News from a reader in her seventies with income from pensions and savings below the national average after tax has been deducted, prompted a search of collected data and online reports.

hmrc pensioners

Her equally baffled MP put this case  to the Treasury Committee; the chairman’s assistant replied: “The issue you describe does seem confusing” and undertook to draw it to the attention of the committee before taking evidence from HMRC in autumn.

In marked contrast to their cosy agreements & accommodations with big business, the HMRC compels her to continue, despite having all the information in their departments, which are said to be unable to share it, one officer saying angrily: “Why don’t you employ an accountant?”

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the Independent reported that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have caught only five of thirty people, some owing hundreds of thousands of pounds – and many owing millions – identified as costing the UK more than £844m.

Strangely, the government has been reducing staff and budget from this revenue-collecting department, despite concerns ant the shortfall in income due. A few examples follow:

hmrc staff shortfall poster2004: 15,000 jobs cut since March 2004 with 165 offices earmarked for closure or in the process of closing.

2008: closure of a further 95 offices across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland affecting up to 12,300 staff

2010: the Public and Commercial Services Union warn that a decision by Revenue & Customs to close 130 offices would cause job losses, undermine tax collection and hit advice and support to taxpayers.

2014: the end for all 281 walk-in tax enquiry centres, with a further 23 large sites across the UK facing imminent closure. More than 2,000 fixed-term workers compulsorily redundant despite its own business plan revealing a staffing shortfall (page 16).

HMRC staffing levels chart
The Public and Commercial Services Union criticises HMRC’s intention to privatise more of its debt collection and post handling, reporting huge backlogs of post and private debt collectors already being brought in to chase up tax credits overpayments.

Perhaps this apparent inefficiency and inconsistency is not political madness, but the outworking of a hidden agenda, with privatisation as the objective.

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peace hub header

Peace Hub is a project of Central England Quakers in Birmingham City Centre, a base which will promote a range of peace and justice issues through information giving, networking and activism. The Peace Hub (41 Bull Street, B4 6AF) is next door to the Quaker Meeting House in Bull Street, on the route of the new tram which will pass though the city centre.

peace hub tramAn artist’s impression of the completed Peace Hub and Metro

peace hub qpepThe ground floor and basement areas will be used primarily for exhibitions about agreed issues and Peacemakers (West Midlands Quaker Peace Education Project) moved into the first floor on 12th August.

The following snapshot of Peace Hub’s twitter postings indicates the range of current peace and justice concern.

peace hub twitter

The Peace Hub website, which is under construction, makes it clear that the centre is not open yet, as extensive renovation has been needed. Watch this space for the opening date – probably in October.

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co-op wm logo

Phil Beardmore sends information about the Birmingham Student Housing Co-operative, launched on Friday 27th June, the first day of Co-operative Congress:

student housing coop house

“The launch event, held at the Co-op’s first home in Selly Park, was attended by representatives from across the Co-operative movement.

“Guest speaker was Dame Pauline Green, President of the International Co-operative. Attendees also heard from Sean Farmelo on behalf of the student co-operative about their journey from having a good idea to being able to take on the lease of the house and begin recruiting tenants. It is the first new housing co-operative in Birmingham for more than two decades”.

student housing coop opening

The nine bedroom property was purchased by the Phone Co-op and  leased to the members of the housing co-op, where they will be able to make democratic decisions about their living space without a landlord.

Phil adds that housing management services will be provided by BCHS, an agency providing services to housing co-ops in the West Midlands which has developed more than 50 housing co-ops and community controlled housing projects since 1997. Read more about BCHS here.

Volunteers sought

Belatedly we report that there is still much work to be done on the house. As well as decorating all the rooms, we need to put up a partition wall in the living room to make the 8th bedroom.  Over the summer, members of the Birmingham Students Housing Co-operative would appreciate the assistance of anyone who has some free time and wants to come and visit.

Read more on http://www.students.coop/.

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mark rogersBirmingham’s chief executive Mark Rogers asks: “Can we stop asking Westminster for a devolved settlement and start asking for a delegated one?” He continues:

“Much as I love City/Growth Deals, Better Care Funds and all the other bastard offspring of devolution, each remains characterised and constrained by the ongoing and firm attachment of Central Government’s apron strings. What Local Government actually needs is the decentralisation and delegation of relevant policy areas and funding streams – for economic purposes, for health and social care purposes, indeed for everything else too!

