Sunday, December 31, 2006

OT- Saddam Execution

Big Picture still crystal clear

Effective and proportionate. Nobody is saying you should be hanged for sheep stealing, but the evidence is now overwhelming that the death penalty does deter homicide.

That's why I back the return of capital punishment in Britain (see this blog). Although I understand the moral objections of others, I still haven't heard the compelling argument as to why an act of commission- executing killers- is morally inferior to an act of omission- not killing them and simply accepting a tripling in the number of homicide victims (cf the debate over compulsory vaccination).

Saddam's hanging? Well, personally I wouldn't have taken that voyeuristic and potentially counterproductive video. But you can't argue with the proportionality.

As to deterrence, I guess you might argue that it would take more than possible execution to deter ruthless military dictators. But given what we now know about homicide deterrence in general, the burden of proof is clearly on those who follow that line.

Predictably, none of this has been aired on the BBC's 48-hour anti-capital punishment fest. Even though they couldn't find a single Iraqi in the street to speak against it.

Recent Bonfires 46 - Special Festive Edition

A whole lotta nibblin' going on

In the news this festive season:

Another £150,000 on council nibbles- "Lisa Jarvis used the Freedom of Information Act to find out exactly how much money was being spent on catering at Bexley council. The records revealed that more than £150,000 of council taxpayers' money had been spent on providing food at all council-related meetings from 2005 to 2006. Taxpayers reacted with shock and disgust at the news and suggested ways their money could be better spent." (Bexley Times 27.12.06)

£20m on duff speed cameras- "A massive flaw in a new generation of speed cameras means motorists can avoid fines and points on their licence simply by changing lanes... The cameras were designed to catch motorists who simply slow down in front of a camera, and then drive above the speed limit until they reach the next one. But, under Home Office rules governing the camera equipment, prosecutions are only valid if a driver is filmed in the same lane at the start and finish of each section by a linked pair of cameras... That means a three-lane motorway would require three separate sets of cameras - one for each lane. If drivers leave the speed-camera zone via a different lane to the one they entered in, they cannot normally be prosecuted... Sets of the cameras have been installed at 27 sites around the UK at a cost of between £180,000 and £1.5 million per site." (This is London 15.10.06- missed first time round; htp David Blackie)

Cost of new Scottish laws overshoots by £500m- "THE true cost of laws passed by the Scottish Parliament since devolution is more than £500m higher than ministers have admitted and is growing by almost £200m a year. Recently-released figures show the 100 acts introduced at Holyrood since 1999 have cost the nation around £570m more than the official estimate.... The figures show that in 2005-6 alone, the true cost of Scottish Parliament laws was almost £982m, around £177m more than ministers had estimated." (Scotland on Sunday 24.12.06)

Total for season- £521,150,000

It's That Bloke Again

My impersonator has been spotted again, this time in Slough.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Honouring Failure

All in the best possible taste

A few lowlights from the New Year's Honours:

John Scarlatt- Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (Kindly Call Me God), for services to Dodgy Dossiers

Kenneth Donald John Macdonald- Knight Bachelor, for presiding over the disastrous "someone get that bleedin' phone" Crown Prosecution Service

Ian Charles Franklin Andrews (Second Permanent Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence)- Knight Bachelor, for choosing the decor in new £750m MOD HQ while scrimping on bullets and body armour for British troops in action

John Codling (finance director general, Department for Work and Pensions)- Companion of the Order of the Bath, for losing at least £3bn pa to fraud, and producing financial accounts so shambolic that thay've had to be qualified for the last 16 years

Anthony Joseph Henry Orhnial (director, Personal Tax and Welfare Reform, HM Treasury)- Companion of the Order of the Bath, for failing to reform the most complex and dysfunctional personal tax and welfare system in world history

Andrew Charles Bruce Ramsay (director-general, Culture, Creativity and Economy Group, Department for Culture, Media and Sport)- Companion of the Order of the Bath, for conspiracy to waste squillions on economic culture wibble

Maurice John Smith (formerly chief inspector of Schools, Office for Standards in Education, Department for Education and Skills)- Companion of the Order of the Bath, for contributions to the destruction of school standards

Peter Thomas Wanless (director, School Performance and Reform, Department for Education and Skills)- Companion of the Order of the Bath, for contributions to the destruction etc etc

Andrew Michael Bridges (chief inspector of probation), CBE, for services to dangerous criminals

No, it's no good. I can't do any more because there's blood coming out of my ears and I can feel one of my turns coming on.

What I'd really like to know is what this whole stinky bankrupt charade actually costs us. All over Whitehall and beyond there are committees, support staff, and a lot of free lunches. Not to mention the cost of the gongs themselves. Apparently the lesser ranks of MBE cooks and cleaners will have to pay £15 a throw for their patronising new lapel badges. Do you reckon Sirs John, Kenneth, and Ian will be paying for their blingy new baubles?


Friday, December 29, 2006

2006 Non-Jobs Report

Deputy Assistant Directors of the Community Nomenclature Empowerment Initiative

Once again, the TaxPayers' Alliance's Peter Cuthbertson has gritted his teeth and girded up his wossnames to perform his annual service to the nation. Delving into the reeking depths of the Grauniad's notorious Society public sector supplement, he has dredged up 2006's most outrageous non-jobs.

You should grit your own teeth and read his report, but here's a taster:

  • Assistant Director, Well-Being and Community Services Employer (you mean there's a Director as well?): Hampshire County Council; Salary: Up to £85,000
  • Cardboard Citizens Managing Director: Arts Council; Salary: £45,000
  • Floating Support Services Deputy Manager
  • Programme Manager for National Supporting People Value Improvement Programme
  • Equality and Diversity Service Equalities Project Officer
  • Head of Achievement and Inclusion
  • Play Development Officer
  • Welfare Rights Outreach Adviser
  • Deputy Assistant Director Community Nomenclature Empowerment Initiative

And the thing is, none of this has been made up. We taxpayers really are shelling out real money to pay for it (well OK, the last one I made up... but how would you tell?)

And these jobs are incredibly well paid- Peter calculates that "the average starting salary for a full time position advertised in Guardian Society is £11,405 more per annum than the mean private sector wage in 2006 (£36,894 and £25,489 respectively)." What's more, they also qualify for those gold-plated public sector pensions, 37 hour working weeks and masses of perks (see report).

The only slight relief Peter can find is that the total salary bill for this year's advertised posts is a shade less than last year's- £767,343,282 (excluding pensions and perks) vs £787,319,556. But as regular readers of BOM will know, that's only because the Gruaniad has been losing out to new online methods of public sector non-job advertising (see this blog).

'Tis The Season To Be Biased

The way and the light. Not.

What have the following got in common (apart from all being pampered left-wing humbugs who believe they can run our lives better than we can ourselves)?

Bono (tax exile poverty exploiter)
Anthony Minghella (director of Tony and Gordo In Love)
Thom Yorke (Radiohead "activist"mate of the Moonbat)
David Blunkett (highly unpleasant bearded communist ex-commissar)
Yoko Ono (superannuated luxury hotel protester)
Dr Rowan Williams (traditional anti-materialist unilateralist druid who commendably insists on walking everywhere and wearing goatskins)
Zac Goldsmith (pampered multi-millionaire trust babe who wants us to start walking everywhere wearing goatskins... well, obviously not important opinion formers such as his good self)

Give up?

They've all been guest editors on R4 Today:

"Today has once again given an exciting Christmas gift to five public figures - we're handing over control of the programme (well, most of it) for a day each between Christmas and New Year."

Well, isn't that good of them.

So in the interests of public service balance, where are all those guest editors from beyond the BBC's metro-lefty comfort zone?

