Lords behaving badly: “Value Everyone” compulsory training proposed for all peers next week

Changes proposed after two peers in their 70s and 80s were found to have bullied and sexually harassed women

A new report from the House of Lords says all 798 peers must undergo training courses in ” Valuing People” or face sanctions including the withdrawal of services.

And former MPs who become peers will face fresh investigations by the authorities if they face complaints about bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct while they were a Member of Parliament. At present a loophole means if peers are accused of anything while they were an MP they can escape investigation.

These tough new rules from the House of Lords conduct committee come into force next week if the peers vote for the changes. The full report is here. Members have until next April to complete the training. Those who refuse after that date will be referred to the Commissioner of Standards for breaching the code of conduct.

It is against a background of growing number of complaints about the treatment of staff by both MPs and peers. One former Tory MP and minister is under investigation by the Met Police for alleged rape of a staff member at the moment.

In the last year two Labour peers have been investigated by the Lords Commissioner for Standards, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff  TWICE for breaching standards.

18 complaints

Lord Lea of Crondall, 82, as David Lea, a former TUC assistant general secretary, had two reports whose findings were upheld. Altogether it was revealed that since 2011 no fewer than 18 complaints were made against him.

The report said: “They included one instance involving a racially offensive remark, 15 complaints involving shouting at staff, being aggressive and
making unreasonable demands, and one occasion where a woman had been made to feel uncomfortable by Lord Lea’s alleged behaviour.”

champagne and silver gilt framed photo

The complaint from the woman followed a time she accompanied him on a Parliamentary delegation. According to the report :

” Lord Lea made her very uncomfortable by his behaviour
towards her, which included inviting her to his room to share a bottle of
champagne that he had been given. “

He followed it up later when she had left Parliament for a new job . Then “she received a package from Lord Lea at her place
of work that contained a silver-framed photograph of her taken on the official visit. It also contained a letter from Lord Lea explaining, amongst other things, that he keeps a copy of the photo on his piano at his home. He also invited me to visit him at home and referred to finishing “that bottle of champagne.’’

Lord Lea told the Commissioner: “I think she is egging the pudding in some
way. I can’t think of any reason why she should, if she didn’t have some
feelings for me or some other reason to be disturbed.”

The commissioner decided his behaviour did not amount to sexual misconduct or bullying but harassment.

He agreed to take up voluntary a bespoke behaviour management course but immediately ran into trouble when he forgot to inform the security staff that his coach was coming to Parliament so they could let the person in. He took it out on his staff leading to a fresh complaint of bullying which was upheld.

Lord Lea was asked to apologise to the member of staff :

He wrote: “I am not known for being a bully: I acknowledge having been very argumentative— highly audibly so—on that fateful day, concerning the predicament I found myself in regarding the apparent disappearance of my newly appointed trainer and you said you had felt ‘belittled’ as a consequence.”

Sexist and transphobic remarks

Lord Stone of Blackheath,78, a former managing director of Marks and Spencer, has also TWICE been found by the Commissioner to have breached the code of conduct. Complaints by four women were upheld only to be followed by a complaint from a fifth woman about being harassed.

In the first case it included allegations of sexist and transphobic remarks as well as unwanted touching.

Among several alleged incidents recorded by the Commissioner, he told a colleague that she was beautiful “to boost her self-esteem” and grabbed her arm.

He also allegedly stroked another staff member’s arm and said to her that he hoped a document on the bill to outlaw upskirting came with photos.

The second case involved two more complaints from women. He met one young woman at a dinner party and offered her a private tour of Parliament. She came with her cousin. He told her she was ” young and beautiful”.

“Lord Stone greeted her in an overfamiliar manner, kissing her on both cheeks near her mouth, and repeatedly touched her arms and her waist during the tour and while having tea in one of the House’s restaurants.”

Lord Stone told the commissioner that: “He was “upset by the inference
that [his] behaviour toward… was anything other than to try and assist”.
He accepted that “her account is factually accurate” but insisted that “the
connotations of inappropriate behaviour that she makes are wholly inaccurate and seem to me be the product of her imagination.”

He was found to have broken the code by harassment and has taken a bespoke course in behaviour management.

Labour Party suspension

Both peers have been suspended from the Labour Party. Half the members of the House of Lords have voluntarily attended the course already. The full list is here.

It is an extraordinary situation that in the times we live that such courses are needed, let alone deemed compulsory. One would have thought that people when they join the House of Lords would know that bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct are out of order. But perhaps not.

Saved by a judge: Historic Victorian station with a military history and a setting for “Dad’s Army”

Historic Brandon Station dating from 1845, built by a notable Victorian architect and now listed following the judgement.

