Category Archives: Society

The Care Home Pandemic Lesson

The mortality statistics reported as resulting from Covid-19 refer only to those who die in hospital. Those who die at home or in care homes are not included, even though, despite such obfuscation, it is known the death rate among the elderly and infirm accommodated in care homes far exceeds death rates among NHS patients. It has become clear that such care home residents have been abandoned, not by care home staff – there have been many stories of their heroic human caring – it is the system that has abandoned those in care. It is a valuable lesson, first learned decades ago, and it has far wider relevance than care homes.

That abandonment is longstanding and is well known and understood. The sector has been made available for rape and pillage with impunity, as indicated in the following quotes. The solution is clear.

The Lesson of Southern Cross, 10th June, 2011:
10th June 2011: “On 1st September, 1976, Professor Milton Friedman of Chicago University, economic theoretician and Nobel laureate, addressed the Institute of Economic Affairs in London. The title of his talk was “The Road to Economic Freedom: The Steps from Here to There”. Friedman, being the quintessential free market fundamentalist, took a dim view of the mixed British economy with around 60% of national income then being spent by government. He prescribed the ‘shock treatment’ of low flat rate taxes and wholesale privatisation which a few years later Margaret Thatcher implemented.

His justification for privatising provision of education and healthcare was simplistic in the extreme. ‘There is,’ he argued, ‘a sort of empirical generalisation that it costs the state twice as much to do anything as it costs private enterprise, whatever it is.’ Friedman didn’t actually have any data to support this contention, but added that ‘My son once called my attention to this generalisation, and it is amazing how accurate it is’ (See Friedman, M, 1977, From Galbraith to Economic Freedom, London: Institute of Economic Affairs, p57).

That simplistic assertion held sway for the next three decades and still rules our lives. His advocacy of privatisation of public provision justifies, among other things, the provision of care homes for our aging population by the likes of Southern Cross. It turned out not to be twice as efficient as any public sector provision, and it threatens to go bust leaving the state to clean up the mess.

The nub of the Southern Cross problem arises from another Friedmanism, that corporate officials had no social responsibilities other than ‘to make as much money as possible for stockholders’. In the case of Southern Cross, those stockholders were at one time the private equity firm Blackstone, headed up by ex-Lehman Brothers mergers and acquisitions specialists. Their interest in making as much money as possible led Southern Cross to the classic asset strippers’ strategy of the sale and lease back of its portfolio of care homes, realising an estimated surplus of £500m for Blackstone. It may or may not have been ‘as much money as possible’.” (https://gordonpearson.co.uk/2011/06/10/the-lesson-of-southern-cross/)

Big Society Public Services – the Next Government Shambles, 22nd July, 2011:
22nd July 2011: “The Open Public Services White Paper, announced on 11th July, sneaked out under cover of the Murdoch mess, looks like being the next government created shambles. Like its approach to the NHS, it betrays a breathtaking lack of nouse and understanding. The government claims its aim is to improve the quality and reduce the cost of all public services. This magical result is to be achieved by opening them up to provision by private and voluntary organisations, in competition with their existing public providers. … opening public services is likely to result in bids from the private for-profit sector, against the existing public provider. And private for-profit providers can, by definition, go bust. Health Minister, Paul Burstow says the new NHS regulator, Monitor, would ensure providers do not copy the “risky business model” of Southern Cross, the bankrupt care home provider.”( https://gordonpearson.co.uk/2011/07/22/big-society-public-services-the-next-government-shambles/#more-942)

Looting and Rioting – Bob Diamond Again, 15th August, 2011:
15th August 2011: “Over the past few days, the famine in East Africa, the US loss of its S&P triple A credit rating, the Murdoch disgrace, the Eurozone indebtedness and Greece’s odious debt, and even the World Championship Hen Races in Derbyshire, have all been driven from the front pages, at least in UK, by the looting and burning street riots. Consideration of their underlying causes and recommended solutions have dominated the media. Prime Minister Cameron, for example, expert in policing and broken societies, apparently wants to appoint a native from gun-toting America, to show British police how to do their job …