Ah well, don't worry because we've had Stephen Hawking (frankly we BBC arts grads can't understand a word, but he's so terribly brainy, plus of course, he's got that wonderfully tragic voice), Sir Clive Woodward (now director of "elite performance" at the British Olympic Association, and everyone's looking forward so much to 2012, especially all of us here at its principal broadcasters), and coming up we've got Allan Leighton (chairman of Royal Mail, and we really can't see it matters that Allan is a long-standing member of the Labour Party and that Royal Mail is state owned).

Unless I missed it, there hasn't been one single guest editor from even slightly right of centre. Not even the traditional "aren't these people ghastly" joke slot for Kelvin Mackenzie, Peter Hitchens, Simon Heffer, or Michael Winner.

Second New Year's resolution: explore internet broadcasts so we can dump the tellies and stop paying the tax. I'm sure there must be some Taiwanese fan-site where Mrs T could keep up with the non-tax funded Corrie. Learn Mandarin... how hard could it be?

PS One of the junior Tylers has recently moved into a new flat where there is no telly. But he's having great difficulty convincing the Telly Tax police that's the case. They're threatening to come round and smash down the door with an axe. We are fast becoming a family of outlaws.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

If Only... We Could Be Goldman Partners

I'm on the next plane outtahere

If only we could all be Goldman partners...

...we could cop an Xmas stocking of £50m apiece (just like the brilliantly monikered Pierre-Henri Flamand, who heads their Principal Strategies (aka hedge fund) Group in London)...

...we could inflamand Red Ken beyond reason...

...we could have the TUC General Secretary wringing his doobries over how- despite all those well paid financial sector jobs we were creating for his workers- we were "leading by stealth towards an Americanisation of UK society"...

...we could live in a privately secured square in leafy Kensington, instead of an unpoliced publically owned sink estate in South London...

...we could send our children to high aspiration schools of our own choosing, instead of consigning them to those lowest common denominator bog comps shackled to the whims of Big Government commissars...

...we could buy customer focused 21st Century healthcare, instead of dicing with death on Emergency Ward MRSA...

...we could stop worrying about how our deceitful politicos destroyed Britain's pension system...

...we could hire a top-flight tax accountant to get us out of paying Gordo's mushrooming stealth tax bill...

...we could buy an overseas bolt-hole where we could escape the predations of Bliar, Gordo, the Fatman, the Commissar, the Chipmunk, and all those other Big Government deadweights dragging down the 59,577,695 of us who never quite made Goldman partner.

Season Of Goodwill

Bliar visits TylerWorld

Look, it's Christmas, right?

The nation has already had five days in the bosom and is deep in a monstrous dyspeptic hangover.

So why oh why oh why must the state broadcaster- COST STILL £3BN PA- inflict excrescenses like Hazel no-I'm-not-being-hypocritical-demonstrating-against-my-own-governmnet's-hospital-closures Bliars on us?

Haven't we suffered enough?

Listen love, the pubblic don't give a toss about your guverment's excitin' new ideas about gaaannnaaaahhhh because we know none of it will do us any good. And the reason the medja's concentrating on your owner's latest outrageous freeloading in Miami FLA is not because it's failing in its duty to "engage" in the government's latest vacuous importantpolicytwaddle, but because all over Britain we punters are open-mouthed at his sheer contemptuous effrontery.

Can you think of any reason why he isn't spending Christmas on his knees begging forgivenness for his manifold past sins?

We can only pray they're preparing that special place downstairs.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Recent Bonfires- 45

Merry Winterval Yule Log to wastewatchers everywhere

In the news this week:

£645 for Prezza's new name plate- "Deputy prime minister John Prescott has spent £645 on a new door sign, it has emerged. Mr Prescott changed the sign at his Whitehall office from Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) to Deputy Prime Minister's Office. The ODPM was dissolved in a Cabinet re-organisation in May 2006. Its responsibilities were passed to the Department for Communities and Local Government." ( 20.12.06)

£746 for Prezza's new "business" cards- "Mr Prescott's office still has a staff of 18, who spent £746 on business cards for the new department... Mr Prescott's spokesman responded: "It cost us £140 to answer this question." ( 20.12.06)

£6.5m pa wasted on Scotland Office- "THE role of the Scotland Office has been brought into question by new figures which show how little work is apparently being done by its staff. The 22 staff who work in the lavish surroundings of Dover House in London send out less than one letter per working day and the premises' luxury rooms were used for just 37 days this year for hosting functions for visiting Scottish ministers and dignitaries. There is no need for postbag either, with the office receiving fewer than seven letters a day... the press officer seems surprisingly unbusy, with just 47 press releases in one year - not much return, critics argue, for the £122,000 the PR operation cost to run last year.... Staff spent £260,000 on travel. This is despite the fact that staff in Edinburgh and London have video conferencing facilities. Of that, £124,000 was spent on flying, £37,000 was on rail, £10,600 was on the Heathrow Express getting staff to the airport and back, nearly £10,000 was on taxis while just £1,200 was on Tube fares. The 48 Edinburgh and London-based staff between them also spent £75,000 on hotels in that time." (Scotsman 23.12.06; htp HJ)

£75,000 for Two Sues' gardening leave- "Five months after [job-share CEOs] Sue Osborn and Susan Williams were suspended from the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) over their managerial record, they are still on leave at public expense. In the intervening period the joint chief executives have earned £75,000 between them, enough to have paid for at least three infection control nurses for a year. A further £65,000 of public funds has been spent on the salary of the acting chief executive, Bill Murray, who took over when the two Sues were sent home. The agency was lambasted as "dysfunctional" in the summer by the Commons public accounts committee after it emerged that despite running for five years at an annual cost of £34 million, it could provide no figures for exactly how many patients had died as a result of medical blunders." (Sunday Telegraph 24.12.06, and see this blog for background)

£1.3m on incomprehensible opera tour- "MORE THAN £1m of taxpayers’ money is to be spent sending a Gaelic opera on a tour of European countries where nobody speaks the language. St Kilda: An Evocation tells the story of how the last inhabitants of the remote Outer Hebridean island were evacuated from their homes in 1930 amid chronic food shortages. It will be performed in several European countries including France, Belgium, Germany and Austria. Organisers, including Scottish Opera and Tosg, a Gaelic theatre company, will give live performances next June involving 17 Gaelic actors and satellite link-ups from St Kilda showing dancers suspended from the island’s cliffs. “I find this criticism extremely perplexing,” said Malcolm Maclean, director of the Gaelic Arts Agency and co-producer of the project. “All arts projects in the UK and across Europe use public funds. That’s the nature of the arts. " Er... quite. (Sunday Times 24.12.06, and see this blog for more special pleading from the Arts establishment)

Total for week: £7,876,391

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Seasonal Burying

High maintenance

As we all know, public holidays are an established opportunity for our rulers to bury bad news, so it's always worth checking the Ministry of Propaganda's news release site on the last working day to see what's going down.

What jumped off the page yesterday was this:

"New Tornado contract will save £510m

The MoD has today awarded a £947million contract for support of the RAF's Tornado fleet.
The ATTAC (Availability Transformation: Tornado Aircraft Contract) programme will maximise aircraft availability to the front line and significantly reduce support costs, saving £510m over the first 10 years of the contract.

As prime contractor, BAE Systems will work in close partnership with the MoD Defence Logistics Organisation (DLO) and the RAF to deliver the two-phase ATTAC contract. This programme brings together all aspects of Tornado fleet support and will be undertaken at RAF Marham in Norfolk, one of the main operating bases and the maintenance hub for the RAF's Tornado GR4 fleet."

So BAE of Arabia is to be given yet another £1bn UK government contract. Can that be value?

Now, in case you don't know, changes to the maintenance arrangements for RAF planes have been a highly controversial- and expensive- area.

In 1999, the government set up DARA, the Defence Aviation Repair Agency, to bring together the maintenance operations of the RAF, the Navy and the Army. Its HQ was at St Athan in South Wales, and according to the local MP, "£80 million was invested in the most advanced purpose-built military aviation facility in Europe, which opened only in April 2005. It is the size of three football pitches, with 47 bays, so it can repair 47 jets at any one time."

