is-a-body-blow-for-government-mark-serwotka-2/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/05/coastguard-climbdown-is-a-body-blow-for-government-mark-serwotka-2/#comments Fri, 20 May 2011 10:24:57 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1540 Continue reading ]]> 19 May 2011

Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka has described the apparent climbdown over coastguard cuts as a “body blow” for the government and further evidence of what can be achieved by community campaigning.

Speaking as the union meets in Brighton for its annual conference, and a day after delegates voted to ballot a quarter of a million civil and public servants for a strike over cuts to jobs, pensions and pay, Mark said:

“This is a body blow for the government which is reeling from the force of public outrage at ill-thought out plans to slash the life-saving support that coastguards provide.

It is not yet clear what any new proposals will include and there are still battles to be won to maintain vital local services that our members provide 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We would expect new plans to be subject to proper consultation and negotiation.

The campaign against these cuts has been inspirational and I am proud of the part our reps and members have played in it. Now is the time to keep up the pressure and show the government we remain united, strong and determined to defeat these cuts.”

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Benefit office closures 'deeply flawed' as unemployment will rise http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/05/benefit-office-closures-deeply-flawed-as-unemployment-will-rise-2/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/05/benefit-office-closures-deeply-flawed-as-unemployment-will-rise-2/#comments Fri, 13 May 2011 18:18:00 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1530 Continue reading ]]> 13 May 2011

 

The decision by Jobcentre Plus to close one fifth of its benefit processing offices and call centres has been branded “deeply flawed and dangerous” by PCS.

The announcement today that 17 benefit processing sites and five contact centres will be shut mostly within 12 months, threatening 2,400 jobs, comes at a time when hundreds of thousands public sector workers are expected to lose their jobs, with an anticipated similar knock-on effect in the private sector.

Jobcentre Plus has already cut more than 10,000 staff since 2009 and this latest decision will mean more delays in processing claims.

This comes as ministers are reviewing the jobcentre network as a whole and the union fears there is a risk they will decide to close more jobcentres, particularly in rural areas.

An Office for Budget Responsibility report prepared for the budget in March forecast unemployment will be higher throughout 2012 than it was at the beginning of this year.

Delegates to the union’s Department for Work and Pensions group conference – to be held on Monday 16 and Tuesday 17 May, before PCS’s annual conference which opens the following day – will debate an emergency motion to launch a campaign against the closures.

The first motion to be debated at PCS’s national conference calls for a national strike ballot over cuts to jobs, pay and pensions, and for the union to “work with other trade unions to co-ordinate the action for maximum impact”.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said:

“This is a deeply flawed and dangerous plan that will remove vital support to jobseekers and people claiming welfare at precisely the time the government’s ideological cuts will throw more people out of work.

Instead of cutting jobs, the government should be investing in public services like these to help get people back to work more quickly and help our economy to get back on track.”

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Don't swallow Lansley's pre-election pause http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/04/dont-swallow-lansleys-pre-election-pause-2/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/04/dont-swallow-lansleys-pre-election-pause-2/#comments Mon, 25 Apr 2011 12:19:30 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1494 Continue reading ]]> Sunday 24 April 2011

John Lister from the Morning Star

Don’t believe the headlines about a pause or a so-called “listening exercise.” Cameron and Lansley are forging ahead with their plans to break up the NHS into a competitive market, and to slice off a growing share of the NHS budget for private providers.

The pause in the process is designed to give Lib Dems long enough to see their party massacred in the local elections and scare them into agreeing to support Lansley’s Health Bill for fear that they trigger the collapse of the coalition.

To front up the so-called “listening” exercise, an NHS Future Forum has been set up. It is stuffed with high-profile supporters of Lansley’s plans. All five of the GPs on the panel are among the minority of GPs who signed up for Lansley’s suggested commissioning consortiums. The whole forum is under the chairmanship of Professor Steve Field, who controversially supported Lansley’s white paper back in July and has since been replaced as president of the Royal College of GPs by Dr Clare Gerada, who has criticised much of the Lansley plan.

The forum on “choice and competition” will be led by Sir Stephen Bubb, a one-time Labour councillor and now at the head the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations.

Bubb is a vigorous advocate of competition and greater private-sector involvement in delivering healthcare. He led a challenge to Labour’s attempts to designate the NHS as preferred provider of community health services.

Other doctors, trust bosses, primary care trust and strategic health authority bosses and senior council officers among the 40 hand-picked appointees on the forum are likely to be influenced by their career aspirations. They are unlikely to listen to any articulate critics of the Lansley plan.

The whole process has been set up to waste a month, to give the impression of responding to public opinion – and then to press through the key elements of the plan with little if any actual change.

