British hospital bureaucrats don't want funding from volunteers
And they lie about it to justify themselves
Volunteers at a seaside town's hospital have spent decades baking cakes to raise money for equipment the NHS cannot afford. But now the hospital has banned home-made cakes from its fundraising events - because of health and safety fears. Officials at West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven, Cumbria, claim the League of Friends' sponge cakes and tea loaves contravene guidelines.
Linda Davey, 64, a former nurse and vice-chairman of the League of Friends, said: `This is health and safety gone mad. We are a group of ladies who've been baking cakes for years, which we then sell in the hospital. It was just a way to raise funds. `The Women's Institute were told they had to wrap their pies in Cellophane - and now this is happening to us. The world's going mad.'
The hospital blames the ban on strict rules over packaging and labelling from the Food Standards Agency - although the FSA maintained last night it made no such demands on the ladies' cakes. Alan Davidson, the hospital's director of estates and facilities, said: `We appreciate the support volunteers give to our hospitals but there are strict guidelines in place, enforced by the FSA, over food sold to the public. 'This means all food should be packaged appropriately, date-stamped and ingredients listed. `This is in the interests of maintaining and protecting the health of the public.'
However, an FSA spokeswoman said: `There is nothing in our guidelines that prevents the sale of home-made cakes at fundraising events. A common-sense approach and care that the cakes are stored properly should be taken.'
She added that the FSA insisted only that the volunteers followed `basic food hygiene principles' - such as ensuring hands, utensils and surfaces were clean, food was properly cooked and chilled and cross-contamination of foods was avoided.
British schools fined for expelling violent pupils
Secondary schools are being fined millions of pounds a year for expelling violent and abusive pupils. An investigation has revealed that at least 4.4 million pounds in financial penalties have been imposed on schools this year. Nearly a third of local authorities in England are issuing the fines, ranging from 1,500 to 10,000 pounds per expelled pupil. Some councils, including Essex, Nottinghamshire, Oldham and Somerset, have collected in excess of a quarter of a million pounds from their schools this year. The penalties are in addition to the "per pupil funding" - the money a school gets for each pupil it teaches - that councils automatically claw back when a pupil is permanently excluded.
Critics claim the fines put unacceptable pressure on head teachers to avoid permanently excluding pupils, undermining their authority and robbing them of the ultimate sanction in the battle against unruly behaviour in the classroom. The high level of fines in some authorities help to explain the big rise in temporary exclusions, where pupils are sent home for a matter of days rather than being kicked out. It also plays a part in the big growth in "managed moves", revealed by this newspaper in June, through which children escape expulsion and are simply transferred to another school, even for offences such as threatening classmates with knives and attacking teachers. These children do not count in official figures, which showed a seven per cent fall in permanent exclusions last year.
Chris Keates, the general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "Clawing back per pupil funding is understandable, as this funding should follow the child. "What is totally unacceptable is this removal of additional money, without any clear criteria. It undermines the Government's stated view that head teacher and governing bodies should be free to exclude pupils when it is necessary. "Stopping schools from permanently excluding pupils not only puts the education of that child at risk but puts the education of other pupils at risk. "More and more teachers are telling us that they are coming under pressure not to exclude pupils. Fining schools distorts the system and should be outlawed. "The Government needs to launch its own inquiry, as it did with admissions, to look at which authorities are setting these arbitrary penalties."
Tony Wells, the head teacher at Farnborough School Technology College, in Nottingham, an authority which fines schools up to 6,000 for permanent exclusions, said: "The removal of significant funds from school budgets is a concern to head teachers. "When the permanent exclusion of three pupils can equate to the salary of a member of staff it can seem excessively punitive and could work to limit the degree to which heads feel able to resort to that final sanction."
Of the 100 councils that responded to the Freedom of Information request, 31 imposed financial penalties. Some argued that much of the money they recover is "pupil retention" funding, allocated to schools by the Government to improve exclusion rates and behaviour. They also claim that most of the money is passed on to the schools or pupil referral units that have to find places for troublesome youngsters.