However, the government has now executed a spectacular U-turn. Another one. And pausing only to get the South Wales vote in for the 2005 election , it announced the closure of most of the facility.

So another £80m incinerated.

But of course, it could get worse.

"Close partnerships" are all very well, but as taxpayers, close partnerships with tarnished operators like BAE should make us feel very nervous.

For example, we need to know how BAE actually got this contract. Was it a competitive tender? And if not, does that mean there isn't actually anyone else outside BAE (the manufacturers) and the existing DARA teams capable of doing this job? And if so, once the DARA team has been laid off, won't that mean that BAE has us by those short curly things?

Those of us who still rather quaintly regard a billion quid as real money, would like some answers.

How convenient that the people who might have raised it publically have all broken up for the hols.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Stockbrokers Whacked Again

Typical scene on Woking Station platform

Everybody knows that Surrey is full of stockbrokers, so obviously it should pay for Merseyside. Right?

According to the leader of Surrey County Council:

“On a like-for-like basis for all local government services — including county councils, districts, fire and police — each Surrey resident receives less than £250 government funding. To compare this, every Liverpool resident receives nearly £900 towards public services. If Surrey got the same funding, the average household would be paying £1,500 less council tax each year than at present."

It's that notorious Revenue Support Grant system again- one of the government's tools for robbing Tory areas down South and using the proceeds to buy loyalty up North.

And with Surrey's central government funding increase for 2007-08 set at just 0.4%, it sounds like next year's Council Tax increases for the county's residents will be huge.

Thank Gawd I don't live there.

No wait... I do!

It's almost enough to make you want independence for Surrey.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Price Of Everything...

Not for the first time, a stimulating post by the splendid Doc Crippen has made me think. This time he's laying into the Taxpayers' Alliance Public Sector Rich List.

Doc has a problem with the TPA's "innuendo" that Public Sector bosses are overpaid, and goes on:

"The Taxpayers’ Alliance has but one mission statement. Reduce taxes. Reduce taxes and never mind the consequences. The clear implication here is that these salaries are far too high, and are thus a waste of taxpayers’ money.This is nonesense. Since the demise of the Red Army, the NHS is the largest employer in Europe. It supplies health care to every man, woman and child in the country. It is therefore more important to Britain than any one of the Footsie 100 companies."

Now, let me say straight away I hold no brief for the TPA.

Er... actually, come to think of it, that's an downright lie. I do hold a brief for the TPA, and just like Crippen's favourite medico academics accepting payola from Big Pharma, I ought to declare that I routinely accept handfuls of James Frayne's pork scratchings in the sumptuous surroundings of the Cardinal public house behind Victoria Station. But I don't think I will, so let's gloss over that.

Instead, I'll first draw attention to the TPA's full mission statement set out here. And it's not limited to anything as unambitious as simply cutting taxes and damning the consequences. No, its number one objective is no less than "to reverse the perception that big government is necessary and irreversible".

It doesn't just want tax cuts: it is campaigning to change the whole way we think about government involvement in our lives.

But let's park that and concentrate on the Doc's main point. Which is that relative to those sleek purring moggies in the private sector, public sector cats are kept woefully thin. As a result, the public sector could never attract the likes of genius manager Sir (only a matter of time) Stuart Rose, who'd doubtless grip that NHS crisis and maybe even chuck in the bonus of Twiggy in a nurse's outfit.

Overall of course, public sector pay is higher than private sector. The following chart shows the median earnings of full-time public sector employees expressed as a ratio to the private sector median:

As we can see, the public sector has been 10-15% ahead every year since 1997.

But the Doc's point relates to top managers, and there's no denying the picture there. As one of Crippen's millions of regular commenters (the steely sharp potentilla) points out, whereas the then NHS Chief Exec Sir Nigel Crisp earned £215,000 last year, the head of BUPA- a somewhat smaller business- got £1.4m.

Which is why Doc says the TPA have got it so wrong: public sector bosses are underpaid, hence that depressing parade of low grade chimps at the controls.

Having blogged so times about the chimp problem ourselves, what can we say other than absolutely spot on? So, Absolutely Spot On.

But the question is what should we do about it? And there we part company.

Doc's solution is simple- pay top dollar, incentivise heavily with humongous bonuses beyond even the wildest imaginings of Sir Stuart, and shoot failures. Dead.

All of which has the authentic ring of his robust good sense.

However, whereas Sir Stuart will only be handsomely rewarded at M&S because he successfully wooed back us consumers from the likes of Philip Green, things are different with the NHS. Setting aside the small minority who can afford to pay twice for healthcare, for the vast bulk of Britain's consumers the NHS is a monopolistic supplier. Even worse, there's a complete disconnect between payment and use. Which means there is no market test of the top guy's value.

Oh sure, you can do one of those salary surveys and find out what it generally costs to employ a CEO of a top UK company. That's his price, right enough. But that's not the same thing as his value in terms of what he actually achieves running the NHS. And just because he had fantastic credentials running something else, it doesn't mean he's running the NHS successfully.

With no competition and no market price for the output of the NHS, there's no direct way of saying what it's worth. Is it worth more than the output of BP, Britain's biggest company by market capitalisation, as Doc asserts? Well, it may be, but we just don't know. And while I undertand "your health is everything", as we've noted before, following that line ultimately leads to the whole of our GDP being spent on health. Anyway if I recall my Maslow correctly, the NHS didn't make the primary needs list.

Which means that the "value" is actually determined by politicians, and we all know how that goes. Among other things Sir Stuart would find his bonus determined not by something simple and observable like shareholder return, but by all sorts of "off-market" niceties such as how many hospitals he'd kept open in Labour marginals, and how the minister felt about recent media coverage, including the prospective coverage of paying out gzillions to a CEO who was only paying his nurses £19 grand. It's just the nature of the beast.

And even worse, that would mean that he would spend his time thinking not about useful customer focused stuff like how big to make his knickers, but rather, how best to serve his political paymasters. Sound familiar?

Real value can only be determined by us, not by our cheeky politicos. Which is precisely why we need to get our public services right away from the clutches of Westminster and Whitehall, break them into independent competing units, and allow the market to decide.

Competition and choice. Just like Stu vs Phil.

And if the head of BUPA is on £1.4m now, I wouldn't be at all surprised if successfully running one of Britain's big future health insurance groups didn't pay twice that.

And that would be real value.

2012: The Final Frontier

No need for alarm-I've got the official plan

"She cannae take much more of this Captain!"

There was a sickening lurch as another huge explosion ripped though the Olympiad's main accounting suite.

"Now I cannae even read the main discombobulator dials!!"

Ashen faced Captain Jowell clenched her teeth in a last ditch effort to hold back the rising vomit:

“The £1 billion we have identified is money coming from central government. However, we believe that most of the LDA budget is money they would have been spending on regeneration anyway.”

"Bollocks captain! Ah'm teelin' yew we have absolutely no idea what's happening! It could be £8bn... it could be £12bn... it could be anything! It's the dials you see... they're not actually connected up! They never have been!"

Jowell tightened her grip on the tattered 2012 Bid Document. "But that can't be! We have made a firm commitment that we will not spend more than £2.375bn... well, obviously we had to increase that to £3.3bn when we hit that Klingon reality accelerator... but I can give you a firm commitment today that..."

It was no good. The vomit spewed forth in a huge multicoloured arc and splattered across the central control console, shorting the main nincompoop trip and disengaging the impossibility drive.

Except, of course, it didn't. Despite the mounting hysteria on the flight deck, the impossibility drive remains firmly engaged. And we remain grimly on course for a Galactic bill of £20bn.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"Intelligence Led" Security For All. Not.

Tyler ready for next video

Last week, a middle aged white bloke with grey hair and specs was shocked to be stopped by the police while out making a video for the Taxpayers' Alliance. But as I discovered, s44 of the 2000 Terrorism Act allows them to stop and search anyone in a wide area of central London, irrespective of whether they have reasonable suspicion. If they want to, they can do it on a whim.