“Having worked in Solihull for eight years and now getting to grips with Birmingham it is clear to me that that maximising health, well-being and prosperity for our citizens relies not on superiority complexes or hierarchical relationships but, as with Central Government, in true and sophisticated partnerships of equals utilising a wide range of interdependent geographies”.

BUT Mr Rogers, as Barbara Hayes points out in her petition to David Cameron, no revised structures will achieve these ends if the same power and money hungry people are in place.

cameron corruption

David Cameron deplores corruption, not because it affects people’s health, well-being and prosperity but because it adversely affects economic growth. Again he prescribes structural change: greater transparency, fair tax systems and freer trade. He should read Barbara Hayes’ analysis:

“People talk of voter apathy but in fact many voters are frustrated & dismayed by a political elite that appears self serving or serving vested interests. Decisions are made based on ideology, vested interest and the power of the lobby rather than on the interests of the people affected.

“The expenses scandal, bribes for questions, the possibility of a cover up of child abuse and other instances repeatedly bring politics into disrepute so it’s not surprising that people don’t trust politicians and don’t see the point of voting. We need to change the whole ethos of our democracy.

Politicians need to be regularly reminded that they are elected to serve the people rather than just to pursue a political career. Read more here.

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 To read her petition, follow the link here.

 

*Now a freelance consultant, Barbara Hayes worked as an industrial chaplain for twenty years, with people of every faith and none, in all sizes of organisations in the public and private sectors. 

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ttip logoTheresa forwarded news of an appeal to publicise the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between Europe and the USA, which is being negotiated in secret with the EU by the White House.

America is also attempting to introduce another trade treaty, the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Asia (TPP). Together, these treaties would encompass most of the rich world – currently excluding China and Russia.

They fear that – if agreed – TTIP would downgrade rights and regulations to US levels and allow companies to sue governments over policy changes, making it far more difficult for the UK government to reverse NHS privatisation and ban fracking.

Who is involved?

Wealthy multinational companies and organisations lobbying governments on the subject include Toyota , General Motors , the pharmaceutical industry, Business Europe, IBM, Food and Drink Europe, EuropaBio and the powerful US Chamber of Commerce.

Less well-heeled analysts assert that powers would be removed from elected domestic governments, limiting food safety, environmental standards, financial regulation, energy and climate policy, establishing further legal powers and commercial opportunities for corporations.

Hard evidence

wikileaks graphicA draft chapter of the TTIP, which concerns issues relating to food safety and animal and plant health, was ‘wiki-leaked’ recently. The text supports no requirement for port of entry food inspections and testing – the U.S. approach – meaning that food contamination outbreaks will be harder to trace to their origin, and liability harder to assess. Such a trade agreement could make it more difficult to restrict imports from countries with animal or plant diseases, such as BSE or plant fungus outbreaks.

A proposal for a legal mechanism to protect corporate investors against citizens and national governments

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership proposals include a mechanism called the investor-state dispute settlement. When included in trade agreements, this mechanism (see ICSID precedent) has allowed corporations to sue governments before arbitration panels composed of corporate lawyers, which bypass domestic courts and override the will of parliaments.

Christopher Caldwell, an American journalist who regularly contributes to the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, reports that these negotiations are failing on both fronts.

Just as well?

sierra ttip contents

Readers are asked to contact their local papers to focus attention on the subject. Those who would like to learn more may go to the Sierra Club’s report – contents above.

 

Kurdistan has been divided between Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Russia. With a distinct language and culture, they form the largest nationality in the world that does not have its own homeland. The northern, oil-rich part of Iraq has the largest concentration of Kurds.

A large crowd of Kurds living in Birmingham – men, women and children – gathered in Victoria Square today. This followed a demonstration in London yesterday (below).

kurdish demo london yesterday

Professor Malcolm Dick records that Kurdish refugees in Handsworth include individuals forcibly deported from their homes in Iraq, survivors of the Halabja chemical bombing and those who experienced imprisonment and torture.