Judicial review saves 175 year old station from ” unlawful” demolition by privatised rail company for a car park

When Save Britain’s Heritage appeared before Mrs Justice Lang to argue the case for saving Brandon Station it was almost a lost cause.

Breckland Council in Norfolk had already given the owners Greater Anglian railways the go ahead to demolish the booking hall that had been empty and boarded up for 16 years so they could create a 100 space car park for commuters to Norwich, Cambridge and Ely. The scheme would have cost £1m and was accepted by the Railway Heritage Trust.

The station on the Norfolk /Suffolk border is becoming busier as more rail services are introduced. The town itself is a mixture of historic flint buildings and sprawling estates and has strong military connections because of the nearby Lakenheath and Mildenhall air bases.

unlawful development certificate

But when the judge started examining the case she found the development certificate issued by the council was unlawful because the scheme appeared to encroach on land not owned by the private rail company because of irregularities in the boundaries of the site.

She was not impressed by the council granting permission while the building was being considered for listing. It has since been listed.

The railway station building is constructed of local knapped flint, gault brick and slate to a design by Victorian architect John Thomas in 1845. Mr Thomas had Parliamentary connections as he who was appointed the superintendent of stone-carving at the Palace of Westminster by Sir Charles Barry. when Parliament was rebuilt. He was also commissioned by Prince Albert for stone carving work at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.

Royal visit to Brandon: Pic Credit D Norton via Save Britain’s Heritage

Local people have archive coverage of a Royal visit by King George VI and the Queen Mum to Brandon station in the second world war. There is a website by Darren Norton about both world wars here.

There were also many foreign troops stationed there. Here is a picture of Polish troops in 1946.

Units of the Polish 2nd Corps arriving at Brandon Station in 1946. Photo: Victor Lukaniuk,locaL councillor

Also the station and the town of Brandon were used for an episode of the iconic BBC series Dad’s Army. See here.

Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain’s Heritage said: “This shows that determination, persistence and resourcefulness can bring back historic buildings on death row. We have already commissioned plans by the architect Doug Reid, obtained initial costs from builders, and will now be working with the Suffolk Building Preservation Trust on raising finance.”

The most recent press release from them is here.

The aim is to restore the buildings as local business units with a cafe to encourage new start ups in the area.

Updated: Judgement on Smith v Baker: A long running dispute still unresolved

Royal Courts of Justice

Judge warns she will block senders who flooded her office with 50 emails before hearing

Some readers of this blog will know that until two years ago I did report in a number of blogs the allegations of Esther Baker against former Liberal Democrat MP, John Hemming. Since then a judge has ruled against Esther Baker’s allegations and banned her from making them again and I have had an agreed settlement with Mr Hemming not to mention them.

There has been a sequel to this story culminating in Mr Hemming’s friend, Sam Collingwood Smith and Esther Baker being involved in a protracted dispute in the courts over tweets and forums on the Internet. The case culminated ( so far) in a hearing on the media and communications list at the Royal Court of Justice.

Today a woman judge used her discretion to refuse Mr Smith’s application to strike out her case and told Esther Baker to re-present her claim to the court within a proper legal framework.

Neither litigant is represented by lawyers. The pleadings and annexes according to the judge ran to 293 pages which shows how comments on Twitter and blogs can escalate into an extraordinary expensive dispute if they ever get into the courts.

The judge also issued an unusual statement at the end of her judgement warning she would block the email accounts of senders if they continued to flood her office over the dispute.

She said : “In the 10 days leading up to the hearing, I received well over 50 emails on this matter, not all from the parties. Some were properly alerting me to documents or issues I needed to decide or consider. Many
were not. The majority of those were copied to my listing clerk had to consider them to see if there was anything she was required to do. I received a further 15 emails after the hearing and before handing down this judgment, again some of which were properly sent; others were not.”

She concluded: “If I continue to receive unnecessary emails I will block the sender and all correspondence will have to be done through the post, the court’s generic email or CE file.”

The full judgement is here-Smith v Baker [2020] EWHC 2776 (QB) (20 October 2020)

It is a long read. I will not comment but leave you to make up your mind. The ruling has absolute privilege.

Update

At a further hearing today (Tuesday November 3) the judge refused permission for Sam Collingwood Smith to appeal her decision at the last hearing and rejected his claims that Esther Baker had breached an undertaking in an earlier case.

She also said she did accept his argument that as Esther Baker had used the definition of truth to defend herself in the proceedings that her statement that he was a Mackenzie friend to former MP John Hemming was inaccurate – as she saw no material difference between being a Mackenzie friend and a lay adviser to Mr Hemming in the various cases Mr Hemming brought against people who wrote about or helped Esther Baker.