So I can't say I was altogether surprised when the same thing happened again this week.

Once again, the officer - this time a member of the hitherto unheard of (by me) Ministry of Defence Police - was very polite and professional. He explained I'd been seen on CCTV and he'd have to search me.

So once again, we went through the whole 20 minute routine, and he wrote out another Stop and Search docket to add to my collection.

In this case, he told me I could go on making the video if I wanted, but he couldn't promise I wouldn't be stopped again round the corner. Night was falling, so I gave up. Certainly more of a whimper than a bang, but a definite encroachment on my civil liberties.

Has any terrorist been convicted after a s44 stop?

Er... not as far as I can tell. Although tens of thousands of police hours have been spent on them.

Not very intelligent you might think.

But at least stop and search at airports is "intelligence led". We know that because Home Office Minister Liam Byrne told us today.

He told us that's why Home Office officials failed to stop one of PC Sharon Beshenivsky's suspected killers - a highly unpleasant and dangerous Somalian- leaving the country disguised as a fully veiled woman. No intelligence y'see. What could they do?

Which is why Liam wants that biometric supercomputer. No not the NHS disaster - the other one (see many previous blogs, eg here).

Now, everybody who knows anything about this stuff seems to think at best it would be an expensive waste of money. The bad guys would be able to fake the chips as soon as they were issued. Or even better, they could use them to trigger nationality specific roadside bombs (see this blog).

But yesterday, his boss Doc "D'You Want Some?" Reid announced the whole project had been thrown up into the air (htp Cityunslicker). He reckons they've abandoned the Supercomputer itself, and are going to cobble something together by bolting various Heath Robinson style superchargers onto three separate existing systems:

"Doing something sensible is not necessarily a U-turn. We have decided it is lower risk, more efficient and faster to take the infrastructure that already exists, although the data will be drawn from other sources."

No, we don't know what he means either. It still sounds like an expensive mess.

It's probably intelligence led.

Either way, next time I want to make a vid in Westminster, I'm going to dress properly. And if anyone dares stop me, I'll report them to that Ali Desai.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Am I Missing Something?

Does this look like it will save us money?

Company moves from high wage, high cost London to low wage, low cost North. Funds its move by selling valuable site in London for commercial offices and luxury flats. Profits increase. Everybody's 'appy.

So... er, why does the BBC reckon its move up North will cost us taxpayers even more? How can they possibly use that as an argument for a bigger licence fee settlement? They say:

"Last week the BBC's Board of Governors approved plans to move some departments to Greater Manchester, saying they gave licence fee payers value for money.

But they stressed the move to Salford still depends on the licence fee settlement, which is due in early 2007."

They are claiming the move will cost an extra £400m, and if they don't get it, they're staying put in London. Wet Tess has obviously folded:

"I can say this afternoon that it is my expectation that the BBC will make that move. The government will ensure that the structure of the licence fee settlement makes clear that the move to the North West will happen."

Now why on earth would the government want to bribe the BBC to site its operations in Labour constiuencies up North?

Nah. Can't be right.

You'll be telling me next they're directing NHS funds to hospitals in marginal Labour constituencies.

PS Two obvious ways to cut costs. First, WTF are the BBC going to a flash new media city in Salford Quays (pic)? Manchester already has Corrie, not to mention the chipmunk as Salford MP. No, the BBC should go somewhere really cheap, like Hull or Easington. Second, as we found out a while back, at least £21m of the extra cost comes from the BBC management's unwillingness to order its metro-media staff up to Manchester. It wants to use our money to bribe them instead (see this from Stephen Pollard). But as I watch the development of 18 Doughty Street, I'm coming round to the view that there are literally thousands of people right round Britain who can do those jobs just as well. And most of them will work for a lot less than the protected, final salary pensioned, overhead laden drones of the BBC. If the drones are stamping their little feet, they should be shown the instruments of torture - the icy zero-salary, perkless world of free internet TV.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Not Even That Much Treasure

Quick enough to fill cemeteries

As General Sir Mike Jackson so bluntly put it ten days ago:

“It is our soldiers who pay the cost in blood. The nation must, therefore, pay the cost in treasure. Soldiers and their families must be properly valued.”

And even those of us who think taxes are far too high, wholeheartedly agree with that. And we expect our preening vainglorious well-behind-the-lines politicos and MOD bureaucrats to ensure our troops get the right kit.

So the coronor in the appalling case of Sgt Steve Roberts' speaks for all of us:

"To send soldiers into a combat zone without the appropriate basic equipment is, in my view, unforgivable and inexcusable and represents a breach of trust that the soldiers have in those in Government."

A breach of trust. Does it get much lower than that?

"This Enhanced Combat Body Armour was a basic piece of protective equipment. I have heard justification and excuse and I put these to one side as I remind myself that Sgt Roberts lost his life because he did not have that basic piece of equipment.

"Sgt Roberts's death was as a result of delay and serious failures in the acquisition and support chain that resulted in a significant shortage within his fighting unit of Enhanced Combat Body Armour, none being available for him to wear."

You know what? I feel ashamed.

I feel like I should resign.

And do you know how much treasure MOD actually saved by sending those 2,000 British soldiers into combat without this basic lifesaver, and directly causing Sgt Roberts' death?

The £746m cost of poncing up MOD's HQ in Westminster?

The £83m price of one of those crooked Eurofighters?




It was just £334,000


2,000 times £167.

We know it already, but Blair, Hoon and all the rest of them deserve nothing but our absolute contempt.

Another Day, Another Crack-Down

Armchair theorising...

How often have we heard Ministers announce a crack-down on benefit scroungers? Today it's DWP supremo John Hutton (he's that bloke that nobody quite knows in the pic):

"If it is possible for migrants from Eastern Europe to come to Britain to find jobs without any difficulty at all, we have got to ask ourselves some fairly basic questions... there are some people who probably are perfectly capable of working but for a variety of reasons are able to find a way through the system and they don't work. I just do not believe that is an acceptable state of affairs."

Well, neither do we John. But talk is easy: we have zero confidence in your ability/willingness to grip it.

Hutton's Department dishes out £120bn pa of our money, including over £3bn pa it admits losing to fraud. And just today, we hear of the £400m pa fraudulently obtained by cohabiting couples claiming to live apart.

As we've blogged many times, the current benefit system is a shambles of complexity and inefficiency. Even the officials administering it routinely make mistakes because they can't understand it.

Drastic simplification is clearly needed, hence the attraction of the Citizens' Basic Income.

True, when I looked at the numbers, I couldn't get them to add up. So there'd definitely be losers among the vulnerable poor.

But as several people have argued powerfully to me since writing that post, there'd also be winners among the working poor, who'd be rewarded for their determination to take responsibility for themselves, rather than sliding into the easy dependency of so many around them.

And the more I think about the alternatives, the more I think CBI is actually the only real show in town.

However much hand-wringing softies like me might do, Big Government is no more capable of running complex welfare arrangements than it is of running education and health. And in attempting to conduct Gordo style targeting - whatever its fine intentions- it's fed a monster that can't even walk, let alone complete its supposed mission.

