Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"Benefits Cheats"? But they're within the rules.

JIM MURPHY, MP, Labour's leader in Scotland, first made his name twenty years ago as leader of the National Union of Students, reversing the union's opposition to the abolition of grants and introduction of tuition fees.  His firm hand against opponents led to a Commons Early Day Motion condemning his "intolerant and dictatorial behaviour", signed by 17 Labour MPs, but did him no harm at all with Labour's leadership, assuring Murphy himself a seat in parliament.

Remembering how Murphy betrayed poor students and loyally served Tony Blair's government, the SNP and others are ridiculing the Labour leader's promise to keep university tuition free in Scotland.

But just how keen Jim Murphy is on keeping public spending to the limit and making sure no one is unfairly claiming benefit might be judged against the news that he is one of 46 MPs who have claimed more than £1.3million for rent or hotel rooms at the same time as receiving rent from properties that were often purchased and refurbished from taxpayers’ money.

Labour's leader in Scotland owns a property bought with help from the taxpayer just two miles from the Palace of Westminster, which he let out. Over two years from 2012/13 he claimed £39,372 to rent another London flat for himself.

An investigation by Channel 4 News found 25 Conservatives, 14 Labour and four Liberal Democrats had benefited from an expenses loophole, which is not against parliamentary rules. Many of the MPs bought their London properties with the help of the taxpayer under the previous expenses system that allowed claims for mortgage payments.

Andrew Lansley is the former Tory health secretary whose 'reforms' managed to radicalise the Royal College of Nursing and the BMA against him, though he received a donation of £21,000 from John Nash, the chairman of private healthcare provider Care UK and founder of the private equity fund Sovereign Capital. Lansley has claimed more than £7,440 since 2013 to stay in London hotels, despite owning a flat with his wife in Pimlico, within walking distance of Westminster. The flat was acquired with public help, and though the South Cambridgeshire MP has not rented it out, it is being used by his daughter, who has launched a business there.

MPs used to be able to claim expenses for mortgage repayments. Since the claims were stopped by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) following the expenses scandal, the MPs have switched to renting out the properties they own and instead claimed expenses for rent and hotels. Under the current system, MPs are allowed to claim £20,600 a year in London rent and £150 a night for hotels.
Labour’s shadow culture minister Chris Bryant has claimed £35,350 in the past two years to rent a property in London despite already owning a penthouse. He bought the two-bedroom apartment, which has a private lift and porter, in 2005 and claimed around £1,000 a month in mortgage claims.

But when the rules changed he moved into another flat and let out the property he already owned for around £3,000 a month.

Former Liberal Democrat defence minister Sir Nick Harvey has charged the taxpayer £39,772 in expenses for the rent of a flat, despite owning a house in Lambeth which he has let out to tenants since the rule change.

SNP MP Angus MacNeil owns a flat in Lambeth, a short walk from the Houses of Parliament, which was paid for with taxpayer help. But he has claimed £42,177 in hotel expenses om the three years since 2012/13.

Former Chairman of the Committee for Standards in Public Life Sir Alistair Graham said MPs should be seen to be upholding the spirit of the rules that state they must not ‘exploit the system for personal financial advantage’

He told Channel 4 News: ‘It’s not always just about exactly what the rules say. It is about you taking personal responsibility that public funds are used in a proper and appropriate way that your constituents would be comfortable with. I’m sure we will hear all sorts of sob stories about why it’s justifiable to do what they’ve done. But they must know in their heart of hearts that the public will see this as MPs on the make.’

Indeed, when I read about this I was reminded of my own experience some years ago renting a flat on a council estate, one of the less affluent pockets in Pimlico, from a fellow who was the official tenant and, as I found out, receiving housing benefit on top of the rent I paid. Having been unable to get a flat otherwise, and enjoying the novelty of living in central London, I found my "landlord"'s little fiddle amusing, until I found myself out of work and unable to claim help with my rent because he was already claiming.

If I had responded to all the government's expensive propaganda urging us to expose a benefit cheat I could have shopped the guy, I suppose, but that would not have brought me any benefit, nor have advanced my name on the housing waiting list. 

This kind of situation of the poor finding ways to 'rip off' the system by exploiting those who become even poorer, is probably more common than people like to admit, partly because the system has failed to provide reasonable legitimately rented homes to workers who need them.

