Vital Call: MPs want post-Brexit UK to keep to EU’s main chemicals law REACH

Vital Call: MPs want post-Brexit UK to keep to EU’s main chemicals law REACH

The UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has today published the report of its inquiry on chemicals regulation after the EU referendum, which particularly focussed on the EU’s world-leading REACH system for regulating chemicals. The EAC criticise the UK Government’s lack of openness about its post-Brexit plans, and point out that most respondents want the UK to remain ‘as closely aligned to REACH as possible‘.

The EAC’s main conclusions

    • The chemicals regulation framework established by the EU through REACH is difficult to transpose directly into UK law. Writing EU regulations into UK law could not be done simply by having a line in the “Great Repeal Bill” deeming REACH to apply in the UK. REACH was written from the perspective of participants being within the EU, with much of it also relating to Member State co-operation and mutual obligations, oversight and controls, and freedom of movement of products

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Facts about the NHS

  1. The population of the UK is an estimated 65.1 million. 
  2. 1 in 20 GP surgeries have closed or merged since 2013. 57 closing down in 2016 alone.
  3. The NHS England budget is £117 billion for 2016/7 and will rise after inflation to £120 billion by 2019/20. 
  4. Every 36 hours the NHS will treat 1,000,000 patients. 
  5. Accident and emergency departments recorded their worst ever waiting times in 2016/7.
  6. Hospitals recorded their worst ever waiting times for elective surgery in 2015. 
  7. The NHS in England has 149,808 doctors, 314,966 nurses, and employs 1.3 million people. 
  8. 19% of NHS staff and 29.5% of NHS doctors are non-British
  9. The average age of recent migrants to the UK is 26.
  10. Healthcare costs change with age: a 20-year old costs an estimated £500 per year, a 65-year old £3750 per year and an 85-year old £7500 per year. 
  11. The population of the UK over 65 in 1975 was 1 in 8. Today it is 1 in 6. By 2050 it will be 1 in 4. There are 1.5 million people over 85 in the U.K today. 
  12. The NHS buys many drugs from Europe and the USA paying in Euros (€) and US dollars ($).
  13. Health tourism, foreign citizens using the NHS, costs the NHS an estimated £1-300 million per year. A new overseas surcharge recouped £289m in 2015. This is 0.3% of the total NHS budget. 
  14. Stationery costs the NHS £146m/year. 
  15. Compared internationally the NHS achieves above average outcomes, with average funding and below average staff numbers. OECD.
  16. Health costs rise each year in developed countries, above real world inflation. This is broken down into staff wage inflation, new technologies, population growth, new drugs and medical advances. 
  17. The NHS was estimated to require £30 billion by 2020 to meet predicted demand. To date, it has received £4.5 billion. 
  18. Social care is estimated to require £4 billion by 2020 to maintain current service. 
  19. The ratio of people working to those retired is called the Old Age Dependency Ratio (OADR). This was steady at around 300 retirees for every 1000 people working from the 1980s to 2006, but has now since started to rise. With retirement age changes, it will still increase by 20% by 2037 to 365.

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Don’t Buy Don’t Sell in the Trump era

After authorising the firing of 59 Tomahawk missiles (each costing around $1.5 million) at a Syrian airbase with no apparent consequential strategic purpose and diminishing none of the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability, the maker of the Tomahawk missiles, Raytheon’s stock rose sharply, adding more than $1 billion to its market capitalisation. Other missile and weapons manufacturers, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics, also saw their stock rose considerably – collectively gaining nearly $5 billion in market value. This on its own may not matter much, after all, which president of the USA has not dropped  expensive bombs on some ‘remote’ nations of the world. But this time may be different.

Trump used anti-establishment and anti-corporate language during his election campaign to distinguish himself from all other candidates – he opposed neoconservative foreign policy, financial and corporate interests, notably Goldman Sachs. Now, after his inauguration, you can hardly see much difference between his foreign policy plans and policies proposed by neoconservatives. His cabinet looks like a ‘who’s who’ of Goldman Sachs alumni. He ratcheted up the military tension in the South China Sea, ordered a failed major special force operation in Yemen, and now seems to be pushing the USA to the edge of nuclear war with North Korea. The more he uses militaristic confrontational rhetoric and actions, the more ‘presidential’ he  looks in the eyes of the mainstream media. He seems ‘unstoppable’.

But is he, really?