So ring-fence pensioners and deal with them separately. But for the rest, I'm taking a closer look at CBI and private charity. My first New Year's resolution.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Recent Bonfires- 44

Department of Total Incompetence

In the news this week:

£5.3bn pa DTI Red Tape burden- "DTI's burdens - estimated by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) earlier this year through the cross-Government Administrative Burdens Measurement Exercise - are broadly estimated to cost business just under £5.3bn per year." (DTI Press Release 11.12.06)

NHS logo costs £330,000 pa- "Hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money is being spent on 'managing' the NHS logo despite the cash crisis gripping the Health Service. Official figures reveal that the bill for protecting and promoting the 'NHS identity' has more than doubled in the last four years - reaching almost £334,000 last year... An NHS 'branding team' is on hand to offer advice, and an NHS 'identity helpline' has been set up... It advises hospitals and other NHS bodies to ensure it is printed in 'NHS Blue - Pantone 300' and 'always positioned in the top right corner' of stationery. The NHS 'official typeface' - called Frutiger - should always be used where possible, it insists, while a strict 'exclusion zone' should be observed around the edge of the logo." (Mail 13.12.06)

£290,000 for UN Vanity Publishing- "A modest paperback, the newly published official history of the UN Development Programme, cost a staggering $567,379 (£290,000) to produce. Branded a "vanity publication" by critics, it has become the latest symbol of profligate spending and waste at the international organisation's headquarters in New York. Despite being offered for sale to the general public... it is languishing at 577,233 in the sales rankings of Costs include a salary of $252,000 paid to the author, Professor Craig Murphy, for about two years' work. Prof Murphy was also given $37,299 in travel expenses for interviews, while an unnamed "project co-ordinator" was given $87,639." (Sunday Telegraph 17.12.06)

Waste overspend wastes £500,000- "A council has been rapped for going more than £500,000 over budget on recycling. Hastings Borough Council's members and officers have been accused of being "too enthusiastic" in attempting to reach Government targets, and not dealing with poor management.... [auditors] concluded there was no clear timetable, no engaged project team, no clear reporting line to the corporate management team, no project leader with adequate skills, no adequate specialist technical support, no clear line to provide adequate progress updates to the chief executive, no compliance with council procedures and standing orders and no log of timetables, reviews or updated risk assessments. The report said: "If anything could have gone wrong it did. But the root reasons for the difficulties lie in the council's overall approach to the project." (The Argus 15.12.06)

Total for week- £5,301,120,000

Cheeky £250 Grand

Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum)... but not if we're paying mate

Even by the standards of MPs, Lipid Opec is in the Premier League of preening egotistical vacuity. As top Weather Witch Sian Lloyd has belatedly realised.

Just as a reminder, Opec costs us taxpayers £130 grand pa in expenses, plus his MP's salary of £60 grand, plus pension contributions, plus feeding and watering- a great deal of the latter if Sian is to be believed. Call it £250 grand pa.

Plus of course, his invaluable (paid) work for Hello Magazine, TV, and all expenses paid trips to the Eurovision Song Contest.

When is that asteroid actually going to hit him?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Goggle Eyed Royals

Good enough for the Tylers

Mrs T is forever telling me the Royals are good value, but we taxpayers are about to shell out $217,000 for 100 (yes, one hundred) flat screen tellies so they can watch I'm A Celeb up at Palace.

Now, OK, Buckingham Palace reportedly has 775 rooms, but 100 tellies? Aren't they supposed to be working up there? And what's wrong with their existing tellies? After all, Mrs T and I still watch on a flickering 9 inch B&W screen dating from the Coronation. Why can't our betters do that? Why should they have a whole showroom full of 50 inch HD ready plasmas?

And why are Samsung charging for them? All previous tellies were given free by grateful subjects. But now for the first time we've got to hand over folding money! Couldn't we at least chop in Prince Edward on a PX? I knew it was a mistake to lose our manufacturing base.

According to the official account, the Queen is costing us £37.4m in 2006, out of which she effectively subs various minor Royals. In addition, Price Charles gets £14m pa from the Duchy of Cornwall (yes, I know... isn't that his personal estate? hmmm..). So the total cost is c£50m pa.

Is that value? According to Michael Grade when he was DG of the BBC, to make "low-end dramas" like soaps, costs about £500,000 per hour. On that basis, £50m pa for our 24/7 monarchy is extraordinary value. Just consider this week: we've had Wills and Harry's Wembley concert (not that the stadium will be finished in time), the latest episode of Dianagate, and Wills' passing out parade featuring the Queen making him giggle and his bird being lipread saying how sexy he looked. Plus the will-they-won't-they engagement and wedding still to come.

Still doesn't explain the tellies though.

PS One of Tyler's very first memories is going to watch the 1953 Coronation on a set like the one pictured. The screening took place in a social club, with most of the town's population crowded round trying to get a look. Kids today...

Big Brother Opt-Out?

Two-time winner

We've always attacked the £50bn NHS Supercomputer on cost grounds. Plus we doubted it would ever deliver what was claimed- which is why the accumulating stories of mysterious crashes and dangerous malfunctions on the bits already in use are no surprise whatsoever.

But others have focused their concern principally on the project's confidentiality aspects. Right from the start, the Doc warned me next time I got stopped by the traffic cops they'd ask me how my penile dysfunction was coming along. And the project has already won two of the coveted Big Brother Awards (pic).

Before Monday, I was less concerned, but the scales have now fallen from my eyes.

So today's Grauniad report is very interesting:

"Following a Guardian campaign against the compulsory uploading of personal details to the system known as The Spine, Lord Warner, the health minister, will announce a plan that would allow individuals to review and correct their records and withhold them from the database.

...GPs would ask every patient to give their explicit consent for a summary of their record to be put on the national database. They would be given a few weeks to review the summary and call for corrections or amendments to be made before they consented to the upload.

In a key departure from the previous position, the DoH taskforce said: "Some patients may ask for their summary care record not to be shared or uploaded at all."

Lord Warner said it was not yet possible to guarantee a right of veto.... But he conceded it was technically possible for patients to refuse to let their data be uploaded and the government was considering how to make this happen."

So on the one hand, there's no guarantee... as yet... but on the other hand, they are considering how to make an existing technical possibility... er, happen.

Clear? As always, they're making it up as they go along. And of course, Warner has previous form on blurting out stuff that subsequently has to be "clarified" (see here and here).

But we do know there's panic at the top about the Supercomputer- so much so, right now they're running round reaffirming their "complete support" for the whole lunacy.

But... er... if we're all to be allowed an opt-out, how is the system actually going to work? Unless GPs continue to maintain separate records for opted-out patients, then they will have no records at all. But duplicate systems not only give rise to obvious confusions, they also cost a fortune. An even bigger fortune.

So... er... umm...

Friday, December 15, 2006

Springtime For Consultants

We've blogged it many times before (eg see here and here), but the NAO's report on the Public Sector's use of consultants is an instant classic. They may well have drawn on Plundering the Public Sector by David Craig and Richard Brooks (on Tyler's Xmas list), but they've had the extra advantage of direct access to the officials involved.

So we now have the definitive facts, helpfully summarised by the NAO in two pages of charts (you can see bigger pix by clicking on them):

Total public sector spend is now running at nearly £3bn pa, an increase of one-third in two years, largely driven by the NHS. The biggest spender is not as you might have imagined, the Department of Health, but the Department for International Development- an extraordinary commentary on how our aid bureaucrats see fit to "help" the world's poor (see this blog).

With such a cash gusher, all the usual suspect consultancies are in the money, but with 20% of the total spend going on IT, it's not surprising that the biggest winners are IBM on £275m and LogicaCMG on £175m. And note that Accenture- of Pat Hewitt and walking away from the NHS Supercomputer fame- also got £130m.

So... ahem... do we taxpayers get any sort of value out of this?

As the NAO points out, consultancy is a magical business where that sort of question is virtually impossible to answer. It's project based work where the responsibility for success lies not with the consultant, but remains at all times with the client:

"Clients find it hard to assess whether they are getting value for money. The range of consulting activity makes it difficult to identify meaningful metrics... it is not always easy to attribute cause and effect, even where performance has improved. As a result, almost half of all organisations do not attempt to quantify the return on investment from using consultants."

Sweet as a nut.

For the consultants, anyway.

Of course, successful private sector businesses have now discovered all about this, and have become much more circumspect about hiring consultants unless they can be pinned down with clearly definable and measurable responsibilities. With fees tied to delivery.

