London Midland admits it got it wrong over its passenger assistance service

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Rather a lot of stairs to go up or down if you are disabled or have a buggy at Berkhamsted station if the lift is out of order.

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London Midland has admitted that a ” breakdown in communication ”   meant it didn’t know that one of its stations was unstaffed, had a faulty lift and that its  emergency passenger help service didn’t work last Sunday.

The admission came in an email from the company in response to a complaint I lodged after being dumped at Berkhamsted with my disabled wife Margaret at the end of a weekend break from Liverpool.

I highlighted this in a blog earlier this week purely because I thought the situation was potentially dangerous and that train companies should be more careful in ensuring that their passengers can travel safely.

An email from Sarah Brassingham, a customer relations adviser, admits :  ” Unfortunately there was a breakdown in communication that meant that the team at Milton Keynes Central were unaware of the issues at Berkhamsted that evening, which were obviously compounded by the issues with the help point on your arrival.

Steps are being taken to address this with the stations and Passenger Information teams, and our Facilities team are resolving the issues with both the lift and the Passenger Information points as quickly as possible.

I can assure you that we take any assistance failures extremely seriously and apologise again for the inconvenience and distress caused.”

We have been offered a rail refund for the Milton Keynes to Berkhamsted journey but it does raise wider questions. One solution would be to ensure that whoever helps a disabled person  to get on the train informs the guard about the person’s destination – so if there is no one there the guard can help. at the other end But that still doesn’t get over the problem of faulty lifts or emergency help systems not working.

London Midland say their policy is ” Pre-booked assistance is provided by the station team at staffed stations and by the Conductor on board the train when the station you are getting on or off the train at is unstaffed.”

That raises another question. London Midland still has guards. If Southern get their way they won’t be any and presumably if they have any unstaffed stations disabled people won’t be able to get off the trains or be unable to travel.

That is one reason to back the RMT union case to keep guards on trains and fight the company and Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, who want to get rid of them.

 

 

Can’t rely on London Midland:How staff cuts and technical failures dump on disabled and vulnerable rail passengers

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London Midland train

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This weekend my wife and I returned from a weekend in Liverpool where I had been speaking at a GMB Justice Campaign conference.

My wife is recovering from a stroke and we use the passenger assistance service to travel by train as she needs a little help boarding trains and avoids using stairs.

This weekend we got a good service when we boarded the train at midday on a Friday in Berkhamsted and a good service at London Euston  and Liverpool Lime Street on the way up and at Liverpool Lime Street and Milton Keynes where we changed trains on Sunday on the way back.

But the support fell apart when we returned to Berkhamsted just before seven o’clock on Sunday evening. I am writing about what happened here because it has wider implications for rail  travel and what steps rail companies take to protect people in an emergency.

Berkhamsted Station has recently installed lifts to aid the disabled, people with heavy luggage and families with pushchairs to get from the platforms to the subway below.

When we got to Berkhamsted  a town with 27,000 people) there was no one there to help my wife off the train and the lift was out of order. But it didn’t say it was out of order. Instead you could access the lift to go down to the subway. It just wouldn’t respond to go down to the subway.

Thinking this should be reported I pressed the alarm. Immediately I got an automated message saying ” don’t panic” and then the lift dialled an emergency number. There was no reply. I repeated the exercise still no reply. Luckily the doors had not closed or else we would have been trapped inside the lift until some one rescued us.

On the platform there is also an automatic system for passengers to contact someone should they need emergency assistance. I pressed that. Believe it or not I got message saying the number was unobtainable. So if say someone had been assaulted or sexually attacked on the platform – the emergency assistance system was faulty

When we eventually got off the station ( there is another roundabout route down a ramp through a station car park ) I found a notice on the ticket office saying there it had closed all day Sunday – so  there had been no staff at the station all day.

What has shocked me is that London Midland seem to have no ” duty of  care” to passengers – and their systems which are supposed to work when they are no staff – appear to be just there for show.

We did meet one member of London Midland  staff working that night – a man on the train from Milton Keynes to Berkhamsted checking tickets. So the company gave more priority to making sure it got all its revenue on Sunday for its shareholders and directors – than bothering to provide staff or checking that emergency procedures worked  to aid its passengers. And with plans to get rid of guards and close as many ticket offices as possible it can only get worse.

I have written to London Midland for an explanation and look forward to their reply.