The Birmingham speakers called for aid for more than 500,000 men, women and children who have fled Mosul and other cities in the north-west in recent days.These families are exposed to searing heat, often without anything to eat or drink. And the region to which they are heading is already hosting refugees who have escaped from the civil war in Syria and settled in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

Corinne Fatah, who worked for over ten years at the Refugee Council, helping successive waves of Kurdish asylum seekers and visits the region frequently, said:

“Don’t miss the boat: aid is urgently required. Speed is essential, work with the Kurdish regional government as the central government is still in turmoil”.

kurdish flagKurds left the country in fear in 1976 after violent oppression by the Shah of Iran (the US’ client).In the 80s others fled, fearing reprisals after uprisings in response to destruction of villages, the killing of thousands of Kurds living in rural areas and attacks using chemical weapons. Many more left after 1991 during Saddam Hussein’s regime and in 2003, following attacks by the US-led coalition during the 2nd Gulf War.

When will news of humanitarian provision hit the headlines which currently focus on military aid?

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Fluoride was recently reclassified as a developmental neurotoxin by American medical authorities

Some readers have reacted strongly on reading the council’s eulogy of fluoridation – one was a doctor who has done research on this issue in the city.

He recalls that senior dental academics and public health professionals were ‘hard-sold’ fluoridation during a visit to the USA in the mid 1950s. They introduced it in Birmingham and rather half-heartedly on Tyneside and encouraged the introduction of fluoride at huge concentrations into toothpaste and other dental toiletries.

rotherham council logoFluoridation of the water supply has been rejected by many other cities, states and countries. One which comes to mind is Rotherham council’s long-term rejection, reaffirmed in their latest water fluoridation review which may be read in full here.

rotherham water fluo review 07 text

Ontario’s Windsor City Council approved the following recommendation (Council Resolution CR18/2013):

windsor ontario council header

windsor ontario fluoridation text

In a study published in the Lancet  (March 2014 issue) Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity, fluoride was reclassified as a developmental neurotoxin by medical authorities.

The authors, Dr. Philippe Grandjean of the Harvard School of Public Health and Dr. Philip Landrigan of the Icahn School of Medicine found that an analysis of 27 cross-sectional studies of children exposed to fluoride in drinking water, suggests an average IQ decrement of about seven points in children exposed to raised fluoride concentrations.”

In a review of a 2012 study published by Harvard’s School of Public Health, Grandjean said “Fluoride seems to fit in with lead, mercury, and other poisons that cause chemical brain drain. The effect of each toxicant may seem small, but the combined damage on a population scale can be serious, especially because the brain power of the next generation is crucial to all of us.”

The doctor’s final comment by email:

“It would be great if the council did something useful and honest and stopped mass-medication, providing instead pure unpolluted water. The history of fluoridation in Britain is nearly over. It will end with the careers of those senior officials and academics who nailed the fluoridation banner to their masts 50 years ago, and now dare not admit an error. They were party to the 2000 review, and they know that no further fluoridation schemes will be introduced in this country.

“Whilst alert for rearguard actions, I am content to minimise my own fluoride consumption – which is easily done – and allow those who were misled, and then misled us all, to retire from the scene with a little dignity”.

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In his paean to the city there was not one word about the decaying suburbs, the neglected buildings and the thousands of unemployed young people who have no hope for the future.

albert bore

Heartless triumphalism!

As parasitical financiers and speculators who produce no real wealth enjoy canal-side restaurants, the despised ‘low-skills economy built on metal-bashing’,which he projects as long gone, is actually thriving. A surprising number of SMEs around the city are prospering and employing people who are helping to make useful products.

Read about Sertec, MWA Technology, J8 Precision, Fracino, Beer Geek, Hills Numberplates and companies working in other sectors, many assisted by loans from a non-profit revolving fund, the Aston Reinvestment Trust.

A parable

A local broadcaster told his listeners how much he was looking forward to taking relatives from Australia to see the newly developed canalside region in Broad Street.

The following day he was downcast and ashamed: the areas they visited had been strewn with litter and graffiti had been painted on the new buildings.

If you and other council leaders, Sir Albert, had put even half of taxpayers’ money into the poorer areas of the city, creating employment – because there is manifestly work to be done there – youngsters might not have been resentfully employed in defacing those areas in which you take such pride.