But do you think our bumbling Simple Shopper is capable of that? A cloistered Whitehall semi-mandarin under pressure to tick the "well, we've hired consultants to look at it" box, against a sharp suited globe-trotting meat-eating... you reckon that's a fair fight?

And even when they've been told how they could stand a better chance, they're not capable of following the advice. The Report identifies 12 previous recommendations from NAO and PAC reports and looks to see how well they've been followed subsequently. Shockingly, NONE has been fully implemented across all five major departments studied (figure 2).

Unsurprising then that "the average central government organisation, when compared to our private sector comparators spends more on consultants per employee (£10,000 compared to £2,000) and as a proportion of operating costs (11 per cent compared to four per cent)" (para 2.5).

And as the chart above shows, the growth of consultants' business with the public sector is now vastly outstripping the private sector.

Springtime, Happy Time... call it what you like. We taxpayers are paying for an awful lot of Porsches.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Saudi Eurofighter Fix- Good For Taxpayers?

A cooler deal all round

Lord "Straight Up" Goldsmith tells us "no weight has been given to commercial interests or to the national economic interest."

So given that was the reason for his nobbling the SFO investigation, what exactly are those interests? Following his Lordship, and setting all those tedious legal niceties aside (I loved Tim's reference to one-time fave A level text A Man For All Seasons), how will we taxpayers do from ignoring the Saudi arms slush fund?

BAE has reportedly sold 72 Eurofighters to Saudi for £6bn, which is £83m each. That compares to the c£20bn we British taxpayers are paying for our 232 - roughly the same price.

Which is a little odd. If you or I were buying 72 Eurofighters, we'd say to BAE 'now look here', we'd say, 'your stupid taxpayers have already funded all your development costs: they're gone - sunk - so we don't have to contribute to those; we'll just pay you the marginal production costs of 72 extra... what shall we say? £50m apiece?'

You'd almost think the price had been artificially inflated for some reason. Oh yes, I remember now- the price of those Saudi Tornados was inflated by 32%, allegedly to fund 'transactional costs'.

Not that it will make any difference to us taxpayers- we don't actually get any of that Saudi money. It all goes to BAE, just like the dosh we've already shelled out. What's more we now have to underwrite the Saudi financing through the Export Credits Guarantee Department.

So BAE does very well.

But we don't.

Once again, if only we'd bought American. My defence correspondent tells me the F-22 Raptor is much more advanced, plus "it looks pretty cool". And right now, the unit cost for a 100 lot is $117m, or maybe £60m a throw. So that's a quarter less expensive.

Lucky the Saudis didn't think of that.

PS If you want to see how crass a multibillion arms sales pitch actually is, check this out lifted from the official Eurofighter sales site:

Cost Of Stop And Search

Not just dangerous lefties suffering

There's nothing like a bit of personal experience to concentrate the mind. To be frank, until my experience on Monday, I'd imagined that terrorist Stop and Search was mainly directed at dodgy looking Taliban types, hippies on their way to communal dope smokes outside US airbases, and octogenerian lefties at Labour Party conferences. Serve 'em all right, kind of idea.

Now of course, I know better.

And I also know that whereas policemen - such as my brother-in-law, ex-DI Regan - always used to need "reasonable suspicion" that you were actually involved in something bad before stopping you, now under Section 44 of Labour's Terrorism Act 2000, they don't. If you're in certain areas, like say London, they can just stop and search you- yes, you- anytime they feel like it.

According to this fascinating post on the Independent Race and Refugee News Network (under what other circs would I have even found it, let alone read it?):

"To regulate the use of such wide powers a special process of ministerial authorisation was set up to restrict such stops to a limited place and time where it was thought, on the basis of specific intelligence, necessary to prevent terrorism...

However, in practice, the Metropolitan police has had a rolling authorisation across its whole district since February 2001. This has been justified on the grounds that the whole of London has been under permanent threat of terrorist attack over this time. And this fact only emerged by chance. It was only during a court hearing into the policing of protests at an arms fair in the Docklands in October 2003 that it emerged that the Section 44 powers had, in fact, been renewed every 28 days since the Act came into force in February 2001. Till then, the public had not even been told that these powers were in permanent effect.

The operation of these powers is surrounded with a climate of secrecy and non-accountability that cannot be justified by operational reasons alone."

You can say that again.

Ah, you might argue, ah, but at least these powers stop terrorism.

Except of course, as we saw only too clearly last year, they don't.

They may constitute a gross infringement of our civil liberties, but in terms of effective anti-terrorist policing, it's just one more helping of half-baked New Labour wibble. It's not even half-baked- that's a gross slur on all those fine packs of supermarket ciabatta.

IRR News has more:

"In the year 2002/3, police in England and Wales conducted 21,577 stops and searches in under Terrorism Act powers. Whereas 13 per cent of stops and searches under normal police powers resulted in an arrest, the arrest rate for stops and searches on suspicion of terrorism was just 1.7 per cent. And the overwhelming majority of these arrests had nothing to do with terrorism. Only eighteen arrests in connection with terrorism were made in that year as a result of the 21,577 stops and searches carried out. None of these arrests resulted in a conviction for terrorist offences."


And even the police now agree the situation is unsustainable. On Tuesday- just one day after my own bust- Britain's top anti-terrorist policeman said as much:

"Andy Hayman, the Metropolitan Police's assistant commissioner responsible for anti-terror probes, said few arrests or charges arose from such searches.

"It is very unlikely that a terrorist is going to be carrying bomb-making equipment around... in the street," he told a London police authority hearing.

It was "a big price to pay" given some people feel unfairly targeted.

Mr Hayman said the powers were well intended, "to try and prevent, deter and disrupt terrorist activity. But we have to question the way we use a power that causes so much pain to the community we serve but results in so few arrests or charges. Is it worth it?"

Well intentioned. But crap. And with all kinds of very harmful unintended side effects.

Now where've we heard that before?

So when is this nonsensical and outrageous law going to be repealed?

Tyler Still Dogged By Middle-Aged Bloke

That bloke who goes around pretending to be me has had the gall to get himself interviewed by Iain Dale about MY arrest.

The sheer brassneck of it!

Simple Shopper Still Paying Through The Nose

New government Post-It Czar

Britain's Simple Shopper (see previous blogs) doesn't just screw up on buying mega-IT projects: it can't even be trusted to buy Post-It notes.

Today the National Audit Office publishes its report on the Office for Government Commerce, which was set up to make The Shopper a little less simple, and which is playing a key role in delivering those fantasy Gershon savings.

One of its functions is to aggregate public sector procurement orders into bigger blocks in order to get better volume discounts.

Good idea, you say.

Well, yes... it would be a good idea if they were able to do it as well as say, the private sector. But it turns out they can't.

According to the NAO, many of the prices obtained by OGC are actually higher than those already obtained by the more astute (or maybe that should be less unastute) government departments. For example, OGC's price for an IT consultant is over 40% higher than the price currently paid by the best (top quartile) buyers in the public sector (see report Fig 8). No wonder so many departments are avoiding OGC if they possibly can.

But even the best public sector buyers aren't a patch on say the buyer for a small corner shop. Or even you and me. Take those Post-It notes and the other common items in this NAO summary:

It says something that even the not-entirely-free-market Grauniad was quickly able to do better:

"For Post-it notes the cheapest price Whitehall could find was £4.41 for a pack of 12, while some departments paid as much as £10.55 - 139% more expensive. Yet the Guardian found that even the best price could easily be beaten: at Chartered Supplies in central London, for example, a pack of 12 unbranded notes costs £1.75 - less than half what the most price conscious bureaucrats are paying."

So why is OGC such pants? One reason is that old favourite, skill shortages. The NAO says:

"There is a need for more commercial skills (for example, the ability to negotiate contracts with senior management of multi-national supplier organisations), better marketing skills and individuals with private sector knowledge of individual product markets."

But as we've noted many times, if you had those skills, why on earth would you want to work for the public sector? You'd earn less money and you'd have to report to the likes of the Commissar and Gordo. Talk sense.