What is the main difference between those young people stealing mobile phones, laptops, trainers, and so on, and the likes of Fred ‘the Shred’ Goodwin, Bob Diamond and Stephen Schwarzman? One-time RBS CEO Fred Goodwin broke the bank with brainless debt and acquisitions and ‘shredded’ many thousands of jobs. Bob Diamond, currently CEO of Barclays Bank, has featured from time to time on this site primarily for his socially useless work and exorbitant take home pay. Stephen Schwarzman is billionaire boss of Blackstone Group, the private equity outfit that among other things, stripped the now bankrupt Southern Cross healthcare group of its main assets and made off with an estimated £500million. They differ from the looting, burning rioters in two main respects, Firstly, the scale of their looting far exceeds anything which has happened on the streets. And, secondly, what Goodwin, Diamond and Schwarzman do, has over the last thirty years been legalised, so they can do it with impunity.” (https://gordonpearson.co.uk/2011/08/15/looting-and-rioting-bob-diamond-again/)

Screwing care-homes still makes the easiest money, 5th September, 2015:
5th September 2015: “Taxpayers are going to have to pay for another big care home operator, throttled by tax avoiding financial predators. According to its chief financial officer, Four Seasons, which runs 450 care homes and 50 specialist care units, ‘is reviewing its finances with all options considered’. One option would be to close down, leaving the taxpayer to pick up responsibility for its 20,000 residents and patients.

Four Seasons is carrying debts of £500million on which it is paying interest of around £50million. It’s not immediately obvious how they got into so much debt nor why they should be paying interest at 10% pa when the official bank rate is 0.5%….
The tax avoiding financial predator that acquired Four Seasons was private equity Terra Firma Capital Partners, owned by Guernsey based Guy Hands. The acquisition was completed a few months after the collapse of Southern Cross had demonstrated how profitable such deals could be.

Terra Firma was in the news earlier this year with demonstrations against subsidiary Annington residential homes’ proposed demolition of 142 homes on the Sweets Way estate in north London. They were accommodating families on Barnet Council’s waiting list, but Hands’ plan was to replace them with 229 houses and flats for sale on London’s booming property market.

Four Seasons is losing money at a rate of knots, £26million in the second quarter of the current year. While they blame the losses on various extraneous factors, it is clear that public funding of social care for the elderly is inadequate. But the only way it will be increased is when the mess has to be sorted at public expense when Four Seasons goes bust. That the taxpayer has to pick up the tab is a major attraction of care homes and any privatised NHS services. Once privatised, the new operators can profit by delivering sub-standard service, till they go bust and the state has to pick up the pieces.

Guy Hands explains his perspective on private equity on the Terra Firma website http://www.terrafirma.com/private-equity-investment.html:
The private equity funds we raise are used to acquire asset-backed businesses that can be transformed through fundamental change.’

This is a rather more sophisticated way of making the asset stripper’s case as succinctly expressed in The Times by Jim Slater protégé, John Bentley, forty five years ago:
‘The theory of what we are doing is to release half the cash, half the assets and half the number of people employed.’
(https://gordonpearson.co.uk/2015/09/05/screwing-care-homes-still-makes-the-easiest-money/)

There are many long standing, ethical and professional operators in the care home sector. But they appear to have been largely deserted by the state. The Southern Cross and Four Seasons examples show just what a perfect opportunity care homes present for predatory exploitation. Being asset rich and earnings poor, means they can be acquired at low cost, their assets cashed in and they can then be driven on a shoe string and if they subsequently go bust, so what! The state will have to pick up the tab.

But the problem goes much wider than just the care home sector. Four decades of ideologically driven privatising and outsourcing of public sector provision, including health services, places much of the work previously fulfilled by the NHS in private hands. Predatory, tax evading and avoiding, private equity acquirers who are not subject to public quotation or review, could then fulfill their mission by extracting value and leaving enfeebled operations to be picked up and paid for by the tax payer.

The solutions are fairly obvious and have been highlighted many times in the past. The care home pandemic lesson in particular is a relearning experience and reminder of what needs to be done. But it is unlikely to be easy to implement.

F D Roosevelt identified the basic problem over eight decades ago when he referred to organised money, which “had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that government by organised money is just as dangerous as Government by organised mob.” (F D Roosevelt, announcing the Second New Deal, October, 1936.)

It remains to be seen if state responses to Covid-19 will amount to a 21st century New Deal, which as well as defeating the pandemic, will need also to  remake the real economy as well as escaping destruction by organised money.  And if planet earth is to be made fully sustainable, to do so on a permanent basis.

Fighting for Fairness in 2016

Fighting for fairness and social justice for the population at large may be a minority concern at Westminster, but it has considerable appeal beyond that bubble. The problem is how that legitimate, democratically supported pursuit might be achieved, without any un-British revolutionary disturbances. That is the recurrent problem for Parties seeking social justice for all. Traditionally, they only come to power following prolonged periods of social injustice. And the only Parties currently onside are the Greens and Corbyn-led Labour.