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Many objective observers see the need for radical change to address the city’s acres of dereliction, unemployment blackspots and poor levels of health and childcare, all contrasting strongly with the expenditure lavished on the city centre.

northfield manor fire

As one valued landmark after another is neglected, destroyed or scheduled for destruction, the burning of Manor Farm – renamed The Manor House by Birmingham University, who bought it in 1953 – has prompted this question.

Below is a map showing the levels of unemployment in the city’s ward. Though dated 2010 it is substantially correct. By comparing the undecipherable names on this full-sized version with the clearly named boundaries on the council’s map of ethnic distribution we can see that the worst affected are Washwood Heath, Nechells, Sparkbrook, Lozells, Handsworth, Soho, Aston and Hodge Hill.

city unemployment by ward 2010 map

 A dream team to address the city’s problems? 

Combine Dr Dick Atkinson’s early concept of returning the city’s administration to its ten original villages with Localise West Midlands’ data in their full Mainstreaming Community Economic Development report, and enlist the highly experienced and successful Bournville Village Trust to oversee and guide the setting up of ten such village trusts with appropriate capital and income – not just a Neighbourhood Community Budget – leaving a reduced council staff to co-ordinate services such as refuse collection and transport.

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In 2008 the Mail reported a promise by council officers: ‘the council will restore (the Grade II listed statue of Thomas Attwood) to its former glory before deciding where in the city it can be re-sited’. Earlier this year we focussed on the Spectator’s archived material about the statue.

chartism blog header

In March this year, Stephen Roberts* wrote ‘The Disappearance of Thomas Attwood’ on his blog about the Chartists, which opened:

attwood statue john thomas“In June 2013 I had a letter published in the Literary Review. It was in response to a comment in the previous month’s issue by the Oxford historian Boyd Hilton that Thomas Attwood ‘died unacknowledged, even in Birmingham’.

“Unacknowledged, I thought … no, he wasn’t. They erected a huge statue of him in the middle of the town. For the rest of the century the political leaders of Victorian Birmingham subscribed to a man to the idea that Attwood’s Birmingham Political Union more or less brought about the 1832 Reform Act. And they hadn’t forgotten that it was Attwood, one Friday evening in July 1839, who urged MPs to consider the first great Chartist petition. So I wrote a letter to the Literary Review about all of this.

“The statue of Attwood was unveiled on 7 June 1859 in front of several thousand Brummies. They’d got a top man in to do the job – John Thomas, whose work adorned the Houses of Parliament. Nine feet high, the marble statue depicted Attwood in full flow. (With its base, the statue reached a towering 22 feet). Attwood’s old colleague George Edmunds made the speech & local writer J.A. Langford added a poetic eulogy . . .

“Later on a band turned up to play ‘Rule Britannia’ & ‘Auld Lang Syne’ & a really good day was had by all.

“When Attwood’s bank collapsed in 1865, there were calls for the statue to be moved; but those who had subscribed the £800 to get the job done in the first place made their feelings about that idea pretty clear. And so Attwood stayed put … & stayed put for a very long time. He eventually found himself in Calthorpe Park in Birmingham. A park is perhaps not the best place to put a Victorian statue. Attwood got covered in spray paint.

“When I was invited recently to give a talk on Thomas Attwood at the Library of Birmingham, I was asked where the statue was now. He certainly wasn’t in Calthorpe Park. I had to confess I didn’t know. So I consulted my old friend Professor Carl Chinn. And I learned that Attwood wasn’t now in any park. The city council had put him into storage and that is where he is likely to remain. Carl, in association with Honorary Alderman Matt Redmond, had pressed for the statue to restored to a public place, but had drawn a blank.

“Now this is the fate that befell John Bright, the famous Victorian radical who represented Birmingham from 1859 until 1889. Bright was spending his days in a cage in Rowley Regis until Tory MP Bill Cash engineered his rescue.

“Who knows where the Attwood statue is now. Of course, we have the modern statue of him reclining over the steps in Chamberlain Square. But the Victorian statue has disappeared. It’s a crying shame. One wonders if this would happen in London to a statue of one of their most famous political sons …”

 

*Stephen Roberts is Visiting Research Fellow in Victorian History at Newman University in Birmingham. He has written or edited a number of well-known books on Chartism and related subjects.

 

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