Mr Smith does have the right to go to the Court of Appeal to seek permission to challenge the judge’s rulings.

The judge awarded costs to Mr Smith against Esther Baker and also laid down a procedure giving Esther Baker until November 27 to re present her arguments and submission and Sam Smith until December 29 to reply, Esther Baker will have until January 27 to reply to his new submission.

A further hearing is expected next February.

How the ” emotionally attached ” architect of Universal Credit will now be its chief DWP scrutineer

Dr Stephen Brien: The architect of Universal Credit. Pic credit: BBC

Self declared non politically active appointee turns out to be one of Iain Duncan Smith’s close advisers

A very important quango appointment has been made by the Conservative government which could affect the treatment of millions of benefit claimants -especially the huge number on Universal Credit.

It is to a fairly obscure body known as the Social Security Advisory Committee – which provides impartial advice on social security. It scrutinises most of the complex secondary legislation that underpins the social security system.

Put it more simply, its advice will influence how the DWP treats millions of poor, disabled, jobless people who are living on the breadline. It will cover a period when the government plans to to claw back money after the huge spending splurge to combat Covid-19.

The appointment is for the chair of the body and it has gone to Dr. Stephen Brien, a man who is publicly credited as the architect of one of the country’s most hated benefits, Universal Credit.

He will now lead until 2024 a committee of people who will both comment on future benefit changes and do independent research on the effects of the benefits system on the poor. The membership of the committee includes Seyi Obakin, Chief Executive of the homeless charity Centrepoint: Phil Jones,Director, The Prince’s Trust Cymru and Liz Sayce, board member of the Care Quality Commission.

Charlotte Pickles.Pic credit: Conservative Home

But Therese Coffey, the secretary of state for works and pensions, has also recently appointed Charlotte Pickles, director of the “non partisan” think tank, Reform and former adviser to Iain Duncan Smith, who piloted Universal Credit. She wrote an article for Conservative Home calling for the abolition of child benefit for millions of people and taxing the Disability Living Allowance. Read it here.

The appointment process for Dr Brien was marred from the start. The works and pensions committee was never informed of the recruitment process which is a breach of Cabinet Office guidelines as the appointment has to be scrutinised by Parliament. They learnt about it after a member of the committee staff spotted it.

This led to an exchange of correspondence between Stephen Timms, the committee’s Labour chairman and Therese Coffey. It is reproduced here.

Not only did Mr Timms complain about the omission but also some subtle change in the wording of the job specification. The 2018 wording asked for ” strong leadership qualities”. The 2020 specification is ” measured and balanced leadership qualities”. Similarly the words ” independent” has been dropped in favour of “impartial”.

Therese Coffey defended the change in wording to reflect the future strategic direction of the organisation and that she wanted ” to strengthen relationships” between ministers and shareholders. She admits she was embarrassed by the omission but can’t bring herself to apologise. It took an earlier letter from Mr Timms to Baroness Stedman-Scott, Lords minister for work and pensions to give her ” sincere apologies”.

The appointment process looked fair – though the small number of applicants -12- were overwhelmingly white with just one disabled person. Six were ruled out without an interview including the disabled person.

Six made the interview including one BAME person. Four were women and two men but only three were considered appointable.

The interviewing panel itself did include one BAME “fast track” woman , Tammy Fevrier, from the DWP Partnership Division.

Dr Brien’s appointment comes under the category of a ” non political ” one according to the code adopted by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. He declares himself :” I am not now and have never been politically active.”

Yet his CV is pretty questionable on this matter. As well as developing the idea for Universal Credit he was on the board of Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice from 2008-11 and 2013-19. This is where he developed the idea of Universal Credit and this is the body that wants to deprive people in their late 60s and early 70s of a state pension by raising the age to 75.

Official Commons portrait of Sir Iain Duncan Smith

On top of this he was a special expert adviser to Iain Duncan Smith in the coalition government from 2010 to 2013 at the DWP where in his words he “Played a substantial role the DWP’s engagement with the Treasury and Office for Budget Responsibility to secure the financial settlement for the reform programme” and “Worked in partnership with the senior officials delivering the Universal Credit”.

This was the time the Treasury insisted on speeding up the rise in the pension age to 66, refused to introduce national insurance auto-credits for women born in the 1950s while keeping them for men and imposed other welfare cuts.

And guess what Charlotte Pickles – also just appointed to SSAC- started her policy career at the Centre for Social Justice and then went on be the expert special adviser to Iain Duncan Smith at the DWP. See her profile at Reform.