 

 

 

 

 

The train driver who averted a major disaster on a London commuter line in nine seconds

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The two collided trains in the Watford Tunnel.Pic credit: British Transport Police

An accident  report out today on the landslip at Watford that derailed an early morning  London Midland commuter train last September reveals the importance of having properly  trained staff  on our railways.

It reveals that without prompt action by the driver there would have been large number of casualties and possibly fatalities when another commuter train running in the opposite direction collided with the derailed train.

It also shows having a guard on the train meant that passengers on the service who had not been injured got immediate reassurance and help after the driver was trapped in the cab following the accident.

The report praises both the driver and the guard for the way they handled the accident – caused by heavy rain leading to a landslip on the line just inside the entrance to a tunnel at Watford.

Simon French, Chief Inspector of Rail Accidents said:

 ” The collision of a passenger train with a derailed train in Watford tunnel on the morning of 16 September last year serves as a reminder of why everyone in the railway industry continues to work so hard to manage risk – the collision of two trains in a tunnel is a scenario we all hoped never to witness.

The derailment of the 06:19 service from Milton Keynes could so easily have led to a catastrophic sequence of events were it not for two notable factors. The first was the sheer professionalism of the driver who, within moments of becoming derailed, had the presence of mind to apply the brake and then transmit an emergency message using the train’s ‘GSM-R’ radio. His actions alerted the driver of a train approaching in the opposite direction who immediately applied the brake. As a consequence, the northbound train had reduced speed from 79 to 34 mph before striking the derailed train a glancing blow. This reduction in speed may well have made a big difference to the eventual outcome.

The second mitigating factor was the slotting of one rail of the track in the gap between a gearbox and a traction motor on three of the axles, so preventing the derailed train deviating any further into the path of the approaching train. This unintended consequence of the train’s design probably made the difference between a glancing blow and something closer to a head-on collision.

The report reveals that the driver had just nine seconds to alert the oncoming train after his train had been derailed – but as a result it certainly saved lives.

The circumstances of the crash are also a grim warning in the age of climate change given that very heavy rain caused the landslip at exactly the same spot  as another landslip in 1940.

The rail accident investigators found details of the earlier landslip in Network Rail’s archives but unfortunately the  management of Network Rail had not alerted people  who had  been working on removing vegetation and trees in the cutting on the need to  revamp an old drainage system.

The report also reveals that had there been a serious accident access by the emergency services to the scene would have been difficult and there did not appear to be any plan for organising a major rescue should an accident happen in the Watford tunnels.

All this suggests to me is that ministers and privatised railway companies – such as Southern railways – who want to save money by continually cutting staff should be wary of doing so. It could cost lives and passengers need help and reassurance should the unexpected happen on their daily commute.

 

 

Gag, cover up and secret privatisation: What is the real story behind the NHS clinical correspondence scandal

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NHS archives. Pic credit: Health IT Central

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A week ago the media was full of the huge scandal of over 700,000 clinical correspondence documents – including details of sensitive patient conditions – going missing and  instead of being delivered to GPs being dumped in rooms.

The story was originally broken by the  Guardian in February this year which revealed that NHS England was secretly working on how to sort out it  without disclosing the scandal to the public. Jeremy Hunt had made a perfunctory statement to Parliament in 2016 not disclosing the full state of affairs in July 2016.

Last week the National Audit Office published a very thorough investigation into the scandal – including discovering that somehow the NHS also lost  highly confidential reports dating back to 2005 which identified children subject to child protection orders which must never be disclosed to the public without the individual’s consent. And in 1788 cases it look possible that patient treatment could have been harmed as a  result.

The mislaid and unprocessed correspondence covers GPs and now abolished Primary Care Trusts in the East Midlands, North East London and South West England .

The NHS has paid GPs £2.6m up front  to examine the mislaid documents but they have yet to complete the work so a proper picture can still not be obtained.

In one bizarre incident some 205,000 documents were kept in a room marked “ clinical notes”. The report says: “A subsequent review found that the label had been removed by an SBS general manager because “you don’t want to advertise what’s in that room”.

“ NHS SBS told us that it was important that documents were held securely and therefore not having a label on the door was appropriate as part of this.”

Now this scandal is bad enough but in the small print of the National Audit Office report there lurked another extraordinary scandal – SBS  and its auditors, BDO, decided to frustrate the National Audit Office finding out what had gone wrong.

Both the company and the auditor refused to hand over the files unless the National Audit Office signed an indemnity letter – which  could get them off the hook should enraged patients decide to sue them for their negligence.