While councils are not required to fine schools, the Government supports the move. A Department for Children, Schools and Families, spokesman said: "We back heads in taking the tough decision to exclude pupils and we have given them the powers they have asked for to deal with unruly behaviour. "Of course excluded pupils still need to be educated, we cannot simply give up on them. It is right that if a school excludes a pupil, the money that would have been used to teach that pupil is reallocated and moves with them as they move on into alternative provision. "Schools have multi-million pound budgets and we do not believe that this would be a disincentive to exclusion, especially when unruly pupils use such large amounts of resources."
It should not be an offence to belong to the BNP
The furore over the leak of the British National Party's membership lists `reveals' some home truths about democracy as well as the far right
The leaked publication of the details of 12,000 members of the British National Party (BNP) appears to have created almost as much fuss and front-page news as the British state's recent losses of data on millions of people. This confirms the misplaced political obsession with the BNP, and the peculiar place that this small far-right party occupies in public life today. Many of those who were outraged by the authorities' loss of disks containing personal data seem almost gleeful about the way that this leak has `exposed' the BNP's membership.
On spiked we have little time for the anti-immigrant politics of the BNP (in fact we have none at all). Amid the overnight furore, however, a few things are worth remembering about living in a democracy.
Anybody should be free to join any political party they wish without legal impediment, or we risk turning the clock back to a time of state repression and secret societies. And they should be free to keep that matter of political conscience private should they so wish - even if they are embarrassed to be members of the Labour or Conservative parties.
Nobody should fear the sack for their political opinions or affiliations alone. Those anti-racists crowing about the discomfit of BNP members today might recall that such measures have more often been used against the left. Back in the Cold War days when I edited a revolutionary newspaper and Living Marxism magazine, some people in sensitive jobs and public positions felt obliged to write for me under pseudonyms. In the past, victimising a left-winger for his or her politics would be called a `McCarthyite witch-hunt'; now doing it to a BNP supporter would apparently be deemed fair play.
Any racist behaviour by a policeman or any other public servant is obviously unacceptable. But being barred, fired or punished for a personal political view is a different matter. Even police officers should not be subjected to the thought police.
And while we are on the subject, Britain's trade unions should drop their attempt to change the law so that they are able to ban BNP members from membership. Private clubs and political parties should be free to decide who they want as members. But trade unions are by nature meant to be organisations representing and open to the entire workforce.
Behind all of that, the publication of these membership lists and the reaction to them might also remind us of some facts about the BNP and the mistaken way in which it is often perceived. The publication confirms that it remains a relatively small and ineffective organisation, riven by the sort of petty disputes and power struggles that have long characterised the far right in Britain - which is presumably why some disaffected individual leaked the information via the internet.
But, as the BNP leadership has pointed out, the list also confirms that the party membership is not entirely typified by `a skinhead oik'. Despite what its opponents claim, it is not the National Front of the 1970s and early 1980s, with whom some of us are old enough to recall exchanging blows rather than views. The BNP members include professionals and other respectable types, such as the ballerina, Simone Clarke, who was previously exposed as a BNP member.
Even more than its members, BNP voters today are quite different from the way they are often depicted. The mainstream parties have sought to demonise the BNP as the fascist symbol of evil in British political life, the one thing against which all decent people must unite. Yet in reality support for the BNP today reflects above all the widespread feeling of alienation from the political class. It has become an all-purpose symbol of disaffection amongst white voters, rather than an endorsement of any of the party's specific (and specifically grim) policies. That is why its votes can go sharply up and down from one election to another, almost regardless of what the BNP does or says.
What our established political leaders fail to grasp is that the more they try to censor, bar or put down the BNP and its members, the more they risk reinforcing its reputation as a protest movement for free speech and against the discredited old politics. The `exposure' of its membership lists may well put some off joining for now. But the wider demonisation of the BNP, of which the reaction to this is part, is the best publicity it can get.
The only thing that really needs to be `exposed' about the BNP today is its politics. That requires a commitment to democratic debate and free speech, not censorship, disciplinary procedures and blacklists.
One thing I got wrong in trying to answer The Big Question in The Independent this morning, was to say that "one of the most surprising" names on the leaked BNP membership list was that of someone who stood as a Green Party candidate in the 2001 and 2005 elections. What I meant was "one of the names that was not surprising at all", because there has been a philosophical overlap between the "deep" green movement and fascism from the early years of both.
