The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 10th April, 1998

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Editorial - A poor do for London.
Lead Story - Teachers fight flood of paperwork.
Feature - Privatised bus chaos.
International - Stepping stones for the Irish peace process.
British News - Labour approves 10 new PFI hospital deals.

Editorial

 A poor do for London.

 ON 7 May Londoners will be asked to vote for or against the government's proposals for an elected mayor and assembly for the capital city. The matter is also of wider concern as the London model could eventually be repeated in other parts of the country.

 The White Paper's proposals are what we have come to expect from the Blair government -- a lot of fancy wrapping with very little on the inside.

 For a start, it is proposed that the Greater London Authority (GLA), covering 32 boroughs and the City of London (nearly seven million people), would have an assembly of just 25 members plus a mayor. Fortunately for us, the existing borough councils will remain as they are.

 Apart from money to run the new administration -around £20 million a year -- the GLA will have no budget of its own over and above the funding already being spent on police, fire, transport and economic development. So, no extra money for London means no real advance for the people of London.

 Furthermore, the mayor would be directly elected rather than elected by the assembly and would have a greater role than the assembly. It means the mayor stands as an individual rather than being the chosen representative of the assembly and it will be the mayor that will make the political running.

 The assembly, as it's presented, sounds like a glorified watchdog committee whose role is to question the work of the mayor's office and to raise suggestions. Even the deputy mayor would be chosen by the mayor and not by the assembly.

 There is some attempt to kid us that the mayor for London would be like the well-known Mayors of New York or Chicago. But this is far from the case. City mayors in the United States go hand in hand with city corporations -- which have both money and power and which are in any case part of a different political structure which includes state as well as national bodies.

 But there is some similarity to the US. Because a directly elected mayor gives the voters a very limited choice, the real decision-making will be done by the main political parties when they select their respective candidates. This could open the door to US-style primary elections and political campaigns that are reduced to something akin to beauty contests or Oscar ceremonies.

 This is not what we want at all for our major cities. We want city-wide bodies, large enough to offer meaningful representation, that are elected and accountable to the voters, with Proper budgets adequately assisted by central government funding.

 In short we need to restore the Greater London Council and the Metropolitan Councils in our other large cities -- authorities with good records but which were done away with by the Thatcher government.

 It is not difficult to see why some Londoners are arguing that we should vote No in the referendum -the offer on the table is after all pretty poor.

 But since the GLC was abolished by the Tories, the people of London have had no city-wide authority at all -- just quangos.

 Since we can't write an essay on our ballot papers, a No vote would simply be interpreted as a vote against a London-wide authority -- a vote to continue the status quo.

 Whatever happens we are going to have a fight on our hands if we are ever to return to a city-wide council on the lines of the old LCC or GLC. At least by voting Yes we shall have some kind of assembly to direct our demands and our campaign towards.

 It is also to be hoped that Ken Livingstone MP would be among the candidates standing for mayor. He has said he favours a proper London council and would be an ally in the campaign for a more accountable authority, with spending powers, that is not a secondary body to some super-mayor.

 We say, vote Yes on 7 May as a first step in a longer campaign. Voting is not enough, we have to speak out and agitate for out demands to be met.

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Lead Story

Teachers fight flood of paperwork.

by Daphne Liddle
 
 EASTER weekend traditionally heralds the annual conferences of the main teachers' unions and in the run-up to these conferences teachers have been venting their grievances throughout the media.

 They have a lot to be angry about. Having survived the Tory years of continual change -- the abolition of their pay negotiating body; the introduction of the national curriculum, constant revisions of it; opting out; league tables and so on -they find their workload is much the same under Labour.

 And of course, in the background to all these changes is the relentless corrosion of funding cuts leaving fewer teachers with fewer resources to cope with all these changes.

 The conference season was kicked off by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers meeting in Bournemouth.

This union is not noted for its militancy but its president, Hazel Saxton, had some strong words for Tony Blair's government: "Those who voted Labour at the last election with such a huge majority -- whether or not they were teachers -- voted for change.

 "They did not vote for Thatcherism in a pink suit, nor for Majorism in full colour rather than shades of grey.

 "They did not vote for more of the same. And yet the government's menu -- or the first course at least -- seems to be precisely that."

 And she also attacked the government for phasing in the teachers' pay award: "If the government pulls the same trick for the fourth year in a row, I confidently predict they will forfeit all the goodwill with which David Blunkett was welcomed into office."

