Andy's Blog

A Blog about me, Andy. The name says it all.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Westminster council critical of helping the homeless

I was slightly shocked to see on the news this morning that Westminster council have criticised homeless charities who run soup kitchens and drop-in centres as they say they don't tackle the root causes of homelessness.

Whilst this is true, I think the criticsm, especially from the council, is completely mis-placed and mis-directed.

These charities are providing a vital, if not life-saving, service to some of the most marginalised people in the country. If it wasn't for them, I'm sure that many homeless people would find it impossible to survive.

The council should be the one trying to tackle the root causes of homelessness in its borough and be thankful the soup kitchens are there keep the homeless people alive while they wade through lots of sub-group meetings coming up with a strategy.

But no, Westminster council seems intent to again let the third sector provide anothe public service, or have these organisations shut down and then starve the homeless people back into employment. Obviously, they must think, these people haven't got deep rooted social problems, they're just lazy. Take away their free meals and then they're bound to go back to work. I don't think so.

If a charity wants to provide a limited service that just satisifies a groups basic requirements, like one hot meal a day, then they should be encouraged to do so. Not chastised by a council that should be practicing what it is preaching.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Rounds coming back to haunt you

Funny article

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

PFI & Single Mums on Channle 4 last night...

Last night (Monday) channel 4 had two excellent documentaries.

The first was about PFIs and basically how they're rubbish and are screwing the tax payer out of hundred of millions of pounds, whilst making a few men very rich.

Basically, the government wants to build new hospitals and things, but it can't borrow the money because that would screw the finances up. So, it asks private companies to take on the building project and take on the risk. The private company gets a loan. Now, because it's a private company and a risky project (apparently, I don't see how), banks charge them a high interest rate. If it was the government taking the loan, it would get a lot lower rate because the government always pays up. So, to make it worth the private company's effort once the building has been built, the company gets a 30 year contract to run the building and provide services, e.g. cleaning and school meals. Fine and dandy.

The problem comes when the company decides that it wants to screw money out of the public and deliver the services at a lower cost. Hence, you end up with a situation where it costs £450 to put up a shelf. PFIs are operated through a laberynth of sub-contracting, meaning that complaints are hard to negotiate.

In the end, the government ends up paying 5 times as much as it would have done if it had taken out the loan in the first place. How is this sensible?

Also, PFI companies make a killing on refinancing the project. Once they have built the building, most of the risk is over, so they can refinance their loan with the bank and make millions of pounds in reduced interest rates. Also, very few of these companies are paying tax through nice corporate tax loop holes.

The contracting that has gone on to set up the PFIs is vastly in favour of the companies and in most of the cases have locked the government into massively expensive deals that go on for decades with no room for negotiation.

What's more, the PFI company can sell the contract to who ever it likes. So even though it may have been good at providing services, it can sell it to someone who's crap and the government can't do anything.

The documentary lined up university professors, people from the kings fund and front line serivce providers who all unanimously said that PFIs are a waste of money.

I think the programme was exactly right. How can we have a system that just lines the pockets of big business? All PFIs have proved is that the government, with all of its waste and rubbishness, is still the best body to provide public services. Anything else will simply line the pockets of already very rich men. All business is interested in is extracting profit. This is fundamentally at odds with providing public services. There can never be a partnership between business and the public sector on public service provision.

Secondly, there was 'Pram Face' about two young single mums. It was an excellent show which really showed that young working class mums can be clever, articulate, witty, strong, resourceful, responsible and nothing at all like Vicky Pollard from Little Brittain. Working Class culture has been vigourously attacked now for a few years. It refreshing to see efforts which attempt to bring some reality back to the situation. (Although one of the mums called her son Harlen, what sort of a name is that?!)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Corporations are evil

After the Great British Beer Festival (where they ran out of beer, if you can believe that!), we had some time to kill on Sunday before our train so we decided to go to the Science Museum.

Firstly, the science museum's exhibits are pretty cool. Especially the basement section where you get to play with all the science toys (Andy Head was like a kid in a sweet shop!).

However, I did have a problem with the energy exhibition. Whilst they were trying to talk about renewable energy and reducing energy demand, I didn't think they made a solid enough argument for this. All the questions that they asked about energy use and how to fill demand led to the conclusion that we need to use more and more unrenewable sources of energy.

There wasn't enough talk about the effects of climate change and why the switch to renewables is imperative. It was kind of, 'Well, none of us really want to change our life style, so how are we going to deal with the problem?' Leading question there if ever I heard one.

Also, as Stu pointed out, on the game where you are the Prime Minister and you are responsible for planning methods of increasing energy production capacity, you couldn't win unless you built nuclear power stations.

Now, this fairly bad, you might all be thinking, but it becomes a lot worse when you realise the exhibition was sponsored by BP and BNFL. Was the position and tone of this exhibition coincidence with the sponsorship? Hmmm. I am a cynic aren't I?