Sunday, 10 February 2019

Sikh Channel Politics Show

Richard Short in conversation with Aran Dhillon, Broadcast 9.30pm (GMT), 9/02/2019
A great honour to be invited onto the Sikh Channel Politics Show (Sky Channel 748 Probing questions on all subjects by the very professional journalist, Aran Dhillon. Covering subjects as diverse as Brexit, Homelessness, local government finances, and NHS.

This was a great opportunity to tell an international audience in the UK, Canada, Australia and India about the positive measures being taken by this Government that are reducing rough sleeping, putting more resources than ever before into the National Health Service and how we are the part of the ladder of opportunity.

My gracious thanks to Aran Dhillon for inviting me to speak and to the Sikh Channel who were fair and welcoming.

Watch the whole programme here.  Link - Politics Show with Aran Dhillon

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Giving Grantham A+E Night Closures the Finger

It’ll soon be 1000 days since Grantham and District Hospital lost its 24 hour A+E.  

Throughout this time this essential emergency service has only been open from 8am to 6.30pm. Apparently, according to the United Lincolnshire NHS Trust, people in Grantham only fall ill and have accidents during socialable hours. There are many who would disagree, namely almost the entire population of Grantham,
especially the Fighting-4-Grantham Hospital Campaign Group (Fighting4GranthamHospital) and in particular, my bent middle finger.

Back in 1976, as a six-year-old living in a flat above a shop in Grantham and I slammed my hand in a door. It was during an evening 42 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. You could probably hear my scream in Lincoln. I was gathered up and whisked off to Grantham A+E only for my mum to find it was shut! I remember my mum speaking to someone and a man in a white coat eventually turned up with a set of keys. This was so long after we first arrived, I’d stopped sobbing and just let the doctors and nurses do their work, applying a splint to the middle finger which was now bent out of shape …. and has been so ever since.

Years later I now know my finger had a green-stick fracture. An open A+E with prompt attention and my middle finger may have been able to be straightened. I get the occasional spontaneous bolt of pain in the joint and I need to grip a pen in a particular way, so it doesn’t hurt so much. Not exactly life changing but the delay in treatment is indicative. If I had turned up to A+E with a life-threatening injury and a mum desperate for someone to help, this would have been a far more difficult story to tell.

The next nearest A+E departments are in Lincoln, Nottingham and Boston, all almost an hour's drive away and as if to rub salt in the wound even during the day, users will once again have to pay for parking. Closing Grantham A+E may well have been assessed as a risk worth taking by United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust. My day job is all about risk and even on the most anecdotal of evidence it is not an acceptable risk to ask critically ill and injured patients to travel an hour in each direction when there are facilities so close by.

United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust – OPEN GRANTHAM HOSPITAL 24 HOUR A+E NOW!

Monday, 17 December 2018

Breaking the Backstop Deadlock

To be clear from the start I oppose any notion of a second referendum on membership of the European Union. The vote has already taken place and the decision was clear but it is worth exploring the referendum tool as a means of breaking the deadlock over the backstop.

Even the most ardent loyalist will admit that the Brexit process has not gone as planned and the Prime Minister confirmed in her statement to the house that the immovable glacial erratic that has blocked progress is the Irish backstop. After pulling the meaningful vote, the impromptu dash to Europe only to be told by the EU “Plan A has failed, revert to Plan A” and ever increasingly calls for a second referendum it’s time to be radical and unblock the impasse.

Whichever way you look at it, the withdrawal agreement protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland (the ‘backstop’) requires the whole UK to be bound, in varying degrees, by a customs union until a permanent solution can be found. After two years of looking for a solution, any solution, the prospects of the backstop becoming a reality are as high as ever. Given their deeply held convictions it is easy to see why the DUP oppose the withdrawal agreement and why all attempts to persuade them otherwise will be doomed to failure. But the DUP is not Northern Ireland. After the 2017 General Election we on the Conservative side were very keen to point out that the £1 billion to secure the DUP support was for the whole of Northern Ireland and not for the DUP to spend on itself. This same principle needs to be applied now. 