The NAO to its credit refused to do so and in its own report says, if it had, Parliament would not have been told the full story. As the report says:

“NHS SBS and BDO felt unable to share with us their reports into the incident unless we also signed a letter (which would indemnify them). This is common practice among audit organisations.

“We declined to sign any letter that would limit our ability to report on the incident.”

Instead the NAO used its statutory powers to force NHS England, which had copies of the documents after signing the indemnity letters, to hand them over.

Now NHS Shared Business Services was set up as a joint venture with the private sector  under the Blair administration in 2004 when John ( now Lord ) Reid was health secretary. It was an equal partnership between the  Department of Health and Xansa Ltd,a British outsourcing technology company 50 per cent owned by the staff. In 2007 it was taken over by Steria, a French  rival, with British staff pocketing millions of pounds as the French paid a 70 per cent premium on the share price.

In 2014 Steria merged with another French rival Sopra creating a French owned global conglomerate. They are now planning to take over a Swedish firm

But two years before Andrew Lansley, then secretary of state for health, quietly and without any public announcement, transfered a single share to the French company, so it became the majority owner and could dictate policy. Just to make sure the Department of Health, which had civil servants on the board, declined to take up the directorships on the grounds of ” conflict of interest”.

I asked BDO and NHS Shared Business Services why they had sought to frustrate the NAO.

BDO replied putting the onus on the privatised company  saying :

“BDO was in no way obstructive or concerned about making its reports accessible to the relevant third parties.” BDO has a contractual duty of confidentiality to clients as well as an ethical duty of confidentiality under the Code of Ethics of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEW). Therefore, unless required by law or regulation, we cannot disclose information to third parties (such as the NAO) without the express permission of our client. 

The letters dealing with obtaining the necessary consents and agreeing the basis for access are drafted in accordance with professional guidance issued by the ICAEW. As the NAO report acknowledges in its report (paragraph 3.19), this is “common practice among audit organisations”.

 Patients of the NHS are not a party to such letters and therefore their legal rights are completely unaffected.”

NHS Business Shared Services said :

“The recent NAO report highlights a number of failings in the mail redirection service provided to NHS England. We regret this situation and have co-operated fully with the National Audit Office in its investigation. All of the correspondence backlog has now been delivered to GP surgeries for filing and NHS England has so far found no evidence of patient harm. NHS SBS no longer provides this mail redirection service.”

There appear to be contradictions in both statements.  I gather the safe delivery of clinical correspondence  is now in the hands of Capita.

 

Revealed: The bucolic wine buff accountant who let privatisation spivs fiddle London fire brigade

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Robert Napper: Pic credit: Twitter

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He has been fined £120,000 and barred for three years from his professional body for ” professional misconduct ” by the Financial Reporting Council in April for his part in allowing a now bust private firm to fiddle its income from London Fire Brigade.

But before this happened Robert Napper, a partner with Grant Thornton, one of the big accountancy names, had already quietly retired with his pension to live in the rural Oxfordshire countryside and become a pillar of the local community.

Grant Thornton will have to pay a £2.3m fine for their part in allowing Assetco to fiddle the books after the company took over responsibility for maintaining London’s 700 fire engines in a privatisation deal which went badly wrong.

The scheme had been pushed by the now disgraced former Tory chair of the London fire brigade, Brian Coleman, to save money and curb the power of the Fire Brigades Union. Coleman was wined and dined by the director John  Shannon and given a Christmas hamper from Harvey Nicks for his trouble.

The union all along protested about the way the company was run – but even they did not know it was fiddling and inflating the books with false invoices for claims that were never made ( see my earlier blog).

To be fair neither Robert Napper nor Grant Thornton made any money out of it – indeed the auditors ended up as creditors with unpaid bills. But they did allow enormous latitude to the directors of Assetco, John Shannon and Frank Flynn, to fiddle the books and rip off the company, the shareholders and ultimately the taxpayer.

So who is Robert Napper who got duped? He lives in East Hagbourne in South Oxfordshire near Didcot.  It is a village of 1882 people with  a mixture of  modern properties (where he lives)  and many  chocolate box cottages. It has a community shop and post office which Robert Napper is one of the directors.

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Village Cross at East Hagbourne. Pic Credit: Creative Commons Rob Stallard

He was a senior accountant with 23 years experience who as a partner – one of the top paid jobs at Grant Thornton –  and should have known better. The report by the FRC distinguishes between his role and junior staff who were inexperienced in handling Assetco’s accounts.

