Socialist Worker

Retreat on elderly care

Issue No. 1814

THE GOVERNMENT has scrapped its plans to force owners of private care homes to improve conditions for elderly residents. Instead health secretary Alan Milburn is allowing private homes to stay as they are, no matter what the conditions. Elderly people in private homes often face miserable conditions and neglect.

Private care home owners claimed the regulations - which would have forced them to upgrade their facilities and increase minimum room sizes - were forcing them out of business.

Now the government has bowed to the argument that the rapid rate of home closures in the last two years was due to the proposed regulations. But the closures are a direct result of the logic of privatisation. The rush for profits means that small nursing home owners are forced out of business or gobbled up by the big firms which dominate the nursing home business.

A spokesperson for Help the Aged said the real issue behind the home closures was 'more to do with inadequate government funding for residential care'.

Networked for profits

NETWORK Rail is the not for profit company due to take Britain's railways over from Railtrack this autumn. The company is already demanding more money than Railtrack was getting to keep the railways working.

Network Rail has asked for £13.6 billion to run the core rail network, £3.6 billion more than had been allocated for Railtrack. The company is already backed by £21 billion of government loans.

No bust for PPP firms

WHILE stockmarkets yo-yo around the world, the gravy train is picking up speed in one sector of the economy. The biggest private companies involved in the government's Public-Private Partnerships have seen their share prices rise by 5 percent in the last month. Gordon Brown's spending review promised £61 billion more for health and education, much of which will go straight into the pockets of these companies.

Balfour Beatty, a major contractor in the sell-off of London Underground, has seen its share price climb by 7 percent since it revealed its record £4.3 billion order book last Wednesday.

New Labour connections

A DIRECTOR of the firm which got the lion's share of lucrative consultancy work for local councils pushing council housing privatisation has bunged New Labour £10,000.

Jeff Zitron is a director of the HACAS Chapman Hendy firm. It gets the biggest chunk of consultancy contracts for councils following government policy to push council housing privatisation. The firm makes millions from the deals.

According to the Inside Housing magazine, Zitron has made a donation of £10,000 to New Labour. He denies any connection between these facts.

Firm behind vaccine scandal

THE pharmaceutical firm PowderJect is at the centre of a new controversy. PowderJect sparked a row last spring when it was awarded a £32 million government contract to produce a smallpox vaccine - after its boss donated £100,000 to the Labour Party.

Now the Irish government claims that the TB vaccine produced by the company is substandard. It is contacting some 30,000 children who have been given the vaccine over the last two years.

PowderJect also supplies TB vaccines to schools and health authorities across Britain. Sample tests at PowderJect's Liverpool factory have found to be below the strength necessary to meet licensing standards.

This has happened at a time when TB, once nearly eradicated in Britain, is on the rise again. The research group Datamonitor says there is evidence that Britain may now be heading for a TB epidemic.

But Blair's government is refusing re-vaccination for the children who received PowerJect's vaccine. PowderJect plans to make its smallpox vaccine at the same Liverpool factory. This plant was severely criticised in 1999 by the US food and drug regulator. The regulator was 'horrified' by the state of the laboratories, then under a different ownership.

A former employee said, 'It's the same vaccine, the same factory, the same scientists, and [most of] the same managers - just a different owner.'

Outrage as lesbian and gay festival cancelled

MANCHESTER police have forced the cancellation of one of the largest lesbian and gay events in Europe. The Manchester Mardi Gras was due to take place this weekend. But organisers were forced to abandon it because police plans would have pushed over 100,000 people into a small area, threatening a 'disaster of Hillsborough proportions'.

The police and council banned drinking alcohol in the street two years ago. Despite three weeks of negotiations police refused to allow an 'alcohol tolerance zone' big enough for the Mardi Gras to take place. John Hamilton of the Mardi Gras organising committee says, 'There has never been any trouble associated with this event.

'All we can say is that a homophobic decision has been made.' People vented their fury at the police at an emergency public meeting on Monday night. They heard police had planned to erect gates at either end of Canal Street, where most gay venues are, to force revellers into a mini-ghetto. One person shouted, 'Why don't they just put pink triangles on us as well?'

Canal Street and the Mardi Gras are popular with large numbers of straight people, as well as lesbians and gay men. Planned events in indoor venues were to take place this weekend. Lesbian and gay activists also called for a mass turnout on a protest demonstration on Saturday.

And there is anger at Manchester council for refusing to intervene to save the event, even though it draws millions of pounds to the city.

All aboard train to Florence

SUPPORT FOR the European Social Forum (ESF) in Florence this November is now so great that a special train is being organised. The train will enable hundreds of people to get to Florence. The English mobilising group has to raise a £20,000 deposit in just four weeks. It is appealing for trade union branch sponsorship, workplace collections and donations.

For more info visit

The train will leave London on the afternoon of Tuesday 5 November and return on the afternoon of Monday 11 November.

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Sat 24 Aug 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1814
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