Lifestyle Standpoints


“HSE paid for advertisements in national newspapers and they did the same when they launched the last version of their asbestos campaign a couple of years ago,” Waterman says. “They know that to reach out to construction workers and their supervisors and managers, and thousands of small firms, they can’t just rely on posting something on their website because most of those people, amazingly, don’t just spend their time browsing the HSE website in the evening.” Further problems loom amid an ongoing crisis Since 2012, if inspectors find issues at sites, firms have to pay for the call-outs under a process known as ‘fee for intervention’. The move was designed to shift some of the costs of enforcement from the taxpayer to businesses found to have breached the rules. A 2018 review of the HSE commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions warned that, by its nature, the ‘fee-for-intervention’ approach introduces uncertainty into the organisation’s budget, because income fluctuates in line with the amount of health and safety breaches found. This has been proven to be the case since the outbreak of the crisis, when routine inspections were halted and business activity in many sectors fell away. Data obtained by CN shows that, between April and July 2020, the HSE charged firms £2.7m in fees for intervention costs, with £909,638 of the total relating to construction. This was almost half the £5.2m seen in the same period the year before, of which £1.4m came from construction. Another element of income is generated from commercial activity, detailed in the 2018 report as including selling services to firms and other public sector bodies such as the Office for Nuclear Regulation. In March 2020, when HSE set its budget for the year ahead, it expected to generate £96m from all cost-recoverable and commercial income in 2020/21. By December it had revised this to £76.4m, though this figure remained an estimate. In its 2019/20 annual report, released in the summer, it warned that the effect of the coronavirus crisis on its operations would be “material”. It said: “We therefore expect a significant reduction in our income and although we are developing a revised plan and there will be offsetting cost reductions, we will inevitably require additional funding from government. As we have the continuing commitment of DWP to provide this funding, these accounts are prepared on a going-concern basis.” Its extra COVID-secure funding was ringfenced for COVID-related activity only, meaning it cannot be used to fill any other budget gaps. The HSE spokesperson says: “Since late March 2020, and throughout the outbreak, we’ve played a critical role in the national response, helping to reduce the level of transmission as well as support the country’s economic recovery following lockdown. The impact of reduced income has been mitigated through tight control of expenditure and reduced running costs.” A DWP spokesman says: “HSE is playing a crucial role in the response to COVID-19 and we will work closely to ensure it has the resources it needs.” He cites the £14m emergency funding it received this year and adds that it “will continue to review” the body’s funding needs. He accepts the organisation has suffered big cuts but criticises its lack of engagement with the media, arguing its leaders should have insisted to other parts of government that raising awareness about COVID-safety in the workplace was a vital part of its job. “HSE should be saying [to government departments] – if you want construction sites to carry on working, you’ve got to help us reach out to the construction sites and all the people that work on them to give them advice about how to stay safe. But maybe 10 years of being battered by an anti-HSE, anti-health and safety government [has made HSE leaders] incredibly compliant.” He adds that having senior members of the organisation charged by government with planning the introduction of the new building-safety regulator also cannot have helped its activities during the public health crisis. HSE declined repeated requests by CN to interview a senior member of the organisation for this feature. In written statements provided in response to the criticisms raised in this article, a spokeswoman asserts that the HSE believes its “wide-ranging approach” to enforcement is working. She adds that the organisation has had 134,470 workplace involvements since the beginning of the pandemic, visiting 33,088 businesses during that time.

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But that endeavor can wait for now, the City Council agreed Thursday. The Council voted unanimously to postpone spending the $1.48 million needed to begin the lighting project and to finalize permits with Florida Department of Transportation. Officials said the city should hold off on such a large expenditure until final engineering costs are determined for their real priority — Imagine Clearwater, the roughly $64 million renovation of the downtown waterfront into a vibrant park. “We have a lot of little things to discuss, and it all revolves around money, and right now that’s a concern of mine,” Council Member David Allbritton said of the park project. “I’m okay with putting (the bridge lighting) aside for now. I’m not letting it go, but I want to make sure we have enough to do the park right.” City consultants are expected to deliver final engineering plans for the park at the end of March, according to assistant city manager Michael Delk. And after permitting is secured, contractors could break ground in April or May, he said. Once construction begins on the makeover of the 22-acres of city-owned waterfront, which will include a garden, concert venue with covered seating, a green, a civic gateway and other features, officials hope private sponsorships will help support bells and whistles, like the bridge project. “I would be really surprised if we didn’t start seeing some people that would like to start associating their name with some things in the park,” Allbritton said. The Council on Thursday also agreed to postpone until March 15 a discussion about restoring any amenities that had been cut from the park to save roughly $7 million from the budget. By then, city staff will have a better idea of costs for about 13 major infrastructure and how they will affect the overall budget. Those include things like the seating for the outdoor covered amphitheater, security cameras, storm water pipe materials, hurricane doors and windows, and other items. Last fall, the city agreed to nix the $6 million renovation of the Clearwater Main Library and cut about $9 million of amenities from the park in order to get the project within budget. The city has identified $49.7 million to pay for construction, mostly coming from Penny for Pinellas one-cent sales tax revenue, city tax revenue and up to $30 million of bond proceeds. The city is also planning to raise money by selling sponsorships and naming rights and through proceeds from the sale or lease of three city-owned parcels surrounding the park that are being marketed to developers for mixed use projects . The city has also discussed the public forming a non-profit that would act as a conservancy to raise money for operations.