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Thursday, 25 December 2014

Thursday, December 25, 2014 Posted by Jake No comments Labels:
Posted by Jake on Thursday, December 25, 2014 with No comments | Labels:

Christmas victory for New Era residents' campaign: rent-hiker Westbrook finally sells London estate to fair-rent charity
The 93 families’ battle against eviction by an $11bn US investor has finally been successful. Months of protesting, marching and petitioning has forced the millionaire executives of Westbrook Partners to sell the estate, abandoning plans to evict families and triple rents. Some tenants of the estate, just north of the City of London, had faced rents tripling from £800 a month for a two-bedroom flat to about £2,400 if Westbrook’s plans had gone through. The new owner was announced as the Dolphin Square Foundation, a charity dedicated to providing affordable homes for low and middle income Londoners. It instantly pledged to keep rents at their current low rates not just this Christmas but next Christmas too. The deal means Westbrook has sold an estate it bought nine months earlier for an estimated £20m to a relatively small housing group that says it is committed to delivering low-cost rented homes to Londoners on low to middle incomes. Jon Gooding, the chief executive at Dolphin, said: “We are serving people who are not on benefits but are earning £25,000 to £60,000, but we are setting rents that are realistic in relation to their net income. We will work to understand in detail the financial circumstances of our tenant group and we will then formulate a rent policy that is demonstrably fair.” Lindsey Garrett, an NHS worker and one of three women who spearheaded the campaign, said: “We beat a multibillion-dollar investment company. Who would have thought three single mothers from Hoxton could have done that?” Outside the Stag pub where choruses of “We are the champions” rang out, Coleen O’Shea put it more bluntly to another of the campaign’s leaders, Lynsay Spiteri. “Well done girl, you did it,” O’Shea said. “You shot them up the arse.” GUARDIAN

Cost of ministers' special advisers hits £8.4m
There are now 103 "spads" employed to give advice over and above the work carried out by civil servants, up from 98 last year. They include a total of 26 working for David Cameron in Downing Street and 20 working for Nick Clegg. The government said it reflected the "nature of coalition" and that their average pay was higher under Labour. Labour said the figures showed that the overall numbers of special advisers had risen inexorably under the coalition. This year’s total salary bill is over a million higher than the £7.2m spent in 2012-13. The Coalition Agreement said the government would "put a limit on the number on special advisers" but the pay bill and numbers have increased over the past few years. BBC NEWS

Forex manipulation: First banker arrested in $5.3 trillion fraud investigation
A London banker is believed to be the first person arrested in relation to the criminal investigation into rigging the $5.3 trillion a day foreign exchange market. The Serious Fraud Office confirmed that a man was arrested in Billericay, Essex, on Friday. No other details about the arrest were given. The SFO opened an investigation into foreign exchange manipulation in July, and last month six banks were fined £2.7bn related to currency rigging. Dozens of bankers have been suspended or fired in relation to forex manipulation, but this is believed to be the first arrest. Chat logs published by the Financial Conduct Authority last month showed how traders at Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Citibank, UBS and JP Morgan, using nicknames such as “the A-team”, collaborated to rip off clients. After the fines, George Osborne wrote to the SFO saying it would be given a blank cheque to investigate wrongdoing. In the other major rigging scandal, Libor manipulation, one criminal conviction and 13 charges have been made. TELEGRAPH

Pre-payment meters: The poorest cannot spread their winter energy bills like most customers
Most households can spread their payments throughout the year. But pre-pay customers must spend twice as much on winter gas bills as in the summer, often plunging them into debt. Citizens Advice said all suppliers should allow pre-pay customers to pay off winter debts in the summer period - when their bills are lower. One supplier - Scottish Power- said it had already introduced a scheme last year. "A debt holiday would be a Christmas bonus for pre-pay customers," said Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice. It might also prevent pre-payment customers being forced to turn off their central heating. Delaying payments for debts will take the pressure off those people struggling to afford heat and light, or cutting back on food and other essentials. An analysis of figures from the regulator, Ofgem, shows that 80% of households having payment meters installed are already in debt. BBC NEWS


Expelled ‘Love Activists’ RBS squatters succeed in offering Christmas lunch to London homeless
A group of squatters, known as the “Love Activists”, have provided an uncooked Christmas lunch to homeless Londoners on the pavement outside a former RBS bank they had been occupying, after they were evicted from the premises on Christmas Eve morning. They have vowed to continue their protests. The group of 20 activists occupied the imposing grade ll listed building on the corner of Charing Cross Road and the Strand that previously housed an RBS bank, in the early hours of Saturday morning, saying they found an open fire escape door. All say they are homeless and occupied the building to raise awareness about the epidemic of homelessness in London especially amongst young people. There were 6,437 people sleeping rough in London last year, an increase of 8% on the figure two years previously. Many of those, like the Love Activist team, are young people. The prime site building is owned by Greencap Ltd, a company registered in Jersey and which, according to the accounts it filed earlier this year, is valued at just £9. Until June 2013 it was leased to RBS. Greencap had obtained an emergency, no-notice injunction to remove them from the premises. GUARDIAN

