Another day. Another taxpayer disaster for the Conservatives. This time it is the National Audit Office reporting on the full cost of Michael Gove’s failed vocational education initiative which cost taxpayers £800m and left a trail of brand new closed colleges. Read the horrendous details of this latest scandal on Byline Times here.
The Royal Society has issued a dire warning that the UK is already suffering a big drop in science funding from the EU because of Brexit.- MPs in Parliament warn it could get even worse contrary to claims by Boris Johnson. Full story here
MPs today accused the Home Office of learning nothing from another “Windrush” scandal over their treatment of 50,000 overseas students from outside the EU and European Economic Area who were said – many wrongly – of cheating in oral English language tests to get a university place.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee said it is “staggered” by the uncaring attitude of the Home Office over the fate of thousands of students who were accused five years ago and had their visas cancelled or voluntarily left the country as a result. Others had to spend thousands of pounds to win court cases against the government to prove their innocence.
The full story is here on Byline Times.
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Cumbria is amongst the first regions in England to try and tackle the poisonous chalice of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including child sexual and physical abuse using medical science developed in the United States and extensively trialled in Southern California and now here in the UK.
The Cumbria community initiative, known as The Cumbria Resilience Project, comes from a 61-year-old survivor himself – a victim of the notorious paedophile and abuser John Allen – sentenced to life imprisonment on 33 counts of sexual abuse against 19 boys and one girl- aged between 7 and 15 – while running a children’s home in North Wales. Allen like so many paedophiles denied all of this and claimed the people making the allegations all wanted to make money. But the jury at Mold Crown Court disagreed.
The anonymous survivor has just written a very readable book – available from Amazon here for £7.99p – Aces in the shadows – Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences.
He thought he might call it 50 Shades of ACEs because of sadly the variety of adversity, including physical, sexual, and bullying abuse (some inflicted by other traumatised children as well as adults) which damages thousands of children in their homes, schools, places of safety and in war zones and among refugees.
ACEs science comes from a health questionnaire used in the CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACEs Study, which is one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being in the USA, can now be used by GP’s and trained counsellors to act as a gauge on how deeply traumatised children and adults have become following adverse childhood experiences through abuse, neglect and household challenges, often caused by members of their family, teachers, children’s home staff , and priests leading to perpetual mental and physical health outcomes in later life including Cancer, Ischemic heart disease, Liver disease, Alcoholism, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and Depression.
The science, now accepted by the World Health Organization (WHO), shows beyond any doubt that a child’s growing brain can be arrested by such traumatic experiences, but the brain’s plasticity and the building of resilience can help people recover in later life. The book includes views from three professionals, Al Coates MBE, a social worker; Judy James, a coach-therapist; and Laura McConnell, a teacher and ADHD campaigner, on how to tackle this. The survivor adds his own views.
With a score of 10 ACEs, the anonymous survivor has endured it all – three marriages, fathered eight children, 40 sexual partners, 34 homes, two bankruptcies, copious drink and sleeping pills and a range of health conditions. Only the unconditional love of his third wife helped pull him through after years of therapy.
His psychiatrist diagnosed that he suffers from complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – something ( which I will return in a later blog) the authorities don’t wish to know about because of the expense of treating it. He concludes : ” I do not believe however he is likely to make a complete or rapid recovery because of the duration of his symptoms since childhood.”
The good news is that such episodes have become rarer while the work he is doing in Cumbria is growing beyond anything he could have expected.
” Cumbria might appear to be a beautiful place but behind the beauty are some of the highest numbers of sexual and domestic violence offences in the country,” he told me.
The Cumbrian Resilience Project has already attracted more than 300 members belonging to its closed social media forum. It also has free viewings of a film called RESILIENCE – The Biology of stress and the science of hope which explores the damage done to the body by the toxic trauma of repeated adverse childhood experiences as a child and puts forward a scientific way of tackling it. Film showings this autumn will be in Carlisle, Penrith, Workington, Barrow, Eden Valley and Kendal to name but a few.
Interest has been shown by Cumbria Police, Cumbria NHS and across the care sector and the project founder is planning ACEs awareness training sessions for parents, social and care workers, and all frontline staff so they can understand what is needed to help children and adults affected by ACEs. Sessions this year are being held in Workington, Carlisle, Penrith and Barrow.
