Will David Cameron’s National Citizen Service deliver results for poor disaffected ” hard to reach ” youth?

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David Cameron with some National Citizen Service students on a Teach First partnership. Pic Credit: Teach First

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One of David Cameron’s  legacies from his  ” Big Society ” initiative is the creation of a National Citizen Service for 15 to 17 year olds where they could go to summer camps.take part in adventurous sports like rock climbing and kayaking  and undertake community work and local projects for four weeks.

He bequeathed Theresa May with a bill setting up a national trust with a Royal Charter so it could be implemented nationwide. So enamoured was David Cameron with the idea  he has agreed to be chair of the patrons of the new trust.

But since Theresa May took office it has suffered two body blows. She has limited the money and dropped a commitment to a statutory requirement for schools and colleges to publicise it. None of this has had much publicity because of Trump and Brexit.

As a result it will have less money and less publicity.

Her action coincided with a damning National Audit Office report which questioned its ability to deliver and control the money it has already received.

The NAO warned : “The Trust has spent little time understanding costs and where savings could be made. The Trust has four strategic objectives: growth; quality; cost and sustainability. Its business plan includes a number of cost control initiatives at the early stages of implementation. “

“Based on a full unit cost, NCS risks being financially unsustainable in the future. Our analysis shows that in 2016, the estimated full unit cost exceeded the expected unit cost by 19%

“On this basis, it will cost government £560 million to provide 300,000 places in 2019-20, 32% more than the £424 million funding currently allocated. The unit cost will need to fall 29% from £1,863 in 2016 to £1,314 in 2019 to provide these places within the available spending envelope. “

Worse the report found that the trust had little ability to control costs.

Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO added: “NCS is now at a critical stage…. The OCS (Office for Civil Society) and the Trust have shown that NCS can attract large numbers of participants, and participation has a positive effect on young people. These are no small achievements, but it remains unclear whether these effects are enduring and whether NCS can grow to become ‘a rite of passage’ available to all 16- to 17-year-olds.The OCS and the Trust now need to think radically about the aspects of the current programme that work and how best to achieve NCS’s aims at a more affordable cost to the taxpayer.”

The question is what is the NCS for? Will it just be another project high jacked by pushy parents who want their sons and daughters to have an attractive CV when they apply for a university place? Or will it serve as a genuine catalyst to give ” hard to reach ” young people an idea of community involvement.

One  working class area  where it is working is Barnsley.

The local MP,Dan Jarvis, Labour MP for Barnsley Central, is strongly behind it  and has promoted the scheme in his constituency.

“It obviously needs to be value for money but it is vitally important it gets to “ hard to reach “ kids as it can change lives.

“People sometimes think I am keen to promote it because of my army background and want to introduce it as a return to conscription. This is not the case – it is more than one needs the scheme to be put on a national basis.”

He says the success in Barnsley is helped by projects run by the town’s football club and also a recent exchange with the London borough of Newham which helped kids broaden their horizons.

At the moment the jury is out. Will it expand to benefit the working classes or just be another middle class ” rite of passage”. Who will win out- Barnsley or Eton?

I have also written about this for Tribune magazine.

Hidden:The secret influencers bankrolling centre right think tanks to change your mind

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Policy Exchange – direct line to government but secret about donors. Here Theresa May address a seminar as home secretary Pic Credit: Flickr

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An important report was published today by  Transparify , examining British think tanks whose reports and proceedings influence government policy on anything from education to health, and attitudes to smoking and climate change.

What it reveals is that while a number of British think tanks are open about who funds them – including the Institute for Government, Transparency International and the Overseas Development Institute- and some like RUSI ( the Royal United Services Institute )have improved their transparency – some of the most influential think tanks which impact on current Tory government policy are extremely secretive.

Nearly all of the secretive think tanks are on the Right of the spectrum. They are the Adam Smith Institute,Policy Exchange, the Centre for Policy Studies,Policy Network, Civitas,the Institute of Economic Affairs, and the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

What the report reveals is that the largely US financed Adam Smith Institute – a firm advocate of privatisation and libertarian thinking particularly over smoking- does not disclose ANY details of its donors or where it gets its money . It is dominated by a sister organisation Adam Smith International (UK) ltd, which receives British taxpayers money and World Bank cash  for advising foreign governments and has a turnover £130m. Adam Smith International has its own website  which does provide details of its projects and staff- and shows its projects vary from assisting privatisation to good governance. It only has one project in Jordan tackling climate change.