Now things are much worse.  More than a third of the homes sold through "right to buy" for council tenants are now in the hands of private landlords renting for profit. In some quite poor London boroughs the proportion rises to 50 per cent. The Tories want to extend "right to buy" to Housing Association tenants. Meanwhile Housing Associations are raising rents, more land and housing is falling into the hands of developers, and the obligation to provide "affordable housing" is becoming a sick joke on most ordinary Londoners.


But getting back to those MPs, and former ministers, who are not exactly short of a few bob or having to go to the food bank, there's no point in calling any place to report them as benefits cheats,
because it seems they have not broken any rules.

North Devon MP Sir Nick Harvey said: "This situation is not of the MPs' choosing. MPs have been obliged to let out their own properties since 2010 because the new rules say they cannot claim mortgage interest - only rent. Letting income covers the mortgage and other outgoings and is of course taxed. It is not MPs' fault that the rules compel them to rent a separate flat to live in.
"In some cases this may even cost the taxpayer more than leaving them in their own home. Changes made with the best intentions sometimes have unintended consequences, as you have highlighted."

Ah well. 


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Questions worth asking

'BLACKLISTED' is a new book out exposing an old practice which has blighted the lives of thousands of workers and their families in this country, and despite breaching laws about data protection, not to mention human rights, is still no doubt going on.

Having unfortunately missed a book launch in the House of Commons on March 12, I was glad that one of the authors, Dave Smith, was able to make it to the Greater London Association of Trade Union Councils' AGM a couple of days later, to talk about the book, and some of his own experiences, and sign copies. 

As well as getting writer's cramp inscribing messages in books, Dave has kept busy in other ways. He has been fighting his case against Carillion over blacklisting, which has ended with the company winning in the High Court because it appears, having been employed via an agency, Dave had no rights. Maybe he'll have to appeal to the European human rights court in Strasbourg, if the Tories don't win in May and take us out of the court (No Rights, please, we're British!?)

And on Wednesday night, Dave was lifted by police after a building workers' protest outside the Hilton hotel spilled over into Park Lane, stopping traffic. About forty workers were demonstrating  outside the Construction News Awards in the Hilton, over the sackings of workers who raised health and safety concerns on the Crossrail project.

I remember a similar incident a couple of years ago when striking electricians resisting pay cuts blockaded white-tied contractors arriving for a dinner at a Park Lane hotel.  On that occasion the workers and their sound system blocked Park Lane traffic for some time, yet police seemed unsure what to do, and I don't recall any arrests being made. That episode is mentioned in the 'Blacklisted' book. This time it would seem the Met had their instructions, and had decided whom to nick.

Dave Smith is secretary of the Blacklist Support Group. And the book he has co-authored with Phil Chamberlain does not just tell the story of blacklisting by employers and employer-funded organisations, from the Economic League founded in 1919 to its successor Consulting Associations. It looks at the links with police infiltration and spying on trade unionists, environmental campaigners and others.

It is worth remembering that blacklisting and victimisation of workers who raised safety issues does not just hit these workers and their families. It also affects those left in work who fear for their jobs and decide to keep their mouths shut even if they see something which looks wrong. And of course, those workers and members of the public who suffer harm or injury as a result of bad practices or neglect.

Yet while the government has been cutting right back on HSE inspections, and the police are talking about services they may no longer be able to provide, we hear nothing about the cost of police surveillance and infiltration -including use of agent provocateurs -against members of the public and legitimate organisations such as trade unions. Who authorised such operations, and how many are still going on? 

The Blacklist Support Group are demanding a full public enquiry into blacklisting.

It so happened that last week I received an e-mail from the Labour Party, inviting me to "ask Ed" any questions I liked. So I asked whether Labour would launch an inquiry into blacklisting. I am used to chairpersons not seeing my hand at question time, and I was not expecting blacklisting to be an issue our politicians want to discuss, but I was pleasantly surprised to receive this reply - not signed by "Ed" (or anyone else), but I'm not a fan of personality cults, and it is e-mailed from "frontbench" and on record nevertheless.
Dear Mr Pottins,

Thank you for your email regarding blacklisting in the construction industry.

Trade unions are an important voice for people at work and in wider society, and have a central role to play in boosting training, pay and conditions for their members and helping Britain win the race to the top. At a time of rapid global economic change and a cost-of-living crisis at home, it is vital that the UK continues to have strong and modern trade unions as a genuine voice fighting against discrimination and abuse.

That is why the next Labour Government will launch a full inquiry into the disgraceful practice of blacklisting in the construction industry. This inquiry must be transparent and public to ensure the truth is set out. We should also learn the lessons of the actions on procurement taken by the Welsh Assembly Government with regards to blacklisting.

