Wednesday, October 31, 2012

More on anti-Branson bias in the British bureaucracy

Envy of success is very British  -- and Mr Branson is very successful

The Transport Department was biased against Sir Richard Branson’s bid to continue running the West Coast mainline, a damning interim report into the fiasco reveals today.

The independent investigation into the scandal highlights ‘significant errors’, ‘weak governance’, and a ‘flawed process’ in which ‘bidders were treated inconsistently’.

The contract to run the West Coast mainline franchise for 13 years was originally awarded to First Group over Virgin.

However, a legal challenge by Sir Richard cited significant flaws in the process forced the Government to abandon the decision and re-run the bidding.

The findings vindicate charges by Virgin and others revealed in the Daily Mail that there was an in-built bias against the Virgin bid which has been characterised as ‘ABB’, or ‘Anyone But Branson’.....

Derogatory emails about Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains were allegedly sent between civil servants.

The messages were between a dozen staff at the Department for Transport, which has been accused of allowing the development of a culture characterised as ‘ABB – Anyone But Branson’.

The Government awarded the new £7billion franchise to FirstGroup, but cancelled it before the planned handover in December after Sir Richard’s Virgin group, which offered £700million less, made a successful legal challenge on the grounds that the Government ‘got its sums wrong’.

An insider revealed: ‘There is electronic e-mail traffic between the officials. In some of them Virgin is referred to in derogatory terms. Some people sent these messages, others received them.’

Virgin executives had long been concerned about the perception of an ‘anti-Virgin’ bias and culture within the department characterised as ‘Anyone But Branson’.

Industry insiders said Whitehall officials – some of whom had worked for more traditional train operators – disliked the firm’s maverick approach.

There was allegedly deep resentment when Virgin renegotiated the terms of the West Coast franchise in 2006 on terms which ‘nailed them to the floor’.

‘Some people in the department felt they were stitched up,’ said one source. ‘It’s a catalogue of calamities.’

Three civil servants have been suspended by the Departmernt as a result of the fiasco.


Half of all burglars are not sent to prison in Britain, even though most have many prior convictions

Burglars with a string of previous convictions are being spared jail, prompting calls for Ministers to toughen up on sentencing.

New figures show the average burglar now has 12 break-ins to their name, the highest number ever recorded. More than 3,000 convicted last year had been found guilty at least 20 times before.

Despite this, half the burglars were given fines or community sentences rather than being sent to prison.

The revelation has led to demands that the Government honours its promise to get tough on law and order, after Prime Minister David Cameron encouraged homeowners to ‘bash a burglar’ and said all  community sentences should have a ‘punitive’ element.

The statistics were uncovered by Sadiq Khan, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, who said: ‘Anyone who has ever had their home  burgled knows the terrible pain and misery this violation of private space causes.

The figures I have obtained confirm that the vast majority of burglars have committed numerous previous crimes, often with inappropriate sentences handed down. This will rightly shock Mail on Sunday readers.

‘Victims of burglary will ask why our criminal justice system is failing them. But for 29 months of David Cameron’s Government, all we’ve seen are stunts, smokescreens and rehashed announcements.

‘We won’t stop burglaries by cutting police officers and reducing the power of judges.’

Burglary has been high on the  political agenda for the past two months since a couple were arrested for fighting back against intruders who broke in to their isolated cottage in Leicestershire.

Andy Ferrie and his wife Tracey spent almost three days in police cells after Mr Ferrie blasted the gang with a shotgun, but the threat of charges was eventually dropped. The case prompted a vow by Conservative Ministers to clarify the law to give householders the right to defend  their property against intruders unless they used ‘grossly disproportionate’ force.

The most senior judge in England and Wales, the Lord Chief Justice,  has said burglary is a crime against the person as well as their property because it destroys victims’ peace of mind. But there was controversy  last month when Judge Peter Bowers, sitting at Teesside Crown Court, told a burglar he would ‘take a chance’ and spare him jail, adding that it took a ‘huge amount of courage’ to break into someone’s house.

Figures released to Parliament by the Ministry of Justice show just how few burglars are jailed, despite many of them being career criminals. Of the burglary cases in 2011 where offenders were sentenced, just over half were sent to prison.

Others were fined, given absolute or conditional discharges, or community or suspended sentences.

In total, 3,437 burglars sentenced last year had more than 20 previous convictions to their names – twice as many as a decade ago.

Although thousands of burglars were spared prison, the total number of houses being broken into has fallen by half in recent decades, mainly as  a result of better home security, dropping to 245,317 in 2011-12.

Nick de Bois, the Conservative MP for Enfield North and a member of the Justice Select Committee, supported Mr Khan’s call for tougher measures. He said: ‘The figures show that soft-touch sentencing for repeat offenders does not work.

‘If a criminal is given a second chance and goes on to burgle people’s homes again, they should face a long jail sentence.

‘Community sentences and short jail terms are not working.’

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: ‘We are tackling the shamefully high reoffending rates by introducing a rehabilitation revolution.

‘Breaking in to someone’s home is a serious crime, and burglars face sentences of up to 14 years, or life sentences for aggravated burglary. There is also a mandatory minimum three-year sentence for offenders convicted of a third domestic burglary.

‘Sentencing in individual cases is a matter for the independent judges.’


War on 'holiday camp' jail perks as British Prisons Minister calls for privileges to be earned through hard work and good behaviour

Outrageous prisoner perks look likely to be axed in a shake-up of cushy jail rules.

A full review – the first for more than a decade – will examine the lax regimes which allow inmates to lounge in their cells all day, watching daytime TV or playing video games.

Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright told the Daily Mail he was worried too many inmates were routinely handed ‘privileges’ they should have to earn through good behaviour and hard work.