 The government retaliated by accusing Ms Saxton of forgetting the extra funding that has gone into schools and claimed to have begun reducing class sizes and to be keeping to manifesto pledges.

 Even so, local authorities this year have still been forced to cut teaching jobs to make ends meet because Labour is also taking seriously its manifesto pledge to keep spending within the limits set by the Tories. The extra for education has just not been enough to meet the need.

 The constant changes to the profession, along with the cuts that have also meant reductions in admin staff, has left teachers snowed under with paperwork to the extent they say they cannot do their jobs as teachers properly.

 The National Union of Teachers -- the biggest teaching union in England and Wales --did a survey and found the paperwork jobs that cause most annoyance and frustration include:

* Copying out lists,
* Copy typing,
* Collecting money,
* Unnecessary preparation,
* Bulk photocopying,
* Analysing attendance,
* Chasing absences/lateness,
* Completing forms for the Data Protection Register,
* Writing bids for external grants/funding,
* Administering/clerking exams,
* Standard letter writing,
* Auditing Standards Fund spending/GEST,
* Lunchtime meetings,

 The union formulated three demands: The Government must show a greater sense of urgency. Changes must be applied by government and other agencies to reduce bureaucratic workload by September.

 The Employers must agree to issue model guidelines during next term so that bureaucratic workload can be reduced no later than September.

 And school management must immediately reduce the bureaucratic demands on teachers and agree arrangements to remove excessive demands before September.

 The NUT has balloted for industrial action on these demands and won approval from 93 per cent of those who voted, although turn-out was only 28 per cent.

 The second biggest union, the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers has balloted on the same issue. That union also won 93 percent backing but on a turnout of 38 per cent.

 Both unions are now giving out details; of the form the industrial action will take -- mainly boycotting or limiting the amount of bureaucratic paperwork they will tackle.
 

union impact
 

 The two unions represent a total of 400,000 members and united action will certainly have an impact.

The ATL is also expected to join the action though there have been some divisive differences over tactics and approach.

 Our children need teaches who have the time and the energy to pay full attention to their educational needs and it is important that the teachers win this battle.

 They need our full support and they need their own leaders to get together to plan and co-ordinate this action so that it is as effective as possible.
 

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Feature

Privatised bus chaos.
 
by Caroline Colebrook
 
STRATHCLYDE local authority receives notifications of bus timetable changes five times a day on average. Buses not longer arrive at regularly spaced intervals and passengers are left for long waits. Then they all comes at once.

 This is a direct result of bus deregulation, enacted by Margaret Thatcher in 1985 and it affects most large towns throughout Britain, according to a report given last week to the Royal Economic Society's annual conference at Warwick University by economist Alison Hole-Oldale.

 She said that Lady Thatcher's deregulation policies have resulted in cut throat competition on most popular bus routes.

 But instead of leading to a better service -- as Thatcher claimed it would -- the service has got worse and fares have risen.

 The 1985 Act allows anyone to set up a bus service on any route. This had led to a breakdown of timetables and the chaos that now prevails in most town centres.

 This leaves passengers with no idea how long they must wait to have buses from several different companies which then arrive together, each jockeying to be first at the stop to pick them up.

And the bus companies have found they do not have to lower fares to compete. Passengers, especially those with heavy shopping or those who are elderly and find standing and waiting a strain, are glad to get on the first one that comes, in spite of higher fares.

bag the bus

 "Nobody with three bags of shopping is going to wait for the cheapest bus," said Ms Hole-Oldale.

 This result of deregulation was predicted by those who opposed the privatisation and deregulation, who pointed to the first experiment in deregulation in the 1930s which ended in similar timetable chaos.

In 1936 the economist DN Chester wrote that unregulated competition would "make the running of regular timetables impossible".

 Even in Victorian times, London horse bus associations tried to enforce regular schedules on their members to stop them stealing each other's passengers.

 And if townspeople face timetable chaos, the situation is even bleaker for those living in rural areas. The profit-motivated private bus companies have simply abandoned many communities whose custom was just not lucrative enough -- as was predicted.

 So if even bourgeois economists are admitting that deregulation has been a disaster, surely it is time for the Labour government to bring this vital service back under public ownership and control.

 It should not be too difficult to do -- most of these bus services are run on a franchise basis which has to be scrutinised and sanctioned by local authorities. All they have to do is withdraw the franchises whenever they come up for renewal. No expensive compensation should possibly even be claimed, let alone granted.
 