It also sounds like the whole OGC idea is sinking into the usual abyss of public sector infighting. The G reports:

"One reason for the price discrepancies is that many departments buy their own supplies. One official said: "Frankly there are a lot of turf wars going on between different departments. Some of them literally want their own brand name on the equipment and not the words OGC written on them."

John Prescott's office appears to be an example. It has recently ordered thousands of ballpoint pens with Office of the Department of the Deputy Prime Minister stamped on them."

Yup. Sounds about right.

Now, one more time- why do we have to pay for these clowns?

PS The inestimable Richard Bacon MP promises a warm reception for OGC bureaucrats when they are strapped to the Public Accounts Committee rack: "We are going to give them a very tough grilling. Frankly I am not surprised that you could get some of these items cheaper in shops or online. These huge organisations in Whitehall spend a lot of time at sales conferences discussing big deals when a little bit of common sense means that local offices could get better prices. In my own office my secretary has already spotted that the official suppliers to parliament often charged hundreds of pounds more for printers than you get in shops or online." I'm booking my PAC seat now.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Importing Expensive Problems

A clear need for government translation

Ministers are forever telling us about the massive economic benefits we get from immigration. The reality is rather different, as MigrationWatch and others showed long ago.

For sure, some immigrants generate big economic benefits, but many others impose costs (see this blog from Slough). And we've just learned more about another of them: the cost of translation services funded by the taxpayer.

According to a BBC investigation (a BBC investigation! it really is that appalling):

"The cost of translating and interpreting for UK residents who don't speak English is rising sharply.

Our research has identified expenditure of at least £100m in the past year, but the true figure is likely to be much more.

Local councils spend at least £25m; the police £21m; the courts system spends more than £10m without accounting for the cost of legal aid; and the NHS - a conservative estimate is £55m."

Obviously that's another £100m we wouldn't have to spend if we didn't allow immigration, but perhaps more tellingly it's £100m that's actually harming rather than helping the immigrants themselves:

"Agneska is a Polish civil engineer who has lived in Britain for three years but does not speak English... Now pregnant and unemployed, she was asking for advice on how to claim Jobseekers Allowance from an interpreter. Asked if the absence of such translation would have encouraged her to attend English classes, Agneska replied: "Absolutely, yes."

In Tower Hamlets in the East End of London, Bangladeshi human rights lawyer Zia Haider Rahman says the provision of translation and interpretation is damaging his community.
It is a corner of England where, he says, English is a foreign language. Shops, restaurants and the doctors surgery all cater for a population which speaks Bengali or Sylheti.

His community, he says, is put off learning English because the authorities translate everything for them. "They are doing harm because they are reinforcing the language barrier which separates this community from the rest of Britain. They are de-incentivising Bangladeshis from learning English".


Of course, Clever Trevor Philips- the man who told us not long ago that he and the entire multiculturalmumble elite had been wrong about... er, multiculturalism- reckons Zia's got it wrong. He reckons "Translation is not a disincentive. It allows them to get access to services while they learn English. Translation is a way of helping people into transition into integrating into our society."

Yeah. Right. And why should we listen to you exactly? (see this blog for more on Trev).

PS Always and everywhere, official translation services are a moneypit. As we blogged here, post-enlargement, the EU's translation services are now costing us £500m pa! And since everything has to be translated into all languages, and vice versa, the costs will increase in a terminal geometric progression as more countries join. By the time Libya and Iran join (you think I'm joking don't you), translation costs will absorb the whole of EU GDP.

NHS Will Never Walk Unaided Again

NHS refinancing plan from leaked report

Today's Report on NHS Deficits from the Labour dominated Commons Health Committee hasn't yet been released to unimportant people like taxpayers and patients. But naturally all the politicos and journos have already seen it and are all over the media spinning and positioning.

Clearly the report will confirm THE VERY MANY independent analyses we've noted on BOM. In particular, grotesque mismanagement at the top landed frontline operations with hugely increased costs- especially those notorious pay deals. The King's Fund analyses said at least 80% of the new money went on centrally driven cost increases.

Shakin' Stevens has just been on Today waffling about how deficit trusts must be held to financial account, despite the well publicised "double whammy" impact on their future levels of patient care ( actually, as noted here, it's a triple whammy).

Of course, what we really need are some solutions. And "more money" simply won't do: as we've noted many times, THE MONEY'S RUN OUT.

Got that?


Unfortunately, none of the assembled politicos/commissars/health bureaucrats/journos seems to envision the only solution actually available- break up the NHS into competing providers and move to a social insurance/co-payment patient choice model.

Keep up your BUPA payments.

PS We'll blog the full report when we've got hold of it and read it.

PPS Talking of extreme vacuities, I listened to the Horse Lady on Today this morning opining that things are "getting better in Basra". Despite the fact that her own Foreign Office has withdrawn all its staff because it's too dangerous. The words "shameless" and "national embarrassment" spring to mind.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tyler Nicked- "Behaving Unusually With A Metal Pole"

Civil liberties 0, Wasting Police Time 4

Yesterday afternoon I was formally detained by the Metropolitan Police. And I have the Stop and Search docket to prove it.

What was I doing? Drug dealing? Causing an affray perhaps?

No. I was standing a hundred yards from New Scotland Yard, in Caxton Street SW1, making a video about police waste for the Taxpayers' Alliance.

My afternoon began when I set myself up with my camera in front of that famous revolving Scotland Yard sign, exactly where all those TV reporters stand. I began talking into the camera, which is mounted on a hand-held monopod (a bargain at £14.99 from Jessops).

Within about 30 seconds I was approached by a PC who asked what I was doing. This turns out to be quite common while out filming, so I explained.

He responded by asking if I was with the media, and I said 'yes- 18 Doughty Street'. Amazingly, he'd never heard of it! He then said I was in a sensitive area, and asked how long I would be? I told him a few more minutes, and he said OK. But by remaining right beside me watching and listening, he put me off my stroke. So I thanked him civilly and moved off down the street, well away from the Yard.

A few more minutes passed and I carried on filming myself talking into the camera. I was then apprehended by two of Blair's Community Police Officers.

Again, they asked me what I was doing, again I explained, and again they told me I was in a sensitive area. They then said they'd observed me "behaving unusually with a metal pole". And even though I showed them exactly what I was doing- and showed them my "script" comprising pages printed from BOM- they very politely told me I was to receive a Stop And Search.

For those that don't know, Stop and Search is a multi-page form introduced after the Stephen Lawrence case, which the officer has to fill in with all kinds of box-ticking and other assorted guff, including the suspect's ethnic group ( which the suspect has to complete himself, in case a wrong guess by the officer "causes offence"). It took the officers- two of them remember- 20 minutes to complete, with doubtless further time required back at the station to process and record.

So while one of them was busy ticking and writing away, I asked the other if I could go on filming afterwards. Not there I was told. OK, where could I go? He couldn't say because, although not formally defined, the whole of Westminster- and other vast swathes of London- constitute a "sensitive area". So I'd probably get stopped again.

Well, why don't they stop the tourists queuing up to have their snaps taken in front of the Scotland Yard sign? Ah, well... that's because they're tourists. I wanted to ask about the big bearded Asian ones with the 500mm telephoto lenses, but I guessed that might land me inside on a race-hate wrap.

And how come they don't stop mainstream TV journos filming outside Scotland Yard? Ah,well, that's because they're TV broadcasters... they have big crews and that. Which clearly makes the whole thing a lot safer than some loopy white middle-aged bloke with grey hair and specs talking to a metal pole.

So after they'd taken ID and radio-namechecked me, I took myself off down to College Green outside Parliament. That's always full of loopy guys talking guff, and nobody batted an eyelid down there.

