Hinterland - 22 October 2018

In Hinterland this week - poor public sector procurement practice, the “skill” of procurement is given far too much “professional” emphasis in local government in my view; the consequences of people setting up ambulance services for profit; rising waste costs linked to China (perhaps not unreasonably in this case) putting its foot down;  a depressing and hopefully duo of property stories and then there’s this small white whale – Read on.....

*         *          *

Civil servants acted to stop watchdog's checks on Carillion projects

The more that seeps out about the collapse of Carillion – this story is one example – the more the case for a local approach to accountable public sector procurement is strengthened. Social Value is as important as “value for money” in the way public sector contracts are assessed – and so say all of us! This story tells us:

Civil servants working for Jeremy Hunt successfully lobbied the Cabinet Office to stop failing Carillion hospital projects from being overseen by an independent watchdog, an official report has disclosed.

A National Audit Office report said the Department of Health intervened in 2015, which meant the Cabinet Office took responsibility for oversight of Carillion’s health construction projects including the Midland Metropolitan hospital. Hunt was health secretary at the time.

Until that point, the construction schemes had been overseen by the Major Projects Authority (MPA), which specialised in monitoring the stability of contentious and expensive projects.

Taxpayers are on course to pay out more than £150m following the collapse of Carillion in January, according to recent reports.

About £100m of this will go towards completing the Midland Metropolitan hospital in Sandwell and the Royal Liverpool University hospital, whose oversight was taken away from the MPA.


Ten NHS trusts ‘wasted £235m to hire private ambulances’

You know things are badly broken when there is a profit motive for people to set up businesses with fully equipped ambulances and crews. It too long ago to undertake a simple analysis but this story is astounding. Some of the trusts concerned operate across wide rural geographies. This story tells us:

England’s NHS trusts have spent almost a quarter of a billion pounds on private ambulance services in the last three years as emergency 999 calls and sickness rates among health service paramedics rise.

According to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, South Central Ambulance Service spent almost £69m on private providers; South East Coast Ambulance Service spent more than £35m; and North West Ambulance Service spent almost £30m. In total, the 10 trusts spent £235m on private ambulances over the period.

The GMB union estimates the same trusts spent about £146m on private ambulances between 2011 and 2013. “The fact ambulance trusts spent almost a quarter of a billion pounds on private ambulance services in just three years is a disgrace,” said Rachel Harrison, GMB national officer.

 “This is cash used not just to transport patients, but to cover accidents and emergencies as well. This is money that could and should have been spent on recruitment and retention of staff and the purchase and operation of new vehicles to replace the ageing fleet in many trusts.


Recycling costs surge for UK councils after Chinese ban on ‘foreign garbage’ imports

I wonder how many of us know local authorities were going down the route of exporting/dumping our waste in China and for that matter other countries? This story tells us:

Councils are calling on companies to fund recycling costs and invest in efforts to cut packaging after many were struck by China’s decision to stop importing “foreign garbage”.

At least a fifth of local councils reported they had seen a direct impact of this ban, which restricted imports of plastics and mixed paper.

A poll by the Local Government Association (LGA) found that some of the most affected councils reported recycling costs increasing by £500,000 over the last year.

This was partly due to increased costs for processing materials for recycling.

Council leaders are calling for manufacturers to contribute more towards local authority costs for processing recycling and to reduce the amount of material such as black plastic trays, which are hard to recycle, ending up in the bin.

As well as China’s moves to ban certain materials for import, Malaysia has imposed a three month ban on importing scrap plastics and Vietnam is looking into banning them.

This has prompted concerns that recycling issues and the cost to council taxpayers could increase.

Martin Tett, LGA environment spokesman, said: “It’s clear that the ban by China on imported waste, which could soon be implemented from other countries, could have a marked impact on councils’ ability to recycle.


Profit warnings rise as the high street suffers

I’m surrounded by small towns. One I love very much has a retail core on its knees, others feel hollowed out. This story is further witness to the depressing phenomenon of the death of our local high streets. With local authorities increasingly dependent on business rates this is all very depressing. This story tells us:

A flurry of profit warnings from embattled retailers has made it the worst period for the high street since the financial crisis.

The industry was the hardest hit during a wave of earnings downgrades over the past year which indicates that the improving outlook for growth and wages is not being felt in all corners of the economy.

Retailers issued eight profit warnings in the past three months, according to EY, the joint highest third-quarter figure since the credit crunch.

It comes after a tough year for the high street which has seen companies including Maplin and Toys R Us collapse. House of Fraser was taken over by Sports Direct while Debenhams is selling its Danish operations to raise funds.


Landowners to be forced to sacrifice profits for more affordable houses, under plans expected to be unveiled in budget

If this story turns out to be true it could be very good news indeed. Oliver Letwin has not been the best friend of those in challenged housing circumstances previously. Perhaps with this he is proposing to turn over a new leaf….??! This story tells us:

Councils would be able to strip landowners of large portions of profits from the sale of their land, under proposals expected to be unveiled in the Budget, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.

An official review commissioned by Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, is to endorse controversial calls for the state to “capture” more of the increase in value of sites when they are granted planning permission.

Sir Oliver Letwin, the former minister carrying out the review, is expected to recommend that local authorities should be able to seize greater amounts of landowners’ profits in order to fund the construction of local infrastructure such as roads and affordable homes.


And Finally….

Thames whale: Fireworks display postponed to protect Benny the beluga

A fabulous story giving us all the proof we need that Britons remain a nation of animal lovers. This tory tells us:

A fireworks display has been postponed to protect a rare beluga whale who took up residence in the Thames last month.

Dubbed “Benny”, the whale was first spotted in the river in Gravesend, Kent on 25 September and has been seen numerous times by members of the public. 

Council officials said yesterday that they had been advised to push back the fireworks event which was planned to take place on 5 November and expected to attract a crowd of 15,000 people, as it would disturb Benny.


About the author:
Hinterland is written for the Rural Services Network by Ivan Annibal, of rural economic practitioners Rose Regeneration.


Sign up to our newsletter to receive all the latest news and updates.