ASI’s American equivalent, according to the report, has filed a tax return showing it has received $1.2 million in donations but only spent just over $5000 in the US.

The Centre for Policy Studies, according to the report, has been active in fighting further regulation of the tobacco industry. It does not disclose its donors.

The Institute of Economic Affairs, according to the report, also has had backing from tobacco companies. It also claims it managed to change Government policy over the funding of charities financed by a ” mystery ” donor.

The report says : “In early 2016, The Independent reported that the IEA had “secured [a] change in government policy” on the back of a £15,000 donation from a “mystery donor” whose identity the IEA refused to reveal. The IEA told the newspaper that it had met with ministers or officials “as often as we were able” to discuss the proposal with them.”

Policy Exchange – which is a very active think tank with frequent debates involving MPs from all parties – and  very influential.  It was forced to withdraw large sections of one study The hijacking of  British Islam which controversially named mosques up and down Britain of spreading hate speech – which turned out to be untrue. Again we do not know all the donors to Policy Exchange but we do know it has strong links with ministers, including Lord Maude, a former civil service minister.

According to the Sunday Times, Policy Network was initially bankrolled by Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, a banker who by 2002 had reportedly donated £250,000 to the organisation. It is had not published details of donors for two years and is dominated by prominent Labour right wingers. Its president is Lord Mandelson who runs his own lobbying consultancy Global Counsel.

Finally there is the case of  the International Institute for Strategic Studies which appear to be transparent but missed out donations totalling £25m from one big donor, Bahrain.

Leaked papers revealed that secret memorandum of understanding had been drawn up between the think tank and Bahrain’s ruler to fund the organisation. The report says:

The Guardian reported a figure of £25 million, noting that this would account for “more than a quarter of IISS’s income“. Compiling data from multiple sources, pro-democracy group Bahrain Watch arrived at a figure of £30 million, corresponding to just over a third of IISS‟ overall income. The Middle East Eye published calculations according to which Bahraini funds may add up to nearly half of total IISS income.”

Given Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, as reported on this blog, launched his new ” East of Suez” policy in Bahrain – it appears that Britain will be driven to defending Bahrain should a new wave of Arab unrest spread. It now appears in return that Bahrain will be in a strong position to influence the British government to present itself as a modern liberal society when it is obviously not the full picture.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not against the Adam Smith Institute, Policy Exchange or the Institute for Economic Affairs campaigning on any issue they want in a democratic society – including if they want to take up issues raised by tobacco companies or climate change.

But I am against secret backers using think tanks to try and influence government – and  public debate from  behind the scenes – and creating the illusion that these bodies are simply independent researchers with no agenda.

Transparify have done an invaluable job in drawing attention to this. The full report which has not been funded from external sources is here.

 

 

 

 

 

How Romania’s inhumane prison system led to the tragic death of a campaigning newspaper owner

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Dan Adamescu who dies this week after falling seriously ill in an inhumane Romanian prison system.

 

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Earlier this month this blog covered the plight of Alexander Adamescu, the joint owner of Romania’s oldest newspaper, who is facing extradition from the UK on what are seen as trumped up charges of bribery using the European Arrest Warrant.

His father, Dan, who was the co-owner of Romania Libera, Romania’s oldest newspaper was in prison serving a four year sentence on similar charges and his family were planning to fight the state over the way they are trying to close down his companies.

Now tragically his father has died – after a short period in hospital – one of a large number of people who die every year because of the notorious nature of the Romanian prison regime.

 

His son Alexander states :“On January 24, right after midnight, Dan Adamescu, aged 68, died in a hospital in Bucharest, without having his family close to him. Sentenced on June 5, 2014 following a trial that relied on false testimonies, he was consecutively imprisoned in 3 penitentiaries, where his health status became increasingly serious. Hospitalized in his last months of his life – which he spent being intubated and in semi-inducted coma – the 15 diseases he had made his body become more and more weak, and the deadly blow was given by the pathogenic bacterium called Staphylococcus aureus, with which he was contaminated in the inhuman conditions from the prison”

He mentions that his father went through difficult moments in the penitentiaries where he was imprisoned, given his health status.

