Today I have published from a new database how much money MPs made from second jobs in the last Parliament with Boris Johnson top of the premier league of high earners. Read the full story in Byline Times here and see for yourself from a link to the database here. You can check your own MP.
I have a full story on Byline Times here.
As a taster:
Parliament’s financial watchdog announced the “super investigation” a week after Parliament rose. It now includes the extra £2 billion Johnson earmarked this month for “turbo charging” the No deal process.
It follows a total of 24 reports by the NAO on Brexit since 2016 which highlighted scandals and public waste. This included the exposure of former transport secretary Chris Grayling’s mishandling of No Deal Brexit freight contracts which cost the country over £50m including paying Eurotunnel £33m in an out of court settlement.
Since taking this world trip I have gone out with my wife Margaret in a wheelchair in some 20 countries and encountered many challenges – from uneven and inaccessible pavements to stairs with no accompanying ramps, high kerbs, blocked paths and sudden inaccessible dead ends.
The visit to Singapore was a treat. It outstripped many European cities in the comprehensive services available to disabled people and the ease of getting around the country.
It sends a strong message to Transport for London on how to organise disabled friendly services across the capital. From travelling on the system it was clear a great deal of thought had been put in to make it as easy as possible for disabled people. Signage, positioning of lifts and the design of trains were all co-ordinated. So was access to the street to and from stations. It makes London just amateurish and years behind and pretty hostile to disabled people..
It was a lightening visit – just one day – it involved a visit to major attraction using the underground train system.
While This the cruise terminal was not directly connected to the metro the 250 yard walk from the terminal to the new station was well signposted. It’s served Marina South Pier where more local ferry services run. Getting access was easy . A wide ramp allowed wheelchair access to the station and lifts took you down to the booking hall and platform. The lift came out exactly opposite a carriage on the train which included wheelchair spaces.There was completely level access to the train with a minimal gap. We had to change lines at the next station Marina Bay. Again the system was easy to navigate.
Going out at Bayfront station was easy with lifts to the station entrance and a lift also well used by families with pushchairs to street level.
And then there was a bonus. We were going to the Gardens by the Bay one of Singapore’s newer iconic attractions. And round the corner was a shuttle bus to take you to the centre. But it was no ordinary shuttle bus. It included a ramp so wheelchairs could be hoisted on to the back to enable disabled people to travel in style. They were also testing a driverless vehicle.
Once there the two amazing attractions the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest were easily accessible.The Cloud Forest was particularly impressive with wheelchair accessible lift and always taking you hundreds of feet above the tree, hanging plants and huge waterfalls.The pictures tell the story.
Singapore’s system is copied by the metro in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. It also has lifts to platforms and ramps into stations. Unfortunately at the two stations we used half the lifts did not work. And the access to the stations is not straightforward. More like London than Singapore.
Anybody on a world Cunard cruise cannot but be charmed by the civilised behaviour of the crew and fellow guests. A day does not go by without any guest being encouraged to enjoy themselves by the large crew and fellow guests.Everybody is very considerate and helpful to each other.
But there is one room in Queen Victoria where all this breaks down. It is called the laundrette. Here the genteel atmosphere throughout the ship evaporates in a mix of soap suds and wet clothes.
The laundrette is one of the few free services on board but there are only two or three machines for 100 or more cabins. And with 700 people going on a 108 day world cruise plus a turnover of some 1300 people at major ports demand is high.
To get a machine normally polite men and women are transformed into duplicitous schemers resorting to any ruse to get their hands on the machines.
When wiley women and aggressive men get going to grab a machine anything goes.
One person even came armed with two fake ” Out of Order ” notices to attach to a washing machine and a dryer so she could get exclusive use during the voyage. The ruse was discovered when other suspicious guests tried using the machines and found they worked perfectly.
More direct action has involved taking other people’s clothes out of driers and washing machines when the guests using the machines are out of the laundrette.
One poor guest who had just loaded a washing machine and went out to get more dirty clothes came back five minutes later to find another guest had emptied her machine and replaced it with her clothes. By then she had started the machine and the first guest could do nothing about it.
As for men aggression can spill over. One man furious that another guy had taken out his washing turned to the other and said ” How dare you run your fingers through my wife’s knickers “. A fist fight broke out and it is said that Cunard threw both of them off the boat at the next port.
No wonder when you visit the Cunard laundrette you find a line of grim faced men and women guarding their machines with their lives and warning you there is a two hour wait before you need to come back.
So far the ethos of take no prisoners has not yet led to any deaths. But there is still another month on this voyage so anything could happen.