There is no indication that the principal objections raised at the Lib Dem conference a few weeks ago have been taken on board by the Tories, not least because the suggestion that the private sector can somehow be prevented from “cherry-picking” the most profitable services from the NHS is pure fantasy.

Cherry-picking is central to the private provision of healthcare. Even the so-called “non-profit” social enterprises will have to focus on delivering a surplus from their work and will be compelled in a competitive market to withdraw from services which cannot guarantee to deliver them a surplus.

The only guarantee against the private sector cherry-picking services and destabilising existing NHS provision in many parts of the country is to drop Lansley’s plans altogether and to focus resources on investing in NHS care related to local need.

That’s why it’s vital that Labour and the unions crank up the pressure to force the Con-Dems to ditch the Bill.

The price of cuts

The new financial year is already starting to reveal an even bigger round of damaging cuts in services across the NHS, with thousands more jobs facing the axe, many of them front-line staff, while remaining staff will also be hit by cuts in admin and management that will dump more tasks upon them.

Among the really massive cuts are a proposed 20 per cent cut in the workforce of the London Ambulance Service, most of them front-line staff without whom emergency services will be put at risk.

Another cut which the media has strangely failed to report is the plan to halve staff numbers in community mental health in east London, putting vital services at risk. Despite being dressed up as efficiency savings, virtually all of the job cuts are nurses and other front-line clinical staff.

The government now admits that at least 22 trusts with major PFI commitments are threatened with major financial problems as the tariff paid for delivering NHS treatment is reduced, new restrictions are placed on the numbers of patients that PCTs will pay for. Overhead costs of PFI projects keep rising year by year even while trust budgets decline.

And more attention is being paid to the number of treatments that are being excluded from NHS provision by desperate PCTs in the name of so-called “efficiency savings.” Waiting times have already sharply increased. The private sector is licking its lips in the wings, just waiting for more frustrated patients to go private.

All this keeps the NHS in the public eye. It’s up to the unions, local campaigners and the Labour opposition to turn this concern into action that builds pressure for a change of course.

Cuts of £20 billion can only be achieved at the price of devastating our health service. Who out there thinks that this is a price worth paying?

 

Choice costs an arm and a leg

I have just had a very interesting insight into the assumptions of the private sector at a conference of health journalists in Philadelphia.

It is clear that in the US the entire system revolves around the interests of the insurance companies and the private sector. Obama’s plan to create new affordable insurance provision for the poor relies on state subsidies to enable the poor to buy policies, which even then will only reimburse them for part of the cost of their treatment.

Interestingly a succession of speakers referred in discussions on the reforms to “medical loss.” This turns out to be the share of insurance income than is spent on patient care, cash which is therefore regarded by insurance companies as lost profit.

From the patient’s point of view the loss is the other way round, but even Obama’s reforms only seek to limit the amount pocketed by the insurance companies from premiums to 15 per cent of large company schemes and 20 per cent of the contributions paid by individual and small-scale insurance policies. Some companies are apparently up in arms at this constraint on their profits and are threatening to pull out.

In addition, under the Obama plans, insurance companies would be free to raise premiums by up to 10 per cent per year without having to face any inquiry at all, regardless of whether or not these increases are affordable by those who are to be compelled to buy health insurance.

The margin retained by insurance companies to cover their extensive bureaucratic costs, advertising, other overheads and generous salaries to their chief executives – in addition to a profit margin for shareholders – is only part of the total wasted by the arcane US healthcare system.

Out of the 80 to 85 per cent that will have to be spent on patient care, a substantial amount will be squandered on inflated hospital and medical bills to cover the overheads of private hospitals and their bureaucratic administration.

At every level the patient, as an individual consumer of healthcare in the US, comes at best a poor second place to the commercial and financial concerns of a system supposed to be concerned with their health. Overall the US spends between 25 and 30 per cent of every health dollar on administration.

But it gets worse. The new insurance schemes to be offered under the Obama plan will offer varying levels of cover to compensate patients for the often huge costs of their care.

The minimum schemes – most attractive to younger, healthy adults – will cover just 60 per cent of costs. The most generous and most expensive schemes will cover around 90 per cent of costs. This means that millions of patients will have to pay money out of pocket to access healthcare even after the reforms. This is what the free marketers wanted.

As one speaker stressed “health care will still not be free: some people will be shocked at the scale of out-of-pocket spending.”

But while patient care may not be the priority, maintaining patient choice is seen as an important principle in the US health system – resulting in a baffling array of complex choices to be made by ill-informed patients struggling to understand the difference between literally hundreds of rival policies that look very similar.

One speaker, whose job is to help explain the insurance market to baffled consumers, actually said: “Health insurance is always going to be complicated – it’s never going to be like choosing one apple from another.”

In other words patient choice is by no means always a good thing. And in the US it can cost an arm and a leg.

John Lister is information director of Health Emergency.

 

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