The choice at this election is between a failing plan and a better plan for working families. Only Labour understands that Britain only succeeds when working families succeed. That’s why Labour’s plan offers a better future: for living standards, for the next generation, and for the NHS. You can read more about Labour’s better plan in our Changing Britain Together booklet.

With kind regards,

On behalf of the Labour Party

 It's worth asking the questions like this, because you might get an answer, and if nothing else the politicians can't pretend no one is interested and they have not received any questions about the subject.

I won't be holding my breath waiting for Labour to hold a full public enquiry, but nor will we be holding our fire if Labour having got in fails to honour any such pledges it has made. And whatever public cynicism says about politicians and pre-election promises, you have a much better starting point for protest if the promises have been made.  

On Dave Smith v. Carillion case:



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Sunday, March 08, 2015

What happened to "Senjko"


 THIS is Senj, on Croatia's Adriatic coast, situated south of Rijeka and north of Split. An old town with a history going back to Roman times when this was the province of Dalmatia, and further, it looked peaceful enough in the early evening sun when we came over the hills from Zagreb.

It might seem strange that our Workers Aid convoy which was heading for Tuzla, in north central Bosnia, in the early Spring of 1994, should have to head first for the coast, then south along sometimes narrow unlit roads by the sea to Split, before sitting in a dusty car park for days, awaiting permission to head up into the mountains and north again, partly taking makeshift tracks, to reach our mining town destination.

It was odd, considering a much-shorter and more direct route by motorway crossed the Posavina valley between Zagreb and Tuzla.  But the UN 'protection force' (UNPROFOR), which had a mandate to protect humanitarian aid convoys in Bosnia and effectively controlled the roads, had other ideas, and so we were obliged to take the scenic route.   

And so to Senj, which though not unaffected by the war, seemed relatively peaceful, indeed perhaps over-quiet.

It had not always been so. Indeed to take one period:

The military captaincy of Senj was established in 1469 in order to defend against the invading Ottoman and Venetian armies. The town sheltered thousands of refugees from nearby occupied areas. The Nehaj Fortress was completed in 1558 on the hill Nehaj, which at the time was outside of town. Today it is wholly within the town's borders. The wars with the Ottomans lasted well into the 17th century. During this time the Uskoks lived in Senj and occupied the fortress. They served an important purpose during the wars since they had small units of men rowing swift boats that proved to be very effective guerrilla forces. However, after the Uskok War with Venice, which ended in 1617, they were forbidden to settle in the area

Indeed, these Uskoks, from a word meaning 'to leap', had come over the mountains as refugees from Ottoman rule, but became a byword for guerrilla war and piracy, against both Turks and Venetians. (I should also mention that in 1494, Senj had one of the first printing presses in south-east Europe, so it had its cultural side),

Since the uskoks were checked on land and were rarely paid their annual subsidy, they resorted to acts of piracy.[14] Large galleys could not anchor in the bay of Senj, which is shallow and exposed to sudden gales. So, the uskoks fitted out a fleet of swift boats, which were light enough to navigate the smallest creeks and inlets of the shores of Illyria. Moreover, these boats were helpful in providing the uskoks a temporary landing on shore. With these they were able to attack numerous commercial areas on the Adriatic. The uskoks saw their ranks swell as outlaws from all nations joined them. Eventually, the whole city of Senj lived from piracy. The expeditions were blessed in the local church and the monasteries of the Dominicans and the Franciscans received tenths from the loot.[15]
Thanks to Wikipedia.

The swashbuckling period eventually came to an end, but Senj was yet to play a heroic role in a much later conflict:

 In the fall of 1943, during World War II, when Fascist Italy capitulated, the Partisans took control of Senj and used it as a supply port. Subsequently, the Luftwaffe started bombarding the city. By the end of the year they had demolished over half of the buildings in town and inflicted heavy civilian casualties.

It just so happened that this weekend I thought I'd change my cover photo on Facebook, and decided the nice picture of Senj above would be a pleasant sight. Having done so, I thought I'd find out more about the place, and discovered that among the famous people born there was a man called Vladimir Copic.  By a coincidence, today is his birthday - it was March 8, 1891, to be exact. Copic, a leading member of the pre-war Yugoslav Communist Party, was known as "Senjko".  