Yesterday, the Green Party admitted that two of its former activists had been exposed as members of the BNP: Keith Bessant, its parliamentary candidate at Cheltenham in 2001 and 2005, and a Rev Stanton.
This reminded me of the origins of the British National Party in the break-up of the National Front in 1980, and the confusion that followed. For a while there were two National Fronts, as well as a growing BNP. The larger NF fell under the influence of Patrick Harrington, the most recent prophet of the "Third Way" before Tony Blair (the phrase has both fascist and centrist antecedents, with Oswald Mosley's New Party and Harold Macmillan both using it in the 1930s).
The NF relaunched itself as the National Democrats in 1995 as a final spasm before lapsing into its present almost moribund state. But that whole phase was heavily influenced by an eco-nationalist message based on the "blood and soil" notion of a smaller, more sustainable, culturally and ethnically homogenous population, a kind of sub-Tolkien Anglo-Saxon fantasy.It is a fantasy that can come uncomfortably close to some of the more backward-looking politics of the fundamentalist wing of the green movement.
Bureaucratic Britain cares more for animals and old buildings than it does for people
As a (fairly) normal person who has always stood on her own feet, and thought social workers were for that section of society unable or unwilling to help themselves, to find myself and my family caught up in the impenetrable, sticky web that is Social Services makes me feel like a trapped fly, slowly desiccating until I - or at least my ancient mother - turn to dust.
While I've been feeling, over the past couple of weeks, a bit sorry for the social workers who have been named and shamed over the case of Baby P, as someone on the sharp (blunt?) end of their ministerings, I can only wonder that they ever manage to help anyone. In the ten years that my mother has been disabled and bedridden, I have filled in hundreds of forms. Now, I am not illiterate, but neither I (nor my brother, a lawyer, or sister, a nurse) can make head nor tail of them. How old people manage without willing and able relatives to help them apply for a hoist, say, is beyond comprehension.
At the moment, I pay half the cost of a full-time, live-in nurse (who is a saint, by the way), my mum contributes $400 a month to her care, and the local authority pays the rest. I understand that while treatment on the NHS is free, palliative care has always been means-tested, and can vary from local authority to local authority. What drives me crackers, though, is the endless hoops my mother is put through whenever we ask for something new, as if she is ever going to get better or suddenly start earning money.
What makes me despair most is how thin-skinned all these social workers are. If you get even the slightest bit agitated, they burst into tears and start wittering on about how they are `doing their best'. How they cope with families who are really aggressive and unco-operative and not good at forms - well, we know how they cope. They don't. Yes, I blame the red tape foisted on them but I also blame their attitude, nurtured by a society that doesn't believe jobs should be hard.
The problem is our priorities are all upside down. To illustrate this point, let me tell you about my problem with eight long-eared bats. Now, I am an animal lover, but I wonder at a society that puts the welfare of tiny flying creatures above all else. For the past year, I have been trying to get permission to repair the roof of a barn, the slates of which threaten to decapitate passing animals and children. While it has proved difficult to get someone to come to see my mum, the procession of professionals who have come to peer at my bats has created a groove in the ancient floor.
When I phoned a body called Natural England to ask for advice, a woman shouted at me: `You are about to commit an offence.' No, I said. If I were about to commit an offence I wouldn't have phoned you first. She told me I `may' have to get a licence. Did I need a licence or not? `You need an ecologist, which will cost $700 per visit. You will probably need three surveys, including a visit next summer to map flight patterns, and then you can apply for a licence. You need to write a mission statement as well, which costs $1,500.' I asked if I could get on with essential work such as sinking a septic tank, and she barked: `Are you sure you don't have newts?'
This country puts the welfare of bats - which have plenty of other places on my property to sleep and breed, including the loft - above the employment of six local craftsmen in a time of recession. I was even reprimanded for installing lagging without permission. Whatever happened to worrying about polar bears?
This level of vigilance would be welcome were it applied to children and old people - perhaps my mum, despite her incapacity, should hang from the ceiling. But it seems we are getting all nostalgic and proprietorial about wildlife, when it is perfectly acceptable to farm pigs in a manner that would make the strongest stomach queasy, continue to hunt deer (I have passed two deer hunts here on Exmoor in the past week - I thought Labour had made it illegal) or operate a social services system that allows babies to be battered to death.