“Jailed in unspeakable conditions in the Remand Center – 6 to 8 detainees in a cell of a few sq. m. at the basement, without closets, without room to move, with Turkish toilet – and not once, because of the atrophied muscles and of his ill knee, he felt I his own excrements – jailed for 23 of 24 hours – because he was allowed to go out for 1 hour, in the 30 sq. m. called “outdoor” (actually, a closed room of approx. 30 sq. m., having grids instead of the ceiling, extremely dirty) – he was moved later to the Rahova Penitentiary, where he shared a cell with 6 detainees, but because of his sharpened health status and of his inability to move, he remained permanently blocked in the cell.

Besides, for some bureaucratic reason, the treatment that he needed desperately wasn’t administered for 37 days, although medicines have been brought by my aunt, and his life was in real danger. Moving him to the Jilava Penitentiary was a new ordeal for my father… so he went from here to the Floreasca Emergency Clinical Hospital, directly in syncope; only after 10 days of medical care his vital functions have been restored, following a serious infection spread throughout his body” .

The issue of prison conditions in Romania- where nearly 500 people have died over the last five years often due to the lack of medical treatment –  has already been challenged in the High Court in London by the international human rights lawyer, Ben Emmerson ( who also represented Alexander Livenenko’s widow in the recent public inquiry into his poisoning by plutonium). He has taken up the cases of other people being extradited by the Romanians and the prison.

Romania’s cramped and unsanitary prison conditions mean that pre-trial detention has also become a kind of punishment. Prison standards are so bad that between 1998 and 2015, the European Court of Human Rights found Romania guilty of 178 violations of Article 3 of the ECHR prohibiting inhuman or degrading treatment. The court recorded 27 violations in 2015.

This sad end  to his father’s life strongly adds to the need for some action to stop the extradition of his son who blames the Romanian authorities for his early death.

 

Coming soon: Chaos for your tax bill

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Tax return: pic Ccedit: BBC

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Do you  find it difficult enough to fill in your tax form to meet the  revenue’s deadline of Jan 31?

Perhaps you don’t sympathise  with tax  officials anyway but you would want an efficient, accessible service – both on line and if necessary, in person.

A damning report from Whitehall’s watchdog body, the National Audit Office, reveals you are going to be very lucky to get either in future.

For the government latest economies are going to mean ” a slash and burn ” strategy for the way the Inland Revenue collects your money – with a prime aim of saving money rather than providing a service.

At the moment they are 170 local tax offices – whose buildings are already outsourced to a tax haven based company which grabbed them in 2001 without government ministers even realising who the “tax avoiding ” owners were..

There are all going to close and be replaced with 13 super regional offices. Some 38,000 officials are going to have move job location and  HMRC ( Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) admits that 5000 of them -probably the most experienced – will quit their jobs rather than put up with the hassle.

Vast swathes of the UK are going to be without any local tax offices. In Scotland there will be just two – Edinburgh and Glasgow – because the cost cutters believe Dundee and Aberdeen are too small fry cities to need tax offices. Staff will be expected to commute daily by rail or  car from those two cities to Edinburgh.

The whole of London and the South East will have one tax office in Croydon – with the South Coast staff expected to commute daily by that wonderful reliable (ha,ha) and strike prone Southern railway – boosting its profits and making sure trains are even more crowded.

East Anglia will have no tax offices at all – with staff from Norwich expected to commute to Canary Wharf everyday and then possibly change trains for Croydon.

The West Country will also be denuded with one new regional tax office left in Bristol – so anyone now working in Cornwall’s tax office in Redruth would face, according to the NAO, a 174 mile commute every day.

Wales, the Midlands and the North West are not so badly affected – as new regional offices will be nearer old ones.

The government predicts that it will make savings of £212m by 2025-26  with all this upheaval  but this  is a staggering £287m LOWER than predicted two years ago when it thought it would save £499m. So much for effective Whitehall predictions.

Nor is the NAO impressed with its present planning. The report says.

“HMRC has signed the contract for its first regional centre in Croydon, but faces a demanding timetable to occupy the site as it plans in 2017. HMRC’s move to regional centres will require good coordination across HMRC to ensure that everyone involved in the moves understands what is expected of them. It must therefore clarify what changes in working practices are necessary to support digital services and its future compliance model, and coordinate its design of regional centres to achieve these outcomes.”

HMRC has also signed 25 year non negotiable leases (with no break points). on buildings for both the Croydon and Bristol offices.

I am sure taxpayers will be delighted to know that if the scheme goes belly up HMRC has put itself in a situation where it can be blackmailed by property developers to pay the full whack whether it uses the building or not.

You can read the full report here  and  I have written a piece for Tribune.