He said: ‘I want to ensure that the public have confidence in the prison system.  'It is crucial that they are assured that any privileges earned in prison are gained through hard work and appropriate behaviour.’   ‘I am looking closely at the policy around the incentives scheme for prisoners, which has not been fully reviewed since 1999.

‘There may be clear and important operational reasons for this policy but I want to be clear that these incentives are pitched at the right level and that they have credibility with the public.’

Currently, prisoners enter jail on a ‘standard’ regime, which automatically gives them certain entitlements, including in-cell television.

They are only bumped down to the basic regime if they step out of line. Each prison devises its own scheme for how privileges are handed out.

Inmates can ‘earn’ entitlements to in-cell television, more visits, higher pay when they work, the right to wear their own clothes and access to their own money.  Inmates are offered a string of digital channels, including BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, Channel 4, Channel 5, ITV3, Viva – a music channel – and Film 4. Prisons that are run by private companies, of which there are 11 in England and Wales, may provide Sky TV in prisoners’ cells.  Some 4,000 convicts are understood to enjoy the perk.

One option under consideration would be to start inmates on basic and force them to work for extra perks.

The move marks a break from Mr Wright’s disastrous predecessor Crispin Blunt who was pilloried over his decision to allow taxpayer-funded prisoner parties and comedy workshops inside jails.

There have been complaints that prisons have become too soft and young criminals treat them like a ‘holiday camp’.

Brooke Kinsella, the Government’s knife-crime adviser whose 16-year-old brother Ben was stabbed to death in North London, said it was time jails were turned back into ‘places of punishment’.

Edward Boyd, from the think-tank Policy Exchange, says that perks such as free gym use and televisions in cells should be made available only to those inmates who work. 

He called for all prisoners to be given access to work and for those who refused to have their privileges downgraded or removed.

Mr Boyd said: ‘Prisons are in desperate need of reform. The cornerstone of reform must be hard work.

‘It will make prison not only a better deterrent for criminals but also a far more successful intervention to stop future criminal behaviour.’

Recently a watchdog warned that too many prisoners were idling in their cells watching daytime TV, while prison workshops were left empty.

Chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick said that on a visit to Britain’s largest jail, Wandsworth prison in south west London, workshop facilities ‘stood almost empty and too many staff appeared indifferent about the prisoners in their care’.


Trend to ban Halloween is mixed bag for American educators, parents

The one time of the year when kids are free to dress up as monsters, superheroes and reality TV stars while eating candy until their bellies hurt is on the endangered holiday list in communities around the nation.

Citing cultural issues, safety and even the economy, schools and towns across the country are banning Halloween plans. But the backlash isn't just coming from children. Many of their parents say the war on Halloween has gone too far.

“There will be no costumes, no candy bags and no parties,” said Skokie, Ill., District 69 Superintendent Quintin Shepherd, in a letter to parents. “Many students cannot afford costumes and there is an economic disparity. We also have students that are unable to participate for religious or cultural reasons.”

Parents and students say Halloween is a secular holiday, and one which allows children to express their creativity through costumes and designs. Some parents and students even joined together at a park near the school as a show of protest.

“Why suck the fun out of school?” one student posted online on the school's website. “Halloween isn't a religious or political holiday; it's only about having fun.”  “It’s the best part of the school year,” posted another student. “Everyone dresses up and gives out candy.  How can that be bad?”.

Administrators say school is not the place for Halloween, and at least a few parents in Skokie agree.  “We'll take a personal day with my children away from school expressing ourselves through costume and possible Satan worshipping,” wrote one poster on the District 69 website.

Nationwide, over the past year, about a dozen schools tried to ban costumes, parties and/or parades, but some were clearly spooked by the backlash from the community, and gave up the battle.

In Levittown, Pa., the annual Halloween parade at Ralph Waldo Emerson Elementary School that’s been in place for decades was cancelled, until the vocal outrage of dozens of parents led school officials to reinstate it.

“I’m so sad. I have my Power Ranger costume all ready,” said third-grader Julia Schall.  “Will we still get candy?” said worried fifth-grader Eric DiGon.

In Portland, Ore., principal Brian Anderson told parents he banned Halloween because he worried that students whose culture or religion didn’t allow them to celebrate would feel excluded from the others, especially as more and more immigrants with different cultures arrive in this country.  “We’re pushing our traditions on an ever-changing population,” he told the local newspaper.

Said parent Sue Afryl, “What this ban is teaching is intolerance…. By banning one or all we teach not to be accepting of cultural and religious beliefs other than our own... They have now taught intolerance! A lesson no child should ever be given.”

For those who support the ban, it's not just the cultural concerns, it's also the message being sent to children who have Halloween as an excuse to consume large amounts of candy.  “We already have an obesity problem among American children," said one school nurse who didn’t want her name used.

In addition to cultural, religious and cost concerns, Shepherd also blamed the ban on the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act, apparently claiming the holiday could take valuable time away from preparing for standardized tests.

“While education can be, and is, creative and fun – we must respond to the current national reality of high stakes testing," Shepherd told "Until NCLB is rewritten into legislation that is reflective of individual student progress and achievement, the consequences will continue to become more severe.”

In many cities, towns and school districts, Christmas and other specific religious celebrations around December are being called by the more generic term of “holiday” celebrations. Now with the non-religious holiday of Halloween being banned, critics call it “political correctness gone too far”.

“Schools have taken away other holiday recognitions as well," complained Afryl. "They've banned the pledge of allegiance to our flag and country, and have omitted the word God. Whether you believe in something or not, is it correct to ban it? Is it right to suppress it?”



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICSDISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL  and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine).   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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