Whichever way the DUP would like it otherwise, Northern Ireland, albeit part of the United Kingdom, is constitutionally different from other countries in the Union. After all, it is the only part of the country where there is a legal and constitutional right to consider yourself as a citizen of another. I wholly and absolutely disagree that there should be any distinction between Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK. I am a Unionist and would never want to see a break up of the United Kingdom but believe even more in self-determination.
With the core of the DUP objection being that Northern Ireland will be in deeper a post-backstop customs union than the rest of the UK then this needs to be tackled at Northern Ireland level and not just with the DUP. Fundamentally the challenge faced on the Northern Irish border is whether the backstop means they opt for frictionless trade with the Republic of Ireland, as the current withdrawal agreement requires, or frictionless trade with the UK, which we can propose to the EU if and when the withdrawal agreement is rejected by Parliament. 

With the Parliamentary impasse, Brexit has now a project to do the undo-able so the Prime Minster needs to think the unthinkable and propose to the EU that choice over with whom to have frictionless trade should be decided in a Northern Ireland referendum. If the EU agreed this to be a viable option we can put this question to the Northern Irish. Their decision will decide, not on leave or remain but how deep into the customs union they want to be. Any such referendum must be carefully drafted with iron clad and legally solid assurances that NI remains in the UK. The electors of Northern Ireland may well decide to put the customs border down the Irish Sea. I would hate this but it will be their decision and is absolutely consistent with the principles and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. 

Yes it could lead to a variance between GB and NI but, as this will have been decided by the Northern Irish themselves, this is exactly the justification Arlene Foster gives of other variances between GB and NI.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

PFI? Should've gone to Brighthouse

PFI is in the news again following the collapse of Carillion. Coincidentally the National Audit Office have reported today that PFI will cost the taxpayer almost £200 billion. One point made, as if we didn't know already, was that PFI eventually costs more in the long run than if projects were fully publicly funded. But how much more?

A while ago the All Party Parliamentary Group on Debt and Personal Finance published a report on so called 'rent to own' stores the best known of which is probably Brighthouse (other rent to own wekly payment stores are available) (2015 APPG Report on Rent to Own). The report was damning, accusing them of cashing in on people's financial struggles. I know from experience that it is so easy to find yourself in financial shock when the cooker suddenly breaks down or the fridge is beyond repair. Your options to finance a purchase of this magnitude can be severely limited and there may be little choice but to go for rent to own. The APPG report gave a raft of recommendations to make the rent to own weekly payment stores operate more fairly and transparently. There is some justification for the APPG intervention, too. A fridge from an online retailer which cost £176 would cost £468 from a weekly payment store after paying, drip drip style for 156 weeks. That's a staggering 165% mark up.

PFI has been used to build all manner of public projects and manage them for years, even decades afterwards with a lucrative management contract as part of the deal (a part which was axed under the PFI replacement PF2). PFI is, however, most closely associated with a stark reminder of the legacy that Labour left to the NHS. As a parting gift in 2010 the out going Chief Secretary to the Treasury left that famous note, to the NHS Labour left PFI. Just as with rent to own PFI meant that there was no upfront payment and, just as with rent to own, payment is by regular installments. At the end it's yours to keep. This is where the parallel ends. That fridge would be yours after paying 165% more than you'd pay for it from an online retailer. With PFI, as well as repaying for literally decades, the interest, based on HM Treasury figures, works out as a staggering 581%, well over triple that of Brighthouse.

The APPG recommended that rent to own stores, Brighthouse included, should have health warnings so that people are aware of the total cost. I completely agree, and as PFI is over three times more expensive to fund than buying from a weekly payment store, hospitals funded in this way should also prominently display similar information so taxpayers are completely aware that not all health care funding goes on health care but also pays for Labour's disastrous misuse of PFI and we will be doing for many years to come.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Making Universal Credit Universal

1992, I was on a low income with a family and just started work as a farm labourer. I applied for the then working family orientated benefit, Family Credit. The rules were that you had to submit five weeks of wages slips but, having not worked and therefore no payslips I applied on my first day in work with a letter of confirmation from my boss. The application was approved and from posting off the application form to money in the bank took 3 weeks.