In the meantime nobody has copied the iconic Levi jeans advertisement where a young guy goes to the laundrette to strip off and put all his dirty clothes in the machines. But perhaps Cunard’s strict dress code of smart attire after 6.0 pm and a dinner jacket and cocktail dress on gala night puts off people from going to the laundrette in the nude. But again there is still time…
The lush tropical island of Samoa in the South Pacific is famous as the last resting place of Robert Louis Stevenson author of Treasure Island.His villa is now a museum and a major tourist attraction set in the hills above Apia, the nation’s capital.
Stevenson is buried at the top of a nearby mountain and reached by a hike through tropical rainforest. There is even an environmental project to preserve the forest in that area.
It was at Stevenson’s villa that five months ago that Laura Clarke the British High Commissioner to Samoa chose to launch a new initiative aimed to boost Britain’s place in the world post Brexit. Here for one day the Union Jack flew from the building while the high commissioner waxed lyrically about how similar the UK was do this tropical paradise. You can read all about it in a FO press release here.
Samoa it turns out is one of nine countries that Britain is keen to strengthen its presence as part of a Foreign Office initiative to compensate for losing its influence in the European Union. The argument goes along the lines that for every small country that Britain supports is likely to back Britain at the United Nations as each country has one vote. That way Britain can keep playing a major role without relying on the EU.The initiative goes back to Boris Johnson’s time as foreign secretary.It is being repeated in Tonga and Vanuatu.
The policy could be expensive and the competition could be fierce. In Samoa it will mean building a high commission to compete with the ones already in the capital representing Australia,New Zealand and Japan. In both Samoa and Tonga the main competition comes from China which is aiding Samoa’s education system and operates behind a high security compound in Tonga. The Japanese and Koreans are funding a new bridge in Apia. And both islands have strong links with Australia and New Zealand.
Exactly what new business opportunities Britain will get from Samoa and Tonga is not clear. Neither country relies entirely on tourism but most of their exports are agriculture and both have tiny populations ( they have less than 300,000 between them) and are no substitute for any EU country. Britain could benefit from coconut oil and cream from Samoa. Tonga could send us frozen fish,squash and vanilla beans.
As a visitor to both countries, Samoa is stunningly beautiful and friendly and Tonga is similar. Both have a very strong Christian religious communities dating from the missionaries and still observe Sundays as a day of rest.
In Samoa family is very important and unusually there are few cementaries as nearly all Samoans bury their ancestors on their own land. As well having their own homes they build meeting halls for family events.
Surprisingly for such a beautiful place it is not overdeveloped. There are no huge tower block hotels like Honolulu dominating the coast.Instead it remains rather a remarkable tropical paradise that even Robert Louis Stevenson might still recognise.
CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM
One interest I found I share with Ukip’s leader Nigel Farage is that both us every week check the Twitterfeed of @britainelects – which provides details of every local council by-election in Britain.
Our exchange at the book launch of Lord Ashcroft’s Call Me Dave unauthorised biography revealed that both of us have a healthy scepticism of opinion polls but a mutual interest in seeing how real voters are turning out to vote in by elections across the country.
Corbyn’s mauling in the mainstream media coupled with distrust among the Parliamentary party one might expect no one in their right mind to vote Labour and for evidence in advance of the Oldham Parliamentary by-election that he is already in trouble.
In fact the reverse is true which might explain why the same mainstream media has been rather quiet about it. Three by-elections in totally different seats have seen huge swings to Labour. I write about this in Tribune magazine this week.
They are Euxton North ward in Chorley, Lancashire; South Camberwell in London and Banbury in Oxfordshire..
In Chorley the party recorded a 12.7 per cent swing –taking the seat with 57.3 per cent share of the vote and winning with 697 votes. The big loser was UKIP whose share of the vote dropped by 12.4 per cent – getting just 76 votes. The Tories were second and saw their vote drop by 0.3 per cent with 443 votes.
In South Camberwell, in the London Borough of Southwark, Labour recorded a 9 per cent swing – winning with 1,244 votes – and taking a 57.9 per cent share of the vote. The party’s nearest rival, the Greens, saw a 1.3 per cent drop and the Tories were down 1.4 per cent. Only the Lib Dems, who were third, recorded a small increase of 2.3 per cent but polled just 200 votes.
In Banbury, Oxfordshire, saw Labour take a seat from the Conservatives on a 5.9 per cent swing –taking 45 per cent of the vote in the Grimsby and Castle ward in the town. The Tory vote fell by 7 per cent and the Lib Dem vote fell by 1.5 per cent. UKIP’s share of the vote did rise 5.6 per cent – but the party only got 150 votes. Labour polled 781.