The project relies enormously on volunteers and survivor champions. But I hope when the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) moves on to discuss how to help survivors that projects like these (they are more widespread in Scotland) are advocated on a national level. The author is a Core Participant in the inquiry and hopes to have the opportunity to raise issues of ACEs at the inquiry later in the year.
Among the supporters of the project are Graham Wilmer, who runs the Lantern Project on the Wirral :
He says: “There are people out there who are trying very hard to undermine the courageous efforts of survivors of child abuse to come forward and give their testimony. Some of these individuals claim to be survivors themselves, others include a diverse range of individuals, some professionals, others just perhaps misguided folks without much else to do, who, through the advent of social media, believe they have a right to call out and abuse anyone they want to, simply because they can.
“That will change, but, in any case, they matter not. It is the voices of those who had the courage to speak truth to power that will be remembered, not the voices of those who tried to stop them.”
Another is Dr Wendy Thorley who described the book as a ” An open and unrestricted account of the impact on ACEs for not only children but adults. The bravery of the author to put this in the public arena is not unrecognised.”
I would recommend it – the author does not go for intellectual sophism – but is direct, honest and tells the unvarnished truth – and it is all the better for that.
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Jeremy Corbyn’s good performance in the polls last night was not just brilliant for Labour. It was also not just because he produced a left of centre detailed manifesto. It was not even because he avoided ” yah boo sucks” attacks on the Tories or Liberal Democrats.
His biggest victory last night was because he galvanised democracy and got a new generation of young people to take an interest in politics and bother to register to vote. He did this in the extraordinary space of two months.
On March 24 Tribune published an editorial highly critical of Labour’s performance in general and Jeremy Corbyn in particular. It said simply Labour isn’t working and this was from a left of centre magazine not the Daily Mail.
Lest it be forgotten then the Tories had a 19 per cent lead over Labour and crucially had a 41 to 29 per cent lead among the 18-24 year old group. Thus at that time Theresa May even had a lead among students and young workers.
Now in the remarkable space of just 10 weeks Jeremy Corbyn and his election campaigning team has totally transformed the picture of politics for youth. Not since the barnstorming performances of Gladstone and Disraeli in the nineteenth century and Churchill in the early twentieth century have such huge crowds turned up at rallies to hear a party leader speak.
And remember these huge meetings predate the invention of radio and TV let alone the internet and the smartphone.
To get youth as enthusiastic to think they can change events in an age of so many other distractions is a mega achievement which leaders of every other political party should be profoundly grateful to Jeremy. For if the idea of change through the ballot box is not passed from one generation to another democracy dies and dictatorship looms. And given it was against a background of two random terrorist attacks aimed at the young is even more remarkable.
Sadly I must say his dream of encouraging young people to participate in democracy did not seem to be shared by the Conservatives. They did not appear to be encouraging the young to register to vote – presumably because Lynton Crosby thought it would not get many new votes for the Tories.
And worse on polling day some people – including one person with a blue rosette in Enfield and a UKIP and Tory run council in Plymouth – lied to young first time voters that they needed an ID card to vote at polling stations- presumably in a desperate move to keep Labour from winning marginal seats. Theresa May does want to introduce ID cards for voting – but I am afraid it is not the law at the moment so it is illegal to mislead voters.
The contrast between Labour and the Tories over democratic rights is still continuing after the election. Theresa May is behaving like a headmistress of a rather badly run prep school – by pretending that she is still running a successful operation when people are stopping paying the fees. She has lost authority and seems to be developing a “bunker type” mentality ignoring the reality that the game is already half up.
There appear so far to be no concessions to the democratic process from the Tories – and the main aim seems to be to ally May with the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland – probably adding to division there between them and Sinn Fein. Would she ban abortion in the rest of UK if the DUP demanded it? Would she concede to some of their antiquated views about gays? How will this play out over the present crisis in Stormont?
But I profoundly believe that what Jeremy has started cannot be stopped. There may have to be yet another general election after a few months to complete the transformation – though this will be highly risky in the middle of Brexit negotiations. Theresa May called the election believing her own propaganda that Jeremy was a no hoper. Now she has found out the hard way that he isn’t and no matter how many pages of propaganda Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch use to smear him it no longer works.
