Fracking is a public health threat and must stop now

The climate and public health risks from fracking are well documented.

It makes NO sense for the government and its agencies to push ahead with fracking – particularly as the government’s NHS quangos are rushing local NHS organisations and Councils to adopt new NHS, social care and pubic health “care models” that allege they will improve public health by tackling the social environmental and economic causes of preventable illnesses.

In fact this claim is almost entirely bogus, as 999 Call for the NHS has pointed out in what Newcastle Uni Professor of Global Health Policy Ted Schrecker has called our “extremely powerful” response to the public consultation on NHS England’s cost-cutting and privatising new Accountable Care Organisation contract.

The quangos have now rebranded it as the Integrated Care Provider Contract, in order to conceal its roots in the USA’s Medicare/Medicaid system that provides a limited range of state-funded healthcare for people who can’t afford private health insurance.

If – as the government’s quangos intend – the contract starts being used next spring, this could make general healthcare as difficult to access as mental healthcare already is – and lock future governments into long contracts with private firms. We are challenging this contract in the Court of Appeal later this autumn.

All campaign groups fighting for social, economic and environmental justice need to unite

The root of the destruction of the NHS as a comprehensive health service for all AND the destruction of our environment, climate and public health by fracking, lies in the the single problem of government corruption.

Our core common demand must be to clean up government and separate the public interest from private profit.

The government’s capture by corporate interests  enables growing economic, environmental and social injustice.

In promoting fracking, the government is working against its own public health and climate change policies and priorities

We know that fracking is environmentally hazardous in all kinds of ways – not least in that it is a source of greenhouse gas emissions. The Climate Change Committee pointed out years ago that shale gas extraction and use would be illegal, since it would make it impossible to meet the UK’s legally binding carbon emissions targets.

We know that it is not necessary as a short term energy security measure.

We know that it carries considerable health risks to the people who work and live near fracking wells.

We know that there is no social licence for fracking.

We know that local councils have refused planning permission for fracking, only to be overruled by central government.

We know that huge amounts of public money are being spent on policing fracking sites at a time when police services have been cut to the bone and are no longer able to properly protect the public from simple everyday crimes like burglaries.

Fracking companies are fracking because the government has been captured by corporate interests

And fracking companies are not the only companies that have captured the government – it now works in the interests of corporations instead of citizens. The ruthless underfunding and privatisation of the NHS is another example of the corporate capture of government.

That means that all single issue campaigns are really fighting a common battle: to wrest back democratic control of government institutions, policies and processes.

Our core common demand has to be to clean up government and separate the public interest from private profit.

This is the common ground between all groups fighting for social, economic and environmental justice. We need to recognise this common ground and make it our common goal to take it back and reclaim it for the public, for ourselves.

How government is in bed with corporations and has kicked the public out onto the floor

The dominant ideology since Thatcher has been that there is no such thing as society and instead the market is the best way to allocate resources effectively and generate wealth.

Because of this, the civil service has been considerably privatised, with global management consultancy and accountancy companies brought into ministries and departments to do civil servants work. Companies such as McKinsey, Ernst and Young, PriceWaterhouseCooper , etc whose primary loyalty is to the corporations that employ them. So their government policy prescriptions will be drawn up to benefit their corporate clients.

One example of this is the UK government report on fracking that recommended the process should continue had British Geological Survey (BGS) on the panel that produced the report. At the time, BGS received funding from companies that frack – including Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon, BG Group and Schlumberger. Neither the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) nor the British Geological Survey noted this conflict of interest.

This wasn’t the first time the Department of Energy and Climate Change blurred the lines between government and industry interests. Quite a few energy industry employees have worked on secondments in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, advising the government on energy policy. This cannot be right. No-one voted for industry to take over government policy making.

Another example of private sector influence over government policy is the NHS Partners Network. This has grown from its origins as a voice for private healthcare companies involved in New Labour’s Independent Sector Treatment Centres, (which were run by private companies and carried out elective operations) to what the Social Investigations blog calls

“one of the best connected and most persuasive privatisation cheerleaders… Its 2007 annual report boasted of using its influence to downplay the significance of a leaked document from the Health Care Commission that raised questions over quality standards within the Independent Sector Treatment Centres.”