The results are not mainly good for UKIP whose plan to oust Labour as the party of the Opposition in the North is plainly not working as their council candidates are taking a mauling in some seats and making no progress in others.The Tories are very resilient. their vote is going up from a low base in Scotland and they have made four gains this autumn – three from the Liberal Democrats and one from Labour. They also put in a credible performance in Barrow where they gained 23 per cent in a traditional Labour seat almost ousting the UKIP opposition candidate. And Labour are still falling back in Scotland.
The one bad result for Labour in England has been Bury where the Tories took a seat from then with a swing approaching 14 per cent – but other parties also lost votes.
The Lib Dems seem to be reviving in rural areas – running the Tories close in one seat and taking a Sussex seat – but they are still declining in urban areas. They can boast one landslide result in Torbay when their former MP Adrian Sanders held a seat on a 39 per cent swing. But the same night they lost their third seat to the Tories in Aberdeen.
All this suggests that there is still a lot to play for – but Labour which had a huge rise in membership following Corbyn’s victory is more than holding its own and getting some spectacular swings.
The Tory narrative put forward by Cameron and Osborne is also still hitting a nerve – otherwise they would not be gaining seats. All this makes the December 3 by-election in Oldham the more interesting.
CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM
While the British media has been uniformly hostile to Jeremy Corbyn – his victory has led to some completely different coverage abroad.
One TV station “News Tapa” – a nonprofit online investigative reporting organisation in South Korea – decided to devote a half hour programme to what they called the Corbyn Syndrome- for viewers in their country.
The TV station – unusual because it is crowd funded by over 35,000 people using a principle also used for byline.com for individuals decided that Corbyn was an interesting phenomenon precisely because he was an example of a popular rebellion in a mainstream party challenging conventional politics.
According to the broadcasters it hit a nerve in South Korea because politics is seen as remote, dominated by big business and career politicians and not exactly squeaky keen. Sounds familiar? They were also fascinated how a backbencher representing a working class constituency could suddenly capture the minds of so many people and propel themselves to the leadership of a major party.
As Seon-Ju Choi, the London co-ordinator for the programme’s production said :”In S. Korea, the conservative party has been in power for many years now since our president Noh who committed suicide. In a way, it has been very depressing all the public funds have been radically cut, and many people are struggling due to lack of public service and many of privatisation, etc. We would love to feature the amazing and exciting story about Jeremy Corbyn’s story, how the left-wing politician has received overwhelming support from the public, and became a leader of Labour Party.”
It The film is in Korean but there are enough British people interviewed – including me- for people to follow most of it.
For those interested the link is here http://newstapa.org/29509 .
It makes interesting viewing.
Disabled people who bought Bath Knight products and have been left with useless warranties have been offered a lifeline by the firm’s former fitters.
Nine of them who are also owed thousands of pounds by the bankruptcy of Bath Knight in Stoke on Trent have set up their own company to sell a new updated product and to service people who own Bath Knight aids but cannot get them repaired.
This should be good news for disabled people who have contacted me to say what can they do when their supplied equipment malfunctions or needs servicing. Some have been very desperate as it is the only way they can have a bath.
In addition, the fitters have found a new UK manufacturer in Leeds to make a new product which they can supply and fit at a much cheaper price than the old Bath Knight model.
Bicky Thandi, the fitter who is organising the new company,Easy-Bath said: ” We were worried about all those elderly disabled people who were left with no service and no guarantee because the firm had gone bust owing us money as well. We got nothing from Care Knight when they went bankrupt owing us money so we thought that lets get together and form our own business.So we have set up a free phone line for inquiries and a fixed sum for repairs and servicing. We have also found a manufacturer in Leeds who can produce a new version of the Bath Knight.”
The free phone number is 0800 0029182.
The Website address is http://www.easy-bath.co.uk/ .
Prices he has quoted are: for a fixed price of £150.00 including parts and labour for a repair, and a fitting for for £250.00.
CROSS POSTED FROM BYLINE.COM
Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory to become Labour leader has come as a shock to the Westminster bubble and the political Establishment.
Those who followed opinion polls and betting odds thought he might win but did not think it would be such an overwhelming victory.
I suspect – from a growing number of anecdotal chats – that his victory is partly due to an unique revolt that spanned two generations and came together in a perfect storm to overthrow the political Establishment.
My generation – who are around the same age as Jeremy Corbyn – suddenly decided they were fed up to the back teeth of the Labour Party apologizing for its existence and assuming post Blair there is only one way to run a society.