 VLADIMIR COPIC known as Senjko

According to Wikipedia:
Vladimir "Senjko" Ćopić (Senj, 8 March 1891 –Moscow, 19 April 1939) was a Croatian politician, communist, one of the leaders of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. During the Spanish Civil War, in the period from 1937 to mid-1938, he was the commander of the XV International Brigade.
Like General "Gal", he had been conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I, and subsequently captured by the Russians.[1]
His brother, Milan Ćopić, was in the International Brigades' prison at Camp Lucász.
An entry on the Spartacus education site says:
A member of the Communist Party he volunteered to fight for the Popular Front government during the Spanish Civil War.  Copic arrived in Spain in 1937 and joined the other International Brigades at Albacete. Copic was appointed commander of the 15th International Brigade and served at Brunete in July 1937. Copic was killed in 1938.

Notice a small discrepancy. This latter site just says Copic was "killed in 1938", leaving us to think he might have fallen in battle in Spain. But the Wikipedia entry tells us he died on April 19, 1939, in Moscow. Of his wounds perhaps?

In actual fact, though several accounts by Spanish civil war veterans are critical of Copic's command, accusing him of sending poorly-equipped units into engagements they could not win, it seems the reason he was recalled to Moscow was to replace other leaders of the Yugoslav party in exile who had fallen victim to the Stalinist purges.  And on April 19, 1939, it was 'Senjko's turn, accused of being a "British agent", and executed.         


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A well-earned tribute, and a timely book

MICK ABBOTT, in white Justice for Pickets tee shirt, with Ricky Tomlinson at Westminster

WIGAN building worker Mick Abbott, a dedicated fighter against the blacklist, and for justice for the jailed Shrewsbury pickets, has been honoured with a memorial plaque at the Casa, the club started by locked out and victimised Liverpool dockers.

A plaque commemorating the late Michael Abbott has been unveiled at The Casa on Liverpool’s Hope Street.

The anti-blacklisting campaigner, who died, aged 74, last year after a battle with cancer, discovered files that showed he was blacklisted due to his trade union activities and his raising of concerns towards health and safety on construction sites. The plaque marks the first anniversary of his death.

Abbott discovered that the first file against him dated back to 1964 when he was working on the construction of the Fiddlers’ Ferry.

Upon this discovery, he fought for the rights of other men that had also been blacklisted from working on building sites.

Researcher and Secretary of the Shrewsbury 24 campaign, Eileen Turnball, told JMU Journalism: “We meet in The Casa every month at The Casa to discuss blacklisting in Liverpool. Michael Abbott left us in 2014, but the blacklisting in Liverpool has always been prevalent, but it mushroomed after the 1972 building workers strike.”


This is a well-earned tribute.

This year will be forty years since the march from Wigan to London, of which Mick was one of the leaders, to demand the release of the Shrewsbury Two, trade unionists jailed on "conspiracy" charges after the 1972 building workers' strike.

The previous year I'd met some of the Wigan lads on a march against the 'Lump' system, called by UCATT, in Preston.  They had brought placards about the Shrewsbury pickets on to the march, and a few of us came down from Lancaster to join them. Mick Abbott and his pals were surprised to hear that I was working on the Heysham power station site, as they told me they'd been unable to get jobs there, having previously worked on Fiddlers' Ferry. (My lack of power station background might have been an advantage, as was the irregular way I was smuggled on site by an Irish acquaintance, bypassing the main contractor Taylor Woodrow's procedure).

Determined not to let the jailed pickets issue be dropped or forgotten, Mick was with Ricky Tomlinson when, after his release, he protested at the 1975 TUC over the continued detention of Des Warren. Ricky had been refused permission to speak from the platform, while right-wing bureaucrats were allowed to slag off the pickets. 

One of 12 siblings born in Kirkdale, Liverpool, Mick Abbott worked most of his life -when he could -in the building trade. He was a scaffolder, and a TGWU shop steward on several sites. Married with four kids, he was known as a warm, friendly man with a typically Scouse sense of humour, as well as a dedicated trade unionist.    

There were 400 people at his funeral. 

But even before their tributes, or the plaque at the Casa, Mick had been honoured, by being among more than 3,000 building workers on the blacklist. Documents he was able to obtain after the so-called Consulting Association was exposed refer to his involvement in the Fiddlers' Ferry strike and to his serious concerns over site safety.  

Des Warren, at his trial over picketing, famously said that there had been a real conspiracy - between the Tory government of the day, the building industry bosses, and the police. Labour Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, one of the "gang and four" who went on to found the SDP,  refused to release the two pickets, so that as Ricky Tomlinson says, "We spent more time in jail under Labour than we had under the Conservatives".  A later Labour Home secretary, Jack Straw, told MPs that government documents concerning the Shrewsbury trial must be kept secret for reasons of "national security".