Fast forward to 2017 and for Family Credit, read Universal Credit. In principle this is a master stroke and an improvement on the old fragmented system of benefits. I could never understand why, when someone found themselves in need of state support, the state thought that a person had suddenly lost the ability to manage their finances. Instead of a regular wage you’re hurled into a world where you income is split into various schemes of cash payments and payments in kind such as direct payment of rent to landlords. Universal Credit corrects this and treats claimants as grown-ups. Find yourself with a sudden stop of income and Universal Credit can seamlessly pick up where your wages leave off. But it doesn’t, and that is a bigger problem than I think the Government and the Department of Work and Pensions realise. There is a real risk that something ground breaking and innovative will be rubbished by an ignorance of bureaucracy and an inexplicable lack if urgency to correct it.

As a parliamentary candidate in 2015 I was often faced with questions about benefits, the system and its failures. More often than not it was a failure of process and not policy. Claimants were being let down my slow handling, inaccurate processing and too much of the ‘computer says no’. This is not the case with Universal Credit. Those in need of it are very likely to have next to no financial resilience built into their affairs. To go without any form of income for over a month can have devastating consequences when most bills are monthly and will therefore go unpaid. Advance payments can be an answer but this is just substituting one crisis for another. Yes you will have money in the bank but with this advance taken from the first payment it’s not dealing with the problem of not income, it’s time shifting it. The recent increase in advance payments is not something to celebrate but an indicator that the mandatory 6 week waiting period for payment is not working.

The answer is right inside the very principle of Universal Credit itself in its intention to replicate a wage. When I started work on the farm in 1992 I was on a weekly wage. At the end of the week I expected to get paid, and I was paid. What worker would start work and tolerate not seeing any payment for six weeks? No worker should tolerate that and, if Universal Credit is supposed to replicate this, neither should a Universal Credit claimant. 

The waiting period needs to be one month from the date of application and preferably synchronised with the payment of a claimant’s working wage so it is a genuine top up payment. Failure to do this will destroy the worthy principles of Universal Credit and bury it so deep in controversy it will never be seen as anything but a failure.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Jeremy Corbyn Apologise? Why Should He?

Because he said things like this recently …

"Latin America is going through a fascinating period in history where the market solution accompanied by military dictatorship is being comprehensively rejected in favour of anti poverty programmes, as well as an understanding of the oppressive colonial rule up to independence in the 1820s, and similar rejection of the power of landowners and international money since then ... solidarity with Venezuela enables us to explore and understand the difficulties facing Venezuela and other countries, but above all to learn from their experience and apply the lessons ourselves”

In this and statements like it Jeremy Corbyn gives he Socialist project legitimacy in the eyes of ordinary Venezuelans. His love for the regime is not hard to understand. The Venezuelan people were duped into voting for the current Socialist Government. Duped by promises of subsidised food and fuel just as Corbyn’s Labour attempted, and failed, to dupe students into getting him into Downing Street. The problem for the Venezuelan socialists is that they succeeded in getting into Government and with oil prices at an all time high the promises could be paid for … but not anymore.  Whereas Corbyn and just deny he ever made any commitment to clearing student debt, the Chavez/Maduro regime have had to follow the project through to it’s inevitable failure. We’ve all seen how desperate the left can be to gain power with rash unaffordable promises. Nicolas Maduro, Hugo Chavez’s chosen successor, is now demonstrating how desperate they can be to stay in power resorting to rigged elections, alternative parliament and the latest we see is the public prosecutor’s office being placed under military siege for refusing to recognise the legitimacy of the false parliament they call the constituent assembly.

A long, passionate and vocal supporter of the regime, Jeremy Corbyn owes it to the Venezuelan people to call out for Maduro to either stand down or face the electorate in a free and fair presidential election. It will be tough for him to find words that maintain his political dignity yet condemn the regime he’s been such a supporter of but he’s now had more than long enough to come up with a form of words that shows his contempt for the Maduro Government crackdown and supports the ordinary Venezuelans.Yet he is silent.

Colin Burgon, the Labour Leader’s close colleague, former Labour MP and uncle of Labour MP Richard Burgon once wrote in support of the Venezuelan failed Socialist project opening his article with the words of Martin Luther King;

“In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

Enough Said.