Critical friend

MPs did question Dr Brien thoroughly at the appointment hearing – with both Labour MPs Stephen McCabe and Debbie Abrahams pushing him on disabled people’s deaths and whether he was emotionally attached to Universal Credit. See here.

Dr Brien’s mantra was he would be impartial and he kept repeating he will be a ” critical friend” of the ministry.

I wonder. It depends on the balance of being friendly and critical. Either he will use his knowledge- he claims to be passionate about social security since he was 19- to try and make the new system work better. Or will he be part of the new Chumocracy – which takes in everyone from Dominic Cummings, the PM’s adviser and Michael Gove to Rishi Sunak – and give a fair wind to new benefit cuts no doubt with the approval of Charlotte Pickles.

I did an article for Byline Times on how the Conservatives through a former Vote Leave adviser are trying to pack quango appointments with Brexit inclined Tories – though it is not clear whether this is one of them.

I shall be watching. He can start with something he did promise to MPs over transparency. The minutes of SSAC should be public. They have not been published for over a year which is a disgrace. Let’s see how he gets on with this first.

The Curate’s Egg: Child Sex Abuse inquiry reveals the Anglican Church has only half tackled the problem

Alexis Jay; Chair of the inquiry. Pic credit: iicsa

It is over six years ago that on Exaro News I worked with seven MPs from all parties to press Theresa May, then home secretary, to launch the Independent inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Now after two general elections only two – Caroline Lucas and Tim Loughton – remain as MPs.

Another Zac Goldsmith is now a government minister and peer. The remaining four Tom Watson, Simon Danczuk, Tessa Munt and John Hemming are Parliamentary history.

At the time with the help of Exaro colleague Mark Conrad, we drafted the letter that went to Theresa May – on behalf of the MPs- outlining the scale of abuse in the UK and citing specific cases and saying what needed to be tackled. She acted.

Tim Loughton MP

As Tim Loughton, a former children’s minister, put it at the time:

“Virtually every week, the public is bombarded with new stories about sexual abuse of children coming to light, yet they stretch as far back as the 1960’s.

“Few areas have been left untouched with increasingly alarming stories involving schools, churches, care homes, entertainment, sport and of course politicians and celebrities.

“Most alarming is a consistent theme of the reluctance or, more worryingly, the seeming complicity of police and other agencies to investigate the allegations seriously, and pursue the perpetrators rigorously.”

A lot has happened since – including the sentencing of Carl Beech, a paedophile , who made false allegations against prominent figures – as well as successful prosecutions in North Wales by the National Crime Agency – of paedophiles who got away with it for years.

Now the work of this inquiry has begun to bear fruit – and the publication this month of its over arching report into the Anglican Church and The Church of Wales is its most detailed investigation yet.

The report reveals both some progress and failure to tackle the problem. But I am pretty convinced without the catalyst of the national inquiry the Church would have continued to bury its head in the sand and still not taken half the measures it has.

The history of child sexual abuse in the church is damning. Since the 1940s as the report says 390 people have been convicted as sex offenders.

It goes on:” In 2018, 449 concerns were reported to the Church about recent child sexual abuse, of which more than half related to church officers. Latterly, a significant amount of offending involved the downloading or possession of indecent images of children. The Inquiry examined a number of cases relating to both convicted perpetrators and alleged perpetrators, many of which demonstrated the Church’s failure to take seriously disclosures by or about children or to refer allegations to the statutory authorities.”

As extraordinary are the figures spent on safeguarding children – see below. A pathetic £37,000 was spent for whole Anglican church in 2013 a year before the call for the inquiry . The last year for 2020 is not fully approved.

The report shows failings in the culture of the church which allowed paedophiles to hide and a highly complex devolved hierarchy which meant there are many gaps for allegations of child sexual abuse not to be reported because of the autonomy of different sections of the church. For example cathedrals are not as you might expect run by bishops but the Dean and Chapter. Also although safeguarding has now been highlighted, the people in charge are designated as advisers rather than officers, allowing the clergy the last word on whether action should be taken.

On the plus side it looks as though the Church is taking safeguarding seriously and training its staff about the issue. Newly recruited ordained priests seem to have the most detailed training and the church is at last doing criminal checks before appointing anyone to an important position.

There have been a number of attempts to check back on historical sex abuse allegations. The numbers checked look impressive at 40,000 but only 13 cases were identified as it was mainly a book keeping exercise.

Salisbury cathedral – one of seven dioceses where past cases of child sex abuse are being re-examined because they may not have been competently checked. Pic credit: Flickr

When this was re-examined by Sir Roger Singleton, a safeguarding expert, he recommended: ” An “updated version” of the PCR[ Past Case review} should be conducted in the dioceses of Ely, Lichfield, Rochester, Salisbury, Sheffield, Winchester, and Sodor and Man given “the absence of evidence that the Past Cases Review had been carried out competently in these dioceses”.