We feel uneasy at the rapidly widening gulf between the rich and the poor, do not like to see public services denigrated, do see the value of a trade union, and don’t like the nasty politics that treat refugees as opportunists trying to get a slice of the good life.
We also yearn for proper debates about major issues – like should we renew Trident and what is the future of the NHS and the welfare state, how serious is climate change etc. At the moment this is never discussed because of a sickening consensus that only way to solve anything is to get the rich to make even more money and bow to the international gods of global capitalism.
I know a number of people who looked at the Labour candidates and thought with the exception of Corbyn they sounded remarkably the same. So like the grandfathers and grandmothers we now are – the swinging sixties generation- decided they wanted a change.They voted for a new grandfather of the nation.
Young people who have talked to came to a remarkably similar conclusion. The politically aware tell me they found conventional party politics “ boring” with politicians too scared or too worried to say little more than political platitudes. They liked Corbyn because he said what he thought and cut through the crap. They wanted someone to lead rather than just follow.
They wanted someone who was going to challenge the status quo and was not part of the “posh boys” network. And further more they expect him – rather like the people who,like to like Nigel Farage,- to make mistakes.so may not be put off by a campaign denigrating him.Indeed such a campaign could be counter productive.
So far the reaction from the Tories has been hysterical with some like Michael Gove even claiming that Britain’s national security is now at risk with Jeremy Corbyn at the helm.
Really? I look forward to the first person to market a T shirt saying “I am a national security risk” and for David Cameron to order his or her arrest for wearing it.
Disabled people who have purchased equipment that enables people with mobility problems to have a daily bath have been left in the lurch by the collapse of the company that makes the aids
Without virtually any coverage Care Knight, owners of Bath Knight, the Stoke on Trent manufacturing company of expensive bath aids, has gone bust over the summer. The company made an aid which gently lowered people into the bath on a band and gently raises them out of the bath.
The problem facing people is that the company both installs and maintains the machinery to do this – and now it is in administration, Its staff have been sacked and there appears to be nobody available to service aids that cost over £2000 to buy.
We purchased one – as my wife is recovering from a stroke and needs help to have a bath- and thankfully had some repairs done just before the company went bust. I wrote about my experiences when they installed the Bath Knight here. But others have not been lucky – I have been contacted by someone whose Bath Knight no longer works and they are in great difficulties getting something done.
The saga of the collapse of Bath Knight is revealed in a series of documents filed at Companies House. From these documents it looks as though the owners of the family firm. the Greenwoods,. tried to save the company by entering a voluntary arrangement with a national firm of business recovery and insolvency specialists, Begbies Traynor .
The main owner, Mrs Annette Elvina Greenwood, took out a £30,000 floating charge on May 5 – an unusual arrangement which allows a company to borrow money on any assets the company may have to cover debts. The loan was charged to Care Knight Group a company that has not been affected by the collapse of Care Knight. Mrs Greenwood, her husband and her daughter are directors of both companies.
But on July 3 Care Knight Ltd called in the receivers. According to the report filed by Begbies Traynor the company went bust owing £428,247.to creditors. this included £310,973 to trade creditors, £100,000 to redundant employees, and £76,047 to the Inland Revenue.
The company also owed £255,625 was owed to its parent company Care Knight Group.
The trigger was a demand for a substantial sum in back rent from the landlords of its premises in Stoke on Trent which were closed and locked up until the administrators were able to get access.
What is not clear is what will happen to the disabled people relying on Bath Knight for repairs and servicing. Those who have paid for equipment through a credit card but not received it could claim on their credit card but the rest seem to have been abandoned.
It is no good contacting the company’s old headquarters Paladin House as it is now closed. The parent company has ,moved to Unit 73, Bedford Street, Stoke on Trent ST1 4PZ but I am told is uncontactable. However if you follow this link at the new Companies House free access website and look up officers you will find the home address of the directors who are still directors of the parent company. I suggest anybody worried should write to Mrs Greenwood there and ask what she is going to do about their plight.
Since I put up this blog i have been contacted by The British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA) who point out that the firm concerned was not a member of the BHTA. People buying goods and services from BHTA member companies are protected by a Code of Practice approved and overseen by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI). This Code is rigorously enforced and it gives consumers considerable protection and access to a complaints and dispute resolution process. Anyone buying goods and services for disabled people (generally known as “assistive technology”) should be advised to buy from companies who are members of the BHTA and are therefore governed by the Code of Practice.
I find this latest disclosure all the more concerning since Care Knight left the organisation when a new code of practice designed to protect disabled people from bad service was introduced. That is not good news.