But then this Straw, recently in the news over his readiness to take remunerative retirement work, declined the chance to peek at his own file with the security services, when he was Home Secretary.  

Talking about the CA blacklist, Mick Abbott said last year; “My file goes back to 1964, and the last entry says that I rekindled the campaign for justice for the Shrewsbury picketers in 2006. They have been watching me all these years and passing this information around, blighting my life over four decades.”

The struggle for justice for the Shrewsbury pickets, demanding that secret files be opened so that the sentences can be squashed, the construction safety campaign - revealed to have also been subject to police spying, - and the battle against the blacklist, have been shown to be interlocking.

A new book about the blacklisting is being launched this week.

'Blacklisted: the secret war between big business and union activists' published by New Internationalist Magazine


Dave Smith , author
Phil Chamberlain , author
John McDonnell MP
Gail Cartmail Assistant General Secretary, Unite

Committee Room 15
Houses of Parliament

Followed by drinks and book signing at the Red Lion, Whitehall.

Anyone coming to the event in the Commons is advised to come half an hour early to get through security procedure. 

see also:  http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/feb/27/on-the-blacklist-building-firms-secret-information-on-workers

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Thursday, March 05, 2015

Dirty Money fuels 'Social Cleansing'

 (photo Martin Francis, Wembley Matters),

A DELEGATE to my local trades council was reporting last week how families in his part of the London Borough of Brent were being told they should move to another part of the country if they wanted housing.

Up the road in the neighbouring Tory-run Borough of Barnet, tenants and residents of the West Hendon neighborhood are confronting a privatised regeneration that will leave many with neither security nor the ability to afford to stay.

Across London in Labour-run Newham the E15 Mothers occupied an empty estate to highlight the council's policy, under which they were told to move to the Midlands or further afield.  

I first heard the expression "social cleansing" used when Tory Westminster council was removing people from the run-down Artillery Mansions block of flats across Victoria Street from City Hall.
To be precise, I saw it on an improvised banner protesting what the council was doing, slung from the building's upper-storey windows.  I'd just come back from Bosnia so the protesters' allusion to ethnic cleansing needed no explaining.

Dame Shirley Porter's policy of clearing streets and council homes of working class people, in the name of "building stable communities" became associated with gerrymandering, and better known as the "Homes for Votes" scandal, leading to the Tesco heiress moving to the Israeli seaside resort of Herzliya, and eventually having to pay a £12.3 million fine.

But the broader policy of privatising and selling council housing to Yuppie buyers had been pioneered by Tory Wandsworth council without much problem (except for less affluent people on the housing list who saw entire estates taken out of their reach). Taxi drivers told of fares asking for Battersea destinations across the bridge as "South Chelsea".

The battle for urban space that has become too fashionable or convenient for the centre (the Cities of London and Westminster) and so is priced out of reach for working people, has been a recurrent feature of the capital. The problem was intensified under Thatchernomics, when industry, even in parts of London, was left to rust, while the City finance sector and the property market for a time boomed. The pressure on housing, and on transport, with everyone having to come into the centre to work, has continued. Even today, though Mayor Boris Johnson blames homelessness and rough sleeping in the capital on "immigrants", most of the people migrating into London for work are coming from other parts of Britain.

London's prosperity does not extend to other parts of the country, nor down to everyone in London.  But during the previous period of growth the Duke of Westminster, whose family had donated land to the city for housing working-class people, had to fight a legal battle to prevent Westminster council selling off the estate behind the Tate Gallery, because the council claimed there was no such thing anymore as a "working class".  I don't know which new social thinkers the Tories has been reading.      
Nowadays the battle to resist social cleansing has become more widespread. The government's policy of capping benefits does not help, since nobody is doing anything about rent capping. In Hoxton, once far from being a fashionable area, the New Era estate tenants were faced with a 'developer' threatening to double rents and evict those who could not afford them.  The long neglected Battersea power station site is finally being developed for housing, but not at prices most Londoners can afford. On a smaller scale, flats being built as part of the Willesden Green library redevelopment are being advertised in Singapore, apparently. Whether anyone in sunny Singapore really fancies moving to Willesden we don't know, but as with Battersea, they are being sold the flats as an investment.

Well, we've all played Monopoly. But whereas that's just a game, the pundits and politicians on television talk as though the supply and demand for land, and the price of homes, is some kind of objective process, the values are real, and we have to move out to the Green belt, or treat old and run-down estates as "brown belt" for redevelopment -and more expensive- housing.  Oh, and at least two thirds of the council homes which were supposedly sold to tenants are now in the hands of private landlords renting for profit.