This is now being done again and will report in 2022.

counselling cancelled

The report also includes some rather horrifying cases because the system did not work properly. In one case a person who was claiming compensation from the Church’s insurers for past sexual abuse had his counselling cancelled because a lawyer advised the Church he shouldn’t have it since he was claiming against the Church,

It is also clear that much abuse was not revealed at the time. When the inquiry looked into a past case of Bishop Victor Whitsey, who died in 1987, but was during his career Bishop of Chester, Suffragan Bishop of Hertford at St.Albans and a priest in Blackburn and Manchester, some 19 people came forward saying he abused them including a brother and sister.

The report also discloses that there is still much to do . The Church is divided about mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse, with even the Charity Commission thinking they could be flooded with too many cases; the position over insurance and compensation for victims is unresolved and the process of clergy discipline measures needs reform and artificial time limits covering complaints removed. The rules over disclosure of child sexual abuse during confessions needs to change – exempting it from the sacred duty of confidentiality. And record keeping in the Church of Wales needs a thorough overhaul as there is a serious problem there.

The inquiry plans to come back over these issues and rightly so.

But perhaps one of the most chilling and sad paragraph in the report is a description of the Church’s problems with sexuality.

fear and secrecy over sexuality

“There was a culture of fear and secrecy within the Church about
sexuality. Some members of the Church also wrongly conflated homosexuality with the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults. There was a lack of transparency, open dialogue and candour about sexual matters, together with an awkwardness about investigating such matters. This made it difficult to challenge sexual behaviour.
Mr Colin Perkins, diocesan safeguarding adviser (DSA) for the Diocese of Chichester, told us that homosexual clergy may have found themselves inadvertently “under the same cloak” as child sexual abusers, who sought to mask their behaviour “in the same cultural hiding place”.

For those who follow this blog this report signals that I am back keeping a regular eye on child sexual abuse issues. Those who follow me on the fight for 50swomen know I don’t give up easily.

Search for Justice: New Podcast on the 50s women struggle for their delayed pensions

BackTo60 at the Royal Courts of Justice before the pandemic set in. They are now applying to appeal to the Supreme Court after losing their judicial review

I have given a long interview to Dave Niven, one of the country’s leading figures on the safeguarding of children, for socialworldpodcast on the issue of justice for the 50swomen. This podcast is aimed at the social work and caring professions and is watched by 2000 people in the field.

Dave contacted me after a gap of over 20 years because he had seen my writing on the plight of the 50s born women and wanted me to do an interview for his podcast. We last collaborated on a story in the 1990s when I was on The Guardian though both of us can’t remember what the story was exactly about.

He now runs his own consultancy, David Niven Associates (info@dnivenassociates.co.uk) which provides media training, and consultancy on child protection and safeguarding.

The podcast can be listened to here. That is the link to his site where you will also find other podcasts.

regular series of podcasts

It is part of a regular series of weekly podcasts on Thoughts on the Social World. Previous people who have been interviewed include Jim Gamble, a former national policing lead for child protection and the architect and CEO of the UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre. He is now  CEO of the INEQE Safeguarding Group. http://www.ineqe.com

He also recently interviewed Christopher Lamb, a former Australian ambassador and chief diplomat with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Geneva. He is now an adviser.to IFRC and the Australian Red Cross.

My own interview covers the case I have made on my blog for justice and proper equality for the 50swomen. I also talk about the exposures I did on The Guardian which led to the resignation of Tory ministers Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith over the “cash for questions” scandal in the 1990s and the first resignation of Peter Mandelson from the Labour government over his hidden ” home loan” to buy a posh pad in Notting Hill. And also my award winning story on how the former head of the Student Loans Company devised a scheme for legitimate tax avoidance which led to the government discovering that they had 2500 civil servants doing the same thing.

Amazing new digital exhibition celebrating how migrants around the world came to the aid of the NHS

Author and Poet Michael Rosen, recently recovered from Covid-19, narrates this short video on the exhibition

Migration Museum reveals the huge contribution of people overseas who came to the UK to work in the NHS

The NHS has been in people’s minds ever since the Covid-19 pandemic began and will continue to be so if there is a second wave of the virus.

During the worst part of the pandemic people came out in their thousands to clap and cheer the nurses, doctors, paramedics, care workers and ambulance drivers who work long hours in difficult circumstances to try and save people’s lives.