The NHS Partners Network is now busily influencing the current massive wave of NHS cuts and privatisations which is being carried out through the so- called Sustainability and Transformation Plans. The end game of these Plans is to dismantle the NHS into a set of local health and social care organisations that the government’s NHS quangos initially  called Accountable Care Organisations, but have now rebranded Integrated Care Providers.  Whatever you call them, they are based on a business plan used in the USA to deliver the Medicare/Medicaid programme of managed care for people who are too poor to get private health insurance.

We now have a market state

A state that works in the interests of corporations, not the people.

Here are some ways in which it operates:

Corporate welfare

In 2015, an audit carried out by a York University lecturer found that at least £85bn/year of public money goes on corporate welfare. This includes generous subsidies and grants, plans to award more generous government contracts to British companies, new measures to ease mortgage lending, and reductions in corporation tax.

An example:

In July 2013 the then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne promised that Britain’s tax regime would be

“the most generous for shale in the world”.

The Treasury pressed ahead with tax breaks for fracking companies, so that shale gas producers will pay just 30 per cent tax on their profits, compared to the 62 per cent that the oil and gas industry has traditionally paid.

The most generous tax regime for shale in the world shows the government’s agenda – to make the UK attractive for global fracking companies to come and “invest” in the UK. It is about short term benefits for global companies above all else.

The market state and corruption

In the absence of effective conflict of interest rules, MPs and Peers with interests in private companies can pass legislation that will directly benefit them financially. Privatising public services turns them into a source of profit for private companies and those associated with them. A particularly outrageous example was the 2012 Health and Social Care Act – which opened the NHS wider to privatisation and had NO democratic mandate since it was not in any political party’s 2010 election manifesto. It was passed into law thanks to over 200 MPs and peers who voted for it and had direct financial interests in private healthcare companies.

The market state is a way for our MPs and legislators in the House of Lords to get their snouts in the corporate trough and pass laws and regulations that benefit their own interests. Standards of integrity in public life, which are supposed to be guaranteed by the Nolan Standards, go down the drain. This is corruption.

The revolving door

This conflation of government and corporate interests is maintained through the revolving door which allows civil servants, board members of quangos and MPs and Peers to join the boards of private companies and vice versa.

One example is the revolving door between government, Cuadrilla and other oil and gas industry companies, and the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE), which  released a favourable report on fracking in June 2012. Lord Browne, Chairman of Cuadrilla at the time, had previously been President of the RAE. He owned 30% of Cuadrilla and was also a non-executive director of the Cabinet Office.

Another is the revolving door that has spun between the NHS regulator (NHS Improvement), McKinsey, primary care property developer Assura – whose website describes the firm as ‘the UK’s leading healthcare Real Estate Investment Trust’, and NHS Property Services (the government-owned firm that holds much of the NHS’ primary care estate (and more) and which is now charging exorbitant market rents to GPs, forcing some to close)

Recently the former McKinsey bean counter Richard Murray took over as Chief Exec of the Kings Fund – one of the key “think tanks” promoting the government’s slash, trash and privatisation plans for the NHS.

That’s quite a revolving door, with many entrances and exits.

Assura, which owns the white elephant Tod Health Centre building, among many other GP surgeries and primary care centres, is one of the big winners from the current “reforms” being pushed through by NHS leaders to shift services out of hospitals into primary care settings – such as expanded GP surgeries. Most of the 44 regional Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships include such plans. And of course the quango NHS Improvement, with NHS England, are ‘working closely’ with – which is to say, forcing – these Partnerships to ‘strengthen general practice’.

A laudable goal – but it depends what they mean by “strengthening general practice”. The evidence is that they mean forcing out small family doctor practices and replacing them by  “superpractices” and large scale GP and out-of-hospital services “hubs”.  Last year, Assura said it ‘looked forward optimistically at NHS plans to build more doctors’ surgeries’. It is also ‘pleased’ by the government’s decision to create a multi-million pound fund to make it happen. Assura is so optimistic it hiked its quarterly dividend 9% in February. That’s the NHS budget flying into the pockets of shareholders.