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This is Michael Lynas. So far he has spent £475m of taxpayer’s money as chief executive of the National Citizens Trust – a legacy project of David Cameron’s government aimed at providing community projects to aid character building for 15 to 17 year olds across the nation.
His Linked In profile reveals that his sole qualifications to do the job are a four year spell as a consultant for Bain and Company and just under three years in Downing Street as a policy adviser to David Cameron and Nick Clegg. He is obviously conventionally bright having studied at Harvard and Cambridge.
Recently he appeared before MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee following a highly critical report from the National Audit Office questioning whether National Citizen Service was value for money. The NAO pointed out that it was almost entirely funded by the state and the cost providing places on its schemes was very high. Also it has paid out money up front to organisations for places that were not taken up and was now trying to get the money back. I have written about this in Tribune magazine.
Indeed he was challenged by MPs about his ( lack of ) experience.This is the extract from the minutes:
Michael Lynas :”I have been involved in this now for eight years. I helped
to set up the first pilot. That is my ultimate experience. I have worked in
Government covering everything from the London 2012 Olympics to the same-sex marriage proposals when I was a senior policy adviser at No.10.
Chair ( Meg Hillier MP) : The same-sex marriage proposals, important as they were, are not quite the same things as running a contract with a big budget.
Michael Lynas: The Olympics had a large budget, obviously. When I was a management consultant for five years I looked at a whole range of projects, some of which were very large, but as I said, I have not managed something with this budget before.”
But the MPs were also concerned about the complete lack of transparency in declaring the salaries of directors -including himself- and senior staff who are funded by the taxpayer. This is because the trust was set up as a community interest company by David Cameron – so it did not have to disclose any details of the pay or perks of directors or senior staff. Even though it was funded by you and me – the taxpayer.
MPs challenged him to publish the information and he agreed he could – but avoided pledging to do so. A flavour of the exchange can be seen here at the hearing.
Kevin Forster MP :”I have asked you if there is a legal bar to sharing that information and you have not said that there is.. .But you have said several times that you are waiting for the new Bill to go through. I accept that would be a new transition and structure but, if you want to sharei nformation and there is no legal bar to do doing so, and it relates to an
organisation that is taxpayer-funded, why don’t you do it?
Michael Lynas: I absolutely agree. I just thought it was a question about whether we did it under the auspices of the new arrangements or whether we did it before then. We can do it before then.
Mr Richard Bacon MP: This question of whether we do it under the old auspices or
the new arrangements: how profound is that question and how difficult to solve? Why does it matter? Why can’t you just do it, if it doesn’t make any difference? Are you familiar with the maxim, “Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness”? Why don’t you just get on with it?”
An examination of the accounts and the original advertisement for the job of chief executive does reveal some information. Mr Lynas’s original job was advertised at £120,000 a year. The accounts reveal that in 2015 the highest paid director ( and he is also a director) received £117,688 a year and £5775 towards his pension. This increased by nearly £20,000 to £137,253 in 2016 and to £6343 towards his pension. We don’t know if that is him but it is very likely it is.
Total payments for directors increased by £45,000 in the same period from £466,608 to £511,182 whole pension contributions rose slightly from £23,025 ro £23,480.
Now there are 12 directors – eight are non-executive and four are executive – so you might assume they share this between them. But you would be wrong because one of them, Lord David Blunkett, the former Labour home secretary, has had to declare what he gets in the House of Lords register of interests – even if the trust wants to keep it secret. And guess what, he is doing it pro bono – not claiming a penny salary for sitting on the board.
And I would be willing to bet the other seven- Dame Julia Cleverdon former chief executive of Business in the Community ; Pippa Dunn, Nick Farnhill, John Hartley, Sue Gray.,( Director of Propriety and Ethics at the Cabinet Office) Martina Milburn, ( head of the Prince’s Trust) and Shaun Watling- may be in the same position. The Prince’s Trust confirmed that Martina Milburn also gives her time on a voluntary basis.
These leaves another four executive directors to share the spoils ,Will Gallagher ( resigned last December);Doug Fraley ( resigned June 2015); Simon Jones ( resigned January 2016) and Natasha Kizzie in the previous financial year. Indeed the disappearance of so many executive directors seems to suggest another hidden story. Particularly since Will Gallagher was NCT’s chief operating officer and Simon Jones was NCT’s finance director. Natasha who is still in post is director of communications and marketing.