Mind you I may have missed a trick. With Philip Hammond, the Chancellor announcing Britain could become a tax haven if the EU does not agree to our Brexit terms, we may not need any tax offices by then as nobody will pay any tax. So it could be a clever piece of advance planning. Pity we won’t have any public services either as tax havens don’t provide them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Romanian scandal that threatens press freedom that the UK could stop in its tracks

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Alexander Adamescu: Facing extradition from the UK using the European Arrest Warrant

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Romania is not particularly high profile. It is  best known for Bram Stoker’s Dracula stories and the infamous  rule of Communist President Nicolae Ceaușescu overthrown and killed in a revolution in 1989.

Now it is seen as a NATO ally, a democracy with free elections and in European Union circles as being tough on corruption.

But beneath the surface there is growing evidence that Romania is about to go the same way as Hungary and Turkey with a crackdown on the freedom of the press, arbitrary arrests and flouting the rule of law.

The issue is becoming deeply personal – and this blog has decided to take up the issue – over the plight of a German businessman who with his father owns Romania’s oldest newspaper, Romania Libra. The paper  has been a thorn in the side 0f successive  governments by exposing corruption  and political intrigue. I have written both a news story and a large  feature in Tribune this week on the case.

Alexander Adamescu currently lives in St John’s Wood in London. His father Dan is in hospital in Romania while serving a prison sentence for corruption based on the uncorroborated evidence of one person that he tried to bribe an official. His son is now – two years later -facing a similar charge after a flimsy examination of the evidence in a 30 minute hearing called at two hours notice in his absence.

The Romanians are  using the European Arrest Warrant – which faces only a very limited challenge in the British courts- to try and extradite him to Romania and this spring there will be a court hearing.

Alexander Adamescu has applied for political asylum to Theresa May, has asked the all party Romania committee to take up his case in Parliament and appealed to the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn as a backbencher took up his father’s case in 2014 and was heavily critical of Romania’s judicial process. So far British politicians have not acted.

In the last year there have been more sinister developments – reminiscent of Russia’s secret service – affecting his family. He believes his wife, Adrianna, was the subject of a bungled kidnapping  outside his St John’s Wood flat this March.

As she got out of her car and approached her flat two masked men attacked her and tried to drag her to a waiting car.

She said: “They were both wearing bandanas and gloves. They drove in a Mini Cooper with fake number plates – as I was later told by the police – and didn’t steal anything from me despite the fact that I was wearing diamond earrings, and had my car keys in my hands.”

“When they approached me, I threw myself to the ground, and fought with them until my neighbour Kymone Hansson, hearing my screaming and came running out to me. At the same time, a cab driver with a passenger in the back seat pulled over next to me and called the police. That was the moment I was saved. The two men ran to their car and quickly drove away”.

The Met Police were able to trace the car but not the people and the case has been left on file.

Later there was a second incident which can be directly attributed to the Romanian authorities. Adrianna was returning from Bucharest and was stopped at the airport before she could board the plane. The authorities said her four year son could not leave the country because he was Romanian (he was born in the UK). As he is four they could not detain him so she quickly left the airport with him and drove across the border to Bulgaria and returned from there to the UK.

The issue of prison conditions in Romania- where nearly 500 people have died over the last five years often due to the lack of medical treatment –  has already been challenged in the High Court in London by the international human rights lawyer, Ben Emmerson ( who also represented Alexander Livenenko’s widow in the recent public inquiry into his poisoning by plutonium). He has taken up the cases of other people being extradited by the Romanians and the prison.

Romania’s cramped and unsanitary prison conditions mean that pre-trial detention has also become a kind of punishment. Prison standards are so bad that between 1998 and 2015, the European Court of Human Rights found Romania guilty of 178 violations of Article 3 of the ECHR prohibiting inhuman or degrading treatment. The court recorded 27 violations in 2015.

.Serious questions about the role of the independent judiciary, the misuse of the European Arrest Warrant and the freedom of an independent press to investigate the government are all at stake. Even the role of major accounting firms working in Romania like KPMG have been questioned.

Journalists on the paper have published an open letter accusing KPMG of aiding and abetting members of the Romanian government to rig insolvency hearings to destroy and silence their newspaper, infringing on the publication’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression.

“There is no doubt about it – this is a case of privatized censorship. KPMG has been used as a front by certain members of the Romanian government to take over control or shut us down,” said Sabin Orcan, chief editor of România Liberă.  “Our publication has survived more than 140 years of the worst types of oppression, including during the Soviet period. But who knew it would be the accountants who would deliver the death blow to freedom of the press in Romania?”

