Wednesday, 1 July 2015

David Cameron should not be using terrorist atrocity to justify taking liberties

Why is it that David Cameron believes a murderous attack on a Tunisian beach justifies giving more powers to the security services to spy on texts and emails at home? If we give up our liberties so easily does this not mean that the terrorists have won?
 
* Metro - 1/7/2015
 
* Evening Standard - 1/7/2015

Monday, 29 June 2015

Need for a Church of mission not maintenance

Brentwood has become the latest diocese to announce dramatic restructuring proposals due to budget shortfalls.
The present language of deficits and devolution abounds in the announcement from the diocese, including the news of a number of redundancies resulting from the process.

Localism seems to be another in vogue concept with Brentwood diocese, with many of the functions previously undertaken by diocesan commissions now  to be devolved to parish level. The Commissions are to be replaced by three vicariates for education, formation and evangelisation.

It is strange that in an organisation that professes to be so concerned with humanity that it is people that always seem to be the first casualties of these restructuring processes.

The Church has to face it is an institution in decline in Britain and most parts of Europe. The numbers attending mass are down, so income is also reduced. Too many are just walking away finding Church limited to buildings as opposed to people.

The leaders of the Church seem for the most part to be content to be managers of decline, yet there can be another way. The choice is between a Church of maintenance or mission.

The publication of Laudato si offers a real opportunity for the Church to play an active role in combatting climate change. The Church can be an advocate for sustainable living, whilst practicing that approach itself. Why not become beacons of good practice, bringing in sustainable energy systems like solar panels and wind turbines. Parishes could grow food organically, work with others in the local communities on things like recycling and bee conservation projects.

Such moves would see the Church fulfilling its prophetic role of witness and mission. It would also make the Church relevant and vital to all those younger generations who presently walk away at, or not long after, confirmation. They return only when they are seeking to get their own children into a Catholic school.

The seeds of the resurrection of the Church can be seen in some of the present physical and fiscal elements of decline. Take the buildings that are becoming redundant due to falling mass attendances. Why not turn these over to be converted to affordable housing. This would be really contributing to society in a visible way.
It is the way that Church tackles what could be seen as physical decline that also indicates the nature of the Church. All too often it is the accountants holed up in the finance departments of the diocese who make such decisions, believing it is much better to hold onto property until the best price can be attained in the market from a property developer. This is the approach of an asset manager, not the followers of Jesus Christ. Turning property over for affordable housing would be another way in which the Church could be making an act of witness in the world.

A Church truly alive in the spirit of social justice, as outlined by Pope Francis, could make these moves in environment, housing and other social justice areas to become truly relevant and prophetic to our world today. This should be the way forward.

Indeed, we already see this type of thing happening across the country with the central role that churches are playing in the foodbank network. Many foodbanks are based in churches with a disproportionate number of the faithful involved in this work. In some instances church buildings that have become redundant have been redeployed to do this valuable work of charity ministering to the hungry.

 
There can be real change to make the Church relvant and real for the 21st century. Given such changes, no doubt those numbers leaving would return and there could be a new flowering of Church at the centre of our society. The alternative ofocourse is to continue to manage decline, letting the bean counters set the terms and conditions of change, with a few elderly men continuing to oversee what remains a very large portfolio of real estate. I know which path I would like to follow.

*see: indcatholicnews.com - 29/6/2015

Friday, 26 June 2015

Labour Party represents an increasingly uneasy coalition

The news that Jon Cruddas is part of a new group to set up English Labour (Guardian, 25/6/2015) should surprise no one. The Labour Party is an increasingly unstable coalition of interests spanning from right to left. The Blairite backed Progress group blatantly operates as a party within a party, its standard carrier in the leadership election being Liz Kendall. The left agenda is represented by Jeremy Corbyn. Victory for either of these candidates could signal a split, with the trade unions in particular unlikely to put up with a Kendall led Labour Party. A Corbyn victory could see Progress stalking off to create a new party very much in the way that the SDP did in the 1980s.
 