The Heart of the Nation exhibition puts a human face on the thousands of people who come to work and settle in the UK and take jobs in the National Health Service. People often say without them the NHS could not function and this exhibition rather proves the point.

It is not a sentimental account of the role of migrants helping the NHS to provide services for the last 72 years. It is a hard hitting. Some of it is “in your face”. It doesn’t pull punches about what it is like to be an immigrant in the UK.

A picture from the past: Nurses accommodation for new arrivals

It illustrates how migrants have over the years faced racial prejudice, hostility from landlords and even includes a racist cartoon in the national press. that would never be published now. It highlights migrants who found the traditional British diet tasteless and too heavy in carbohydrates which nowadays would be no problem with such a modern diverse range of cuisine in the UK. It includes some very tragic stories – including migrants who died in the Covid-19 outbreak while working in hospitals valiantly trying to save the lives of dying patients.

And it goes behind the scenes in the NHS to show the large number who work as porters and in the labs and stores.

But it is also a celebration – including a Spotify playlist of the music the migrants chose – and tales of young nurses dressed up to the hilt dancing all night to reggae and R & B only to shower and rush back to work at 7.0 am. And one of them was a founder member of a Notting Hill Carnival band designing the first colourful costumes that are a trade mark of that event.

As Allyson Williams said: “Carnival means so much to me. It has always been a celebration of our freedom and emancipation and acknowledgement of our ancestors. Here in London it’s all about family, community and inclusivity. “

“A story that needs to be told “

Aditi Anand, head of creative content at the Migration Museum and curator of the exhibition, said:

“Heart of the Nation highlights the vital role that migrants have always played in the NHS and the extent to which, just like the NHS, migration is central to the very fabric of who we are in Britain – as individuals, as communities and as a nation. Now more than ever, this is a story that needs to be told.”

You can download the digital exhibition here. As a Friend of the Migration Museum myself I am a supporter. But I think you will not be disappointed. It is an eye opener and reminder in times when populist nationalism is on the rise that Britain is also a very diverse and international country and all the better for it.

Covid-19: How the year of the bus became the year of bust

Pic Credit: Wes Hicks – Unsplash

2020 was supposed to be the Year of the Bus. A newly elected Tory government promised £220m to improve services which had been in decline since 2010 when another newly elected Tory led government created the cuts.

The initiative ticked every election promise box. It was going to reverse service cuts – mainly in the shires as part of levelling up. It was going to produce a brilliant new demonstration package of co-ordinated bus and train services in Cornwall – one of the poorest areas of England. It was going to be green -promising the first total electric powered bus service in an English city. It was going to be faster with more dedicated bus lanes and expressways and it was going to be easily accessible by introducing a national data system for services and fares available on the internet.

Then came Covid 19. And as a new National Audit Office report revealed on Friday the bus plan crashed off the road.

unglamourous buses

Buses have never been a glamourous subject. As the NAO report shows they are mainly used by the poor, over 70s, the 17-21 age group before they get their own wheels and single women seeking a safe way home.

It also suffered huge service cuts and big fare rises for many of its passengers outside London. A useful map in the NAO report shows how passenger traffic has declined by an average of 10 per cent between 2010 and 2019 – falling highest in places like Tyne and Wear, Lancashire, Teesside, East Sussex and Lincolnshire but rising in Bristol and Brighton and Hove.

Pic credit: Suzy Hazelwood Pexels

Some 3000 routes have disappeared with bus mileage down from 243 million to 112 million and the average local authority support for services dropping 38 per cent with 42 authorities slashing expenditure by over 50 per cent. Some of the worst examples are West Yorkshire, Surrey and Northamptonshire. Average fares went up 18 per cent between 2010 and 2019.

free bus pass

The biggest cost to local authorities has been the free bus pass – now estimated at £650m a year – a national service – but funded by the local authority where you live. Funding from central government to bus operators has dropped from 31 per cent to 24 per cent between 2010 and 2019.

One of the problems is that since the de-regulation of services the government has had little control – so it can make a lot of noise about improving services – but it can’t force private operators to do it. The plan for a national data system for bus timetables and fares – depends on whether individual operators want to spend the money.

When Covid 19 hit the government was faced with a dilemma – only key workers were encouraged to use public transport – slashing revenue. The government did provide extra cash in tranches to bus companies to keep them going. But it also raided its shiny new support budget to improve services.

The plan for a co-ordinated Cornwall transport service from Plymouth to Penzance was dumped.

So was the money put aside to restore cut services. And it looks like – despite interest from 50 different towns and cities – to be the first to run an all electric bus service – is being delayed by Whitehall inertia.

And other promises to improve express bus services = especially in the West Midlands – have been undermined by the operators themselves.