Why are all these public sector workers not serving us, but instead looking forward to their (safe) pensions, never putting themselves out for someone who is very old and scared, or very young and scared? Yet threaten to lift a finger to something vaguely `heritage', and all hell breaks loose. It's all wrong, isn't it?
400 foreign criminals allowed to stay in Britain
Up to 400 criminals involved in a foreign prisoner scandal, including some of the worst offenders, have been told they can stay in Britain, the Home Office has disclosed. Less than a third of the 1,013 convicts have been deported two and half years after the scandal broke and subsequently cost Charles Clarke his job as Home Secretary. And many more could end up staying because 90 are still missing, 31 are in jail again and 160 are still going through the process.
The figures emerged as immigration minister Phil Woolas admitted too many migrant workers have been let in under previous Government policies. He also launched another attack on asylum lawyers as he revealed the case of a Nigerian who had his claim rejected four times and was removed, only to have to be brought back because his solicitor lodged a judicial review. Moves to ban individuals taking out multiple judicial reviews will be contained in the forthcoming Queen's speech, he said.
Dominic Grieve, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: "It is outrageous that over two and a half years after the former home secretary lost his job over this fiasco just a third of these offenders have been deported and 90 have not even been found. "Not only does this put the public at risk, it shows the government are patently incapable of getting a grip on this longstanding problem."
It emerged in spring 2006 that more than 1,000 foreign prisoners had been wrongly released without first being considered for deportation, including murderers and rapists. But despite the ongoing anger over the issue, Lin Homer, chief executive of the UK Border Agency, told MPs that only 333 have so far been removed from the country. Another 399 have been told they can stay in the UK, including some in the most serious category of crimes, which includes murder, rape and armed robbery.
Ms Homer would not detail what offences they had committed but admitted some will stay because they have been in the country for so long. Ms Homer said only 15 more of the criminals still missing have been tracked down since her last update meaning 90 are still at large. "Although we have reached the point where the change in numbers is small, we are still making progress," she told the Commons Home Affairs Committee. "We are not in any sense giving up."
She was appearing alongside Mr Woolas who repeated his attack on asylum lawyers, who this week he accused of "playing the system". Asked about it, he said: "If you look at the number of appeals and the number of judicial reviews which we believe are being used deliberately to frustrate the system." He highlighted the case of a Nigerian who applied for asylum, was turned down, lost an appeal, put in a second claim which was refused, appealed again and lost again. He was removed but the following day the Home Office was informed his lawyer had submitted a successful application for a judicial review on the day he left the country and the court had requested he be brought back to hear the case - all at the taxpayers' expense.
Mr Woolas also announced that anyone who is jailed while waiting to become a British citizen will be barred from settlement. The Government has anounced plans for a "probationary citizen" scheme where candidates eligible for naturalisation will have to serve a year "on probation" after the usual five-year stay and demonstrate they are contributing to the country. Most convicted criminals are already barred and Mr Woolas said anyone who is jailed while a probationary citizen will now also be barred.
The minister was asked if the Government had let too many migrants come to the UK. He said the Government had already suspended the route for unskilled workers from outside the EU and added: "The implication of that is that in the past it was not as controlled."
Lessons from Britain could save the Republican party?
Much has been written lately regarding how the Republican Party might re-form itself into a winning operation. Of course, this debate has been around for a long time, but our recent losses have reignited the debate. This time, however (perhaps having learned from liberals that "progressive" sounds better) -- the moderates have re-branded themselves as "modernizers", "reformers", or "pragmatists". And to give their revolution some historical credibility, they have given themselves a new hero: British Conservative Party Leader David Cameron.
Cameron has repositioned his party closer to the center of the political spectrum. However, moderation in itself has not always worked for him. In fact, one of his biggest plans to seize the middle-ground blew up in his face. After his election as party leader, Cameron almost immediately adopted environmentalism as his key issue and launched a new party slogan: "Go Green, Vote Blue" (Blue being the color symbolic of the party). That slogan is long gone today (it's one of the few pieces of the Cameron experiment not to have succeeded). Now, to be sure, environmentalism is still a big part of the party's appeal. Actually, the party has always been seen as strong on that front considering the left-wing Labour Party's association with not-so-green labor interests such as coal miners. However, it is still safe to say that the "Go Green" marketing gimmick flopped.
