As if Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister isn’t bad news enough, the government has used this week to sneak out some even more disappointing announcements.
Here’s the trash they’ve taken out while everyone else has been distracted, with thanks also to my eagle-eyed colleagues:
Energy bills will go up
The government’s strategy for financing new nuclear power plants includes increasing energy bills in advance for UK electricity consumers. Apparently this is a “fair sharing of costs and risks between consumers and investors”, according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Privatised rescue helicopters are harder to land at hospitals
The Maritime and Coastguard agency published a review this week into the controversial privatisation of the UK’s search and rescue helicopter service. The service was outsourced to Bristow Helicopters, a British subsidiary of the American company Bristow Group, in a ten-year deal worth £1.9bn in 2015. The transition reduced the number of airbases used for search and rescue from 12 to 10, and removed RAF Sea King helicopters from service.
The report, which was produced by the British defence company Qinetiq, found that “the transition to the UK search and rescue helicopter service was successful”.
This will come as a surprise to the four most active mountain rescue teams in Scotland, which jointly issued a statement in November protesting the “casual disregard for the safety” of their teams shown by the agencies now operating the helicopter services. The rescuers cited numerous incidents in which helicopter support had been denied or withdrawn, leaving their members to find their own way out of dangerous situations.
The report did, however, note a couple of ways in which privatisation had introduced risk. Due to their increased size the new helicopters are more difficult to land at some sites, particularly hospitals, and rescue services have complained of a lack of opportunity to train with the aircraft.
Financially, the report also highlighted the need to recognise the “lessons from the Carillion collapse” in having a single private company running a vital public service, although it did not mention that the Bristow Group filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US in May in an effort to restructure its almost $2bn in debt.
Crossrail delayed AGAIN
Chris Grayling was, and let’s be kind about this, not a good transport secretary. After his stints as not a good shadow home secretary, quite a bad leader of the House, and an actively terrible justice secretary, this came as no particular surprise, and the most shocking thing was that he managed to push on through a month of chaos on the railway network last year without even coming close to being forced to take responsibility for his brief.
His decision not to serve in the Johnson administration was thus one of the few bright spots in the darkness of yesterday’s reshuffle, although it did mean we were denied the satisfaction of seeing him forced out, then tarred and feathered by furious Northern Rail passengers.
It also meant that one of his last acts as transport secretary was to issue this statement about the state of the Crossrail project. It bangs on for an age about all the ways in which it’s been a “challenging year” for London’s multi-billion pound new railway, and the various actions that have been taken – extra money, independent reviews, new management and so on – in the vain hope of getting the bloody thing finished.
Hidden in the middle of it though you’ll find this innocuous sentence:
The announcement in April 2019 of a revised schedule which confirmed a 6 month window for delivery of the central tunnel section between Abbey Wood and Paddington (not including Bond Street), with a mid-point in December 2020, with more certainty to follow as testing progresses.
And December 2020, remember, is the mid-point of the predicted opening window. What this means, in other words, is that the central section of Crossrail – not the entire line, just the new tunnel at its heart – could open as late as March 2021 without the timetable being considered to have slipped any further than it has already. It was originally due to open in December 2018, so if everything from here on goes well, which it very possibly won’t, it’ll open 27 months late.
Further reluctance to keep us healthy
In the dying days of Theresa May’s premiership, the government published a new health green paper, featuring proposals including the eradication of smoking by 2030 and new restrictions on the sale of energy drinks to under-16s. But few heard about it — not least thanks to the health secretary, Matt Hancock.
Mindful of Boris Johnson’s aversion to “health fascism” and sugar taxes, Hancock reportedly sought to prevent the green paper’s publication — and subsequently buried it. When the document was eventually published on the gov.uk website at 7:22pm on 23 July, there was no accompanying press release or advance notice.
But in spite of his assiduous fawning over Johnson, Hancock was yesterday denied a promotion to one of the great offices of state and was merely retained as (un)health secretary.
Law delayed for Windrush compensation
The compensation scheme for Windrush generation citizens stripped of their rights by the government still hasn’t had time for legislation in parliament, a Home Office update reveals, referring to “the compensation scheme ahead of specific legislation being passed”.
The scheme, announced in April, required legislation before payments could be made – but still no parliamentary time has been found to debate it. Instead, the Home Office is now allowing compensation to be paid without legislation.
Still no time limit for immigration detention
In a hasty update about immigration detention reform, there was a lot of crowing about reducing the number of detainees and a few laughably meagre concessions – detainees can use Skype now! “Voluntary return” will be “promoted and encouraged”! – there was nothing on the BIG call from campaigners for an end to indefinite detention.
Missed target on reducing illegal waste – and no deal Brexit will make it worse
The Environment Agency’s annual report shows it missed its target to reduce the number of high-risk illegal waste sites in England, despite receiving more funding for this work.
Its aim was to take the number down from 259 to 196, but in the end it only managed to close nine. And it underspent its new budget for this because of delays in recruitment. The number of major pollution incidents from illegal waste sites increased from 46 to 69 during the year.
The Agency also warned that a no deal Brexit could create further incentives for illegal waste disposal with fewer opportunities to export waste: “The challenge of illegal waste activity may well increase, should the United Kingdom leave the EU without a withdrawal agreement… any disruption to transport arrangements could create incentives for criminals to dispose of it illegally in England instead.”
Brexit is sapping resources from environmental work
The Environment Agency also reports that “preparations to support EU exit are creating new pressures on all resources (local and national), forcing us to slow down or stop other work”. Though by a narrower margin than the illegal waste sites, the Agency has also missed its targets on making rivers, lakes and coastal waters healthier, and reducing serious pollution incidents.
Shocking school inspections, with 77 per cent of Steiner schools judged “inadequate” or “requires improvement”
According to a letter from the Ofsted’s chief inspector, of the 26 Steiner schools that have been inspected — 22 of which are private and four state-run — 13 were judged inadequate, seven were judged to require improvement and six were judged to be good. In addition, 15 of the 22 independent Steiner schools failed to meet independent school standards.
There are some shocking findings, including one child being pulled up from the floor, carried across the room and forced to sit upright.
The overall wellbeing of most teachers is low
According to another Ofsted report, teachers cite a lack of resources as preventing them from doing their job as well as they can, the administrative burden affecting their work-life balance and getting in the way of the important part of their job, and feel they do not have enough influence over policy – with frequent changes increasing their workload.