And now another aspect of all this has come into view.

This is taken from yesterday's 'Independent':

Billions of pounds of corruptly gained money has been laundered by criminals and foreign officials buying upmarket London properties through anonymous offshore front companies – making the city arguably the world capital of money laundering.

Some 36,342 properties in London have been bought through hidden companies in offshore havens and while a majority of those will have been kept secret for legitimate privacy purposes, vast numbers are thought to have been bought anonymously to hide stolen money.

The flow of corrupt cash has driven up average prices with a “widespread ripple effect down the property price chain and beyond London”, according to property experts cited in the most comprehensive study ever carried out into the long-suspected money laundering route through central London real estate, by the respected anti-corruption organisation Transparency International.

Some sources claim it has skewed developers towards building high-priced flats and houses rather than ones ordinary people can afford. While corruption and tax evasion are likely to be the biggest sources of the illicit money, drug dealing, people trafficking and sanctions busting are also common, police say.

TI’s research, which includes previously unreleased internal figures from the Metropolitan Police Proceeds of Corruption Unit, found that 75 per cent of properties owned by people under criminal investigation for corruption are held through secret offshore companies.

London has become a global magnet for corrupt funds, TI said, due to the high prices of property – enabling millions of pounds to be laundered at a time – and Britain’s notoriously lax rules on the disclosure of property ownership.

Any anonymous company in a secret location, such as the British Virgin Islands, can buy and sell houses in the UK with no disclosure of who the actual purchaser is. Meanwhile, TI said, estate agents only have to carry out anti-money-laundering checks on the person selling the property, leaving the buyers bringing their money into the country facing little, if any scrutiny.

Anti-corruption activists including Boris Nemtsov, the Russian opposition figure murdered in Moscow last Friday, have repeatedly expressed frustration that the UK does so little to stem the flow of money stolen from their countries.

Boris Nemtsov was outspoken about the UK's efforts to clamp down on money laundering Boris Nemtsov was outspoken about the UK's efforts to clamp down on money laundering (Getty)

Robert Barrington, executive director of TI, said: “This has a devastating effect on the countries from which the money has been stolen and it’s hard to see how welcoming the world’s corrupt elite is beneficial to communities in the UK.”

Over £180m of UK property has been investigated by police in the past decade, but this is likely to be only a small proportion of the actual amount, the report says. UN figures suggest only 1 per cent of money laundering flows are   detected.

Detective Chief Inspector Jon Benton, director of operations at the Proceeds of Corruption Unit, said: “Properties that are purchased with illicit money, which is often stolen from some of the poorest people in the world, are nearly always layered through offshore structures.

“In nearly all the grand corruption cases we investigate, we find – what we suspect is – proceeds of corruption being used to purchase high-value properties.”

Preferred option: the British Virgin Islands Preferred option: the British Virgin Islands

Companies set up in the Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories such as Jersey, British Virgin Islands and Gibraltar are the preferred option for concealment of corrupt property purchases.

More than a third of company-owned London houses are held by effectively anonymous firms in the British Virgin Islands. Jersey companies own 14 per cent and the Isle of Man and Guernsey 8.5 per cent and 8 per cent.

Mr Benton said: “The lack of access to beneficial ownership information about offshore companies that hold property in the UK is a major barrier for our investigations.”

What was it Mrs.Thatcher said about not letting criminals profit from their crimes?

Perhaps if David Cameron wants a monument to the 'Iron Lady' it could be a Statue of Dirty Liberty inscribed "Bring Me Your Crooks and Corrupt Dictators, and especially the Money".

Hendon story:

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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Safety Last - but police spied on union members

DAWLISH, a resort on the South Devon coast, looks like a nice place to retire, and I expect Juliette Austin had looked forward to enjoying her retirement. But Ms. Austin, who as a former PE teacher had probably looked after her health, did not have long to do so. 

AN INQUEST has been opened into the death of a 67-year-old retired PE teacher  who had been suffering from an asbestos-related disease. Juliette Mary Austin, of Elmwood Crescent, Dawlish, had been exposed to asbestos during her working life, most likely in various gymnasiums. Ms Austin, originally from Holbeach, Lincoln, had been diagnosed with mesothelioma before she died at Rowcroft Hospice on February 15., Cause of death was epithelioid mesothelioma.” http://www.torquayheraldexpress.co.uk/PE-teacher-exposed-asbestos-gymnasiums-coroner/story-26070124-detail/story.html

Asbestos campaigner Michael Lees, who as it happens lives in Devon, says 86% of schools surveyed in UK local authorities contain asbestos.