Then there are the two candidates most likely to win the leadership contest, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper. Both to a greater or lesser extent seek to bridge the divide, trying to remain in with the two groups and their support bases. They could be called unity candidates, in a similar way to Ed Miliband last time around – whatever the outcome, success for either candidate seems likely to continue the fudge that has enveloped Labour for the past 20 years, torn between its traditional mission of representing working people and a desire to ape the Tory party by becoming a paler shade of blue.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Democratic denial in Greece promoting austere policies that will cost lives

What we are seeing in Greece is the demolition of democracy in the name of neo-liberalism . The European powers and financial institutions (the IMF) are dictating to a democratically elected government what they will and won’t accept as conditions for debt relief. They will accept austerity measures, like cuts in pensions and public services, that hit the weakest and most vulnerable hardest but not higher taxes on the rich. Sound familiar.
The disciples of neo-liberalism are quite brutal, they have no regard for the sanctity of life. In Greece the measures are likely to shorten many lives, just as the same approach here has hit the disabled who have had benefits cut and removed. These policies are costing lives

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

A lot to be done for the Church to walk the walk on Pope Francis environmental encyclical

The excellent Papal encyclical Laudato si (Praise be to you) on the environment certainly throws down the gauntlet to seriously tackle climate change.

 
The encyclical challenges Catholics in particular to address the challenges presented by climate change. So how will this challenge be met?

The signs thus far are not that great, with the responsibility seemingly being passed to CAFOD – the overseas aid agency. Other structures  such as the Bishops Conference of England and Wales’s own Catholic Environmental Justice Group, that may have played a role, were long ago disbanded . Some involved in that particular venture believed at the time that there was more than a little climate scepticism alive in the corridors of the BCEW.

What work there has been done on addressing climate change has been largely lay led, via initiatives like the Eco congregations Live Simply Parish Awards.  The Columbans Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation team have also played a big role in taking the issue forward, with Ellen Teague a major campaigner and advocate.

The Church though in this country certainly has some way to go  if it is to fulfil its role in helping bring about the “cultural revolution” being demanded by the Pope.

At a personal level the Pope seemed to be demanding a total conversion from the consumerist world in which we presently live. He subliminally seemed to question whether climate salvation can actually be achieved within the present capitalist system. The system would have to certainly change dramatically from its present form.

Pope Francis would seem to be calling for the individual conversion of people across the world to live more sustainably and tread more lightly on the earth. But he also seemed to call for Church to be in the vanguard of such change.

At a local level this must mean churches and schools becoming beacons of environmentally sustainable living. This would not mean, in some cases, the weekly attempt to see how many gas guzzling cars can be packed into the limited car parking space at mass. Indeed, parishioners should be dissuaded from the pulpit from driving and flying so much. Something that needs to be taken on by the clergy themselves and dare I say it even those advocates who promulgate the climate change message. There is a real need to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

It must mean sustainable energy systems. The buildings should be fully insulated, using renewable energy via solar and PV panels. Gardens with crops being grown – where space permits. Interlinking with local environmental initiatives such as those to save bees and recycle. There could be environmental audits to ensure that changes toward sustainable living were being achieved. The parish and schools must become integral parts of the local environmental  ecology architecture.

Some of these principles are encaptured in the live simply parish awards but more needs to be done to promote such schemes.

At national level, the encyclical demands the Church intervenes on matters of environmental significance. This would mean, for example, making representations on the recently announced move by government to stop subsidies to onshore wind turbines from next April. The encyclical is far reaching so would require intervention across the board from biodiversity to the world of work. 

The Church interventions should be given the same weight of resource and effort as is seen on matters such as abortion and euthanasia. In order for this to happen, the Church would have to build up its environmental resources. The Anglican Church has environmental expertise in every diocese, working to address climate change. The Catholic Church has virtually nothing, indeed, it seemed to be struggling with providing individuals to talk in the media on this encyclical. What is clear is that the lack of resource thus far devoted to the environment by the Catholic Church in England and Wales is testimony to the lack of priority given to the subject generally. Pope Francis’s eloquent clarion call in Laudato Si means that this attitude has to change.

 

What the encyclical demands is that the Church comes to the forefront in leading the battle to save the planet. This means speaking out on environmentally destructive actions wherever they are seen. It also means becoming a beacon of environmental good practice across the land. The fledgling roots are there for such developments to take off but they need a lot of watering.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Ecotricity chief Dale Vince attacks government's "double standards" over subsidies

Founder of green energy supplier Ecotricity, Dale Vince, has attacked the “double standards” at the heart of the government’s energy policy, illustrated by its decision to cut subsidies to on-shore wind turbines from next April.