First Worcester cut service

One check I did on Google First Worcester company had created a furore by halving the number of express buses between Worcester and Birmingham north of Bromsgrove – forcing people to use more expensive services elsewhere. Yet this is an area given priority in the government’s new bus plan and it happened before the Covid 19 crisis hit.

There are some bright spots. Bristol has improved passenger use by 36 per cent. Nottingham has increased bus use and invested in clean bio gas buses and new trams by imposing a work car parking levy. And London, which was not examined in this report, has seen bus use up 89 per cent.

The lesson is clear to all. Grandiose plans to ” level up ” the poorest parts of the country are going to be very expensive if they are to work. And if they don’t deliver there will be a political price to pay for falsely raising people’s hopes. You have been warned.

A millionaire’s wife wins a 95 per cent divorce settlement against a ” lamentable” husband -Landmark Court of Appeal decision

Richard Rothschild and his new lover US model Sherra Pic credit: Instagram and Champion News

Decision to back ex wife by three male judges is greeted with surprise by The Sun and the Daily Mail who were sympathetic to a ” millionaire left penniless “.

This month the Court of Appeal took a rather extraordinary decision to award virtually all the money made by a business couple to his wife after being told a harrowing tale that she had been driven into huge debt caused by continual litigation from the husband and his mother.

Charmaine Le Souza was awarded £1.73m and a disputed £2.3 million condominium in Florida by the Court of Appeal. Her husband was left with £26,000.

Her husband who changed his name to Richard Rothschild in 2016 – he is not related to the Rothschild banking family- was said in the court to have spent nearly £1m in litigation to try to prevent his wife getting the whole business or the apartment forcing her into £900.000 debt – which are rising at £7000 a month with interest.

He was backed by his 76 year old mother, Wanda. who took an active role in pursuing his wife after her son moved in with a young former Playboy model, Sherra Michelle.

Mr Rothschild – original name Richard Pierzchalo-Piasecki – and Mrs de Souza got together at university in 1995 and had been married for 16 years. They have two children aged 9 and 13.

They married in 2005 and separated, in what the judge described as “highly acrimonious circumstances”, in 2016. The judge treated “the relationship as one of 21 years with the quality of the relationship premarriage being indistinguishable from that post-marriage”.

Their two children were said to have “suffered grievously as a result of the breakdown of the marriage”.

What followed was three years of ” destructive litigation ” against the wife including a claim dismissed by a judge that the mother owned the business and even proceedings under the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention after the husband abducted the children from Florida to England just after his wife had moved to America with her family.

Her lawyer told the court that the mother and husband lost successive cases but never paid any of the costs, never let the houses they owned in London, never took a job for three years, went on a spending spree to use up assets. Last December a family court judge ruled that the wife should get the business worth £1.85m and the properties in London and he should keep the £2.3 million apartment in Florida. But he laid down conditions that he should pay £225,000 to his ex wife in lieu of her getting her share, If he didn’t the property would be sold and the money given to his ex wife.

When both parties got to court on July it was discovered that he had transferred the flat to his mother without telling his or her lawyers in defiance of the court order.

The appeal was nearly cancelled as a result but went ahead and the three judges ruled that he should have less than he was awarded last December.

The judges argued that given she had a mountain of legal debt to pay off as a result of his actions and they didn’t believe he would contribute financially to the upbringing of his children when they were back in Florida – the award was not as generous as it looked. The business which was successful would provide her with a living.

Meanwhile he intends to marry the young model. She defended him after the case blaming unfair courts in the UK for his downfall.

She commented in the Daily Mail: “Rich and I are getting married no matter what. I stuck by him through all of these legal battles and I am here to stay. We have a real Soulmate connection that is pure and genuine. Rich is a born entrepreneur and he will always take care of his family and the ones he loves. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to be with someone as kind, intelligent, handsome, loyal and good-hearted as Rich. Thank you to all of my friends and fans who see our true love for what it is and have supported us since day one. Charmaine we hope you find happiness soon too and stop punishing your children. Not letting Rich see his kids for 3 years is unacceptable.”

The ruling by the judges however will go into case law – and does suggest that in future women will get more than just a half share of the assets -if the man spends three years in vindictive litigation against the woman.

The chances of living longer are getting shorter – new Office of National Statistics figures show only small rise in longevity

Is the DWP not telling the truth over the rise in people living longer?

One of the biggest issues about funding future state pensions and the incessant demands for raising the pension age is the fact that we are all going to live longer. This ministers argue is going to be too expensive for new generations paying into the national insurance fund and therefore retirement should continue to rise, possibly eventually to 75.