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The global F-35 complex

It helps considerably that many of these customers have more than just a few tonnes of precision-engineered titanium to gain from any deal: the beauty of the JSF project is that everyone can bring something to the party. In a Lancashire workshop, for instance, BAE Systems is building a section of the aft fuselage, including the tail, for every F-35; along with other contributions from all over the world, these pieces are then shipped to Texas for final assembly. This means that every F-35 sale is a boost to the coffers of Britain’s own largest arms company. (BAE has also been allowed to do the foldy bits at the end of the wings.) And the opportunities are everywhere. There are aluminium sheets from Milton Keynes, electronic modules from Billingstad, circuit boards from Ankara, hydraulics from Melbourne, wiring systems from Rotterdam, manifolds from Adelaide, wing parts from Turin and actuators from New York. So when Trump threatened to slash the cost of the F-35 programme, or divert some of the custom to cheaper competitors, it wasn’t only American defence contractors who were in the firing line. Everyone had something to lose. On 30 January, ten days after taking office, Trump announced that he had negotiated $600 million off the price tag of the next batch of F-35s. Lockheed’s CEO chose not to shatter his illusion, but it turned out that the next ninety planes were always going to be cheaper anyway – by between 6 and 7 per cent, or $550 and $650 million. The more you build the cheaper they get, thanks to economies of scale. Happily for everyone involved, this also means that more get sold. The ‘military-industrial complex’ turns out to be very simple: the juggernaut has its own momentum. Once it’s rolling it can’t be stopped, even if you’re Donald Trump, something he finally came to acknowledge on 16 March, when his budget plan for the next fiscal year allowed for the ramping-up of F-35 production as part of a proposed 10 per cent increase in overall military spending.

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Ken Loach on Corbyn

The spate of calls for Jeremy Corbyn to quit since last week’s byelections in Stoke and Copeland has been as predictable as it was premeditated. It says everything about the political agenda of the media, and nothing about people’s real needs and experiences.

I went to Stoke and Whitehaven, in Cumbria, a few days before polling. Momentum arranged screenings of Daniel Blake. We went to Labour clubs in neglected areas, old estates away from the centre. At one club I was asked: “Why have you come here? No one comes here.”

Joe Bradley and Georgie Robertson, the organisers, were a model of how Labour activists should work: full of energy, hard-working and brilliantly efficient. They had a warm greeting for everyone, checked the screening facilities, made space for local contributors so people from that community felt it was their event and that they were being heard. This is how Labour can reconnect.

Both screenings were packed. The discussions were passionate, informed and invigorating, a world away from the tired cliches of the public discourse. This was not a marketing exercise but a real engagement with people and their concerns.

The failure of Labour governments – and, importantly, Labour councillors – was a common theme. It is not hard to see the neglect around Stoke. Solid Labour, for sure, but what good has it done them? A 2015 report into the area found 60,000 people in poverty, 3,000 households dependent on charity food, and £25m in council tax arrears. The presence of the BNP, now replaced by Ukip, shows how Labour’s failure left space for the far right.

It was a similar story in Copeland. Industries have been lost – steel, mines, a chemical factory – without any plan to replace them. Labour is seen to be as culpable as the Tories. Someone said that in Copeland it was an anti-establishment vote, and Labour is the local establishment. It was a vote against Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and previous MPs Jack Cunningham and Jamie Reed.

In both constituencies the Labour candidates, neither from the left of the party, were invited, but both candidates ignored the meetings. With coverage on television, radio and the press, this is bizarre. Could it be because Momentum were the organisers? We were there to support Labour. There was not even the courtesy of a reply.
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Housing is a human right not a commodity

In Melbourne, Australia, one in five investor-owned units lie empty, the report says; in Kensington, London, a prime location for rich investors, numbers of vacant homes rose by 40% between 2013 and 2014 alone. “In such markets the value of housing is no longer based on its social use,” the report says. “The housing is as valuable whether it is vacant or occupied, lived in or devoid of life. Homes sit empty while homeless populations burgeon.” …

Farha, 48, by background a human rights lawyer and anti-poverty activist, calls for a “paradigm shift” whereby housing is “once again seen as a human right rather than a commodity”. It is clear, she suggests, that the UN’s sustainable development goal of ensuring adequate housing for all by 2030 is not only receding, but without regulatory intervention to re-establish the primacy of housing as a social good, laughably optimistic. Continue reading