KPMG, to be fair, did find problems with the insurance company that bankrolled the paper, but recommended changes that amounted to a rescue plan for the company. The government vetoed the plan which shows where they stand.

All this suggests that the British government should act to stop this move. Given that it is committed to leaving the EU it should be possible to overrule this action or grant him political asylum.

 

 

 

 

Unison: Former senior official says ” anti democratic practices” used to elect Dave Prentis in three previous contests

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Dave Prentis, general secretary, Unison Pic Credit: Twitter

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This is a statement that has been submitted to the tribunal examining whether Unison broke the rules to ensure that Dave Prentis was re-elected  as general secretary over a year ago.

The statement was not challenged by Unison at the hearing where their lawyers could have cross examined the official, Mike Jackson, who supported Heather Wakefield in the last election. The inference of his claim is that the practice exposed in a leaked tape where officials – who should be neutral – at the Greater London Region meeting discussed how to back ” Team Dave”, the campaigning organisation for Prentis, had happened before.

STATEMENT BY MIKE JACKSON

 FORMERLY UNISON REGIONAL ORGANISER GREATER LONDON REGION 1978 – 2004 AND UNISON DEPUTY HEAD OF HEALTH 2004 – 2011

  1. This statement concerns my role in previous UNISON General Secretary elections during my time as a paid employee and Officer of the union.
  2. In the year 2000 an election was held to elect a new General Secretary of UNISON following the announced retirement of the then incumbent Rodney Bickerstaffe.
  3. Although it was officially stated that full-time officers should play no role in supporting any candidate in this election, a meeting was called by members of the then Regional Management Team (RMT) of UNISON’s Greater London Region where I worked, for all Regional Organisers of which I was one.
  4. The meeting was held at 5pm in the same building (Congress House) although not in a UNISON rented area. It was stated that attendance was voluntary but there was an expectation that all organising staff attend – and almost all did. It was made known that the meeting was to discuss organising to support Dave Prentis’s campaign.
  5. At the meeting the then Deputy Regional Secretary advised us that we should maximise branch nominations for Dave Prentis. An amount of money was suggested that we should each donate to the campaign. We were advised to use non-unison email addresses although no restriction was placed on the use of union phones.
  6. Regular meetings were then held convened by members of the RMT in which we were asked to report back firstly on progress on achieving nominations and later on getting out the vote for Dave Prentis. I personally was responsible for 13 branches at the time and I persuaded all to nominate Dave Prentis. I was told that Dave Prentis was very pleased with my efforts by an RMT member.
  7. During the election itself, we were asked to distribute Dave Prentis’s election material to branches for which we had responsibility. If the branch officers were not ‘reliable’ we were asked to arrange distribution ourselves. This was done during normal working hours and personally distributed thousands of leaflets and placed posters on hospital notice boards.
  8. Although all these activities were said to be voluntary the culture of the Region was that there was an expectation on us as organising staff to deliver support for Dave Prentis. It was said that if any of the other candidates were elected our positions would be insecure as we could be subject to election as officials – this being a policy position put by other candidates from far left groups.
  9. In 2005, Dave Prentis stood again for election. By this time I had recently been promoted to a national position. I was made aware that a national steering group of full time officials had been set up to support Dave Prentis. My then manager attended this group. Although I did not attend she reported back to me on the organisation to get Dave Prentis re-elected. Again an amount of money was suggested as a donation to his campaign which I paid.
  10. In 2010 Dave Prentis again stood for election. This time I was invited to attend a national steering group of full time officials to support Dave Prentis. The meetings were held at 5pm in the building of the National Union of Teachers directly opposite the then UNISON Head Office. The meetings were chaired by the Regional Secretary from UNISON’s Yorkshire and Humberside Region and attended by national officials, representatives of each UNISON Region (usually an RMT member) and Dave Prentis himself.
  11. The discussion focussed on maximising nominations for Dave Prentis from within each region and from national lay member bodies such as Service Group Executives. I had no doubt that the type of activity that I was involved in during 2000 in the Greater London Region was being replicated around the country as full time officials were being mobilised to deliver nominations and votes for Dave Prentis.
  12. Again an amount of money that we should donate to the campaign was suggested which I paid.
  13. In April 2011 I left UNISON’s employment and went to work in the NHS in the East of England on a self employed and part time basis finishing in July 2015 aged 67. During this time I remained a UNISON member and kept in touch with former colleagues.
  14. In 2015 I learned that Dave Prentis was standing again as General Secretary. I was also aware of the reasons for this, primarily that he could not gather enough support for his chosen successor – his wife Liz Snape, Assistant General Secretary.
  15. I decided to support Heather Wakefield for General Secretary whom I had worked with for many years. I made my support known by writing a letter of endorsement that Heather’s campaign which was circulated by her to all UNISON’s Health branches.
  16. What then followed was a letter signed by the Regional Convenor in the Greater London denouncing my involvement as a former full time official and inferring that I was not a UNISON member. I then received an email from a former branch secretary saying that he had been told that I was not a member of UNISON. I assured him I was.
  17. I had no doubt that the Convenor letter and the information that I was not a member had come from a member of the RMT in the Greater London Region as the information would only have been available to the RMT member. I was also ‘trolled’ on twitter anonymously claiming that as a former employee I should not be involved. Information that would only have come from the same source.
  18. When I rang the UNISON help line to enquire why I hadn’t received a ballot paper I was told that membership had been cancelled on the 4th August 2015 despite the fact that I continued to pay subs as a self employed member. I then discovered that my standing order to UNISON had been cancelled from September (not by me).
  19. Although I had retired from my project at NHS HEE I continued to be self employed. In my experience no one ever gets removed from the UNISON membership list this quickly. I have no doubt that I have been subject to ‘dirty tricks’ by a member of the RMT to discredit my support for Heather Wakefield.
  20. I was not at all surprised to listen to the tape of the Greater London Regional Secretary speaking in support of Dave Prentis although surprised that it was in an ‘official’ meeting. I have no doubt that the anti-democratic practices I experienced in 2000, 2005 and 2010 continued in 2015.

