Year 2000 No. 53, March 22, 2000

Budget Has Not Resolved Question of Funding for Social Programmes

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index : Discuss

Budget Has Not Resolved Question of Funding for Social Programmes

GMTV Interview Exposes Gordon Brown’s Promises for NHS Funding

Key Points from Yesterday’s Budget Speech

What Interest Does the Government Have in the National Economy?

Rover Stewards Meet to Discuss Tactics

BMW News In Brief
Union Leaders Fly to Munich
MSF Draws Attention to Damage to Employment

Hospital Chaplains Threaten Strike

Blair to Decide Soon on Eurofighter Missile

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Budget Has Not Resolved Question of Funding for Social Programmes

As usual, hours of broadcasts and pages of newsprint are being devoted to yesterday’s Budget proposals and their analysis.

The main consensus that arises is, that while being prudent, Gordon Brown has made a step in the right direction with funding over a number of years promised for the NHS, of extra nurses, and in education more resources for schools. At the same time, the consensus will agree that this was designed to be a vote-catching Budget.

To agree with this consensus would be to take a very superficial view. The real issue is, which class is being given a prior claim on the resources of society, is the direction of the economy being changed so that the people’s welfare is put at the centre? The budgetary policy of the government, as well as its fiscal policy, is not capable of ensuring that the people’s claims on society are met, nor is the Budget designed to do this. The government is against putting more into the economy. It openly states this. The argument goes that this will lead to "overheating", and since interest rates are out of their hands, these will rise, in turn leading to further devastation of the economy and people’s livelihoods as is occurring at Rover and at Ford. So while the Budget is presented as the sum total of what the government can do as regards the economy, while the anti-social programme of the government continues, with some gestures and much hype in the way of social funding, so does the larger economy go unplanned. As has been said about the Trade and Industry Secretary when it comes to what is happening at Rover, "what is he for?", so can the same question be asked about the Chancellor when it comes to the devastation that is facing the people and the disruption and dislocation that is facing the national economy. If no more is being put into the economy, and it is undergoing increasing crisis and devastation, how can the announced funding for the NHS, education and pensions have any meaning?

The fact is, the direction of the economy translates in a very real way into increasing pressure and crisis in the NHS and other social programmes. The future of the NHS will not be safeguarded by such announcements as were made in the Budget, which are temporary, limited and conditional. What will safeguard the future of the NHS and other programmes for the people’s material and spiritual wellbeing is the implementation of the programme Stop Paying the Rich – Increase Investments in Social Programmes! To fight for such a programme should be the response of all concerned people to yesterday’s Budget presented by Gordon Brown. There can be no let up in the struggle for such a programme, which holds the solution to the continued anti-social offensive.

Article Index


GMTV Interview Exposes Gordon Brown’s Promises for NHS Funding

In yesterday’s GMTV breakfast programme on the morning of Gordon Brown’s Budget speech, the cameras visited Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead, to gauge what views the staff there had of the prospects for further funding for the NHS.

On camera with Ward Sister Maddy Nettleship, the interviewer asked her first of all to imagine if the Chancellor were watching the programme, what idea she would give him of the day-to-day problems in such a hospital. Maddy explained that the day-to-day problems were ones of trying to give as high as possible standard of health care with the ever decreasing resources and ever increasing pressures. She said that the nurses did their best to make sure the patients weren’t suffering, but that they didn’t always give as much as they could do if they had more resources.

Maddy Nettleship went on to explain that most people who come into nursing want to care for people to the highest standard possible. Now nursing is a well recognised profession, and if only these trained nurses were allowed to, they could give very good standards of care. However, this would require a change in the direction of the economy, more money put into public spending, education, health, housing, welfare and all those things help to make the well being of the people better, to improve their health.

The interviewer put it to the Ward Sister that business leaders and MPs in the North East are saying to Gordon Brown, forget about income tax – let us have more spending on services, let us try and end the north south divide. He asked if she went along with that. "I think," said Maddy, "that the main thing is that the right to health care has to be recognised and it is no good in increasing taxes because taxes often go to pay other things. £400 billion has, I think, been spent on the National Debt since 1946. Rather than pay interest to the big banks," she said, "we would like to see money coming into health and education."

In reply to the question as to what in particular caused her and her colleagues grief at the moment, and, more importantly, what causes the patients grief, Maddy Nettleship said, "Lack of resources, the lack of continuity. We are always being asked to change things, and any change that has come over the last few years has been for the worst." She added that the nurses feel that there is no genuine commitment to health care from this government or the one before.

"Gordon Brown would say we spent £42 billion in England alone," said the interviewer, and "4,500 extra nurses" were recruited last year. "I would like to see where the extra nurses are!" Maddy said. Many of them will have gone into NHS Direct, she pointed out, while on the wards there is still difficulty in retaining nurses and getting newly qualified nurses.

"Do you feel let down by Tony Blair and the Labour government?" asked the interviewer. "Well, yes," the Ward Sister said, "but I didn't really have any faith that they would change things in the NHS because I think there has to be a whole change of direction in the economy so that health and education are of prime importance."