It also turns out that he is a serious wine buff – his Twitter account includes many pictures of fine wines- and the best food to accompany it. Among these are his Christmas 2015 selection ( see below).

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Robert Napper’s Christmas wine collection

He will have to pay the fine in instalments. I contacted him to ask him if he had anything to say about the scandal or whether he knew the whereabouts of the people who had duped them.

He said he could not comment because of legal reasons though he did say he was not appealing the findings against him.

As for John Shannon and Frank Flynn they appear to have fled the country – he thought one of them could be in Thailand. Anyone who knows where they are could  they contact me and I would be very grateful.

 

 

Fined £3.5m for professional misconduct: Grant Thornton approved dishonest accounts for London and Lincolnshire’s privatised fire engines

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Grant Thornton: A big fine for professional misconduct Pic credit: Wikipedia

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In 2011 this blog was involved with the Fire Brigades Union in investigating the handing over of London’s and Lincolnshire’s  fire engines to a private company called Assetco.

The company nearly went bust  in 2011 owing £140m. Shareholders and banks hoping to make money from privatising the emergency services lost millions and small shareholders were ruined.

The  City Hall Tories under Brian Coleman, then  the elected chair of London’s fire authority now nowhere in public life, saw the  flagship policy as a future blueprint for privatisation. Instead it was a disaster compounded by an Old Etonian baronet buying London’s fire engines for £2  from Assetco only to go bust himself leading to another company taking over.

Now six years later the grim and unsavoury truth has come out. A report from proceedings taken by the Financial Reporting Council against the auditors of the Assetco, big accountancy firm, Grant Thornton, and the accountant who audited the company Robert Napper,  has led to a £3.7m fine for  both of them for professional misconduct. Neither Grant Thornton nor Mr Napper made any financial gain out of the scandal.

The facts are staggering. Over two years Grant Thornton   were found to have committed no fewer than TWELVE  cases of professional misconduct which meant the accounts presented to the public were mainly fictitious. Robert Napper was found to have  ELEVEN cases of professional misconduct.

As the report says: “This misconduct adversely  affected or potentially adversely affected a significant number of people in the United kingdom.”

It points out shares were trading at £6 during this period and fell to £1 in 2011 when the real situation was known. The report adds: ” The share price in 2009 (£6) reflected financial statements that contained an inflated balance sheet and included some significant revenue that was fictitious.”

An accompanying report reveals the scale of the dishonesty and cover ups. They range from fictitious payments amounting to millions of pounds from City Hall to buying up a firm for a relative  with shareholders money and creating a rental firm that let property out to directors. So extensive was the deception that I intend to use further blogs to describe in detail what happened.

As the report says: ” GT and Mr Napper were deliberately misled by AssetCo’s  management but the exercise of proper scepticism would have led to dishonesty being uncovered.”

Grant Thornton  was fined £3,500,000, reduced to £2,275,000 after  they co-operated with council and given a severe reprimand;

Mr Napper was fined  £200,000, reduced to £130,000 after  he co-operated  with the inquiry

Grant Thornton also had to pay £200,000 as a contribution to the Executive Counsel’s costs.

Mr Napper, an accountant with 23 years experience, was seen to have acted so badly that they have also recommended he be barred for three years from membership of his professional organisation ( the ICAEW –Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) for breaching  their code of ethics.

Mr Napper, from South Oxfordshire has since retired.  The Executive Counsel of the FRC said: ” The misconduct of Mr Napper , in its totality, is so damaging to the wider public and market confidence in the standards of members and in the accountancy profession and the quality of corporate reporting in the United Kingdom that removal of the member’s professional status is the appropriate outcome in order to protect the public or otherwise safeguard public interest”.

Further inquiries by me show Mr Napper in his Linked In page was publicly  endorsed by seven people including  Perry Burton, head of London audit, for Grant Thornton. and Natasha Pettiford-White, an executive assistant at Grant Thornton. Mr Burton’s recommendation would carry considerable weight as he is an auditor of 20 years experience.

Gareth Rees QC, Executive Counsel to the FRC, said:
“The Respondents have admitted widespread and significant failings in their audit work, and GT specifically has accepted there were serious failings in the execution of certain aspects of the firm’s quality control procedures. This misconduct is rightly reflected in the seriousness of the sanctions, such as the exclusion of Mr Napper from membership of the ICAEW ( the accountants professional organisation) and the fines on both Respondents.”

