Thursday, June 07, 2012

Underneath The (Mon)Arches: Cameron's Big Con

SIR – The ancient meaning of jubilee meant a time when debts were cancelled, land was redistributed and slaves freed.

With the Queen’s Jubilee we have a time of forced austerity when debts are increased (as wages and benefits are cut), very few people can afford to buy a house (let alone land) and wage-slavery/exploitation is the name of the great capitalist game.

MORE information is coming out about the young people left to kip under London Bridge after coming to play their unpaid part in the Royal Pageantry, and the episode is beginning to epitomise the shoddy reality behind David Cameron's 'Big Society' - the 'Big Con' has others have described it.

Eighty people - 50 unpaid jobseekers and 30 "apprentices" on £2.80 an hour - were bussed in from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth to work as stewards along the river.

While the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh made their stately voyage downstream on a golden barge, and the crowds stood dutifully in the rain and waved their union jacks, these stewards were on duty for 14 hours, having been brought to London and dropped off at 3 am, and been told to sleep under London Bridge so as not to be late for work.

They had to change into their security gear in public and had no access to toilets for 24 hours. then were dropped off at a swampy campsite in outer London after a 14-hour shift in the pouring rain.

As Bristol Labour MP Kerry McCarthy writes in the New Statesman:

The steward I spoke to yesterday had been on the Work Programme with Tomorrow’s People for a year, but apart from occasional sessions with an adviser (she’s on her third, as they keep leaving) ‘nothing had happened’ until March this year when she was put on the NVQ Level 2 in stewarding. She’d already done a stint of unpaid work experience in late March. I don’t think she was much impressed by the quality of training but she’d stuck with it, hoping to get paid work.

Close Protection had said they’d pay the jubilee stewards £450, and it would lead to well-paid stewarding work at the Olympics. But she ended up calling home in tears and being rescued by a relative, after 36 hours without sleep, soaking wet and without being paid a penny for it.

As a friend has commented on my previous posting, the "charity" which helps provide recruits for such work is run by someone close to Cameron's government. Here's the Political Scrapbook blog:

The boss of the charity which arranged a compulsory work placement in which Jubilee pageant workers were forced to sleep rough in central London is a Conservative peer. Baroness Debbie Scott heads Tomorrow’s People, who were responsible for botched arrangements which saw 30 jobseekers told to sleep overnight under London bridge — before being woken at 5:30am and told to change their clothes in public.

Baroness Scott appears on page 14 of the Conservative manifesto backing the Tories’ Work Programme. However she was later censured by the Charity Commission, who ruled that “By agreeing to contribute to the manifesto, the charity has provided support to the party”, a breach of the rules on political activities of charities.

That is Baroness Deborah Stedman-Scott, to be more formal.

Pity the job was not entrusted to another Tory peeress, Baroness Warsi.

She could have taught the trainees how to find more comfortable but still buckshee accomodation in London, and claim generous expenses for it. Our young people are just not being given the right skills to succeed in the Big Society.

So who is the boss of the firm entrusted with the training and welfare of these young people, as well as security at major public events? Obviously it must be someone with sound business background in security, and a solid reputation. Here is Political Scrapbook again:

The director of a security company who forced unpaid jobseekers to sleep rough before assisting at the Jubilee pageant has had a string of previous companies ‘struck off’ by regulators after a failure to submit accounts. The revelation could further bring into question the professionalism of an operation awarded security contracts for the Olympic Games.

Molly Prince was a director of the following businesses, which were were all compulsorily struck off by Companies House using powers under the Companies Act — having failed to submit any accounts whatsoever:

Prince’s current company, Close Protection UK, hit the headlines after it used unpaid jobseekers to steward the weekend’s jubilee celebrations, forcing them to camp overnight under London Bridge. The incident soured the celebrations, and has once again shone a harsh light on government workfare schemes.

Earlier we revealed that the boss of Tomorrow’s People, the back-to-work charity which referred jobseekers to Close Protection UK, is Conservative peer Baroness Scott. Scott and Tomorrow’s People had already been reprimanded by the Charity Commission for breaching rules on political activities, with their links to the Tory Party.

That might go a little way towards explaining Downing Street’s off-hand dismissal of the scandal, a spokesman saying:

“This is a one off … This is an isolated incident. The company has apologised.”

Interestingly, Close Protection UK’s last accounts appear to indicate the company was operating with substantial liabilities — and a bank balance of just £1,317.

Obviously it is one "one off" "isolated incident" after another.

We mentioned Molly Prince before as head of a training company, Learning Development Centre, apparently based at Salford University. The Guardian gives a more accurate picture:

The website for LDC states it "launched from Technology House @ The University of Salford's Campus" lists its address at the university. A spokeswoman for the University informed the Guardian that the company holds only a "virtual office" - or a mailbox - at the premises. Training and courses are provided at the offices of its sister company Close Protection UK Ltd, in Hindley, Wigan.
According to one commentator, CPUK was operating from a caravan park in Wigan. It seems to have acquired a reputation in the North West.

But now the firm seems to have got in among the big boys. Here's the Guardian again:

Next month, CPUK is to supply about 200 fire marshals who will be responsible for making sure fire exits are clear and people evacuate buildings safely at Olympic Games sites, along with security officials.

The London Olympic organising committee (Locog) said it had sought assurances from the company that all the staff involved would be paid the London living wage and provided with "suitable accommodation".

"CPUK were appointed via a competitive tender process and will be providing accommodation for staff where necessary (ie where they don't live locally)," said a Locog spokesman. "Following the recent media reports, we have spoken to CPUK and we have been assured that appropriate accommodation will be provided."

Locog said CPUK was also providing some security staff to private company G4S as part of the security workforce at the Olympics and that G4S had received assurances from the company.

However, trade unions expressed concern about CPUK's involvement in the Olympics. Paul Embery, the Fire Brigade Union's regional secretary for London, said: "If the stories about this company are true, they should be kept as far away from the Olympics Games as possible, and we certainly wouldn't want them having responsibility for ensuring fire safety laws are enforced or other such work. The Olympic Games generates colossal levels of wealth and those whose job it is to protect the public at the Games should be properly trained, well cared for and sufficiently paid."

Mention of G4S raises other questions. This firm certainly has experience. In everything from security for Shell oil in Nigeria to equipping Israeli prisons. In this country it is moving into the privatisation of police services and already handles treatment of asylum seekers. A man called Jimmy Mubenga died from asphyxiation whilst being deported by two G4S (Group 4 Securicor) security guards.

There's a demonstration today outside G4S annual general meeting in the City of London. A number of organisations concerned with issues from Palestinian rights to opposing privatisation have come together for this protest.

The Olympics is just another lucrative job for G4S, and not surprisingly they are putting some of the work out to cheaper bidders. But G4S itself is using workfare placements. The security firm is after all the second biggest private employer in the world.

Welcome to 21st century capitalism.

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