As to the speculation that Gordon Brown might inject up to £1 billion into the NHS, and that we are told it will take £600 million just to make things tick over, Maddy Nettleship pointed out that it is not just a matter of increasing the cash but it is where that cash is going. "The cash is increasingly going to Private Finance Initiatives," she said, "which is actually decreasing spending on real health care. If the direction of the economy isn't changed, then the crisis in the health service is going to get increasingly worse. We are constantly under pressure for beds and we are having to move patients into other wards in situations where they shouldn't be moved."

"The continuity of care and the relationship between the nurse and the patient is broken up and that is going to get worse," the Ward Sister concluded.

Maddy Nettleship was asked back to do a second interview three-quarters of an hour later on the same programme, when she again explained in depth what was needed to safeguard the future of the NHS.

Article Index


Key Points from Yesterday’s Budget Speech

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Economy

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Forecast growth of 2.75 per cent and 3.25 per cent for 2000, and 2.5 per cent to 2.75 per cent for 2001;

Debt interest payments will be £4 billion lower;

Current surplus forecast at £17 billion;

Public sector surplus forecast at £12 billion;

Current surplus for 2000-01 at £14 billion, current surplus for 2001-02 at £16 billion;

2.5 per cent real growth in public spending for the next three years.

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Taxation

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Capital gains tax cut to 35 per cent from 40 per cent from April 2000, to 30 per cent after two years, to 20 per cent after three years, and 10 per cent after four years;

Investments in unlisted companies of more than four years will enjoy a 10 per cent rate of CGT;

Inheritance tax threshold increased to £234,000 from £231,000;

Unapproved share schemes can be offered to up to 15 employees at £100,000 each.

Employees' share ownership will benefit from the 10 per cent capital gains tax rate;

Abolition of withholding tax on interest on international bonds from April 2001;

40 per cent capital allowance tax for small and medium business to be made permanent;

Stamp duty to increase to 3 per cent on properties above £250,000 and 4 per cent on properties above £500,000.

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E-commerce

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£100 tax cut for electronic filing of VAT and tax returns;

100 per cent tax relief for small businesses investing in technology.

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Investment

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£1 billion investment for regional venture capitalist funds;

ISA ceiling at £7,000 for one more year.

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New Deal

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Starting April 2001 New Deal extended to long-term adult unemployed.

All long-term unemployed over 50 who want to return to work will be guaranteed a benefit of £60 a week up to £15,000 annual earnings;

Extension of working families tax credit;

Extension of New Deal to 500,000 lone parents of children over the age of five from April 2001;

Child benefit will rise to £15.50 from April 2001, with an extra £4.35 for the poorest families.

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Charities

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Relief extended to gift of shares to charities;

Companies to receive full tax relief for charitable donations;

Set up local and regional children funds to support local voluntary sectors.

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Pensioners

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Old age pensioners earning less than £100 a week and pensioner couples earning less than £150 a week will receive a new pensioners' credit.

Pensioners allowance for over 65s of £6,050;

Income support for pensioners extended to those with savings of £6,000 from £3,000;

Winter fuel allowance for pensioners extended to £150 from £100;

Pension rise will be more than £2 for individuals and £3 for couples;

Minimum guaranteed income for pensioners raised to £82 a week and £127 for married couples.

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Duty

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Petrol to rise 2p per litre;

Car tax discs frozen until March 2001;

Tax discs reduced for large lorries;

Air passenger duty in Europe cut to £5 from £10;

Cigarettes to rise by 25p a packet with funds ring-fenced for NHS;

Duty frozen on spirits; wine to rise by 4p per bottle, beer up 1p per pint;

Increase in education spending of £1 billion from April 2000.

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Public services

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Release of additional resources of £4 billion for public services, with £280 million for transport and £285 million for fighting crime;

£1 billion increase in education spending from April 2000;

Children's tax credit increased to £442 from £416;

There will be £300 million extra new investment paid directly to schools.

Altogether, there will be an extra £1 billion for education.

There will be £3,000 to £9,000 for primary schools with over 200 children and £30,000 to £50,000 for secondary schools with more than 1,000 pupils;

Real term rise in education spending will be 8 per cent from April 2001;

NHS funding will increase by 6.1 per cent above inflation from 2000-04;

Plans to recruit a further 10,000 nurses.

Article Index


What Interest Does the Government Have in the National Economy?

The events with the pull-out of BMW and its selling off of the Rover car plants in Britain to concentrate on its quest to dominate the European market at competition between the car monopolies intensifies, also expose that the British government has no concern for the national economy.

These objective developments are showing that with globalisation, no monopolies, whether they be German, American, Japanese or British, are exempt from the drive to do everything they can to dominate markets, "rationalise", "downsize" and engage in mergers or sell off subsidiaries that are not able to counteract the falling rate of profit.

In this situation, the government is hoist with its own petard, since it is a champion of globalisation and the neo-liberal agenda, while trying to make out that it is for the nation and for progress.