Mr Vince contrasted the way in which subsidies to on shore wind generated energy have been cut whilst the government has gone out of its way to support the fossil fuels and fracking industries.  
Mr Vince compared the cutting of subsidies to wind technology on the basis of saving money and wanting technolgies to stand on their own feet, with the 35 years of new subsidies given to the nuclear industry and billions being provided for oil and gas to support it against falling energy prices.

The Ecotricity founder quoted an IMF report that shows Britain subsidising the fossil fuel industry by £30 billion a year. “That’s £1,000 per household”, compared to the £10 per household subsidy given to onshore wind energy generation.

Mr Vince contrasted the hostile attitude to onshore wind energy to the way in which the government is bending over backwards to help the fracking industry. “Fracking is probably the most unpopular of all energy sources, planning regulations and property law have been changed to make it easier, environmental standards have been dropped – even the requirement to tell someone you intend to frack under their house has been removed,” said Mr Vince, who pointed out that there has been no local veto provided on fracking activities. “It’s been promised the most generous tax regime in the world. These are double standards plain and simple and they show an incredible bias towards fossil fuels and away from renewables.”

* Vince blasts Tories double standards on subsidies - Morning Star, 22/6/2015

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Secured Energy Bond holders were told "it's time to celebrate" but no one is celebrating now with £7.5 million of investors money going missing

It seemed like an early Christmas present when the email came through from Secured Energy Bonds declaring “It’s time to celebrate.”

The email continued: “We're very pleased to announce that Energy Bonds succeeded in raising it's £7.5 million target and is working on many projects, one of which has already been completed, Sluice Farm.”

The initial response to the offer had been so good that Secured Energy Bonds plc were promising “new investment opportunities with energy bonds in the new year.”

That was back in December 2013, today, the 973 people who invested £7.5 million are asking what has happened to their money. Administrators Grant Thornton are doing their best to find out but things are not looking good. 

The energy bonds were advertised in the financial press, offering 6.5% on cash invested over three years.
The investment looked good and secure. The company Secured Energy Bonds plc was a separate UK incorporated body, which would use the £7.5 million raised to buy solar panels to put on 22 schools. The investors would receive their 6.5% return in the main from the feed in tariff payments on energy generated.
All good so far, the investor’s money was safe because even if some problem arose with the company, the assets (ie the panels on the schools) would still be there raising revenue.
All went well for the first months of the bond, interest was paid on the quarter, there was even an early bird payment. There were, though,  some concerns among investors that the company were not paying on the payment date but utilising the clause that allowed them to pay within 15 business days of that date.

The alarm bells though really started ringing last January, when the fourth interest payment was not made. There was no response to emails sent to the St Albans based company, the phone line was dead. A call to Capita, which dealt with the interest payments, confirmed that interest payments had been suspended.

A bit more digging round the internet revealed that the Australian parent company, CBD Energy, had gone into administration in November. But no worries surely the UK incorporated Secured Energy Bonds was separate – the assets must remain untouched – all £7.5 million of them.

I contacted the Financial Conduct Authority which effectively said nothing to do with us mate, try the trustee Independent Portfolio Managers (IPM).

IPM were the “security trustee” charged with overseeing investors interests. Initially, phone and email messages went unanswered before finally IPM confirmed that SEB had been put into administration. Grant Thornton were appointed administrators.

If things were not bad enough, with the funds having effectively been siphoned off to Australia to the parent company CBC Energy, instead of being used on solar panels in the UK, there was more baffling news to come.

In January, CBD Energy came out of administration in Australia, having exercised a Deed of Company Arrangement – this effectively put all the debts into a creditors trust, with some small payments in the form of dividends possibly coming off of it. The company meanwhile continues to trade.


There are  many questions that the investors want answered, such as just how can CBD Energy have conducted what appears to be a financial conjuring trick that has enabled them to go on as though nothing has happened?

 
Then there is the question as to what panels were actually fitted to schools and where?

Grant Thornton continue their investigations, with a creditors committee elected by investors to liaise. MPs have become involved. Representations are being made to the FCA and the Financial Ombudsman. The 973 investors, though still remain in the dark, all wanting to know when they are going to get their money back
?