We’ve been here before. The 1929 Wall Street crash followed by Hoover’s austerity driven Great Depression. That ushered in Roosevelt’s presidency and the stimulus driven New Deal, the second wave of which he introduced as follows:
“We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace – business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that government by organised money is just as dangerous as Government by organised mob.” Was that really 1936?

That quotation is borrowed from “What a Waste”, a study of the disastrous social effects of outsourcing of public services to private business interests reviewed in the previous posting on this site. It also includes a quote regarding the disposal of public assets from Joseph Chamberlain in 1885:
“Some of them have been sold; some of them have been given away by people who had no right to dispose of them; some of them have been lost through apathy and ignorance; some have been stolen by fraud; and some have been acquired by violence.”
Continue reading Fighting for Fairness in 2016

Outsourcing: What a Waste!

Occasionally I have read stuff which seems so timely and apposite to work on which I am then engaged, that I’ve been motivated to provide an aide memoire of the text. This posting provides such a review of one 2015 text; it is not a summary and includes some personal interpretation; it is more a personal aide memoire of the opening chapter.

The book starts off with two rivetingly relevant-to-today quotes, one from 1936, the other from 1885.

Reading Review: What a waste: outsourcing and how it goes wrong, Bowman et al, 2015, Manchester University Press

Chapter 1 Outsourcing: organised money and disabled government

“We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace – business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs.  We know now that government by organised money is just as dangerous as Government by organised mob.”  F D Roosevelt, announcing the Second New Deal, October, 1936.

“The common rights of ownership have disappeared. Some of them have been sold; some of them have been given away by people who had no right to dispose of them; some of them have been lost through apathy and ignorance; some have been stolen by fraud; and some have been acquired by violence.  Private ownership has taken the place of these communal rights, and this system has become so interwoven with our habits and usages, it has been sanctioned by law and protected by custom, that it might be very difficult and perhaps impossible to reverse it.  But then, I ask, what ransom will property pay for the security which it enjoys?” Joseph Chamberlain, Birmingham Town Hall speech, January, 1885.

1.1 Introduction: The text addresses new problems created by outsourcing public services to private contractors. It considers the gap between efficiency rhetoric and delivery reality and between public service and the outsourcers’ profit maximising and tax manipulation.

Continue reading Outsourcing: What a Waste!

The Great GDP Deception

The idea of GDP is simple: the summation of what is produced within the UK avoiding any double counting. It is used to assess how well the economy is doing overall. For the government of the day, growth is good because it suggests we will all be better off. Though GDP is a very imprecise measure, it is one that most people broadly accept.

The economy used to be measured by gross national product (GNP). That measured what UK-owned assets produced, irrespective of where they were in the world. But GNP fell out of favour as UK owned assets were sold to foreign investors with the result that the economy, by that measure, appeared to be in decline. Successive Chancellors tried to make out the sale of UK owned assets was good, because it showed UK was ‘open for business’. But it didn’t really wash. So, since the 1980s, GDP has been the standard measure.

GDP is calculated by simply adding the product of various sectors together as if they were all of equal worth. But in truth some sectors benefit the common good and others are predatory on the common good. But if GDP is growing the government of the day takes credit for successful economic management, irrespective of the fact that it is the predatory components that have grown at the expense of the good sectors.
Continue reading The Great GDP Deception

Je Suis un Humain

For a short while on 11th January 2015, an estimated 1.5 million people were brought together in Paris as a homogeneous entity, along with a further estimated 2.5 million elsewhere in France. They represented huge diversity of race, religion, age, ability, interests and political allegiance. What brought them together for that brief moment was their common protest against the violence meted out to individuals who in these post-enlightenment times, had not broken any law, but had merely exercised their right to freedom of speech. Though few of the protesters might agree with the Charlie Hebdo line, the protest was in defence of their right to express it, and the shared horror at the premeditated violence visited on them.

That spontaneous moment of universal protest is now complete.  But the mindless abuse of Muslims was almost immediate.  Those aggressive reactions could well seed equal and opposite responses. So the world might continue its progression in the wrong direction, refusing to learn any lessons from the simple minded ‘war on terrorism’ declared by George W Bush after 9/11 and supported by our very own Tony Blair.  The time for simplistic generalisations is surely over; the struggle must begin for some deeper understanding on which to base action.