After I'd calmed down, I came up with the three questions I'd like answered:

1. WTF should I be recorded on a Police database for filming myself on a public street in central London?

2. WTF are the police wasting time on nonsense like this, when really bad stuff like this is happening?

3. WTF is the Met's terrorist profiling so pants that someone like me gets caught in it?

I am old enough to remember when law-abiding taxpaying middle-class types used to have respect for the police. But the more the cops harrass and criminalise us, the more we understand how fundamentally dysfunctional they have become.

Violent crime and anti-social behaviour rage on our streets, yet all our £16bn pa cops can do is close police stations, and spend a man-hour infringing my civil liberty.

With the likes of Sir Ian Bonkers Blair at the controls, the current system is broken irrepairably. We must demand elected Met Commissioners and sheriffs, and put guys of our choosing in charge.

Red Tape Worm All Talk

Quality entertainment- Worm take note

Say what you like about Melandra Burrows (who?), at least she eats her worms. Unlike the pathetic Red Tape Worm. Because the planned Living Planet Xmas Special featuring the hideously disgusting Worm eating itself has been canned: after all its Big Talk, the slimey Worm has let down the entire nation by wimping out.

So instead of the guargantuan gut-busting blow-out promised, the Worm will actually serve up nothing more than the usual rehash of Only Fools and Voters. It turns out its idea of a Regulation Bonfire principally comprises abolishing planning permission for a second satellite dish.

Oh, and making it much easier for its union paymasters to call a strike by allowing them to hold strike ballots by email.

Well, whoopidoo.

Monday, December 11, 2006

New Nightmare For Alice

Latest NHS financial guidelines in action

"A nightmare from Alice in Wonderland" is how one hospital finance director describes the orders from the DoH Bunker. And no amount of screaming into field telephones by the Commissar and her senior clerk can alter the grim reality of life on the frontline.

All along the line, treatments are being postponed, training scrapped, elderly male and female patients forced to bed-share, and God knows what other low-budget medieval practices reintroduced.

Because the money's run out. Finito.

In fact, as the IFS pre-budget analysis highlighted, it could be even worse than that- a huge spending splurge in the first 7 months of the current fiscal year means that by February/March spending will need to be even more crammed down than it was last year. If you're thinking of getting sick, do it before Christmas.

Today we learn that 103 hospital trusts will end this year with accumulated fiscal deficits of £1.6bn, and at least a dozen are technically bankrupt. Worst placed is the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Trust in Woolwich, whose PFI funding problems we've blogged previously (see here). It expects to have a cumulative deficit by the end of March to £65.3m, equivalent to 56.9% of its turnover. Unless it lays off most of its remaining staff and converts itself into a supercasino, there isn't a cat's chance it can recover. It's bust.

Other bankrupt trusts include Surrey and Sussex Healthcare, Hinchingbrooke in Huntingdonshire, Ipswich, North West London and West Hertfordshire.

The drama has become a crisis because of the Resource Accounting and Budgeting (RAB) regime impose by the DoH and the Treasury in 2001. The system was originally designed to regulate spending by Whitehall departments, but has had a devastating effect when it was applied to overspending hospital trusts:

"If a trust spent £105m, but had an income of only £100m, it would end the year with a deficit of £5m. The new rules sliced £5m from its income in the following year and obliged it to make a £5m surplus. That required the trust to cut its spending from £105m to £90m. Trusts faced with this triple whammy could not achieve the target without damaging patient care and so their deficits escalated."

Today we hear the new orders from the Bunker. In effect they're giving up on turning round the deficit trusts during our lifetimes. Instead, they're putting massive new pressure on solvent trusts to generate surpluses, which can then be counted against the deficits, so that the Commissar can claim the system as a whole is in balance (actually they're demanding a £250m surplus to give them a safety margin).

So now all hospitals are under the cosh- deficits or not. All hospitals must cut down on those "unnecessary surgical procedures". And patients all over the country will suffer the consequences- possibly even if they live in Labour marginals.

Victory! Victory at all costs! Because without victory there can be no survival. No suvival for that patronising oleaginous Australian wind-up merchant we all hold in such very very deep contempt.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Recent Bonfires- 43

The UN building... no wait... this is another of their buildings... in Vienna

In the news this week:

UN HQ renovation hits £1bn- "The United Nations is facing fresh accusations of bureaucratic incompetence after the disclosure that renovation costs for its vast New York headquarters have rocketed to nearly £1 billion... The spiralling figures involved have astonished New York property moguls such as Donald Trump, who claimed that the costs were being pushed up by "incompetents". "It's the most ridiculous construction development I have ever witnessed," he said. "It's being run by a bunch of incompetents, and it's a disgrace to this country. It should cost $700 million, but I bet it will now end up costing $3.5 billion." Meanwhile, Ban Ki Moon, the South Korean diplomat who is due to take over from Mr Annan in the New Year, will spend the first nine months of his tenure in a hotel while his Manhattan residence receives a $4.3 million makeover." (Sunday Telegraph 10.12.06)

£210,000 Labour tax dodge- "The Labour Party has been accused of depriving taxpayers of hundreds of thousands of pounds in stamp duty in the sale of its London headquarters, despite the Chancellor's clampdown on stamp duty avoidance schemes in his mini-budget last week.... Labour sold its Westminster headquarters this year using a specially created company. The device... cost the Treasury about £210,000 in lost stamp duty. Had the property been sold on its own, the buyer would have had to pay £240,000 in stamp duty but by selling the company which owned it, the purchaser would have to pay only £30,000 - 0.5 per cent in stamp duty instead of 4 per cent... The transaction contradicts Gordon Brown's stated aim to stop stamp- duty avoidance schemes. Last week, the Chancellor announced "a package of measures aimed at ensuring ... that all individuals and companies contribute their fair share to the provision of public services". (Independent on Sunday 10.12.06)

£24,000 on another council rebranding- "A NEW Worcester city council logo set to cost at least £24,000 has been dubbed a "needless waste of money" by a taxpayer who was consulted on it beforehand. A group of residents sitting on the city council's citizens panel' got to see numerous attempts at a new logo before the final version was revealed... Paul Curtis was shocked that the council was going to go ahead with a new green logo in January. One of 10 people on the panel, he said: "A number of the panel felt there was nothing wrong with the present logo and any additional spending on this sort of frippery was just another needless waste of money. I believe we have here another council department with little to do except to find ways of inflating their own importance and wasting money." The exact cost of the re-branding exercise has yet to be determined." (Worcester News 30.11.06)

£350,000 image junkets- "Taxpayers are funding a £350,000 globetrotting tour that is intended to improve the "image of British Muslims" around the world. The Foreign Office has dispatched parties of up to eight Muslims as far afield as Indonesia, Nigeria and Pakistan, so they can "share their experiences" with locals. The groups have been staying in exclusive hotels and even flown business class on some legs, with all accommodation and travel expenses met from the public purse.... The visits are funded under a Foreign Office programme called Engaging with the Islamic World Group, which has an £8.5 million annual budget and a staff of 26. In May, according to Bangladeshi media reports, a member of the British delegation claimed at a press conference in the capital, Dhaka, that if an equally-qualified Hindu and Muslim applied for the same job in Britain, then the Hindu would be three times more likely to land the job." (Sunday Telegraph 10.12.06)

£270,000 charity subsidy for non-charity- "The controversial Church of Scientology has been granted a subsidy of more than £270,000 a year in public money. Scientology's lawyers used European rulings and Government equality regulations to force the City of London corporation to grant an 80 per cent rates discount for its new centre near St Paul's Cathedral. The "church", it is believed, is now pressing to pay nothing at all. The corporation confirmed that this discount was on the basis that Scientology is a "charity", despite the fact that the Charity Commission has refused to register it. The discount, referred to as a "mandatory rate relief", has been granted even though the Church of Scientology has estimated global assets of $398 million (£203 million), is supported by film stars including Tom Cruise and John Travolta, and was once described as "corrupt, sinister and dangerous" by a High Court judge." (Sunday Telegraph 10.12.06)

Total for week- £1,000,854,000