Most of the program did, however, succeed. If you go to the party's website or watch their ads you will see a much more hopeful message than you did a few years ago. Gone is the old logo, a rather intimidating hand grasping a torch. It has been replaced by a very happy-looking tree. Everything about the new message is hopeful, sunny, and forward looking -- and the focus is now on "quality of life" issues like family, healthcare and education. Granted, the old "taxes and national security" message is still there, but it comes packaged as part of a larger message that the Conservative Party cares about people. Cameron also makes a point of being modern and tech-savvy, as illustrated by his "WebCameron" video blogs. These are all fantastic moves, and the Republican Party should move quickly to implement them (of course, technology is philosophically neutral). By the way, the people who are broadening this discussion here in America are conservative governors like Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal. They are the real "American Camerons" in my mind.
Another big part of the Cameron approach was solidify and reassure all wings of his party, including the "traditionalist" right wing. In fact, one of the first moves was to give plum positions in his "Shadow Cabinet" (essentially the cabinet in-waiting) to the two right wingers he defeated to win the party leadership. Runner-up David Davis was given the hugely powerful post of Shadow Home Secretary, while third place candidate Liam Fox became Shadow Secretary of State for Defense. Furthermore, two of Cameron's predecessors as party leader scored influential positions as well, with William Hague (leader from 1997-2001) becoming Shadow Foreign Secretary and Iain Duncan Smith (leader from 2001-2003) heading up the party's new Social Justice Policy Group. All of these people became genuine players on the Cameron team, and Cameron has benefited from this inclusive approach. Far from jettisoning the right wing or the traditional leaders, Cameron has made a point of including them in his revolution.
Another thing that David Cameron would never consider is taking social issues off the table. In fact, he is largely responsible for putting them back on the table as a way of making his party look more compassionate than the left wing alternatives. Now, the Brits don't deal with the same social issues we do - abortion is considered a non-issue and the main issue is keeping marriages and families from breaking apart rather than debating gay marriage. However, Cameron has revolutionized the social debate by hijacking the left wing term "social justice" and lumping the protection of marriage and the family in with other "social justice" issues such as healthcare and education. Of course, that wasn't really a Cameron idea. It was the brainchild of the more "traditionalist" former party leader Iain Duncan Smith, who founded the "Centre for Social Justice".
Cameron saw the genius of Duncan Smith's idea, made it a major piece of the platform, and put Duncan Smith himself in charge of party policy on that front. So, again, Cameron didn't throw the SoCons overboard - he incorporated them, revitalized them, and utilized them to his advantage. In fact, family issues seem to animate Cameron like few others. Watch his recent rant about a high-profile domestic violence case and British social services - I don't think anyone can say with a straight face that this man doesn't care about social issues.
On some issues, Cameron has even put forward some proposals that (for Britain) are extremely conservative. For instance, he has been extremely solid on reforming the UK's bloated welfare state. Instead of swinging to the center and embracing these big government programs, Cameron is proposing a welfare-to-work program he says is "the biggest shake-up of the welfare state for 60 years." One might point out that Margaret Thatcher took office only 29 years ago, so if Cameron can live up to his rhetoric, then he actually intends to go further than Thatcher in his crusade to get Brits off welfare.
The key thing to remember about David Cameron is that he dramatically changed the way his party approaches the issues. He shifted the focus onto new issues and made conservatives think of themselves as smiling, forward-looking change agents rather than brooding, tax-obsessed fear-mongers. Still, he didn't change the basic values that the party holds dear. In a lot of ways he's like Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota. Both are seen as a little moderate because they try to be optimistic pragmatists rather than ideologues, but they also fit into the broad conservative mainstream in their respective nations.
Stupid Leftist attempt to drive away Britain's best industries rolled back: "Alistair Darling will announce tomorrow he has bowed to the threat of businesses quitting Britain by saying he will introduce a tax exemption on foreign dividends. The move on foreign dividends, for which businesses have campaigned hard, was rejected last year by Treasury ministers, who warned that the cost of such an exemption would run into hundreds of millions of pounds. But the chancellor's move, to be unveiled in his prebudget report, underlines the government's determination to present its fiscal plan as business-friendly and to avoid a haemorrhaging of tax revenues as a result of companies moving abroad. In recent months several high-profile companies have announced that they are moving their headquarters to other countries, including WPP, Shire, United Business Media, Charter, Regus and Henderson. Darling's advisers hope the exemption to be announced tomorrow will stem the flow."