Continue reading Je Suis un Humain

A High Velocity Economy

Our children and grand-children are facing a far less fair and equitable society than the one people grew up in 30 or more years ago. The wealthy are far richer and the poor both poorer and more numerous. But yet the three main political parties all seem to accept that state of affairs, despite the overwhelming evidence that it is truly bad news for the well-being of both rich and poor alike. Britain is in danger of becoming a permanently divided society.

One of the main causes is the mainstream economic theory that the current elite were all taught to believe. The theory teaches that money paid to the wealthy will be invested in enterprise and the resulting benefits will trickle down to the poorest sections of society so that everyone gains. Therefore government should reduce taxes on the wealthy. It also teaches that privately own companies are much more efficient than publicly owned. Therefore state owned activity should, where feasible, be outsourced to the private sector for everyone to gain. There’s a whole raft of such arguments justified by the theory.
Continue reading A High Velocity Economy

A New New Deal

All politicians want these days is a story which enough people will believe in, so the politicians can scrape back into government at the next election. The Tory story, as Ha-Joon Chang summarises it, is that they are having to make tough spending cuts to recover from the mess left by the last irresponsibly overspending Labour government. Moreover, the cuts are working: unemployment is down and earnings are up. The Labour story, as told by Ed Balls, appears to accept the Tory austerity prescription as necessary and effective. So it might be better called the Westminster story. Sir Mike Derrington had a nice phrase which adequately sums it all up: ‘Total Bollocks’!

First, the real source of the mess was the financial crash caused by the as yet largely unpunished criminality of the global financial sector, led by the City of London and Wall St.

Second, government employment statistics are deliberately misleading, massaged by zero hours contracts, reluctant self-employment, and time related underemployment. Adjusted as the statistics are, unemployment still stands at 6%, well over double the rate reported on the more honest basis in the post WW2 decades.

Third, the Westminster story avoids altogether the rapidly rising, and clearly unacceptable, level of inequality between rich and poor.
Continue reading A New New Deal

Bad Theory and Management Renewal

Management scholar, Sumantra Ghoshal, accused mainstream business schools and university departments of teaching ‘bad management theories’ that were ‘destroying good management practices’. His arguments were persuasive, both as to how bad the theories were and how effective they had been in destroying good management practice. The bad theory was that management had no other social responsibility than the legal duty to maximise shareholder wealth. The good practices this bad theory destroyed were related to concern for employees, customers, the local community, the environment and (therefore) the long term, all of which were exploited and impoverished, or at the very least neglected, on the altar of short term shareholder interests.

Ghoshal argued that destroying the bad theory would be an essential first step to renewing good management practice. If the bad theory remained intact, the greed enabling culture it supported would remain as the dominant set of beliefs. Under that circumstance, initiatives promoting sustainability, transparency, fairness and integrity, as characteristic of the role of business in society, would be doomed to fail. At the end of the day, no matter how worthy an action would be, if it meant reducing shareholder return, it would not be sustained. And if an action were to harm employees, customers, the community or environment, but would enrich shareholders, it would be justified. For this to be reversed, the bad theory must be totally overturned.
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The Coalition’s Rebalancing Act

The Financial Services Authority’s report on the collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland is published this morning and this afternoon the Prime Minister will explain to parliament the reasons for last week opting out of some of the EU decision processes. The FSA report is an examination of disastrous failing in the financial sector. Cameron’s speech is an explicit defence of that sector’s right to continue such failing.

Successive deregulatory initiatives by both Conservative and New Labour administrations have led to the conflation of traditional banking activities with those exploiting the open access and free market in financial speculation. That is what encouraged Fred Goodwin to bully the traditional RBS into its unintelligent acquisition of ABN Amro. It’s a mistake that, despite Cameron, we don’t need to continue making.
Continue reading The Coalition’s Rebalancing Act

Tax and Grow

Aside from IQ, what do Fred ‘The Shred’ Goodwin, the Duke of Westminster, the Prince of Wales and dear old Bob Diamond have in common? Well, it’s not absolutely certain, but there’s a strong probability that they pay a lower rate of tax than you do. The interesting thing is ‘why?’ There are two reasons.

There is an elaborate theoretical structure which seeks to justify not taxing the rich. It operates at many different levels. There’s the Tea Partyish argument that tax is Bad. This is because government is Bad. Because government can only stop things happening, get in the way and generally inhibit the entrepreneurial dynamism of people like Fred, the Duke, the Prince, and Bob. Government and all its works should be minimised.
Continue reading Tax and Grow