Science A level practicals face axe despite barrage of criticism
The plans face almost unanimous opposition from organisations such as the Royal Society and the government’s own Council for Science and Technology, said Andrew Miller MP, the chair of the Commons science and technology committee. Ofqual, the exams watchdog, has decided to remove lab experiments from A-level assessments in favour of a practical exam that will count towards a separate qualification. It will be possible for students to receive the highest A* grade in a science exam even if they fail the practical certificate. The first of the revised exams are to be taken in 2017. About a quarter of A-level courses in physics, biology and chemistry are made up of practical work. The plans from Ofqual, which will be extended to GCSEs too, aim to deal with alleged malpractice, where cheating and generous marking from teachers see students scoring much higher in their practicals than in their written exams. Nick Gibb, the minister for school reform, said he would not try to stop Ofqual. “The responsibility for how performance in qualifications is assessed lies with Ofqual. It is important that the Department for Education does not undermine that independence,” he wrote. But Miller argues that Ofqual’s reforms will fail to solve the problem. “I have no doubt that these changes will clean up the grade distributions in science A levels, but the concerns of malpractice among teachers have been side-stepped rather than addressed,” he said. “I am most concerned that students will now be forced to do science practicals that both they and their teachers know will have no value as far as qualifications go. There is no point going on about doing more practicals if the recognised value of those practicals is vastly reduced,” he said. He continued: “I have deep concerns about ministers who fail to listen to the wider community and appear to hide behind the decisions of independent bodies claiming that they have no influence. Ministers are there to provide democratic accountability not just to rubber stamp the decisions of regulatory bodies.” GUARDIAN

LuxLeaks global tax dodge: World unites to decry prosecution of whistleblower behind Luxembourg scandal
More than 70 politicians, academics, union heads and charity leaders around the world have come out in opposition to the decision by Luxembourg to prosecute the 28-year-old accountant accused of sparking the LuxLeaks tax scandal. Antoine Deltour, who spent two years as a junior auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers before quitting in 2010, was this month charged with a string of criminal offences: theft, violating Luxembourg’s professional secrecy laws, violation of trade secrets, and illegally accessing a database. The charges stem from an official complaint brought by PwC. He could face jail and a heavy fine. For months, Luxembourg has refused to hand over further tax ruling information sought by the commission, disputing the legality of such requests. Last week, however, ministers performed a U-turn in the wake of the scandal, agreeing to provide documents sought by state aid investigators so long as similar requests were made of other EU member states. Explaining the volte-face, Luxembourg’s finance minister Pierre Gramegna  described the LuxLeaks affair as a “game changer” that had transformed the way European regulators were scrutinising tax rulings granted to multinationals. Politicians from Germany, France, the UK, the US and Australia were among the signatories to the letter opposing the prosecution of Deltour, which was organised by a handful of media groups including the Guardian. The majority of political signatories were from parties of the left, but there was also support from among Liberal Democrats in the UK and from the centre-right UMP in France, led by Nicolas Sarkozy. In an open letter they argued that the leak had been “manifestly in the public interest, helping to expose the industrial scale on which Luxembourg has sanctioned aggressive tax avoidance schemes, draining huge sums from public coffers beyond its borders”. GUARDIAN

Rail commuters petition government: Irate passengers take action as half Govia’s trains run late
Govia — a joint venture between listed Go-Ahead Group and French state-owned Keolis — has been running the Bedford-to-Brighton line since taking over from FirstGroup in September. But latest figures show that on some weeks, barely half (53.5%) of trains arrived at their destination on time between November 9 and December 6. The Office of Rail Regulation’s target for on-time arrivals is 89.8%. Govia is set to pocket £1.2 billion in annual revenues when it merges the Thameslink line with the Southern franchise next summer to become “Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern”. But commuters on the route — which is one of Britain’s biggest and one of the first to be handed over by the Government since the franchising collapse over the West Coast line fiasco — are petitioning the Department for Transport to “force Thameslink to improve their service”. The petition to ministers reads: “Govia Thameslink won the bid to run our trains by vowing to cut costs; it appears they have done this by reducing staff and foregoing essential maintenance work. Every day trains are delayed because of ‘staff shortages’, ‘broken down trains’ and ‘signal failure’. This company should not be allowed to continue providing such terrible service.” EVENING STANDARD

The cost of understaffing: Prison officers 'sent more than 200 miles to plug staffing gaps'
Nearly 250 prison officers are being bussed across the country to fill gaps at other jails because staff shortages are so acute this Christmas, according to leaked documents. The distances included travelling from Exeter to Swaleside, Kent - 227 miles; from Garth, in Lancashire, to London's Wormwood Scrubs - 218 miles; and from Frankland, County Durham to Woodhill - 228 miles. All of the staff being sent to Woodhill are being taken away from other category A jails. The attachments often involve prison officers being put up at hotels for a fortnight at a time. Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "The prisons are in complete meltdown as a result of government policy, so they have to move people round in order to deal with that emergency. "It's very costly and very disruptive. People are fetching up to a prison who don't know where anything is." One former prisoner, who asked for anonymity, said staff shortages had had a big impact on life behind bars. "There were a lot of vulnerable prisoners, particularly some young prisoners, who were subject to quite severe physical assaults, even sexual assaults... I think there was a general feeling, because of the shortage of officers in particular, that bullying was on the rise, extortion, what's called taxing in prison, where prisoners basically have to pay protection money to those cons who are controlling wings.” The Ministry of Justice insisted "most prisons are appropriately staffed". It said a recent rise in the prison population was being managed "through sensible and proportionate measures". It is attempting to recruit 1,700 new officers to ease the difficulties. BBC NEWS

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