Only the working class can save the situation, by constituting itself the nation and putting the assets of the country under its own control, so that socialist planning can take place on the basis of the social ownership of the means of production. The working class can neither go down the road of believing that the problem is "out there", that is, only to do with the growth and consolidation of the European Union, nor that, "Occupy! Nationalise!" is an adequate slogan when the working class itself does not constitute the nation and the levers of political power are not under its control.

Article Index


Rover Stewards Meet to Discuss Tactics

Five hundred shop stewards met with union officials yesterday at Gaydon in Warwickshire. One outcome of the meeting is that they are planning a mass demonstration in Birmingham on April 1 at Cannon Hill Park, preceded by a march from the city centre. This is in response to the actions that have already taken place at the Longbridge factory. The meeting took place amidst a backdrop of an immediate cut of production by 20% at the Longbridge factory yesterday. Today union leaders are going to meet BMW in an attempt to "persuade" them to change their minds over the "give-away" to venture capitalists, Alchemy, who intend to reduce the workforce by half and eventually break up and sell off the rest of Rover.

One shop steward said at the meeting, "We've got to get public awareness and make the government stand up and not let this happen."

Another steward aimed his discontent at the huge multinational, BMW. "Let's not let the Germans deplete our companies," he said.

A young shop steward developed the argument by pointing out, "If this is what they can do from outside with Rover group, they can do it with any industry. The British public are going to have to get used to that."

The determination of another steward reflected how serious he saw the situation and how it was a cause for concern for everyone. He said, "April 1st, be there!"

There is a growing anger by the stewards against the EU which is also directed at those who create illusions that European Union policy such as Economic and Monetary Union will benefit the nation. They see the activities of the BMW monopoly, which has sabotaged the future of Rover, as aggressive and deliberate. Rover is a concrete manifestation of the collaboration of the EC commission and high finance and European big business which sets out to control the lives of the people of a huge conurbation like Birmingham. The shop stewards not only reflect that anger but also the feeling that workers cannot be left out of major political decisions which affect themselves and the rest of the working class. Workers are feeling that they must assert themselves much more in the political arena. They is a growing realisation that they have been left at the margins of society by the political system which exists in Britain.

West Midlands Correspondent

Article Index


BMW News In Brief

Union Leaders Fly to Munich

Union officials are flying out to Munich today to confront BMW chairman Professor Joachim Milberg and express the workers’ opposition to the break-up of Rover.

MSF Draws Attention to Damage to Employment

MSF, the union for skilled workers and professionals, has drawn attention to the fact that the transfer of Rover to Alchemy Partners means that the jobs of 2,000 highly skilled design engineers at Rover’s research and development centre at Gaydon, Warwickshire, hangs in the balance.

Paul Talbot, MSF Head of Manufacturing, has said, "The loss of Rover is a devastating blow for the West Midlands. It is quite obvious that Alchemy plans to rapidly run down employment in Longbridge. The government does not have the luxury of time to lick its wounds over the pull out of BMW, they must take emergency action to save the local economy. A Task Force with emergency powers is essential immediately."

Article Index


Hospital Chaplains Threaten Strike

Hospital chaplains have overwhelmingly rejected a pay offer accepted by 200,000 other NHS workers. They have voted by five to one to demand more than the 3.25% deal, and some have even said they would contemplate industrial actin.

The Rev Graham Theobald, a senior activist in the ecclesiastical section of the MSF union, said that many of his colleagues in acute hospitals were on call for 120 hours a week, and that the new offer would give them a starting salary of only £15,287 a year. He said that industrial action would be "a massive step" for the 300 chaplains involved and individuals would have to make up their own minds about it, but that it might be considered. He also said that in voting against the offer the ministers were showing solidarity with the other 200,000 NHS workers who were not covered by pay-review bodies.

MSF said that pay levels for those not covered by the system had fallen behind doctors’ and nurses’ by as much as 30% in five years.

Article Index


Blair to Decide Soon on Eurofighter Missile

According to the US Aviation Week, the government is expected to unveil later this week its selection of the Meteor missile by Aerospatiale-Matra, BAe Dynamics, rather than Raytheon's air-to-air missile for the $1.4 billion contract to equip the Air Force's Eurofighter combat aircraft.

US President Bill Clinton wrote a letter to Tony Blair last week to tell him that "the Raytheon option was the best which served the interests of both our nations", according to the aviation magazine. Blair reportedly responded that his decision would be based on what best served Europe's needs rather than make a choice between Europe and the US. The contract is a sensitive political issue.

US Defence Secretary William Cohen recently sent a letter to his British counterpart, Geoff Hoon, praising Raytheon's merits and saying that any trans-Atlantic co-operation would not be feasible. The Aerospatiale-Matra, BAe Dynamic missile joint venture has included Boeing Co in its Meteor team.

Some European governments and industry have called on Blair to break Raytheon's near-monopoly in guided weapons and back the development of an alternative European missile to be funded by Germany and France, among others. There have also been European concerns about possible entanglements involving US export licenses for military technology.

The midrange air-to-air Meteor missile is built by a European consortium led by Matra BAe Dynamics, a joint venture between British Aerospace Systems and Aerospatiale Matra in France. European partners are Alenia Marconi Systems, DASA unit LFK, CASA and Saab Dynamics.

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