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Bankers the priority for New Labour

When it comes to bailing out bankers, the New Labour government’s coffers are deep, as shown by the vast amounts of taxpayers’ money used in the futile bid to save Northern Rock. Contrast this with the treatment meted out to people claiming disability benefits and spending cuts imposed on climate change agencies as well as the body that reviews miscarriages of justice, and you get the picture about where priorities lie.

The government has loaned the failed Northern Rock anywhere between £22 and £40 billion and is not quite sure when - or even if - the state will gets its money back. There’s billions in interest due on top of the capital sum and city commentators are agreed that that this is unlikely ever to be repaid by whoever ends up buying the first British victim of the global financial crisis. Today it is revealed that potential buyers have valued the stricken mortgage bank at well below the closing price of its shares on Friday. They were selling at 132.6p each, giving the bank a valuation of £560 million. So much for the government’s soothing words about Northern Rock’s assets totalling over £100 billion.

Meanwhile, spending cuts are coming in thick and fast as the government slashes vital services in a bid to balance its books. According to leaked reports, there are plans to cut £300 million off the budgets of agencies funded through the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Nature England is being asked to cut 30% from its budget for new conservation work. In addition, it is being asked to repay the £12 million spent on setting it up! Another agency facing cuts is the Waste and Resources Action Programme, along with other organisations dealing with canals, national parks, forestry, fisheries, sustainable development and environmental protection. These cuts expose the sham nature of the government’s claim to be tackling climate change just as leading scientists warn of an impending catastrophe as a result of global warming.

Also facing swingeing cuts is the Criminal Case Review Commission (CCRC). Staff are not being replaced and chairman Professor Graham Zellick said that the CCRC had made “great strides” in dealing with a backlog of cases. “Now that’s all going to be reversed, I suspect.” Solicitor Campbell Malone, who helped clear the name of a man wrongly jailed for murder, was more blunt. “The philosophy of this government seems to be that miscarriages of justice don’t matter any more. The climate is changing and the thinking seems to be that, if you go on interviewing people long enough, they will eventually confess.”

Soon to join the wrongly convicted as victims are the disabled. Work and pensions secretary Peter Hain has announced that fewer sick and disabled people will qualify for disability benefits for being unable to work, after a new test is introduced from next year. Hain says the changes will end what he calls "sick-note Britain", which is fine coming from someone who is paid £136,677 a year and who is entitled to endless holidays and various allowances. At the moment more than 60% of the people who apply for incapacity benefits are successful, but only 50% of people who take the new test are likely to pass it. The moral of the story is that if you’re a banker, New Labour will see you alright. But if you doing vital public service work or have a disability, forget it.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor
19 November 2007

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