24th September 2016

I have left out his personal details and will leave the reader to decide what they think.

The hearing resumes for a day on February 22.

Editor’s Note: To repeat RMT are the initials of the Regional Management Team – not to be confused with the Rail Maritime and Transport union

2017: Year of the Death Star?

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2016 had little to recommend it. A string of deaths from Brian Rix to Carrie Fisher, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen plus the  first murder this century of a British MP, Jo Cox.

For me the election of Donald Trump and Brexit were bad news and  game changing decisions as well the miserable daily reporting of death and destruction in Syria and Yemen.

And if you add  increasingly unstable weather – flooding in Britain and hurricanes in Haiti – provides a further depressing background.

At home further cuts in public services and increasing pressure on the NHS and the near collapse of  Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse didn’t help either.

So what does 2017 offer? First of  all hopefully some clarity.

Over Brexit we are in a ” phoney war” situation – the decision has been taken but nothing has happened. Apart from the fall in the pound people have seen little change. We are still accepting changes in regulations from the EU but we are no longer such an active player.

The real picture will emerge in March  or April when we trigger Article 50 – and the meaningless mantra ” Brexit means Brexit” will have to be replaced by  real negotiation.

And then the real decision making by business will begin and the effects will become much clearer to the British people.  From what I gather the first move may well be  some banks moving their HQ’s out of the UK if we adopt ” hard Brexit”.

Theresa May will have to drop her “no running commentary” stance – because any journo worth his salt will be able to get Britain’s position from any of the 27 other countries involved in the negotiations.

The second big unknown is Donald Trump. If we take what he has said it looks as though  the US will come closer to Russia, take on China, blow up Isis and Iran, use nuclear weapons if necessary and restart the arms race. He is also a climate change sceptic, doesn’t believe he has to be briefed by the security services and has pioneered Twitter diplomacy – announcing his views on line – rather than using normal confidential diplomatic channels. If he continues like this he will make Wikileaks redundant as they won’t be any need for diplomatic secrets.

But the trend appears clear: more intolerance of other races, religions and gays rather than bringing people together. In other words,  in a stroke a dangerous world will become an even more dangerous place. Hence my Death Star warning.

What do  I hope for 2017 ?

A less aggressive and more tolerant Britain – that realises that cutting our links with Europe is self defeating.

A less dangerous world that perhaps leaves Trump realising that you can’t bulldoze your way ignoring the consequences and you can’t stigmatise an entire religion just because there are some fanatics – there are fanatics in all religions not least in the United States.

Finally in I hope the crippled child sex abuse inquiry gets its act together to do a proper job – to deal with a problem that the country wishes to ignore and is far more serious than most people realise..

A Happy New Year to you all.