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, said :

“It is mystifying that central government did not spot this scandal, when the Fire Brigades Union and firefighters themselves were warning about it for years.  Leading politicians and fire service managers were responsible for allowing a gang of spivs to take over essential equipment and vehicles, the property of the people of London and Lincolnshire.  Both of the authorities for these regions need to investigate fully to ensure this never ever happens again. ”

Grant Thornton were approached and did not reply. I have written about this in Tribune magazine.

In my view this shows that one of our big accountancy firms was derelict in its duty in protecting the public from people who obviously wanted to fleece shareholders and took no care in auditing the books of people in charge of vital emergency  vehicles in London  and Lincolnshire. It also shows the real dangers of privatisation and we cannot  trust big accountancy firms to act in the public as opposed to their private commercial interests. You will see the scale of the scandal in future blogs.

 

 

 

 

 

A damning indictment on the dangerous failure of privatisation in the criminal justice system by a former Tory MP

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Jerry Hayes, practising criminal barrister and former Tory MP for Harlow Pic Credit:Goldsmith Chambers

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I am reblogging this from the site of Jerry Hayes, a former Tory MP and practising criminal barrister. He is highlighting the dangers of miscarriages of justice since the Forensic Science Service was privatised by David Cameron because private companies are cutting corners and not doing a proper job. The person here could have been imprisoned for seven years as a result of their negligence.

THE SCANDAL THAT UNDERMINES OUR ONCE GREAT SYSTEM OF JUSTICE

10 May 2017 at 07:09

I never blog on cases, but today I must break my rule. Yesterday I discovered a scandalous state of affairs which could have led to an innocent man going to jail for a substantial period of time. I will not name the defendant nor the court for obvious reasons. In forty years of practice at the bar this shook my faith in what was once the finest and fairest justice system in the world. Read this and weep. And mourn for British justice.

Yesterday I was sent to the Crown Court to offer no evidence in a firearms case. I had been instructed some weeks ago as Prosecution counsel. Let me give you a thumbnail sketch. Last year the police searched a van. In this van was a tool box and in this tool box were founds guns and ammunition. This comprised of an 8mm blank firing pistol converted to be a lethal weapon. An empty magazine belonging to that hand gun. A Glock self loading hand gun. The magazine from this handgun contained two live rounds. And three further live rounds were found in a knotted bag. It goes without saying that the possession of these items is a very serious offence and carries a minimum sentence of five years for the guns and a consecutive sentence for the ammunition. Anyone convicted potentially faces a sentence of imprisonment of seven years upwards.

The guns and ammunition were forensically examined. The laboratory gave the police what is called a Streamlined Forensic Report (SFR). It came to this conclusion, ‘a match exists between the defendant and the sample’. In other words the defendant’s DNA was found on one of the magazines.

This was served on the CPS and duly uploaded onto the digital case system, effectively serving this on the court and the defence. An SFR is precisely that, and both prosecution and defence are entitled to see the full report. But very often it is taken at face value. As there was no other evidence the CPS reviewing lawyer wanted further information. He asked for more information. Was there a mixed profile? How strong was the DNA? He received obfuscation from the lab. ‘The SFR provided indicated that a number of results were subject to progress.’ But the lawyer was dogged in his determination and finally received this bombshell. ‘The lab confirms due to confusion they have never compared mixed profiles against the defendant.’ They also stated that ‘progress means there are no additional findings’. Then came this chilling line. ‘The lab refused to elaborate any further……’

The reviewing lawyer reported the following,‘I am concerned that the language used in the SFR appears to assert positive and ongoing actions when they are clearly negative. I have requested the OIC to obtain an email from the forensic officer confirming the phone communication and what is implied in the SFR…..he confirmed that the report was misleading.’

The CPS, underfunded, overworked and creaking at the seams comes in for a lot of criticism. In this case the reviewing lawyer deserves a herogram.

Yesterday when I offered no evidence I explained to the judge in detail what had happened. I will never forget the look of horror on his face. There will be a thorough judicial investigation.

And yesterday SKY NEWS reported that a private forensic laboratory had ‘manipulated data.’ What the hell is happening? I will tell you. In 2010 the government announced that the national forensic service (the FSS) was to be closed down and forensic analysis would be privatised. Let me be clear that the FSS has had its fair share of cock ups. But the government announcement prompted horror from professionals. The National Audit Office warned, ‘this could spark a crisis within the justice system.’ They were right. Soon the court of appeal will be swamped. Will someone, somewhere listen? I won’t hold my breath.