He disputes a statement by the Department of Education in their draft report on their asbestos policy review that “We estimate that up to 75% of schools in England contain some asbestos...”

"They are wrong, and the reason is that the Government has never carried out an audit of asbestos in schools. Instead their estimate is based on the age of the buildings and their floor areas. This study confirms the need to carry out an audit of the extent, type and condition of asbestos in schools". 

There have been questions in parliament about the schools asbestos issue.

Annette Brooke MP:
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the summary report of the Property Data Survey Programme, published in January 2015, how many schools were rated as being (a) good, (b) satisfactory, (c) poor and (d) bad condition. (225260)

Mr David Laws: 
The Property Data Survey does not provide an overall assessment of schools in the manner requested. The surveyors who visited schools made an assessment of the condition of individual construction types within each block, such as different types of roofs or walls for which we hold individual records, but did not attempt to rate an entire school on a ‘good’ to ‘bad’ scale.

The answer was submitted on February 27, 2015 at 11:42

Annette Brooke MP:
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the summary report of the Property Data Survey Programme, published in January 2015, what estimate she has made of the total cost of repairs necessary to bring the school estate in England up to good condition. (225207)

Mr David Laws:  The Property Data Survey was designed to give a relative view of condition need. As stated in the report, the Property Data Survey condition need we have calculated is not the cost of addressing the need in the estate but a relative weighting of the complexity of addressing different types of condition need. Calculating the total cost of addressing the need in the estate would involve taking into account other factors, such as asbestos and structural need, which are excluded from the survey. As such we do not hold an estimate of the total cost of repairs necessary to bring the school estate in England up to good condition.

The answer was submitted on 02 Mar 2015 at 14:23.

Annette Brooke MP
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the summary report of the Property Data Survey Programme, published in January 2015, whether the cost of maintaining, repairing or replacing a school building referred to in that report includes extra costs incurred because of the presence of asbestos. (225171)

Mr David Laws:

The information collected by the Property Data Survey Programme focused on the condition of the buildings. The surveyors who visited schools as part of the programme did not record any information on the presence of asbestos. The condition need identified through the surveys does not reflect any asbestos that may be present.

The answer was submitted on 02 Mar 2015 at 14:21.

Michael Lees comments:

"The PDSP was an audit of the condition of the school estate in England and was published on 6th February. Asbestos was specifically, and irrationally excluded.

It is extraordinary that at the end of the two year audit DfE cannot say either how many schools or buildings are in a good, satisfactory, poor or bad condition or how much it will cost to bring the whole estate up to a good condition.

See: Property Data Survey Programme Summary report


A Derbyshire group which works to raise awareness about the dangers of asbestos,  DAST say that despite Asbestos being banned since 2000 it may still be found in any property built before that date. It is estimated that it is present in 90% of all public sector housing and schools as well as people's homes. Last year the group supported 294 people in the East Midlands who had been diagnosed with an asbestos related disease, 65 of those people were from Derbyshire.

Another inquest opened last week, into the death of building worker Rene Tkacik, 44, killed on the Crossrail site at Fisher Street, London, on March 7 last year, when a section of freshly sprayed on concrete, or shotcrete, came down on him. Outside the St.Pancras Coroners court I joined supporters of the London Hazards Centre and the Construction Safety Campaign, who held a vigil as Mr.Tkacic's family members arrived with their lawyers.

Safety campaigners say workers on the Crossrail project have more than once been dismissed by contractors after raising concerns about safety.  While welcoming the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into Rene Tkacic's death they would like to see a wider investigation into health and safety on Crossrail. 

At the same time the campaigners note that the government has cut the HSE's budget by 38 per cent.
In a leaflet preparing for International Workers Memorial Day on April 28, they also mention that over 2,000 people in this country die each year due to exposure to asbestos, "mostly building workers", but also "teachers and pupils are dying from exposure to asbestos in poorly maintained schools."

Lest it be thought that the powers-that-be are not paying attention to those raising these issues,  a story in the Daily Mirror yesterday reveals another angle:

Undercover cop joined construction union UCATT to spy on workers

    21:00, 2 March 2015
    By Nick Sommerlad

An undercover policeman infiltrated a union to monitor protests against deaths on building sites, the Mirror can reveal.

Mark Jenner posed as a joiner and joined construction union UCATT.