The outgoing NHS Improvement Chair Ed Smith – now replaced by  ex-McKinsey Tory Baroness Dido Harding– is on Assura’s Board, and he also currently sits on the board of NHS Property Services. This is the government-owned firm that holds much of the NHS’ primary care estate (and more) and which is now charging exorbitant market rents to GPs, forcing some to close. This is because the government’s quangos NHS England and NHS Improvement want to end traditional family GP practices in order to force GPs to become part of Accountable Care Systems. As NHS Property Services says: ‘Ed [Smith] has a unique insight into the priorities and issues facing a large part of NHS Property Services’ customer base.’

Opaque Corporate Lobbying and gagging people’s organisations

The government takes measures to enable corporate control and to disempower the public – most importantly, its refusal to create a transparent lobbying register so that we can see which companies are hiring lobbying companies which are meeting with government in order to influence them.

The Spinwatch website includes information about the vast number of lobbying companies used by fracking companies to influence government policy.

This is enabled by the entirely mis-named Transparency of Lobbying Act 2014, aka the Gagging Act, which severely restricts the activities of charities, trade unions and campaign organisations in the year running up to a general election. It’s crazy: the government argued that corporate lobbyists should not be burdened by lobbying legislation while imposing far stricter legislation on charities and community groups.

Such was the government’s resistance to calls for democratic transparency over lobbying that the the Uk’s head of constitutional policy tweeted what amounted to a death threat to the Unlock Democracy Group after they rubbished the government’s flimsy proposals for a lobbyists register and he then had to resign.

Spinwatch_Fracking_lobbyingfirms_April2015_web
Companies give money to political parties in order to buy influence. Donations large and small.

Here’s a small, local one. In 2015 Addison Projects, part of a £25m engineering company based in Lancashire which has said it wants to play an “active role” in supporting fracking, made the donation to the constituency party of Conservative Blackpool MP Paul Maynard in March. Paul Maynard was advisor to the Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, who had vowed to “deliver” fracking in Britain. Addison Projects also hosted four visits from senior Cabinet ministers, including two by Chancellor George Osborne.

There are much, much bigger ones.

Spin and state violence

When all this is challenged publicly and effectively – as with Frack Free Protection at fracking sites – it is met with spin and state violence. Just one example for now: Documents released as a result of Freedom of Information requests show how North Yorkshire Police has met regularly wiitth fracking firms Third Energy and INEOS,, and shared informatiion about protestors. Codenamed Operation Kingfisher, this police/fracking company collaboration aimed to restrict lawful protest. North Yorkshire Police have used anti-terrorism Prevent training to tell schools and other public organisations that environmental protectors are domestic extremists, like terrorists.

Three fracking protectors have recently been handed  draconian prison sentences –  by a Judge with family investment in the oil and gas industry. This is a clear violation of conflict of interest rules. He should have recused himself from the case.

These practices are behind all the government actions that increase economic, environmental and social injustice

These practices are why fracking is happening – and why the NHS is being cut to shreds, increasingly privatised and on the verge of being turned into a copy of the US Medicare/Medicaid system that provides limited haelthcare for those who are too poor to pay for private health insurance.

They give the lie to claims that the government is serious about reducing the risk of climate breakdown and the social, environment and economic determinants of ill health.

It is why our schools are being turned into profiteering Academies where money talks much louder than students’ and teachers’ needs.

It is why probation services have been part privatised and no longer provide an adequate service to help offenders go straight and find a place in society.

It is why people with disabilities are having their support payments taken away from them and then dying and committing suicide.

It is why there is no Council housing and social housing is increasingly being demolished and its residents socially cleansed to make way for profit driven developments.

What are we going to do to stop and reverse the market state?

Everyone campaigning for democracy and social, economic and environmental justice urgently needs to come up with effective answers to this question.

We urgently need an effective, statutory register of lobbyists.

And that is only a part of what we need.

We need an end to privatisation of public services, since this is a major source of corruption and the diversion of public funds to private companies that extract profits at the expense of the quality and safety of our services.

We need an end to corporate subsidies of fossil fuel companies and there’s a petition here to sign about that.

We need to insist on proper standards of integrity in public life, so that our lawmakers in Parliament cannot discuss or vote on matters that they have a financial interest in.

We need an end to the revolving door between public office and corporations.

This is only the start of the list. Please add to it.

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