This argument was used ruthlessly by the Department for Work and Pensions in the judicial review against the appellants supported by the BackTo60 campaign for not compensating any of the 3.8 million women who have seen their pension age rise from 60 to 66.

To justify this ministers always quote figures up to 2011. The reason why they use this year as a comparator is that it was last year of any big rise in longevity which had risen for decades.

Since then the rise has flattened – in one year it actually fell – and last year was the first in five years that showed a small rise. Next year the ONS is warning will be the first year they will have figures of the effects of Covid-19 – and the hint is that longevity will fall because of the disproportionate deaths among pensioners.

The figures released by the ONS in this report yesterday cover three years from 2017 to 2019 – which statisticians say is more reliable than taking one year in isolation.

As you can see from this graph from the report illustrates longevity has largely flatlined. Women still live longer than men – but the greatest beneficiaries of rising longevity have been men. They are steadily catching up with women and the report wonders whether the huge drop in men smoking and moves from manual and agricultural work to less physical work in the office or behind a computer is the reason for this.

The report says: “Following decades of steady increases in life expectancy in the UK, a marked slowdown in the rate of improvements has been observed since 2011. Between 2002 to 2004 and 2009 to 2011, life expectancy at birth in the UK increased each year by an average of 16.7 weeks for males and 12.7 weeks for females. In contrast, between 2010 to 2012 and 2017 to 2019, these improvements slowed to an average of 6.3 weeks and 4.2 weeks per year for males and females respectively.”

The report also reveals another startling fact. When you compare the UK to many other developed countries both men and women have lost out big time in the longevity stakes. The countries that make up the UK (with the exception of Northern Ireland) are all near the bottom of the table only beaten by the United States.

Near Bottom of the league UK

Top of the league is fast growing South Korea followed by Denmark, Norway and Finland. The figures are for the number of extra weeks people can expect to live – comparing 2018 with 2011. Note again with the exception of Wales and the USA men have been the biggest gainers not women.

So while we all are being expected to wait longer for our pension in the UK, our extra weeks of life expectancy fall well below many comparable developed countries. We are being cheated – or at least not given the full facts – by our political leaders. So don’t believe any facile claims we have a world beating system for pensioners. Far from it.

Now the figures for this small rise in longevity are not uniform throughout the UK.

Another report says:

  • The lowest regional life expectancy for both males and females in 2017 to 2019 was observed in the North East; the North East’s life expectancy at birth was also lower than in the countries of Wales and Northern Ireland but higher than in Scotland.
  • Males living in the four most southerly regions of England had life expectancies at birth exceeding 80 years, whereas regions of the midlands and the north fell short of 80 years; London exceeded the North East region by almost three years.

Women live longest in the Outer Hebrides

The largest local area increase in life expectancy between 2009 to 2011 and 2017 to 2019 for males at birth was in Westminster, while for females it was in Scotland’s council area of Na h-Eileanan Siar. ( better known as the Outer Hebrides).

Live longer in London, die sooner in Blackpool

The statisticians comment:

“The rate of growth in life expectancy in London continues to surpass that occurring in other regions and the constituent countries of the UK. This has resulted in London now having the highest life expectancy for both males and females among regions in England.

“Four of the top five local areas with the highest male life expectancy in 2017 to 2019 were London boroughs, while three were for females. Since 2001 to 2003 traditional deprived parts of London such as Tower Hamlets, Newham and Hackney have seen strong gains in life expectancy over the time series. In fact, 17 of the top 20 local areas with the strongest growth in male life expectancy since 2001 to 2003 were London boroughs. This contrasts with Ceredigion where male life expectancy has only grown by 0.8 years since 2001 to 2003. These patterns add to the growing inequality observed across different areas of the UK over the past decade.”

inequality

This is heightened by other observations :

“Overall, for the UK, the difference was 11.3 years between Westminster, with the highest life expectancy at birth, and Glasgow City, with the lowest.

” For females, the local area gap in life expectancy at birth in England was 7.7 years between Westminster (87.2 years) and Blackpool (79.5 years), meaning Blackpool was the lowest in England for males and females. In Scotland, the gap stood at 5.5 years between East Renfrewshire (84.0 years) and Glasgow City (78.5 years). “

These findings must call into question whether there should be such a rush to raise the pension age – since the UK is both lagging behind other countries in life expectancy, has a huge inequality between the prosperous South and London and the North East ( Red Wall MPs please note). Finally the DWP is misrepresenting what is happening – both in its evidence to the judicial review over the raising of the pension age for women and to the nation as a whole. Longer life expectancy is tailing off not growing anywhere near the rate it did when decisions were made to raise the pension age.