Activists believe personal information collected by the officer was used by industry bosses to blacklist workers who raised concerns about health and safety.

Major industry chiefs benefited from the notorious blacklist that has been linked to Tory-donating construction firm Sir Robert McAlpine.

Steve Murphy, UCATT’s general secretary, said tonight: “Public money was spent on police covertly joining trade unions, infiltrating groups associated with trade unions and colluding with construction employers to blacklist workers.

"This is a scandal that must be exposed.”

Mr Murphy, who has demanded an inquiry, said the Met police “operated a secret organisation that destroyed innocent people’s lives”.

A Scotland Yard spokesperson said: “We neither confirm nor deny the identity of any individual alleged to have been in a covert role. We are not prepared to confirm or deny the deployment of individuals on specific operations.”

While undercover in the 1990s, Mr Jenner – part of the Met’s now-disbanded Special Demonstration Squad – had a five-year relationship with an unsuspecting activist, Alison – not her real name.

She told the Mirror: “It is appalling they spied on people who were arguing for better health and safety at work.”

Mr Jenner also formed friendships with at least two building workers who ended up blacklisted. Labour MP Steve Rotheram said: “It’s very sinister. We were using an officer to infiltrate legitimate trade unions.”

Mr Jenner, 51, posed as Mark Cassidy, from Merseyside, and was a member of UCATT for three years starting in 1996.

He paid by direct debit and remained a UCATT member until 1998, during a period when the union was negotiating over a series of high profile construction projects including the Jubilee Line extension and the Millennium Dome.

Jenner’s diary, left when he fled the home he shared with “Alison”, show that he monitored meetings of UCATT and other unions. Alison says that union activity formed a “large part” of his day to day work.

He also penetrated the Colin Roach Centre in Hackney, East London, which campaigned on behalf of victims of police ill-treatment.

Three months ago UCATT used Freedom of Information laws to ask the Met: “Was there a policy of infiltration of trades unions conducted by the Special Demonstration Squad?”

Scotland Yard said it was not required to confirm or deny whether it held the details requested. The force give six reasons why they could not reveal the information including national security.

Blacklisting firm the Consulting Association was paid to supply information to construction companies. Sir Robert McAlpine stumped up £10,000 that was used to help launch the organisation in the early-90s. The association was closed down in 2009.

A probe by Derbyshire police found “no conclusive evidence” that Scotland Yard shared information with blacklisters.

But David Clancy, investigations manager at the ICO, has said the blacklisting files contained specific operational details “that I believe could only be supplied by the police or the security services”.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission said in 2013 that it was “likely that all special branches were involved in providing information”.

A second former SDS officer Peter Francis, who went undercover as activist Pete Black before turning whistleblower, has seen blacklisting files of two trade unionists he monitored and said they included details he had provided to his handlers.

The Mirror has spoken to two further active trade unionists who befriended Jenner and believe their files contain information he obtained undercover.

Jenner joined them at meetings of a small group called the Building Workers Group which was linked to UCATT and arranged pickets a construction sites where there had been deaths or serious injuries.

Steve Murphy added: “UCATT was infiltrated by the police and members have a right to know why. This sort of operation could only have been sanctioned at the highest level.

"I believe the truth rests with the Home Office. Who gave authority for the police to do this and how high did it go?”

Mr Murphy added: “The Metropolitan Police must not be allowed to hide the truth; they operated a secret organisation that destroyed innocent people’s lives. They must be held to account.

“It is increasingly clear that the only way we are going to get the full truth on the blacklisting scandal is by holding a full public inquiry which is open and transparent.”

Blacklisting firm the Consulting Association was paid to supply information to more than 40 construction companies, including Balfour Beatty, Skanska and Carillion, before it was raided by the Information Commissioner in 2009. Sir Robert McAlpine paid £10,000 to help set up the Consulting Association in the early 1990s.

Another covert police unit the National Extremism Tactical Co-Ordination Unit is known to have met with the Consulting Association in 2008, shortly before the blacklisting firm was closed down.

Handwritten notes of the meeting by Consulting Association boss Ian Kerr seen by the Mirror indicate that NECTU was set up to monitor animal rights activists but was “now expanding”.

The notes refer to the construction industry specifically and that NECTU wants to “liaise with industry”.

UCATT made a second FOI request to the Metropolitan Police about NECTU, asking for details of meetings with the Consulting Association.

Scotland Yard replied: “Searches failed to locate any information relevant to your request, therefore the information you have requested is not held by the MPs.”


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