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International

Stepping stones for the Irish peace process.

by Steve Lawton
 
 BUILDING momentum from the grassroots for an end to the conflict in the north of Ireland through multi-party talks is one of many stepping stones to a united Ireland with the ending of British occupation.

 The British and Irish governments took hold of the negotiating reigns more firmly following Senator George Mitchell's April 9 deadline announcement. But since then the Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble has particularly resisted, among other issues, cross-border institutions with executive powers.

 Arriving for talks on Wednesday morning Gerry Adams urged the British Prime Minister Tony Biair not to get bogged down in Unionist intransigence. He said "We will not be faced down by any British government on any of the core issues." In the evening, Gerry Adams added that they will not be "intimidated" by Unionist antics.

 Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin, interviewed in Derry by the BBC's Radio Four Today programme on Wednesday morning pointed out that "next week the country will still remain divided. The republican objective of a united Ireland will still not have been achieved."

 He said that while that will not be on the cards immediately, nonetheless Sinn Fein expects a "political arrangement" that needs to be arrived at to encompass both unionist and nationalist aspirations. He wanted to see evidence or "reciprocal generosity" from unionists. "But", he concluded, "we're not getting those signals."

 And Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness pointed out on Tuesday that Senator George Mitchell's 65-page draft agreement -- since subject to a number of atnendments -- provided a basis for ongoing negotiation.

Sinn Fein intend that, whatever transpires as we go to press, they will air the results of talks at their forthcoming Ard Fheis national conference on 18-19 April. They have already begun their "listening process" through public forums that began at the end of March to gauge grassroots opinion.

 On Wednesday evening as talks intensified between the key governments and parties, efforts continued to narrow Unionist objections to the draft document Sinn Fein made it clear that they will accept nothing less than their full entitlement.

 The tightly controlled and "leak-proof crucial last hours of the talks, however it turns out will demonstrate that a major groundswell for change is now firmly established.

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British News

Labour approves 10 new PFI hospital deals.
 

 THE GOVERNMENT last week gave formal consent to 10 new National Health Service hospital expansion plans to be financed through the Private Finance Initiative.

 This means that private financiers put up the money, do the building, own if run its maintenance, catering and cleaning services and the NHS pays rent to use it.

 The only part remaining under the direct control of the NHS is the clinical services -- and there have already been some exceptions to that.

 The deals last around 20 to 30 years and throughout that time the NHS has to pay rent -- not a mortgage -- and at the end the PFI private company still owns the whole thing and contracts have to be renegotiated.

 But their attraction for the government is that they provide a comparatively quick solution to the problem of desperately needed NHS development for very little initial capital outlay. It is future tax payers who will pick up the heavy rent bills.

 The dangers are that it Ieaves a large proportion of NHS essential services effectively under the control of the private sector and fickle market forces.

 London Health Emergency has calculated that PFI rent bills incurred could bankrupt the NHS within 20 years.

 The 10 deals will have a total capital value of around £950 million and bring the total NHS PFI commitment to nearly £2.3 billion.

 Five of the ten projects are in London: a revamp of facilities at the Royal London Hospital and Barts for £2OO million; expansion for the three hospitals controlled by the University College London Hospitals Trust for £162 million; £39 million capital investment for St George's Tooting and the West Middlesex in Isleworth to be rebuilt for £31 million.

 Kings College in south London will get £64 million for a new out-patients wing and a new women's hospital.

 Outside the capital the Freeman Hospital and Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle will get £59 million. There will be £25 million for a new mental hospital in Reading.

 Dudley will get £62 million fora new project and Walsgrave in Coventry will get a £174 million redevelopment. Manchester will get a £126 million project to "rationalise" children's services.

 All these developments are needed, especially as so many existing hospitals have been closed by the last government.

 But they do follow the Tory pattern of "rationalising" and "centralising" services on huge sites. This make life easier for those providing the treatment and is efficient from NHS managers' point of view.

 But visitors who have to travel further and out-patients, already feeling unwell, who have to endure longer and longer journeys by inadequate public transport to get their treatment have a different view.

 And the PFI scheme effectively takes the back-door privatisation of the NHS well beyond the half-way stage.

 Rodney Bickerstaffe, general secretary of the public sector union Unison accused the government of "leaning towards big business with a vengeance". He said PFI hospitals are "clearly not in the public interest".

 And he said the government was breaking faith with "thousands of health workers who looked to a Blair government for fair treatment".

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