Good! New privatizations to help offset bank nationalizations in Britain: "A string of state-owned household names including the Met Office, mapmaker Ordnance Survey and the Forestry Commission, are being prepared for sale by the government in the next two years to raise cash for the stretched public purse. Alistair Darling, the chancellor, is thought to have drawn up a list of 10 companies to offload, including the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster. He will outline the programme in the prebudget report tomorrow alongside details of a Whitehall efficiency drive. Several companies will now be groomed for sale by the Shareholder Executive, the body charged with improving the government's performance as a shareholder. Many of the smaller assets being considered for sale were sized up by the Conservatives in the mid-1990s, when Lord Heseltine succeeded in privatising the commercial arm of the Atomic Energy Authority but failed to sell the Forestry Commission. Channel 4 is excluded for the moment but will be assessed by the new communications minister, Lord Carter, before a decision is made. A backlog of maintenance will probably keep British Waterways from being sold, while the Royal Mint and the Land Registry are more likely to be offloaded."
Jobs bonanza for British pen-pushers: "There has never been a better time to look for a new job - so long as you are an equality and diversity manager, a home-to-school transport service manager, or a senior play pathfinder. While thousands of private sector workers are being made redundant, local authorities and government departments are still creating a plethora of obscure pen-pushing posts at taxpayers' expense. These roles offer salaries of up to $100,000, a 37-hour week and enviable job security. Jobs on offer range from an integrated whole systems care pathway manager at Camden Primary Care Trust to an appointment for a principal nuisance response officer at Reading borough council. According to the council, the latter "exciting" role entails the management of three nuisance response officers as well as three "advice shops" as part of an effort to devise solutions to antisocial behaviour. A spokeswoman for the council - whose members have recently called for officers to "maximise efficiency" in the face of a bleak financial outlook - defended the appointment, saying: "The job is definitely an essential job which the council needs and is vital to the service." The London borough of Newham seems to be undaunted by tough times. Last week the council found $80,000 to create a post as a casework support services manager for a burgeoning team of administrators, co-ordinators, occupational therapists, handymen and surveyors within its Home Improvement Agency (HIA)."
Richly rewarded bureaucrats in Britain: "Nearly 200 public sector "fat cats" are earning more than [Prime Minister] Gordon Brown, according to a new rich list published today. Executives paid at the taxpayer's expense are enjoying record salaries, huge bonuses, job security and perks that are the envy of those in the business world. The list identifies 387 people earning more than $300,000 a year. Half of them earn more than the prime minister, who is paid $350,000. Four receive packages totalling at least $2m. James Hall, chief executive of the Identity and Passport Service (IPS), the agency charged with introducing the ID card, enjoys a home-to-work travel allowance of $20,000, equal to the salary of an office junior in many firms. The public even has to fork out for the 40% tax on this perk. Hall, 54, has need of the allowance as the owner of Barlaston Hall, an 18th-century pile in Staffordshire which is 160 miles from his office in Whitehall... Bernard Herdan, 61, a fellow IPS director who lives in a former Victorian rectory in the Bedfordshire village of Swineshead, received a $20,000 home-to-work allowance as part of his $300,000 package."
Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan to get life saving anti-sniper device : "British and American forces fighting the guerilla insurgence in Iraq and Afghanistan could soon be protected by an anti-sniper device that can pinpoint the position of the shooter within a fraction of a second. The palm-sized device designed by Qinetiq, the British defence firm that was once the government research laboratories, is pinned to the uniform and uses acoustic technology to calculate the exact position of the rifle fire. Then a electronic voice passes on the "bearing and range" to the soldier allowing him to jump to safety and return fire. The machine has already been purchased by the Americans for deployment in the New Year and the British are looking at a vehicle mounted version. After roadside bombs, snipers have been the biggest cause of the 301 British fatalities in both wars, and army chiefs are convinced the device could save dozens of lives."It is all about saving guys' lives," said Don Steinman, one of the leaders of the project at Qinetiq North America who developed the device called EARS for Early Attack Reaction System.