The accounts also reveal that in 2015 50 staff shared a £3 million wage bill. They are now over 100 staff.
The Trust will be forced to release information once a bill turning it into a public body goes through Parliament under Theresa May’s government.
I asked for the trust to release these figures now and explain how much of the millions they lost on ” ghost places” they had recovered. I got no reply – no doubt Mr Lynas was too busy to be bothered by pesky journalists.
But I might say when the public sector ( especially education) is being squeezed by cuts and wage freezes – the largesse shown to a few here is out of proportion. Unless of course the former PM arranged ” mates rates” for the privileged few so they could help the underprivileged masses understand their role in society.
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While the national press depicted Labour’s policies as “la la land” and Jeremy Corbyn as ” unelectable” down at the grass roots a group of feisty women campaigners were lobbying union leaders and John McDonnell at the conference over the very issues that have led to the rise of Corbyn and the demise of the metropolitan elite.
The Durham teacher assistants or assistant teachers as they prefer to call themselves are just one group who have been hard done by austerity and public service cuts that followed the banking crisis and is still going on today.
Their case has been more eloquently outlined by my former colleague on the Guardian Adita Chakrabortty in this long article where he describes them as the Lions of Durham. Basically they are among 2700 TA’s paid from just £14,000 to £20,000 a year and now facing a pay cut of 23 per cent or the sack.This follows years of no or minimal pay rises that have already cut their standard of living. Even those who decide to work longer hours still face a 10 per cent cut.
The most they have been offered is some “compensation” a deferment of the wage cuts for two years but by the time Britain goes to the polls in 2020 they will all be far worse off than now.
All this is happening under a Labour controlled council and they are represented by a Labour affiliated union, Unison, which supported Corbyn for the leadership.
Durham county council – which to be fair has faced substantial cuts under the Tories – seem to have mishandled the whole affair by not implementing properly an agreement four years ago and were faced with legal advice saying they had to bring the system into line with other authorities and impose cuts..
But probably the worst offender is Unison itself who, according to the campaigners, has done little to represent them by negotiating hard on their behalf like say the FBU does for its firefighters or the RMT for its guards.
Until the Labour conference Unison seem to expect the workers themselves to lobby local councillors and local Labour MPs to try and persuade them to change their mind. Not altogether surprisingly the councillors – faced with advice from officials that they would be breaking the law to do so – have shied away.
And most of the MPs with one notable exception- Grahame Morris Mp for Easington – have said they cannot negotiate themselves with Durham County Council on their behalf as it is up to their union.
This has left a load of activist voters very, very angry. It has been made worse by the patronising and off hand treatment from some officials in Durham County Council’s human resources department who haven’t even bothered to spell out the lower rates of pay.
And while Dave Prentis, the union’s leader, makes great rousing speeches ( he did so at fringes in the conference) on the plight of the lower paid public sector workers, his officials lower down the chain have been distinctly unhelpful, patronising and some times downright rude to their own members. No wonder one of the teaching assistants described Dave Prentis as “all mouth and no trousers”. But then he is not facing a 23 per cent pay cut from Unison.
All this is leading to damaging repercussions. Some of the assistants are planning to vote Liberal Democrat in May’s elections while supporting Corbyn at the next general election. They want revenge on the councillors and unfortunately if the Lib Dems ( who are having a local council resurgence) win seats it will be seen as a verdict against Jeremy when it is against a local Labour council.
Following the conference the Unison TA’s have voted overwhelmingly for strike action and want union support – their GMB colleagues voted narrowly against.
It seems to me time Unison pulled its finger out and went into hard negotiations with the local council. The deal they are being offered is worse than people in many other authorities have got – where wages have been safeguarded through regrading – and it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of regional organisers like Clare Williams to organise such talks now there a vote for strike action.
My view on Unison is also shared by local Labour MPs like Kevan Jones, who has taken stick from the teacher assistants for not intervening. As a former trade union negotiator himself, he is not impressed by Unison’s local tactics and their failure until now to negotiate on their behalf.
If Unison do let these workers down they will not only betray their members but bear some responsibility for creating more unnecessary poverty for low paid workers and fuel resentment and anger that is already felt by people left out in the cold by the Tories.